"When we feel squeezed, there's a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Yet believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. Instead of taking what's occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else's power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others. We could be there, feeling off guard, not knowing what to do, just hanging out there with the raw and tender energy of the moment. This is the place where we begin to learn the meaning behind the concepts and the words." - Pema Chodron
So, here I am, feeling off guard a lot lately. Having children will do that to a person. Particularly when said children are not behaving in a way that makes you feel or look very good. Toddlers are not invested in making their parents comfortable or relaxed - they are made to explore, adventure, test boundaries, test their bodies, test the WORLD. I have been facing my edge again and again lately, as the boys rampage through a play date or down the store aisle - being faced with the choice of reacting habitually (which can mean in my case, overreacting and freaking out) or to rest with my discomfort, my embarrassment, my bewilderment, my feeling stupid or like a bad mama. Very rich stuff.
When I can touch the latter and stay with it, I can usually react in a way that helps my children and the situation. When I can't stay with those uncomfortable feelings, then I tend to shout or apologize unnecessarily to those around me or simply flee the whole situation with them. Now, sometimes, fleeing with them is truly the sanest thing to do. But even then, why can't I rest with what has just occurred? Why do I instead engage in discursiveness with my little ones, lecturing them or myself aloud, when they really can't understand? Why do I continue to water these little judging seeds, again and again? I can feel myself retracing the groove of suffering, and yet, I somehow cannot refrain at times from digging it deeper.
It's been a bit since I've written here, because I have been very busy with the littles and with the early summer jam making and the daily chaos of living. And I have been contemplating this habitual judging I do, that we all do, and how it hurts us. It's tricky. Judging ourselves, judging others - it's so habitual, that it can be hard to notice. Being around other parents can be raw. It is hard not to compare ourselves, especially if we are newer parents - are they doing it better? Doing it worse? I wouldn't do that - oh, I wish I had thought of that - oh, I wish I could do that! Which leads to - I wish my children were like that - I wish my children weren't like that! Insidious and harmful.
This parenting thing - well, there is no real "getting it right". When we notice that we are judging ourselves, our children, or other parents, we can try and pause. What is the judgment about, really? For me, it is really about fear, fear that I am not really good. It is about doubting my basic sanity. Being basically good doesn't mean you don't mess up. But it does mean not identifying with the mess - but instead moving through it, cleaning it up and coming back to your fundamental nature of awake compassion. Easier said than done. But we can do it, coming back again and again to fresh start, to the present moment that is full of possibilities and space. Then our innate joy can peek out its head. We can laugh at ourselves, at the situation. We can touch into some compassion for ourselves, for our children - for the other parents or children we are judging.
One thing I have definitely learned in parenting is that almost anything I judge another parent or child for doing, I will find myself or my own children doing at a future time, unexpectedly or even by design! I have found the path of meditation to be similar - anything I have judged as wrong in a fellow practitioner - well, I have later discovered that I am guilty of the same thing, as my insight grows clearer! These moments of finding ourselves out, catching ourselves, can be poignant and very fruitful. They tenderize our hearts, helping us to open to others, leading us perhaps to lend the harried mother in the grocery store a helping hand rather than shooting her a dirty look. They can lead us to sit down and give ourselves a break, rather than pushing ourselves through an overly difficult morning with our children while making ourselves wrong for getting mad. We can have some kindness towards each other and this whole messy business of being human. And the kindness can lead us to joy.
When I lived in NYC, I used to like to take the Staten Island Ferry out when I got really stressed and claustrophobic. I would get on the ferry and ride it out into the water, watching Manhattan recede bit by bit, the harbor stretching out between us. It created physical space for me, allowed me some breathing room and perspective. When we find ourselves judging, just being willing to notice and touch our hearts by connecting to our breath can do the same thing. It can create some much needed space, some clear water between our goodness and the shore of our discursive thoughts. We can do this throughout our days. And when all else fails - get outdoors if you can. No matter what the weather. I took my two littles into a pouring rainstorm last week because we were all going a bit mad indoors together. The rain brought us laughter and ventilated our irritation. I was able to stop judging my little ones for their exuberant energy indoors. I was able to stop judging myself for somehow being a "bad" mama, not being able to get my toddlers to "behave". I was able to laugh at the very idea of that.
Wishing you all joy this week and always. Wishing you great love on this parenting path as you feel off guard, and approach your edge, again and again.
I am a stay at home mama of three young boys, and long time meditator as well as a meditation instructor in the Shambhala tradition of vajrayana buddhism. Stumbling along the path to enlightenment while changing diapers, nursing my babes, vacuuming and making jam.