living with children in peace, joy and freedom

Posts tagged ‘Presence’

I have learned so much about myself from my children

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I love to bask in the vitality and joy that my children beam out every day. I love to see how much they are enjoying life, learning and achieving their own goals. But it has not always been so rosy.

What I have seen in my children has also been confronting. There were things about them that I simply didn’t like. There were behaviours that I struggled with and dearly wished to see gone. What I have come to see clearly is that these aspects of my children that I disliked were things that I had not been able to accept in myself.

When I saw anger, violence, vanity, sensitivity to criticism, neediness or competitiveness in my children and I judged these things I was also judging myself. The urge to control or fix these things in my children mirrored my desire to be rid of these aspects of myself. I was seeing a reflection of my own self-loathing.

My attempts to fix, control and guide my children out of these things that I didn’t like always failed. My reactions and judgements only made it worse.

But how to get out of this old, unhelpful pattern? How do I own, accept and forgive my own violence, vanity and neediness?

There are lots of ways to dabble at the edges of this challenge but I wanted to get right to the bottom of it. What I eventually realized is that all of these shadow aspects of myself are the exaggerated, painful manifestations of my desire for love, approval and acceptance.

Like almost everybody, I believed for most of my life that love, approval and acceptance must be obtained from the people around me. It had to come from “out there” and it had to be worked for. What others thought of me mattered so much. I was driven by such a strong desire to please people and be loved by them.

When I didn’t get what I wanted from others I got angry. I lashed out and attacked them viciously with my mind and my tongue. I agonized about my appearance in the hope that I might get more approval and be admired. I felt the enormous stress and anxiety of performing to please others and this made me feel even more desperate for love and approval. I recoiled from criticism because it mirrored my own self-hatred and the ease with which I passed judgement on others. Competitiveness was the inevitable result of constantly comparing myself to others and desiring the approval that came with being “better than” or “best.”

All of these things were innocent expressions of my misplaced desire. They were an inevitable result of seeking love outside of myself. I believed that this was the only path to happiness and fulfillment.

Why were my desires misplaced? Because they could never be satisfied by anything “out there” for more than a passing moment. I was bringing all this suffering on myself by the simple act of focusing in the wrong direction.

I now chose to focus my desire within. I pause regularly in my day to relax, breathe and turn my attention away from my thoughts. I choose to notice that when I am not thinking, even if only for a few seconds, that I still exist. There is a calm, clear space behind my thoughts. It is aware, vibrant, conscious. It observes everything. It is presence.

I practice focusing on this calm presence. I notice that it is inseparable from the aliveness and energy flowing within my body. When I turn my attention to this inner energy-field I sense a quiet joy and peace. I don’t have to suppress my thoughts or try to stay in this peace. I notice that my thoughts arise from it. I can believe them or not. I know that my thoughts are not who I am.

Presence is not something to be worked for. I don’t have to try and find it or strive to keep it. It is always, already there. All I have to do is notice. It is a natural and effortless state of Being.

Once I connect with presence I know my true nature. I am not an isolated individual struggling and competing for love and attention. I am an expression of presence-energy and the oneness of life. I can relax. I am free to be who I really am without trying to please others. I am no longer driven to seek love outside myself. I know that I AM love.

I can forgive my anger, self-judgement and competitiveness because I know that they were generated by confusion. I know that this confusion was innocent and inevitable. Everybody I knew was believing the same things and acting it out all around me. Until recently, I passed this same legacy on to my own children. But now things have changed. My understanding of who I am has changed. I embody love and appreciation and I see this reflected in my children. I focus on what brings me joy and delight. I treasure the unique gifts of my “self” and I watch my children express their gifts too.

I still see glimpses of things I don’t like in my children but I react differently now. I don’t see them as something to be fixed or controlled. I know that my feelings of discomfort and distress are simply an alarm going off. It is telling me that there is an opportunity to learn more about myself and to dissolve more of my limiting, stressful beliefs. It is an opportunity to move further into presence and to deepen my sense of self-love and self-acceptance. What a wonderful gift.

What to do about strong fears and persistent worries

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There are times when my fears and worries about my children have overwhelmed and overtaken me. It has helped my a great deal to identify and name my fears. I have feared failure as a parent: that my children will not be happy and healthy and that I will be judged by others. I have feared that my children will get hurt, physically or emotionally. These fears and others like them underpin many of the problems I have experienced with my children. My fear can drive a need for my child to learn certain skills or to behave in a certain way. It can drive me to control, manipulate and pressure my children. It has really helped to examine these fears closely and to question my belief in them.

One of the most liberating things that I have learned in my parenting journey is that there are two types of fear. Eckhart Tolle describes them in his book The Power of Now. On one hand there is fear of immediate physical danger. I don’t put my hand in the fire because I know that I will get burned. There is an instinctive shrinking back from true immediate danger. Then there is psychological fear. This kind of fear is always of something that might happen in the future, not of something that is happening now. Psychological fear arises in response to thoughts about a future that does not exist. It is a creation of my mind. I am imagining a fearful future. I can be completely overtaken by this kind of fear, at least for a time.

I have noticed that when I feel fear in my relationship with my children it is almost always psychological fear. For example, I feared that unless my children developed “healthy” eating habits they would have poor health as they grew up. I also feared that if they didn’t learn to read by a certain age that they would find it much harder to learn when they were older. These were fears about what might happen in the future. There was no immediate danger. At the time I experienced these fears my children were very healthy and learning happily at a pace that suited themselves. These fears were created by my imagination and yet they brought enormous stress and conflict into my relationships with my children.

The arising of these fears is a very strong reminder to bring myself back into presence. Presence is the inner consciousness that is behind or underneath my thoughts. This consciousness can witness and observe my stressful thoughts and painful emotions and sense directly that they are not who I am.

I experience presence as a state of calm, relaxed alertness. It is a space of peace, stillness and vibrant aliveness. Thoughts may appear in this space but they do not dominate. I can notice my thoughts without being overwhelmed by them. There is space between thoughts in which I experience quietness and joy. Helpful, creative thoughts have room to appear. I can choose to act on these thoughts or to remain still. It is a natural and spontaneous state of being.

If you feel overcome by fear or other painful feelings here are some ideas to help you bring yourself into presence. Choose one that suits you and go with that.

1. Sit quietly, relax your body and mind. Let go of your thoughts for a few seconds. Notice that when you are not thinking that you still exist.

2. See if you can feel your inner aliveness. Feel the energy inside your body. Focus on that energy.

3. Go out for a walk in nature (or anywhere peaceful) on your own and focus on what your senses are perceiving. Notice the touch of the air, the sound of the birds, the blue of the sky. Take your shoes off and walk in bare feet. Feel the earth supporting you with every step you take. Just notice. Put your whole attention on what is around you.

4. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice that you can observe them. If you are observing your thoughts and feelings then this means that they are not who you are. You are the observer. Closely observe your experience. What images come with your feelings? Where are your feelings in your body?

As I connect with presence I don’t try to get the fear to go away. This just suppresses it and locks it in deeper. I have found that it helps to allow the feeling of fear, to go towards and into it rather than to push it away. This takes courage as I also have a fear of feeling fear! Recognizing it as psychological fear that is a creation of my mind helps. I remind myself that there is no immediate danger. I listen to the fear and feel it with openness and curiosity.

Listening in presence to my own fear has often allowed it to gently dissolve. The more often I remember to connect with presence the calmer I become. If the fear continues to haunt me I write down my fearful thoughts and use the four questions taught by Byron Katie to question my thinking. Through this questioning I can see that fears obscure my awareness of what is real and true and trustworthy about Life and my true nature. Once I reconnect with this reality my urge to push, control and demand things of my children fades away. I notice that my children are fine just as they are. We can relax back into harmony and closeness.

How can I help with my child’s problems?

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“Exude the state of being that you want your child to end up with and they will find their way to that.” Bentinho Massaro.

Being genuinely helpful to my children when they have problems is something that brings joy into my life. I want to give help that is calm, supportive and that increases my child’s confidence in their own ability to help themselves. This did not come naturally for me, at least not to the extent that I would have liked. It was a skill that required a lot of practice as well as a lot of unlearning of old, unhelpful habits. For example, I often fell into the trap of trying to fix a problem when my help was not requested. My child would react to my intrusion and I would become part of the problem. When my help was requested I often assumed that I knew best and waded in with advice or instructions. My advice was occasionally helpful in the short-term but it also got in the way of my child’s emerging ability to help themselves. There were also many times when my child’s expression of feelings triggered painful feelings in me. I would unwittingly join them in their suffering rather than remain peaceful and fully available to help. It was challenge for me to find a way to relate to my children in a respectful and non-reactive way.

Being genuinely helpful required a shift in my perception of my children’s behaviour and their expression of emotion. I came to realize that what I had been judging as tantrums, rude or aggressive words and unacceptable behaviour were actually cries for help. Young children often have difficulty in expressing their problems in a way that parents can easily understand. They may not have the skills to clearly express what they want or what is causing them distress. Their calls for help are sometimes communicated through intense emotional expression such as crying or screaming, in aggressive behaviour or even in hate-fuelled outbursts. Parents often find these expressions of distress challenging or unacceptable. I certainly found myself challenged in this way.

Out of these challenges emerged the skill of Listening in Presence. This is the skill of listening calmly and respectfully to my child without reacting to or getting hooked into their problem. I have the intention to give my child my attention and at the same time I have an awareness of what the situation is triggering within me. This isn’t as difficult as it may sound, but it does take some practice. The intention and awareness that come with this skill can transform something as ordinary as the application of a Band-Aid into a special moment. (more…)

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