Being aware of one’s own thoughts can be a first step out of the sheep enclosure (mentioned in my last post) and toward a more authentic way of being and parenting. Sometimes we can be firmly attached to one particular view or way of doing things and it can be tricky to see a solution to a problem or to connect with other people if we don’t see our own attachment.

Here’s an example that my mother shared with me yesterday, which really spoke to me. My mother explained that she was waiting in a long queue at a supermarket on Saturday.

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
The woman serving the customers was moving very slowly and my mother gradually became more and more impatient and angry that the line was creeping along at such a slow pace.  Suddenly, she sidestepped her own thoughts and became aware of her anger and her impatience.  Her awareness of herself made her more aware of what was going on for others.  She soon realised that the woman who was working at the till (cash register) was moving very slowly and seemed to be guarding her shoulder.  My mother said, “Are you in pain?” And the woman explained that she was in a great deal of pain in her shoulders.  My mother was moved to compassion and felt grateful that she hadn’t let rip with her usual angry tirade when she has had to wait in a long line.

For me this is a marvellous example of how the journey inward to see yourself can also be a journey outward.  Reaching in helps us to reach out.  We can look at the thoughts travelling through the mind and consider– do I  need to obey the demands of my mind?  What patterns do my thoughts take? Do they speak of an underlying attachment to a particular ideology? Can I toss that idea away and consider an alternative?  The key is to consider: who is in charge here, is it you or your mind?

Perhaps you have never considered that you are not your mind.  The mind is constantly in flux, changing and moving from thought to thought.  Equally, the body changes, grows old, gets hurt, heals and eventually dies.  But decide for yourself whether you agree with many ancient philosophies and world religions that there is something special about you: eternal, unchanging and essential. This is the something that makes you YOU, from birth until death (and afterwards, many people believe).  You might call it a soul, spirit or Self.  In any case, if you can accept this, then the next step is to realise that you are not your mind (to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle).

Which leads us toward parenting.  The first thing we lose even before we lose our tempers is perspective.  When our children are acting in a particular way that elicits a reaction from us, it is easy to forget that we do not need to obey the thoughts that are moving through the mind.  Sure, we can give them space in our minds, play out all of the angry scenes that tempt us, but only a moment is necessary to say, “Wait a minute, do I actually need to do and say all of these things?”

A wise teacher once said to me that it is possible to move through life like a person wearing dirty glasses.  You spend all day wearing them, not realising how filthy they are until you take them off for some reason, usually because someone else has pointed it out.  You take them off, clean them, and see things with such brilliant clarity that you cannot believe that you spent most of the day looking through such grimy little windows.  In parenting, our relationships with our children can be a way to show us our own limitations, our own dirty glasses, if you will.  If I am aware of my thoughts I can begin to watch for patterns in my own reactions.

The example I used last post, “My children shouldn’t fight” is one that I am aware of in my own mind several times a day.  I’ll be in the kitchen preparing a meal and sure enough I hear the girls yelling at each other in the sitting room and the sound of one hitting the other.  A high-pitched scream and then a child runs in to tell on the other one: “She hit me!”  If I am feeling

  • tired
  • stressed
  • in a rush
  • undervalued
  • upset about something else
my reaction will be to tell them both off and to send one to the step or their room.  Then I’m left fuming, the children are isolated and unhappy, and the toddler is crying because he doesn’t like the shouting.  It’s not a pleasant situation and I tell you this honestly so that you will see that I struggle with all of this too!  When I am feeling well enough to do it, I am practising taking a brief moment to observe the lightening-bolts of thoughts that pass over the sky of my mind. “Why do they have to fight so much?  I can’t stand this noise! I don’t anyone to get hurt. I just need to get dinner made without these two tearing each other apart!” But I know that at the bottom of these thoughts is the one Big Thought: “my children should not fight.”  At the moment I am practising looking at it with greater dispassion: my children fight because
  • they are immature and by nature relatively self-centred
  • they are together in one another’s space all the time
  • they are tired and hungry
  • they all want my attention, all at the same time
  • sometimes it’s fun to make the other person react! (hard to accept, but in my family it’s the case!)
In this way, my momentary journey inward (and reflection afterwards) allows me to look outward, to clean my dirty glasses and see my children for what they are: small humans who are struggling to get along.  And when I see them in this way I am moved to compassion because I can see each of them as a human being with valid needs, importantly a need for love and acceptance and understanding.
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Cleaning your own glasses
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