A Real Superpower

MINDFULNESS TO HELP US ALL TO RIDE THE WAVES OF LIFE WITH MORE EASE

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Originally posted 2016

We were holidaying in Queenscliff recently and the opportunity came up for me to have 1 hour to myself – my youngest took himself off to bed for a midday nap. Ahhhh peace, it must have been the 1-hour of running along the beach and the 1.5 hours of up hill scooting we had done in the morning. No, I really didn’t mean to exhaust him, honest……

During this nap time, my eldest (7 years old), was complaining he was bored…. And I tried to explain to him that being bored was OK and really, part of life. That he should practice being bored well as, when he is an adult there will be large chunks of his life that are boring but necessary, like putting petrol in the car, lining up at the bank and paying bills online.

Needless to say, he wasn’t really interested in my philosophy at that point and he snapped “its OK for you, you have that super power”….which one I thought? Gosh, I have so many! So I asked him…”what do you mean”….and he responded, “well, you have the power that allows you just to sit out here and watch the clouds and do nothing, I don’t have that power”.

I tried to explain that we all have that power; we just need to practice it. Again, he was really not interested in hearing mum rant on (again) about how accessing the natural clarity, calm and connection within all of us was a basic human right. After helping him to come up with an imaginary game to play with his Shopkins, I stopped and asked myself “what are we doing to our kids?”. The constant entertainment we are providing them today – the iPads and TV, the phones and toys. Are we robbing them of a basic life skill? Of knowing how to be bored and just doing nothing? Just playing for the sake of playing, with no agenda, hidden or otherwise?

Now, I am absolutely not saying that we should stop all technology – as my dear husband (who works in tech and TV) points out to me, it is here to stay now, we may as well embrace it and of course I agree. I just wonder, what is, or more accurately, what will be the cost of this 24/7 stimulation generation we are raising? Are we raising adults who will be so disconnected from their bodies and the present moment experience that they will have no way to understand or sit with less pleasant emotions like boredom? Will this generalize to other human less pleasant emotions like sadness or worry? Are we just teaching them to numb out from a very early age by shoving an iPhone in their face when they don’t get what they want? In later years, will the iPhone be replaced by something more harmful like drugs or alcohol? I have absolutely no idea, I am curious though. I do know though that time doing nothing does feed our spirit, it does nourish our body and it certainly feeds our creativity.

We are at a really interesting point in our evolution, both as humans and, more specifically, as parents. We are raising kids at a time where there are really no parenting rules, anything goes. We have access to books and research that pretty-much support any parenting model we choose to follow: strict rules vs. more lasaiz fair, full time day-care vs. full time stay at home – really anything is OK and it is up to each family to work out what is best for them. And this is how it should be.

One thing hasn’t changed though and that is our core job as parents, which is (among many many other things) to prepare our children to be citizens of the world, to be able to contribute to the world in some way and to support them to live to their full potential. As we know, the “dark” parts of life are often the bits that can help us to learn and to grow most profoundly (such an unfortunate phenomenon this one!), as the quote goes, “we cant get to day without going through the night”.

What will happen if we don’t give our kids the opportunity to experience sadness or disappointment or boredom?

Life is hard and beautiful and hard and we need to equip our kids with a whole tool kit to support them to thrive and feel strong, regardless of what is going on. So, in my effort to help myself and anyone else who would like to listen, I have jotted down a couple of tips to support us to allow our kids to experience the whole rainbow of emotions – rather than just the shiny bits and you know, that really is a super power.

 1. Explore it

When they are feeling sad or worried, ask your child to explore the feeling. Where do they feel it in their body? Can they make room for it rather than fight it? Can they breathe into it and really feel it? Can they allow themselves to hold it gently, as if they are holding a precious flower or gem? Can they see that they are not the emotion, that it is something happening to them? They may even like to experiment with asking the emotion or feeling what it needs right now.

 2. Colour it

Ask your child to describe their feeling in colours or shapes – this can help them to express how it feels using words they are more familiar with. The risk here is that they become really annoyed and just throw something at you!

 3. Celebrate it

When they express either “positive” or “negative” feelings (from a mindfulness perspective, we tend not to assess feelings as good or bad) say, “that’s great, you are feeling, that means you are human and you are alive” or “how lucky are we that we get to feel all of these emotions – lets explore them together”.

If you ask me, we all do have this superpower, in fact, I believe it is our birthright. Sometimes, however, we just need to be reminded and, so do our kids.

Self-Esteem Vs. Self As Team

BECOMING OUR OWN BEST FRIEND

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Originally posted 2017

We can give our kids and ourselves something much more sustaining and enduring than self esteem – a connection to a wiser and broader self.

In my early 20s I did my postgraduate thesis on self-esteem in adolescents. The details of the findings are a little fuzzy now, but two things I do remember clearly is that the way girls viewed their body (their “physical-self”) and the way boys viewed their achievements (their “academic and career-selves”) were two of the strongest predictors of their overall levels of happiness.

My question is, what happens when we don’t meet these “desired” levels of beauty or achievement? Or when the “desired” levels are unattainable due to Photoshop or our natural skill level (or lack of it!). What are we left with? How can we “bounce back” from life’s setbacks?

In my late twenties I remember asking my beautiful Dad “What is the one piece of parenting advice you could give me?”. And he said “Help your child find something they are good at and then support them in it – it helps to build their self esteem and sense of identity”. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, that is really smart and it has definitely worked for me”.

It has taken me another 20 years to realise that we may be able to develop this approach further. I wonder what happens when can no longer do what we are good at, due to injury, circumstance or just plain old interest? Where does our self-esteem go?

You see, I was a pretty awesome swimmer, in junior school I made the state championships and in high school I was always the last swimmer in the relay (for those of you who don’t know, the fastest swimmer always goes last!) – it became a key part of who I was and I pinned my self esteem to being the fastest in the pool. And then….(dramatic drum-roll), I dislocated my shoulder playing beach rugby (long story) and couldn’t swim for a year. I distinctly remember being devastated about this and asking myself “Who am I now?” and I am sure it sent me into a spiral of negative thinking and questioning my worth and place in the world. Where do I belong if not in the pool? I had nothing to fall back on, no safety net. If I wasn’t a swimmer – who was I?

 I believe we actually need to be teaching our children (and perhaps learning ourselves in the process) that we are much more than simply what we are good at. We are much more than the body, the friends or the career we have. We are more than the car, the house or the handbag we have. We are more than the achievements of our children and more the number of “likes” or “followers” we have. If we continually pin our sense of self onto these external factors, we are continually at the mercy of the constant changing nature of the world. Friends, “likes” and handbags come and go; it is risky to tie our sense of self to these.

So, how? How do we learn that we can experience all of these wonderful parts of our modern life, that we can enjoy and engage with all of them, but that they are not who we are?

I am sure there are other ways, but the way that I have discovered that continues to gift me with an immense amount of freedom, choice and comfort is mindfulness.

However, I have not been practicing mindfulness for longer than I have been practicing mindfulness. I spent the first 30 years of my life pinning my self worth onto my looks, my success, my achievements, the number of friends I had, the shoes I wore. This way of seeing and being had become automatic for me and with this way of living, I was constantly thrown around by the turbulent waves of emotions resulting from the events in my life. With almost 10 years of mindfulness training under my belt now, the waves are of course still there – the waves are part of being human, I just don’t get dumped quite as often anymore. And I have finally realised now that I am not the waves; I am the whole damn ocean, although I periodically forget that too! That’s why mindfulness and meditation is called a practise – we keep practicing and practicing, possibly forever.

However, if we can get this through to our kids from a young young young age, their battle will be much easier than ours. They will still have to deal with all of the challenges of life and of course, it is not our job to protect our children from pain, it is the pain that will make them stronger. However, with the knowledge and understanding we have now about mindfulness and meditation, we can give them the tools to ride the tumultuous waves of this human life with a little more ease. In doing this they may become more resilient that we have been – and to be honest, they will need to be with all of the change and madness that is part of our everyday existence today.

So, I think my dear Dad got this one half right, he got a lot 100% right (be kind, work hard, laugh a lot, eat with great gusto, greet everyone you meet with joy and sing sing sing) however we can build on his advice by supporting our kids to develop their own internal well of self-worth. By teaching them they are worthy of love and belonging, regardless of their achievements, is gifting them the freedom to be themselves and to live, love and work to their full potential.

Mindfulness does not protect us or our kids from the chaos of life; illness still happens, jobs will still be lost and our heart will continue to break – there will be pain, oh yes, there will be pain. Mindfulness however can teach us that we are bigger and more expansive than all of it – the good and the bad. We can hold the joy and the sorrow, the success and the failure in our broad and open awareness and know that it is happening to and within us, but it is not us. With that comes great empowerment and great freedom.