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Parenting Advice Article

Parenting Tips for Creating Moments of Peace and Love
B
y Amy Phillips-Gary

Creating any moment of peace is a victory in itself for any mom or dad of small children. As a parent, I've discovered that it's  important to take time for myself and to cultivate a daily practice that allows me to create more love within me, especially when I'm feeling frazzled.

I've discovered something that helps me and I wanted to share it with you by telling what happened a few months ago...

It was a Wednesday morning. I had prepared breakfast for my two young sons, cleared up dishes and was just shifting into "my time," my daily yoga routine. Rather than go off to play by themselves, however, this day my youngest son, Micah, chose to stay in the room with me. 

He really wanted my attention and showed me this by talking, singing loudly, and hanging on my body as I tried to do yoga poses. As much as I tried to help him find another activity to do, he resisted.

Granted, a four year old on my stomach added an extra stretch, but this was not the relaxing meditative space I very much needed for myself at that moment.

Needless to say, I was frustrated and annoyed with Micah and resorted to putting one of his favorite videos into the VCR.

Now my usual pattern in such a situation is to return to my yoga practice and push through the tension and annoyance-in other words, pretend the frustrating encounter didn't happen. 

Mindfulness Parenting
But this day, I broke out of that pattern. For the past year or so, I've read several books by Buddhist teachers and have begun to practice a Buddhist technique called tonglen. Recalling Pema Chodron's teachings of tonglen, first I stopped doing yoga, laid on the floor and breathed. 

By focusing on my breath, I attempted to open my mind to nothingness-- clear it as much as I could. This can be especially difficult when we are feeling intense, as I was at that moment, but focusing on my breath really helped.

Next, I began to get in touch with my annoyed, angry, and frustrated feelings as I inhaled. An important aspect of this part of the practice is that, in Chodron's words, you "drop the story line" and focus on the underlying feelings. 

Without "dropping the story line," we can choose to go off on all kinds of tangents without really getting into the feelings. Again, I inhaled and as calmly as possible said to myself, "I see that I am feeling angry and annoyed," observing what was going on for me then. 

But this part of the practice is not just about getting rid of uncomfortable feelings. The goal is to "touch" our feelings-to befriend those emotions

Cultivating love and compassion for myself was the next step I followed that day. After really feeling warm and expansive with love and compassion within myself, it was then time to extend those feelings to Micah. 

"Tonglen" is a Tibetan word meaning "sending and taking." In the first parts of this practice, I took in the pain I was feeling and added breath or ventilation to that pain. But sending out my compassion to not only myself but to Micah-whom before had been a target of my annoyance-flowed smoothly at this point. 

I extended those feelings of compassion and love to Micah and acknowledged that just as I was working with discomforts of a headache that morning, he was not feeling well either and it came to me that he has only had 4 years to work on how to handle his feelings while I have had 34! 

I really felt my anger towards him dissolve. It wasn't denied. I was able to peacefully process and let go of those feelings. 

But tonglen doesn't stop with yourself or the person you are irritated with so I continued extending compassion and love. I added more and more people in my family, friends, people I don't know, and finally the entire Earth and all those that dwell upon it. I saw all of us glowing with love and compassion. 

It felt really good to do this. My aspiration is that I can continue to find the clarity to breathe through those very moments where I am about to raise my voice or get really angry towards my children or towards anyone. 

I continue to practice tonglen. More and more frequently, when I feel triggered by someone or a situation, as soon as I can identify that I am out of sorts, I begin to breathe and clear my mind in preparation to touch and ease with those uncomfortable feelings, before moving into cultivating love and compassion. 

This is never easy, but I have found it profoundly important in my life as a parent, partner, and human living on this planet. 

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Amy Phillips-Gary is a person aspiring to live a loving-compassionate and mindful life. Partnering with her husband, home-schooling her two sons, and helping to lead an alternative scouting group provide her with opportunities to enjoy such a life!  She is Susie Collins' daughter.

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