Saturday, April 2, 2011

When the kids aren’t all right

When your kid is hurting – after you’ve cleaned up the blood, wiped the tears, handed over an ice pack, given hugs, given discipline – you come, sooner or later, to the question, is this my fault?

The answer may come quickly: Yes, all of it, or no, none of it.

But that answer is habit. And if you wait, if you watch, you’ll likely discover that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It’s easy, maybe natural, to want to take it all on yourself. The kid, if biological, has your genetic material, mixed with a partner’s. The kid has grown up with you, absorbing information you didn’t know you were conveying.

And the kid may be more than happy to hand it over -- “if you hadn’t done x, then I wouldn’t have done y,” -- down to the very basic level of “I didn’t ask to be born.” You made that happen. The kid is a part of your karma, and you are a part of hers.

But there are other causes and conditions at play. To take all the blame – or none of it – is to make it about you. And this is not about you.

Stories are no help here, not the ones you read at bedtime, not the ones that shape how you see yourself or how you see him. They may provide familiarity, and that may be comfortable, but that does not change what is happening now. And here, for real, is when being in the present moment, seeing the person in front of you, and sorting out what is happening NOW -- while dropping the stories about what happened when she was 5 or who you thought he would be at 17 -- is what can transform the situation.

Every minute is mindfulness, is awareness, is stepping out of the stream of consciousness and watching the hopes and fears and memories flow by without floating away on them.

What our wounded places most want, John Welwood writes, is for us to be there with them. Welwood is a Buddhist and psychologist who's talking about traumatic experiences that have kept our inner children -- and the adults they become -- locked in samsaric patterns.

But it's true too for our outer children, the ones we gave life to. Sometimes, what they most want and need is a safe place to be sad, to be angry, to be lonely, to be confused. And to know, because you're there with them and you're not running away, that they are OK even if they don't feel that way.

And if you can be there with them and their feelings, holding space, then wisdom may arise and you can act from that instead of acting out old storylines.

To get to the wisdom, you have to marinate first in metta. For yourself, because you deserve kindness as much as anyone. For your child: may you be safe; may you be happy; may you be healthy; may you find ease. Even if you can’t imagine how that will look. You let go of imagining. And then, because everyone is someone’s child, you invite the world into your tender, raw heart, fervently wishing everyone finds happiness and health, safety, and ease.

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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