Tenderness in our practice and our relationships
A few years back I went to a one day seminar with a remarkable person - Kent Hoffman. He is a long term meditation dude in the Zen tradition, and also the founder of a profound parenting program - the Circle of Security which is grounded in the latest science about how kids and parents thrive. He had some interesting things to say about life, love and stress - the foundation being:
Soothing is first.
So simple and user-friendly, but also life changing if we could take it up!
In order to reflect, learn, grow or connect we need to be in a particular state in order to be able to do so. We can't learn when we are being yelled at, or criticised or pushed and pulled in all the ways we do to ourselves and others - as this generates the threat response in humans. This is a sure-fire way to activate defences, close the heart and mind and shut down communication.
So we need to take the time in our practice to calm and soothe ourselves. I love what Jack Kornfield has to say about practicing like the mother of a newborn - with that kind of compassion and presence - see below. I wonder how would it change our relationship with ourselves if we brought this energy a couple of times a day in even a short practice?
The very act of paying attention to the breath, body and mind states offers us this - helping us to step out of our stress reactivity of the activated limbic system.
More generally in life, everyone needs this soothing - our toddlers, our teenagers, our partners, our co-workers. Hopefully our mindfulness practice can begin to spread out in our lives, so that when we feel snappy, irritated, contemptuous or gossipy about someone's "flaws" - we can remember to take the time to calm and soothe ourselves. Otherwise we can keep generating patterns of blame and shame in our relationships.
So often in a conflict situation we focus on the behaviour of the person (toddler, teenager, partner) that needs to change. Depending on the situation we distract, cajole, get angry, criticise, instruct, lecture - to try and make a shift in their behaviour. All of these reactions can diminish the sense of connectedness - which is the healing ingredient in 'hot' moments.
What would happen if we could shift our attention from the behaviour to the relationship in that moment? What am I enacting? What am I saying? How is my face looking? What tone am I using?
For me, this learning was profound when my teenage son was going through an extremely challenging time. The shift it brought in his behaviour and communication when I decided to never speak in anger (or outrage, self-righteousness, contempt, overwhelm etc) to him, no matter what wildly unsafe and annoying behaviour he was presenting us with!
It was radical and transformative. Within days, we had open co-operative discussions leading to collaborative plans and commitments that stuck. My anger was understandable (and so was his); anyone would be angry! It was just of no use in moving us forward. For that we needed empathic, respectful communication in the moment. And that needed to come from me, as he couldn't muster it. As parents, even though it is hard, it is our job to be bigger, wiser, stronger and kind.
I have changed my mind
about a hundred things
Effort in meditation is one example.
I used to think that to become free
you had to practice like a samurai warrior,
but now I understand that you have to practice
like a devoted mother of a newborn child.
It takes the same energy
but has a completely different quality.
It's compassion and presence rather than
having to defeat the enemy in battle.
Here is a short downloadable practices with a focus on developing these qualities of presence and compassion for ourselves and others.
Cultivating kindness and compassion: 10 mins