Unless you are a nun or a monk living remotely from others, you will have the additional challenge of developing or maintaining your spiritual practice alongside many personal, social and work commitments. Some teachers have suggested that this is so difficult to do that most serious aspirants will find themselves shedding relationships along the way. For those of us who wish to develop or maintain a spiritual practice as well as our existing commitments to our families and friends, the going might be tough, but it is possible.
In my last post, I wrote about the challenge of finding time to maintain or to begin a yoga or meditation practice within the context of family life. Today, I want to look more deeply at how our daily lives can feed into our practice.
The mindfulness practice discussed previously is a powerful way to make every moment rich with potential for spiritual awareness. Think of the wonder a small child displays about his or her world. The freshness, the newness of their eyes. A walk with a toddler can take so long, as they pause to examine a leaf, a twig, or a stone every few steps. Going that same route alone, we tend to be focused on our destination, barely noticing our surroundings. Yet how much richer our experience would be if we took the time to really look around us as we walk, to develop an appreciation for our neighbourhood, for the beauty of nature, and to take time to smile at those we meet along the way. The world becomes a much friendlier and lovelier place!
Jesus said that people would need to become like small children to enter the kingdom of heaven. If we pause to consider what this means, I think it touches on this innocence and sense of wonder that our children have. We need to become more open to the inherent joy and beauty of our lives. And on the days that this joy is hard to come by, how often do you find that happiness in the company of your child? In their unconditional love for you, their parent? That simplicity of a child’s outlook, when a cuddle with a loved one puts so much right – we can really learn from that!
But I think another way we can learn from our children is in the way they live in the moment. Toddlers and young children are known for their tantrums and fluctuating emotions. I’m not suggesting that we start to follow their example and throw our own tantrums – although many of us do display our own adult versions at times! Very young children may still be learning to cope with their strong feelings, but they don’t usually bottle them up and repress them in the way they might when they get older. They really feel them! They really show them! They’re upset – they cry. They’re angry or frustrated – they shout or hit. But the main difference between a young child and an older child or an adult, is that they then tend to let that emotion pass – the energy of the emotion subsides, and they will generally return to their more sunny selves. What a lesson! Children just are more present in the moment than us. They may act out their feelings, but then they let them go. If the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is taken in the sense of being in touch with our own spirit through our presence and our awareness, then children are winning hands down.
The sad thing is that as we teach our children to cope with their feelings, we could inadvertently be teaching them to store them up, to suppress them, and then their emotions may stop coming out in that same instant, cleansing way it did when they were small. Somehow we need to find balance in the way we help our children cope with their feelings – to encourage them to show their feelings, albeit in slightly less dramatic ways than a toddler tantrum. We need to be clear with our children that all their feelings are acceptable, even though some actions are not. We must not make it seem as though sadness or anger, for example, are not allowed – they’re very much real emotions, even if, from our adult perspective, the feeling seems out of proportion to the cause. We will encourage our children to share their feelings with us, if we extend ourselves, every time we can manage, with empathy and concern; if we genuinely listen to what they are saying and wonder why they are saying it. Remembering that we do not have all the answers, and just because we might not like what our child is saying, doesn’t make it wrong. Honouring our child’s individuality, and his or her right to their own feelings. Loving the fact that they are not a little extension of ourselves, but have their own unique spirit. And helping them to maintain – and ourselves to rediscover – that presence they had when they first came into the world.
What other ways have you found yourself learning from your child? In what ways do you think your practice actually grows with your family, despite having less time for asana or meditation practice? Leave a reply – I’d love to hear your experience!