How To Stay Calm And Open-Hearted In The Tough Moments
In his wonderful course Soul Of Discipline Kim John Payne gives an excellent (and quick) tool to help find compassion in the really tough moments. It’s an unwitting variation of tonglen which is a meditation practice found in Tibetan Buddhism. Tonglen is Tibetan for ‘giving and taking’ (or sending and receiving).
Pema Chödrön describes the tonglen practice as “a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.”
In applying it to parenting Kim has given a very powerful way of healing and it can REALLY calm things down when you get into that space where you are quite convinced your child (or your boss, or your partner) is the antichrist.
So this is how his version goes. He calls it the Compassionate Response. It takes 10 minutes or so to begin with but after you’ve practiced a bit it only takes a few seconds to do – and then you can even do it right in the tough moments.
Sit down in a quiet place and close your eyes. First bring to mind your child in their best self. Really imagine in detail and allow yourself to feel how it is when he or she is balanced and grounded, happy and deeply content. Then ‘park’ that shining image. Now imagine the same child in their unbalanced state. Unhappy, testing boundaries, anguished and driving you nuts. Park that too. Now in your mind’s eye enlarge the picture of them in their natural balanced happy state, make it as big as you can and then gently release the image of the happy child out into the world. Send it out. Turn to the image of the out of balance child and bring him or her close in to yourself. Bring the image in as close as you can to your heart, “embracing him or her with your heart’s arms”, just like you would if your child was sick or distressed.
Kim suggests you practice this regularly for 4 weeks and see the difference. I have tried it and do practice it regularly now and I have seen the difference. It allows you to remain truly compassionate even when your child is doing that thing that they do that normally makes you lose it.
What I’ve noticed is that when I remember to practice it, I am much calmer and more balanced – oh alright, compassionate – in my engagement with my children, especially in those moments where I am triggered big time. It helps me easily remember their true gloriousness and how much I love them when I’m faced with the side that…. what words do you even give that side of them?
Anyway practicing this meditation brings sanity to those insane moments when they do those things that get you in the tender spot – and I don’t mean tender in the good way.
Best is to practice it during quiet moments so when the actual ‘being driven nuts’ moments arrive, the compassion flows easily and naturally to you.
I forget to do this for periods of time and we all start acting out until I remember to practice it and the waters immediately start to still again. It’s quite amazing. It’s a great way to be able to access the true calm in the midst of disciplining, rather than having to pretend to be calm and exerting my will power to not shout or hit or argue.
What I’ve found in the practice – especially at the start of doing it – is that as I mentally bring the image of my child in the state that is hardest for me to be compassionate about close to my heart, I can really feel the pain of my own wounding. Sometimes it actually physically hurts to bring that image close. And then the hurt eases and compassion and love replace it. So it’s a lovely meditation for self-healing too.
Payne suggests we also use this exercise for forgiving ourselves as parents. You imagine, magnify and release into the world your wonderful parts as a parent, your moments of brilliance – for those are also you – and bring close to your heart the parts of yourself that are in pain and shame and confusion. He calls this practice “Soul Arnica”.
The Buddha spoke of doing this very thing with the whole world and all of humanity. Perhaps we could call it World Arnica. 🙂
Try it – for your child, for yourself, for the world – and let me know how it goes.