By Kerry Horton Bennassar
We are busy parents, so I would like to share some concrete things that have supported harmony and happiness in my family. They have really helped my family have stability, kindness and patience.
One thing I do is slow everything down.
A lot of stress, it seems, comes from rushing or having a set idea of how things should be done. We have work and obligations and it seems like we need to rush around so much.
Also, sometimes parents have a set idea of what the children should be doing. Trying to make them do something. Telling them what to do. I’m wondering if we can shift a little and see if we can engage them in family life and really listen to their needs.
We have family meetings where I write down all the ideas that come up.
This creates an environment for deep listening. Javier and I listen deeply and write down the kids’ ideas as they speak. We try to work as a team and as a family. Not all of their ideas are realistic, but Javier and I get an idea of their internal world. It takes time to listen deeply, mindfully, and slow down to really look into their eyes and listen. I find this type of listening leads to understanding. This understanding leads to compassion, which leads to kindness. Then I can be much more patient as a mother.
Another thing we do is we practice Flower Watering, which is part of the practice of Beginning Anew taught by Thích Nhất Hạnh.
We sit in a circle with a glass of water with a flower in it, or a candle, and each person turns to one member of the family and tells them specifically what that person did to make their life more beautiful that week.
When the family is a little bit more experienced with Flower Watering you can add to this and share your regrets. Sometimes we add to our Flower Watering and add something that we would like to do more mindfully next time. This creates a lot of healing. Flower watering is watering the positive seeds in our family members.
We don’t really say, “I’m sorry,” in our family. We actually prefer to say that we will be more mindful next time. For example, I might say, “When I snapped at you to get in the car quickly because we had a dental appointment I felt very sad. Next time I will be more mindful and set an alarm for us to leave on time and speak more kindly to you.”
Every morning when I wake up I know that I have 24 brand-new hours to live mindfully.
I look at my husband new each day. I look at my boys new each day and I look at myself new each day. I try to let go of my judgments or pre-conceived ideas I have about my husband, my children or myself. For example, “Javier is so stubborn,” or, “Ay, he always loses his keys.” I try to let those things go and see him as a new person every morning.
When anger arises in me I am determined not to speak.
I visualize hot, burning arrows of strong emotions flying at me and I deflect them by staying solid and cool. I breathe.
If I’m feeling anger arise in me I may walk around the outside of the house and tell the kids that I will be slowly walking around the house. I let them know that I will be right back so they don’t feel scared that I’m leaving. Just walking. Sometimes I have stopped the car if we are driving somewhere as a family and the kids start arguing. I stop the car and breathe and walk for a moment.
Often, I go and brush my teeth.
Thầy Phap Dang yesterday mentioned to take a shower to shift the energy and Thầy mentions “changing the CD” in our mind. I go to brush my teeth gently for a few minutes.
We have a beautiful temple in our house. Cool and serene. So I go into this temple and I close the door, keeping the light turned off. There is a toilet in this temple, so I put down the toilet lid, sit down and feel the cool tiles under my bare feet and visualize cool Mother Earth. The bathroom is an amazing temple. I hope every mama knows this!
It’s not about pushing our feelings away or squashing them, but holding them, embracing them like a baby. Looking at them deeply and asking, “Why is this anger coming up? What is coming up for me?”
What Would Thầy do?
The last thing I do when things get a bit hairy with my children, with lots of big feelings flying around, I think to myself if Thầy was babysitting, what would he do? Sometimes I pretend that I’m Thầy or one of the experienced nuns and think what would they do? Make a cup of tea? Go for a little walk? Do a little weed pulling? Once when I was feeling overwhelmed I tended to my garden, pulling dead leaves off plants, and pulling some weeds.
I imagine Thầy sitting on the floor in our living room in the middle of the storm of big feelings. I have sat right in the middle of the room and closed my eyes and started breathing. The kids wonder what I’m doing, and they stop and we chat and check in. I imagine Thầy doing that and it supports me and makes me smile.
From the panel sharing on the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the Family Retreat at Deer Park Monastery, Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall, June 30, 2017.
About Kerry Horton Bennassar
Kerry Horton Bennassar is a painter and artist living in Topanga Canyon, California with her husband and two boys. Kerry discovered the mindfulness practice before she was married and attends retreats a couple times a year. Kerry began a small family Sangha at their home that meets once a month for children to practice ringing the bell, sitting mindfully for a short time, singing some happy songs and sharing a meal in mindfulness.