Lately I’ve started doing a different kind of meditation. Rather than focusing on my breathing, I repeat the following phrases in my mind:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I feel loved.
And then I repeat those same words, but for different people. Lately, I’ve been mostly focusing on my daughters.
Now, if this sounds a little bit too Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!”) for your taste, well, I hear you. The first time I heard about this lovingkindness meditation (complete with instructions to place my hand over my heart), I almost laughed out loud. It sounded so preposterous and contrived and just plain silly that there was no way I could possibly imagine doing it. Sometimes it still feels that way, even when I am doing it.
Yet I keep doing it, because I have come to understand that kindness is my greatest challenge, and my greatest opportunity, in parenting (and in life).
I wish I could tell you that kindness is my default mode, that when I get frustrated or bored or tired or hungry, I revert to kindness. I wish I could tell you that I can always find a smile or some patience or nothing but love and understanding for my daughters. It’s just not true. All too often, I find myself standing at the kitchen counter or bent over the refrigerator, at a total loss for what to make for dinner, and the only thing I can think about is how tired I am, how I don’t really feel like parenting tonight, and how I wish my kids would just leave me alone for a few minutes.
While there is some truth to all of those thoughts, the deeper, more honest truth is that I love my daughters deeply, and I am grateful for the time I have with them, because I know that it could all change, or disappear, in an instant. The truth is that I desperately wanted to become a mother, and I haven’t regretted that decision for a moment since it happened. I changed my entire career and rearranged my life and schedule so that I can spend as much time with my children as possible while still working. These are changes and sacrifices that haven’t always been easy, but I am so grateful I was able to make them, and I would do it all over again. And more.
It’s easy to think about how great my kids are and how much I love them and love parenting when I’m well rested, when the girls are behaving, and when dinner is already figured out. It’s easy to be kind when the parenting stars are aligned. But that’s not when I need kindness the most, and it’s not when my girls need it. They need it when they are feeling scared or lonely or irritable or uncertain. They need it when I am feeling grumpy or annoyed.
We all need it most when I feel least able to give it.
The good news is that I can get better at kindness. I can come closer to making it my default mode, my automatic response. The way to do that is just to practice it more, whenever I can, but I have found through trial and mostly error that I can’t do it when I’m in the middle of parenting chaos. It’s like throwing an amateur player into the big game when she hasn’t had enough time on the practice field. She’s not going to suddenly make the game-winning goal. She probably won’t even know which way to run on the field. Instead, she’s going to get scared and disoriented, and she’ll end up feeling worse about herself and her playing abilities than she did before.
I’ve been there and done that too many times. I need to try something new.
And so, I am learning to practice kindness. I am choosing to believe in ancient Native American wisdom about choosing which wolf to feed, in the Buddhist tradition of watering seeds, and in the clever rhymes of neuroscience, such as “neurons that fire together, wire together.” I am trusting that each time I force my brain to think kind thoughts towards my daughters, I am feeding the right wolf, watering the right seeds, and strengthening the neural connections that will make it more likely that kind thoughts will become my default.
It’s not easy. There are days when I feel ridiculous sitting on my cushion, silently repeating the same four sentences over and over again.
And then I think about my daughters, and what I want for them and for myself. I want more kindness.