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Lions Roar : September 2015
ADVICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES “You’re Never Happier Than Your Least Happy Child” SYLVIA BOORSTEIN answers a reader’s question about how to be happy when her children are not. Dear Sylvia: In the May Shambhala Sun’s “Meet a Teacher” department, you said a motto that represents you is “You are never happier than your least happy child.” Is this always true? My children are chronically miserable for complex reasons. Is there any way for me to find happiness despite this? I love my children above all else in the world. Answer: Of course you love your children above all else in the world. The Buddha recognized the strength of the mother–child bond when he said, “Just as a mother would give her life for her one and only child, so should we love all beings.” Given the strength of this bond, no wonder your children’s distress is painful to you. The problem with the motto I chose, “You are never happier than your least happy child,” is with the word never. In the middle of feeling sad because one of my children is having a difficult time, I might spontaneously find myself glad- dened when I receive a phone call from a friend, or see a hawk land on my garden fence, or listen to a recording of Joshua Bell playing the Mendelssohn “Violin Concerto.” In all the times I’m not think- ing of the situation of distress, my mind gets a chance to rest, and the thought “My beloved person is in pain” becomes less consuming. It remains a true thought, but in a larger field in which it’s not the only truth, it feels easier to accept. One of the ways I intentionally choose to rest my mind is by meditating. Even a short period of time of sitting quietly and feeling my breath move in and out of my body is helpful. Being in a comfortable space and paying attention to the way the belly pushes forward and then settles back down is both simple and soothing. When my mind is relaxed, I’m able to think of the person in pain with compas- sion and to think of myself with compas- sion, too. Compassion is another form of happiness. ♦ 1952,STONE,IVORY,BLACKCOLORING,COLLECTIONOFTHEWINNIPEGARTGALLERY,THEIANLINDSAYCOLLECTION.COURTESYOFTHEPUBLICTRUSTEEFORNUNAVUT,ESTATEOFSHEOKJUKOQUTAQ. Send your question to email@example.com. TELL ME WHERE IT HURTS To help your children when they’re suffering, says parent coach Krissy Pozatek, start by getting in touch with your own pain. Pema Chödrön’s definition of compas- sion is a telling one: compassion is what a mother with no arms feels when her child falls in the river. I’ve spent some time with this one. At first I tossed it out of my con- sciousness because it seemed too hard to relate to, but it found a way back into my thoughts in my work with parents. Parents come to me with many painful scenarios— a child who has given up on school or won’t get out of bed, who lies incessantly, or who spends hours engaged in anxiety rituals or computer addictions—and the parents have generally spent endless hours fixing, nudging, or cajoling their child. Most parents have done everything they could, to no avail. We’re more com- fortable with action than with feeling. A mother with no arms: a feeling of help- lessness. We often feel helpless when it comes to our children’s pain. Yet there is value in staying right there with your child and feeling the reservoir of compas- sion that we all have for our children, just like the mother by the river. This mother can’t fix her child’s problem, but she can feel. That is compassion. Compassion means we are aware of our own suffer- ing, so we can relate—or try to relate—to another’s suffering. Most of us know physical pain, emotional pain; we know how rejection feels, we know fear, and we know loss, anxiety, and despair. We can feel with them. There is an internal softening, a sense of “this is hard, this is painful, and I am right here with you.” But we can’t reach in and remove another person’s suffering, just as this mother can’t scoop her child up out of the river. From Brave Parenting, by Krissy Pozatek, published by Wisdom. Sheokjuk Oqutaq, Mother and Child SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2015 25 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE