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Lions Roar : November 2015
added a few more things this time. “It’s just a feeling in your body that we all have. I know worry is uncomfort- able. Why don’t you give your worry a hug, like you do your doll?” She nodded. I even asked (probably due to my own worry) if there was anything she’d like me to do, and she said, “No thank you.” It reminded me that as a parent there is nothing to do except listen and be pres- ent. Kids actually don’t want their emo- tions fixed. This continued every few days, and I continued to give the same answer. Her sister even joined in. “Mom, she’s wor- ried again.” Because she couldn’t identify it, I wondered if it was a more existential worry. Was she starting to learn about death? Did she observe a child get picked on at school? Was she learning more about the inequities in society, as she has seen how some kids have a lot more than other kids? I didn’t know where this was going. No parent does. But I did know from my Buddhist stud- ies that anxiety is a normal feel- ing and part of being alive in an impermanent world. Pema Chödrön writes about the natu- ral upwelling of shakiness or edginess that happens when we are fully present, because none of us knows what is going to happen next. I knew there wasn’t a pretty pink bow I could put on her worry. I also knew from my work as a therapist that if I don’t respond specifically to the emotion, she might escalate to acting it out. All acting- out for kids (and adults) has emotions underneath. Luckily, she showed me the emotion first, not a behavior like refusing to go to school or escalated anger, which is more frequently the case. Emotional resilience has become a buzzword in parenting. Yet most of us want our children to feel only one emo- tion: happiness. Children’s happiness has become the primary project in our parenting culture today. As Buddhists we may realize that emotional pain is an opportunity for awakening, but with our children we are quick to shield them from any emotional discomfort. Instead of happiness, I believe our par- enting goal should be emotional health. Emotional health means that we can be with all of our emotions without reactivity. When parents steer children toward happiness, we are on some level indicating that other emotions are not okay. Though not intentioned, this dis- rupts children’s natural ability to feel the normal spectrum of human emotions, which inevitably includes anger, anxiety, embarrassment, fear, and so on. Resiliency means learning to be with discomfort, frustration, disappointment, worry, sadness, and even boredom. The exciting news is that it can be taught and learned. Teaching kids to be with their emotions isn’t a quick fix, but it creates the conditions for long-term contentment. Like the maple tree in the backyard that has grown resilient and strong after years of storms, we can normalize and validate the storms of life and help children cultivate their inner strengths and ability to process emotions naturally. One day a few weeks later we were in the car, and my four-year-old said in a sing-songy voice, “Mooom, I’m woooried and I know it’s oookaaaayyyy.” I looked back and she was smiling. She seemed brave and triumphant. She had learned to meet her anxiety with accep- tance and equanimity. As I shed a tear in the front seat, I also felt brave and trium- phant. She showed me that we can let our kids experience their emotions fully. Not fearing emotions, they can learn to be with them until they pass. Because emo- tions, like all things, are impermanent. ♦ MEDITATION: APPRECIATING OTHERS • As you contemplate the various ways in which you are the beneficiary of contri- butions from so many people, including countless strangers, acknowledge that it’s the presence of others that makes it possible for you to live, it’s their presence that gives meaning to your existence, and it’s their deeds that contribute toward your welfare. • Now allow your heart to open so that a sense of appreciation and gratitude may begin to arise in you. Abide in this state, and whatever positive thoughts and feelings you happen to experience, let them permeate your entire being. • Next contemplate this thought: “Just as I feel happy when others wish me well, and feel touched when others show concern for my pain and sorrow, so everyone else feels the same way. Therefore I shall rejoice in others’ hap- piness and feel concerned for their pain and sorrow.” • Once again, recalling your profound recognition that others aspire to hap- piness and shun suffering the same way you do, open your heart to rejoic- ing in others’ happiness and connect- ing with their pain. • Now—having brought to your mind the fundamental recognition that, just like you, all others aspire to happiness and wish to avoid suffering, as well as having reflected on the deeply inter- connected nature of yourself and oth- ers—let your heart become permeated by the sense of connection with others. From A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, by THUPTEN JINPA, PHD, with permission from Hudson Street Press. PRACTICE Teaching kids to be with their emotions creates the conditions for long- term contentment. SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 20 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE