An Excerpt from Parenting with Presence by Susan Stiffelman
In India they’re called householder yogis — women and men with an unshakable commitment to their spiritual path who have decided to have a family rather than to live in a cave or an ashram. They choose to grow and evolve through their experiences at home and in the workplace, embracing the challenges of everyday life as the means to their transformation.
Many of us subscribe to the belief that spiritual growth happens as a result of daily meditation, mindfulness retreats, and inspiration from wise luminaries. But one of the greatest teachers you could ever hope to learn from is living right under your roof, even if (especially if) he or she pushes your buttons or challenges your limitations.
In parenting, things get very real, very fast. Figuring out how to cope when your child spills juice on the new sofa or managing your reactions when your kids tease each other nonstop on the long ride to Grandma’s is the equivalent of an advanced course in personal growth. Do you fall apart, or are you able to stay present, deepening your ability to be with “what is,” responding rather than reacting?
True spirituality doesn’t happen in a cave at the top of a mountain. It’s down here, wiping a runny nose, playing yet another round of Candyland, or rocking a colicky baby at two in the morning. The Buddha is crying in the next room. How you handle that is as evolved and as spiritual as it gets.
What is a teacher?
Many of us are charmed by the image of our sons and daughters as divinely appointed teachers who can help us transform our hearts and souls. But while the idea of seeing our child as one of our teachers has a lyrical, enlightened ring to it, there’s a difference between accepting the idea of something and embracing the reality of it.
Our children may indeed catalyze a love within us that we could not have imagined possible. But they can also elicit powerful elements of our shadow selves, calling forth aspects of our nature, such as impatience and intolerance, that leave us ashamed and overwhelmed.
Maintaining equilibrium is key to living in the moment, but nothing tests our ability to stay centered like parenting. Raising kids can be anything but peaceful, with sibling squabbles, homework meltdowns, and arguments over video games all-too-familiar features of the landscape of family life. It’s easy for soulful principles to collide with the realities of day-to-day life with children underfoot. Even the most seasoned meditator or yogini may find herself shouting, threatening, bribing, or punishing, despite having set intentions to remain loving and calm no matter what.
There is a saying, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I have long found it to be true that when I am ready to expand my horizons intellectually, psychologically, or spiritually, an opportunity presents itself that seems divinely orchestrated to allow me to stretch, grow, and learn. That said, I don’t always want to stretch, grow, and learn! Instead, I may feel as if I’ve been involuntarily enrolled in a class I had no desire to take!
When it comes to parenting, it seems that although we may not have knowingly signed up for the “course” our children offer, we nonetheless find ourselves forced (“invited?” “given the opportunity?”) to profoundly grow, and grow up. In this respect, I believe our children can become our greatest teachers. While we may not deliberately choose to have a baby so that we can heal wounds from our childhood or become a better version of our- selves, in fact, those opportunities — and thousands more — are birthed right along with our children.
Susan Stiffelman, mft is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at http://www.ParentingwithPresence.com.
Excerpted from the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. http://www.newworldlibrary.com