‘We live in an age in which telecommunications is very sophisticated, but communications between parents and children is suffering. We are losing the capacity to listen to each other, to talk to each other in the language of understanding’
Thich Nhat Hanh
Parenthood and being part of a family can be the most meaningful, joyful and challenging parts of our life. As well as the smiles, the love, the shared laughter and enjoyable experiences are the misunderstandings, the gripes, the difficult reactions and the mundane everyday tasks. It can be very easy to seek sanctuary in online stimulation (think Netflix, social media, online games and apps), a full schedule or other distractions and so we begin to lose the capacity to listen to ourselves, to our family and to build love and understanding.
It all starts with us
Mindfulness practice – being present in a loving and accepting way – offers us the opportunity to be calmer, happier and more able to listen and to understand ourselves and others.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers’’
Thich Nhat Hanh
When we travel on an airline we are told that we need to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. Mindfulness is like this too. When we make time to practice mindfulness we not only feel calmer but our family will sense our peacefulness and benefit from it straight away. When we stop and listen to ourselves with understanding then we are able to listen and understand our children and other family members more easily. We are able to offer them our calm understanding presence.
As a working mum it was too easy for me to bring work home and to find myself thinking about work problems when I was with my children. So I made sure I practiced mindfulness on my journey home. I practiced mindful sitting on the tube and mindful walking through the south London streets – I left work behind at work. I arrived home fresh, calm and present – ready for family life – ready to be truly with my husband and children. That way I made the most of every minute I had with my family.
Joyful Mindfulness with Children
Practicing mindfulness with our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews is a wonderful opportunity to feel fresh, solid, clear and free. There are many ways we can do this including bell practice, mindful walking and simple meditations. Thich Nhat Hanh created the lovely pebble meditation for families to practice together. On the video below there is a young girl explaining pebble meditation.
For more details on practicing mindfulness with children the book ‘Planting Seeds’ by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village sangha is a great resource. In addition there are annual family retreats in the UK by the Community of Interbeing that offer an opportunities for family groups to understand and practice mindfulness together. Also on June 1st 2018 at the Mindful Living Show, London, speakers from the COI will be talking about parenting.
Mindfulness of our own parents
When we become parents, our relationship with our own parents often changes. We understand more what it means to be a parent – the joys, the difficulties. The love, the wonder, the smiles, the first steps the responsibility, the late nights, the lack of sleep, the development milestones, the terrible twos, the grumpy teenagers and so on. We may find
- A new respect for our parents when we realise all that parenthood involves
- Ways in which we feel our parents didn’t look after us well
- Many ways in which we are like our parents that we hadn’t seen before
- Other insights into our parents
The Plum Village mindfulness tradition offers us clear mindfulness practices to help us transform the suffering in us around our relationship with our parents. We practice mindfulness to develop love and understanding for ourselves and for our parents. In this way we find skilful ways to transform challenging behaviours and thought patterns. Even if our parents are no longer alive there will be an influence in our lives. In the short video clip below Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the suffering of our parents and ancestors and how our parents are alive in us:
When we are experienced at stopping and calming ourselves with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to look deeply into our relationship with our parents and other ancestors. We start by seeing ourselves as a five year old child. We recognise how vulnerable and fragile we were and we smile with love and understanding. We repeat this for our parents – recognising how they were 5 years old once and also fragile and vulnerable – we smile at them with love and understanding. Practicing this deep mindfulness practice helps us to understand the difficulties and suffering in our parents lives. See this we more truly understand our parents and the challenges they faced – we can begin to see and accept why they did some of the things they did.
This deep mindfulness exercise has been so helpful to me. Taking the time to calmly see my parents as young children and to understand what they experienced helped me to understand and love them more fully than I ever had before. I gained insights into their behaviours and habits and also into my own habits and behaviours that I had picked up from them. It is a very profound and healing exercise that is wonderful to do with a group of people who are solid mindfulness practitioners.
There are a number of books by Thich Nhat Hanh that explore the relationship with our parents in more detail including ‘Anger – Wisdom for Cooling the Flames’ and ‘Reconciliation – Healing the Inner Child’.\
True Action of Loving Kindness
If you would like to find out more on this topic and to practice with others as a mindful community on retreat then we have two upcoming events you might enjoy:
is an in-depth retreat suitable for adults being led by Vari and Teri West 11-17th July 2018 in East Sussex. More details can be found on