Have you noticed how springtime is around the corner? Eventually the flowers will bloom again, green grass will colour the earth and the sun will shine more often. The garden season will start. You might have a look at your garden and see its state. You pull the weeds, and you plant new flowers. It is very simple and gratifying.
Taking care of yourself is a bit like taking care of the garden in your backyard. So why not have a look at your very own garden, the garden of your mind? This is the start of interacting in a more mindful way with others, with your kids for example.
Rick Hanson, neuroscientist and psychologist, and an acclaimed author on personal well-being and psychological growth, suggests the following steps:
Start by observing the garden. Rest your eyes and your awareness on what is here in front of you, in the present moment. Be with the mind, which means the following: feel the feelings, experience the experiences, think the thoughts. Try to do this with acceptance, as you may not like what is there. However, simply be with it and don't try to change or suppress it. Imagine yourself sitting on a park bench and watch what is happening in the park; watching your life unfold in this very moment without wanting anything to be different. This is mindful awareness.
Now you can pull the weeds: reduce the negative. Challenge wrong or harmful thoughts (they are after all just thoughts, not necessarily the truth), challenge fixed or selective perceptions, inhibit harmful actions. This can be done by slowing down, releasing tension in your body through yoga for example, or deeply breathing and relaxing.
Finally plant the flowers: grow the positive. Think what's true and beneficial - yes, you did not manage to do all 10 things on your to-do-list, but you DID do the most important things..., feel grateful for what you have and act in ways that are beneficial to yourself and to others.
We could sum this up as: letting be, letting go, and letting in.
You can not only apply this to yourself, but to any interaction, such as with your child.
LET BE: He does not listen to your order to stop playing with his toys and come to dinner. Recognise that you get angry, frustrated (emotions). The stomach tightens (sensations). You think: "Why does he never listen to me?!" (thoughts). Your triggers get pulled and you are about to act in anger. Try to be open and recognise what's there.
LET GO: Breathe. Challenge thoughts that contain a "should", "never", "always", or "must" notion. They are signals of a mind trap. Because, if you are honest, does he really "never" listen to you? Is his intention really to defy you personally? Try to release negative thoughts. Commit to not acting or speaking out of anger, as it will create emotional distance. And the message you want to deliver will certainly not be heard or accepted.
LET IN: Begin receiving true and beneficial thoughts. Maybe he simply did not hear you because he was too concentrated on the play? Look for positive alternatives to your automatic reaction. Remember the love and kindness that is the basis of your relationship. If he ignored you on purpose, then think of better ways to communicate, for example: "When you ignore me like this, then I feel really hurt and disrespected. Let's have a talk about our way of being with each other when we are both calm again."
Taking these steps is not always easy and it needs practice to be able to do it. But with practice and with the willingness to work with whatever is here, it is possible to create a beautiful and colourful garden in your mind and pull out the weeds whenever you see them.
Here is a guided meditation on practising these three steps.