The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon

Bringing mindfulness to emotion for teenagers

Not a very long while ago, my daughter and I lived in a bubble.  It was our own, created by me out of love and also a kind of neediness.  I was the fiercest of mothers, and fought hard for what we had, like many single mothers.  I made difficult  decisions all based around creating the best possible ground in which she could grow.  It’s a hard thing, to be what you want to be rather than what you saw from your own parents as a child.  At least it is, while you’re ‘in it’.  It takes a certain awareness to shine the light into the shadow to splinter apart the things that are appropriate for you, now, as a parent, and what actually was your own nurturing ground, as a child.

Children do what they see, after all, not what they’re told.  I was particularly aware of this, and I hope I still am.  In attempting to be balanced in my parenting, I made a gift to myself unwittingly and this was to really look at, or bring mindfulness to those elements I did not want to pass on down to my child.  It’s easy enough when you are aware of the big things you don’t want to recreate, but the ground gets rockier when you know that inside your own Shadow there are small and much larger chunks of frozen consciousness.  These are like space debris, hitting you out of nowhere and sending you off your orbital pattern.  Which is no bad thing, when you’re ready for it.  When you’re ready for it, you brace yourself and watch yourself go into a tail spin, waiting for gravity to start it’s inexorable pulling you back to a place close to centre.  Once you’re back, what do you do?  Look at what happened, and see if you can figure out which part of space junk came out of the past to sock you a double left-hander.

I’ve had plenty of these solid thunks to the temple over the years.  This last one, well, I’m still spinning, but I know that I am, so I can at least see my way back.   It’s about letting go.  And it’s about not putting any pressure on her to become something that I expect of her.  I’ve always been very aware of parental pressure and what it can do.  We’ve discussed the dictat “Just be happy”, for example.  My take on this is that there are hills and there are valleys to life, and how can you enjoy the view from the top if you haven’t been down into the valley because this is my way of explaining to her that sadness and confusion have their place.  They both point the finger to something potentially getting ready to settle down into her shadow.  Awareness of it is all it takes to burn away the place where that emotion might get too comfortable.  As children, we have to swallow so much that we might not have consciously chosen, but it is the medicine of the parents and of little use to us.  As a parent now, she and I talk openly and often about bringing mindfulness to emotion so that it can exist in a place which is visible to us.   The visibility means that negative (so called) stuff doesn’t get embedded, and not getting embedded, means a freer human being, growing into an adult with self esteem and wellbeing all beautifully intact.

The order “just be happy” then takes its proper place which is that happiness is not a state in itself, and is transitory after all, but lies within tranquillity and a sense of balance, both of which one can feel even during distress.  To aim, therefore, for balance and tranquillity are far better goals, if that word can be used here, than simple happiness.

My daughter is a wonderful thirteen as I write, beset by anxieties small and large.  I remember well being her age, but counsel myself not to launch into the “when I was your age..” thing, in answer to some of her questions, since that would make it about me, wouldn’t it?  And really, if she asks a question, she wants simple facts, then it is about her and that is as it should be.  But I remember that age and the angst that can go along with it.  The musing about yourself, the worry about the future self, the wonder if you will ever grow up, and the idea that age nineteen is old.  One thing I remember is that walking home from school, I always felt that the sky was too big.  In hindsight, this was my anxiety over a volatile situation at home.  That said, I know my parents did their very best with what they knew at the time.

It doesn’t mean I have to go the same way, and this I have learned profoundly in recent times.  When I was thirteen, I was like a wildflower growing up between the cracks in the pavement, which I counted, by the way, for luck.  It’s an effort for me to look upon my daughter with eyes that don’t judge or compare her to me, and to think that she has her own way of doing things, all she needs is a bit of support from me.  All she needs, really, is the reassurance that I’m still here.

I hope I’ve been open with her, open to her, because she does fascinate me very much and has done every day since she was born.  I do agree with the Kahlil Gibran, that children come through us but they are not ours.  In my wish to cling on to her, I realise that letting go is better.  Holding on to her is about my need, after all, and letting her go is evolutionarily what should happen.

But what I’ve learned is this; that the more centred I am, the better it goes for her, because she really is still in my bubble, but has made a door and steps out of it sometimes.  She can make her own decisions within the small remit that is her teenage world, and it is powerful for her, not just to make them, but to take what happens as a result.  A small example from this weekend might be the sudden snow we had.  My daughter had arranged to go for a pizza and then to the cinema.  We were on hand to pick her up when she was ready.  She left without a coat.

My phone buzzed with a text from her three hours later shivering at a bus stop in a blizzard.  When she got home, I had prepared a bath for her, but other than that, I asked “And what did you learn?”, and she told me that no matter how she dislikes her coat, it would have been highly useful in the snow.  What she also said was how different other people’s parents are, that her friend (whose birthday it was) hadn’t booked a table, looked at bus timetables or done much organising for her own birthday trip.  As I listened to this, I asked myself if I could hear my own judgemental voice in hers?  Even so, she was trying on judgement for size and soon threw it off anyway, it being a very uncomfortable garment to wear.

Listening to her, being with her, I see myself more clearly.  The space junk still comes at me from out of the spinning darkness, but more and more, I’m able to face it when it comes and catch it, hold it, look at it, rather than let it give me a black eye.

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2 Comments

  1. I love that you left the poor girl to freeze out in the snow as a ‘life lesson’…Confusious say “Gotta first be really cold to appreciate the warmth when it comes!”…Sadist!

    Reply
  2. Confucious he also say, Mikie Mike, you are tooooooo hobeservant, youuuu, notice, youuuu, toooo much about badly assembled blog! (at which point Confucious knocks his knuckes against your brow) Remebah! Imperfect blogging shows imperfect soul! Alwaaaays have pity for those less well endowed than oneself, in mental constructs!

    Reply

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