How Family Life Dishes Up Life’s Greatest Lessons

Article

How Family Life Dishes Up Life’s Greatest Lessons

About This Resource

Summary Why you should know about the Buddhist practice of “Beginner’s Mind.”
Age Range
Uploaded by

Details

“Having a beginner’s mind means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything…It is that delicious state when you are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.” ~ Paramahamsa Nithyananda

In parenting and family life, I have often felt like a beginner, wondering how other families cope with being up six times a night, deal with difficult emotions and conflict, and stay sane in the face of staggering responsibilities. There was the loss of autonomy, the changes in body and moods, and the seemingly ceaseless demands for time and attention. In the many moments of feeling stretched, I asked myself how family life could spark growth and transformation. How was I being invited to become a better person? How could I manifest the sanest, most grounded expression of what it means to be human?

I wanted to figure out how to bring mindfulness to each seemingly mundane moment of changing diapers, cleaning up messes, or mitigating ceaseless sibling conflicts. I began paying close attention to my experience and made myself available to the insights that wanted to shine through. And, I found there were lessons to be learned and invitations to grow at every turn. In fact, family life has taught me some of the greatest lessons of life: how to love more deeply, how to be more present, and how to find compassion in the rough spaces. What better space to grow than right here at home?

What do we do when routine and the day in and day out formations of habits in our family lives lend themselves to being stuck? When things aren’t working, has something gone stale?

Inevitably, there are moments in family life where things don’t run smoothly. There are days when no matter how many times we say something, the same unsettling patterns still play themselves out. There are struggles over sharing toys or food. There can be power struggles, even over the simple things. If you have more than one child, there are likely ongoing sibling conflicts — some superficial, some deep. If you have boys as I do, you may like me be constantly mitigating physical energy and aiming to create safe spaces for the expression of this energy. As my boys grew into toddlers and beyond, day in and day out I found myself constantly saying things like “No.” “Please don’t.” “What are you doing?!” Some days, nothing seemed to work to maintain the balance.

What do we do when routine and the day in and day out formations of habits in our family lives lend themselves to being stuck? When things aren’t working, has something gone stale? There were times when conflicts would repeat themselves and I’d practice the same futile responses. Something needed to shift. I couldn’t handle one more squabble. I couldn’t stand to hear myself say “please take a break and come back when you are ready…” one more time. In these moments we need tools for working with difficult moments and engaging negative patterns. We need a fresh perspective. When we’ve hit a plateau and we don’t know what to do, the Buddhist practice of “Beginner’s Mind” proves infinitely handy.

And then it struck me one day — Beginner’s Mind! Like a dog barking from the bottom of a very distant well, I heard a crackle of inspiration. What if each day I let the spirit of inquiry and curiosity lead? What if I assumed I was a novice at everything I was encountering? I could practice letting go of any storylines that I’d created about my family life. I could imagine I was walking into an entirely new situation each time I approached the same old conflict. Even though only five minutes may have passed since my last moment of intervention, what new response could I bring now? And now? And now?

As Indian spiritual teacher Paramahamsa Nithyananda says, having a beginner’s mind means embodying an attitude of “eagerness and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything.” Beginner’s mind points us towards the space where the mind doesn’t know what to do, yet in this space there is a quality of fearlessness where we can be totally available to the moment. When choosing this orientation, we can set aside preconceptions when approaching our loved ones and our days.

Tapping into beginner’s mind is like entering a wide-open space where creativity can thrive. It is the antidote to the habitual response. Rather than feeding cycles we wish to interrupt, beginner’s mind is a reminder of the space that is always there to choose differently.

The space where the mind does not know what to do is actually something to celebrate. Orienting as a ‘beginner’ can allow for new, creative responses. If we keep these openings for ourselves in the midst of our routines and habits, this is the fertile ground of change and growth. Maybe I could find a freedom here. Rather than scramble for a habitual ‘appropriate’ or ‘effective’ response to whatever was arising, I could instead take pause. This way, I could start from a renewed place. I could practice seeing my family with new eyes, over and over again. I could throw strategy out the window and be spontaneous with my responses.

Tapping into beginner’s mind is like entering a wide-open space where creativity can thrive. It is the antidote to the habitual response. Rather than feeding cycles we wish to interrupt, beginner’s mind is a reminder of the space that is always there to choose differently.

I’m reminded of my boys’ energy when they are at their best together, in a flow. In these moments of mutual playfulness, they are pure joy. Moving from one moment to the next, they are open, free, and eager. Nityananda’s quote on beginner’s mind strikes me in a different way. “It is that delicious state when you are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.” We too can bring a playful openness to the present moment. We can act as if we’ve never experienced anything like it before. Because, truly, we haven’t! Each moment is a new, fresh invitation.

Family life can indeed dish up some of life’s greatest lessons. We can choose to practice what we want to cultivate throughout the ordinary moments of rest and responsibility on any given day. Right here with the wet wipes and family dinners is where we can live and breathe our values and our love. The familiar, ordinary, and day to day are where the next great lesson can reveal itself if we create the space within ourselves to receive.

Try a practice of “beginner’s mind.” What would it look like if you embodied an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching your day today?

Set aside any storylines you may have adopted about certain behaviors or situations. Imagine you are walking into an entirely new situation instead. Let curiosity lead.

After a pause, practice bringing a spontaneous response to each situation.

Want more practices for mindful parenting? Deborah McNamara is the author of The Invitation of Motherhood: Uncovering the Spiritual Lessons of Parenting, from which the above was adapted. Learn more at www.debmcnamara.com or follow on Facebook here.

Leave a Reply