Here’s the scenario. You are working intently on a project at home. You’re really involved in it and deeply focused. Your 12-year-old daughter comes home. She’s mumbling and perhaps a little agitated. But, you’re so deeply focused on what you’re doing and not so tuned into what’s going on around you. The mumbling and agitation go right over your head.
Several minutes later, you hear a loud clatter and crash in the kitchen accompanied by a horrible yell. You run in, puzzled, apprehensive, and frightened. You see your daughter standing amongst the ruins of several large, beloved pottery bowls! You see that she’s not hurt and exclaim, “Oh no! What happened?!” The answer you get from your crying, obviously seething daughter surprises you: “I told you I was hungry and wanted something to eat, and you completely ignored me and left me to fend for myself!!”
You, feeling bewildered and defensive, protest: “You never told me you were hungry! How can you say that I ignored you!? I did nothing of the kind! And, why didn’t you ask me to help you instead of creating such havoc in our kitchen!?” In your grief over the loss of the one-of-a-kind pottery, you add, “I loved those bowls, and we can never re-create them!”
The screaming match escalates, and things devolve from there.
In chaos and confusion, the first casualty is mindfulness. Right out the window it goes, and only comes back after the smoke is clearing and the dust is settling. But, amidst chaos and confusion is when we need mindfulness the most! That’s when we need a calm space to assess what happened, what’s going on, what needs doing first, and how best to handle the situation ~ in thought, word, and action.
The natural inclination in a situation like the one I painted above is, indeed, to get defensive, to blame someone for being clumsy or careless or even malevolent. But, if we were to have a bird’s-eye view of everyone’s perspective, we would probably respond differently.
Perhaps we would learn that our daughter came home deeply troubled with very painful, bad news. Perhaps she learned something sad about a friend of hers or something she was joyfully anticipating fell through. Perhaps she had wanted to confide in you and found you unavailable and distant, adding to her loneliness or frustration. These feelings might be very difficult for her to understand, let alone effectively communicate to you. What she needs is not a defensive response from you, but a compassionate one.
If your initial response to her is based on your thoughts about what you THINK happened, you both are probably in for a very rough time. If you have summed up the situation, you have created a story in your head about what’s going on. And, believe it or not, that’s where we can get into some pretty big trouble.
We believe our thoughts. We believe them by default. We rarely, if ever, evaluate our thoughts. We think ’em, we buy into ’em, and then we often act on them as though they’re the truth. We do this mindlessly, without taking the time to run our thoughts through the acid-test of questioning them.
Here’s a fun fact: According to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, humans have, on average, about 70,000 thoughts per day. And, the majority of those thoughts are just plain not true. Nonsense. But, we treat these thoughts as The Truth, and we feel, speak, and make decisions as though those thoughts were true. They’re not. Most of them, anyway.
So. What can you do about this automatic acceptance of our thoughts?
Here’s one idea: Wait.
Try to develop a practice of pausing a few moments to ask yourself if what you’re thinking is true. Or, even try to find out what you’re thinking. Thoughts go by so quickly, we may not even be aware that we are thinking them! So, ask yourself: What Am I Thinking? (W.A.I.T.)
If it’s not a helpful thought, ask yourself if it is true (and, it’s probably not, if it’s not helpful). Ask yourself if something else could be going on here. Ask yourself if there is a more compassionate way to think about this situation. Then, give yourself the gift of a moment, a brief pause, to allow an answer. If you’re seeing red, then get out of the situation (once you know everyone is safe). Do some deep breathing to disperse adrenaline or some large muscle-movement activity (go outside and run around the house for a moment ~ something like that). Then, ask the question: What Am I Thinking? Then, be alert for the answer.
Be well and be kind,
P.S. I hope this is helpful to you. If you would like to talk more about mindfulness, problem solving, and finding workable solutions to parenting issues and struggles, or if you have some other issue (whether parenting related or not), please contact me for a no-obligation, no-cost consultation session. Visit the main site at www.peacefulparentingwhisperer.com to learn more or you can call me at 845 – 657 – 3111 or you can send me an email at marji AT peacefulparentingwhisperer DOT com.