From Conscious Choice
By Natalie Fee
Something very beautiful happened to me the other day. Something beautiful is happening all the time actually, but for the most part my mind is too busy thinking to notice. But on this particular afternoon, I did notice. While walking my son Elliot home from school, I was presented with a perfect opportunity to employ a technique I’d learned earlier that week from a CD by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. It was a simple way of practicing awareness — when a disturbing emotion arises, you stop, don’t act, and breathe. The idea is that the simple process of becoming aware of the emotion — be it anger, fear, sadness — is enough to begin a transformation, turning the emotion from “negative” into something more beneficial and useful.
In my case, I had a whining child pulling on my shopping-laden arms, demanding I hold his hand/carry his lunchbox/buy him a treat. And I felt angry. Angry that he could be so insensitive. So desirous of things. But instead of shouting or snapping, I took a deep breath. “Breathing in, I see I am angry. Breathing out, I see anger is present in me…” and so on. I didn’t stop feeling angry there and then, but I did feel that just by shining the light of my awareness on the anger, I had set wheels in motion. Then I forgot all about it. We got home and did the usual play, dinner, bath, bed routine. Just before bed, he asked if he could look at a toy catalogue before I read him a story. Mistakenly, I said yes. Before long, he was crying about how he wanted it all now, wished his birthday was here now, and was beside himself with tears of frustration.
I felt the anger rising in me again. But this time, I remembered something else I’d heard on the CD. It was the part where Thich Nhat Hanh talks about growing lettuces. He says, “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It’s the same with people. People are lettuces too.”
With that premise in mind, I jumped on the bed, lay down next to Elliot, and started talking. I asked him if he knew what the word “grateful” meant. He didn’t. I explained it’s a feeling of “thank you” to someone or something. I asked him what had happened that day to make him feel “thank you” — and he started talking, telling me things about the day I’d not heard him mention before. I then shared what I was grateful for that day. Within a few minutes, Elliot had moved from angry and frustrated to happy and glad. And so had I. Then he fell into a peaceful sleep while I was still rambling on about something or other.
It wasn’t until later that I realized what had happened that evening wasn’t a stand-alone event. It was part of a series of events. I’d heard the CD, which gave me new insight. I practiced the technique, which had — although I’d not felt it at the time — transformed some of my anger into wisdom. Then, later that night, I’d been able to apply that wisdom to a situation, which in turn brought peace to someone else, which in turn brought it back to me. And that’s the magic of awareness. It’s a truly transformative energy that can be used and cultivated by anyone.
So now, I practice saying “thank you” with Elliot each night before bed. I’ve since taken some time to understand why Elliot was developing an unhealthy attitude towards toys and shopping and made some changes in my parenting approach. I realized that although I can’t protect him from consumerism, I can do things with him to help him be grateful for the things in life that aren’t things. Hopefully, in some small way, this will help him develop a sense of well-being and joy — no matter what toys he’s got.
Parenting is increasingly becoming part of my meditation. Every situation becomes an opportunity to grow. Living life in this way turns even the most challenging circumstances into my guides — showing me parts of myself, in this case anger, that are ready to be transformed by the light of my awareness. Elliot is my teacher, as is anyone who brings up my negativity.
It reminds me of another quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“One day in Paris, I gave a lecture about not blaming the lettuce. After the talk, I was walking and overheard an eight-year-old girl telling her mother, ‘Mummy, remember to water me. I’m your lettuce.’ I was so pleased that she had understood my point completely. Then I heard her mother reply, ‘Yes, my daughter, and I am your lettuce also. So please don’t forget to water me, too.’ Mother and daughter practicing together. It was very beautiful.”