You might ask yourself, how relevant are spiritual principles when you get a call from your teenage daughter at 3 am on a Sunday morning, when you think she is safely tucked away in her bed? A spiritual understanding of reality may not be the first thing that occurs to you as you get dressed to pick her up from the parking lot of a local church where she is waiting with two police officers and several of her friends. The essence of her formless nature may not feel that present as you hear she has a curfew violation, and you have to go to court with her. Needless to say, this experience brought into focus some very practical, tangible, and form filled consequences.
Hopefully this is the nadir of the challenges we will have as a family, but I know all too well it may not be. Having worked as a therapist, parent coach, and parent educator, I understand the difficulties that can impact families when their children are in adolescence and beyond. I, of course, hoped to avoid them, but as my husband said “It is the vicar’s daughter syndrome.”
What I noticed as my husband and I were driving to pick her up, was how calm I felt. I was curious about her thinking behind her decision. I was bemused by her audacity. I felt slightly incredulous. However, after that night, as the realization of the extent of her lies and deception sank in, my mind got busier. I lost my peace. I started buying into thoughts about her behavior being my fault. I found myself feeling the shame related to believing, “I have done something wrong. I am a bad parent.” I witnessed myself reacting to my feelings of shame by worrying. I used my worry as a coping mechanism to try and stabilize myself. I busied myself thinking about everything I could do to get her back on track.
At this time, I felt tremendous empathy for all the parents I have worked with over the years. I remembered how many of them had felt alone and ashamed as they struggled with issues related to their children before they reached out for support. This reminded me of the importance of getting out of my own head, and getting my own support. By talking the situation through, I was able to see how my story of worry, catastrophic thinking, judging myself as a bad mother, and judging my daughter as bad, was getting in the way of me connecting and being present with her at a time when she clearly needed that.
As I found myself less gripped my thinking, and better able to relax, I reflected on how I was able to be calm and present during the intensity of the crisis, but in the aftermath, my thinking got the better of me. I got caught up in my insecure thoughts. It was then that I saw the value and significance of having an understanding of my psychological functioning and the larger spiritual context.
Even though, I lost perspective and brought my insecure thoughts to life. I knew I was living in the feeling of my worried, anxious thoughts. I wasn’t able to add anything positive to the situation for a bit, but I was aware that I wasn’t myself. I knew my thinking would settle, and I would stabilize. This helped me to not fuel further layers of judgmental thinking against myself, and to compassionately accept myself exactly where I was at.
I was surprisingly fine with my imbalanced state. I knew I was going to come back to my center eventually. It didn’t matter that my cuticle picking habit had gone rampant, that I had plans A through Z spinning in my head much of the time, that I was waking up at four in the morning worrying, that I had circles under my eyes, that my husband and I were irritable with each other, that I was in a low mood, that I wasn’t connected with my inner wisdom, that I was intense, that I felt pressured, or that I was controlling.
I am not saying I recommend any of this. I certainly didn’t feel sane or stable, but I was kind and compassionate with myself. I recognized that I was doing the best I could given my state of mind. This was very healing. Having room for my imperfections, especially in my role as a mother, felt incredibly freeing. Parenting in general has a habit of humbling me and bringing me to my knees in surrender. This instance was no exception.
By having a grounding in the understanding that my feelings reflect my thoughts, I was able to recognize that I was in a low state of mind. I understood I was caught up in my distorted, insecure thinking, rather than experiencing my wisdom. Having this awareness helped me to be less gripped by my anxious, catastrophic thoughts. It helped me to relax while having them, and allowed me to emotionally stabilize more easily.
As I settled, the mountain of my daughter’s delinquency shrank into the molehill of an adolescent and parental learning opportunity. I found myself better able to trust her capacity to learn and grow from this experience independent of me needing to be the perfect mom. I recognized I can do my best to keep her safe and educate her about the consequences of impulsive and risky decisions, and how she responds, is her journey. Whether she complies or not is outside of my control. It has nothing to do with how much I love her, or my value as human being. I also know that no matter how challenging she may be, with my capacity to eventually experience peace of mind, there is infinite potential available to me to have more patience, creativity, perseverance, courage, and strength of heart as I share this journey with her.
Prior to this, I had not realized how deeply ingrained my beliefs were that in order for me to feel good enough my kids have to behave. After walking through this experience, these beliefs have less of a hold over me. I have a better experiential understanding that our essential goodness as human beings is never under question no matter what our behavior.
As soon as I was able to remember this, and to experience it, I found my bearings as a parent. I felt good about the consequences my husband and I had put into place. I knew they were rooted in love. I felt my resilience to experience whatever anger my daughter had in reaction to the consequences, and I resolved to do my best to love her and to re-establish rapport, with all of the boundaries in place.
After my internal shift, I was more relaxed and open hearted. I looked for opportunities to connect with her. I wasn’t attached to how she responded to me. Due to me being more flexible and open minded, we were able to talk about everything. I was able to be present and centered as she shared about her struggles, challenges, wins, fun, goals, and dreams. She was able to hear why we as parents were doing what we were doing, and to feel my love for her. I let her know I was proud of her for all of the good things she was up to. I also acknowledged her innate value and lovability that is independent of her behavior. The conversation and connection exceeded my expectations.
Having an understanding of the spiritual context helped me to not take my insecure thinking seriously because I recognized I was simply in a temporary low state of mind. It gave me the safety to relax and trust that I would eventually experience the flow of my innate, loving intelligence. I knew I would get over my selfish, self-centered focus, and tune into the wisdom of my heart. When I got there, I was able to use the experience as an opportunity for deepening my connection with my formless, loving essence so that I can express my Authentic Self more fully in my life. By digging deep and standing forward as a leader, fearless of rejection, rebellion, and anger, I got to stand my ground and experience the Authentic Power of love.