There are times when my fears and worries about my children have overwhelmed and overtaken me. It has helped my a great deal to identify and name my fears. I have feared failure as a parent: that my children will not be happy and healthy and that I will be judged by others. I have feared that my children will get hurt, physically or emotionally. These fears and others like them underpin many of the problems I have experienced with my children. My fear can drive a need for my child to learn certain skills or to behave in a certain way. It can drive me to control, manipulate and pressure my children. It has really helped to examine these fears closely and to question my belief in them.
One of the most liberating things that I have learned in my parenting journey is that there are two types of fear. Eckhart Tolle describes them in his book The Power of Now. On one hand there is fear of immediate physical danger. I don’t put my hand in the fire because I know that I will get burned. There is an instinctive shrinking back from true immediate danger. Then there is psychological fear. This kind of fear is always of something that might happen in the future, not of something that is happening now. Psychological fear arises in response to thoughts about a future that does not exist. It is a creation of my mind. I am imagining a fearful future. I can be completely overtaken by this kind of fear, at least for a time.
I have noticed that when I feel fear in my relationship with my children it is almost always psychological fear. For example, I feared that unless my children developed “healthy” eating habits they would have poor health as they grew up. I also feared that if they didn’t learn to read by a certain age that they would find it much harder to learn when they were older. These were fears about what might happen in the future. There was no immediate danger. At the time I experienced these fears my children were very healthy and learning happily at a pace that suited themselves. These fears were created by my imagination and yet they brought enormous stress and conflict into my relationships with my children.
The arising of these fears is a very strong reminder to bring myself back into presence. Presence is the inner consciousness that is behind or underneath my thoughts. This consciousness can witness and observe my stressful thoughts and painful emotions and sense directly that they are not who I am.
I experience presence as a state of calm, relaxed alertness. It is a space of peace, stillness and vibrant aliveness. Thoughts may appear in this space but they do not dominate. I can notice my thoughts without being overwhelmed by them. There is space between thoughts in which I experience quietness and joy. Helpful, creative thoughts have room to appear. I can choose to act on these thoughts or to remain still. It is a natural and spontaneous state of being.
If you feel overcome by fear or other painful feelings here are some ideas to help you bring yourself into presence. Choose one that suits you and go with that.
1. Sit quietly, relax your body and mind. Let go of your thoughts for a few seconds. Notice that when you are not thinking that you still exist.
2. See if you can feel your inner aliveness. Feel the energy inside your body. Focus on that energy.
3. Go out for a walk in nature (or anywhere peaceful) on your own and focus on what your senses are perceiving. Notice the touch of the air, the sound of the birds, the blue of the sky. Take your shoes off and walk in bare feet. Feel the earth supporting you with every step you take. Just notice. Put your whole attention on what is around you.
4. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice that you can observe them. If you are observing your thoughts and feelings then this means that they are not who you are. You are the observer. Closely observe your experience. What images come with your feelings? Where are your feelings in your body?
As I connect with presence I don’t try to get the fear to go away. This just suppresses it and locks it in deeper. I have found that it helps to allow the feeling of fear, to go towards and into it rather than to push it away. This takes courage as I also have a fear of feeling fear! Recognizing it as psychological fear that is a creation of my mind helps. I remind myself that there is no immediate danger. I listen to the fear and feel it with openness and curiosity.
Listening in presence to my own fear has often allowed it to gently dissolve. The more often I remember to connect with presence the calmer I become. If the fear continues to haunt me I write down my fearful thoughts and use the four questions taught by Byron Katie to question my thinking. Through this questioning I can see that fears obscure my awareness of what is real and true and trustworthy about Life and my true nature. Once I reconnect with this reality my urge to push, control and demand things of my children fades away. I notice that my children are fine just as they are. We can relax back into harmony and closeness.