A page out of the Worried Thinking Book.
From the garden variety stuff to the intensely scary concerns, parenting teens is a trip. When something really gets our attention, it’s tempting to let our anxious mind take over— “What else might go wrong?” “Who is to blame?” “Why is it happening?” “Where will we be in two years if we are like this now?” etc. A lot of intense thinking—A LOT. And if you’re anything like me, worried thinking can get elevated to the caliber of an Olympic sport. Backflips in the thinking department.
And, as many of you know, worried thinking doesn’t fix the problem (if only it did….).
In fact, worried thinking not only keeps us off center, it sometimes makes the situation worse. We get wrapped up in thinking the thing to death, and the limbic system (fight, flight or freeze stuff) gets activated, literally cutting off more abstract rationale thinking. Worried thinking can hamstrung us before we’ve even begun.
For instance, let’s say one of my kids is going through something that is freaking me out. I’m freaked out because there are elements of potential danger in it. Or, I’m freaked out because her situation is reminiscent of something I went through as a teen and so it triggers my personal history. So, with that freaking out, I get into some serious worried thinking mode. I’m a “do-er”, and want to fix things that trouble me by bringing my intellect to bear on the issue.
Yet, when things are really tough, I think so much about whatever is at hand that it interrupts my peace of mind in the present moment, and disrupts my sleep at night. My worried thinking, though well-intentioned, rakes me over the coals. I guess I’d put up with the coal-raking if it helped my daughter, but as I’ve come up empty again and again from the well of worried thinking, I know it doesn’t help. It’s like worried thinking imprisons me in my head and keeps me cut off from my full body wisdom.
What has been helpful is totally counterintuitive. Drawing upon the Zen tradition, I’ve been trying to put the brakes on thinking and move myself into feeling. Sometimes it works wonderfully well, and other times worried thinking grabs the reins again. But when it works, I breathe in and let myself feel the experience. I’m not ignoring or denying, I’m not exacerbating or hyper-focusing. Instead, I see the difficulty, and I let myself be there with it. I don’t try to change it or shape it; I just let it come up and out. Not easy to do, but super helpful.
So, here’s the breakdown, for those of you who might be facing something challenging (could be related or unrelated to the kids): First, take whatever the difficult situation is and hold it in your mind for a moment. Note that you’re in the thick of something uncomfortable, maybe even note the impulse to do, think, fix— and instead, breathe into your body and let whatever uncomfortable feelings rise up. You must go under the thinking into the deeper place of feeling to get here. Try not to try to make the feelings any other way than the way they actually are. I personally was surprised at how much energy was under the worried thinking. For me, there was a mix of heartache, a dose of sadness, peppered with anger, twinged with disappointment. I also was blaming myself, so let’s add guilt to the list.
I let the feelings pour out and over me. It takes all of two minutes. I feel tears well and a big sigh, and then it’s as if I’m washed clean from the inside out. Now I can actually take action from a place of truly being centered. More clarity.
The pretty amazing thing is that by sitting with the embodied feelings, we are far more relaxed. Relaxed perhaps because we are taking good emotional care of ourselves, rather than letting the worried thinking run the show. Relaxed because we are experiencing ourselves exactly as we are, not the way we “should” be.
By staying with the feelings that come up, you might be amazed at how the way you relate to your child shifts. The kids shift, too. They no longer need to battle our intensity; instead they might see the situation differently and transform their own thinking about it. A solution born from a shift in consciousness is far more trustworthy than one that is created in the trenches of worried thinking. At the very least, by getting into the feeling-state of what is going on, we are more in touch with our personal reality, which means we are facing the situation from a centered place. This, in turn, means we are much better prepared to approach the problem with grace, constructive ideas, and simplicity.
Truth is, letting the Zen tradition into parenting is counterintuitive because it kind of feels like the bottom dropped out. And it has in a way— you aren’t doing as much as you are used to doing and you’re not in worried thinking either. You instead are more aligned with being and experiencing— these, the gateways to true loving presence. Summoning the courage to experience the difficult feelings around the difficult situation gets us in touch with our greatest asset— our own body wisdom. That breath of fresh air infused by Zen feeling lays the planks for a more trusting relationship not only with ourselves but with our children as well. Think less, Feel More.
You got this.