I am caught off guard by a fellow mama on my way in to pick J up from school one afternoon. My cheeks fill with heat – I have just finished second guessing my decision to leave the house without a shower; the “glow” she sees is the oily sheen of unwashed skin. I am early and excited to sit and chat for a bit. She jumps right in, picking my brain for the “secrets” to maintaining household harmony.
She isn’t the first to inquire this of me, still, I have trouble formulating a coherent response.
I wish I could say something like: “Simple! Bring more gratitude, connection and simplicity into your life and – Voila! – more peace.”
But it’s not that easy. At least it hasn’t been for me.
What appears “effortless” to many in our lives today is in actuality the culmination of brutal mental, emotional and spiritual work. Only now, after years of practice, does living in a state of peace come slightly more naturally.
I want to say: “Okay, so you know everything you’ve ever learned from all of the really smart, well-meaning adults in your life? Take 95% of it, write it down in your favorite journal and burn it. Burn the journal. Then start over – This time, you do the writing.”
A sage by nature, I have always been unhealthily addicted to information and research. I have read a gazillion books and articles related to human behavior, with a focus on parenting, relationships and spirituality. If there were, in fact, “secrets” to living a fuller, richer life, I was determined to find them.
One after another, I began applying these compelling theories in practice.
Half of the information suggested concrete, actionable steps toward manipulating the variables of my environment, while the other half alluded to more nebulous, inner work. You can imagine which sounded more appealing initially.
In my first attempts to comprehend infant sleep, I relied on this hard, fast, “logical” approach.
The recommendations were simple: my baby needed sleep and was ill-equipped to achieve it on his own. I would need to train him to sleep. We were exhausted – this was music to my ears.
I think we endured five minutes of “J’s” first training session before calling “bullshit”. Yes, it was true that our baby needed my help to sleep. No, I wasn’t to be his trainer, but his partner.
My baby’s cry was biologically designed to melt my insides so I would immediately respond to his needs for nourishment, rest, snuggles, comfort, play, etc. His wakeful sleeping patterns were mechanisms for survival and healthy brain development – none of which involved a manipulative ploy against his sleep-deprived parents. As in the case of J’s birth, I had almost let a few artfully crafted, “evidence-based”, self-serving opinions momentarily turn me against the wisdom of my intuition – the wisdom telling me parenting was not about trying to maintain a life that once was, but relishing in the new life that is. On a more dangerous level, my absorption of this information nearly turned me against my baby, instead of awakening me to my own splintered mindset.
In the same way I have sought to control my infant, I have sought to control my spouse. At the height of my victimization, my husband was entirely responsible for my unhappiness and anything else I perceived wrong with my life at the time. It was easier to look outward than to accept blame for my own lack of fulfillment.
“You’re lucky you’re so pretty” he would joke, gently calming my fire.
I’m not one for luck, but I am incredibly grateful for his patience, acceptance, evenness and love, which provide the stability I need to continue my work.
I have come a long way since the early days, and still struggle to relinquish control that isn’t mine to begin with.
The power of choice is a work that must be done internally
My cultural “schooling” has made joyful partnerships and parenting seem challenging and unnatural – even as the guiding principles themselves, are easy and natural. I was somehow mistaken to believe I was intuitively primed to navigate these experiences – that love alone would get us through.
But it hasn’t, and it won’t. Love is essential and it is also not enough – especially when colored with my control and conditions.
Peaceful partnership is a skill to be infinitely studied, practiced and refined over time – never to be truly mastered. And the hardest part, all of the work must be done internally.
Why on earth would this sweet lady friend and others value my insight, given all my admitted “crazy”?
I ask myself this a lot, and have concluded it’s probably a terrible idea.
But if I had to guess, I would say they might be drawn to the authenticity of the journey I am on.
I am no longer good at pretending and pursuing fictitious expectations in the name of social conformity. I think some see this tendency to diverge from the mainstream as intriguing (ahem, nuts…).
Despite my exaggerations, I don’t judge my unconscious behavior harshly; I simply see it for what it is, and do not allow it to take my children, marriage and relationships down with it.
I take opportunities to eliminate remnants of a harmful “achievement-based” mentality – to further expose illusions of “good” and “bad”, “success” and “failure” and “right” and “wrong” as obstacles in the way of enjoying life, as is.
I am willing to accept everything I thought to be true about living “successfully” might be distorted and unhelpful.
And mainly, I put in the work to find the answers to my questions.
How do I decide what’s working?
I source quality information, instead of stuff that paints others around me as the cause of my reality.
I test things out and absorb only what is truly working.
How do I decide what’s working?
When trying on new ideas and strategies, I ask myself:
- Is the information challenging?
- Is it meaningful?
- Is it progressive?
- Is it introspective?
- Does it hold me accountable?
- Does it prioritize the needs of my loved ones?
- Does it seek to address my real needs and not the needs of my ego.
- And then I give it a try.
I try, I wait, I observe and I repeat the process over, and over again.
I have found that lasting fulfillment takes unknown time and real earning to develop, while I am often impatient and lazy. It requires pure intentions, while mine are often self-indulgent.
These outcomes cannot be neatly measured within the limits of my five-sensory programming, and I resist as much as possible, the temptation to judge them definitively and prematurely. I will say, however, once I began to view myself as the liable, sole creator of my circumstances, life stopped “unexpectedly happening to” me and the universe became my partner. Presently, this is all the validation I need.
Making decisions towards the positive and nurturing
I had a brief conversation with a lovely woman at the nail salon recently. We were talking about life having an interesting way of eventually getting us where we need be. She said something pretty I’ve heard before:
“Every choice you make is the right one. It has to be – after all, it’s the one you made! Kicking yourself over things in the past just gets in the way of a happy future.”
If it were a different day, I might have been inclined to swallow this up. I feel connected to the idea that regret limits our joy and I love the idea of cutting myself some slack.
But today, her use of the word “right”, is all “wrong” for me.
Every choice we make is the one. Criticizing ourselves for certain decisions puts us at a disadvantage, but ignoring the information we garner from them, does too – and perhaps even more so.
In this era of extreme cognitive dissonance, while we need not dwell on outcomes, we might observe them if we intend to grow in a preferred direction.
Let’s be realistic, we won’t always have the mental or emotional energy to respond from our higher self; Mindfulness is especially difficult when our environment presents situations which trigger our deep fear and discomfort (e.g. – encounters with a strong-willed child or disagreements with our romantic partner).
But seeing the choices we’ve made as having led us down one path or another, gives us a context from which to derive our next choices. How can we evolve in a direction which serves us if we are too blind or too prideful to make this critical discernment?
The labels of “right” and “wrong” don’t support my process currently, but without question, there are choices that clearly agree with my path and there are ones that clearly do not. I am not fooled to believe I am incapable of making decisions that take me further from where I want to be.
Eventually could be 10 minutes and it could be 10 years, depending on how we choose.
So I shoot more often for the choices that agree.
In every moment, I strive to make the best of the selections I see in front of me – the selections which acknowledge my true lack of control over my environment and highlight the real power I have over myself.
If my impulse is to yell, and I have enough restraint to walk away for a moment – I walk away.
If my impulse is to criticize, and I can find a reason to compliment – I compliment.
For families looking to get away from corporal punishment, yelling might be the more elevated choice when the urge to make physical contact arises.
Each time I move further from the fearful, reactive tendencies of my past, I deepen my trust and connections with loved ones, and most importantly, with myself.
Latest posts by Christina Kaminer Yarchin (see all)
- Natural parenting: A Declaration of Peace and Independence - December 4, 2017
- When I Became My Child’s Friend - December 3, 2017
- The Power of Choice: “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” - December 1, 2017