I’ve recently been diving into a little book by Thich Nhat Hanh called True Love, and it’s become an inspiration for my parenting, my work in the schools as well as the connections and relationships in my life. In the book, he talk about the four elements of love according to Buddhism: maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha. Reading about these elements, I thought–“Wow, what if I mindfully applied and practiced those elements in my interaction with the children in my life, in my interactions with everyone in my life? For the next few blog posts, I’ll be looking into just that– finding ways to increase the presence, our full heart-felt attention, and to communicate that with the kids, (and other people) in our life. First, we’ll look at maitri: loving-kindness and benevolence. Feel free to try these ideas out in whatever capacity you feel called, whether it be as a parent, friend, partner, co-worker, or just to your own inner self.
Maitri: Loving-kindness and benevolence
This element of true love is about bringing the joy to a beloved person in your life. How can you send the message “I understand” and “I look deeply,”? Thich says, “Understanding is the essence of love. If you cannot understand, you cannot love.” What are the ways that you seek to more deeply understand your child?
With this practice, I encourage you to find the time to give attention.
Meditate: Connect with Your Own Heart
Start with your own heart. Set aside a few minutes every day to practice a loving-kindness meditation where you are sending love out into the world from your own heart, mind, and consciousness. Here’s a couple links to some of my favorite loving-kindness meditations:
Snuggle Time: Connect with Your Child’s Heart
Next, set the intention every day to give quality attention to your child where you look deeply into his/her behavior, feelings, and state of being to truly try to understand. I love this activity called Held in My Arms by Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D. in her book I Love You Rituals. While you hold your child in your arms, you sing the following lyrics to the tune of “Rock-a-Bye Baby:” As Dr. Bailey encourages, you can make up your own verses, as I’ve done here, to send the messages you want your child to hear.
My sweet lovely,
Held here by me.
Having you near me, I can really see,
How bright you are, how wonderful too,
I’m right here and I really see you.
When things seem scary, I’ll hold you tight,
And whisper, “I love you, ” knowing things are alright.
Begin to use “looking deeply” to find ways to be of greater support to your child. If there are challenging behaviors present, ask yourself, “What could be the need that my child is trying to get met through this behavior?” See if you can meet that need, especially when there isn’t a challenging behavior going on in the moment. For example, if you feel your child is asking for more attention through the behavior, find ways to give more attention when the behavior isn’t present. If you feel your child is needing a greater sense of predictability and sense of safety, put in place a schedule and stick to it with consistency.
Meditate Together: Loving Kindness
With older children, you can begin to practice the loving kindness meditations together. Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, has a great blog post on how to do this: https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/teach-children-lovingkindness-meditation/. Also, here’s a couple of YouTube video that also can be a great starting point: