A friend of mine, during a struggle with prenatal depression, was told by a homeopath to take a hot shower every time her thoughts or feelings threatened to overwhelm her. According to her, it helped a lot. Not because there was anything in particular about the hot water or the steamy shower that had any direct bearing on her hormones or her feelings. But instead, it was the act of recognising when her feelings were starting to get too much, and getting deliberate in the by face of them, in her case, by hopping into the shower.
While I am neither suffering from prenatal depression, nor am I taking more hot showers than usual, I realise I am engaging in a similar kind of behaviour right now. And in that way that the best, most helpful strategies come to me when I’m not really looking for them, this one again fell from Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers, and has turned out to be one of the more helpful tools I’ve unwittingly stumbled on in a while. Which is to ask myself, minute to minute, again and again and again, “what does this moment require of me?”. Which is as liberating as it is helpful in its encouragement to let go of what I think I know I should do, or some notion of there being a correct response to a given situation. And this question has turned out to be my hot shower. This is the question that I keep on returning to in moments of adversity, in particular the small, repetitive moments of adversity that are part and parcel of sharing my life and my home with three small humans, who as I believe Buddhism would suggest, are (in their own challenging little ways) dong a cracking job of facilitating my spiritual development.
And here’s the thing that’s surprised me most about this “what does this moment require of me?” question, is that every time I ask it of myself I have an answer. And invariably the answer is short, sweet and to the point. It’s quiet, but true and to the point. So when one of my kids is winding themselves up into a noisy and unwelcome tantrum about some issue or other, I ask myself “what does this moment require of me?” and back comes the answer “let them play it out”. And when they are all demanding my attention at once, and the overwhelm is starting is bubble up in me, and I ask myself again, the answer comes right back: “Breathe”.
And the funny thing is that the answers I get, are often similar. The answers I get in these moments over and over again tell me to listen, to be patient, to pause, to be present, to let them play it out without getting involved. It feels a lot like this question taps into a kind of knowledge that I apparently carry around with me everywhere I go but struggle to tap into on a day to day basis – in particular when I’m in the company of my kids and things are getting stressful. The question represents the pause I need to take when it all threatens to go pear shaped. It’s the shower I need to take in order to avoid resorting to tried and tested methods that despite being pulled out the bag multiple times a day really don’t serve me or my children terribly well. And that makes me a bit excited. That helps me to believe that all of us are carrying round the nuggets of wisdom and knowledge we need as we move through life, it’s just that we (and by we, I mean I) need some strategies to tap into them, that they are there and maybe have always been there, but simply haven’t made themselves known to me, until I started asking some questions of myself.
“What does this moment require of me?” has not eliminated all crappy parenting moments in my day to day life. And it hasn’t exactly given me a zen like calm as I interact with my children either. But it has given me the capacity and the permission to practice stopping before I react, it’s given me the awareness that in that moment of pausing before I jump in (often loudly and with frustration) there is a quiet, wise voice that is as mine as the loud angry one that more often makes itself heard, a small voice that is waiting to offer up some advice that might just help.
And as a result, I do fewer weary sighs at the kids, I exercise more self compassion during the hard moments, and the pause encourages me to stop and bear witness to the fact that certain behaviours or scenarios challenge me in a really big way and throw down gauntlets that I habitually respond to with anger, irritation or frustration. Which makes “what does this moment require of me?” important and abundantly useful. And like all the best tools, it’s not big, it’s not flashy, it just helps. Quietly, incrementally, persistently and over and over again.