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What Would Thay Do?

By Kerry Bennassar 

Photo by Paul Davis

We are busy parents, so I would like to share some of the concrete things we have found to be supportive of harmony and happiness in my family. These practices have helped my family to have more stability, kindness, and patience. 

Slow Everything Down 

A lot of stress, it seems, comes from rushing or having a set idea of how things should be done. We have work and obligations, and it seems like we need to rush around so much. 

Hold Family Meetings 

Sometimes parents have a set idea of what the children should be doing and may try to make them do something or tell them what to do. I wonder if we can shift a little and see if we can engage them in family life and really listen to their needs. Holding family meetings creates an environment for deep listening. My husband Javier and I listen deeply and write down the kids’ ideas as they speak. We try to work as a team and as a family. Not all of their ideas are realistic, but Javier and I get an idea of their internal world. We take the time to listen deeply and mindfully, slow down, look into their eyes, and listen. I find this type of listening leads to understanding. This understanding leads to compassion, which leads to kindness. Then I can be much more patient as a mother. 

Practice Flower Watering 

Flower watering is part of the practice of Beginning Anew taught by Thay. We sit in a circle around a glass of water with a flower in it, or a candle, and each person turns to one member of the family and tells them specifically what that person did to make their life more beautiful that week. Flower watering is watering the positive seeds in our family members. 

When the family becomes a little bit more experienced with flower watering, we can also add sharing our regrets, or something we would like to do more mindfully next time. This creates a lot of healing. 

We don’t really say “I’m sorry” in our family. We actually prefer to say that we will be more mindful next time. For example, I might say, “When I snapped at you to get in the car quickly because we had a dental appointment, I felt very sad. Next time I will be more mindful and set an alarm for us to leave on time and speak more kindly to you.” 

Look at Each Day as a Fresh Start 

Every morning when I wake up, I know that I have twenty-four brand new hours to live mindfully. I look at my husband newly each day. I look at my boys newly each day, and I look at myself newly each day. I try to let go of my judgments or preconceived ideas I have about my husband, my children, or myself. For example, “Javier is so stubborn,” or “Ay, he always loses his keys.” I try to let those things go and see each of us as a new person every morning. 

Plum Village; photo by Lisa Berman

When Anger Arises in Me, I am Determined Not to Speak

I visualize hot, burning arrows of strong emotions flying at me, and I deflect them by staying solid and cool. I breathe.

If I’m feeling anger arising in me, I may walk around the outside of the house, and I tell the kids that I will be slowly walking around the house. I let them know I will be right back, so they don’t feel scared that I’m leaving and they know that I am just walking. Sometimes I stop the car if we are driving somewhere as a family and the kids start arguing. I stop the car, and breathe and walk for a moment.

Embracing Emotions

Thay Phap Dang has mentioned taking a shower to shift the energy, and Thay mentions “changing the CD” in our mind. I brush my teeth gently for a few minutes.

We have a beautiful temple in our house. The temple is cool and serene. When I go into this temple, I close the door and keep the light turned off. There is a toilet in this temple, so I put down the toilet lid, sit down, and feel the cool tiles under my bare feet. I visualize cool Mother Earth. The bathroom is an amazing temple. I hope every mama knows this!

It’s not about pushing our feelings away or squashing them. It’s about holding them and embracing them like a baby. I look at them deeply and ask, “Why is this anger coming up? What is coming up for me?”

What Would Thay Do?

When things get hairy with my children and lots of big feelings are flying around, I think to myself, “If Thay were babysitting, what would he do?” Sometimes I pretend I’m Thay or one of our monastic sisters, and I think about what they would do right at that moment: Make a cup of tea? Go for a little walk? Do a little weed pulling? Once, when I was feeling overwhelmed, I tended to my garden, pulling dead leaves off plants and pulling up some weeds.

I imagine Thay sitting on the floor in our living room, in the middle of the storm of big feelings. I sit down right there in the middle of the room, close my eyes, and breathe. The kids wonder what I’m doing. They stop, and we chat and check in. I imagine Thay doing this; it supports me and makes me smile.

THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON THE PANEL SHARING ON THE FIVE MINDFULNESS TRAININGS AT THE FAMILY RETREAT AT DEER PARK MONASTERY, OCEAN OF PEACE MEDITATION HALL, JUNE 30, 2017.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM HTTPS://DHARMAMAMAS.COM/2018/07/07/WHAT-WOULD-THAY-DO.

Kerry Bennassar, True Unfolding Light, has been a student of Thay since 1998, when she returned from her four years teaching English for the Japanese government and discovered Zen meditation through temple stays. Kerry and her family have been attending retreats for twelve years, and she sits with Organic Garden Sangha, Jasmine Roots Sangha, and Los Angeles Compassionate Heart Sangha. She co-founded Topanga Mountain Sangha in Topanga, California, US.

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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