We are in week two of school around here and there have been some major after-school throw-down-fits from my 7-year-old. Yesterday’s tantrum lasted for over an hour. It involved “You are the WORST Mommy” declarations, pillow throwing, door slamming and the destruction of personal property. I got the whole fireworks show.
The girl is working really hard to be a good student while at school. Everything is new: not homeschooling anymore, the schedule, the kids, the noise, the cafeteria, the worksheets, and the school bus. She is being incredibly brave while she’s there and then, in the safety of family and home, she lets out all the stuff she has been holding onto during the school day.
I know this isn’t easy for her. She is learning how to fit in and perform at school and then she has to come home and switch gears, but it isn’t like it used to be at home either. Now, she has homework and an earlier bedtime and very little time to play with her sister, to read or to draw. And at home, Mama/daughter time is different. I’m imposing all this new structure and our groove is off. The fireworks show is understandable, but it is still miserable. This isn’t the way I want to spend the little time I have with her in the afternoons. Even with all this compassion I feel for her, I haven’t been very good at managing my own reactions to her behavior. I get really angry. I lose my temper. I have my own tantrum… and it isn’t pretty.
It is hard to know what to make of feelings and tantrums and behaviors that we don’t like to see in our children or in ourselves. It is hard not to let those feelings and behaviors define us: “She is a grouchy person,” or “she is so emotional.” But it is important that we don’t. Feelings and behaviors can be influenced by circumstances and people. They change in a moment and they change over time. We have bad days. It doesn’t mean that we are bad.
If we aren’t our feelings and behaviors, then who are we? What is our True self? What is the role of feelings in our life and our practice of Yoga? In Desikachar’s, Heart of Yoga, Mark Whitwell writes an introduction to the section on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. He says, “The heart, hrydaya, is that which does not change.” He is talking about the sutras being the Heart of Yoga, and suggests that the Yoga Sutras can hold the answer to these questions. I think his statement is a nice start to our search for the answer to these questions about who we are. Our hrydaya or Heart is our essential, unchanging self. It is hard to define what our Heart is, but I’ll tell you what it isn’t: it isn’t the fluid and changing feelings, body, ego, jobs, roles, health, or personality that we live with throughout our lives.
Mr. Whitwell goes on to talk about experience and duhkha (suffering). He talks about sat or “truth,” but here, he is speaking of our experience and not our Heart. (notice ‘the lower-case ‘t’.) This ‘truth’ is our experience and our reality…Like the reality of difficult tantrums and second-weeks of school:
“Patanjali’s position is that everything in a person’s experience is sat, the “truth” or “reality,” and cannot be denied. Even duhkha (suffering) is sat and is not something to be ashamed of or react against. Everyone has duhkha. It is part of our reality and if recognized, serves to wake us up to further clarity and understanding. Krishamacharya…described [duhkha] as the ‘unavoidable motive for practice.’ …Furthermore, Patanjali makes it clear that everything in our experience is changing; nothing, including duhkha, is in a fixed condition. Therefore, if there is the desire, we can make positive changes for ourselves.”
The feelings and reactions that Hazel and I are having to school have definitely given me the desire to make positive changes. I don’t want the suffering-in-the-form-of-tantrums to continue. I don’t want to make a pattern of losing my cool whenever Hazel is having a bad day. I want to think of these strong feelings as a way to understand her better and to find clarity on how better to parent her big soul. I want to use my feelings as indicators of something deeper that needs attention, not as the things that define me.
I want to be a mama who reminds her, even at her most unpleasant, that she is a wonderful and a dearly loved child. I want her to know that she is not her emotions. I want to set limits that keep us both safe: She can have those difficult feelings, but she can’t mistreat me or anyone else. I want to offer my girl guidance and model good behavior as she confronts strong emotions and adjusts to the changes in her world. In order to do that for her, I need to practice all of those acts of compassion with myself and I need to know my heart .