Welcome to my multi-part series on living well. Watch for Part 2 coming soon!
Part 1: Aikido
We often teach what we most need to learn, right? Well this is my life lesson for sure: keeping all the balls in the air while enjoying myself fully; trying to live to my highest potential as a mom, doctor, wife, friend, community member and generally fun-loving person; and raising the best little humans I possibly can. As any good juggler (aka mom) knows, keeping all those balls in the air requires not only balance, but flexibility, strength, pretty awesome hand-to-eye coordination, and a zen-like ability to focus on the present moment.
Lately I've been thinking about Aikido, a Japanese martial art which is translated as "the way of unifying with life energy.” The goal of this defensive art form is to defend yourself while also protecting your attacker from injury. “Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.” Easeful, joyful parenthood, I've found, requires the exact same movement with -- instead of against -- the energy flow of your children and family.
If you value your sanity during parenthood (and life), try to let go of your attachment to things going a certain way. If you are not attached to a situation going as planned, then you won’t be disappointed with its outcome.
This is not about being apathetic, passive or acquiescent. It’s about letting things go and moving with the flow and unforeseeable nature of life. It's about welcoming the unpredictable and opening your eyes to possibilities outside of your limited imagination.
Here are a few scenarios:
Grandma sends the cutest darn dress for your little girl. You wrestle her into it and simply MUST get a picture of your child smiling in this new dress. She loves the dress, and wants to twirl and dance all around the house in it -- but she's not as excited about the idea of a photo. You get more and more frustrated chasing her around with your camera, yelling at her to smile or else she is not going to be able to watch her favorite video tonight. (Who doesn't love smiling under duress??) Now she is hysterical and you are super annoyed. BUT: Now imagine that you'd let go of this dream after the first two times she refused to pose for you. Wouldn’t you both feel better if you'd simply run around together being silly in her new cute dress? Was the picture truly as important as the reality of your sweet time together?
You buy tickets to a movie. You feed the kids, greet the sitter, and excitedly sneak out the door with your love for a much-needed date. Thirty minutes into it, you both sheepishly admit that you hate the movie. Now, do you stay in the movie (“God-darn it we spent $30 bucks on this thing!”) like good little date-night parents, or do you leave the movie and take a walk with your partner, laughing about how horrible that independent film was and how weird your friend is who recommended it? If you stay attached to the plan, you'll suffer through the movie and probably complain that you wasted a precious night out. BUT: if you decide to be rebellious, you can scratch the plan and bond over how great it is to be a grown-up, able to make choices. Who knows what you'll find on your post-walkout walk -- but it'll no doubt be more exciting and joyful that sitting in stiff theater chairs through entertainment you hate!
Here is a truthful tidbit from our life. When the kids were little, perhaps 3 and 4, we rented skis for the first time and schlepped up the mountain with all of our gear, ready to teach them to ski. Our boys lasted all of 15 minutes. They quickly made it known that they were over the idea of skiing and just wanted to sled. We persisted a bit, but ultimately they were not ready for skis. Once we let go of skiing being the goal for the day, we had an amazing and memorable time sledding and throwing snowballs. Yes, we hauled extra gear and wasted some money, but in return, we had a beautiful time together instead of a terrible one. And that is always, always worth it.
We just want to enjoy life, right? So lets not force it. Day-to-day attachments have the potential to cause a great deal of needless suffering. Being flexible allows you to let go of the plan, adapt to your environment, and enjoy the moment. It teaches your kids to be open to different possibilities, be creative, and learn to problem solve. It facilitates open-mindedness and wild imaginations of a better world. If you are flexible and let life roll off your shoulders, your kids and people around you will be inspired to do so as well. As you practice the new art of Parenting Aikido, remember to "unify with life energy" and literally go with the flow.
How are you practicing flexibility right now?