The Smile or Freedom

By Shalom About seven years ago, I was caught up in some frustration with my then seven-year-old daughter. She was sitting on the bed, and I was standing in the doorway of her room. I was very cross about something she had done and pouring forth a great torrent of words. My view of the world at this moment was probably as wide as a pinhead! As I went to take a breath to pour forth more of my parental wisdom, the seed of mindfulness that I had been cultivating for some years on my cushion suddenly sprouted a wonderful new green shoot! Instead of a further outpouring of words, there was the realisation that I had just breathed in. Awareness bloomed—I was suddenly and absolutely in the present moment. I simply breathed out... and in and out... no more words, just breathing and looking deeply.

In that moment the blindness of my habitual responding simply fell away. I was at home in myself, no longer lost in some story I was creating. As I stood there, simply breathing with awareness, I began to also really see this other small person in front of me—no longer the image daughter of my mind but a vibrant full colour live other human being! It was very quiet for a few moments, quiet in the room and quiet inside me. Can you understand it when I say that in that moment there was a new me looking at a new daughter? In the spacious and quiet mind there was an awareness of this fragile young girl sitting with head lowered, not speaking, not looking, not being seen and not being heard.

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A new and softer voice arose from within me as I told my daughter that I could see now that something was wrong for her and that she didn't seem able to look at me. I said that I wished I had been calm enough to notice that earlier and I was sorry that I had not. Gently, I invited her to take her time and when she felt ready and able, to lift her eyes and take a peek at me ... to just see that I am her mother and that I loved her. In such a space, the truth can reveal itself safely.

My daughter raised her eyes, and without blame or anger she simply said, "Mummy, I am afraid of you." This, my friends, was a most painful and shocking revelation to me—and yet I also recognised it as a liberating truth. Breathing in and embracing my grief I heard this truth—without self-hatred or blame—simply breathing with compassion and gratitude. My daughter was finally safe enough to let me in to her world, and I was awake enough to accept that it was a different world than the one I had been living in.

I had always been so proud of the fact that I didn't hit my child, and I worked very hard at being a good mother, which of course I had been. However in the busyness and in the conceptualising of "good mother" I had quite lost the ability to simply be and see her and myself as we really were. In the following moments there were no more words. My daughter saw my tears and felt recognised. She came into my arms, and as I looked down into her shining and miraculous, tear-stained face, I remembered the baby I had held to my breast seven years earlier. A baby who had looked up into my eyes with this same tender and trusting love. How long it had been since I had seen her! The space had opened for the healing of a habitual way of responding that had been the mark of many generations of women in my family. A seed of mindfulness had set us, and future generations, free.

My daughter is now a teenager. We have our challenges, but the seed of mindfulness has grown steadily. It stands now as a strong and stable tree, blossoming and yielding much sweet and nourishing fruit.

The cultivation of mindfulness and learning to look deeply into ourselves and into the hearts of others can bring a lot of relief within us and in the world around us. Let us practice conscious breathing together and nourish the seeds of awareness in each other. When we see with clarity and spaciousness, we have the experience of waking up, a smile is born in the garden of our hearts, and manifests in our speech and in our actions. It is a true smile from a mind clear and spacious. It is the smile of freedom.

Shalom, True Auspicious Land, is a parent, therapist, and teacher. She leads Mindfulness Retreats in New Zealand, and has taught in Europe and the United States.

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