- by Leslie smith Frank - a teacher at the CFM - with gratitude for family and love that is shared through mindful relationship.
I am learning, slowly and sometimes painfully, that I cannot always get everything right. It has not been my favorite lesson. It feels so good to get it right, to know the answer, to do the thing that makes everything work out. Some might call this perfectionism– which really stings. I know, in my moments of clarity and even confusion, that perfection is not possible. The thought that I am chasing something that doesn’t even exist (except in my mind) makes me feel a bit unwell. Somehow, I keep trying. It’s a habit.
Over the years, the practices of mindful awareness and lovingkindness are moderating this push toward perfection. The people around me are likely spared abundant suffering, as I learn to be more realistic and kinder about how life actually unfolds. And the lessons just keep on coming.
This winter, my kids and grandchildren visited New England from Arizona. Now that our four children are thriving adults, I notice that I sometimes get attached to the idea that I might “know something” about raising kids, forgetting that my ideas are simply that. Ideas.
One evening during this visit, I shared my view about bedtimes, and how much 2 and half year-olds are able to comprehend when they are beyond tired. In short, I butted in. But don’t you know how it is, when you have just the solution to the situation (which you view as a problem)? Never mind that no one has asked you for any help or advice. In that moment, it just seems vitally important to generously offer your brilliant fix anyway. Ugh.
When I got into bed that night, it became pretty clear to me that I had stepped over a line into territory where I was not welcome. I got a clue when I felt my adult children grow quiet and saw their faces drain of expression. I recognized that my words had caused harm, or at least discomfort. I call this Step One: being able to recognize and acknowledge the results of my actions.
What happened next kind of amazed me. I skipped my normal Step Two, which usually would go something like this: “What a stupid thing to do! Why couldn’t you have been more chill? Don’t you know better than to give unsolicited advice? They will never visit you again. You’ll grow old alone. No one will want to be around anyone so insensitive. What a mess you are.” Good old Step Two - unleashing the Inner Critic.
Instead, Step Three arose by itself: to acknowledge the hurt that had been caused and ask forgiveness.
The next morning, I approached my daughter-in-law and apologized. She smiled and forgave me. We had a heartfelt conversation which included both of us expressing our feelings and needs. It was such a relief not to justify my behavior, make excuses, or cling to being “right”.
I’m still amazed by how this all went down. An event that could have become a wedge, became a place of deeper connection. Skipping Step Two, bypassing the Inner Critic and all that hopeless harshness, feels like a wonderful gift and a milestone on this path of mindful living. How are you relating to your inner critic these days?