A simple practice to nurture kindness
Now, I am not at all sure how we can know whether our children are more or less compassionate than they ever were (the claim made at the start of this video). But I think it is true that stress makes it difficult to find the compassionate response in ourselves.
I experienced this very effect this week at work. I had been trying, since last week, to log in to remote access and had been in touch with tech wizards somewhere else in the country. But they had not been able to get connected either.
Last week I spent literally hours on the phone, or doing other jobs that did not require my laptop, while they sorted it out.
Several highly qualified people were involved yet seemed, like me, to be helpless bystanders as this saga dragged on.
Yesterday I came in to work again (I only work part-time which is a major cause of the frustration) hoping to get it sorted. I found a new man on the case.
My heart sank as he started doing all the things I and the other techies had been doing over a couple of days last week.
I found it very difficult to feel positive about anything around this experience, I was tired, frustrated and desperate to get on with my very part-time work (when you work only part of the week these problems do not get absorbed into your normal working hours they eat away at your non-work time). He must have heard the tightness in my voice down the phone as he asked me to try the things I had already done endlessly because eventually he said 'Can you leave it with me?' I agreed and put the phone down.
Now, I think that I am a nice person. I may not be the bubbliest person in a room but I think that I have quite a bit of patience. So why was this minor, in the grand scheme of things, frustration making it impossible for me to be my usual bright and generous person in our conversation?
When I read this article about stress I thought 'aha!'... Apparently the stress receptors in our brains are the very same ones that also receive oxytocin which makes us feel nice and loving and generous towards the world.
My oxytocin levels must be at rock bottom if I couldn't handle a minor tech problem with grace.
This little YouTube clip shows an easy way for parents and children to get in touch with their kindness. The small hand on heart practice and sending good wishes could be really helpful. It reminds me of a lovely book I found recently about a grandma showing her grandchild how to make 'heart bread' ('Making Heart-Bread' By Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant-Linn and Dennis Linn).
Personally I find all these mindfulness and meditative self-care practices much more likely to work when I first orientate myself towards God's love and compassion for me.
There was too much stress in my family when I was growing up for much compassion to be shown but my parents were zealous in doing their duty to bring us up properly and in the faith. So I came to depend on my faith in a loving God as a way of finding that loving kindness we lacked at home.
For me the action of lighting a candle for a loved one helps stimulate the compassion receptors and makes it easier for me then to move on to light a candle for someone for whom feelings of love and compassion are not normally so easy to access.
Even if you do not want do the heart exercise recommended here, be reassured, families are already powerhouses of love: all the small daily acts of kindness and moments of tenderness and sharing people do every day in their homes (Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of the ordinary courtesies of 'please', 'thank you' and 'sorry') and with their families is how children learn who they are and how loved they are. When we can tell them that God loves them in the same way (only perfectly) it is a profound witness for them.
This is what we mean when we say that 'Home is a Holy Place': because God's love is reflected there in the loving relationships we already share. Parents are already, albeit maybe unconsciously, the first 'heralds of the good news' to their children.
‘Family life is the body of Christ showing Christ present, not by being in Church buildings, or doing specifically holy things, but by living out their love, which is at the centre of a growing Christian life, as best they can. Pope St John Paul II Familiaris Consortio, 54
When parents know their 'ordinary' family love is actually rooted in God's love they become more conscious evangelisers in the 'gospel of the family: joy for the world' (which also just happens to be the theme of next year's World Meeting of Families in Dublin August 2018).