Bouncing Back! Resilience for Ourselves Means Resilience for Our Families

This morning saw a major kerfuffle in our household. Has this happened to you? You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and then your kid or someone else in your family has a bad moment, and you react, they react—and thus ensues a delightful downward spiral of upset … until one kid is perhaps crying, and perhaps you also are about to cry, or throw something at the wall, or storm off to a neighborhood bar (if only one were open at 7:30 in the morning!) You might see these incidents as thought storms, and if we can see them as such, the storm clouds pass, and we can welcome the sun of a clearer mind back pretty quickly. For me, "resilience" means returning to a more flexible mind, a more natural state of caring and compassion for ourselves, and our families that always lies within us.

That also happened this morning, when my youngest (who was crying because I raised my voice and told her she could no longer watch a TV show which was making her afraid of things … like, taking showers) suddenly was able to shake it all off, and say she was sorry. I, in turn, told her I would sit with her, near the shower when she bathed, for as long as she needed me to until she was no longer scared. This calming down happened within the space of 10 minutes or so. (The TV show is still banned.)

The danger of thought storms is that because of resultant intense feelings from such storms, we can begin to gather “evidence” for our feelings in the form of more negative thoughts. As we accept and believe these new thoughts, as we add fuel to our mental fire, resiliency or “bouncing back” begins to seem more and more distant.

I have worked for many years helping people see the connection between their thoughts and their resultant feelings. They begin to see that what they think is not necessarily true, and certainly, the “taking it personally” part is always optional.

They begin to see the distance to resiliency as the simple measure of a thought … either we follow a thought to its bitter end (or rather, miserable endlessness) or we let it go.

Sometimes, the best we can do is just not take our current thinking so seriously. This does not mean we never have a negative thought or feeling again in our lifetimes. It simply means that resiliency becomes a moment-to-moment experience, and not an in-born personality trait, or special skill. We all have resilience (the capacity to come back to our natural state of love, of simple being-ness). Although most of us will not escape the occasional thought storm, the way we handle such storms is our modeling for our children. Do we have to take a negative thought or judgment (of another, of ourselves) into the rest of our day, month … or life?

Even some of the “worst” moments in my marriage, for example, have come and gone quickly because I and my husband have refused to make a lot of meaning out of some kind of ego eruption between us. The ego will always react defensively, angrily. And being human means that we will be subject to "ego" from time to time. Yet, as a very wise person once said to me: “You can never get rid of the ego, but you can find out what it is, so that it does not control you.”* What is the ego? A kind of thinking. A kind of thinking that comes and goes, and actually begins to diminish as we shine the light of awareness on it.

We can hope for many things for our children, and for others in our families. But there is one thing we can always do on a daily basis that will help them more than all of our hopes and dreams for them. We can become more resilient ourselves. We can begin to see Thought in action. As we see ourselves more often as simply caught up in the human condition (like everyone else on the planet), caught up in Thought, we begin to transcend our own suffering, and become a part of the answer: for our children, for our world.

Ami Chen Mills-Naim is a mother of two and author of The Spark Inside: A Special Book for Youth and State of Mind in the Classroom. She leads a monthly drop-in class at Santa Cruz Yoga, including one this Saturday, April 16, 1:30-3:30 pm ($15 class fee). Ami is also a global speaker and wellness coach, with ongoing retreats and events worldwide. Find more at

Future Drop-In Classes are second Saturdays, through Aug. 13.

*That wise person was Mr. Sydney Banks, author of The Missing Link and The Enlightened Gardener series, among other works.

Trusting Our Children, Trusting Life

I was out in the garden today. As those of you in California know, we've had a drought, and things haven't been looking so swell. I haven't had time to put the energy in, but I've been worrying about the garden nonetheless. It's looks a bit crap, frankly. I've been thinking I should be mulching, fertilizing and pruning. But, as I say, I was out watering early this morning (we have to water before 10 am), and I noticed that even without my attentions, many of the plants seem to be thriving--looking healthy, looking good! Some had new flowers, or were standing quite tall, exuding their handsome greenness, or shiny new leaves and graceful symmetry. They were doing it all on their own.

" ... I remembered that Life thrives with or without our attention, and there is room to relax. Room to allow. Room to trust Life."

And I remembered that Life thrives with or without our attention, and there is room to relax. Room to allow. Room to trust Life.

When our children begin to seem "out of sorts," or issues arise around school, friends, or siblings, I know as a mother and parent that our first impulse is often to fix the problem--or at the very least worry about it! And of course, I have done. I have interjected, lectured, become fearful (and thus, angry) sent kids to their rooms, outlined a homework schedule, planned to speak to principals and teachers, researched private schools, looked up counselors.

And while there is nothing wrong with actually doing any of these things, we can dive so deep into the "parenting" role, that we forget that it is not our job to fix everything for our children, or our lives in general. We have another option: We can step back, and allow wisdom to emerge from the child, or wisdom to emerge from the husband, or wisdom to emerge from somewhere … We don't know where!

In my nearly two decades of working with families, I have seen that when parents overly worry or try to control their children and their children's problems and lives, children often become stressed and worried and depressed themselves. Now, their job is to be "good," and feel good and do well in order to make sure their parents are not worried and stressed out! An unhappy situation for all.

" ... when parents overly worry or try to control their children and their children's problems and lives, children become stressed and worry themselves."

I am not saying it is not okay to seek professional help, or to help our children in our own ways (and certainly some parents neglect their children's problems when they should be paying attention). It is just that so many times, when I have worried about one of my children's issues, I have noticed--very quickly--that as I ramp up about it, the child ramps up (becoming more anxious, digging their heels in, and so forth).

One of my daughters was very afraid of dogs, and this was getting in our way of going to the beach and going to public parks. It was creating conflict with dog owners. I noticed she was influencing her sister, and they were both becoming afraid of animals in general. The problem was obvious whenever we were outside, and my friends kept asking: What are you going to do? They recommended courses of action: perhaps a counselor? A special program?

But I wondered, short of having a dog as an actual counselor, how would it help to just talk to a human being about dogs? Nothing really felt right to me, and so I put my hands in the air, and let it all go. You could say that I prayed. Whatever our religions (or lack thereof) I believe all of us to be spiritually "connected" whether we realize that connection or not. Very simply, I believe that there is a deeper intelligence in life that flows through all of life and is in each of us as well.

"When I'm trying to control life, I'm trying to use a very small mind to control something so vast and unfathomable that one cannot even contain it in thought!"

When I'm trying to control life, I'm trying to use a very small mind to control something so vast and unfathomable that one cannot even contain it in thought!

Eventually, through happenstance, I enrolled my daughter in horseback riding lessons, and although she did learn to ride horses a bit, the riding lessons quickly became about overcoming her fear of dogs. There were dogs at the ranch where the horses were, and one day she told me: "Mommy! I sat down on a bench and a dog came up to me and for some reason I was just calm, and I wasn't afraid!"

Being around the big horses, too, I think, helped her to lessen her fear of animals in general and then finally on one of her last lesson days, a tiny brown puppy showed up at the ranch looking for a home.

"There is wisdom in life that is 'spiritual'--which simply means it is beyond form, it is not contained already in our personal thought systems, in what we already know."

She would become our dog, "Coco," of course, and we struggled with the decision to take her home--with so much fear around dogs in both girls now. But when she got home, Coco became our dog therapist and promptly started working on the girls'  issues, and with great success. She's with us still, and both girls are now doing fine with almost all dogs (big dogs still scare them sometimes.)


People ask me what spirituality has to do with parenting, and this is what I say: There is wisdom in life that is "spiritual"--which simply means it is beyond form, it is not contained in our personal thought systems, in what we already know--but it is always a benediction and blessing, an Answer. If we can relax more, step aside, and enroll wisdom in our family lives, we notice that its fruits are love, peace, health, connection and harmony.

Ami leads a monthly drop-in class called "Everyday Satsang" for parents, gaurdians and everyone else, through Santa Cruz Yoga at 1010 Fair Ave. Ste. E on Sundays, 2-4 pm. Coming dates are Oct. 25, Nov. 15 and Dec. 13.

This is first of a series of monthly blogs by Ami Chen on parenting, written especially for Santa Cruz Parent. Ami is a professional coach and consultant, as well as global speaker, trainer and author. She is author of The Spark Inside: A Special Book for Youth, and State of Mind in Classroom. She has worked with families and schools for more than 17 years. 

Of Roots and Seeds ...

Dear Friends,

The second half of the class held in Israel (see last blog, "Holy Spirit in the Holy Land") is coming soon ... For today, other issues have arisen that seem, to me, so essential in human interaction, human growth, and the potential--so far quite squandered--within humanity for peace and "right relations."

I received an email at from a very brave, very open woman living in a country (not the United States), where she is learning social work of a rather activist nature, and studying indigenous people and their ways. At the same time, she has discovered the 3 Principles. How do these two worlds meet?

Along with this letter, I have been reading Toni Packer--her beautiful book, The Work of This Moment--and have been struck by how profoundly and deeply Toni questions the many attachments (in Thought) we have to "belonging to a group," to family, religious, spiritual, political, and even cultural or racial (gender!) identification.

How these often seemingly very benign, and even "righteous" affiliations still promote a sense of "self" and "other," and division between the two. Sydney Banks, and all other formless-pointing mystics, spoke often of oneness ... and the problem of ego, which Syd called the "image of self importance," and which I have been calling the "idea of a self."

Can we, do we, consider ourselves somewhat "important" because we belong to a "good" group: be it Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Eastern, Zen, ecological, culturally sensitive, spiritual or even the "3 Principles" as a group or movement, as a way of identifying?

Do we feel superior because we have "found" the 3 Principles, because we teach the 3 Principles? Or because we belong to any other group, historically oppressed, or historically oppressors? Highly evolved? Progressive? Vegetarian? Democrats? Republicans?

Without dismissing our right to choose how to live our lives, or how to vote, do our affiliations "deaden" our listening to others, create assumptions, in Thought, that may not be true. Do our allegiances close off our ability to see freshly, to learn something new about another or about ourselves?

In conversations with Bill Cumming, of What One Person Can Do & the Boothby Institute, who will be my radio show guest next week, June 8, many thought-provoking questions have arisen for both of us.

"The last thing we need is another movement," Bill said to me--and I took this inside myself, just as I have been planting seeds and tubers in the warming soil in our garden. What will emerge?

At the same time, I notice the varied dynamics in my own little family, the tendency, when feeling stressed, hurt or wounded, to blame and to resort to anger and/or irritation. And then the resulting "guilt." Not always, of course ... But what is this impulse? From where does it arise? ... When I invite the question, I find myself in more gentleness, not wanting to "attack back," nor to attack myself, but to allow space for reflection and wondering.

Hurt, Anger, Blame, Guilt. Identity, Attachment. Here are ripe topics for inquiry, for our natural and "alive" curiosity--Consciousness seeking Itself, always. And of course, the gift of the Principles is to help us to clearly see both root cause, and root solution.

Here is the letter I received from the woman in the midst of social work studies, greatly condensed and edited, along with my own questions, seeds, offered for your and my own reflection: 
I’ve come across the three principles at the beginning of 2012, and discovered for myself a whole new dimension of inner wealth. Shortly after, I started my studies and have been wondering ever since how to bring in line my newly found wisdom with asserted ideas of what social workers should be in this world.
We’re being taught to be angry about social injustice and to feel responsible for the suffering of others when we happen to be the privileged ones. But yet I’m very passionate about my studies. I’ve got great teachers and the feeling that everything I’m learning is meaningful.
What creates a question mark in my inner dialogue (and mine wants to be exceptionally vigilant) is that what I’m learning at University and what I understand about the 3P’s seems to be positioned at opposite ends of a spectrum. I’ve been quite upset about this, but just recently I found a way to approach this “issue” with simple curiosity and turn it into a response-ability (your words). This little post of yours [Ami's note: about "responsibility," on my Facebook wall] has really helped me shift paradigms in terms of how I want to address my feeling of guilt for being a _______, for having stuff that others don’t, for being blessed with two beautiful children while my friend is struggling to conceive ... you name it.
Dear Catrin,
I do not know if you sought a response to the above. It seems you are working a lot of this out on your own, and that’s wonderful. However, since you wrote, what occurred to me are the following questions:
What is guilt? It seems to me that guilt carries with it a sense of feeling bad about oneself ... of carrying blame for a situation, of attacking oneself through Thought.
What is the role of guilt in helping to activate us toward social change, or compassion?
Can guilt, in the end, be destructive?
Can it thwart our objectives in “helping others”? For example, if we are helping others in order to make ourselves feel less guilty, or to assuage guilt, then who are we really acting for? Are we helping others as a way of trying to heal ourselves? Is this really the correct order of things?
Without guilt, is there a way to see clearly the horrors of history (as indeed they are), or perhaps even the horrors of our own individual pasts, with renewed vision, and then to act from inspiration, from insight, and joyful selflessness? To share something we ourselves have found, beyond guilt?
(Can we also understand our tremendous privilege and share what we have with joy, understanding that a limit to abundance comes only from the human thought system?)
I know that when I myself feel guilty, I tend to act out in angry ways—feeling angry with myself, and then turning this anger outward. From a 3 Principles perspective, I create a negative thought about myself, which then creates a negative feeling--and from this distorted, negative space, I then act.
Perhaps shame (feeling abashed) has a temporary role to play as we see our past mistakes, and ways in which we may have hurt others. But then, can compassion and love actually co-exist in the same space as guilt? I don’t think so. These are two very different sets of thoughts, the first being impersonal, Universal, and the second being quite personal indeed.
Many of the world’s horrors actually stem from feelings of guilt, turned outward. If this is true, then how can we get to root causes if we continue to carry with us the seeds of violence and repression toward ourselves and others?
I am not suggesting that there is not a place in the world for feelings of guilt and shame, or even for anger and outrage. But I see that hurting each other is a human capacity and habit that spans all cultures and races, and I believe that we must go much, much deeper than guilt to find lasting solutions to such chronic suffering.
[Note: the letter goes on to talk about the indigenous population this woman is studying, and the beauty of their spiritual belief system, with some blame directed toward the government, which is now trying to help in its own, she believes, distorted, paternal way.]
Does the _______ spirituality continue to sustain them? It is quite beautiful, as you describe it, and also, sometimes our spiritual systems and symbols have lost their life, their living meaning. And sometimes we become "attached" the the form of our spirituality, and it becomes another way to hold ourselves up as superior in some way.
The Principles do seem to awaken meaning for people, within their own religions or systems. In the end, however, we transcend all words and all systems, as well as cultural identities. Who and what we truly are is beyond all of that.
Also, I’d like to know, since I’ve just listened to your conversation with Gangaji about enlightenment as a verb (loved it), if you could share the understanding of mental health being a verb? The _______ use a term which means "constant pursuit of well-being."
Unfolding, I’d say. Unfolding mental health, like the Buddhist lotus. We each have an endless reservoir or well of mental health and well-being, and our “unfolding” is finding deeper and deeper experiences of that, less of the self and self-interest, self-concern (the narrow, constricted experience of the small self.)
Beyond the concerns of the self, be they of guilt or identity or self importance, one finds a freedom to move as water moves--over, under, between, around ... not anticipating what may actually come, trusting in its own immense capacity for fluidity.

Perhaps the central question for you now is this: "wondering how to bring in line my newly found wisdom with asserted ideas of what social workers should be in this world." 

I support your open wondering, a wonder-full space--without projecting, analyzing or planning, without fear (or within fear!) ... I trust in your own fluid wisdom to lead you exactly where you need to go.

I send my love and support on your journey.