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Shefali Tsabary, PhD, is an international speaker, acclaimed author, and creator of the groundbreaking Conscious Parenting approach—which Oprah Winfrey has endorsed as revolutionary and life-changing. Dr. Shefali's blend of clinical psychology and Eastern mindfulness sets her apart as a leader in the field of mindfulness psychology.
Her New York Times best-selling book The Awakened Family has proved eye-opening for scores of parents eager to escape the anxiety surrounding how "best" to raise a family. We love the real-world examples she points to in the following excerpt—underscoring the power of silence.
Excerpt from The Awakened Family, Chapter 16: "From Chaos to Stillness"
One of our greatest untapped allies in life is silence. Most of us are terrified to enter it, believing it to mean nothingness just because it doesn't involve some form of doing. Being still in silence is uncomfortable for most of us not only because it runs counter to the diet of constant busyness and achievement we were raised on, but because it puts us painfully in touch with the emptiness within where our true self ought to be.
Our discomfort with confronting ourselves in the naked stillness of absolute quiet leads us to eat too much, drink excessively, socialize mindlessly, and engage in a host of activities out of a desire to simply avoid being still. This constant whirring in our minds creates disharmony and imbalance. The mind cannot function at its optimum level when it's constantly under siege from endless opinions, criticism, and ideas.
Sitting in stillness for a few minutes through the day allows us to begin to be aware of our essence, enabling us to recharge.
Taking a few minutes to sit and place our awareness on our breath provides a break from the barrage of information our minds are constantly asked to process. These few minutes of centering allow us to remember what really matters in life—connection to self and others. Despite having all the trappings of external achievement, if we don't have connection, we essentially have nothing.
Just as a quick downpour has the power to clear the air, so it is with ten minutes of breathing and sitting in stillness.
Our children can immediately feel the shift in our energy. Checking into ourselves all through the day allows us to pause before we speak, so that we focus on the ways we communicate. This focused attention is essential if we are to parent consciously.
To be still means to be quiet in terms of both verbal and internal chatter.
It means to observe our mental chatter but not engage with it. When we practice this on a daily basis, the chatter eventually begins to die down. Chatter can continue interminably only if we are interacting with it. If we stop interacting with it and instead simply allow it to be, it fades.
To practice sitting in stillness, I ask parents to try not saying anything to their children for blocks of time—unless of course their children need them in some way. This doesn't mean the parent ignores the child or leaves them alone. Instead, it's an invitation to enter their children's presence without any desire to mold or change them. I ask the parent to channel the energy they would use for talking to instead observe their children. I suggest they notice how the child sits. Do their shoulders slouch? Then notice their eyes, their smile, their tone of voice. Allowing sufficient time to become quiet has a powerful effect on how we respond to our children.
When a parent asks me a specific and practical question such as, "What should I do if my child left the toothpaste open?" I respond, "Say nothing for five minutes."
"What if they leave the room lights on?" "Say nothing for five minutes." "What if they fail a test?" "Say nothing for five minutes." "What if they are rude and mean to me or someone else?" "Say nothing for five minutes." "What if they hit me or their sibling?" "Say nothing for five minutes."
About now, I suspect all your alarm bells are sounding. This sounds crazy, doesn't it?
It's natural to be fearful when we're told to stop a habit.
Perhaps you feel I'm taking away your rights as a parent and thereby endorsing negative behavior? Or I am being too lenient? Or letting your child get away with bad behavior?
Saying nothing for five minutes doesn't mean any of these things. It doesn't mean we don't take action. It simply means we allow space for the wisest action to enter our awareness, since wisdom tends to surface in a situation only if we are able to step away from it for a few moments until we are calm and composed.
It means you resist rushing to judgment, even when you think that judgment is obvious.
Once you see the power of this approach to transform both you and your children, you'll give yourself the gift of a few minutes of silence to allow the optimum action to make itself known.