A Parent's Roadmap To Wisdom and Compassion

The test of genuine compassion lies in our actions, not our mindsets. It’s easy to think kind thoughts, but acting with compassion is what matters, especially when we don't feel like it.

In 2011, on an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, a retired bricklayer named Joao Pereira de Souza found a penguin stranded on the beach. The penguin was starving, covered in oil and could barely move. The bricklayer called him Jinjing and took him home. He fed Jinjing sardines and washed the tar off his feathers. When the bird was healthy, the bricklayer tried to set him free, but Jinjing had a different idea. He stayed in the bricklayer’s backyard for eleven months, and then he disappeared without warning. The bricklayer was upset; he had become attached to his pet penguin, and he thought Jinjing was gone for good. Parents of a graduating high-school senior might feel this story is a little too close to home.

The test of genuine compassion lies in our actions, not our mindsets. It’s easy to think kind thoughts, but acting with compassion is what matters, especially when we don’t feel like it. The bricklayer in this modern-day parable planned to take care of Jinjing only until this penguin could rejoin the other penguins. But that’s not how Jinjing saw their relationship. Penguins are loyal, they’re usually monogamous for life, and Jinjing thought the bricklayer was his mate. So, it makes sense that the penguin stuck around and it makes sense that the bricklayer grew attached. But what the bricklayer didn’t know was that penguins stay with their mates only during nesting season and leave their nests for the rest of the year. It was rough for the bricklayer when Jinjing took off and being a parent can be rough too. Like Jinjing, children sometimes say and do things innocently that are hurtful. Parents get a lot of advice about how to help their kids manage hurt feelings, but not so much about how to handle their own. Mindfulness offers four insights that help parents navigate these emotional ups and downs with wisdom and compassion.

Four insights of mindfulness:

  • Suffering is part of life; not all of life, but part of life.
  • What we see at first glance usually isn’t the only cause of our suffering. Dig deeper to find out what’s below the surface.
  • Happiness is within reach when we respond to life’s ups and downs wisely. Easing emotional pain is as simple as a shift in perspective.
  • Our own and other people’s suffering eases and happiness increases when we practice wisdom and compassion. The fourth insight of mindfulness is that we can learn how.

What does practicing wisdom and compassion look like in real life?

When parents respond to their hurt feelings and disappointment wisely, they’re modeling wisdom and compassion for their kids. Are difficult emotions painful? They can be. Do we sweep them under the rug and ignore them? I hope not. The aim is to acknowledge painful feelings and then pull back to make sense of them within the context of a broad worldview. If we look at what’s happening within and around us with an open mind and remind ourselves that all things change and are connected, we’re better able to accept what happens and respond with equanimity.

Like many painful parenting experiences, the story of the penguin and the bricklayer has a happy ending. Months later, the bricklayer heard a loud hoot coming from his backyard, and when he investigated, he found that the penguin had returned. Jinjing and the bricklayer have settled into a mutually satisfying routine with the penguin leaving every February and returning every June. No one knows where he spends the rest of the year but, for now, Jinjing’s spending the summer and fall in the bricklayer’s backyard. Sometimes there’s suffering in life, but sometimes things also work out.

The next time things don't work out the way you had hoped they would try this simple visualization from Mindful Games.

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Pink Bubble

  • Close your eyes and take a few breaths.

  • Picture the disappointment or feeling that’s bothering you and put it in an imaginary pink bubble.

  • In your mind, watch the light, airy, pink bubble float away, and imagine that whatever is bothering you is floating away with it.

  • Wave goodbye and wish it well.

This post was originally published on Thrive Global, click here to follow me.