This article is courtesy of my good friend Louis Weinstock…
A highly respected transpersonal child and family psychotherapist with 17 years experience who tackles some great points in this exclusive article he has kindly produced for you and for us…
In my clinical work with divorced or divorcing families, there is one thing I’ve learned for sure: the most important factor in determining the impact on the kids is the mindset of the parents.
If the parents cultivate what I would call a ‘spiritual mindset’, this can have a hugely beneficial knock-on effect on the kids. We are all born with an innate sense of spirituality. An infant gazes in wonder at a leaf: mindfulness. A toddler cries when they see someone else in pain: compassion. This innate spirituality was the inspiration for William Wordsworth’s famous line: ‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy.’ Did you know that children of divorced parents are more likely to describe themselves as spiritual later on in life? 62% according to one study.
So without further ado, let me share with you the 5 key elements of a spiritual mindset, the cultivation of which can help you and your kids turn the challenge of a divorce into an opportunity for growth and wisdom:
1. Right Understanding:
The first element in a spiritual mindset is having the right understanding about the nature of your mind and the nature of your emotional self.
Possibly the world’s most well-known spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, says in The Power of Now:
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.”…You realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”
Through practices such as meditation, you can quite quickly come to see that the thoughts that overwhelm you are not who you really are. How could this be who you really are, when these thoughts happen so automatically?
Going through a divorce can of course trigger thought patterns that create great suffering for yourself and for your children. For example, you might have the thought: ‘this is really going to damage my kids.’ You may try to repress this thought, as it feels too much to bear, but repressing such a thought usually makes it keep coming back with even more force and fear behind it. By repressing the thought, you are investing a kind of reality in that thought, when in truth, the thought is just a thought.
Ram Dass says the mind is ‘a wonderful servant, but a lousy master.’ Realise that you don’t have to be controlled by your thoughts. You are in the driving seat. I have worked with divorcing parents in the past to help them develop more loving, limitless beliefs around a divorce. A better thought or belief might be: ’through this difficult time, I can support my children to grow stronger and wiser.’
The same principles apply to your emotions. From a spiritual perspective, your emotions are divine messengers of wounds that need to be healed in the light of Unconditional Love. These wounds go deeper than the divorce. Every human being carries wounds from childhood, from birth, and ancestral wounds which are passed down from one generation to the next.
This wounds are sacred memories, beautiful scars that remind us of the challenges both we and our ancestors have overcome. Going through a divorce, your wounds have certainly been triggered. But with a spiritual mindset, you can see that the emotions that are coming up, no matter how challenging, are coming up like innocent children so they can be met with Unconditional Love and healed.
A helpful way to understand these wounds is in terms of the shadow. The shadow refers to all those parts of your self that you have disowned because they weren’t accepted in your family, in your community, or in your culture. For example, you might have repressed the part of you that gets angry, because there was no space for your anger when you were younger.
When anger is repressed into the shadow, it can turn into passive aggressiveness, resentment, and even depression. If you can make a space to practice healthy expression of your anger, this can generate huge energy and healing: what I call ’shadow power’. A loss such as a divorce, it provides a perfect opportunity to heal these emotional wounds, to integrate your shadow. When you have this spiritual perspective on your emotions, it allows you to relate to your emotions and the bits of yourself you have disowned in a different, more compassionate way.
When you provide a space to express the disowned parts of your self, this can generate incredibly amounts of energy and power. And when you have this right understanding of the shadow and your wounds, this will have a beneficial knock-on effect on your kids.
2. Trust in a deeper intelligence:
A spiritual mindset means that you have some level of trust or faith that there is a deeper intelligence at work in your life. You do not have to believe in god as the man with the white beard hanging out in the clouds. You may believe there is a deeper intelligence in Life, in the Heart, in the Great Mystery, or in the Universe. It doesn’t matter too much what your particular beliefs are, what does matter is that you can find a place within yourself to trust that everything is unfolding perfectly according to this deeper intelligence. No doubt, this trust gets tested to its limits when going through a challenging transition like a divorce.
The best way to reconnect with this trust is to imagine that you have a ‘zoom out’ button. You can zoom yourself out so that you can see your whole life from start to finish. You can zoom out even further so you can see not just your life, but all life-forms from the first single-celled organisms to whatever comes next after human beings. You can then zoom out even further to see the whole universe, all of space and time, and the interconnectedness of everything. Imagine having this ultimate perspective.
Now, although our limited everyday human minds may not be able to fully appreciate this most zoomed out perspective, we can at least see the possibility of a greater intelligence unfolding that we are just a part of, and we can find a place to appreciate that greater intelligence, and to look for the lessons we are called to learn.
3. Life as the Greatest Teacher:
Forget about your Maths teacher or your Yoga teacher or your Parenting teacher. Life itself is the one teacher you really need to listen to. Ram Dass says that “Life is an incredible curriculum in which we live it richly and passionately as a way of awakening to the deepest truths of our being.” So when you have a challenging situation like a divorce, a spiritual mindset allows you to tune into the key lesson that is being revealed to you by Life in this moment.
When you are open to receive this lesson, as difficult as it may be, you are guaranteed to grow through this experience. And you will also pass this growth mindset onto your children, even if just energetically.
4. Awakening Qualities of The Heart:
Often the greatest opportunity of difficult life experiences is that they provide an opportunity for us to awaken the qualities of the heart. The qualities of the heart are the most divine qualities a human being has access to. In Buddhism, they are known as the brahmavihāras or the ‘sublime attitudes’. Qualities of the heart include courage, gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, patience, unconditional love.
The spiritual mindset is focused on cultivating these heart qualities, in the same way a caring gardener would water and nurture the seeds of flowers and plants to help them grow. Forgiveness is possibly the most difficult quality to cultivate when going through a divorce (including self-forgiveness) but it is definitely possible. There are some wonderful exercises and rituals that can really help to cultivate this quality, some of which are referenced in the Inner Beauty Bible which I helped to produce.
Mark Twain wrote that ‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’ When a parent can find forgiveness when going through a divorce, this creates a deeply healing space for the children.
5. Radical Alchemy:
Ultimately, a spiritual mindset will allow you to alchemise the situation, transforming the suffering you and your children may be experiencing into the gold of compassion and service. Having spent most of my working life helping people get through really difficult life circumstances, the one factor that consistently guarantees spiritual growth is a person’s ability to find a way to help others as a result of the suffering they have experienced.
This is what I call radical alchemy: transforming your suffering into compassionate action in the world. In most spiritual traditions, there is a big emphasis on the spiritual value of ‘Service’. Indian spiritual poet Tagore wrote: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” There are so many ways in which you can transform your suffering through a divorce into Service. For one, parenting is the ultimate act of service.
What greater gift can you give to the divine spirit of your children then cultivating a spiritual mindset, an inner environment of peace, compassion, forgiveness? Beyond this, you may find that as a result of your divorce you develop a deeper empathy for others going through a similar situation and you may want to volunteer some time to an organisation that helps people going through relationship challenges. Whatever you decide, once you set a clear intention and pathway to transform your suffering into service, the sense of meaning and joy that this can bring you will be absorbed as deep spiritual nourishment by your children.
A spiritual mindset does require commitment, discipline, and practice. I see so many clients who have experimented with different spiritual techniques, teachers, and perspectives, but they are window-shopping and don’t allow themselves to gain he full benefits from going deep.
Finding a spiritual community to support this practice can really help. I run a spiritual community called Radical Alchemy which you are welcome to join. If you want to learn more about cultivating the innate spirituality of your children, then I highly recommend ‘The Spiritual Child’ by Lisa Miller.
Finally, I leave you with my deepest wish that you and your children can see this transitional moment as a precious opportunity for spiritual growth. I can’t express this better than the poem below.
BLESSING FOR THE PLACE BETWEEN
When you come to the place between.
When you have left what you held most dear.
When you are traveling toward the life you know not.
When you arrive at the hardest ground.
May it become for you a place to rest.
May it become for you a place to dream.
May the pain that has pressed itself into you give way to vision, to knowing.
May the morning make of it an altar, a path, a place to begin
— Jan Richardson
Author: You can learn more about the author Louis Weinstock here.