Archives for Mindfulness
In my last post, I explored the importance of setting an intention to pay attention as a crucial part of mindfulness. Now it’s time to talk about paying attention. Paying attention is key to mindfulness; if we can’t direct our awareness towards something and then bring it back to that something again and again when it wanders, we will be at the mercy of the distractions of life. I see this in my daughters all the time; they’re young and their little brains are still learning to pay attention. They can focus fairly well on something that’s new or interesting, but they are also distracted mid-sentence by a squirrel or a plastic gem on the floor or a memory of something that happened earlier that day or even earlier that year. This a very handy thing when I’m trying to distract my girls out of a tantrum; it’s not so handy when I want them to pay attention to something such as putting their shoes on or eating their dinners or brushing their teeth. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told my daughters to pay attention, but I’m not sure I can remember ever explicitly telling them what it means to pay attention, or how to do it.
I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop. I have my laptop on the table right in front of me. The screen is bright and glowing. Even so, here are a few of the things distracting me from my writing: -- The background music. -- The woman sitting at the table behind me watching the news on her iPad. She has the volume turned up quite high. -- My phone, which just beeped to alert me about an incoming text message. -- The activity tracker I wear on my wristband, which just vibrated to let me know that I’ve been sitting for 45 minutes. Whoops. -- My friend’s super cute necklace that has all of her children’s initials on it. -- A large water bottle that I feel compelled to sip from every sentence or two, even though I’m not that thirsty. -- My own brain, which is currently wondering if I remembered to book the hotel rooms for our upcoming family vacation. Also, I have two scarves, which are roughly the same color, but not exactly the same, and I can’t quite decide which one I like better and if I should keep both, because it does seem a bit indulgent to have two scarves that are exactly the same. And the royal baby was named this morning, and her name is Charlotte, which I totally predicted, so I’m feeling quite proud of myself. Did I mention my neck is a bit sore? I wonder if there are some stretches I can do to loosen it up a bit. I’ll just click over to the Internet for a minute, just one minute, to do a little research… Here is the one thing I actually want to focus on: - This post. Sigh.
“Living in the moment.”
“Living with whatever comes your way, without trying to change it.”
“Being happy / content / joyful all the time.”
These are some of the phrases that I’ve heard people mention when they talk about mindfulness.
While all of them have something to do with mindfulness, none of them are quite accurate. And that’s a problem.
These misconceptions are a big part of the reason why mindfulness gets such a bad rap in the press at times.
In my last post, I offered some ideas for how to set effective New Years Resolutions. Although there are many folks out there who question the value of setting resolutions at all, I couldn’t help myself. I love the idea of a fresh start and a new opportunity to do a little bit better for myself and my family. I did make some resolutions this year, and much to my great surprise, I’m still committed to them a week later. I know, this may not sound like much, but in the past I haven't lasted much longer than a couple of weeks. (According to unsubstantiated statistics I have read in numerous online articles, only about 8% of Americans keep their resolutions.) Several things have helped me stay focused on the changes I want to make, including some of the ideas I shared in my previous post. But there is one other thing I'm doing differently this year that helps me stay focused more than anything else: I’m tracking my resolutions with my daughters. We each created a chart with four practices we want to work on. Each morning we review our charts as a reminder of what we want to try to accomplish during the day, and each night we talk about how the day went and give ourselves stickers and stars as appropriate. As I think about it, there are several reasons why this seems to be working so well:
I recently came across a Facebook meme that said, “You only get one chance to raise your kids right.” My gut reaction to this post was, “Ugh. Well, I’ve already screwed that one up. Forget the college fund. I need to start a therapy fund.” The truth is that I get frustrated with my daughters, I snap at them, and yes, I have even been known to hide from them. (Only in the bathroom, and not for long, but yes, I was hiding.) I’m assuming that most of this does not count as raising my kids right. Fortunately, I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing that crazy monkey who likes to bounce around inside my head, flinging his crap at every opportunity. I took a moment to shut him up, and then I thought about this idea that we only get one shot at this whole parenting thing. And I decided it’s not true.
Oh man. I really wanted to go. I’ve wanted to go to this retreat for three years. It happens in late August every year in Northern California, and it’s led by two experienced and amazing mindfulness teachers. It’s six days long. When you add in a day on each end for cross-country travel and a day to visit my family and editors nearby, that’s nine days. I’ve never been away from my girls for nine straight days. My husband is incredibly supportive; every year he tells me I should go. He tells me he’ll be fine with the girls, and I know he’s right. He’ll be more than fine. He’ll be great. The girls will mostly be great. Except for when the toll of Mama being away so long starts to wear on them, as it does on me. My girls are 4 and 5.5 this year. I decided they were old enough, so I checked the refund policy and signed up for the retreat. I was excited. Thrilled. And completely ambivalent. I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it wasn’t a good idea, that I would be away for too long.
My five-year-old daughter flipped out this morning when she learned that she needed to get a blood test. While I’m not a big fan of tearful wailing at 8:00 AM, I have to admit that flipping out is a perfectly reasonable response to the thought of having a complete stranger stick a needle in your arm. Especially when you’re just five years old. We’ve been through our fair share of flip-outs, and they usually end with some variation of either snuggles or shouts (from both of us), but this time I tried something new. Perhaps it’s because I actually got eight hours of sleep last night, or perhaps it’s because I’m working on a new book about teaching mindfulness to children, but I actually had an idea. Earlier this morning, my daughter has asked me if I had meditated after I woke up, and it just so happens that I had, so I knew meditation was on her mind. As she sat at the dining room table, sobbing into her cereal, I told her that one reason I meditate is so I can practice choosing my thoughts, so I can get better at keeping the ones I want and getting ride of the ones I don’t.
One of the core ideas of mindfulness is acceptance. When we adopt a mindful stance towards life, we make a conscious choice to accept whatever is happening in the moment without judging it or wishing it was different. Thus, one of the core ideas of mindful parenting is about accepting whatever is happening for our children or ourselves, without judging it or wishing it was different. I don’t know about you, but there are many, many times each day when I wish something about my own parenting (such as my tendency to snap at my girls when they throw tantrums) or my daughters (their bickering, whining, and nagging come to mind) were very, very different. The reality is that I often do want things to be other than they are. I want to be a calmer, kinder parent, and I want them to be better communicators and problem-solvers. At first glance, this does not seem to be a particularly “mindful” stance.
A few weeks ago, I was on a retreat as part of a year-long course I recently took on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. (For the record, the course meets in person in the Boston area and online for those of you around the world, and it’s fantastic. If you’re a mental health professional interested in integrating mindfulness into your practice, I highly recommend you check it out.) Anyway, we spent about 36 hours of the retreat in silence, during which time our goal was to meditate on whatever we were doing: sitting, walking, washing dishes, and eating. At each meal, I tried to focus on eating slowly by chewing carefully and paying attention to the flavor, smell, and texture of each bite. This doesn’t come naturally to me; even before I had kids, I tended to shovel my food in as though a baby was crying or a toddler was nagging me to wipe her tushy, and once I became a mother, well, things just went downhill. If I wasn’t careful on the retreat, I quickly reverted back to my habit of speed eating, even though there wasn’t a kid in sight. And then I remembered a tip I had read somewhere about how to eat more slowly: put down your fork between bites. As I thought about it, I realized that I can’t be fully present for any one bite if I’ve got one hand wrapped around a fork, poised to take the next one. It’s taken me a long time to fully understand this, and I’m still fully figuring it out, but what we’re doing with our bodies at any given moment really does influence how our brains are working (or not). Merely holding a utensil in my hand triggered my mind to think about what was coming next, which meant I wasn't thinking about the bite I was working on.
I am absolutely honored to host Karen Maezen Miller on the blog today. Her writing never ceases to dazzle and inspire me. They don't make it past spring, the camellia flowers, but oh, what a beautiful spring. Their blooms appear in one energetic burst, when the winter's color has dulled to gray. They arrive when it's dark and cold, and you've ceased to believe in the promise of April or May. They pop up when time has frozen and you have turned blue, yes blue, with the sad certainty that nothing ever changes around here. You see a wink of color, and turn to see a lady dressed in red. She tosses off her beauty in the hour of its perfection, and the flowers carpet the ground where you walk. Flowers are love's perfect offering. They do not ask to be appreciated. They expect nothing in return. They just let go. I don't have to do anything in my garden and yet there are flowers appearing all the time: azalea, jasmine and wisteria in spring; water and day lilies in summer; camellia, bird of paradise, and orange blossoms in winter; floribunda roses and gardenias nearly all year long. Even the dandelions count. By some mysterious and unerring hand they all appear right on time. They seed the fruit. They feed the bees and butterflies. They sweeten the breeze. They are subtle and selfless, here and gone, appearing and disappearing, part and parcel of life's perennial display. By this definition everything is a flower; by this lesson, all is love. Life is indeed love, continually pouring itself into itself—for my benefit and delight, I might add—but by my egocentric thinking I can be blind to the gift.