As a clinical social worker, I’ve known about mindfulness and meditation for quite awhile now, but I was hesitant to get involved. There were a million reasons—I was busy, I had other coping skills, I didn’t really need it. But mostly, I thought it just wasn’t my style.
In my mind, someone who meditates or practices mindfulness probably wears organic cotton clothing, enjoys lingering over a warm cup of tea, and would rather spend the night cuddled up a book of Mary Oliver’s poems than watch the latest episode of NCIS. She speaks slowly and thoughtfully, never yells, and stays calm through even the most torrential tantrum. She’s definitely vegetarian, if not vegan, and can whip up healthy, gourmet meals while educating her children about the importance of sustainable agriculture.
Let me very clear: I am seriously not that person.
I talk faster than I can think, I’m sarcastic and mouthy, and I think I’m far funnier than I actually am. I finish most meals long before my body can possibly digest them. I don’t cook, and I can’t stand tea. (Every year or so, I get determined to like it again. It just seems so zen, the beverage of the person I want to be. I linger over the samples at my local tea shop, and inevitably walk away overwhelmed by smells and tastes that I find totally unappealing.) I’m addicted to coffee, and I enjoy nothing more than wandering the aisles of my local office supply store when I’m stressed. (I’m convinced that if a new notebook or pen can’t solve all of life’s problems, I don’t know what can.)
Needless to say, Zen Mama I’m not. I feed my girls frozen pizza and snap at them far too often. Their sweaters are more likely to come from the shelves of Target than my own knitting needles (which are still attached to the baby blanket I started for my younger daughter TWO AND A HALF YEARS ago). I bought them plastic Disney Princess dolls for their birthdays instead of hand-carved wooden dolls from Peru. I let them watch TV, and as much as I’d love to tell you that their daily show is a documentary about baby seals, it’s just not true.
Certainly, there is a culture that has grown up around the practice of meditation and mindfulness. It fits for many, many people. But it’s just not who I am right now. All of this does beg the question, of course—what right do I have to call myself a Mindful Mama?
The thing is, mindfulness isn’t about what you do, what you drink, or what you wear. Nor is it about being mindful at every moment. It’s about setting an intention to pay attention, to simple BE in the present moment and remain open to whatever comes up. It’s about making a commitment to meditate, to just sit and breathe and notice your breathing, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time. It’s about failing at all of it time and time again, and coming back, over and over again. It’s simple but not at all easy, and I hope to be working on it for many, many years. I don’t expect it to change who I am, but I hope it will help me become a steadier, happier, more connected and grateful person. After a couple of months of meditating several times a week, I’m starting to notice small changes. I don’t snap at my daughters as much as I used to. When one of them starts to tantrum, I’m more inclined to give her a hug than walk away, which used to be my gut reaction. I’m kinder to myself when I make mistakes (which I so often do); the words in my head are more forgiving, and more accepting.
The other day, I was stuck in traffic on my way to get our car inspected. My husband and I had both forgotten to get the inspection done on time, and he had a gotten a ticket. I was frustrated by our inability to stay on top of things, and annoyed at the cost of the ticket. So there I sat, waiting for the light to change and the cars in front of me to move, getting increasingly twitchy and pissed off. All of a sudden, I remembered the tail light meditation I had learned about in a mindfulness seminar I recently took with Ron Siegel, PsyD, author of The Mindfulness Solution. The basic idea is to create triggers in your life that remind you to stop, breathe, and become more present and aware. Tail lights are one possibility, and in that moment, I decided to simply pay attention to the round, red light on the back of the truck in front of me. I breathed, and noticed. When I finally looked around, I realized that I was sitting right in front of the gas station where I was going to get the car inspected. I had worked myself into such a tizzy trying to get somewhere that I didn’t realize I was already there.
Mindfulness practice isn’t going to turn me into someone I’m not, even if I want it to. But, in small ways, it is helping me become a better version of myself, and a kinder and more connected parent and wife. I still have many, many moments each day when I don’t quite it right. That’s OK, because as I am still learning, every breath represents a new opportunity to step into the present moment and make a new decision.