A mother from school said to me one day: “I was thinking about you last night, and I wanted to ask you something. Do you think you’re a mindful parent?” I paused as I ran through questions in my own head of what a “Mindful Parent” actually was and whether I fit that description. Here we go; another label to contend with. Since becoming a mother my life is rife with labels, shoulds and expectations.
“I guess so. At least I try to be. Why the question?” I asked. I’d been chatting to my friend about a week before about a book I stumbled upon almost by chance. The life changing book, Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali made it’s way into my life somehow, at a time when I needed it the most. Like most things that are meant to be to set us on a path of self discovery and transformation, I can’t really remember how or why that book landed into my lap, but it did. I started reading it but tired eyes and lack of time saw me park it on the bookshelf for months. Until one day I came across the audiobook. I started listening to it in the car on the way to work and it set me on a completely new path; not only as a person but as a mother.
How Meditation Changed My Life
As I began my search for contentment and a new way of seeing life, I protested that meditation wasn’t for me because my brain wouldn’t switch off. Isn’t that all the more reason to practice it? I enrolled in a guided meditation class and my life suddenly overflowed with mindful moments. I began to relax. I’d found my thing.
Walking into the meditation class was a little daunting to begin with. As I grabbed a pillow, a yoga mat and a blanket, I wondered whether I was in the right place. I felt some hesitation about letting go of all thoughts and control, but the space felt safe. At first I’d have trouble switching off. My mind would wander back to work all the time, but with time I’d find myself relaxing and going with the flow. Tuesdays became my bliss day, something to look forward to each week. I could cope with the day’s events, (and soon the week’s) so much better. On bliss days, problems dissolved and stress levels reduced. I slowed down. I realised most of the problems I’d had in the past weren’t really problems at all. If I had to choose a word for them I’d use challenges. Or maybe learning curves. Maybe even opportunities for reflection or for change.
Engaging in a daily meditation practice allowed me to learn not only about myself, but about humanity. I was beginning to understand the concept of oneness. I started to experience things like gratitude, compassion, love, and joy. When I name these feelings, I should point out that it’s not as though I’d never experienced them before or wasn’t experiencing them in my life prior to my journey into mindfulness and spirituality. But I experienced these things on a profound level. I was getting out of my head and into my heart. Things started to change for me. I started seeing life through a set of eyes that didn’t feel like my own. Things that once would have worried me, caused me to feel stressed, just didn’t. I stopped sweating the small stuff. I was amazed at how I could feel peace knowing that an emotion would pass and not linger forever. So I’d make the most of the positive ones and ride out, or make conscious decisions when affected by the negative onces. The most profound change I experienced though, was that I had significantly more patience with my children.
Within a few short months, I had become a mindful mother. The way I spoke to my children changed. I began seeing life through the eyes of a child. I was able to empathise with their feelings and their needs. I was able to take a moment to stop and think about my child’s perspective before responding to them from a mindless adult’s perspective. Once I did this, I was able to more calmly deal with day to day situations. The dynamic in our family changed for the better. We all felt less rushed and more understood.
I was able to pass on the concept on mindfulness to my children. Each day, we’d talk about something we were grateful for, or we’d focus on a particular emotion. When we ventured outside, we would hear and feel so much more than usual; birds chirping, the sound of wind blowing, waves crashing or various scents in the air. We were more aware; not only of our surroundings but slowing down and enjoying the present moment. In such a fast paced world, this is an often forgotten practice and is now becoming something we need to relearn ourselves but also teach our children.
Vanessa is a writer and mother of two. When not walking the dog or playing with the kids she’s busy writing her first novel.
FIVE STEPS FOR MORE MINDFUL LIVING
Stress - I always thought that a situation caused us to feel stressed. The kids misbehaving, running late for work, an illness in the family, an argument with the other half, running out of coffee. In any given day there are countless opportunities to feel stressed. And the alarming thing is; most of us take life up on these opportunities. We allow ourselves to feel stressed over anything and everything. It’s rife! Over time I realised that the external blaming of circumstances had to stop. I realised that if I continued along this path, my life would continually be stressful. Life was going to happen no matter what. I needed to change my way of thinking. A situation does not cause us stress. It is our perception of a situation or event that causes us to feel stressed. It’s a choice. We can choose to perceive a situation as stressful, or we can choose to not worry about it. In saying that, I think that there’s stress of a healthy kind; clearly we need to be able to differentiate between the two.
Slowing Down - Sometimes life forces us to slow down. But we always have a choice. Always. Even if it doesn’t feel that way. Often times, it’s when we need to make that choice that we feel it’s actually not a choice. One thing I learnt was that the Universe wants to support us. We will be ok. Things will always be ok. When you look at situations where people have had terrible things happen to them, often situations are life changing for the better. There’s the woman who got sick and realised she needed to stop. There’s the person who lost everything and realised everything was nothing, and really she had everything. Blessings in disguise are common. We need to slow down to listen. It’s in the stillness that we can gain the clarity.
Gratitude - Be grateful for life and all things in it. Every night, before going to sleep, name the things you were grateful for that day. I do this with my own children at bedtime.
Trust - Know that there’s enough of everything to go round and you’re worthy of receiving. Give to others knowing there’s enough, and be open to receiving wonderful things in your life back. Trust that the universe has your back and things will work out for the best. Let go instead of dwelling on problems. Think about whether pondering on problems and losing sleep has ever helped you resolve a problem. More often than not, when we allow ourselves to detach and let go, we allow situations to unfold naturally, presenting us with solutions we wouldn’t have usually come to if we were feeling stressed.
Stop multitasking - As humans we have evolved so much that I think that most of us are no longer in tune with ourselves. We eat mindlessly, we’re constantly stuck in our own heads, watching TV or in our electronic devices. There is no way that Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can replace the honest and much needed relationships and closeness that we humans need. In particular, women tend to multi task, adding on layer upon layer of responsibility. And it’s no wonder we have little time left for our own sanity and wellbeing. By toning down the multitasking or even just carving out some time to detach, can make the world of difference to our mindset. Mindfulness is often something that does not occur naturally. It takes conscious effort and practice. It can feel awkward and unfamiliar. But the benefits to families are great. Simply learning to stop what we’re doing to take the time to give our children the eye contact and attention they crave, is a start. We all have to start somewhere. So, in answer to my friend at the schoolgates, I would say that I’d certainly like to be a mindful parent and am taking steps in the right direction every day!