I’ve studied mindfulness* just enough to know that I’ve been anything but mindful most of my life. It seems I’ve always been focused on some goal, some imagined future, or – truth be told – some distraction in everyday life. Okay, the ability to delay reward (future focus) has value; we don’t want to become lethargic loafs. And there is certainly value in having fun in one’s daily life; we know what all work and no play did for Jack. My issue, and I think this is fairly common in Western industrialized societies, is being worried or preoccupied with those things to the detriment of one’s happiness and ability to be present in the moment.
Which is why mindfulness is such a powerful tool.
For example, the simple act of focusing, even for a few moments, on one’s own breath — how the air feels inside one’s lungs, how it nourishes the body – has the power to re-center one’s mind just beautifully. It becomes so much easier to let go of my worry about the global economic crisis or climate change or what to eat for dinner. Not that I shouldn’t take actions to help stop climate change, for example, but that I should do it without undue stress and worry. Only concern myself with the things I can effect and not carry the burden of worry about everything else.
It’s a powerful tool in parenting, too. First of all, lower stress equals happier parent. But even when I’m at my most peaceful, happy, contented self (I’m working to make that more and more often), at some point in a day my reaction to our three boys will doubtless throw off that equilibrium. Some saints out there might be blissful and carefree when the nine-year-old doesn’t respond to calls because he’s too absorbed in Legos, the five-year-old has built and destroyed a pillow fort laying waste (it feels like) to the whole family room and is now playing a harmonica at full volume while pulling out painting supplies, and the two-year-old is singing at full volume while “cooking” by stripping the contents of the pantry and dumping them in a huge heap (yes, I mean opening and emptying packages – not just piling up containers) on the floor.
Yes, these are real, everyday examples. All normal, age-appropriate behavior. If I only had one of those at a time? No problem. Cool, sweet Dad is there. Two? I got that. Mom, why don’t you go out for a walk? Three? Alright, I admit it. I occasionally lose my cool.
For some reason the image at the beginning of the Flintstones comes to mind for those of you old enough to remember the Flintstones – the big whistle signaling his “Yabba Dabba Doo!” celebration as he gets off work. Except I’m the whistle, not Fred. I’d much rather be Fred.
That’s where the mindfulness thing comes in. Becoming aware of my emotions, being able to separate myself from them to a certain extent has been pretty astounding. Being able to step outside myself and feel that I’m going to blow my stack has made it possible to then laugh at it (sometimes – more and more often). After all, the boys aren’t doing anything malicious. None of them is meaning to be upsetting. It’s not their fault that the accumulation of the action around me has set off my inner Flintstone whistle. So I’m getting better at stepping away, catching my breath, and then helping out with the cleanup. There’s also calling for backup, which I still do at times. Sometimes just having a second set of hands to keep the poopy diaper from being kicked across the floor is like magic. That’s when I thank God to have a partner in this crazy endeavor called parenting and I take my hat off to all those going it alone.
The mindfulness work reminds me of one of my favorite quotes at the moment. I’ve been repeating it to myself many times a day. It’s from Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, who has been on my mind a lot these days since it was 100 years ago this year that he made a 239 day voyage across the U.S. It’s this:
“Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”
What? When I first heard that I thought – easy for him to say. He didn’t have young children at the time, I thought, or the hectic pace of modern life. But as I reflected on mindfulness, the deep wisdom of this quote began to sink in. Sure, he didn’t have to be checking his e-mail on his smart phone a hundred years ago, but come to think of it, neither do I even today. I can let go of distraction.
So I repeat this quote whenever I’m stressed about getting the kids to sleep and it’s long after bedtime and the five-year-old asks for one more cup of water. It’s not worth the fight. Instead, I can show my love for this miracle of a boy and get the water.
My meager attempts to practice mindfulness have unlocked this quote for me, and when I’m on my game and finding my own peace, even at those crazy stress points, it means creating sweet moments throughout the day rather than breezing by them and missing out on the true bounty of parenting these noble souls. It makes me want to work harder at the mindfulness, the being present. Being there to love.
I wish the same for you.
This post also ran at All Done Monkey, a blog that celebrates the magic amidst the madness of parenting. Thanks, Leanna, for featuring this post with your wonderful readers!
*Mindfulness is a spiritual or psychological faculty from the Buddhist tradition focused on practicing awareness of one’s body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness. In the past thirty years, pioneering practitioners of Western psychology have applied these teachings to a wide range of counseling and psychological therapies with very positive results.
Interested to learn more? There are a ton of great resources, but for a start I’d recommend:
– Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn
– Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, by Steven C. Hayes