Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mindfulness vs Losing My Mind

I tried an experiment the last two days. I didn't intend it to be an experiment, but that's the way it worked out. I've been writing here and there about slowing down and paying more attention to the little things (in part, inspired by Katrina Kenison's fantastic book The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir, which I finally finished a day or two ago). The idea of slowing down in order to fully appreciate life is a major theme of her book; at one point she eloquently makes a list of all that she is grateful for so that she recognizes the beauty even in the ordinary. After my husband's recent heart attack, this idea particularly spoke to me and I decided to try something similar.

To do this, I thought to myself, I would have to make some notes about what I noticed, how I felt, what was happening throughout the day in order to write about it. I tend to be a little methodical when I'm not so familiar with things, so this is how I approached this idea. And so I began with little things:

Our daughter's sleepy voice calling me, waking me from a foggy dream. Sliding into her bed to keep her company until it was officially wake up time. The smallness of her shoulder blade in my hand, the feel of her feet on my thighs as she curls her back to me and lets me spoon her. Later, the sounds of the kids singing happily in the living room as I wash dishes. The scratchy beard on my husband's chin as he kisses my neck. Love. And then I notice our tense interaction about making plans for the week. I wonder to myself why it is that we butt heads over such silly things...and then I notice as the tension dissipates. Our children run in with homemade pirate maps and an invitation to join them in being pirates. Our son rushing through breakfast, our daughter moving at a pace all her own. She is in no rush to be anywhere or do anything except what she is doing in that moment.
Later in the morning we drive 90 minutes North to the zoo, and lunch, in Santa Barbara, CA. 
Checking out the beach with daddy
I turn my back to the large picture window in the restaurant and ask our son to describe for me all that he sees. I watch his big, blue eyes glitter in the sun as he smiles and tells me about the boats and the birds. Walking on the pier, our daughter wants to go play barefoot in the sand despite the chill in the air. My "no" sends her into a tantrum mostly directed at me. I feel my anger and take a breath, blowing the tension into the wind. I bend down to talk to her. I notice my resistance to letting her do what she wants, and let go of my need to be right. Reluctant at first, but then I fully let it go. She happily looks for shells in the sand, while up ahead her brother and father play with a parachute toy. I pull my coat closer around me and smile. 
Sliding down the hill with daddy
Throughout the day there were numerous moments that could have sent me in a negative direction (like the kids' insistence on going to the play area inside the zoo instead of going to see any of the animals, or our son's constant whining that he be allowed to buy a plastic animal bobble head at the gift shop), yet I found myself feeling lighthearted about it all. 

The next day, I had the kids to myself. Unlike the day before, I had no goal in mind for myself, and the only plan I had was a play date in the morning with some friends from school. The play date was fine, but afterwards I found myself quickly worn out, frazzled and irritated; I had no energy to come up with anything creative for my kids to do, I lost my temper more than once and ended up crying in the hallway while my son parented me with hugs telling me "I love you" over and over. Not my finest hour. 

How could I have two days, one right after the other, that were so completely different? How could that be the same mother? There was nothing particularly special about the activities we did that Sunday, my children weren't especially well-behaved that day. Nor were they especially terrible the following day that I had such a melt down. What was completely different, I realized, was my reaction to things. I know that the best way to not be affected negatively by things is to simply change your reaction to the stimuli. But it was more than that, on that Sunday I was paying particular attention to everything; the small, the seemingly inconsequential, the ordinary. Perhaps it was the joy I experienced in these tiny moments that added up to a sense of happiness, warmth and fullness. With that sense, things that normally would set me off and leave me feeling depleted, had much less effect on me.

In The Parent's Tao Te Ching there is a passage that reads:
"Children are fascinated by the ordinary 
and can spend timeless moments 
watching sunlight play with dust.
Their restlessness they learn from you.
It is you who are thinking of there
when you are here.
It is you who thinks of then
instead of now.
Let your children become the teachers,
and you become the student."
How to become the student of something so simple, yet seemingly so difficult? How do I learn to slow down and notice each little moment when there is so much that needs my attention each day? In Katrina Kenison's book she says,  
"If memory is the art of attention, then pausing to be grateful is a way of remembering. And remembering is a way, perhaps the only way, of holding on to the way we are now, the things I love, the moments I wish never to lose."
How many beautiful things have I missed because I was worrying about what we were going to do later in the day, or because I was checking email on my phone? Is a sense of anxiety and stress what I want to remember when I look back on my children's early years? Or do I want to remember how my son's hands feel when he strokes my hair before he falls asleep, or how my daughter's face looks as she concentrates on painting a picture? I imagine many of you, even if you aren't familiar with the term "mindfulness", have a sense of what I mean. All I want is to be the best mother I can be and to truly enjoy these fleeting moments of childhood. 

I called my dad (as I often do when my questions turn metaphysical) and, not surprisingly, he had many things to suggest to help me learn to be more mindful. Virtual Mindfulness Center has a really good introduction into what being mindful is and some easy exercises to help introduce you into that state of being, including a guide to Mindfulness at the Supermarket that anyone who has experienced a trip to the market with twins could benefit from! He also suggested this beautiful talk given at the UN by Goenka, a leading teacher of Mindfulness (or Vipassana) meditation. It goes right to the heart of what it is and why it matters. For someone not familiar with meditation or this type of slowing down, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but humor me and try the experiment. Spend a little time being mindful of yourself and your world and see what happens.

After talking about this with my dad and sitting with it all for a few days as I tried to write this post, I was reminded of the segment of the movie "What The (bleep) Do We Know?" where Dr. Joe Dispenza discusses a practice he uses in which he "creates his day". When this movie came out in 2004, it blew my mind. This piece of it, in particular, has inspired me greatly and I have attempted to put its principles into use from time to time, always with incredible results. 

(if this video doesn't play properly, please click this link).
I know there's a lot in this post. My brain is feeling a little off-kilter since noticing how much I contribute to the beauty or the dysfunction of my day. This is subject matter that is difficult to describe and condense but it felt so important and so revolutionary for me that I had to share it. One of the new year's resolutions I have made for the past few years has been to have more patience. I think, perhaps, I have found a way to acquire it and a more concrete motivation for sticking to it. 

I wish you all a wonderful New Year. You have added immeasurably to my life in this past year. With each post I write, I am learning about myself, my children and my parenting. I thank you all for following me on this journey. Thank you for your comments, support and encouragement. I hope I have given back to you even a small percentage of what you have given me. 

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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2 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

There is a lot in this post...a lot of great information that we can all use as parents. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I was so moved and inspired by your blog today.
I am deeply grateful for your honesty, wisdom and humility in expressing exactly the feelings I go through on a regular basis and I am renewing my vows to be more
present and more mindful with my life and my family.
I also so appreciate the resources.
You are a gift and I wish you a beautiful new year.

I voted for you on babble as well and look forward to your next edition.
with gratitude,

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