March 19, 2012

Crying in the Hallway.

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). 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.

Because of my husband’s 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.

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. Reluctantly 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.

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 do I 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.

In my experience, having more patience is at the heart of enjoying life as a parent. In many ways, practicing mindfulness is also an exercise in developing patience. Slowing down to be mindful from moment to moment can seem difficult for an intense and goal-oriented person like myself, but I have found it very worthwhile to start moving in this direction.

In 2004, the movie “What The Bleep Do We Know” came out and in it there was a short part where Dr. Joe Dispenza describes the practice of creating his day each morning.

To be at ease with mindfulness, one needs to be at ease with slowing down.

Many of the negative experiences I have with my children result from rushing through life, needing answers too quickly and feeling as though everything is an emergency. However, it seems to me that taking this moment each morning, as Dr. Dispenza suggests, could result in a dramatic shift over time.

To become aware of my role in creating beauty or dysfunction for the day ahead, to slow down enough to notice what is around me, to be grateful for what there is now instead of worrying about what may come later, all of that would result in a much greater sense of fulfillment for me, as a mother. And that could only result in much greater happiness experienced by my children.


Based on an original post from The Twin Coach
Prepared for elephant journal by Lorin Arnold


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