Mindfulness is the answer. It is that simple. But it’s not easy. As a practice, it has the power to connect us to the breath, provide the opportunity to pause, and to be purposeful in choice. In all aspects of life, the ability to ground ourselves in the present moment creates stability and calm, removes anxiety about the future and releases us from the regret and guilt of moments passed. Mindfulness is about paying attention to this moment - this single breath. Right now. That’s the hard part.
By the grace of god, the universe, or a higher power, with each breath we take we are gifted an opportunity to begin again. If you’ve read my earlier posts, I have shared this golden nugget of wisdom from Sharon Salzberg - I remind myself of its truth everyday. Each breath you take is a chance to start anew. Mindfulness is about being awake. I love John Kabbat Zin’s definition, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” It’s this reminder to remove judgement that has impacted my practice, and my parenting, most deeply.
While I have a tendency to lean towards personal stories and qualitative data over statistics and science, the science on meditation and mindfulness is loud and clear. Research demonstrates its positive impact on physical and mental health, decreasing anxiety and depression, and increasing happiness. It’s linked to intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn and grow and a decrease in our fear of failure.
My road to meditation and mindfulness was not without its potholes. I am the queen of starting and not finishing. Just ask my parents for the list. I have a bin full of almost finished knitted wear, and a box full of pages that make for an unfinished Masters thesis. I wake up just about every Monday morning, saying, “Today’s the day I’m going to start eating well,” and yet that doesn’t seem to work. My early days in meditation were full of frustration. I couldn't find the focus to sit still. When I could find stillness, the quiet seemed to bring on a rush of anxiety and emotion that felt too uncomfortable to bear. I continued to feel the pressure to “clear my mind,” which is not the intention of meditation. Instead, it is the acknowledgement of feeling what you feel, sitting with that emotion and being where you are. There is no finish line, only the intention and discipline to commit to the practice. My ultimate success with mindfulness is linked to the fact that the results are clear and immediate.
Just try it. Settle into the chair/couch you’re sitting on and gently pull your body up a little straighter - create an opening between your throat and your belly. With tenderness, place your right hand on your heart. Bring your lips together and take a breath through your nose. Exhale. Take another breath. Exhale. And one more. Exhale. Your heart rate will slow, more oxygen will make its way to your bloodstream and signal your brain to relax. Close your eyes softly and take 3 more breaths. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
So what’s stopping us from doing this? From committing to the daily practice of finding quiet time with ourselves. For ourselves. Listening to the whispers of your body. Allowing and sitting with all emotions. Learning to start over when your attention attaches itself to a thought of the future or of the past. Another Sharon Salzberg piece of wisdom…”it’s just one breath.” Begin again.
Through the learning and growing in our home, we came across a statement a few years back that has stuck with me. “What you tend to, grows.” While the sentiment was connected to managing anxiety, it’s true for everything in our lives. Again, the act of mindful breathing is simple - the ability to turn towards this simple behaviour in managing our stress, upset, and challenges, that’s the practice. And the more we tend to it, practice it, the greater the result it yields. It brings about a state of calm presence that enables us to purposefully engage in the choices we desire instead of mindlessly reacting to circumstances. The “monks” who walk among us, my incredible teachers, you can feel their practice. Their calm energy, flow, warmth, and how they make those around them feel. It is another reason I practice. I know I won’t always say the right thing, or react the right way for my boys. But if I can move through the world with the energy of presence that comes from a life of mindfulness, I can embody the truth of beginning again. May I be that example for them.
I have come to understand along my own journey these past 12 years, that there is no “I have arrived” moment. Today’s parenting excellence does not ensure tomorrow will be a repeat performance. We wake up tired, stressed, our jobs weigh on us, we fight with our partners. We are human, our children are human, and in many ways, we are different each day. One of my favourite quotes comes from the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Each moment we experience in our roles as parents is unique. Not only is there no arriving at one particular moment of greatness as a parent, there’s certainly no chance of remaining on a peak of parenting greatness forever. It is each and every moment that provides us the opportunity to show up, learn and grow. There are moments when you say and do the right thing to support your child, and moments you fail them. When we subscribe to the notion of that one singular moment, we fail to acknowledge how we all change everyday and the gift that affords us on our parenting journey. If we can learn to leave judgement aside, to not focus on whether we are good or bad parents, we can make room for honest reflection and true choice. We all want to do well by our children. Reflection, rather than judgement, allows us the opportunity to begin again.
Self doubt swallows me whole some days. It feeds me elaborate stories of my being less than. It questions my decisions and choices, and challenges my deepest passion. In fact, as I sit here writing I am consumed with an inner rant about whether any of this matters, when in my heart I know it does. And so it is the practice that I lean on to bring myself back to presence, rather than reaching for what might be. Dropping down from the bully in mind, to the feelings and knowing in my heart, connecting with this singular moment. It is this practice that I continue to turn to in my parenting. It is this practice that allows me grace when I’ve made a mistake.
As I near the end of reading and revising this post I look to my older son and ask, “How does my practice of meditation and mindfulness impact you?” He answers, “You’re patient and loving. Yelling isn’t the answer and you always look for a way to bring us to calm.”
I take a breath and hold myself with compassion. I cry. We may falter, but we’ll always find our way.