Perhaps you’ve tried meditation before. Perhaps your first experience(s) were like mine:
Someone: “Find a comfortable, upright position and empty your mind.”
Me (furiously thinking): “Okay, here to meditate. Relax. Relax. Center. Breathe. Someone just coughed. I have a tickle in my throat. I think my nose may start running. Oh, I should add Kleenex to the grocery list when I get home. Ugh, grocery list. That means meal planning and OMG I SUCK AT MEDITATING!!! I CAN’T EMPTY MY MIND!!!”
Yikes, right? Here I am doing this “relaxing” thing and right away I experience feelings of failure.
With mindfulness meditation (also called vipassana meditation), you don’t empty your mind! You don’t even try. Feel relieved already? The nose smells, the eyes see and your mind thinks – don’t try to stop it. Iyengar yoga teacher John Schumacher says “Meditation is being present for what is.” So, with that in mind, try this instead:
- Find a comfortable position in which your back is as straight as you can make it. Make sure your posture is alert, yet relaxed.
- Examine various parts of your body and let go of tension. Some body parts are stealth tension holders – I know I sometimes find tension in my tongue, jaw or in the tops of my feet.
- Find an anchor – your breath is a good one (it’s portable!) Spend a moment or two observing something particular about your breath – maybe what it feels like to have air coming in the end of your nostrils or what it feels like when your rib cage expands and contracts. Pick what aspect of your breath attracts your attention.
- Thoughts and feelings will come up and that is okay. When they come up, look them right in the eye and observe them. Objectively name your thought or feeling without judgement, then bring your attention back to your breath. For example: “Fear.” Back to your breath. “Lonely.” Back to your breath. “Planning.” Back to your breath. ”Content.” Back to your breath. “Worrying.” Back to your breath. “Heart feels constricted.” Back to your breath. “My nose is itchy.” Back to your breath.
Carl Jung once said “What you resist persists”. So if tough feelings come up, try staying and being with them rather than saying “Oh, I shouldn’t feel that.” You feel what you feel. Be present with it. Hold it gently, like you would hold a firefly. Examine it, then offer to let the thought (firefly) spread its wings and fly when it’s ready. Observe what happens.
- Set the intention to come back time after time. Some days it will be easier than others. This is normal. Harder days in and of themselves provide more opportunity for observation (Hey look! “Frustration.”)
Try this for a minute or two and see how you feel. Once you get a feel for it try sitting longer, or more times a week. Be aware that mindfulness meditation is a practice. Some days mediation might make you feel great. Other days you might not notice much difference. This is normal. Like sports or dance, some practices are great and others not so much.
So how does this tie in with parenting?
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
This is the heart of mindful parenting. Stimulus: your colicky baby just woke up crying again and your preschooler just kicked off into an epic tantrum. Then the doorbell and phone ring at the same time.
Pause. This is what mindfulness folks call the “about to moment”. You have a choice. You can react or you can respond. There’s a difference between reacting and responding if you think about it.
There are many different things you can do in your pause. You can count to ten. You can name what you feel as you did above (Hmm, let’s see: “Stressed. Overwhelmed. Angry. Tingling in my arms. Want to hit something.”) then bring your attention back to your breath. Whatever allows you to come back into your body and in the moment. Because that’s what this is – a moment. And it will pass. In this pause, you might realize that you can place the preschooler in a safe location to finish the tantrum, then pick up the colicky baby. The answering machine/voice mail can get the phone. And maybe the person at the door can wait.
It should be noted that mindfulness is just as useful in the pleasant situations as the pleasant ones. See if you can be present in a wonderful moment with your kids and observe what you mind thinks about it. “Love the smell of baby head .” Back to your breath. “Glowing pride .” Back to your breath. “Love.” Back to your breath
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that kids will provide you with a lot of stimuli to practice this philosophy on a daily basis Be gentle on yourself. Observe the choices you make in your pauses. If you catch yourself judging yourself negatively for the action you chose, treat yourself with compassion; you are learning. The fact that you paused is a great first step!
How do I teach kids mindfulness?
Susan Kaiser Greenland, one of the foremost teachers of children’s mindfulness wrote an excellent book called The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate that I highly recommend you read.
Children of different ages are capable of different levels of mindfulness and Susan does an excellent job describing a wide variety of exercises and activities that show children how to tune into their bodies and the world around them. What I like most is that Susan focuses on what she calls “the new ABCs: Attention, Balance and Compassion.” Sounds like something we could all use!
Here on my blog you will find my own notes from introducing Susan’s activities to my own almost-four-year-olds.
Where can I learn more?
This page is all about the basics. If you want to learn more, look for experienced vipassana meditation teachers near you. You can also read books and there is a lot of audio dharma on the Internet. In fact, the number of teachers on the web is a bit overwhelming. In addition to Susan Kaiser Greenland above, I gravitate toward Tara Brach and Pema Chödrön.
Hey, does mindfulness=religion?
Mindfulness can be used in any religion or spiritual path. But then, so can singing. Going to a Barenaked Ladies concert and singing along doesn’t make you Christian (for example), does it? In the same way, mindfulness can be used by anyone of any (or no) religious or spiritual path.