Look closely at the image to the left... what do you see? Can you see the duck? Can you see the bunny? Can you see both the duck and the bunny at the same time?
What we actually see depends on where we focus our attention. You see a duck in this picture, when you focus your attention on seeing a duck. You see a bunny in this picture when you focus your attention on seeing a bunny. And did you notice how you can't see both the duck and the bunny at the same time? Isn't it interesting how our brains work?
I love this little experiment because it shows us 1) that one thing can be seen in many different ways, 2) what we intend on seeing is what we will see in reality, and 3) that we have the power to shift our attention and see something completely different simply by changing our perception.
As Mindful Mamas, this is powerful stuff, especially as it relates to how we see our children. The thoughts we think about our children will directly impact how we see them. How we see our children impacts how we interact with them and the expectations we set for them, ultimately shaping how they come to see themselves.
The Eyes of Fear Versus The Eyes of Love
"A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love-- from a belief in what is not real, to faith in that which is. This shift in perception changes everything" (Marianne Williamson).
Shifts in perception-- this is what Mindful Mothering is all about! Mindfulness is our practice of noticing; noticing when our thoughts have fallen into the grips of ego (aka- fear), letting those thoughts go without reacting to them, and then choosing to return to love. Just like you only see the duck or the bunny (not both at the same time), there are only two ways to see our children-- through the eyes of love or the eyes of fear. Marianne Williamson reminds us that "[l]ove is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here." This reminds us that love is the only thing that is real and fear is an illusion.
As Mindful Mamas, our practice is to routinely get back to our center point of love when we notice that our fearful thoughts have pulled us away. Our mindfulness practice is the daily dedication to noticing our fearful thoughts about our children and situations they are in and work to "unlearn fear" so that the divine, limitless love that emanates from our Truth is what guides our thoughts, actions, and words in our mothering.
There are countless moments in our everyday lives when our fears for our kids get triggered. And when our fears get triggered, our thoughts and actions seek to limit, confine, control, and constrict the full expression of our children. We don't do it on purpose and, many times, we don't even realize when we are doing it. This is how fear works; it likes to fly undetected...that's how it maintains its power. When our fears for our children take control, how we see them changes; and how we see makes all the difference in how our kids come to see themselves.
Seeing your kids as capable, smart, resilient, and trustworthy
Courageous mothering is choosing to see your children through the eyes of love even when you are tempted to see through the eyes of fear. It's choosing to see them (in even the most scary situations, like when your "baby" is leaving for college) as capable, intelligent, resilient, and trustworthy. It's choosing to return to love when fear has taken you away.
Remember that fear will trick you. Without your awareness, your fears will trick you into seeing your kids as unable, needing your constant care, attention, and protection. Think about why mothers overprotect their kids (I am raising my hand here-- I've totally done this!). They are afraid their children will get hurt (emotionally and/or physically)-- and they won't be able to handle it. They are afraid of what pain their kids will feel-- and they won't be able to handle it. More so, mothers are afraid of what they will feel when they see their child experiencing pain-- and are afraid that they won't be able to handle it!
In the end, our fears cause us to overprotect our kids (in other words, limit the full expression of themselves) because we are afraid that we are not strong enough, capable enough, or resilient enough to handle it! If we are not Mindful Mamas, its easy to project our perceptions about ourselves on our children. When we are not aware that we are seeing our children (and ourselves) through the eyes of fear, our words and actions towards our kids can reinforce the false belief that they are not capable, not strong enough, or not trustworthy.
Our Mindful Mama Practice
Courageous mothering requires a powerful shift in perspective (that's mindfulness)-- choosing to see our children through the eyes of love rather than fear. It's choosing to see our children:
*as 100% capable of anything they attempt to do, beginning at birth
*as possessing infinite intelligence. Our role is then to create opportunities for them to display it.
*as "born hardwired for struggle" (lovely quote by Brené Brown), strong, and resilient
These steps will give you the power to turn any fearful thought back to love. Sometimes it is easy, other times, not so much. Practice makes perfect. I've found it more challenging to "return to love" when my girls are doing something I see as dangerous (ahem-- scaling a climbing wall that looks 50 feet high), so I've started to practice these steps when I "fear" they are not able to do something for themselves.
Step 1) NOTICE when your brain starts to see through the eyes of fear. You may feel compelled to do something for your child they are completely able to do themselves (thinking they lack the ability, or fear that there isn't enough time, so you want to do it yourself) or you may feel the urge to stop certain behaviors to discourage them from doing something that scares you (fears for their safety).
Step 2) SHIFT to seeing through the eyes of love. See them as capable, smart, and "hardwired for struggle." Say, "I trust you." "I know you can do this." "You are more capable than you realize." "I believe in you.". Your words form their belief system about themselves.
Step 3) ACCEPT and ACKNOWLEDGE how they do things. Compliment them on a job well done, about how imaginative they are, and how well they approach the problem. Draw their attention to their uniqueness, ability, and intelligence.
How we see our children makes all difference in how they come to see themselves. Practice shifting your perspective from fear to love in those mothering moments that tend to trigger your deepest fears and notice how your hopes for your children start to outweigh your fears. Notice how your connection to your child deepens and strengthens because it's based on faith and not fear. Notice how they respond to your positive expectations. Notice how they shine and come into their true selves-- starting to see themselves exactly the way you see them...through the eyes of love.
Have you ever noticed a smile silhouetted in the clouds? A tiny heart-shaped rock as you’re walking along? Maybe you see a bouquet of your very favorite flowers in a shop window, or a colorful wall mural catches your eye as you're speeding by in a taxi. When you're in a bad mood and all in a frump about something, have you ever witnessed how your child will laugh at the silliest, most preposterous things and you can’t help but smile? These seemingly small, insignificant things are there for a reason. They are quiet little reminders of happiness, and they are there just for you. If we take notice, these little happiness markers can also be powerful tools on our journey toward a life filled with appreciation and gratitude.
Gratitude is a state of being that has been scientifically linked with countless positive health and emotional benefits. In his essay, Why Gratitude is Good
, Robert Emmons of The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley lists the many, many, MANY reasons why both spiritual leaders and scientists alike condone a heartfelt gratitude practice in daily life. Studies at GGSC have found that the benefits of practicing gratitude consistently can include: a stronger immune system, longer and better quality sleep, higher levels of positive emotions, and an attitude that is more helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving overall.
There are obviously numerous incentives to practice gratitude, so why is it still so darn hard to do sometimes?! Two reasons:
First, sometimes it feels so good to be in a bad mood! If you’ll notice, it is energetically easier to be mad, resentful, or disappointed at the outset of a negative situation than it is to search for what is positive about it. This means ...argh!... putting mindful attention into seeking out what is good and happy about the moment. However, it takes a LOT MORE energy and effort to stay in a bad mood for a prolonged period of time than it does to leave it behind and move on. Therefore, why not expend a little extra energy at the very beginning and find something to be grateful for... some “hidden happiness” that is just waiting to be discovered? And as we all know, the more energy we have in the moment, the more we’re able to enjoy it with our kids!
In his article, Taking in the Good
, Psychologist Rick Hanson explains in three simple steps how to “foster positive experiences”
and, in particular, how to allow your positive experiences to sink in “so they become a permanent part of you.”
The benefits of gratitude also have a special benefit for the little ones in our lives. Hanson notes, “...taking in the good has a special payoff for kids at either the spirited or the anxious end of the temperament spectrum. Spirited children usually zip along to the next thing before good feelings have a chance to consolidate in the brain, and anxious children tend to ignore or downplay good news.”
Being grateful for life’s little joys is such a simple, yet powerful, gift we can both model for and give to our kids each and every day.
And secondly, gratitude has a BIG impact on our attitudes when it is practiced in the raw, spontaneous moments of our daily lives. This is where those little, serendipitous reminders of happiness come into play. As we give little signs of happiness our attention and recognition (the smiley face bumper sticker on the car in front of us, a warm hug from our child, a feather floating on the breeze, the sound of a baby laughing, I could go on and on...) we can stop, savor the moment, say a prayer of thanks if we're drawn to, and practice gratitude right in the moment.
So the next time you’re in a mood, having “one of those days,” or feeling overwhelmed with an over-packed schedule; try looking for a simple reminder of happiness in the moment. It will
be there and it was put there just for you.
Before I became a mom, I was successful, conventionally speaking. I went to college, got a good job, made good money, got my Master’s degree, went on vacations, wore pretty clothes, drove a new car, yada, yada, yada. In terms of our society’s standards for making it, I was. Then I gave birth. Instantaneously, my life changed. I left my teaching job, gave up my salary, no longer went on vacations, ditched the dry-clean only attire for 100% cotton and 100% washable frocks, and traded in my fancy two door coupe for a minivan. In terms of society’s standards for making it, as a SAHM (stay at home mom), I wasn’t. But I was still happy. I think? Wait….I really can’t remember. My oldest was 17 months old when I gave birth to twins, so I’m serious when I say, for the first 3 years of my new life as a mother, I really had no energy or time to think deep thoughts of who I was or whether or not I was still “successful.” In my new world, success was potty training a toddler while tandem nursing two babies at the same time. But as my girls grew, so did my unoccupied time. And I know you know what happens when you have unoccupied time. You think. So I thought….and…oh yeah, spent more time on Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook is, how shall I put it… complicated... classic love/hate. (Of course, this does not include our Mindful Moms Network page or other positive, inspirational pages and Facebook communities!) What I love about Facebook is how connected I feel; connected to friends that I haven’t seen in the flesh for over a decade just by checking out the newest pics in their photo album, or by being able affirm their funny stories or show my support during their hard times with the click of a “like” button. But it’s the weirdest thing. For as much as I Iove how Facebook allows me to feel connected to my friends, I "hate" how it sometimes makes me feel disconnected from myself. The longer I peruse image after image of exotic trips taken to Bali or Bora Bora, the most recent Coach purse purchase, the new 45 ft boat used for sensuous sunbathing, or the wild girls’ weekend in Vegas, it's easy to begin to feel a little depressed. (Gosh, maybe this is why I like to drink a glass of wine as I surf Facebook... numbs the pain a bit.) Everyone's lives look so flashly, so exciting with all their stuff that only moolah can buy. Last time I checked, I am not actually getting paid the $112,962 that the most recent issue of RealSimple says that as a SAHM, I would earn. So I can't help but go there, (perhaps you know where there is) feeling not good enough or that I don't have enough; feeling that they are making it. They are a success. And, I’m not.
DELIBERATLY FOCUSING ON THE GOOD
My misadventures on Facebook have been a profound teacher, it turns out. The last time I was on Facebook (sans wine ‘cause I wanted to feel all the pain), I did something crazy. I watched my thoughts of envy, fear, doubt, and failure flow through my brain without attaching to them. I just noticed them. I didn’t judge them. I didn’t push them away. I didn’t react to them by feeling bad. In this mode of acceptance, I saw with a clear mind and a clear heart something amazing. My unhappy feelings weren’t a result from wanting what others had. No, my unhappiness came from using an deeply flawed measurement tool to assess my “success” in life, especially in my new life as a mom. The moment I got this was the moment I realized I wasn't flawed. The assessment tool I was using was. The longer I (unconsciously, of course) continued to use external measures to quantify my worth, the longer I would feel lack, unhappiness, and a general discontentment with my life. This was the moment the shift to focusing on the good happened. It was the moment I realized that in order to be happy-- truly happy-- I had to redefine success for myself.
(gotta love Dr. Robert Holden)
This shift in perspective changed my life. Instead of unconsciously using a measuring device, one that focused on lack and fear, I would consciously use a device that focused on abundance and love to measure my success. I made the decision to measure success not on what I acquired on the outside, but rather, from what I obtained on the inside-- how present to love I am in my life.
In the book, What Happy People Know, the very first of the “12 Qualities of Happiness” is love. “We often think that being loved is the best feeling in world, but it’s the second best. The best is loving someone else.” It takes presence to love someone else. When we are not unconsciously caught by wanting to do more, be more, get more, we can be present with ourselves and the ones we love. Based on my new definition of success, how present I am in my life to love, I’m rock’n it. I love my girls wildly, unconditionally, and contagiously. When my daughter asks me to dance with her while I am in the middle of preparing dinner (while also texting, emailing, or talking on the phone), and I seize the moment to sweep her up in my arms and twirl her around the kitchen, I am present to love. When she’s having a bad day, and her emotions have gotten the best of her (and I, myself, just want to scream), and I seize the moment to kneel down and give her a big hug, I am present to love. Every time I am about leave the house (I am running really, really late), and I seize the moment to respond to my girls’ calls for yet another hug and kiss, I am present to love. And just the other day, when I was present enough to hear my three daughters playing house upstairs, and my oldest said to her younger sister, “No, Izzy. You don’t have to change out of that dress. You look beautiful just the way you are,” I am present to feel such amazing love and appreciation for the awesome opportunity of motherhood I’ve been blessed with.
Every moment I am truly present, hence not stuck in my head with thoughts of what's missing, worry, stress, anxiety, or fear, my capacity to love is increased exponentially. The more I love, the more I focus on the good in my life. The more I focus on the good and all the abunance (of love) that surrounds me, I experience deep happiness. As a mom who wants her greatest legacy to her children to be happiness and health, I define success as how present I am to love. It may not be flashy, and it's definitely not something I can take a picture of and post on Facebook.
If you were to take a peek inside my life during the day, you'd probably find me scurrying. Scurrying to make meals, clean the kitchen, change diapers, disable the temper tantrums, take phone calls, do the laundry, run errands... sound familiar? And amidst all the scurrying, there is something deep inside me that desires (no, yearns!) for peace, quiet, and calm.
I've waited patiently for calmness to settle down softly onto my surroundings for years. That's a long time to wait patiently. Too long! As if I'm going to wake up one day and serenity has simply arrived like a package at my doorstep. I unwrap it and there it is: my children (ages 4 and 13 months) playing happily and quietly together on the rug; a clean, orderly, well-decorated, home; plenty of extra time during the day to paint my toenails and read several chapters out of the hottest new "nail-biter;" and me... looking and feeling fabulous, sane, healthy, fit and fashionable. Hahhhh...
Eventually, out of pure weariness, I came to the abrupt realization that this fantasy life is not going to simply occur spontaneously, no matter how patiently I wait. And as I pondered this, I began to brainstorm some options for bringing more peace, quiet and calm into my life: wake up at 6am (more ME time), focus my attention on helping my pre-schooler learn how to better listen to me (more sanity), get my 13 month old out of the house more so he doesn't simply run circles in "destruction mode" (a more orderly home), and go to bed every night at 9pm (more "nail-biter" time). However, as I put my options into practice, I found that, although these were all "logical" solutions, they were not at all realistic when bundled together. Shocker!
What I realized is that not only do I have to let go of this perfect fantasy life, I have to intentionally CREATE this peaceful vision for myself; I have to bring this creation into reality within each and every moment of my day. Every day. And that, dear Mamas, begins with ACCEPTANCE. As I accept all of every moment, the beauty, the mess, the smile, the tantrum, the butterfly kisses, the time wasted, the sweet baby cheeks, the embarrassment, the LOVE; and as I feel all of every moment, I find I am able to create a little bit of peace, quiet and calm within me...even if only for a moment. Here's how I do it:
Look Within, Not Without
The calmness is within me, not without. And it is also within you. And by that I mean if we look outside ourselves for objects, people and situations to bring us peace and happiness, then we are looking in the wrong place altogether. If we wait for our lives to magically become peaceful, quiet, or (...fill in your own favorite adjective here), then we will be waiting forever. However, peace is something we can cultivate within our hearts. More than 2500 years ago the Buddha said, "Peace comes from within, not without." And we can practice peace by applying acceptance to all of our moments each and every day. Very naturally, the outcomes of acceptance are: true enjoyment of and gratitude for all that is beautiful within a moment, an ever-increasing ability to let go of all that is undesirable in a moment, and a more clear cut path toward infinite, loving possibilites in terms of how we respond to a moment.
For me, this translates into a deep gratitude for the value and worth of my life and the lives of all those around me, the courage to let go of undesireable moments WAY more easily, the invaluable ability to have fun and be silly in the moment with my kids and husband, and the understanding that life will never be perfect. I'm okay with that now, and it is actually comforting in a way, you know?
I can remember a time not so long ago when I would sit by the fire in the early evening reading a book with a glass of wine, blissfully unaware of the peace and beauty of that moment... unaware of the many details about that moment to be grateful for, and possibly not even intentionally enjoying that moment at all. As I practice acceptance every day, I know I'll let fewer and fewer of these moments simply slip by me. After all, life can be enjoyment and calmness can be within.
ON THE COUCH
I agree with Bréne Brown when she says, “You know who you are when you call your friends and say, ‘I think I need to see someone.’”
Let's just say, I know myself very well. So there I sat on my therapist’s couch, gaze down, fiddling with my scarf, confessing, “I feel foolish for even being here,” I said.“I really have nothing to complain about. I have my health, my husband has a job that allows me to stay home, and my girls are healthy and happy. I should be happy, right?”
She just sat in silence, not giving me what I secretly wanted-- any verbal or nonverbal validation of my line of reasoning.
“The worst part,” I rambled on, “is that I know all about mindfulness.” (Oh, yes. She was well aware of my passion project MMN!) “I study it. I read about it all the time. I watch my thinking, and I’m just seeing a bunch of unhappy, angry thoughts. I can’t think my way out of this.”
Like any really good therapist, she still didn’t say a word.
Two seconds later, wanting to fill the uncomfortable silence with something…anything… I said, “Ya know, I just have a hard time accepting that this is my life. I want so much to be different.”
That’s when she smiled. “You may know a lot about acceptance, but maybe you are not actually practicing it in your life," she said calmly.
Then I smiled. That’s the moment it clicked.
So there it was-- my AHA!! My anger, anxiety, and general discontent was a result of wanting things to be different than what they were.
"Now what," I thought? It was painfully obvious I needed to start practicing acceptance, like pronto, but I didn’t have the first clue how to do it. How do I accept things, people and situations that seem totally unacceptable? Isn’t acceptance just giving up? Won’t acceptance simply keep me stuck in the undesirable situations that I am trying so hard to get out of and avoid?
These were all questions I immediately sought to answer the second my session was over. So for the next 4 months, I made a commitment to truly do this acceptance thing; practicing it in as many moments as I could... every day. And this is what I learned….
1) ACCEPTANCE is not what we think it is:
Our egos trick us into thinking that acceptance means defeat, total resignation, and failure. When we unconsciously believe that acceptance is weakness, giving up, or condoning, we want to resist what is. Our egos want us to think that acceptance is the way of weak because the moment we truly accept a situation, person, or event, we no longer have a negative emotional reaction to it. Our egos are rooted in fear, doubt, anger, and resistance-- our negative emotional reactions. Cease reacting (as in unconscious, habitual reaction), cease ego's control.
Acceptance is the act of incredible, conscious, compassionate awareness.
2) RESISTANCE never leads to positive change:
I used to think that if I resisted (got mad and angry) about things that I found unacceptable, that would lead to positive change. But every time I have yelled at my daughter to stop crying, she just cried harder and longer. Never has punishing my body with intense workout regimens and restrictive diets ever brought about a healthy self-image and love for myself. Never has pressuring my husband to get a different job or be something other than he was motivated him to change. If anything, all the negativity, resistance, and anger I infused in each of these situations only created bigger problems.
We teach our children about the power of acceptance all the time! Every time our kids are fighting, you say to the one being taunted, “Just ignore your older brother. The minute you stop reacting to him, he’ll stop pestering you.” For you know the longer your little guy whines, “stop it, stop it,” to his older brother, the longer (and with increased gusto) the older brother keeps up the pestering.
We think that our resistance will create positive change, yet it never, ever does. In fact, when resistance doesn’t create that positive change in our lives, we tighten more and attempt to control harder! The more we tighten and control, the more we narrow our mental focus (as in, we obsess about what we don’t want) and the less we are able to get out of our heads and see other possibilities for positive change.
What we resist persists.
3) ACCEPTANCE is not emotionally reacting (which allows you freedom to choose your response):
When my child is throwing a tantrum, and I don’t react with anger and frustration, I practice acceptance. When I am calm, I see a whole host of other options for responding that I never saw when I got caught in my anger. In my calm response, I kneel down, look her in the eyes, and give her a hug. She stops the tantrum almost immediately.
When I see another mother living the life I dream about, and I don’t react with critical self-comparison and envy, I practice acceptance. In my calm response, I see how much I already have in life. I feel gratitude for the life I’ve created, and I’m inspired and motivated to evolve and grow.
Non-reaction is always the best action.
MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
Mindfulness and mindful mothering is all about expanding our perception of things because an expanded perception empowers us with options. When we expand our perception, people, situations, or events, no longer need to change for us to be happy because we have the power to change our thoughts about them. The most direct way to expanding and changing our perception is through acceptance-- non emotional reaction.
Resistance arises when we direct massive amounts of mental energy towards wanting things to be different than what they are. When we do this, we focus on lack; we focus on what's missing. The result is missing all the things (people, events...) that are really the most important because we get so caught up in negative emotions that always end up disconnecting us. You can harness the tremendous power of love and positive energy by practicing acceptance. I have a sneaky suspicion you will find that the moment you choose to not emotionally react to those seemingly "unacceptable" situations, they will change right before your very eyes.
THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
Motherhood is a sacrifice... but you already knew that. Have you ever noticed how the sacrificing starts out rather small and insignificant-- alcohol, caffeine (okay, this is significant), your skinny jeans. Then, as your belly swells and that baby arrives, the sacrifices ramp up a bit. Hello baby, good-bye-- body, sleep, mojo, social life, rationality, a tidy home, silence, and for some moms, careers, financial independence, 401K contributions…(whew~I'm outta breath).
Feels like a lot, doesn’t it? It is a lot. However, if you think about it, all these things are only temporary sacrifices. Okay, my boobs are forever gone, but no worries! Thank you Victoria's Secret Bombshell Bra. Seriously though, I bet if 100 moms made a list of all the sacrifices they've made for motherhood, most would agree that what they’ve given up for what they’ve gotten is totally worth it. Hear, hear.
But there is one thing on my list that I am intentionally working to remove, and perhaps it's on your list, too. It's something that shouldn’t be there. One thing that isn’t designed to be (even temporarily) sacrificed.
"When you give to others to the degree you sacrifice yourself, you make others a thief. They are stealing from you what you need, and they don’t even know it."
~ Iyanla Vanzant
Okay, I'll come out with it. I'm totally guilty of this! But, I can explain. I never meant for this to happen. Seriously. I love being a mom. Love it. But without my awareness, this love for my girls morphed into an unhealthy, unrealistic expectation that I could and should be everything to them all the time. I created this unrealistic expectation in my mind. Thus, I always put off “me time” for when everyone else was good. Yes, I know...you can laugh out loud. That moment has never come.
The challenge as I see it is that motherhood is a 24/7 job, with no built-in breaks (coffee, bathroom, or otherwise), vaca's, or boundaries. This means that our job is infinite. Our kids always need something. Thus, it's so easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking we'll take care of ourselves later. Alas, "later" never comes. Every time we miss an opportunity to meet our own needs, we forget how good it feels to reconnect with ourselves. We forget how good it feels to mother from a rejuvenated heart. When we forget, we easily fall into the habit of completely neglecting ourselves-- making the ultimate sacrifice-- day after day.
MORE THAN A FEELING
Feeling good is essential to mothering. Not only because our kids are so intuitive that we simply can’t hide our inner-emotional states from them, but because the way we feel directly impacts how we mother.
I’ve noticed that I can sacrifice all the things I’ve listed in that first paragraph and not feel bad about losing any of them. Perhaps it's because I know these things are not me. My boobs, my career, my body don't define me. They don’t make me, me.
But the minute, no, the instant, I feel like I am sacrificing myself, I feel awful. Anger, resentment, and bitterness paralyze my emotional state and undermine all the giving and doing I do for my girls. Feeling this way tells me that sacrificing myself isn’t supposed to happen.
The thing is mama, it would be easier (and you’d free up more time) if you could actually sacrifice yourself entirely for the next 15-18 years while you raise your kids. But moms are not designed to function this way. Why? Because YOU are the power source of the greatest power in the Universe: LOVE. Your passions, your dreams, your purposes, your desires, your talents are “you”-- YOUR LOVE. This “you” is not sacrificial because if you lose this passion, this you-ness, you lose the love. And this love, your love, is the greatest power in the Universe.
“Love is the positive force of life! Love is the cause of everything positive and good. Without love, there is no life.”
~ Rhonda Byrne, The Power
Because of the power of your love, sacrificing your you-ness, your passions, your desires, your dreams, isn’t an option in motherhood. Every time you neglect yourself, your needs, your wants, your loves, you diminish the vibrancy and magic of your love. The only way your love gets recharged and replenished is by the love you generate for yourself and turn inward.
Meeting your needs, showing self-compassion, taking a break from the work of motherhood, taking time for yourself, forgiving yourself for whatever guilts you, and engaging in your passions are all examples of ways to shine your love inward so that it can radiate outward more brilliantly. It’s your love that allows you to mother from your heart. It’s your love that allows you to give joyfully to your children. It’s your love that inspires your children to love themselves. YOUR love does all of this. YOUR love.
YOUR MINDFUL MOTHERING PRACTICE
You've simply got to cultivate the love in your heart to be able to give to your children freely and joyfully.
Start with paying attention to how you feel. When you feel that desire to do something for yourself, or you feel yucky emotions like stress, anxiety, anger and frustration, it’s a sign you need to direct your love inward. The more you practice paying attention to yourself, the better you’ll get at meeting your needs before you become completely depleted. Mindful mamas strive for steady, balanced emotional states, instead of extreme highs and extreme lows.
Get into the habit of asking yourself, “What do I need," then take ACTION. Ask yourself this question every hour if you must. The smallest acts of love directed inward multiply and make a profound impact. If you need a cup of tea, make one. If you need to hit the gym after work, just do it. If you need to choose a happier thought, choose it. If you need to plop the kids in front of the t.v. so you can put on your make-up and do your hair, plop away. If you need to order pizza for dinner tonight to give yourself a break, make the call. If you need to ask for help, for everyone's sake, ask.
Create "WIN/WIN" scenarios in your life. It's not selfish to meet your needs ALONG with meeting the needs of your family. This is how everybody wins. Remember, your needs are important, too. In fact, you are glue that holds the whole family together (my husband's exact words to me one day). If you come unglued....well, you know what happens. Being a mindful mama, pay attention to when you begin putting your needs off for a later date. I've found it helpful to operate under the, "one for you, one for me," principle. Meet their needs, then yours, then theirs, then yours.
BALANCE the needs, mama. Keep your balance, and you'll allow the the greatest power in the Universe to flow freely from your heart and into the hearts of those you love.
Moms, are you ready to master the fine art of letting go of your unhealthy attachments in your parenting? In our latest installment of Mindful Moms TV, Jen vlogs about how we can accept our powerlessness and choose FAITH over fear. Check it out!
In the words of Carrie Bradshaw (you know, Sex and the City Carrie Bradshaw):
I got to thinking about relationships. You have those that open you up to something new and exotic; those that are old and familiar; those that bring up lots of questions; those that bring you somewhere unexpected; those that bring you far from where you started. But the most exciting, challenging, significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself…
Here’s our focus for this blog, ladies-- that exciting, challenging, significant relationship you have with yourself. Talking about self-love simply has to be a part of our discussion about if we want to become mindful mamas. See, mindfulness allows us to “take charge of the direction and quality of our lives, including our relationships within the family…and most fundamentally, our relationship with ourself as a person” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are). This blog post is going to get you thinking about how watching your emotions gives you insight into the thoughts you are thinking, AND how your emotional state and inner thoughts directly impact the relationship you have with the absolute most important person in your life--YOU!
WATCHING YOUR THOUGHTS
Scary concept, I know. What’s so scary about it, you say? Well, if you don’t love or even like yourself, it may be very difficult to watch your thoughts because, let’s face it, you are probably not thinking very nice things about yourself or your capabilities as a mother. Watching your thoughts is a lot like looking at your face in the mirror; except, you are looking at your “inner face.”
Now, I know that you are practicing watching your thoughts, so I have to ask--What do you see? Do you see pretty thoughts that encourage your soul? Do you see kind thoughts of gratitude for your amazing personality? Do you see beautiful thoughts of loving kindness toward your physical body (you remember--the body that created, nurtured, protected, and birthed your children)?
Or, when you gaze at your inner thoughts, do you see unattractive thoughts of criticism towards how you relate to your children or your husband? Do you see unattractive thoughts of self-doubt that tend to arise as “shoulds,” (as in, I should have done X… or I shouldn’t have ever...)? Do you see unattractive thoughts of judgment about your post-baby body?
Last week, you were encouraged to start watching the thoughts you had about yourself. Now, I know. You are new to this “practice.” Until watching your thoughts becomes more of a habit, let me give you
WATCH YOUR EMOTIONS
That’s it. This week, at some point every day, stop and think… “How am I feeling right now?” Now, this needs to be a genuine inquiry into your emotional state. When you stop and ask yourself how you are feeling, you can focus on a couple things:
1) Your emotional state at that exact moment. Let’s say you are sitting on the couch, the kids are in bed, you have your wine, and you are watching your favorite show. Chances are good that your immediate emotional state is probably pretty positive. You are relaxed, calm, and rested.
Okay-- this is good. But go deeper. It is entirely possible to be sitting on the couch with your favorite chardonnay in hand, while watching Project Runway, your husband rubbing your feet, and still not be happy. I know. How could that be! Go beyond your emotional state at that exact moment and get honest with yourself. It just might be so.
2) Your emotional state for that week, month, 6 months, or even the year. What I mean is… even if in that one particular moment you are happy and relaxed, explore your emotions for any nagging thoughts underneath this calm surface. For example, in general, are you happy with your life right now? Are you happy with your decision to stay at home full-time or work outside of the home? Are you happy with your relationship with your husband? Are you happy with who you are aside from being a mom? Are you happy with how you look and your physical appearance?
Being “happy” about all these elements of your life is absolutely essential. But remember, life is all about balance. Mothering is all about balance. Loving yourself is all about balance. The point is not to have every aspect of your life be perfect at the exact same time. It’s impossible to be the perfect mother, perfect friend, perfect wife, perfect daughter, perfect sister, or your own best friend all the time. Rather, the point is making it a habit to watch your emotions and explore your habitual thoughts (especially the negative ones) so that you can have an open and honest conversation with yourself about what you want out of life and whether or not you are currently living the life you dream of. Having this conversation with yourself will continually bring you into balance.
The relationship you have with yourself is just like any other relationship you have with the people you love and greatly admire in your life. For these relationships to function optimally, communication, openness, honesty, and forgiveness are essential elements. So, in terms of nurturing a healthy relationship with yourself, you have to continually communicate with your deepest self every day. You have to continually forgive your deepest self every day. And you have to continually be honest with your deepest self every day. Why? Because the only way to grow into your best self (the self when you are most happy and content) and live the life of your dreams (through manifestation) is by knowing what the hell that woman wants! Your emotions will guide you if you listen. I promise.
Mindfulness simply means knowing something about who you are. Being mindful helps you to see that your destiny and direction of your life is in your hands. You can deliberately choose to think the thoughts that get you closer to living the life you most desire as well as deliberately let go of those thoughts that serve as major roadblocks to your happiness.
All in all, paying attention to your emotions helps you to witness the negative thoughts that wreak havoc in your life. And by wreaking havoc, I mean the way that negative thoughts, criticizing thoughts, and condescending thoughts damage the relationship you have with yourself. If you are the person who hurts yourself the most, this is a problem. The first way to go about fixing the problem is watching your thoughts, challenging them, and then changing them.
Just remember, “you are not the possessing entity-- the thinker,” he is saying that the woman who goes about her day in an unconscious state, simply reacting to the habitual thoughts that run through her head is not the TRUE you. Rather, that “thinker” is the “unconscious” version of you. The TRUE you is the woman who is the watcher. This woman is the one who is in the background, witnessing her emotions, witnessing the stressful thoughts that are conditioned to run through her head, and she is the one questioning and changing them. THIS “INNER” WOMAN EXISTS INSIDE OF YOU. And, that inner woman is all-powerful, wise, and connected to a higher-source. If you connect with her on a daily basis, and make it a priority to cultivate a relationship with her that is open, honest, and forgiving, I promise she won’t let you down. She loves you too much. She is you.
Did you know that J.K. Rowling was a single mother, and, in her own words, “as poor as it is possible to be in Modern Britain without being homeless,” when she wrote her first Harry Potter book? That’s right. The idea for the book “simply feel into her head” as she was waiting for a late train. When she started writing the novel, she was a single, working mother, who squeezed in her writing when her infant daughter was asleep-- writing an hour here and there every day. The rest is history. That woman is now a billionaire. Oh… did I mention the manuscript of Harry Potter was immediately rejected by the first publisher she sent it to, and several other publishers rejected it just the same.
TWO LESSONS LEARNED FROM J.K. ROWLING
1.) Moms are creative human beings who can manifest their dreams while raising children.
Even though J.K. Rowling was a working mum with very little time on her hands, she found an hour or two every day (while her infant daughter slept) to focus on cultivating her unique self and talents.
2.) She didn’t let negative habits of the mind, like doubt and fear, convince her she wasn’t good enough or trick her into thinking she was a failure.
Thus, she managed her thinking (we’ll talk more about this), and it paid off, both literally and figuratively!
So what do the lessons from J.K. Rowling’s story have to do with “mindfulness” and your mommy mind? A lot, actually. Here’s how it all shakes out-- without mindfulness or being mindful, you can’t watch your thinking. If you don’t stop to witness your thinking, thus recognizing those pesky negative thoughts that play over and over in your head, it will be difficult to hear the whispers of your inner-voice. Listening to your inner-voice is important because it speaks divine wisdom that shapes how we take care of our kids and ourselves.
YOU ARE NOT THE THINKER
The biggest revelation for me in regards to coming to understand the power of witnessing my thoughts came when Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now, said, “[t]he beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the thinker.” What he means is you are not your thoughts. When thoughts run through your head, you (the “true” you) are the person who watches them, and as that witnessing presence, you have the freedom to choose the ones you want to believe and let the others pass on by. Trust me, you can do this!
If you only remember one thing from this blog today, remember this… YOUR THOUGHTS ARE JUST THINGS! They have no power until YOU chose to believe them. Otherwise, it’s just a thought. And if it’s a negative thought like, I’m a bad mom because I scream every now and again…,or I don’t spend enough time engaging with my children on a daily basis…,or Every other mom probably knows what to do when…, just think that thought and then let it go. Yes-- LET IT GO! Pretend it’s one of those balloon bubbles that pops into your head, you see it, you decide this thought doesn’t serve you, so like a child letting go of a balloon, let that thought simply float away. Letting go is actually the easy part. Ya wanna know the hard part? The hard part is becoming conscious of when you are thinking negative thoughts.
I don’t know about you, but there are times when as a mother (and when I think about my dreams aside from mothering) I simply do let my fears and negative thoughts become “truths” too quickly. When this happens, it almost instantaneously paralyzes me. If I don’t recognize my negative thoughts right away and consciously make the decision to “let them go,” they take a hold of my brain, and before I know it, my bad mood has gotten 10 x worse.
I’ll give you a concrete example to prove my point, and perhaps as you chuckle, you’ll identify with it:
A couple months ago, I made the decision that I needed to get out of the house more with the girls, and I wanted to be in the company of other moms. I was craving commiserating with other women who were also experiencing the challenges of staying sane with multiple children under the age of 3 in one household (remember-- I have a 3 yr. old and twin 2 yr. olds-- ouch). My grand plan was to start attending the local MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) group. I found a local MOPS group, and the timing was perfect; they were meeting the very next day! That night I crawled into bed, took a deep breath to calm my mind, and then they appeared-- those darn negative thoughts. This time, here is what they said:
That should be fun tomorrow. How nice to get some time to speak to other moms. I really need that. And, the girls will be able to meet other kids. Wait, did she say there were one or two babysitters to watch the kids? How many kids total will be there? Are these babysitters capable adults or are they like kids themselves? Can they handle my three girls let alone others in addition? Did she say the playroom was downstairs and our meeting room was upstairs? What if I can’t see my girls? What if someone off the street came in, went to the playroom, told one of the babysitters that they were there to get the girls for me, and took them? The girls are still so little. They probably wouldn’t put up a fight. Oh my god, what if I went downstairs to get them and they were gone. Uhh… kids disappear all the time like that… one minute they are there, then they are gone! I don’t think I could survive if that happened to me. Oh my god, what would someone like that do….”
Okay. I’ll stop there and not even get into the horrendous things I envisioned a child snatcher might do to my children (it upsets me to much even think about it now). Long story short, within 2 minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I was balling! Balling! My husband woke up and was like, "What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
I wanted to say, “No! No, I am not sick. I’m mental!” But rather, I proceeded to tell him, choking back tears, all about the horrible mental-movie in my head. As I babbled on, I said, “I’m not ready for this. I’m not going tomorrow. I will never let the girls out of my site with people I don’t know!”
True to my word, I didn’t go to MOPS the next morning. We didn’t go, and we totally missed out on the much-needed fellowship with other mothers that I so desperately wanted and the building of friendship my girls needed because of my unchecked thinking!! Moral of the story-- it’s not necessarily what you think that’s bad. What’s bad is whether or not you chose to believe the thoughts that cause you pain. In this instance, I chose to believe my irrational fears, and they held me…I mean…they held us back.
IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU
The path to self-awareness is never straight, well-lit, or smooth. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start the journey. In fact, it’s the challenges in life that make us stronger.
Self-discovery is essential to being a mindful mama. Why? Because when you shed light on the dark corners of your mind and beliefs that hold you back from being your most enlightened self, you take one step closer to living your life in alignment with your most authentic self. Think about how you would mother differently living your life from your Truth as opposed to attempting to mother from what society says you “should” do.
Wanna find that inner-wisdom? This week try to stop your thinking. If you are new to this, you might need a sign to help you to remember to stop and “look at” your thoughts. Maybe tonight, when you are washing the dishes, stop your thinking. Stop for a minute and recall the thoughts that were just streaming through your head. What were you just thinking about? Were your thoughts stressful: How is it already 7:00 pm?! I have so much work to do tonight… I gotta…I will never get this all done. Were your thoughts worrisome: I can’t believe I spanked her today. I am such horrible mom. I swore I would never spank…. Now I feel bad about showing her how angry I was. No wonder she acts the way she does…. Or, were your thoughts calm: Ahh… my second glass of wine… keep on screaming kids, doesn’t bother me. We actually had a nice day today. It was so sweet when…
Just a tip-- designate one particular time of the day (e.g., doing the dishes, making dinner, whenever you wash your hands, the moment you get into bed…) to remind yourself to stop and reflect on your thinking. For one week, every day, at that particular time, try to watch your thoughts for just a couple seconds until watching the thinker becomes more of a habit.
Come on back later this week, and post a comment on how this is going for you. What are you finding out about yourself? We’d love to hear!