My pony tail was dripping with sweat. I couldn’t help it; it was sweltering hot in that room. “Here he comes,” I thought.
As he snaked his way through the sweltering room packed tight with sweaty yogis in Lululemon attire, my intention, my focus was to nail every pose. Oh by the way, I should mention that he was not just any yoga teacher-- he was the yoga teacher; the guy who'd created the teacher training program I just completed.
I had to look graceful, right? I had to be strong, right? I had to stick that reversed half-moon like I was posing for the cover of Yoga Journal, right? I was a yoga teacher now; the stakes were higher. This is the story fear had created in my mind.
We were all in a good flow, moving seamlessly between postures, when I heard his voice coming closer and closer. I tensed up. I wanted to look perfect. As he was nearly right in front of me, I gracefully stepped my right foot forward, ready to sweep my arms up to come into warrior one, when my foot slipped on the sweat on my mat, and I fell.
“Yoga is a practice everyone, not a performance. This is not "Cirque de Yoga." You will fall, you will make mistakes. It’s all part of the journey…” he said calmly, and matter-of-factly.
After I got over the initial freak-out in my mind that he was saying this because he'd just watched me almost take out a full row of fellow yogis in domino fashion, I thought about how great this line was for us, Mindful Mamas! Motherhood-- it's a practice, not a performance!
MOTHERHOOD- A Practice, Not a Performance
This shift in perspective is very powerful. Thinking of motherhood as a practice and not a performance shifts the focus from fear to love. When we think performance, we think perfection. And where perfection is involved, there is always a fear that being less than perfect will result in pain. As mothers, this can be the pain we feel that our imperfections might be screwing up our children-- and we feel bad about that! Fear is the anticipation of future pain.
For example, have you ever noticed how fears about "screwing up" your child are projections into the future? You are worrying about a future child, a future experience, a future event that doesn’t exist today. It isn’t real (even though it feels so real…that's fear’s trick to making itself stick).
Now try this trick: Think about all the times in the past when you feel you totally “screwed up” as a mom (well, don’t dwell on them, otherwise this little activity may back fire). NOW-- step into the present moment. Look at your child TODAY-- right now, at this moment; focus your attention on how wonderful, vibrant, loving, forgiving, resilient, trusting, and well-adjusted your child is NOW! See? It’s always just fine in the present moment. And if it isn’t, I guarantee you are probably doing everything a loving mother would do in this present moment to help your child.
Remember that we are not supposed to be perfect mothers. Motherhood is designed to be a practice and not a performance. This allows us to shift our thoughts out of fear of the future and into the present moment where fearless love is always found.
Motherhood is a practice. We are gonna make mistakes. And with mindfulness and awareness, we trust ourselves that we will do better next time. That's what a practice is-- continual refinement and growth where it is required that we take 3 steps back before we take 1 step forward. Going through the poses of our mothering with this perspective allows us to come to this practice with a sense of relaxation, trust, openness and acceptance. And I just have to say, a funny little thing happens when we approach our mothering this way-- we stress, perfect, and worry less. And as we stress, perfect, and worry less, we tend to naturally do less of those things (like yelling, losing our cool, or getting lost in guilt) that make us "think" we are screwing up our kids.
This is not Cirque de Motherhood. You will fall. You will make mistakes. It's all part of the journey. Don't allow fear of the future to torment you today! Just remember that motherhood is a practice. If you come at it every day with love, perseverance, and awareness, your future (as in your kids) will work itself out beautifully one present moment at a time.
It’s that time of year…cold and flu season. And this year, they are predicting it to be bad. Yep. Didn’t need to read the headlines to know this one. 4 of the 5 of us in my own family have it at this very moment.
That said, I’ve been practicing my mindful mama techniques like mad! Here are my favorite 4 that will make your next run-in with sickness more manageable and (believe it or not) actually bring out your most fanatically calm and compassionate mindful mothering self. (Seriously, we mindful mamas are masters at making the most out of difficult situations!)
1) SWITCH out of guilt mode
Upon hearing that first cough, feeling that hot forehead, or hearing the dreaded, “Mommy, my stomach hurts,” notice if your mind goes to guilt. I've noticed my tendency to beat myself up for my kids getting sick. That first cough sets my mind into action; I immediately chronicle all the recent places I took them: the gym child care center, the indoor community play structure (aka-- the McDonalds play structure on major steroids), or the moms group with all the kiddos running around where they most likely picked up the bug.
Just notice when you are tempted to take responsibility for stuff that isn’t your fault. We know it's not realistic to live in a bubble, and our kids are going to be subjected to germs no matter how much we attempt to avoid it. So if your thoughts go to guilt, a mindful mama switches them around to a more realistic and productive thought: “This just makes their bodies stronger.” It’s true. Challenges in our lives make us emotionally more resilient and sickness in our bodies make our bodies more resilient. Seek the silver lining here, mama.
2) SURRENDER to the moment
This may be the hardest for moms to do. It takes incredible mindfulness and awareness to let go of our everyday, high expectations for how things “should be” in our mothering and allow them to be as they are, especially when our kids are sick.
If, for days on end, your child has been in their pj’s (you, too for that matter), has had nothing to eat but popsicles and ice cream ('cause that's all that feels good on that sore throat), and has watched unlimited television (because that’s the only activity they can muster the energy to do), LET IT BE.
Notice when your thoughts start to resist the present moment and shift to how you think they should be. As you notice them, let them pass like clouds across a blue sky without emotionally reacting to them.
3) SLOW DOWN the speed of life
When anyone in the family gets sick, it’s such a good time to get back to basics. During these long days of caring for your sick child, continually ask yourself: “What’s really important right now?”
As a mindful mama, notice your temptation or desire to keep pace with your “to do” list. Your child will most likely be calling out for your attention every 30 seconds, and if your mind is situated on getting other things done, you are going to get very frustrated, and may inadvertently take it out on your child.
Finding your focus--comforting and caring for your child-- will help you acknowledge the fact that you may not get much of anything else done in the next several days. You might just notice that this break is kinda nice. It’s a great reminder that we tend to do too much anyways.
4) STOP and take a break
How long does it take you to hit your wall? You know, the “I can’t take this anymore” wall. We all hit our walls at different times (I think I lasted about 3 days before I hit mine this time). We all have breaking points. Pay attention to yourself and how you feel. Your body will give you cues that you need to rest.
Caring for a sick child takes constant attention, compassion, and kindness. Maintaining this level of attention is really, really hard day after day, sleepless night after sleepless night. You simply must give yourself permission to take a break! We can’t maintain the levels of compassion that our children need when we are totally depleted. Do anything, something other than caring for someone else, for some part of your day. It will help you to remember the most important mindful mama mantra of all: This too shall pass. It always does. Repeating this mantra at 3 am as I respond to the cries of my sick child really helps me mother in the moment.
Being mindful during stressful times like our child's illness, we are able to give them the ultimate medicine-- attention+love+compassion.
Did you feel it-- feel the world stop on Friday? We all did. I believe that Mother Nature and the entire Universe felt it, too because the events of that day went against every law of nature; another human being doing such unimaginable harm to another, especially our children…our future…our visible reminders of what it means to be blissful, perfectly present, and filled with divine energy and pure love.
The news of the horrific tragedy in Connecticut delivered a punch so hard, that collectively, we all lost our breath. And whenever we lose our breath, we lose our mental balance, and fear instantly takes root in our minds. We become confused, dumbfounded, and paralyzed. This is how I, and I am sure many of us, couldn't help but feel upon hearing the horrific news. But as human beings, especially as mindful mothers, in tragic times like these, we must rise above our fears and ground ourselves in the profound love we have for our children. For our divine connection to our kids reminds us of the power of our love to create miracles. Love begets love. Love is contagious-- but only if our hearts remain open to let it flow freely.
Feel It to Free It
I was awestruck by how quickly reading about the details of that day shut me down. I wept deeply, almost uncontrollably at times. The depth of my emotions were a clear indicator of rampant thoughts of fear running through my head. As frightening as it was, I allowed myself to feel everything; not that I really had a choice. These emotions were no match against my feable attempt to suppress and avoid them. The moment I truly let go and lost myself in the intensity of what I was feeling, I heard a voice. It was crystal clear, and it hovered somewhere above the chaos and the confusion. It was my true voice; the voice of my heart. “Jen….what’s going on? Why is this hitting you so hard?”
This was my mindfulness practice paying off during a pivotal point in the game of life. This simple act of self compassion and present moment awareness enabled me to see past my fear. The moment I noticed and labeled it, I instantly gained clarity. I realized my emotions were so severe because I felt deep grief for the immeasurable loss of precious life, as well as a profound sadness for the parents of the souls lost and children who survived but lost their innocence. But that was not all. The thought that was wreaking the most havoc in my head was, "What if that were my child?" As a parent, anytime this fear flashes through your head, you react as if that were the grave reality. Our bodily response doesn't discern the difference between what's real and fantasy in our minds. Fear feels real, so our bodies react. It was that powerful, primordial, parental fear for the safety of my three young daughters that brought on a flood of uncontrollable emotions.
As I stood frozen, staring out of my bedroom window with a tattered Kleenex in hand, the destructive cycle of fear kept taunting me with heart wrenching questions, “What have you done bringing children into this world?, Do you have the courage to let your girls grow and go?, Would you have the strength to endure the most unimaginable event in a parent’s life if it happened to you?” Fear has this way of shaking you to your core...that is until you recognize exactly what it's gettin' away with.
Vimala McClure, in the Tao of Motherhood says it best, “When you have your first child, suddenly life become precious. So precious you can strangle it with the tension of holding on. What mother hasn’t had fearful fantasies of losing her child? This is the hardest time to accept letting go as a part of holding on.” When our minds are consumed by fear, it's not only hard to accept that we have to let go of our children, it's unfathomable. But this is exactly fear's ultimate plan-- to trap you in your head, so your heart will not be your guide. Fear wants us to grasp our children with claws of steel because then it has succeeded. Fear is contagious, too! As mothers we need to remember that our fears can be caught by our children. Fear strangles life, hope, love, wisdom, and dreams because it halts the flow of energy. It stops movement forward. Forward motion is life, and it's what's necessary in the face of pain and suffering. We have to move forward to move out of it.
MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE ~ Choosing love
The practice always starts with allowing ourselves the space to feel all our emotions as they arise. When we allow them to flow, we are better able to witness them as they pass-- and they will pass, for nothing is permanent. Mindfulness enables us to "name it to tame it." Can you recognize your fear? What does fear look like in your body? Get good at identifying the emotions or bodily sensations that indicate that fear has sabotaged your mind. For me-- it’s weeping, feeling out of control, and a general sense of sadness. The INSTANT you see your fear, you’ve regained control of your mind, and it no longer has the power to control you.
The next step is to intentionally CHOOSE to refocus your attention on Love. Fear may be a natural human “reaction” to pain and suffering, but it’s our divine nature to “respond” with peace, love, and presence (Hamrick). The only place we can respond with peace, love, and presence is in the present moment. We must breathe, pause, and become present of all the love that currently surrounds us. It is always there in abundance, we just have to shift our attention. Where our attention goes, our energy goes.
After learning of the tragic news, the moment I noticed my fear, and felt my body and mind spinning out of control, I paused. I reconnected with my breath. That pause gave me the space to shift my thoughts to love-- immense gratitude for the miracle of the birth of my children, the profound blessing of being able to tuck them into their warm beds, kissing their lips goodnight, and for my ability to see these blessings in my life. My LOVE for my children grounds me every.single.time. Being grounded, I hug my children tighter, I linger in their presence, and I listen more than I speak.
When the world stopped on Friday, it provided us with an incredible opportunity to pause, catch our breath, and refocus our attention on what matters most-- the love we have for each other. As mothers, you and I have incredible powers to transform the world with our love, and we do it by loving our kids. Focusing on this love calms and clears our minds. The most selfless gift we can ever give another human being, especially our children when they are suffering, is our peaceful, calm presence. When we are calm and present, our hearts are wide open, and we can literally (through energetic means) transfer love and compassion into the depths of their soul. The love that emanates from an open heart is the greatest antidote to pain and suffering. At times like these, as we draw our kids close, linger in their presence, and show them respect and compassion, may our love multiply not only in their hearts, but ours as well. The love we generate from loving our kids can heal the world.
Our love is contagious.
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.