Meditation is good for you. In all kinds of ways, for all kinds of people. More and more all the time, we’re seeing that its benefits are numerous and scientifically verifiable. (I won’t take the time to argue this premise, but if you’re doubtful or curious, please do research it on your own.) It seems there’s no one in the world who couldn’t benefit at least some from meditating.
Hey, watch this video!
You know who doesn’t have time to meditate? Moms. I know, I know. I’m sure your cousin’s friend’s hairdresser has two kids and meditates for an hour each morning. But really, you and I both know that for the average mother, in our culture, meditation as a regular practice is simply not practical. The practice of meditation, as many people understand it, involves spending a predictable, quiet few minutes alone, to sit and clear ones mind and focus on breathing and what not. If a mother could find quiet time, she’d use it to make a phone call without someone screaming in her other ear about their missing sock. If she could find alone time, she’d use it to go poop, without having to share the bathroom with little people who insist on reading to her and flushing the toilet repeatedly (before she’s finished!).
But rather than curse the plight of the modern mom for failing to provide time for meditation, I’d like to offer mothers a workable alternative to meditation. And anyone else for whom meditation is not practical. What I’m going to recommend here is even an excellent complement to meditation, so even if you do meditate regularly, you can benefit from this. Basically, if you’re any kind of person who wants to be more mindful (or happy, healthy, focused, calm, etc.), read on.
Mindfulness For Mothers
To do this, you will need only your regular life… just as it is! Is your life noisy? Fine! Is it messy? Great! Is it chaotic? Swell! We’re not afraid of those things here. In fact, we’ll use them. Garison Kiellor said, “Bad things don’t happen to writers. It’s all material.” It’s kind of like that here. I mean, we’re not writing, so material means something different in this sense. But if you take “material” to mean “something to work with,” then we’re on to something. And when you’re in the middle of using this strategy – of being mindful, bad things don’t happen. It’s all just something to work with.
The basic idea is taking whatever situation you’re in and dedicating a period of time that’s comfortable for you (maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10, 15, whatever) to just living through that situation as fully and presently as you possibly can. Without judgment. Without rushing. Without labeling it or telling a story about it. JUST living it.
There are many forms this practice can take. I’ve named and described four of them below. Feel free to create your own. The important thing is just being mindful, present and real.
1) The Quiet Work
Here’s one to try when you find yourself doing a job (probably a chore) that is fairly monotonous, maybe somewhat mindless. We mothers have no shortage of such jobs, so take your pick! Say it’s cutting vegetables for dinner. Start by accepting that that is what you will be doing for the next (whatever period of time you have chosen). Agree with yourself that, for now, that is your task. Acknowledge the vegetables, the cutting board, the knife. Acknowledge the room you’re in. Notice it all. You don’t need to label any of it, justify any of it, explain or question any of it. All you have to do is notice it. Then begin your Quiet Work, with quiet intention and calm purpose. Breathe. Be fluid, gentle and unhurried in your movements. Feel the weight of the knife as you lift it. Feel the texture of the vegetables.
Be there with the process, in mind and spirit as well as body. When thoughts come into your head, watch them come and watch them go, without engaging them. Imagine your mind is a an empty white room, and on either side of the room, there’s a wide open window. A warm breeze is blowing in and out of the room through the windows. Your thoughts and feelings are like leaves or bubbles, entering the room on the wind, swirling about, and then blowing out again. Just watch them. Let them be what they are, without naming them or analyzing them or trying to control them. Just let them be, and let them go.
2) The Mindful Mess
For this technique, all you need is a mess. It can be a physical mess (a cluttered desk, a messy bedroom, a kitchen with dishes everywhere, etc.), but it doesn’t have to be. A mess, for our purposes, is anything that feels disorganized, overwhelming and/or out-of-control. If that is your monthly budget or your body image or your bedtime routine, you can use it for this exercise. The name of the game here is to immerse yourself in that mess, mindful and present, employing many of the same concepts we talked about with The Quiet Work. Be with the mess, without judging it, without judging yourself for it. Acknowledge it. Notice everything about it, including the feelings you have about it. For the time you are working The Mindful Mess, you do NOT have to be still or passive. Work on your mess if you want to! Wash some dishes. Throw away junk mail. Look at your bank statement. Brush your hair. Or just sit with your mess. But whatever you do or don’t do about your mess, commit to spending some period of time working The Mindful Mess. Stay present, open and aware. Feel yourself breathing and the weight of your body. Watch your thoughts and feelings come, but let them go. Stories about what this mess means about you as a person are just that – stories. Acknowledge them as such, and send them peacefully on their way. Let the mess be what it is, but not more than it is. Let yourself be who you are, without being defined by, or confined by, this mess. Just be.
3) The Peaceful Interaction
This technique requires another person, and with you being a mom and all, what better person than one of your kids? After you’ve practiced any of these mindfulness exercises a few times, you’ll start to see them as a kind of gift you can give yourself. But this one is also a gift you give your kids. As with the other techniques, you allot a period of time that is dedicated to mindfulness. And in The Peaceful Interaction, you commit to being full present with the other person. Entering the shared space between you with your whole heart. And with your mind open, and free of judgment or expectations. Watch, listen, notice. If you speak or act, do so from your heart, authentically and intentionally. Notice your own thoughts and feelings, as well as your movements and sounds, as you notice the other person’s. Allow the person to be who they are, and let them see who you are.
Note: With children, especially little ones, it’s obviously often necessary to set limits for them, if they’re behaving in a way that is harmful, dangerous or just against the rules. This is not forbidding them from being who they are, this is a way of loving them authentically. Just make sure the limits are set without judgment or labeling, and that they really are coming from a place of love and care.
With The Peaceful Interaction, notice how your child reacts to having your full, undivided, mindful attention, even for just ten minutes. You might be very surprised how far that can go.
4) The Watchful Rest
Sometimes, as a mom, I feel like the only time I have to sit back and relax is when I’m actually in the process of going to sleep. Bed time. And I don’t mean the suggestion of this last technique as a joke at all. In many ways, while you’re falling asleep at night is the perfect time to practice mindfulness! For some anxious souls among us, it may even be necessary. You know those rushing thoughts that, for whatever reason, seem to think bedtime is a good time to appear in your head? Those random worries that surface, sometimes even to the point of causing insomnia? Or maybe bedtime is a time you spend day-dreaming, looking forward to things, revisiting fond memories? Either way, unless you’re the type of sleeper who’s out before your head hits the pillow, bedtime can be ideal for practicing mindfulness. Just as with the other techniques, commit to spending some time just being. Feel your body, feel your breath. Feel your heart beat. Watch your thoughts come and go, without engaging them, without judging them (or yourself for having them). If worries arise, acknowledge them, and then let them go. (Note: When first using this technique, if you find the worries or your to-do list too distracting, keep a pen and paper by your bedside when you go to bed. Then, if any overbearing worries or thoughts keep nagging at you, let yourself sit up – calmly and quietly, still without judgment – and write a note to yourself to deal with whatever it is tomorrow. Then go back to bed.)
Mindfulness is an incredibly powerful tool with potential to transform you and your life. Speaking for myself, when I first started consciously practicing mindfulness, I had a strong feeling like I was giving myself a gift when I did it. I once described it as “giving myself my life.” And in a way, that’s not an exaggeration, because the only access you have to your life is through the present moment. So the more you learn how to occupy that moment and really experience it, the more you’re really living your life.
Yes, it’s a gift to myself, and a wonderful one at that. When I’ve given myself permission to let go of all the other stuff (my worries, my plans, my faults, my regrets, etc.) for that time, what I’m left with is just myself, living my life, occupying the most wonderful moment (this one!) and completely free.
Hope this post finds you well and content, and I hope that just maybe it inspires you to set yourself free too. If only for ten minutes at time, surrounded by piles of laundry and screaming children. That’s your moment. Live it.