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Book Club: Week One

Today’s the day we start our read along of Buddhism for Mother’s of Young Children – Becoming a Mindful Parent.  I’m so excited to see what you guys thought of the first chapter.  Initially we were going to cover the first two chapters but… I ended up having too much to say about chapter one (surprise, surprise!).  Also, MPMK contributor Kim has generously agreed to chime in with her thoughts as well.  So let’s jump in!

Chapter 1 – Where Am I?


“Our presence is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children for they will grow up knowing they are noticed, important and loved.”

I think this statement resonants with all of us as parents.  We know it in our bones to be true.  But how do we go about really giving our children our presence in the midst of our hectic lives?  

Chapter one attempts to answer that question in a way all of us non-zen soccer moms (or soccer moms to be) can relate to.  The author writes, “Being aware of what we are saying as we are saying it and what we are feeling as we are feeling it is an opportunity available to us whenever we choose.”  On the surface this seems beyond obvious – but in reality habit often gets in the way.  It’s surprisingly taxing to avoid going through the motions and choosing instead to be aware of what you’re saying and feeling.

While reading it dawned on me,  I spend far too much of my “quality” one-on-one time with my kids counting down the minutes until I can return to checking things off my never-ending to-do list.  An example the author gave about reading the same story over and over to her young son especially hit home.  

She described telling herself each night there was nothing in it for her and, consequently, mentally checking out as she was reading.  I didn’t even know that was possible before having kids – thinking of something else while concurrently reading aloud – and now I do it ALL the time!  I love the author’s hypothesis on why this behavior is so common, “By the time we have children, many of us have become so achievement-oriented, so goal-driven, so addicted to busyness that we lose our ability to relax along with our capacity to notice what is going on in the now”.  

 

This feels so true for me.  In case you didn’t read the homework, the author stops looking at the task as one she dutifully performs only for his son’s enjoyment and tries to take in the story each night with the naive wonder of a 4 year old.  She’s able to stop seeing the time as a chore and begins to legitimately connect with her son by experiencing the story along side him each night.

That sounds like a place I want to get to with my little ones.  So here’s my take home from chapter one:

To truly be a present parent, you have to first get into the habit of being a present person.

It helped me see that being present really is a practice and I particularly appreciated the author laying out some daily practices for starting down the right path.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Follow your child’s lead

 

“Young children live in the present moment, oblivious to the past, unconcerned about the future…If we let them, children can teach us the value of time with no objectives, a skillful kind of laziness free from the need for productivity.”  The key here for me: “if we let them”.

Notice tendencies to rate every experience as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral 

Once I started paying attention, I realized I do this constantly. Worse yet, when I rate something as unpleasant, it’s often not that I’m actually bothered but that I’ve taught myself to think I should be bothered.

One mother featured in chapter one, Kim, said something that especially resonated with me, “At times my inclination is to see the day like a big checklist hoping to get to those parts that I ‘enjoy’, like my walks or my art.  But then I am only really living for an hour a day! With mindfulness practice I am so much more alive, even during the so-called tedious times.”

The author also talks about how categorizing all of our experiences as positive or negative can lead to a habit of keeping score. Which, in the case of couples, can also lead to a habit of competing over who has it worse. This, too, is something I can relate to. Regardless of a couple’s situation (both parents working, one being at home full time, or anything in-between), the reality is that the way each parent spends most hours of their day is dramatically different from the other. I have found that the sheer difference of my husband’s daily routine from mine can lead me to want to compete for the role of most burdened.

 

That never goes well though, does it? When I’m in a good place and am appreciative of how hard my husband works for our family, I really do find that he’s more appreciative of me in turn. Similarly, the more I seem to want to help him with his load, the more he wants to return the favor.


Realize you have a choice in the way you interpret situations

I think this again goes back to breaking myself out of mindless habits. To be more in the moment, we have to find ways to stop making assumptions. This is terribly hard for me. Without realizing it, I seem to assign subtext to a lot of my interactions with family members – usually based on past experiences. This then affects my mood and reaction and also has me thinking of past occurrences or future repercussions, effectively taking me out of the moment.

 

It’s very hard to passively observe your own reaction to something, and then let that reaction pass without becoming emotionally attached to it. When I have managed it, though, it’s incredibly freeing. The author goes into a lot more detail about the process of doing so and it’s one of my favorite parts of the chapter.  Next up, MPMK contributor Kim is going to share her take on this aspect of chapter one of Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children.
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The first chapter of this book changed me. Sometimes you hear something at the right time and it really makes a difference. Maybe you heard it before and thought, “That’s nice,” but then, another time, the right time, it changes you. My shift is in the realization that instead of taking an active role in changing my outward experience or situation, I can lean into any discomfort and trust that one of three things will happen.

 

  1. I will relax into it.
  2. I will find comfort within the situation by looking at what I didn’t originally see.
  3. The situation will change.
See, I am a change agent. You’ve got a problem, solve it. You want your life to be different, do it.  There is nothing that is too broken. Everything can be fixed with the right attitude and action. I’m like Zac’s mom in the chapter, worrying over his “wrong” classroom assignment at school and what could be done about it until I land on a solution and take action. But what if the best action is no action? What if the shift could happen just within myself?

 

I thought about the first of three options – relaxing into the discomfort. At first, it felt awful. How could I relax into my child being in the “wrong” class? Then I’m reminded of exposure therapy. I’m a little obsessed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ha!) and I’ve always been fascinated by exposure therapy as a treatment. The basic idea is that a person is exposed to whatever they find stressful and asked not to engage in whatever relieves their anxiety.
 
For example, they may be exposed to someone coughing in the same room and asked not to leave to wash their hands and face. At first their anxiety skyrockets, but then, slowly, and without any action, it naturally goes down. The effect of the anxiety going down on its own doesn’t allow the person to attribute the reduction of stress to the compulsive behavior (like hand washing) and in turn weakens the need for that behavior. I realized that, on a much smaller scale, I could stay in my discomfort with any given situation and by natural forces my anxiety will loosen and I will begin to relax.

 

The second option, of finding something new to look at, was so simple and just pure genius. As Kim shared in dealing with her husband’s illness, she could look at her awful situation, or she could look at her amazing children. In feeling any negativity, acknowledging it but not giving it the power to consume you, you can move more freely to all the beauty and joy. Again, no action needed, just an internal shift in perspective. Don’t like what you see here, look over there.

 

And, when all else fails, comes the old saying, “This too shall pass.” As this chapter tells us through Buddhist wisdom, “the conditions that surround us are of a transitory nature – they will not last in their current form, so we cannot rely on them to bring us lasting happiness, “ and I would add, “or discomfort.” Everything will shift and change, even without our influence, so there is no need to try to grab onto it or act to get out of it. We can just be in it for the ride and see where we end up next. So, where are we? Here. Let’s just be here and see where we are after that. Just experience and find joy, no action needed.
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This may be the longest post ever on MPMK!  This first chapter was packed with so much good stuff and we’ve only scratched the surface.  Now it’s time to hear what you thought.  What stood out to you? What have you been trying? Have you had successes? Failures?  Share with us!

 
And if you’d like to get in on the action, it’s not too late to get your copy of the book.  You have two weeks to catch up and read chapter two, which we’ll be covering on Tuesday, August 7th.

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