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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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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa Harper July 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm

My favorite line from ch. 1 was a mantra from Thich Nhat Hahn: “breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile.” Being more present, and mindful, letting my lists go and my children lead – that will take time and practice. But I feel like I can immediately have success with this idea of breathing in to calm, and then smiling. Even if I am not happier, or less anxious, the act of smiling will help take me that direction.

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I really liked that simple mantra too Theresa. Although, I’ll admit it’s harder to practice then it sounds. Smiling when I’m truly frustrated is something that will take me a lot of practice!

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Theresa Harper July 25, 2012 at 4:11 am

Agreed! I’m thinking this will be practice in “fake it ’til I make it” :)

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Anonymous July 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Someone artistic (meaning not me) should make this into an abstract of some sort so I can hang it up and love it.

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 25, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Great idea, nothing like a little visual reinforcement :)

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Simply Montessori July 24, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I love this book! I’m so glad you are passing it along to others.
I have this recommended on my blog as well.

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Marcus July 25, 2012 at 4:16 am

Best parenting book EVER. Her books are wonderful – wonderful! – and have guided me through many challenging times and helped me appreciate many joyful times even more than I might have. I cannot recommend Napthali’s books highly enough. Lovely to see this one being discussed here – thank you for that.

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Lora Carroll July 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I really enjoyed this first chapter. It introduces some complex Buddhist principles and provides accessible examples to connect the reader to the concepts.

I appreciated the thoughtful feedback that Stephanie and Kim offered on this chapter and I agree with both of your comments. Some additional passages that were of interest to me include:

“We are far more empowered to see life clearly, and resolve our issues, when we have a flexible perspective, when we can see that we have choices about how we see our moments.” (p.25)

I like this point as it supports Kim’s comments (above) about perspective. We have so much more control over how we respond to a situation than many of us think we do. We are not our thoughts or feelings; they are just that. Thought or feeling. We can choose to focus our energy and attention on the positive or negative that surrounds us; and that is an empowering concept.

“One definition of dukkha is the gap between what is happening and what we wish was happening, be it large or small. The word dukkha also covers the imperfection, the unsatisfactory nature, of all phenomena— which is caused by the transitory, impermanent nature of all things.” (p.35-6)

The only sure thing in life is change. When you experience something stressful, it will soon pass. When you enjoy something wonderful, it will soon pass. Dukkha is caused when I try to alter, resist or grasp onto a situation. This passage remind me (like Kim) that when something is uncomfortable, I need to just lean into it. And when something is wonderful, I need to relish it, savour it and enjoy it while it lasts.

“It might be difficult to find time for a formal meditation sitting, but even the busiest days provide a multitude of moments to bring attention to the breath. Waiting at traffic lights, standing in a queue, ‘on hold’ on the telephone, waiting for your computer to boot.” (p.45)

I love this passage as it reminds me that even though I currently find it difficult to ‘formally’ meditate on a daily basis (as the mother of a young child); there are other ways to incorporate mediation into my daily routine that are easy and accessible.

I look forward to chapter two!

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Thanks for your input Lora, I agree with so much of what you said. Especially about meditation. Although, I think it sounds very calming, I have never meditated in my life and don’t realistically see myself finding time to do so in the near future. I too loved how this chapter showed me that I can practice intentional and calming thoughts all through out my day instead.

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Kim at Little Stories July 26, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I used to meditate, before I was a mom. Now it’s hard but one thing that has helped me is to play a guided meditation or affirmations in the bathroom while I shower. That is my island of quiet, calm time (even if my daughter is in there with me playing on the floor) so I maximize that time to get my head clear and perspective straight. I really like the affirmations by Belleruth Naparstek.

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Meg July 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm

What really stood out to me is the mantra “Here, now.”. I have a huge problem with always thinking to the future (from what’s for dinner to our 5-10 year plan) and dwelling on the past (what I think I could have done better, what I think someone thought of me, etc). I think really focusing on this mantra will help me move past that an instead focus on the present. I’m considering painting a canvas with that quote on it to help me remember to focus on it.

I also feel like I’ve been a bit of a distracted parent – there’s always things on my to-do list, emails to send, shows I want to catch up on, etc, that I think I don’t spend enough time just being with my son and seeing the world through his eyes. I really appreciated that she stressed that sometimes you just have to be and see the world through our little ones’ eyes.

Lastly, the part about you choose how you react to situations really hit home with me as my sister just flew in to see my son for the first time. If I dwell in the past, I can be angry that it took her 11 months to get here (a 2 hour flight), but I can choose to be present in the situation and be happy that she’s here now. Since she’s literally driving here from the airport as I type this, I think me focusing *only* on the present will make our visit much more enjoyable.

After reading this chapter, I also think I’m going to try and start meditating formally and get back into yoga, which I think will really help keep me in the now and also help me get as much as I can out of the book.

Can’t wait to see what Chapter Two holds.

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 25, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Thanks for sharing Meg. I can really relate with how hard it is to let go of the past or fantasize about the future. It is a daily struggle for me to take each moment exactly as it is. I think the “Here, now” mantra is an excellent start for me as well.

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drphotos August 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Morning ladies, I am loving this book!! My favorite excerpt from Chp. 1 is this, “Young children live in the present moment, oblivious to the past, unconcerned about the future. They see objects, people and events with fresh eyes, and with wonder” page 3. Being a mom to three boys, running my own photography business, trying to make the most of every day for their memory bank I catch myself now just trying to take a step out of whatever we are doing to be aware of what they are saying, what they are doing, what they are trying to communicate through body language, actions, etc… it has helped me to even live more in the moment with my clients, to let the child lead me throughout the photography session, rather than having me make suggestions. I have also been successful discussing this with my husband. He too has slowed down and enjoyed more of our daily tasks but just soaking up the moments as they present themselves. Hope that you are all well!

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com August 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

drphotos – It’s great to hear you and your husband are both finding ways to put some of these principals into action. Sometimes when your partner doesn’t have time to actually read the book, it can be hard to effectively convey the ideas. Also, “trying to make the most of every day for their memory bank” is such a great way to look at it. I love the idea that being more present is for the benefit of both you AND the kids.

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Jessica Sliman August 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm

So I just jumped into reading last night and was completely blown away by the first chapter. I basically second what everyone else has said so far! :)

One of the things that really stood out to me, as a mom of a 1 year old and a 2 year old, is the concept of me time. I am constantly looking for and often struggling when I actually get time for myself – because it’s so limited and fleeting that I worry I’m not doing the right thing with the time – or I’m sad that it is gone so quickly.

Today, I tried to redefine it. I had a thirty minute drive with the kids. I packed my ipod to play through the speakers, I grabbed a (hot!) cup of coffee, and gave the girls books to look at in the car. Rather than thinking about everything I needed to do when I got home….or feeling guilty about the things I hadn’t done last night….I just enjoyed the music and the coffee – and I realized that with a shift of perspective, I could find a lot more “me” time in the day…by just being present in the moment.

Thanks again for the suggestion. I am excited to read more.

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Heather August 9, 2012 at 5:44 am

I just found time to finish chapter 1 – I am in love with this book. :) I was struck by the quote she included about the difference between the anxiety and scarcity of a noisy mind and the abundance and beauty of the world through a quiet mind. (sorry for my paraphrasing!!) This is so true for me. When I can be conscious and present, I can suddenly feel the abundance around me – I visually see beauty that I ignored moments earlier.

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kiki August 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I know I’m a bit behind but I just found out about the book club and of course immediately ordered the book and devoured Chapter 1. First of all, I’m really excited about doing this. I just haven’t carved out time to read or committed to a book in ages. Secondly, I’m really excited that this is our first book. As a mom to a 23 month old, wife to a husband who has been traveling a ton for work, and woman who is up to her eyeballs in house renovations (7 months in, one more month until we move in – for now we are living in our converted garage with our son sleeping in a camping crib in the bathroom!) I am SO guilty of not living in the moment. I am constantly thinking, I need to get this or that done, once we are in the house, etc, etc. I really feel like this book came to me for a reason.
I love Kim talking about simply “assum[ing] the posture” without analysis of whether or not she is enjoying the meditation or given moment (pg 5). This same principle was nicely echoed throughout the chapter. Life isn’t just about seeking pleasure, it’s not all about enjoyment. And that’s ok. I love (from page 12) that we can learn to feel the negative without running from it and then move onto and focus on the positive. This is something I really want to work on. That and “maintain[ing] composure in turbulence” (pg 15). Oh man, is it easy to get frazzled. I think the suggestion of focusing on my breath could be really helpful for me. I love the reminder that breath, like all things in life, is impermanent. We move through it, it passes through us. Lastly, as a bit of a type a perfectionist the definition of dukkha being the gap between what is happening and what we wish were happening and seeing the amount of angst and suffering that can bring into our lives was really eye-opening. Accepting that some amount of dukkha is inevitable and simply a part of life would really help me stay more grounded.
Thanks to everyone for all their thought-provoking comments. I’m excited to get caught up with Chapter 2 and join in on Chapter 3.

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Valeen August 12, 2012 at 11:39 pm

I have only just started Chapter One and there have been already so many phrases that have stood out to me. Many of them have been mentioned above already.

As a mother to six month old twins I find that I have an extremely hard time just being present in the moment. I’m constantly thinking even when I’m with them, what needs to be done next, how much time before they need to eat/sleep again, how am I possibly going to think up one more thing to entertain them with for another 2 minute block for the next 60 minutes. Not to mention all that needs to be done around the house, take a shower, eat!

I am really looking forward to reading the rest of this chapter and meeting up here for the remainder of the book.

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