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Book Club: Week Three

This chapter of Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children – Becoming a Mindful Parent, is all about how we define ourselves and, specifically, how that definition is challenged when we become mothers.  One of the the things the author focuses on is our constant self-evaluation of personal performance.  I love how the she reminds us that by “always judging our worth, we block the possibility of joy in our daily life” and that we essentially need to “get out of our own way” to be more happy.

Napthali also points out the tendencies of mothers to define ourselves by the roles we play, be it at work or within our communities, as well as the way others see us in those roles.  She deftly points out the flaw in this system, writing that, “most of the time we can only guess at the view of others, but that does not stop some of us from tormenting ourselves with speculations”.

 

MPMK contributor Kim writes much more eloquently on this topic than I ever could:
The portion of this chapter that resonated with me the most was not relying on others to tell me who I am.  A few years ago when I got sick with an autoimmune disease I was forced to question the identity and ego I had created for myself.  I had always been an overachiever, passionate worker, social butterfly, and group joiner, with a little bit of style. 

But now, in a new town, with a new job, and new friends, and an increasingly debilitating illness, I wondered what people would think of me. I wasn’t sure I even knew myself anymore with my often messy house, dwindling work schedule, boring wardrobe, forgotten commitments, and last-minute canceling of plans. The guilt of not keeping up the standards I had set for myself was an embarrassment to me in front of all of those people new to my life. In fact, I think the loss of the person I thought I was may have made me sicker than the illness. I felt lost.


Then it hit me. It doesn’t matter what they think because I can only be who I am. And in reality, they probably don’t think anything at all. They are probably so busy thinking about their own lives, that they haven’t given me space in their thoughts for a moment. The freedom of this realization was that I could be whatever I wanted to be and really I could just BE and find out who I’d become.

Being pregnant with my second child, complicated by my health issues, chapter three of this book couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve felt those thoughts slipping in, of comparison and self-judgement, thinking “I should have more energy by now,” “People will think I’m so lazy,” or “I should be able to do what other moms do with four kids while they’re pregnant.” 

But reading this chapter of “Who Am I?” reminded me to let go of building my identity or self-worth on what others may think. I am who I AM at this point in time in my life and if I worry so much about what others think I’m taking time away from living it. I can just do my best and be thankful that my path has opened me to the freedom from expectations.

Along with encouraging the reader to explore the ways in which we construct a false sense of self based on our ego, chapter three also highlights methods for forming a truer picture.  One is to watch our thoughts during meditation (or meditative moments) and notice that they are inconsistent and ever-changing.  Basically, Napthali is pointing out that we are not static creatures that can be easily labeled (positively or negatively) and that our constantly evolving feelings and thoughts are just that, feelings and thoughts, they do not define us.

Another strategy is to focus on the part of us that connects us to all others, what the author refers to as “our oneness”.  Napthali points out that “research from all over the world on personal well-being suggests that people who are focused on others are happier than those who are self-absorbed”.  She also reminds us that as parents we are already naturally learning how to forgo our own ego and focus on the happiness of our children instead.

From there, she moves on to using our easy-flowing love for our children as a model for practicing “loving kindness meditation”.  This is, by far, my favorite part of the chapter.  The author’s description of the practice made me feel calmer and happier just reading about it and it goes hand-in-hand with the gratitude journal idea I gravitated towards in previous chapters.

Now it’s your turn.  What resonated with you in chapter three?  Has it made you re-think how you define yourself?

And if you’d like to join in, you have two weeks to buy the book before we discuss chapters 4 &5 on September 4th – that’s right, we’re amping it up and covering two whole chapters next time!


 

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

kiki August 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Yippee, I love this book and have been looking forward to bookclub Tuesday to read everyone’s thoughts and interpretations! I think the thing this chapter had me thinking about is how easy it is to compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves based on our perception of others. Especially in this era of facebook and blogs, snapshots of other’s mothers’ seemingly effortless and beautiful lives. Stylish wardrobes, perfectly staged homes, smiling children engaged in craft projects, refrigerators filled with nutritious meals stored in beautiful glass containers labeled for the next month…. How easy it is to see these images while sitting in my sweats at my kitchen table overflowing with unfolded laundry, unopened mail, my son running around in nothing but a diaper beating every surface with a wooden spoon and feel somehow less-than. This chapter was wonderful reminding me that we are not our actions, not our thoughts, when we can “get out of our own way” and somehow shed our ego we really are so much more able to fully experience the joy in life. And truth be told – I’m not sure there is anything better than a next to naked, two year old with a wooden spoon.

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com August 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Kiki – You raise a very good point about how blogs, this one included, often only show the “prettiest” parts of life. With so much family-related eye candy on the web, It can be easy to forget that no one has it all figured out! And I agree, it really doesn’t get much better than a happy half-naked toddler exploring his world.

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christie April 24, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Christie – I almost fell of my chair reading this comment, the exact same scenes take place in my house except I have a 7 month old, at times looking at those perfect homes makes me feel like a failure. Now I know I’m not alone and it’s normal to have a little messy home.

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Lilly August 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm

I love this book, just reading it makes me feel calmer. The idea of a sense of self being determined by others’ opinion of me hit (uncomfortably) close to home, and the author expanded it to say that by “extending our love to others we grow in confidene” because we get closer to our true nature. I can see that comparing ourselves to others and letting them determine our sense of self takes us very far away from our true nature. I also found interesting the idea that we have to let go some of our ego in order to be better mothers. I’ve started to work on being in the present moment (I find it so hard!) and really being present for my child, because I was alarmed at how easy it is to take care of children without being really present. Now, I pay more attention to my son, watching him when he is not interacting with me as much as when he is, and gathering information about who he is, and about who I am. It’s astounding to me how having a child has brought to my attention the things I need to work on. I’ve also noticed myself acting with less love generally towards other people. I suspect it’s due to the fact that having a child, a full time job, plus housekeeping and a long commute are draining all my energy. I find myself much quicker to judge, and much more impatient, but I do feel that it’s at odds with my nature. I am going to work more on that too.

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Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com August 21, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Lilly,

“Just reading it makes me feel calmer” – Yes, me too!

I too find it very hard to be in the present moment with my kids (is that shockingly revealing for a parenting blogger?). Every time I read a chapter from this book, I find myself reveling in the wonder of my kiddos for a few days. The trick, for me, is figuring out how to stay in that place.

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Sea Mama August 22, 2012 at 1:44 am

I have her three book under this title. I LOVE her! She has completely changed the way I think about life and parenting. Thanks for sharing this with the world.

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small + friendly August 22, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Kim’s words about feeling guilty and embarrassed about not meeting a self imposed (impossible) standard really resonated with me. My struggle with identity has made it difficult for me to make new friends. As a fairly new mom, I’ve never felt so afraid of rejection. It is hard to introduce yourself when you’re not sure how to define yourself. I love the idea of getting out of your own way. Thank you Kim for your honesty.

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Stacy of KSW August 23, 2012 at 4:14 am

Exactly. You nailed that new Mom feeling Carla. Hate that you would ever have to feel that way, love everything about you and want others to too! Can’t wait to meet you in real life one day and show you off to the world. You crazy, creative mama you :)

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Kim @ Little Stories August 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I get that! It’s surprising how much the amazing transition to motherhood can create an identity crisis for all of us. I know my husbands world has changed in 1,000 ways, but it doesn’t seem to have impacted him in the same way. On top of that, moms groups can be TRICKY. Everyone is feeling insecure about themselves in this new role and sometimes that insecurity can lead to that ever awful momparisons and judgements. I will say, along the way I’ve met some beautiful moms (like you) that let me get to know myself in a whole new way and help me along on this journey!

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Stacy of KSW August 23, 2012 at 4:12 am

oh Kim, I am sending you big warm hugs from across the internet. I can’t say I know exactly what you are going through, cause we all go through things our own way … but I have had a very similar experience. A go getter, world traveller, woman in leadership, shaping young minds and changing the world. Then, my husband was the one I watched slip in to ill health. Within 6 months, our lives were turned upside down. Moving to a new country, our forever jobs now a thing of the past, me 8 months pregnant for the third time and having to reinvent myself as a woman and mother. It’s been the most difficult transition I have ever had to make, this coming from a girl who was “adopted” 4 times and has moved more times than she can remember, really. It took me 3 years. Three. Years. to find myself. I’m glad you’re starting to realize who you are right now and be Ok with it, but just know it takes time. You have to get to know this new you all over again and find out what HER talents are and I assure you, she has them! I see them in you right now. Bless your heart and your sweet little babies. So glad to know you my friend.

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Kim @ Little Stories August 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Wow, Stacy. Thanks so much for your support and story. YOU, of all people, are adaptable and have been through enough in your life to know how to just roll with the punches. BUT, I’m sure at the point in your life, before your husband got sick, you thought you had settled in and and found your path. Then when his illness happened you were thrown for the loop of a lifetime. I think through our journeys we must have tapped on a part of the adult developmental sequence where you spend your 20s defining yourself and your 30s having that definition shattered, just to start over.

I know you have come out on the other side a beautiful, giving, and loving person. Your journey may have been tough but it’s brought you to just the right place! I wish your husband all of the health in the world and you two each day filled with gratitude and joy.

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Rachael Gander August 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm

what a great read! sending virtual hugs and thank yous… i feel certainly like i go through cycles where i worry more and then less and then more (and so on) about what i “should be” doing while i really should be focusing on what makes me happy, what is best for my family, and what i want to be building for the future. thanks for the reminder of what is truly important :) xo

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