Tuning in ... and out
One of the most rewarding parts of parenting is that moment when you see your child really GET a new thing. It can be small such as the moment the butterfly alights on their arm when they can take a deep breath and know to be still. It can be big like realizing how much power their words can have when they express true gratitude for something. It’s that awareness of what can be, what they can accomplish, sometimes without even doing more than just being aware of their impact on others, that is so very powerful.
How do you teach that? How do you help a child learn that sometimes being and letting others be, and just being aware of all of that is actually a beautiful experience? The best way to teach this is to do it yourself; you know, there’s a lot of power in mimicry. Let me ask you this: When was the last time you put aside your busyness to just be, and to really focus on what was around you as you enjoyed your stillness? Or to be fully aware of how what you do or say impacts others?
What is mindfulness, exactly? In essence, it is tuning in. Paying attention. Focusing on details. It is acting intentionally instead of reactively. It is not multi-tasking. Letting the importance of a space, a moment, an experience, take precedence over all else, and savoring. Paying attention to how you feel, what your senses are whispering, focusing on that one thing, keeping reactions at bay, and giving it the time it is due before moving on. Not only does mindfulness help your thoughtfulness and gratitude grow, but it also builds your ability to channel your thoughts in a deliberate manner; focus is an important skill that one must hone in order to develop. Mindfulness helps us to tame our reactions, embrace calm, and put thought into responses. Mindfulness is acknowledging the feelings you are having, and not letting them take over. Mindfulness is staying in the present, letting your mind really see what it is you are focusing on, and teaching it to not think about what was, or what will be. Mindfulness is not necessarily meditation, but it can be, as both concept embrace being present and focusing.
Quite literally, practicing mindfulness changes the brain: just like exercise strengthens the connections between muscles and bones, mindfulness strengthens the connections between different parts of the brain, a one of which is especially active during times of big emotions and the part that is the calm observer. By giving these two parts of the brain stronger connections, the calm part can help weigh in more when anxiety or stress rears its ugly head. ‘What if’ thoughts are less stressful to a brain that can stay relaxed and focus on the now.
Confession time: I’m a bit of a hypocrite, actually. Here I am telling you to be mindful, to deliberately take the time to just be and I am also admitting that rather than following my own advice, I often feel as though my cup (and plate, and every proverbial utensil) runneth over. I feel like I must go go go because there isn’t enough time for x, y and/or z. Still, even with that, I do try my best to take the time, as often as I can to just be. To stop and focus on what’s around me, and enjoy the silence, or the noise or whatever is around. Being deliberately aware of what is or is not around can help one to develop their skills for empathy, and for looking outside one’s own self. Being aware of your impact on others or seeing how well things flow around you brings awareness of your space and the space of others, reducing the focus on self. By focusing less on our own self, we start realizing that just like we are responsible for our own self and our own actions, so are others; our own self-efficacy goes hand-in-hand with that of others’. This is a powerful concept to own.
Each relocation we make, I find myself searching for a favorite place to be focused and aware. Typically, it is our garden but at our current house, we don’t have much of one. We are doing our best with pots, and that is a nice new challenge. So here, I find myself tuning in as I am puttering around our space, watering pots and checking on their progress. I love watching the progress the orchid pots are making; these are new to me, and every new stem or shoot makes me feel like I am stepping closer to figuring out a new skill. Usually one or the other of the boys comes out and helps, either to poke around in the outdoor space, or to chat for a few minutes before hopping on their bike or scooter. They understand the beauty of being surrounded by green, and the benefits that come from the calm provided here. I can come out, and just observe life going on around me. The kids see that and are starting to develop their own tools for tuning in.
More so, I find myself turning to yoga. This is one of the birthplaces of the practice, and finding a studio to meet my needs is definitely not difficult. I find that the time on the mat is a good place for introspection and self-reflection. Not often in this busy life do we get the opportunity to really focus on ourselves, especially after we begin our parenting journey. Having the time to think about ourselves - present, as well as past and future - in a detached manner is an opportunity to better assess the circumstance. I say detached because at the time, during your practice, you are not going to do anything about it, because you are in the middle of your flow. Having the chance to gain some mental clarity on a situation is a gift of yoga. I do often find I have come to some sort of conclusion or have an a-ha moment, but because I am not able to immediately act upon it, I get the richness of added detail that I might otherwise miss if I were instead able to immediately act. While on the mat (and afterwards), you are given the gift of time to really turn off your brain from all of the little to-dos you need to accomplish. Instead, it is you, your breath, your mat, and the movements you are engaging in.
Mindfulness and the gift of that brief pause and reflection instead of immediate reaction is a skill to learn, for sure. It can be easier to leave this sort of lesson up to others. Oh sure, you think: Their teacher will give them some lessons on mindfulness. And while this may be true, incorporating more mindfulness in your own life is a good thing: being more purposefully focused in your life, and learning how to accept without judgment plays a role in well-being and satisfaction. Mindfulness plays a key role in happiness, and who doesn’t want to be more happy, right?
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