It’s not perfect… it is as it is ….and within that are some really great moments!

moreton island

I was really lucky recently to be able to go camping on Moreton Island, QLD with my partner and four kids for 8 nights with just the basics (e.g. cold showers)…. and it really felt like a retreat from the world as we slept, snorkelled, kayaked, ate and slept some more!

But as the layers fell and we slowed down… and we focussed more on being and less on doing I noticed that even then….even when things were really peaceful and less stressful, my mind would STILL be classifying each moment as ‘like that’ or ‘don’t like that’ and I would be disappointed that this holiday wasn’t PERFECT!

It was almost as if by slowing down I became more aware of my mind’s ‘chatter’ and I was amazed that even when on a tropical island there was still potential to be unhappy… e.g. ‘it’s too hot’, ‘it’s raining’, ‘there’s mossies’, ‘I wish we had fresh fruit’ ‘the kids are fighting again’ etc. It didn’t seem to matter how relaxed we were I was still finding things I wanted to avoid or crave.    I would dwell on memories of  past holidays and wish that this one would have that same or even better moment of happiness, connectedness or relaxation…  I was spending a lot of my holiday in the past or the future and not in the present!

This got me thinking about the Buddhist principle that aversion & craving cause our suffering/distress.   As humans we tend to classify moments as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and crave more of the pleasant and try to avoid the unpleasant.  Maybe this is human nature and it may even be an important survival strategy?    But if we are to be content with the present moment we need to observe our judgements and not get too caught up in them.   E.g. ‘I’m having the thought that it would be really nice to have air conditioning/ a more comfortable mattress /  a hot shower right now’ and let that thought drift by and remain in the present moment…

As I noticed these thoughts and became less caught up in them I was able to be more and more immersed in the present and less and less bothered by the  ‘unpleasant’ features of camping.   Each time I noticed them I would think ‘This isn’t perfect, it is as it is, and within that are some really great moments!’ and somehow this helped – in fact it is still helping me to adapt to life back in the real world!

I hope you all had a good start to the New Year with some time to reflect and be mindful 🙂

Mindfulness & Children

My Favourite way of explaining the brain to children but also to parents! Thank you Dan Siegel!

Mostly I am so flat out with life and trying to be more mindful myself that I must admit I don’t do enough teaching of mindfulness to my 4 children….not as much as I would like to anyway!   Jon Kabat Zinn in his book ‘Parenting Mindfully’ believes it is enough for children to see their parent become more mindful – here’s hoping…

There have been a few easy strategies though that have really worked….and writing this blog renews my motivation to keep going!

1. The Mindful Minute: When we have just walked up to the top of a beautiful lookout as I am trying to appreciate the view often there will be a moan, whinge, tease  or complaint!   Asking everyone just for 1 minute of silence to see how many things they can hear or see or how many shades of green or blue can they see, gives me one minute to appreciate the view, at least two kids will get into it and find new things they weren’t aware of and whoever was in a bad mood gets a minute to calm down…..there’s always a shift in the atmosphere — we seem to all feel better for it afterwards, even if  there was rolling of eyes at the start!

2. Cultivating Gratitude: At the start of some meals just asking everyone to pause and talk about where the food came from, who cooked it, shopped for it, grew it, transported it OR to ask that everyone eats there first mouthful mindfully OR go around the table and say one thing you are grateful for….again there might be some reluctant participants but there is always a softening of the mood around the table, a re-connecting and the meal is more enjoyable!!

3. In times of pain or distress: helping children to focus on a different body part e.g. can you feel your toes, wiggle your toes, I’m going to squeeze your fingers….can be easier than asking them to breathe….I found this also eased my own distress and then I could begin to breathe deeper and model that for them.   There are also some beautiful visualisation meditations for children that I used for helping kids to go to sleep and if they are familiar with them then they can be perfect for using when your child is sick or in pain

4. Mindful Massage:  When my kids were young a friend recommended buying massage tools and encouraging your kids to ‘drive’ them over your back!  Another Mum used to lie on the floor and encourage her boys to drive their matchbox cars over her back!!   My kids still LOVE a massage and love giving one to….and BOTH can be very mindful – as the giver or the receiver…it’s a great way to reconnect without words!

5. Mindful Hug: Hugging until relaxed….hugging a loved one just a little bit longer & being really mindful about it- you can feel the tension drop away!

6. The BIG ONE- Dealing with BIG EMOTIONS!:  I have found this the hardest – but also the most essential.  For me the biggest thing to learn (&still learning as we enter the teen years) is how to sit with your child’s BIG emotions and not try to fix them or dismiss or minimise them but validate the emotions and importantly name them.   Then we needed to cultivate in our house the idea of ‘positive timeout’ (you can read more about it on http://www.positivediscipline.com ) where you are not ‘punished’ or sent away for feeling ANGER & FRUSTRATION but instead shown how to find ways to calm yourself down BEFORE communicating about the problem!   We still have a long way to go in our house with this one – when the anger & frustration is directed at me I find it VERY hard not to buy into it…..but I felt like we got somewhere when my eldest at 13 said ‘Mum I’ve learnt that the best thing to do when I’m feeling angry is to go for a bike ride, then I feel better’   It has really helped to talk to my children about how the emotional brain works (fight, flight or freeze response & the brain in the hand model – see the youtube clip above by Dan Siegel) and how we can calm it down but I haven’t done it for awhile so this is inspiring me to bring it up again as it is such an important part of life….if only I had learnt how to handle emotion when I was a child / teen rather than as a new Mum at 27!!!!

It is great writing this as it gives me heart that perhaps I have introduced more mindfulness into our house than I first thought and also it’s strengthened my commitment to persist!  My favourite books on the subject are Dan Siegel ‘ The Whole Brain Child’ http://www.drdansiegel.com/ and Goldie Hawn ’10 Mindful Minutes’.   The best program within schools that I can find is MINDUP  http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/ – Goldie Hawn is the passionate founder and they have just had a series of workshops in Australia.  How amazing would that be if in every school, in every class, kids were being taught 10 minutes of mindfulness!!!  The results they have got so far in the states seem amazing!!