‘Joy & Gratitude can be very vulnerable & intense experiences. We are an anxious people and many of us have very little tolerance for vulnerability. Our anxiety & fear can manifest as scarcity. We think to ourselves:
- I’m not going to allow myself to feel this joy because I know it won’t last
- Acknowledging how grateful I am is an invitation for disaster’
Brene Brown The Gifts Of Imperfection, p77-85
Woah, this really resonated with me when I read it this weekend! Following on from my last post re: gratitude, I’ve been actively practicing gratitude for a few years now – yet I can totally relate to the fear and anxiety as Brene writes above.
Brene writes that as a Mum, the fear of something terrible happening to her children prevented her from fully embracing joy and gratitude. Have you ever had that where you are feeling joy watching your kids and you feel so grateful and then you feel fear – ‘this is too good to be true, how would I cope if something happened to them’ and then you spiral away from joy and gratitude to fear and anxiety? I certainly have!
Brene writes ‘Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss’.
‘We’re afraid to lose what we love most and we hate that there are no guarantees’.
‘We’re wrong. There is one guarantee: If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times’.
She goes on to share the idea that if we let go of the concept of ‘scarcity’ – e.g. not enough sleep, not good enough Mum, not enough money, not enough time and instead discover the mindset of sufficiency – – enough sleep, enough love, good enough Mum, good enough moment, enough time, we can see that ‘Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are’ (Marianne Williamson).
In Brene’s interviews with people who had experienced extreme trauma she reported ‘the memories that they held most sacred was the ordinary, everyday moments….their most precious memories were forged from a collection of ordinary moments and their hope for others is that they would stop long enough to be grateful for those moments and the joy they bring’.
It definitely gives you pause for thought….this moment right now is good, and the next moment, and the next! If we broke our days down to moments – there are 1000’s of ordinary moments that are GREAT, and if we paused, possibly joyful and something to be grateful for! – yet we can often allow one not great incident to colour our day.
So be conscious today – when are you able to be thankful for an ordinary moment and let the joy bubble up and be grateful for it (e.g. holding your child’s hand, hugging them goodbye, sharing a laugh) – and when do you feel vulnerable and the fear kicks in? Brene’s strategy in the vulnerable moments that I love and am now going to use is to say to yourself or out loud ‘I feel vulnerable and I’m grateful for….’
What are you feeling grateful for right now? What’s your favourite daily ordinary moment that you can pause a little longer in and relish a little more?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about how if we can change our focus then our whole outlook or ‘story’ of what just happened or is about to happen changes… and one of my teachers recently said: if we choose a particular focus we can create a whole new habit, an interesting thought….it really does seem like optimism & a positive outlook can be taught / learnt! It seems as though the brain is wired to find evidence for whatever we are focussed on so if we are convinced that person is annoying…then we will only notice his / her annoying behaviours whereas if we choose to focus on that person’s strengths we will notice them more and more.
This got me thinking of the mindfulness skill to broaden your focus from a narrow beam of spotlight to taking in the whole of life’s stage and in how many ways we can expand or change our awareness and choose to react differently. How many ways can you think of to change your focus or broaden your focus?? It is always hard to remember to do when you are tired or stressed but like any skill we just need to keep practising and reminding ourselves to do it! Here are a few I can think of for ourselves & for our kids:
1. Focus on what we think we or our children are doing well….and we’re more likely to see more of that rather than what we/they are not doing well
2. Focus on what went well during the day, rather than what didn’t.
3. Focus on what we have rather than don’t have
4. Focus on what we love or respect about that person rather than what irritates us
5. Focus on the longer term picture- will I remember this moment in 1 year / 5 years?
6. Focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do
7. Focus on where in our body is feeling comfortable and OK rather than where we feel pain
8. Focus on what is underlying the behaviour rather than the behaviour
9. Focus on what the underlying emotion is rather than the anger we see on the surface
Can you think of any more you can use?
It can even be taken literally – Focus on the view rather than on our feet! Or Zoom in & focus on your toes rather than your spiralling thoughts… Mmm it’s got me thinking, better stop focussing on the screen and instead focus on the view outside 🙂
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!!