Simple Gratitude

IMG_0449One of the most profound things that I have learned as a parent is that in order to get anything done, I must find a way to make things simpler and easier.

I haven’t figured out how to fit hour-long meditations into my routine, so my mindfulness practice now focuses on more informal, moment to moment compassionate awareness.

No longer do I attend 1.5 hour-long yoga classes, instead I do 45-60 minute exercise videos or online yoga classes during my son’s naps.

I don’t dedicate a whole Sunday to cleaning anymore – I sweep a room here or there when I have an extra moment.

I shop online - for almost everything.

And in honor of simplifying life, I have decided to make this blog space a whole lot simpler too, with a clear focus and intention: GRATITUDE! Gratitude for the big things and for all the little things that happen in between, for the joyful moments and the challenges. Gratitude for all of the Shits & Giggles of parenting! (More on Shits & Giggles coming soon!)

Here’s how gratitude works: It makes you feel good. Studies show it makes you happier, healthier, and it helps you sleep. Only good things can come from gratitude practice.

Okay, ready? Let’s get started!

THIS WEEK I AM GRATEFUL FOR:

1. Learning about Sacred Pregnancy in an intimate and creative mini-workshop, and having the opportunity to collage my own candle using Mod Podge (a must-have for collage-making!)

2. My Sister-in-Law, who spends quality time with my son while attending Midwifery school, teaches me about the wonders of coconut, and comes around almost every day so that we truly feel the special connection of family on a regular basis.

3. My sweet nighttime routine with my son that I rush home for every day. We eat, take a bath, breastfeed, read books, and then sing while my son lays his head on my shoulder. I melt!!

4. Sharing a very special night with my creative and grounded girl friends, writing and illustrating on a freshly painted chalkboard wall our intentions and prayers for ourselves, each other, and all the universe.

5. Skyping and Facetiming with our parents, who live nowhere near San Diego but thanks to technology get the chance to see our son eating his yams and splish splashing in the bath.

That was very simple. That was FUN!

Check out this quick video on helping teach gratitude to your children!

Dear Sprout, What are YOU grateful for?

Let’s go  - GIVE ME YOUR GRATITUDES!!

 

How Do You Choose?

“The only advantage in not being too good a housekeeper is that your guests are so pleased to feel how very much better they are.” Eleanor Roosevelt

IMG_2728Yesterday while my son was taking his morning nap (yes, he actually takes naps now – brilliant!), I ran around my living room like a crazy person trying to decide how to spend this precious time. My initial thought was, “Okay, I’m finally going to do those dishes from last night (and the night before – ew).” But on my way to the kitchen, I realized “Actually, the laundry needs doing. My husband stinks and I’m out of bras.” And then suddenly an ambitious burst of energy came over me, and I jumped, “Wait! Where’s my computer? I’m going to work on my blog! I promised myself I was not going to neglect my writing!” My husband then walked into the room watching me spin all tornado-like, announcing,”I’m going for a run.” Aha! I haven’t worked out in weeks! So I changed my mind once again. “I’m going to exercise!” I swiftly put on my workout clothes for fear of my son waking up soon, because this process of decision-making had already taken me 20 minutes.

We all have a million things we can do in any given moment of “free” time. How do you choose how to spend your time? How do you tap into your inner wisdom and take action in a way that aligns with your core values? How do you establish balance in your individual ecosystem? How do you know what action (or non-action) is going to contribute to your overall well-being on a given day?

In my experience, my go-to autopilot activity these days is usually dishes or laundry. Sounds pretty lame, I know. And although I DESPISE cleaning and lament at most housewife duties (except baking cookies), I know that having a clean clutter-free environment helps me to think more clearly and relax. However, this feeling is typically short-lived, because there’s always more cleaning and laundry to do – this task never ends. I’ve been told that washing dishes is a great opportunity for practicing mindfulness, but I typically thwart this opportunity to think of clever come-backs (or fantasize about hiring a house cleaner). I’m sure I could practice mindfulness during this time, it’s just that I typically don’t.

If I have learned a thing or two about myself in the past 35 years, it’s that physical activity is a surefire opportunity for mindfulness practice. Even if I start out with a racing mind and rushing emotions, usually about 20 minutes in I’m able to practice observing sensation without judgment. For me exercise is the best path to non-judgment, because if I follow my automatic thoughts (“This is hard, and I’m not very good at it,”) I will eventually convince myself that there’s no point in doing something so demeaning. The hedonist in me wonders, “Why suffer?” The Eastern European Jew in me challenges, “My ancestors suffered for this?” So if I stick with that line of judgmental thinking, I’ll just give up.

Luckily – and this has been many years in the making – I love moving my body too much to give up. Moving my body is a gateway to moving my mind. I never regret exercising, even if I’m terribly sore the next day. Exercise is never wasted time because it has long-lasting benefits. When I exercise in the morning, even when I think I’d rather a nap, I have more energy all day long – and it’s more positive, helpful, useful energy. My mind is clear and sharp, my mood is stable, I breathe more deeply and more often, and I eat and digest better. I feel more like writing and I’m more likely to publish my blog because I’m less fearful about what others will think. I care less about the dishes in the sink or the dirty clothes (and I usually find a way to tend to them anyway).

Can exercise really be this powerful? I guess so – it is for me. How do you decide how to spend your precious time? What makes you come alive?

Dear Sprout,
Let’s get physical. I love you.

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

 

Mindful Resurrection: A Confession

IMG_0937This is a confession…It has been 2 months since my last post. My hopes for this blog were to document my attempts to practice mindfulness while learning how to be a parent. I envisioned finding ways of fitting formal mindfulness practices into my day, perhaps in a cutely clumsy way, with my hair and clothes askew, but still with a tired sort of glowing smile. This is how I pictured myself as a parent.

The reality is, a shower every other day has been my most glamorous indulgence, and during these luxurious 5 minutes I’m lamenting at how desperately the bathroom tiles need scrubbing and aghast at the large amounts of hair falling out of my scalp. My mind is FULL, alright – too often full of fears, worries, criticisms, and frustrations. I know, I sound dramatic and ungrateful.

This is not to say that I don’t feel endless joy and elation every day, seeing my son’s smile, playing with him, cuddling, and giggling. There are so many great highs as a parent, and some of the time I even think I’m doing a good job. Yes, I’ve sat on my meditation cushion with my son in my lap for as long as he can stand (2 minutes) while breathing, watching, noticing, fully aware. I take him to mommy and me yoga, pass him around the table while lunching with friends, take daily walks to the park, turn on the music loudly and have a dance party while doing the dishes, wear him in the baby carrier while picking tomatoes, peppers, and carrots from the garden. It’s not that things are so terrible really or that I’m doing my son any kind of parenting disservice, it’s that I think I’m going a little bit crazy and my neuroses are out of control, and that doesn’t feel good. That’s why I practice mindfulness, and that’s why I wanted to write about practicing mindfulness as a parent (who also happens to be a psychologist), because I know that we need honesty and support and I know that I’m not alone.

I think that the main reason for my lapse in writing, besides sleep deprivation and a pinch of indulgent self-loathing, is that I have been unclear about my purpose here. Do I really have anything to say, and to whom? Should this be personal or professional (can it be both)? What do mamas and papas interested in mindfulness really want and need? Personally, I’ve been enjoying honest accounts of what parenting can be (check out this Ted Talk). It’s validating. It’s funny. It’s helpful. Idealistic or rigid parenting advice just doesn’t resonate.

I think I’ve been trying too hard to offer a perfectly wrapped package of mindful parenting, rather than reflecting on the messiness I’ve been experiencing. And when I do admit to some chaos I feel responsible to make perfect sense of it all before sharing it with anyone. But as I wait for everything to smooth out and return to “normal,” I’m unfortunately unaware of the beauty living here in the muck with me right now.

The truth is I’m not sure that I know how to be a mindful parent yet, because I’m still figuring out how to be a parent. My mindfulness practice feels like a distant relative that I think of often but just can’t bring myself to pick up the phone to call. I want to, I really do, but what if it’s awkward? What if I make all these promises about keeping in touch more often and then it’s months again until we reconnect? Can we just send texts and comment on each other’s facebook photos?

To improve my relationship with my mindfulness practice, I’m intending to try less and to observe more. I wonder if relieving the pressure to be mindful will allow me to witness the moment more clearly. Sometimes intentionality and practice come in a different form than hard work. This moment in my life calls for some stopping and watching and a whole lot of melting, softening, and opening. What’s calling to you?

Want to journey with me? I intend to not be such a stranger :)

Dear Sprout,
You are the cutest most wondrous child on the planet! 
I’ve been trying my best, but I don’t think trying is really serving me right now, so instead I’m just going to be my best and see how that goes. Seems to work really well for you. I love you, Mom

 

Planting Seeds, or The Worst Kind of Worrier

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I am often inspired by Tricycle Magazine’s Daily Dharma emails. This recent entry reminded me of mindfulness and parenting:

When you plant seeds in the garden, you don’t dig them up every day to see if they have sprouted yet. You simply water them and clear away the weeds; you know that the seeds will grow in time. Similarly, just do your daily practice and cultivate a kind heart. Abandon impatience and instead be content creating the causes for goodness; the results will come when they’re ready.- Thubten Chodron, “Meditator’s Toolbox”

I tend to be the worst kind of worrier. Quite often when I wake up I wonder what I should be worrying about. I worry about watching TV while I’m nursing – “Didn’t I read that it’s dangerous for kids under a certain age to watch TV?” I worry that when I worry my son will pick up on my emotions and become the worst kind of worrier too.

I know I’m not the only worrier here. We all think about the long-term consequences of our choices as parents. For me, the difference between worrying and thinking ahead is a poignant and disturbing sense of dread, imagining devastation and destruction should the worst possible thing happen. And now that I’m a parent it’s even worse, because if I fall, then this vulnerable child that I am wholly responsible for will fall with me. It’s a fear of inevitable doom. This sense of groundlessness leaves me shaking in my boots, and quite honestly, I am so over it!

In order to tackle my worry in a friendly, compassionate way, I am invoking a sense of trust. I desire to trust that whatever doom and gloom may come, whatever it is that I cannot control, whatever demons may be living under my bed – I can handle it. I may not be able to prevent it from rearing its ugly head, but I can look it in the eye and say, “Hey, what’s up? I’ve been waiting for you. I am ready.” 34 years of worrying must have made me prepared me for this, right? Rather, the worrying has only prepared me for more worrying. What prepares me for trust is every time I take a deep breath and say, “I got this.” Trust is breathing into it when my heart sinks or I get that dreadful feeling in my stomach or my mind starts spinning with atrocities. Just one breath at a time. I breathe in the abundant universe that offers everything that I need. I breathe out the fear of not having enough, and I give more. When I give freely and with trust, I receive more than I could have imagined.

Our children are constantly observing us, picking up on very subtle aspects of our nature and energy. They sense our emotions (whether they are conscious or unconscious), and they observe our facial expressions and our reactions to our environment. There are impacts that we cannot know or plan for. We must simply plant seeds, water them and give them sun and shade as they need, and then wait.

We can plant seeds by listening and responding patiently to the needs of our children. We can give what we can and accept that which we cannot give. We can be compassionate and forgiving of ourselves and others. And we can accept our emotions, even those we are least comfortable with, trusting ourselves to be able to feel them and watch them come and go. From this daily practice of planting seeds, we can trust that both our growth and our child’s growth will come with time.

Dear Sprout,
I’m trying not to worry so much. I’m trying to trust myself and the environment, hoping that this will help you to be confident and at peace with yourself and the world around you. Sometimes I am scared, and fear is a normal emotion, but I hope that you can feel fear and also grow through fear. I promise to never stop working on this, for both of us. I love you.

How do you trust? What seeds do you wish to plant?

Mindful Parenting Vows

IMG_1408I recently came across Dr. Sears’ blog and read a post about Making Parenting Vows to Your Children. We typically make wedding vows to our partners in front of a crowd of loved ones, which gives us time to consider and publicly state our intentions for the kind of partner we want to be. Writing and stating these vows can be an emotional experience, and remembering them can come in handy especially when we don’t like the kind of partner we are being. My partner and I regularly bring up our vow to accept each other’s ideas when we’re brainstorming or problem-solving, rather than shooting ideas down. We also joke about our inability to keep our promise that we would close the bathroom door every once in a while.

I love the idea of creating vows as parents for our children. Although much of what we do as parents is obvious, such as feeding and cleaning and monitoring safety, we also have values that inform how we parent. But when we are tired, overwhelmed, or hungry, we may lose sight of our values. Parents get a lot of advice from other parents, and although we may sometimes seek out this advice, ultimately we end up staying with the things that just feel right to us. If we’re all truly listening to our instincts, then we’ll all parent a little bit different than each other. This can be the beauty of not having a manual for parenting – we can do it our way – as difficult as it may be to figure out at first.

I thought I’d try to write some parenting vows to Sprout – at first on my own, and then to share with my partner. I’ve decided to keep them simple, to make them more memorable during the times when I need them the most. Here goes…

Dear Sprout,

1. I promise to be aware of my body language and facial expressions, because I know that you are looking to me to determine whether you can feel safe or not.

2. I promise to talk to you and look into your eyes as much as possible, because I know you are listening and looking for familiarity.

3. I promise to not only be gentle with you, but also to be gentle with myself, daddy, and others, so that you can learn to be gentle with yourself and others too. The better we take care of ourselves the better we can take care of you.

4. I promise to be aware of your physical and verbal cues, so that I can attempt to meet your needs before you cry. And when you cry, I will know that you are communicating with me, and I promise to help soothe you in whatever way I can so that you can also learn how to soothe yourself.

5. I promise to teach you new things, but to also help you learn how to learn. I don’t know everything, and neither will you, but we can learn things together.

6. I promise to help create a House of Love with daddy, where we are all accepted and loved for who we are, and where we can always get cuddles, hugs, and kisses.

7. I promise to pay attention to the things that you are interested in and that make you excited, so that I can help you develop in these areas.

8. I promise to accept that I will make mistakes as a parent, and that you will also make mistakes. I will do my best to show you that learning from mistakes is not only okay, but an important opportunity for growth.

I think that’s a good start for now. What parenting vows would you create for your children? If you get stuck, try thinking about the values that inform what you already do as a parent on a daily basis. And remember, you need not be perfect at this. The intention to follow through on your vows is what your children will notice. Saying sorry to your children can also be a good thing.

 

 

Parenting is Mindfulness

DSCF0265I’m not sure how I managed to blog during my first week of parenting (it must have been that my very helpful sister-in-law was in town), but since then I’ve just been trying to keep up. If all I do during a day is breastfeed and change diapers, I consider it an accomplishment. Caring for the basic needs of my newborn really is the most essential task at hand right now, right?

I’ve been learning more about how to be a parent every day. Week 5 has already been drastically different from week 4. With my husband home on the weekends, I am able to brush my teeth without simultaneously going to the bathroom and singing made-up songs to my son to keep him occupied. Rather than mindfully brushing my teeth with awareness, this morning I reflected upon how I can apply mindfulness to my past few whirlwind weeks of mothering a newborn.

It occurred to me that each task as a parent provides an opportunity to practice the qualities of mindfulness.

Beginner’s Mind: With each new moment, we begin again. Comparing one moment to the next or comparing our child to someone else’s child, or even to another of our own children, is useless. We can only observe the child that is right in front of us and learn what is needed in each moment. Every day we have to try something new because what we tried yesterday suddenly doesn’t work.
Patience: I’m learning that with a newborn, attempting to adhere to any kind of schedule makes things more difficult for me and my baby. Paying attention to each task one at a time helps me to be more mindful and enjoy myself more, and my baby is calmer and happier too.
Compassion & Acceptance without Judgement: We make mistakes and things do not always go as planned (perhaps we keep this is mind when attempting to make plans). Our partners do things differently than we do and sometimes our friends and family don’t know what we need or how to be helpful.
Trust: It’s scary to think that we are responsible for meeting every need of our children. We need to listen to our instincts and trust that we know how to respond to their needs. We also need to trust our partner’s instincts even when they are different from our own.
Non-striving: Attachment to outcomes leads to disappointment, frustration, sadness, and anxiety. Whatever the moment brings is enough. When we think that we really need to finish the laundry or pick up the toys, we may ask ourselves if these chores are essential or not.

How do you apply the concepts of mindfulness to your day-to-day interactions with your children?

Dear Sprout,
There are times when it is so easy to simply look in your eyes and listen to the sounds you make. During these moments there is nothing else, only you and me. But sometimes, I’m making lists, reading blogs, or looking on Facebook while you are breastfeeding. My monkey mind reminds me of all the tasks I used to take care of, of all the things I haven’t done. You give me so many opportunities to acknowledge my thoughts and emotions and return to the moment, with your sweet breath and sparkling eyes. I may think that I need to do this or that, but you remind me that all I need to do is love you right now.

 

Motherhood Week 1

My son was born on February 22, 2013. He is just over 1 week old. Giving birth to him was the most humbling and honoring experience of my life. I learned that childbirth demands mindfulness. A woman in laborland lives one moment at a time as her body and her baby undergo one contraction at a time. During labor I had moments of fear while watching sensations become more and more intense. As a first time mom, I was not sure how intense it would get or what I could handle. There was no anticipating or problem-solving or figuring it out – there was only 32 Between contractions I had moments of peace and relief. There was no lamenting the last contraction or worrying about the next one – there was only calm, rest, and regeneration. In my experience, childbirth and labor were my body’s lesson about what mindfulness can be.

And now, Motherhood Week 1. There is an abundance of emotions, and I’m watching them ebb and flow, rapidly at times. I feel these emotions so intensely, and yet I don’t always feel the emotions that I think I should. I didn’t quite expect to feel ecstatic, sad, joyful, scared – all at the same time, but I do. There are certainly moments when it is easy to be enthralled in the moment: watching my son enjoy the warm water of his first bath, watching him sleep, smelling the sweetness of his head, and looking into his eyes as they see things for the first time. Yet there are also times when I become engaged in my thoughts, worried about how I’m going to fare when my husband goes back to work. There’s judgment of myself and what I should be feeling, doing, and saying. I think I have my priorities straight in that I know what’s important to me and my 1-week old baby: skin-to-skin contact, safety, nourishment, and sleep. Not much else really matters at this point, but as a modern American woman and parent I have certain expectations for myself. My midwives told me to consider breastfeeding and changing diapers an accomplishment within a day, and now I know why.

As challenging as these wavering emotions can be, I am attempting to adopt an attitude of curiosity rather than judgment“Huh, I’m noticing a sense of dread.” And then, if I keep noticing, something else comes along. Sometimes love, sometimes fear. I am also reminding myself to be accepting of my ever-changing emotions – especially during this most profound life transition. We shift into parenthood so quickly. I was pregnant 1.5 weeks ago – and now, I’m not, and now, I am responsible for a child! I’m a mother! This is crazy!

Talking to other mothers who understand the postpartum emotional ride has been immensely valuable. Something I’ve noticed, though, is that not all mothers wish to discuss these things – some change the subject and appear uncomfortable admitting to anything but “moodiness” after childbirth. So I do my best to talk to those who will listen, validate, and normalize my experience. As mothers we’re expected to be tired, overwhelmed, sore – but we’re also expected to be happy most of the time. Thus, I have found it essential to watch my mental, emotional, and physical experiences in their purest and simplest state so that I may decrease any suffering that can come from my own or others expectations and judgments. It is definitely a work in progress.

Dear Sprout,

Sometimes I cry when I look at you, because I am falling in love more with you every minute. Sometimes I am sad but much of the time I am not. It’s okay that I am sad sometimes, and it’s okay that I’m scared sometimes, or worried, lonely, or angry. I am also very happy, in awe, serene, and excited to be your mother. Emotions change. So if you see me cry, know that it’s okay, and when you cry, I’ll remind you that it’s okay too. We will also laugh together just as intensely.