When I learned that I was pregnant with my first son, I naively believed that his birth would put an end to my own spiritual growth. I recognized that his impending birth would mean significant changes in my life, but at that time I failed realize that my spiritual life would become an essential part of being a mother.
As mothers, most of us acknowledge that we make personal sacrifices every day to care for our families and we make them willingly. For me the challenge has always been finding the time and making my spiritual practices a priority. Parts of my spiritual practice do require time and solitude, and during some phases of my life as a mother it has been difficult to make them the priority that I really needed them to be.
But nothing needs to change to help us practice mindfulness, and motherhood in the midst of all its contentment and chaos is the perfect place to practice. We are given countless opportunities throughout each day to be mindful. Each moment in fact is an opportunity. We can be doing anything at any time and work on this aspect of our spiritual life. I consider hanging my laundry a sacred act. Each clothespin is a breath…and a prayer.
The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life. ~Robert Louis Stevenson
There are a couple of aspects of mindfulness that I have integrated into my life as a mother: using my breath and deep listening as a tools to help me stay grounded in the present moment, and approaching each moment and experience with curiosity, compassion, and in a way that allows me to make deep connections. These practices have been keenly helpful to me and not only serve me well in my role as a mother but also as a wife, daughter, friend, and as a person on a very large planet with many beings.
Sometimes out of the blue, I will hear Jude blowing air through his cheeks in a giant exhale…“I am taking deep breaths for you,” he will say. He has seen me do the same for him when he needed to be calmed. We have taken them together when we simultaneously need to be calmed. Sometimes, he refuses to do it, and I try to accept that and just do the breathing alone. The breathing helps us bring our attention back to our bodies…back to this moment. The breath is only now. The breath is the root of all moments, but we don’t often think about the breath we took 1 minute ago or 10 years ago or the ones we will take 10 minutes from now. So the breath is rooted in nowness, and it serves as a tool to help me connect with the present moment if I stray.
Smile, breathe, and go slowly. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It helps me connect with what is balanced in me before I act. And that moment (or split second) of mindfulness can make a world of difference. Hearing running water in the bathroom, opening the door to discover water all over the counter and the floor, and finding that the soap has been creatively reshaped into what appears to be a giant blob but what Jude insists is a boat is when that breath is critical.
Sometimes I need to take just need a few breaths to help me hone in on emotions that are keeping me stuck in mire that I really don’t need to be navigating. I’ve seen the same practice help my son. After a few breathes, he may be able to articulate what is at the root of a problem when he was not able to initially.
Usually, these emotions will quickly take on a physical manifestation. I think by breathing, we connect more deeply to our bodies and this allows those emotions to surface and be dealt with appropriately. We give them the attention they need, usually by giving them a label. My son knew how to say the word frustrating easily by the time he was two because I taught him how to use words to label his emotions. Once we have them out in the open, we can let them go and move onto the next moment without hanging onto unnecessary baggage that will keep us from fully experiencing the present moment.
Practicing deep listening with our children is so helpful for them and us. Shortly after starting pre-school during a time when I was a little busier than normal, I noticed that Jude was starting to talk in a little voice, and when I would ask him what he said, he would say, “I was just talking to myself.” It did not take me long before recognizing that this response was becoming a pattern. Instead of just saying “okay” and moving on to the next activity in our busy day, I made a conscious effort to stop everything, bend down and look him in the eyes when he used the “talking to myself” line. I told him “I am interested in what you are saying. What you have to say is important to me.” Most of the time he really did have something he wanted to say to me.
“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”-Sue Patton Thoele
Giving children the room to express themselves without judgment is really helpful to their development into the creative, independent people they are trying to become. We may not be able to control how all the other people in their lives interact with them, but we can control our own interaction with our children. Deep listening is a really important practice for children to receive and learn.
Reinforcing what comes naturally
Children model mindfulness most of the time. Watching my son work with his blocks, I notice that he is completely focused on what he is building. He is not thinking about whether to make biscuits for dinner or how a friend perceived the email they sent last week. In this sense, our children become our mindfulness teachers. As we watch them play, and play with them, we are given an opportunity to relearn the mindfulness that came natural to us as children.
A child reminds us that playtime is an essential part of our day. ~Anonymous
Everyday we spend some time outside. This allows us to connect with nature and reset our rhythm to the rhythm of the natural world. The natural world is on present moment time. We hear the spring peepers in the woods, but no matter how quiet we are they are elusive. This is just like the present moment. We cannot cling to it. We can only experience it.
We make connections to the living beings that we share our little pocket of the world with every day. We watch mergansers floating peacefully down the creek behind our home and connect with them on a level that helps us remember that we have that peace too. We notice raccoon prints in the mud and the crayfish shells on the bank. We talk about how nature has a balance, and we recognize a need for balance within ourselves. We care about these creatures because we notice them and we see ourselves in a web of life with them. It is very hard to have compassion for something or someone that you cannot relate to, and this is why I feel very passionate about exposing my child to the natural world, knowing that it serves as an important part of our mindfulness practice and feeds our souls.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~John Muir
I also find that interesting connections get made when I slow down enough to experience each moment completely and fully. When I am awake like this and face the moment with a sense of curiosity (instead of boredom, fear, reluctance, etc.), I take valuable lessons away from my experiences. These moments of deep mindfulness give me glimpses into a bigger world. Most of the time we are driving so fast, the world goes by in a blur and we just do the best we can to keep up. I once heard someone describe mindfulness was like pressing the defrost button in your car. It took me a long time before I realized there was even fog there.
It’s a practice
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. ~Winnie the Pooh
I call what I do ‘practicing mindfulness’. I only spend a small fraction of every day in this state. I am not perfectly mindful at every moment. But when I started this practice I began to notice more easily when I was not being mindful, and even that makes a difference. It shifts the energy. It reminds me to breath, again. It reminds me to re-center and focus on what is really happening at this moment. It reminds me to let go of tumultuous emotions so I can have curiosity and compassion in this moment. And I am comforted by the truth that it is important to show up even if I have missed a lot of life’s past performances. Each moment is a new opportunity for me to be fully engaged and alive, experiencing the miracle of life, as a mother.
Elizabeth Sterling is a mama who likes to play with blocks, words, pixels and considers hanging laundry and weeding as sacred acts. She shares her love of all things handmade, homemade and homegrown on her blog so wabi sabi and connects with others more deeply on threading light.