I have finally become the master of mindfulness in spite of being a mom to a teen and a pre-teen, the owner of a loving dog who makes the Energizer bunny seem like a slug, and having so many personal and professional and volunteer commitments that even the most robust hard drives crash within months of my owning them.
For years I have devoured books by Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rick Warren, Mother Theresa, Liz Gilbert, the Dalai Lama, Don Miguel Ruiz, Joel Osteen, Deepak Choprah, Brene Brown… and I learned a ton of interesting, inspiring stuff that certainly helped me in situations where it felt like I was a caged tiger, or a fish out of water, or surrounded by wild monkeys. Of course, through all of these books, the main thing I learned was that the wild monkeys inside my brain were the ones to tame, and one can do this by being present, setting good intentions, living purposefully, serving others, eating, praying and loving in exotic locales, and following at least four key agreements.
The problem was that I often found myself resentful of these masters of enlightened living, because while I read these books, everyone in the house was fast asleep, I had surrendered to the realization that what was going to get done that day was done, what wasn’t, could wait till the next day, and the only sound was from my white noise machine next to my bed. It is easy to be mindful and in the present when the wild monkeys have called it a day. In the heat of the moment, such as when listening to my kids fight, or I witnessed or was taunted by closed-minded dogma, or the dog dug six deep holes in the front yard, or someone I had believed to be loyal and kind behaved in the opposite manner, or I wondered how we were going to pay for something, or I felt guilty about not feeling the deep satisfaction from domestic chores that I had thought I was supposed to feel, or the kids hated a meal I had spent more than ten minutes preparing… well, I found it quite impossible during these daily happenings to channel all these wise authors and speakers. I would forget or refuse to dig into my mindfulness toolbox: to stop, take deep breaths, consider that nothing is permanent, focus on five things for which I am grateful, imagine how Jesus would act, not take anything personally and focus on being impeccable with my word. I decided that the reason that all these masters of mindfulness and peaceful wisdom are so successful at all these great methods is that they are either childless or much older, they are male (therefore presumably not the main caregiver), or they regularly smoked peyote. I decided that really achieving this level of enlightenment would be a luxury I would attain later in life, when my kids were out of the house and I could do all the eating, praying and loving I wanted. In fact, I could even spend as much time in the bathroom as I wanted, without someone banging on the door.
My kids are still at home, in fact they are in a stage that when I tell people their ages, they give me this look of knowing and sympathy (which I find amusing, because I far prefer parenting teens to toddlers; at least teens can help me figure out my iPhone). The dog is still a howling, loving mess; I am training for my third Ironman triathlon while teaching several Poga classes a week; I am launching a new business in 2 weeks with a registered dietician, where we will teach people a whole new approach to physical and emotional health; the summer triathlon camp I coach for 6 weeks is gearing up for the 6th year and has grown to 8 camps; and I am very involved with a fantastic foundation to help prevent violence to self and others by understanding and nurturing brain health. In spite of the responsibilities I carry, I am happy to say that I think I finally get this mindfulness thing. I was exaggerating with my first statement about “mastering” it, but I do feel like I have moved from Mindfulness 101 to perhaps 201 or even 251. I am currently enrolled in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, and I suppose that all of the reading and online courses and podcasts I have read, taken and listened to up to now, primed the pump, so I was ready to dive into MBSR. The daily commitment to 45+ minutes of meditation was something I was looking forward to, rather than stressing over or being terrified by, like I know some of my friends would be, judging from the incredulity on their faces when I share that requirement with them.
At this stage in my mindfulness journey, and in my life, mindfulness looks like this. It is not sitting in an ashram in some beautiful setting, or living on some higher plane impervious to the annoyances and frustrations of life in the real and virtual world. I still get annoyed, my blood still boils, I still feel like Unfriending people on Facebook and yelling at my kids and giving up on unmotivated would-be clients. In other words, mindfulness is not about not feeling and thinking all of those emotions and thoughts we consider negative. Rather, it’s about becoming aware of them and acknowledging them. It’s about realizing that these thoughts and feelings – anger, anxiety, sadness, frustration, defensiveness, guilt, resentment, boredom, hopelessness – are impermanent, are separate from us and do not define us, and they certainly do not control us.
It’s also about being kind and compassionate to ourselves – in fact, that is the most important part. So, for example, when I lie down to do a 45 minute body scan, and I realize I have fallen asleep for the top half of my body portion of the scan, I kindly tell myself, I needed the rest, and I am all the better for having napitated.
It is a practice and our daily life with all of its challenges is the perfect training plan and center. Research on meditation, including MBSR, indicates that within weeks, the brain changes, as revealed by brain scans. I haven’t had my brain scanned but in the six weeks since my course started, I certainly feel that I have achieved a certain non-reactiveness and deeper sense of peace. And a really cool thing is that I notice that as the monkeys in my brain are kindly but firmly handled, the monkeys around me appear more peaceful too.
I cannot stand the word “submission” unless it’s referring to a race entry, so when our 6-week marital group session was going to be about submission, the feisty warrior side of me sprung up, ready for battle. Our group is Christian-based and while the little video we watched (each of the 6 sessions deals with a marriage-relevant topic and we start with a 20 minute video to spur on a discussion) was definitely not the way I would have explored this subject, the ensuing discussion with my friends brought up some interesting points. The main point, for me, was the power that we women have in setting the tone for a happy marriage and family unit.
The day of our group happened to be International Women’s Day. But I don’t need an occasion (yet to be discovered by Hallmark, apparently) for me to be reminded of how absolutely awesome we women are. Earlier in the day Bill (my husband) and I went for a long run and as we ran single-file, on the side of the road as the sidewalks were still ice-covered, sometimes Bill was in the lead and sometimes I was. It depended on who felt the need to go ahead (his nickname is Hill Billy for a reason – he charges up them), or who dropped behind (I stopped to take some pictures). It occurred to me a few times that in some cultures, women MUST always be behind their husband when walking in public. When I thought of that, I felt grateful that I live in a country and within a marriage where the freedom to lead or to follow is granted, and taken for granted.
This morning a friend of mine posted a link to a video, on Facebook, about the way a child’s developing brain is affected by violence. A child’s brain is such a sponge, especially in the first 3 years, that even an infant’s brain is severely impacted by exposure to an environment steeped in physical violence, verbal abuse, non-love. The friend who shared this powerful video is one of the 20 families whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a young man whose life was a series of missed opportunities for members of his family and community and government to choose to LEAD by SUBMITTING to do the right thing.
See, submission doesn’t have to be a bad word. Just like when you hit the SUBMIT button on a race registration or a job or school application or a plane ticket purchase – this action can trigger a mix of excitement, dread, fear, motivation, inertia, self-doubt, valor, determination. In the marital group, we spoke of how even in the Christian, Scripture-based context of submission, the important part of it is that it occurs with a huge level of mutual trust and love. These are the crucial ingredients, otherwise submission in marriage is like making oatmeal cookies and omitting the oatmeal (I actually did this once, by mistake, and they were hard and gross and I threw them out).
I still have issues with some interpretations of Biblical submission, but I won’t get into that here. Rather, what I want to emphasize is that as a gender, we women are really powerful beyond what we, through the actions and attitudes I see every day, realize or appreciate. In the virtual and the real world, I see people, especially women, submitting to what I can only see as behavior and attitudes that reflect feelings of inadequacy, comparison, hyper-consumerism. I have been a student – a disciple – of mindfulness for years, even before yoga became the new step aerobics, and whether it’s on Facebook or in other media, I am often aware of the mindlessness with which so many of us live our days. In fact, last week, when the local superintendent made the call not to cancel school due to weather, the discussion in the local parents group was so conflict-ridden that the regional newspaper printed an article about it (so long, in fact, that it spread to 2 pages). I could not help but think gosh, so many of us have plenty of great intentions to effect change, and yet we are spending our gifts of time and other resources on stuff that when you really think about it, do not really affect the quality of our long-term life. At least not in a positive way. We submit to the petty stuff because it is easier to rise to the bait in online conversations, or purchase the quick fix solution to our unhappiness, in the form of quick weight-loss systems or the latest brand-name boots. Soon the effects of either purchase wear off and then you need to get the next one.
Let us be mindful. Let us submit to courage, to compassion, to authenticity. Rather than carefully crafting this online and in-person image behind which we hide our messy selves, our inner demons, our fear of rejection – let us surrender all of that and reach out. The wrestling or hockey or ballet mom who has that hard edge or aloof air, may be suffering in shameful silence over God knows what. That online parent who makes those blanket, opinionated statements – let us be the ones to model Taking a Breath and then either choose to not engage, or better yet, privately reach out to suggest a coffee. Face-to-face conversation which has been preceded by setting an intention to truly listen, can be life-changing. Everyone is struggling with something.
Let us submit, by being brave enough to step out of our comfortable autopilot setting and into someone else’s world. Let us ask meaningful questions and even more importantly, really listen to the answers. There is no such thing as “not my business” because everything we do as moms, parents, humans, has a direct effect on the world around us. I believe as women, one of our many gifts is to set the tone for the day, for the family and beyond.
When the intention is one of love and compassion, and we commit to truly listening, the question that we may have perceived as “none of my business” can become the first step in transforming someone’s – and therefore everyone’s – world. And that is all of our business.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.