There’s been a lot of attention on mindfulness and the benefits of this form of meditation. Mindfulness can be described as a particular way to deliberately pay attention to something that you have chosen. Mindfulness exercises usually have people focusing on breath, an object, or even a task like washing dishes. Usually people discuss mindfulness in the context of stress reduction. Mindfulness meditation has been found by research to be related to increased happiness and inducing calm.
How does mindfulness work? Well, like many forms of meditation, it relies on a person using his “mind” to direct his “brain”. An example is probably needed here… a simple mindfulness exercise could be for you to sit, close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing for five minutes. In order to have your brain do this, you will need to behave as an “observer” of your breathing. An observer is someone who looks, listens and notices what she sees, hears or feels. You may wish to notice the sensations of breathing: the rise and fall of your chest, perhaps picturing your lungs filling with air and the release of air when you exhale. You may wish to focus on the sound. The idea here is to uphold your commitment on your focus (here it was your breathing).
Keeping your mind to stay focused is easier said than done. You will need to expect that it will be normal for your mind to wander off almost continuously during your exercise. The key here is to notice this. Acknowledge it and then gently bring your mind back to your focus (in this case, your breathing). Not only is it important to commit to your focus but also to commit to taking a non-judgemental attitude throughout your exercise. We are often judging what comes into our minds – thinking whether or not we are thinking of something “silly”, “useful”, “good” or “bad”. It is normal to do this but when exercising mindfulness, a large part of the task is to remain non-judgemental. Just take your thoughts and wanderings off the focus as they are. For example, you may wish to say something like this to yourself: “Oh, now I see my thoughts are on what I will cook for dinner tonight”. “Ok. However, I choose to turn my mind back to my commitment” and then do so. It is likely your mind will wander off many, many times in a 5 minute mindfulness exercise. The point of mindfulness is to be aware of when your mind wanders off and for you to non-judgementally exercise the muscle of bringing it back to your commitment (your focus).
So what does this have to do with parenting? Well, one of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that they notice that the joy or quality of their time with their kids is negatively affected by all of the stress and business of life. They say I don’t spend enough time with my kids or if I do have the time with them, I am often cranky and stressed about how much I have to do (housework or other forms of work). One very useful way to help increase the quality of the time spent with our loved ones (even if it isn’t as much as you would like!) is to spend time with them in a mindful manner.
If you’re new to mindfulness, it would make sense to spend some time practicing it using simple tasks at first to get the feel of it. If you look online, you can find many websites devoted to ideas for mindfulness exercises and even more information on how to “do it” (here’s an example: http://stress.about.com/od/tensiontamers/a/exercises.htm). Have a look at these and then come back next month to see one way of how to apply mindfulness to your parenting. Mindfulness is a rewarding and extremely useful way to feel good and it can be used in all aspects of your life – including with your kids! It has been around for centuries – maybe it is time you gave it a try? ESW