I received a letter in the post this morning, written in my own handwriting. I thought for a moment. It wasn't Valentine's Day, so what could it be?
It was something I'd written 6 months ago, during the final session of an 8 week mindfulness course. I began the course as I was around 6 month's pregnant and preparing for life with a new baby and my iron-willed toddler. I was looking for tools to help me nurture my growing family, without totally losing track of myself.
During the course I fitted in daily 'formal' (as in 'structured', not black tie...) mindfulness practices such as meditations, body scans and yoga. Initially, I was resistant to dedicating this time to 'doing nothing', but I soon came to crave these quiet, still moments.
So what happened after the course? Well, I now spend my days meditating like a zen goddess, skipping through cornfields dressed in white linen and gazing at my children in quiet wonderment. I no longer need to use Instagram filters as my life has taken on a soft golden glow all of its own.
Ok, you got me. Mostly, my quiet wonderment is reserved for how other people manage to wash, dress and feed more than one child without breaking a sweat. And my white linen has been shoved to the back of the closet, along with necklaces that babies can swing from and all the skinny jeans.
I almost managed to keep it up. For several weeks after the course I made time for evening relaxations and mindful yoga. And then the baby arrived.
Predictably, the formal practices fell by the wayside along with other indulgences, like hair washing. I hope to reintroduce short meditations (and shampoo) soon but, in all honesty, I doubt they will be regular for some time yet. But, despite this, I have continued to incorporate mindfulness into my days.
Thinking back to what I learnt on the course, there are 4 main things that have stuck:
1. Recognising thoughts as thoughts, not facts
I wrote about this recently (here), and it's a very effective way to halt imaginary arguments before they begin, as well as calming any worries about how others might be viewing your parenting.
2. Accepting events as they unfold, rather than wishing they were different
All those moments we wish were perfect - kid's birthday parties, the meeting of the new sibling, grandparents' visits - they rarely are 'perfect'. Sometimes they're disastrous. But we can appreciate them as they are, regardless of how they turn out.
3. Remembering to tune in
Slowing down and taking it all in, some of the time at least. I will now admit that I'm writing this standing in a playground whilst my husband and the toddler play in the sandpit, but I do keep looking up and smiling at these hazy childhood summer memories in the making.
4. A nurturing attitude
Anticipating tough days (for me, these usually follow sleepless nights...) and going gently with myself and others.
Crucially, I'm aware of the difference in my mood, outlook and energy levels after a few mindful moments. On tired, grouchy days I know that there is an alternative: I can choose how to experience the day. This doesn't stop me being a grumpy cow some of the time, but hey ho...perfection is boring.
I opened the letter. In it were scribbled notes reminding me of a few things I'd gained from practising mindfulness:
- more awareness of my behavioural patterns and beliefs
- the ability to pause and empathise with others
- the recognition that mindful practices could be viewed as a foundation to everything else, not a chore or a luxury
There were also 2 of my favourite quotes:
'What flows through your mind sculpts your brain' - Rick Hanson
'You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf' - Jon Kabat-Zinn
I know that, in a few years, I'll have more time for proper meditations and all that jazz. But right now, a little pause here and there is good enough. And I'm happy too that I'll soon be able to use what I've learnt to help my little crew to surf their own waves.
This post originally appeared on Parenting Calm, a blog about mindful living and positive parenting - with a sense of humour.