I was always TRYING to be a better mom…trying to be more patient…trying to be more understanding…trying to be more tolerant, but last Saturday I didn’t even have to TRY. I was actually surprised at my daughter and myself. We spent 5.5-hours running errands; waiting in 45-minute long lines, going from place to place to place and both of us had a great day. We didn’t rush, neither one of us got impatient nor were there any meltdowns or tantrums…from either side.
The next day, as I was making our normal Sunday morning pancakes it hit me. Saturday was an amazing day. We didn’t do anything special, on the contrary, we did just the opposite, but we had a great time doing it…together.
It was so simple! It was just a shift in mindset. No TRYING involved. I remember starting off the day telling myself “we are going slow, enjoying our day and there is no need to rush”.
Just getting into the right mindset from the start made all the difference!
You can be happy in hell or miserable in paradise, it’s your choice. It is how you choose to see each day and the mindset you have in each moment.
Now, if I am being honest, the reason I was so surprised that we had such a lovely day just running errands is that in the past it wouldn’t have gone so well. My seven-year-old daughter would have gotten tired, bored or hungry (I planned in advance and brought food so that crisis was averted) or I would have equally grew tired of her complaining, annoyed with the crowds or just impatient that the lines were so long and slow. But as we stood in line, we joked and talked and laughed. She did occasionally ask when we could go home, but then was right back to dancing around and actually enjoying herself.
How to get out of the old mindset loop
When we are overstretched and exhausted it is hard to shift our mindset. Each moment turns into another TASK. When we start to perceive moments as tasks we miss opportunities to enjoy our lives. Instead, our lives become about making it through each day and then doing it all over again the next day. It is an endless cycle, the proverbial hamster wheel. We are never finished. There is ALWAYS something else that needs our attention.
So how do we get out of this loop? Unfortunately it starts with slowing down. I know that sounds counterintuitive. How can you slow down when you are already maxed out and still aren’t getting everything done?
There is an old Zen proverb that says, "You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you're too busy, then you should sit for an hour."
The idea is that in order to get perspective (to realize you ARE on the hamster wheel), you have to stop and take a look around. You need to become aware of what you are doing in order to make lasting changes.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not easy to slow down nor is it easy to sit in meditation for 20-minutes or even 5-minutes when there is so much to be done. But in order to get out of the incessant cycle first you have to step out of it.
Gandhi is known to have said, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one."
I deeply value and encourage daily meditation and even I sometimes have a hard time fitting it in. But the thing is, I can tell if I have gone a day or two without meditating. I notice that I get anxious and overwhelmed easier, I get triggered by my daughter without realizing it immediately, and I also feel more drained…physically, mentally and emotionally.
I can see a difference in my attitude and behavior and then back to the daily meditation I go.
Something I also noticed when I meditate daily is that my daughter’s behavior changes. Say what? How can my daughter’s behavior change when I am the one meditating, not her?
Children pick up on the emotions that adults try to suppress or even unconscious emotions adults aren't aware of themselves . Children in turn unconsciously adjust their behavior to match the adult’s. So a stressed parent is more likely to have a stressed child, which in turn stresses out the parent and then you find yourself in another vicious loop.
There is an interesting article from Science Daily entitled, Everything is not fine: Kids can tell when parents suppress their stress. Here is a quote from the article by Sara Waters, assistant professor in Washington State University's Department of Human Development.
"So if you're stressed and just say, 'Oh, I'm fine', that only makes you less available to your child. We found that the kids picked up on that and reciprocated, which becomes a self-fulfilling dynamic."
Check out the full article here.
What I noticed is that my daughter is calmer when I am able to meditate on a daily basis. Whether she is picking up and reciprocating my emotions or I approach situations calmer, I am not sure, but I do know there is a palpable change in our home and I like it. I would like my daughter to start her own five-minute meditation practice, but for the moment I will settle on me meditation for the both of us.
Suggestions on Shifting Your Mindset
Like I mentioned above, we have to step off the hamster wheel to gain some much-needed perspective before we hope to make any real changes. Starting a daily five-minute meditation practice can make a bigger difference than you realize.
When to meditate (pick one and try it out for a few weeks):
Wake up five-minutes early and meditate in bed before you start your day. Do a visualization meditation. See yourself approaching each action of your day with ease, calm and clarity. You will be amazed at the powerful effects of visualization!
Take five-minutes in the middle of the day (perhaps lunch time) to refocus your energy. Stop, take 10 deep breaths and then focus on your slow rhythmic breathing for the next five-minutes. Yes it sounds boring, but trust me it can reorganize your state of mind, giving you a renewed perspective on stressful situations.
Hop in bed five-minutes before you usually do and take this time to visualize how you would have liked your day to have gone. See yourself approaching situations differently, with more intention and less reaction. If you are feeling motivated you can even take an extra few minutes to visualize how you want your day to go tomorrow. Take your time with visualizations. Feel, see and experience each moment or situation as if you are there.
Once you have established a regular five-minute meditation practice, explore other times of the day or places where you can meditate. See if you feel different meditating outside instead of in your home or office. Nature can be very soothing. Try meditating for six-minutes, then in time seven-minutes and gradually increase from there. It is not a race nor is it a competition.
Some people have a designated spot where they meditate, but it is not necessary. Sometimes just meditating in the car while waiting in the long pick-up line at your kid’s school can be the perfect time (just make sure you are waiting and not moving forward periodically). Any place and any time that works for you is great. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other meditators or feel you need to meditate a certain way. Expectations and self-imposed rules can prevent us from ever even getting started.
You are unique, so your meditation practice will be too!