“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
One of my favorite questions to ask myself and those in my practice is “What do you want to remember, how do you want to live your moments?” For many of us those moments are in relationship. And what we know is that when we are distracted and chronically running around to the next thing, we miss moments to connect and to really be present and remember. When I was younger, we honored multi-tasking, it was often named a strength to be able to do many things at once. Now, it is the much more challenging art of single tasking that I honor and work to practice. This habit of single tasking and focusing on one thing at a time is mindfulness and is most important to me as a parent and partner. I want my memory to be filled with all the little moments I spend with the people I love the most. The little moments are those tender visceral moments that later when we recall them it is more than the autobiographical memory; it is a feeling that we feel. Most recently it has been our son asking about our days at dinner. He asks probing question after probing question because single word answers are not satisfying to him. My husband who is less of a talker, opens more than ever before with a smile and ease, and I watch in awe at the charm and wit of my 4-year-old son. I feel immense love and connection in these moments. I also want my son and husband to have these memories of me. I want them to remember me as someone who was fully present and available to them in their lives. This is where mindfulness comes in and here are three practices to support being a more mindful and present parent and partner.
1. Cultivate Attention – This is the habit of attending to what is right in front of you! Our mind wanders to both internal distractions (job stress, worries, insecurities) and external distractions (phone, the weather, to do lists). I encourage my clients to practice mindfulness of everyday activities to hone this skill of paying attention to what you are doing in the present moment. Try waiting in line for your coffee with out pulling out your phone. Tune into your surroundings and the people around you, describe what you see. Or practice showering or brushing your teeth without being halfway through your day planning and preparing and anticipating the stressors. Use your five senses as a guide to attend to what is happening in that moment. The brain is a muscle and the more we practice single tasking the more we will be able to do it at those important moments like dinnertime or when our partner or child is asking us to listen and be there for them.
2. Nurture an Openhearted Presence – This is about our attitude and how we are paying attention. Are we being open and curious or closed and critical? If you catch yourself being quick to tense or give advice when your child or partner is talking, pause, and ask yourself is this me listening to understand or listening to judge or solve? Work to develop an attitude and presence of (COAL) Care, Openness, Acceptance, and Love. This presence builds safety and trust and a long-lasting bond.
3. Know Yourself! Practice Self-Awareness – As Maya Angelou said “When you know better you do better.” Self-awareness is the condition of being constantly aware of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions. There are basically three states of consciousness; reactive, responsive, and intuitive. Learn to know what state you are in and attend to your needs so you can be in more consistent state of responsive and intuitive with the ones you love. One of my favorite mindfulness awareness practices to share with parents and partners is “Know Your State” from the book Mindful Discipline. Here is the challenge and practice. If you don’t have a child or want to focus on a partner, substitute child for partner below.
“At least three times a day – but as often as you can remember to do it – sense your current state of consciousness. Ask yourself, “Am I in a reactive state, a responsive state, or an intuitive state?”
Sense your body. How tense is it? How uncomfortable is it? Are you feeling frustrated, angry, withdrawn, or anxious? These are all clues that you may be on the cusp of, or entering into, a state of reactivity.
Check out your attention and goals. Are you watching your child’s every move like a hawk, waiting for them to do “just one more thing!”? Are you feeling really tuned out, fuzzy, or withdrawn, not wanting to be with your child at all? Are you hypervigilant and falsely effusive, trying to make sure everything goes perfect and that everyone is happy? These may be indications that you are in some degree of reactivity. If you are, it may be a good time to “heat up the tension” (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) or to otherwise take a moment away from your child to calm and support yourself.
Regularly practicing a body scan can also help you to build awareness to your state of consciousness and learn to know yourself so that you can do better and be better for your child and/or partner.
May your moments be memorable and filled with mindful attention, openhearted presences, and an awake awareness to be skillful and confident and to find pleasure and joy in the little moments, because they aren’t so little.
Yours in Mindful Movement and Good Health,