Mindfulness got a bit of a kicking in my post about whining last month. Poor mindfulness! It really didn’t deserve that – and I apologise. Sorry mindfulness!
It was only because, in the heat of the moment – when I thought I was going to completely lose my parenting shit – I realised that my mindfulness practice is the only thing keeping me from doing exactly that. It’s like a little light bulb appearing above my head there.
Not judging me, because that’s not the mindfulness way. But I judged myself – as a not-regular-enough mindfulness practitioner – so I lashed out like a teenager and mindfulness got the brunt.
But now I’m going to redeem myself to mindfulness because as a parenting tool it really is exceptionally awesome. No, I’m not joking. If you want to do yourself and your kids a massive favour, I highly recommend that you hand over exactly 10 minutes of your day every day to a regular mindfulness practice. I realise not a paragraph ago I just admitted that I’m not being so disciplined myself, but I’m trying really hard!
Hey you there! You, Sceptizmo! I see you slowly backing out the door! Come back and listen for a minute. I won’t waste your time, I promise.
Here’s what a daily (ish, but I aim for daily) mindfulness practice does for me:
- It helps me to concentrate. As someone who regularly has the laptop, iPhone, TV and a full blown conversation or conversations going on at the same time, I am desperately in need of some concentration discipline. This works.
- It helps me to respond rather than react. After a couple of weeks of putting my mind to a daily practice, this was the biggest change I observed in myself. Rather than fly off the handle at whatever drama/incident/whinge might be occurring, I find I’m able to take a step back to assess and then respond appropriately to the situation, rather than jumping right in there like a howling loon.
- It helps me cope with stress. When the chips are down – and often it’s a bumpy ride – I’ve really found that mindfulness has helped me manage anxiety and deal with negative thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, rather than letting them get on top of me.
- It helps me to be kind to myself and, just as importantly, to others. Except for those couple of times where I’ve sworn “fuck you, mindfulness, fuck you” under my breath (see above), I have really noticed a change in how I talk to myself. I’m more forgiving. I’m more go-with-the-flow-y. I’m also more tolerant of others. I’m a little bit more likely to at least try and see things from their shoes, rather than, again, flying off the handle without consideration for what might be going on with them. Looking back, flying off the handle seems to be a bit of a Mind the Baby special.
But herein lies the rub, dear reader. Mindfulness is HARD. H-A-R-D. You have to apply yourself. You have to do it every day. And finding the time is hard but it’s really important. You have to be present in the moment. It’s not a passive pursuit. Mindfulness isn’t something that happens, you have to do. Otherwise you don’t feel the benefits. The same way going to Pilates twice a year isn’t enough to give you a hot bod.
The good thing about it though is that it’s the actual doing that reaps the benefits, rather than an end point. Spending 5 minutes bringing all of your attention to your breath going in and out of your body, but really spending all of that time noticing that your mind is running away onto something else every two seconds is actually where the good stuff is. Noticing that your mind is running away, acknowledging the thought, then bringing your attention back to your breath is practising mindfulness. Rather than aiming for a random goal of, let’s say, 25 minutes of mediation. That’s all gold too by the way, but the actual mindfulness muscle bit is the noticing and refocusing part. That’s what keeps me plugging away. That, and actually feeling the benefits of doing it.
I need a bit of help with these things because we might be waiting a long time for me to take the initiative on my own. Two things have really worked for me. The first is using a guided mindfulness app to help me along. I use a lovely free one called Mind the Bump. It was specifically designed by the Australian equivalent of the HSE to provide tailored mindfulness exercises to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of parents from the start of pregnancy through to 24 months after birth. But the great thing about it is that the content doesn’t actually refer to pregnancy or parenting so really anyone can use it. The exercises are anything from 3 to 10 minutes and it keeps a record for you of how many you’ve done. There’s extra features if you’re actually pregnant like recommended sessions for different stages of pregnancy and a due date calculator. I really enjoy this I have to say. It’s a great one for the bus.
Two other apps that I’ve heard great things about, but haven’t tried myself, are Headspace and Buddhify. Headspace has a 30 day free trial and then moves to a subscription service after that, and Buddhify is a bargain at a once-off €2.49. All three apps are available on both Android and Apple iOS.
The second thing I can personally recommend is colouring.
Yes, you read that right. I LOVE this. The hardest part about it is giving myself permission to dedicate some time to doing nothing but sitting down with my colouring pencils and making pretty pictures. I won’t lie to you; I should be doing this way more often. But it’s super enjoyable when I do. To hell with cleaning the bathrooms!
There is a boat-load of adult colouring books available in bookshops and online with cool designs and themes. Remember two important things though:
- Don’t fall for the marketing ploy that you need special adult €10 colouring pencils when the dogs in the street know that the gabillion colouring pencils or markers destroying your house are more than sufficient; and
- DON’T TELL THE KIDS. I don’t think I need to explain that one.