Happy Mother's Day! Mother’s Day is an interesting institution. In the act of honoring women who have children, we can inadvertently bring up heavy emotions. Some women are left feeling that "something is missing" on Mother’s Day. The day doesn’t match up with the fantasy of the "Hallmark" moment of happy children and a loving partner bringing in breakfast and pampering their beloved paragon of motherhood. For other women, Mother’s Day can bring up feelings of being inadequate because they don’t feel "successful" as a mother. Instead, they feel like they fall short, remembering the fights with their children, the hurriedness of modern life, the nagging, and the lack of time to just be happy together. And, many women who dearly want children but can’t have them are left feeling lonely and unfulfilled on Mother’s Day.
Any woman can have mothering instincts, desires to be tender and nurturing to other people, protective and supportive. But, can we have those mothering feelings about ourselves? Can we feel worthy of our own kind and tender ministrations? If you were making a list of the top three priorities in your life, would your own self-care and nurturing make it onto your list?
Every person juggles many different tasks in a day. Only the top three priorities in a person’s life happen on a daily basis. The fourth item on your list will only show up every couple days, the fifth priority may get some attention once every week or two, anything on your list below that and you are looking at maybe once every month or two or even longer.
Instead of thinking of Mother’s Day as the one day to be appreciated by the individuals in our life, we can turn Mother’s Day into a celebration of women and self-nurturing. Well-being isn’t created outside of us in our environment; it is cultivated in the heart, mind, and body. When the necessity of well-being is ignored, health declines both physically and emotionally. If your well-being is not one of your top three priorities in life, you will never really be able to accomplish that goal.
To be well you need a balance between work and rest (not too much of either), you need to eat fresh food that you have prepared (giving yourself time to cook is part of self-nurturing), you need exercise, and you need space in your day between each of these events in order to enjoy them. Looking at this recipe for wellness may feel like looking up at Mount Everest and thinking that it would be impossible to actually climb it. But, there is a simple and necessary beginning step that can get you on the right track: mindfulness.
Mindfulness literally means that when you are doing something, you are doing only that one thing and your awareness is focused on your experience of that one thing. Mindfulness is not a philosophical concept. It just means that when you are eating an apple, you are only aware of the apple (taste, texture, smell, movement of your jaw) not also driving the car, talking on the phone, planning your future, evaluating and grading your performance of your day.
By focusing on one thing at a time we become more efficient and effective. Multitasking is really not as productive as you might think. There is quite a bit of duplication of effort when working on multiple projects at the same time. We solve a certain step in the process but because of our distraction of jumping to the other projects, we forget and end up thinking the same thoughts over and over, re-solving those same steps.
Mastering qigong or a martial art is the process of learning to keep all your focus on what you are doing to the exclusion of extraneous thoughts. The beginner’s mind is on everything all at once: what they are doing now, what they were doing before, what they are going to do next, what they were doing last week, and even what they are going to do next week. The master knows what is important and is mindful of that alone, letting go of all other thoughts.
Mindfulness is the glue that holds together all self-care. Without mindfulness we can’t really tune into how we are feeling. Even simple things like neck tension and pain can be alleviated if you could notice that your shoulders were hiked up all the time and drop them down. Most people are so caught up in their multitasking that they can’t tell what their body is doing until it starts to scream at them with pain. By teaching ourselves to be mindful we can empower our journey into self-care and make significant improvements in our well-being.
Mindfulness is a simple task but requires lots of practice. The human brain is an amazing thing. It is constantly on the lookout for ways to optimize things. Everything it looks at it picks apart, decides what is lacking, and starts thinking up possible improvements. This is our genetic legacy and what is responsible for us having remote controlled vehicles on Mars and gene therapy to correct blindness. It is a wonderful miracle of luck/evolution/divine intervention but completely overbuilt for most of our daily human needs.
Much of our brainpower is spent thinking about the past and the future and what is going on somewhere else. When you get into bed at night, are you aware of the feel of the sheets on your skin, the pillow under your head, the comfort of the blanket? Instead, are you endlessly revisiting every action you took that day and every word you said? Are you arranging all of these thoughts like so many ceramic tiles, into a mosaic picture only to pull it all apart and lay them out again and again? Our minds are so far away; so distant from what is in front of us. Decades of thinking in this manner create a pattern that is as relentless as the tides of the ocean.
Although our ultimate goal is to be mindful doing all our normal daily activities, it is helpful to start out with an easier task. Step by step we can build the skills for being present like any behavior we have learned over the years.
Techniques for Mindfulness
The following exercises are in increasing levels of complexity. Start with Level 1 and work your way up. Practice the exercises throughout the day, at least four to six times.
1. Mindful Touch:
Place your hand on any object within reach. Notice its texture, temperature, and size. If it is a small object, pick it up and feel its weight in your hand. Note all tactile sensations. "I am aware that this is cold, smooth, rough…" Continue this for as long as your attention will hold.
2. Mindful Breath:
Become completely still. Begin inhaling. Be aware of the beginning of the inhale "I am aware that I am breathing in." Be aware of inhaling all the way until it is completed, "I am aware that I am done inhaling." Begin exhaling. Be aware of the beginning of the exhale, "I am aware that I am exhaling." Follow the exhale until it is completed, "I am aware that I am done exhaling." Tune into the feeling of each part of the breath. Notice what your body is feeling, all the sensations that this breath brings to you. Pause for a moment to notice the stillness. Repeat as long as your attention will hold.
3. Mindful Walking:
Stand for a moment and breathe mindfully. Begin to take a small step forward. As your heel begins to touch the floor, be aware of the feeling of contact on your heel. Slowly roll the rest of your foot down onto the floor and be aware of the feeling of contact with each part of your foot as it touches the floor. Be aware of the other foot as the heel starts to lift off the floor behind you. Be aware of the transfer of weight to the front foot as the back foot lifts completely off the floor. Be aware as you step forward with the back foot and the heel touches the floor. Notice all sensations that your body is experiencing. Continue taking small steps with awareness for as long as your concentration will hold. Each step is very slow: two to three times slower than a normal walking pace.
A note on mindful planning:
Planning your future is not forbidden – it just needs to be done while you are present, not as an add-on while you are doing something else. As you plan what you would like, write it down. If you want to revisit the plan that day, train yourself to sit down and give it all your attention once again. You will find that your ability to plan will improve and your ability to enjoy the other activities in your life will as well.
Through learning to be mindful we can enhance our well-being and become more than just a machine endlessly working our way down our "to do" list. Mindfulness can be instrumental in creating a map for your personal fulfillment.