This video is a short introduction to the New Harbinger publication, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has changed the way thousands of people live their lives. In this workbook, you will learn how to change your relationship to stress, pain, and illness and move in the direction of greater calm, balance, and peace. Find out more at mbsrworkbook.com
Archive for February, 2010
I am happy to introduce you to Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D. to help us out with the integration of mindfulness into pregnancy, birth, and early parenting. Cassandra is a licensed clinical psychologist, director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, co-director of the Mind Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, CA, and co-president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology. Her research has focused on mindfulness-based approaches to cultivating emotional balance, the involvement of emotion regulation in addiction and recovery, and the factors, experiences, and practices involved in psychospiritual transformation. She has published several academic articles and spoken at academic conferences worldwide.
She is also author of the wonderful book Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year (New Harbinger/Noetic Books, 2009) and co-author of Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life (New Harbinger/Noetic Books, 2008).
Elisha: There is a whole field of psychology called “attachment theory” that is dedicated to understanding the effects of the child parent bond on the rest of our lives. What role do you see mindful parenting or mindful motherhood playing in this field?
Cassandra: This is a great question because Mindful Motherhood, or mindful parenting, does not happen in you as a parent. It happens in relationship with your baby, and it is increasingly being recognized how much of your child’s development is shaped by their early experiences with primary caregivers. My premise, and that of other scholars and clinicians such as Daniel Siegel, is that mindful awareness forms the ideal platform for healthy parent-infant attachment to take place.
From the Mindful Motherhood book:
For example, as a mom, having your attention in the present moment lays the groundwork for what developmental psychologist Daniel Stern called being attuned to your baby, or being aware of and perceiving accurately your baby’s communication of her emotions and needs. Attunement with your baby is sort of like a tuning fork–the baby hits a particular tone, and you resonate with that tone, reflecting it back to her with your facial expressions, tone of voice, touch, and way of being. These subtle actions communicate “Yes, I see and hear you, and I get what you’re feeling.” Through thousands of these little micro-interactions with your baby, her sense of self develops, as well as her own capacity to begin to learn how to deal with her emotions.
Attunement is not just matching your baby’s state. It’s making a complementary response, one that both conveys your empathy (“I can feel what you are feeling”) and responds appropriately to what the baby is communicating. For example, if the baby gets really upset, it’s not ideal attunement to get equally upset. Ideal attunement might be making sure the baby knows that you see that he’s upset and reflecting a sense of being able to tolerate or contain that upset. This reaction could be holding him with firmness and making low and deep sounds. Luckily, with present-moment mindful awareness that meets experiences as they are, this comes pretty naturally-you don’t have to figure it out with your thinking mind.
Transmitting a secure sense of self through attunement happens in thousands of micro-interactions, not just one, or two, or even fifty. This is not about being perfectly attuned all the time-that’s impossible. It’s about deciding that you want to actively engage, more and more often, in present-moment awareness with your baby and cultivating the capacity to do so. Your baby is always in the present moment. Mindful awareness allows you to join her there more often.
D. W. Winnicott was a pediatrician and psychoanalyst who is probably most famous for his work on “transitional objects.” These are the treasured objects, like a favorite teddy bear or blankie, that help toddlers transition from relying on mom for soothing and a sense of security, to being able to regulate themselves to a certain extent. Winnicott also talked about the holding environment, or the whole space around and between you and your baby, physically and psychologically, as you move through your days together. At first, you are pretty much solely responsible for creating and maintaining this holding environment. You maintain and regulate the connection between you and baby by staying present, aware, and in connection. By about three or four months old, your baby takes his turn being the leader in the dance. By this time he’s contributing quite a bit to the ongoing creation and maintenance of this environment. He’s eliciting facial expressions, emotions, and even thinking patterns in you. And if you’ve ever had your milk let down in response to your baby’s cry, you know he’s even driving some of your physiology.
But your job in this holding environment is to, well, hold what is happening. To tolerate his distressing moments, to recognize and reflect his feelings and their expressions in his body and on his face, even to be the target of and survive his anger, frustration, and aggression. You can do a kind of aikido with your baby. This is a martial art that emphasizes a reflective and complementary sparring, where you receive and reflect and give back some of what your partner throws at you, and some of it you just let pass right on through, protecting yourself by letting the force of your partner’s energy fly by. Mindful awareness can help you in this dance of attunement, synchrony, and consciously participating in co-creating the space through which both of you move through your days.
Elisha: Share with us a bit of the research you did that led to the book Mindful Motherhood.
Cassandra: A very robust scientific literature links postpartum depression to impairments in mother-infant bonding. In addition, a large body of empirical evidence in both animal and humans studies indicates that stress and mood disturbance experienced during pregnancy increases the risk for preterm birth (which is considered one of the most pressing problem in maternal-child health in the U.S.) and other pregnancy-related complications, and may adversely affect the developing fetus. Prenatal maternal stress may also be an important mediator of the observed relationship between race/ethnicity and rates of preterm birth.
In comparison to the potential far reaching benefits, relatively little research has focused on developing interventions to reduce stress and improve mood during the perinatal period.
In response to the need for a brief, low-cost, non-pharmaceutical intervention to reduce stress, improve mood, and decrease the effects of stress and distressed mood on mother-infant bonding, and based on our own experiences as parents, my colleague John Astin and I developed the Mindful Motherhood program. Bringing together elements from several different mindfulness-training programs, as well as our own newly developed material, we piloted the program first in a group of ten women.
After this group ended, we made some changes to the program based on participants’ feedback and our experience as facilitators and researchers and tried it out on another group of women. Finally, we compared two groups of women–one that received the training in pregnancy and one that did not. The women who did not receive the training during pregnancy participated in it when their babies were between three and six months old.
Though small, this pilot study showed that it was possible to learn mindful awareness during pregnancy and early motherhood (even with baby in tow!), and women who engaged in mindfulness training during pregnancy had reduced negative emotions and anxiety during pregnancy compared with women who did not participate in the training (Vieten and Astin 2008). There were also trends toward reduced symptoms of depression and increased positive emotion.
Thank you so much, Cassandra, for your wisdom.
To my readers: Please share your thougths, stories, and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
In his recent book , Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD and neurologist Richard Mendius, MD, talk about the growing discoveries being made at the intersection of Psychology, Neurology and Contemplative practice and how we can influence our own minds. We’ll get more into this in an upcoming interview with Rick.
Prior to that interview, I wanted to share with you some interesting facts about our brains that he shares in the book that blew my mind and I thought you’d find interesting.
- Your brain is 3 pounds of tofu-like tissue with 1.1 trillion cells and 100 billion neurons.
- A typical neuron fires 5-50 times a second. As you’re reading this, literally quadrillions of signals are travelling around in your brain.
- Although the brain is about 2% of your body weight, it uses 20-25% of the oxygen and glucose we consume. It never stops, always moving while we’re awake and asleep.
- The combination of connections that occur with the 100 billion neurons in our heads is 1 to the millionth power or 1 followed by a million zeros (I’d write that out, but you may not make it back to the important things to do today).
Hanson mentions Psychologist Donald Hebbs research findings that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, as we create certain mental states with our attention, we are influencing the growth of our brains. This is what is known as neuroplasticity. We have this capability all our lives.
There is a growing amount of studies pointing to the positive effects of mindfulness on various regions of the brain that lead us to less stress, greater resiliency and well-being. We also mention many of these studies in A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.
The intersection between Psychology, Neurology and Contemplative practice is getting a lot of attention right now truly because people are experiencing real change in their lives and finding that they actually have more choice to become more present to life and become less reactive to the tides.
It helps that neuroscience is now involved because often times to get the motivation to practice, most of us need to see something to believe it. Science helps us do that and then we can truly realize it through our own experience.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides an opportunity for others to interact and this creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Tara Brach:
“When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.”
Well, here we are again, the “shoulds.” Or the classic saying, “I need to stop shoulding on myself.”
What should life be like anyway? Should it be like the stories and images we see in a romantic comedy? Should it be like the destruction and chaos we see in suspense or horror flick? Or maybe we should all be travelling a stream of light blissfully riding the love train.
Well, here are 3 realities of life to chew on:
- Life is like this – What’s this? It is exactly whatever you are experiencing right now.
- Here’s another reality, life is always changing. That means that whatever “this” is right now, will become something else.
- One last truth, we are active participants in our health and well-being.
However, it takes saying “yes to our life as it is” in order to have a choice in how we want to make a change. In other words, if we are feeling sad, it’s important acknowledge this so we know the reality of the moment and what are capabilities are. We can choose to feel the sadness or if we are really depressed and we feel the sadness will take us down a deep dark rabbit hole, maybe we can just acknowledge it, let it be, and choose to do something different in the moment.
So, I guess there’s a fourth truth: Being present to life as it is, is a prerequisite for having more choice in life.
The beauty of this is that we can actually cultivate the ability to become more present to our lives by practicing mindfulness. (Here is a short video to practice right now – you may have already viewed this, but even so, one practice in mindfulness is to bring a beginner’s mind to any practice, as if it was for the first time).
So at the end of the day, there are some things we can’t choose (i.e., our genetics, our biological or inherited families, some life events), but in being present we can choose how we want to relate to them and that can make all the difference.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Today I have the honor of interviewing Susan Kaiser Greenland who had the courage to leave a well-paying law career to embrace a calling to teach mindfulness meditation to children as young as four years old. She is author of the upcoming book The Mindful Child (Free Press, May 2010) and developed the website Mindfulnesstogether.com and the Inner Kids program, to teach young kids vital skills toward a more peaceful and compassionate world.
Elisha: Susan, what an amazing path you’ve chosen. When I teach mindfulness to adults, I often hear, how come we didn’t get this education when we were little, the world would be a much better place. What inspired you to leave the golden handcuffs and venture into this sorely needed area?
Susan: Thanks Elisha, I’m not so sure I choose the path often it feels more as if it chose me. I practiced meditation myself and saw how it helped me, so it was only natural to wonder if it could help my children too. But the inspiration to begin looking in earnest for ways to practice with my children (who were quite young at the time) came when I was on a week-long meditation retreat with Ken Mcleod. I had studied with Ken for a few years before this retreat and was friends with many of his students.
Looking around the meditation hall one evening I noticed that many of us were parents and was struck by the fact that none of us were talking about brining mindfulness to our kids. Something happened during that retreat and I felt a shift – a desire to integrate mindfulness into my family life in a more direct way. It’s not uncommon for me to leave a retreat thinking that I’ve had some major insight – so after having one of these a-ha moments after meditation I wait a week or so before acting on it. If after a week I still feel that way I try to do something about it. A week after I got home from Ken’s retreat that year – now over a decade ago – I knew this practicing mindfulness with kids was something I wanted to do (maybe needed to do) although I had no idea that it would eventually lead me away from my law practice – which I also enjoyed.
Elisha: Can you give us a brief synopsis of some of the vital skills you teach these children?
Susan: The Inner Kids program has evolved over the years and now my primary objective is to teach kids a more mindful worldview. In classical training that worldview comes through the development of three qualities simultaneously: awareness, wisdom, and values. My work is secular, yet informed by classical models, and those three qualities (awareness, wisdom and values) can be translated beautifully as attention, balance and compassion, what I like to think of as the New ABCs of learning. By learning these new ABCs, kids, teens and their families can develop a more mindful worldview by:
- Approaching new experiences with curiosity and an open mind;
- Developing strong and stable attention;
- Seeing life experience clearly without an emotional charge;
- Developing compassionate action and relationships;
- Building communities with kindness and compassion;
- Working together to make a difference in the world;
- Expression gratitude; and
- Planting seeds of peace by nurturing common ground.
Elisha: While the instructions in mindfulness practice can be simple, the practice itself can be anything but easy at times. What happens when children throw tantrums or when they are bullied? How do you approach this practice during the difficult moments?
Susan: It’s crucial that adults working with kids understand that this is a process-oriented practice (as opposed to a goal oriented practice) and the aim of the process is transformation. It is not at all uncommon for kids to have a hard time when they begin to look at their inner and outer experiences clearly without an emotional charge (or with less of one). Sometimes it’s tough for kids, teens, and even adults to process what they see through introspection and it may be impossible for them to contextualize or understand their insights on their own. It’s important to have patience with kids and simply see them clearly, and love them, for who they are – even when they are not on their best behavior – and trust that navigating this less than perfect behavior is a necessary part of the transformation that mindfulness and meditation can bring about.
Elisha: Can you share a practice that parents, caregivers, or teachers may be able to take into their lives with their kids?
Susan: I think helping kids find a physically comfortable posture from which to practice meditation is very important. Encouraging kids to lie down while practicing breath awareness is quite useful but also is an activity that I use called the Pendulum Swing (or tic-toc with younger children.) The aim of this activity is to help those who find it hard to be still (either sitting or lying down) to meditate in a group. Here’s how it goes:
- To build body awareness.
- To make it easier and more pleasant for those who find it difficult to be still to meditate with a group of people.
- To help settle body and mind before meditating.
- To develop concentration skills by attending to the sensation of movement.
Leading the Activity
Make sure students have enough space to sway from side-to-side without touching each other.
- Starting from either a seated or standing position encourage children to take one or more breaths and notice the sensations associated with breathing.
- Explain that we will swing our bodies from side to side slowly, starting to the right (keeping our sit-bones firmly on the cushion) and then slowly swinging back to the left.
- Remind students that the object of attention (or focus) is the visceral sensation of swinging from side-to-side and when they notice that their minds have wandered, just bring it back to the sensation of movement.
- The goal is to help children find and establish a repetitive, rhythmic swing that works for them. Irregular movements with respect to pacing or pattern are not as likely to promote a felt-sense of calm, center and concentration. Because the swing must viscerally resonate with the person swinging to be effective, the pace and duration may vary from child to child. What is calming for one child may or may not be calming for another, in fact what is calming for one child may agitate or frustrate another. Just as there is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness in general, so long as children respect each other (and don’t intentionally knock into other people or things) there is no right or wrong way to practice the pendulum.
- If you are familiar with the classical instructions for walking meditation it is helpful to use them as a reference point for the this activity. In the classical instruction there are three parts to walking: lifting the foot, moving it and placing it down (or stepping).
- There are three similar occurrences in the pendulum – moving, shifting, and center.
- Starting in a centered position first sway (or move) to one side keeping your sit bones on the cushion.
- When you reach the point where you cannot sway any further without lifting your sit bone, shift weight and sway back again toward the center. Shifting is similar to lifting in slow and silent walking. You’re moving again as you sway back toward center.
- When you reach the center of the cushion pause for a moment – that moment is similar to placing (or stepping) in slow and silent walking.
- The sway begins again to the opposite side (moving);
- the moment that you reach the end of the sway to one side and shift weight before beginning to sway back toward center is similar to lifting; and
- the moment you notice the feeling of being centered again on the cushion is similar to placing.
- The instruction goes like this – move to one side; shift weight; move back toward center; pause for a moment to feel centered sitting on the cushion. Then, move to the opposite side; shift weight; move back again toward center; pause for a moment to feel centered sitting on the cushion. Repeat. At first there is a slight pause at each change, but gradually the practice becomes more fluid.
- Once students are familiar with the eight pieces of the exercise (moving/ shifting/moving/center — then in the other direction –moving/shifting/moving/center), and the movement becomes more fluid, encourage students to sway from side to side without pausing in the middle of the movement to notice the feeling of being centered on the cushion.
- With young children it is helpful to use a stringed instrument to accentuate each change, strumming as a prompt signal it’s time to shift weight and move in the opposite direction.
Elisha: What can parents do to support their children in being more mindful?
Susan: Hands down the most powerful thing a parent can do to support his or her children in their practice is to develop their own mindfulness and practice themselves. Kids learn by example and what we do often has a greater impact on our children what we say.
Thank you so much Susan. As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below, your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Loss is an unavoidable fact of life that we all experience, and it can come in all forms from job loss, divorce, unemployment, relocation, and of course, the most obvious, the death of someone we love. The truth is, for most of us, we’d love nothing more than to forget about the word “death” and to move on with life, turning the other cheek. The problem is, when we lose sight of the experience of loss, we also lose sight of the preciousness of the moment and of life.
“I was reminded about my own mortality, and my sense of urgency to experience life as much as possible and make a difference in the world.”
When we look toward the bandaged wound, as Rumi says, we can pause and take a moment to look at the deeper questions in life and it is here where we find a sense of purpose and meaning.
Ron Pies, MD, talked about how the deaths of 50 passengers on continental flight 3407 “put everything in perspective.” It seems that we need death to pop us into the present moment sometimes to remind us of what is most important in life.
Or maybe we just need to be reminded of death as may be happening as you read these words of this post. In his book Grieving Mindfully, Sameet Kumar Ph.D. shows us that through the process of grief, we can find our eyes open to life.
I want to invite you to take a moment right now (just 1 minute) and consider what and who is most important in your life. Is there something that has been on your mind that you’ve wanted to express to that person, but just haven’t found the time or the motivation?
Author Stephen Levine sums it up with a single question: “If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say and why are you waiting?”
We may not need death to remind us of what is most important after all.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Who did this question remind you of? Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Rumi:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
A couple weeks ago I wrote the post Moving Past Avoidance: Monday’s Mindful Quote with Helen Keller, which talks about being able to move toward the things in life we are avoiding as a potential path toward creating real change.
I think we’d be pretty hard pressed to find someone on this planet who at the core didn’t want to be loved. But Rumi’s words point us in the direction of not looking outside of ourselves for love, but within to the barriers for love. Why? Because I imagine he believes that love is all around us if we are open to it.
Whether you believe this or not, for most (if not all) of us, we have built up barriers to love because we have been hurt by love’s departure or absence in the past. Maybe we were just babies when we first felt the disconnection and made an unconscious pact to not feel that pain again. Or maybe it was emotional or physical abuse that led to the distrust of love. Could it have been the loss of a significant relationship in your life that you swore you would never love that much again because the fall is too traumatic?
We can take this a step further. What stops us on a day-to-day basis from relating to ourselves with love?
Maybe there are thoughts of worthlessness or deficiency? Perhaps there are feelings of shame that drive the unconscious or conscious thoughts that we’re simply not worthy of love, even our own. Self-judgments run rampant here.
It’s just so clear how hateful and violent we can be with ourselves. This negative self-talk is a huge barrier we built against experiencing the love. In fact, going up in our heads is probably the number one barrier we build against feeling emotions in general.
This week, do a little experiment with yourself. Make a conscious effort to see how you talk to yourself. How often are you kind? How often are you self-judging? Is there a way you can be more compassionate with the way you talk to yourself?
Make a mental note these events in your mind.
As always, please share “your thoughts,” stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
I am happy to introduce you to Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D. to help us out with the integration of mindfulness into pregnancy, birth, and early parenting. Cassandra is a licensed clinical psychologist, director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (www.noetic.org) , codirector of the Mind Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, CA, and co-president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology. Her research has focused on mindfulness-based approaches to cultivating emotional balance, the involvement of emotion regulation in addiction and recovery, and the factors, experiences, and practices involved in psychospiritual transformation. She has published several academic articles and spoken at academic conferences worldwide.
She is also author of the wonderful book, Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year (New Harbinger/Noetic Books, 2009) and co-author of Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life (New Harbinger/Noetic Books, 2008).
Today Cassandra talks to us about the importance of navigating roller coaster of new parenting with a mindful approach and gives us some tips on how to do so.
Elisha: The journey of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting can seem like a roller coaster at times for new parents. How can we integrate mindful parenting to help us through this time?
Cassandra: That really is an apt metaphor because pregnancy, childbirth, early parenting, and for many, even conception can be such a roller coaster – ups, downs, highs, lows, scary parts, exhilarating parts, relief. It really is an intensified microcosm of the life journey. Mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat Zinn quotes Zorba the Greek – calling life “the full catastrophe”! Perhaps no time is this more true than during the birthing year and the year or so afterward.
Mindful parenting is a way of riding this roller coaster with your eyes open, your mind clear, your body relaxed, and your spirit and heart involved – rather than clutching on for dear life, clenching shut, and not really enjoying the ride at all. In some ways, it’s about riding it for all it’s worth.
Mindfulness practice helps us deal with stressful moments by keeping us breathing, awake, aware, and able to meet each moment as it arises with an understanding, first of all, that all moments are temporary. Everything arises and passes away, and something new comes to take its place. Just seeing that, letting go, and riding the wave, say of your baby crying in the middle of the night, or difficulties with your partner, or difficulty with breastfeeding – or any of the whole host of things that can happen – can really help.
Then meeting experiences just as they are rather than resisting them or struggling against them (I hate it, I don’t want it to be this way, this shouldn’t be happening this way) – coming in to each moment with a stance of acceptance – meaning that you meet it as it is, not that you necessarily decide to like it, allows you to use all that energy you might otherwise have spent trying to make it different instead finding ways to deal with the situation as it is. You start finding solutions and making choices that are in alignment with your goals and values as a person and as a parent, rather than reacting automatically or habitually.
Spiritual wisdom, and now scientific research, shows that paradoxically, attempts to avoid or suppress your experiences – even when they are upsetting, like anxiety or anger – prolong them. Instead, meeting your own anxiousness or anger, say during a toddler temper tantrum in a supermarket, accepting that “this is what is happening right now – my baby is throwing a fit and I am getting anxious and angry” and breathing right into that for a few moments, centering your awareness in the present moment and in your body, amazingly helps you respond in ways that are adaptive for you and your family.
On that note, centering your awareness in the present moment may be one of the ways that mindfulness is most helpful in pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting. As I said in my book, Mindful Motherhood, “Being present forms the foundation for mindful motherhood. It’s the key to being a mindful mom. If being nonjudgmental, accepting, curious, and compassionate, and observing your experience and letting it be as it is without struggling against it are some of the rooms that make up the house of mindful motherhood, being in the present moment is the foundation of the house.” Why is this? I talk about it as making your attention less like a pinball machine, and more like a searchlight. In a pinball machine, you don’t have much choice about which direction the pinball goes-it just bounces around from place to place depending on what it bangs into. Our attention can be like that, bouncing from place to place, rolling into the future projecting about what is going to happen, or ruminating about the past and what happened there. We even have whole emotional reactions to what we imagine about the future and the past, totally unrelated to what is happening right now, in the present moment. Our attention can also be drawn by whatever is most compelling, and because of how we are wired, this is often what is most negative, what is not working, what doesn’t fit, or what is potentially threatening or fear-inducing. That’s just how our minds work – partly because it’s been useful for survival.
But when directed with intention, attention is like a searchlight. Wherever you point your searchlight becomes illuminated, and you can see what is there. When your attention, your searchlight, is not pointed at something, it is difficult to see clearly what is there. So, when your attention is not trained onto the present moment, it’s hard to perceive the current situation accurately. And, in general, the more your attention and awareness is on the present moment, the more you can be responsive, awake, and creative as a person and as a mom. Babies love people who are right there in the moment with them. It makes them feel safe, loved, and attended to. For that matter, so do partners, loved ones, colleagues, and in fact when we learn to center our attention in the present moment, even we end up feeling safer, loved, and attended to. Present-moment awareness in parenting makes it easier to do everything – from feeding the baby, to soothing their crying, to dealing with in-laws, and it helps us see all the aspects of each situation – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The focus of mindful awareness practice is to cultivate the capacity to be aware and present with whatever is happening. It is to stabilize your attention so that you can be the one who is directing the searchlight of your attention, rather than being the pinball, having your attention bounce toward whatever is most compelling at the moment.
Mindful awareness happens in the present moment. In fact, when you really think about it, everything that you can do anything about happens in the present moment. I am sitting with my baby having lunch with a friend and her baby. I am nursing my baby and reading this book. I am walking on the StairMaster, five months pregnant. In some ways, the only relevant place for your attention to be is right now, in this present moment. Motherhood happens now, and now, and now. As much as we spend our time focusing on the past or planning or rehearsing for the future, the only moment in which you have any power is right now.
When you are present, you can see when your baby starts to get distressed, sometimes before it turns into a full-on wail. When the baby is wailing, you can still be present with her, rooted in the present moment in your body with your breathing. You can see your baby’s expressions and can better respond to what you sense your baby needs.
Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from two soon-to-be parents, what advice would you give them about what to expect and skillful ways to relate to their child as new parents?
Cassandra: This is really going to be one of the major rides of your life. You can expect to be tired, exhausted even. You can expect to have your lifestyle, and your relationship to one another change. Your bodies will change (even yours dad!), your identities, the very way you see yourselves will change. And, as a good friend told me at my baby shower, your heart and capacity for love will stretch wider than you ever thought it could.
I would say that cultivating mindful awareness is a wonderful foundation for great parenting. Mindful awareness is a skill that can be learned, like playing the piano or learning a new language, and as such it takes practice. There are lots of opportunities now to learn mindfulness – at a local meditation center, through taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction class, and increasingly mindful parenting classes are popping up everywhere. The focus here is on being aware of your experiences as parents as they arise, meeting them as they are, learning to center your attention in the present-moment – on what actually is happening right now, rather than your stories about it, or what it means. It’s about learning to approach all of your experiences, as much as possible with openness, curiosity, and compassion. It’s about learning to ride the waves of parenting rather than resisting them and getting battered about in the process.
But mindfulness is more than just a skill, it is also an approach to life, an approach to parenting, that is already something you know how to do. You just need to spend more time in that part of you that is naturally mindful and aware and get more familiar with it. It’s spending more time in the part of you that is resting in your awareness of what is happening, rather than being completely caught up your thoughts about it. Spending more time in the part of you that is here, right now, in this moment, in your body, rather than thinking, doing, achieving, accomplishing – which we all spend so much time doing. In some ways, it’s spending more time just “being” with your family, rather than “doing.”
And above all, cultivate compassion for yourself, each other, your loved ones, and your little one. You will make mistakes, fall into reactions that are not in alignment with your highest ideals as a parent or a partner, and lose your mind from time to time. That too, is a part of life and of parenting. If you are partnered, make time for one another without the baby, so that you can stay connected at a deep level. Give yourself and each other the benefit of the doubt, intentionally be kind to yourself and each other, and take time for the renewal and self-care you need to stay sane. This too, is an important part of mindful parenting.
Thank you so much Cassandra!
To the readers: As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
There is no question about it, the interest in Mindfulness-Based Interventions to work with people experiencing a variety of “disorders” and also in healthy individuals is growing at a rapid pace. There has been research with psychological issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar, addiction, eating disorders, ADHD, OCD, Parenting and others. There has also been plenty of research with medical diagnoses such as Chronic Pain, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Sleep disorders, heart disease, epilepsy and others.
The most well-known of these are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and a growing interest in Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for addictive relapse.
In her book The Art and Science of Mindfulness: Integrating Mindfulness into Psychology and the Helping Professions, Shauna Shapiro shows a variety of research with mindfulness-based interventions and says,
As it stands, there is solid evidence that mindfulness-based treatments can be successfully applied to the treatment of symptoms of anxiety and depression, whether MBSR, MBCT or ACT is applied. Mixed-modality intensive treatments like DBT that incorporate mindfulness training are also useful for treating more complex personality disorders, which often include substance abuse and self-harming behaviors.
Yet, it’s amazing that there has been this must positive research in only 30 years, most of it coming in the last 10 years. This is an exciting time in the field of mindfulness as a modality for medical and psychological distress.
The research is clearly pointing out that mindfulness as an approach has been and can continue to be translated into the mainstream and is indeed helpful as an intervention.
In a previous interview with Shauna, I asked her what she felt was the most exciting research out there in connection with mindfulness and she said:
Neuroplasticity. I believe this single word gives people hope; hope that change is possible. For example, we used to think that we all had a “happiness set point” much like with weight, and that no matter what our circumstances, we would always end up back at baseline. Good scientific evidence substantiates this theory, for example, people who win the lotto or those who are in a terrible accident and become paralyzed, after an initial spike in the expected direction, return to their baseline levels of happiness. Thus it was concluded that we had a happiness set point that was not very moveable. This is great news if you are born happy, however if you aren’t, it leaves you feeling pretty hopeless…And yet the new research in neuroplasticity demonstrates that we can change our level of happiness because we can modify both the activity and structure of our brain through meditation training. Recent research shows that meditation practice increases activity in areas of the brain associated with positive emotion, and shows structural changes in the brain due to long term meditation practice. This new research is quite hopeful, suggesting that although happiness may not change due to external circumstances, changing our internal circumstances, through mindfulness training, can change our level of happiness.
How do you get started with mindfulness? You can click on this link to start a short practice right now. Enjoy!
Much more to come in this field…stay tuned. As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
A while back I wrote the post 10 Quotes for a Mindful Day and followed up with 10 (More) Quotes for a Mindful Day. Since then I began an increasingly popular tradition called Mondays Mindful Quote where every Monday I post a quote that I think has some relevance to Mindfulness and Psychotherapy and then explore the quote.
Here is a new list I’m calling 10 Quotes for a Mindful Day Part III. I will write future posts that explore some of these quotes and how they are relevant to our daily lives. If you already have ideas on how they are relevant to you, please share your thoughts below (you can even do so anonymously if you like) as we can all learn from this living wisdom. Enjoy!
- “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
- “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
~ Pema Chödrön
- “Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”
~ Louis L’Amour
- “There is only one world, the world pressing against you at this minute. There is only one minute in which you are alive, this minute here and now. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.”
~ Storm Jameson
- “When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.”
~ Tara Brach
- “We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.”
~Charlotte Joko Beck
- “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable. This is true.”
- “There is sitting meditation. There is walking meditation. Why not listening and speaking meditation? Isn’t it sensible that one could practice mindfulness in relationship and so get better at it?”
- “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
What are some quotes that move you?
Please share your thoughts, stories, quotes, and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.