The constant, whirring, mental chatter is something we all, as conscious beings, experience.
Loud at times, quiet at others – the mind is an incredible entity that enables us to imagine and achieve truly remarkable things.
But, there is also a dark side, too.
The mind can be over-active, sabotaging and difficult. It can become something of a burden, hindering anything positive with criticism of ourselves and others.
Judging, over-analysing, and generally getting in the way of the good stuff.
One of the major health and wellbeing buzzwords for the last half-decade has been ‘mindfulness’. It’s been banded about here, there and everywhere. Used as an umbrella term for anything that deals with the moment-to-moment awareness of life.
Sometimes it’s confused as a wholly spiritual term – which doesn’t suit everyone, and thus it puts some people off giving it a go.
In actual fact, the fundamentals of mindfulness don’t need to be about faith or spirituality at all. As per Zen, or Hinduism or Buddhism, for example. Not unless, of course, it’s a choice for it to be so.
Mindfulness as a scale
At it’s most basic level, and proving to be much more than just a buzzword, the approach of mindfulness can present as minimally as a fleeting lifestyle choice; to be in the moment; to notice.
Ranging from that simple act, right the way through to influencing a complete life-overhaul, and becoming an all-day, daily practice.
We suggest Googling the multi-faceted subject of mindfulness and seeing where it leads you. It’s a fascinating journey of discovery.
But if, however, you’d just like straight-up health-focussed info, then check out what the NHS has to say about mindfulness and it’s positive effect on mental health and wellbeing.
Applying mindfulness in life
Certainly for those of us born and raised in the West, mindfulness often comes rescuing people in the rolling seas of despair. It becomes the lighthouse in the storm.
Speaking about my own practice of mindfulness: I was first unknowingly introduced to the concept as a child, by a relative who embodied the quest for inner stillness. Far unlike the rest of my family, who were wonderful, but often very loud, fun and chaotic. Lacking the words and knowledge as a child to articulate why and how someone becomes calm like that, and due to the fact that contact was seldom, I just let the intrigue float away – pushed aside by the other happenings and characters in my life. I now presume it was a practice of yoga that possibly helped my relative to be like this?
At the time, as a child and teenager, my mind never stopped. I guess I had undiagnosed anxiety. I didn’t know it. I was just busy being busy. Using distraction to keep me moving. I was exhausted. I had no idea, but I needed mindfulness then more than I could have realised.
But I believe we do the things that we need to do, to get through, when we’re ready to do them.
A new world opened up
When I started University, and with new influences at hand, I dabbled in a bit of Tai Chi, as well as trying yoga for the first time.
Although, and as I’d mistakingly thought that it mattered, I was overweight and body-conscious.
So, I didn’t stick at any of it. Partly because I was thinking that I didn’t look like a ‘yoga-girl’. If anything I probably thought I was a lump. The other part to it was that it felt far easier to numb my thoughts and feelings with the other offerings of university life.
In short, I wasn’t ready to look within.
But, when I was in my early twenties, a catalogue of unforeseen circumstances/life experiences forced my hand, and I accessed counselling for the first time.
That is when I would say I started to really look at mindfulness and began applying it to my life.
Mindfulness as a journey
Please know I’m not sitting here as some sort of expert or know-it-all. I’m learning everyday and everyday I struggle with it.
But then, that’s also the point.
I’ve come to appreciate that it is a constant, continuous and ever-evolving practice. It is never perfected. Only practiced. The more I practice the better I feel.
It’s as simple as that.
Bringing my attention back to my breath is now something I try to do in every moment of my life. And now, especially as a mother, it’s a fundamental thing for me.
I myself struggle though because I’m not a Tibetan monk. I’m a busy mum.
So, how does it work?
Well, I am constantly bringing my awareness out of my mind and back to the moment. Back to the breath. The inhale and the exhale.
So, if I’m trying to make dinner, order shopping, fold the laundry and the baby needs a nap, I may just try to notice if I feel frustrated. Rather than get wrapped up in the frustration – that I never seem to have enough time.
In its simplest form, I breathe in and then I breathe out.
I take note and realise if I’m doing too much.
I deal with things one thing at a time.
When I do start wandering off into the woods of worrying, and I notice, that’s the moment that I bring it back.
So, I focus on my breath on the school-run, in bed when I’m comforting my baby and cooking the dinner.
Whatever it is I am doing. I try to be all there.
And when life is stressful?
Breathe. Don’t panic.
To practice mindfulness fully in motherhood, there are some key points:
- I have to limit my screen-time.
- I have minimal social media and operate on a philosophy of minimalism across all areas of my life. I’m not a ‘just-for-the-sake-of-it’ sort of person.
- I accept myself. I really like me. I don’t seek outside validation. Not from anyone.
- I’ve had to let-go of perfection: house work, body image… it’s all had to go.
- I also try not to get caught up in upholding the ‘super-mum myth’. I refuse to spread the mindless trite that gets spoken of as if it’s gospel. This one is crucially important: despite what we may think, we don’t have to be doing it all. I try not to play into it either and instead speak my truth. I can often be heard saying: “No, I’m not super-busy this weekend, and no, I don’t have tons of activities planned over the half-term.”
- I have a very close circle: a few good friends that I adore, and we see each other when we can. Though, admittedly I’m not the most communicative friend over the telephone. But I send messages to show I care. Those who love me know that’s enough. So, if I make an effort, I really do like you. I guess I’m just not one for BS.
- I crave stillness.
- I also like spontaneity. I believe it’s not only important for healthy family-life not to be over-diarised. But, also, I actually get ill if there’s too much going on, and I recharge in solitude. I love my own company!
- I try not to waste time nor energy on stuff or people that don’t serve me. This is part of letting-go of the need to be a pleaser; the need to be acceptable. To be liked. I’ve become a lot less concerned about what others think.
Mindful motherhood is a challenge
Motherhood, for most women, is a time of monumental change, and this makes us prone to overthinking and over-analysing.
Motherhood, by its very nature, programmes us to be hyper-aware of survival, possible dangers and our children’s development, twenty-four hours a day.
Hormones, responsibilities and the pressures of daily life, together with sleep deprivation, social isolation and very little time to restore and replenish our own souls, compounds a tendency to worry or to feel stress.
Mindfulness can help enormously with the slowing down of thoughts, so that we notice what is most important.
Just noting our thoughts, for instance, while we are at the supermarket, can have huge benefits to our wellbeing and that of those around us, particularly children.
For example, if I’m in the supermarket looking for bananas, the challenge of motherhood is that quite often it’s not just about being stood in a supermarket looking for bananas. There’s usually atleast one child in accompaniment. Kicking off!
Let’s say, for arguements sake, the child is in a buggy, crying because of teething. The situation is often loaded with so much more because now people are looking at me while the baby cries and I’m flustered and struggling to find the bananas.
Perhaps now, as I try to comfort the baby, I can hear tuts from strangers who disprove of the baby crying. Whether it’s true or not, that’s the ‘crap mother’ narrative I often play in my head. Then the train can quickly runaway from there.
Anxiety will strike
I’m now hot and bothered. I start thinking:
“I’m only wearing this heavy coat because I’m too fat to fit anything else, and so I’m rubbish because I haven’t lost my baby weight.”
Then I remember that there’s nothing for dinner.
“Maybe I should eat nothing? But what about the rest of the family? I won’t have time to cook something properly. Baby needs a nap. I need to respond to an email to the school about my other child and I’ve still got a deadline for an assignment that I haven’t even started!!!”
“Why can’t I fit it all in???”
“I’m rubbish. Now I’ve picked up a ready-meal. Now the lady in the queue is really disproving. I know my mother-in-law would agree with her. And I still don’t have the bananas!!!”
See, it’s a runaway train.
Being mindful in such situations is by no means easy. Especially when it’s a habit to feel hurried and stressed. We often don’t breathe properly when our minds are like this.
But, by noting the events and thoughts as they occur, it can give space for us to breathe and to stop the abusive run-away train of thoughts.
For example, instead, I might try thinking:
“I need bananas. Baby is crying. Try to soothe baby. Lady looking at me. Feels a bit rude. Breathe. Find the bananas. Got them. Oh, yes, we need dinner. Pick up ready meal. It’s all ok. Pay for stuff. Go home.”
I apply this to everything: walking on the school-run,getting the kids off to bed, when I’m trying to get off to sleep, making tea that I rarely get to drink, cooking dinner, folding laundry and cleaning stuff off the floor for the umpteenth time.
It’s how I bring my attention to the here and now. The whole time my mind wants to distract me. I have to bring it back. It’s just how I live my life.
One thing, one person, one issue at a time.
This is where I have to credit the work of the Kabat-Zinns and their wonderful book: Everyday Blessings: Mindfulness For Parents – it literally changed motherhood for me.
I don’t have too many books that I’d recommend mothers should read because there’s enough to contend with, and finding our own way; using our own intuition as mothers, is more important than what some supposed ‘expert’ has to say on the matter of how you raise your children.
But this book is worth it. I promise. Not least because there are actually very few other workable, free and life-changing philosophies that can be as easily implemented in day-to-day life.
It can feel weird at first, but it’s amazing the difference being mindful makes.
I try to be mindful in every waking moment that I have.
It’s not as exhausting as it sounds, it’s far harder and more tiring to be mindless.
I know it’s something I will never be perfect at, as it can’t be perfected. I don’t think. Only practiced.
Day in, day out. I:
Practice to feel better.
Practice to make space for the important things.
Practice to quieten the mind.
Practice to experience life fully and to feel the wonder of my true self and that of all those I love.
I feel the sun warming my face.
I hear my children’s laughter and the ocean lapping on the shore.
I breathe. I let thoughts come and go.
Yoga is also a massively responsible for the deepening of this practice, and it’s an ever-increasing part of my life.
But that’s a whole other story!
If you’d find a guided meditation useful for getting into the habit of being mindful, try this by Donna D’Cruz