Today I attended the first class on Mindfulness for Nurturing Parents with Bernardo’s and the Centre for Mindfulness Practice and Research at Bangor University.
Week 1 – Automatic Pilot
The first week was all about Mindfulness, what was it all about and what did we think it was all about. I was quite relieved to learn it wasn’t about chanting and meditation, but more about trying to retrain our brains so that we can stay calm in stressful situations. This sounds perfect for me because I’m fed up of feeling frazzled and stressed all the time!
As we began we talked about moving on autopilot, like when you’re driving along and you suddenly realise you’re not where you thought you were and you don’t remember getting here. This is because our minds wander a bit instead of focussing on the present and our driving. I admit I often do it. I get somewhere and I don’t remember the journey at all!
But whilst I was aware of driving on autopilot, I hadn’t realised how much of my life goes by without me really noticing. Sometimes being able to do things on autopilot can help us in our hectic lives, but this means we can miss a lot of life’s pleasures and we tend to react automatically without being fully aware of whats going on.
We often spend so much time multi-tasking, like doing something else whilst watching TV, or eating our breakfast whilst making the kids their packed lunch. Our attention is so divided that we only catch glimpses of each of these activities. So much of our what we do we do through habit and this tendency becomes part of the way we parent our children. Have you ever realised that your child has been talking to you and you’ve been responding without really listening to what they’re saying? I know I have.
Learning to be able to pay close attention, when we choose to, can become a very important and helpful skill in life. It can allow us to make a choice about what we pay attention to and helping us parent our children more successfully and give them the full attention that they deserve.
Awareness of Breath and Body
The first task we had to do was to place a sweet (or in my case a grape) on our hand and really look and focus on it. Concentrating on how it looked, how it felt, did the wrapper crinkle, did it reflect the lights of the room, did it have a smell, what did it smell like? Then we placed the sweet in our mouth, but before chewing it, we played with it in our mouth. How did it feel against our tongue, could we taste anything yet, was it smooth or could we feel imperfections with our tongue? Finally, we bit into the sweet, or in my case the grape. I was amazed at how much nicer the grape tasted. I could tell the minute my teeth bit into the grape releasing the fruit and how the taste exploded in my mouth! It was amazing how just concentrating for a minute on just that grape made it taste so much nicer. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really like grapes!
One way to begin to train ourselves to pay attention to each moment is to tune into the sensations of the body and particularly the breath in your body. The breath is very useful, for all sorts of reasons. You are constantly breathing in and you are breathing in at this moment. So when we are noticing this breath, we are here in this moment. The breath can be like an anchor, holding us steadily in the present moment when our mind and body are reactive, unsettled or off-balance. The breath is always available to us as a place to return to in the midst of stress in our lives. Think about it, there’s a reason why you tell someone who is feeling angry to take deep breaths before speaking. It’s not that taking extra air into your lungs that calms you down, it’s more about focusing on the breath and allowing you to focus on the moment.
When you start to focus on your breath, you will notice how active your mind actually is. Your mind will jump from topic to topic, like a toddler in a park running from one thing to another.
You may find that your mind is trying to alter or improve your breath in some way. There may be thoughts about your breathing or maybe thoughts about something quite unrelated. How would it be to just sit and allow your attention to settle on the experience of body breathing and allowing your attention to just rest lightly and feel the breath?
If your mind is trying to control your breathing, just notice this and return your attention. If your mind wanders, just calmly bring your attention back to your breath. It doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders as long as you return back to focusing on your breathing as soon as you realise your mind has wandered.
Unlike many other animals, humans instinctively nurture and protect our children. Human babies need looking after for at least 21-years and are born helpless and need us to do everything from them. Compare this to turtles whose parents leave once the eggs have been laid and the baby turtles have to find their own way to the sea and to survive all on their own.
As we have evolved to be more complex beings, we need longer to develop our full capacity. As babies are so helpless and need us to look after them, we are equally drawn to take care of babies. That’s why no one can ignore a crying baby, there is a strong instinct inside us that makes us what to comfort that crying baby in any way we can!
Mindfulness and your Daily Life
Mindfulness eating is an easy way to bring mindfulness into our daily lives, after all we all have to eat. Try mindfully eating a small item like a piece of fruit or the first three mouthfuls of a meal, at least once a day.
Try giving your full concentration and attention to something each day, something you would usually do on autopilot like cleaning your teeth. Simply decide to bring mindful awareness to the activity, whatever it is, and help train your brain to pay attention to the present and what you are doing.