Off the Mat: Meditating and Parenting

Peace, Happiness and Fried Eggs

The object of my meditation.

Fried egg. Toast.

Brown flecks on pure white. Whiter than my t-shirt. I need a new white t-shirt. This one probably isn’t nice enough for work. What’s that stain? Marker? Blueberry? Can I tuck it in or do I need to change before my 1:15? What else is clean? I wonder if the washer is done.

Oh. The egg. The toast. Sunflower yellow yolk. Sunflowers didn’t grow this year. Too dry? Chipmunks eating the sprouts? Chipmunk darting through the garden now. Naturally still one moment and then scurrying someplace new.

Like my mind.

Practicing mindful eating this morning. Turning attention to the object of my meditation. In this case, egg on toast.

Warmth. Color. Tiny air pockets in my bread, nooks and crannies. My mind wanders off to 70s commercials. Noticing, I direct it back to focus on egg on toast. Two-thirds gone. Did I notice? I should be eating more slowly. In the training, we made one raisin last 5 minutes. But cold egg on toast won’t taste good. And I’m hungry. My stomach is sending that message through sensation and sound.

Egg. Toast. Butter. Crunch, then softness. Warmth. Color. Flavor. Texture. Sound. Gratitude.

♦♦♦

I just returned from a weekend workshop on the neuroscience of meditation and pain. The speaker was the guy who’s been doing brain scans of people meditating. I went to hear his research first hand and gather tools for my students, many of whom suffer from chronic pain. The workshop included his (thankfully accessible) explanations of the brain science, practice with meditation tools, and instruction on how to teach them.

A key piece of teaching meditation to beginners (and not so beginners) is helping them understand that meditation isn’t sitting cross legged with a clear mind and blissful heart. Meditation is training the brain to pay attention. The practice of acknowledging that the mind wanders. Gently bringing it back to focus again and again and again. Learning to do so with gentleness and compassion.

Sharing my experience of all the places my mind went after one round, the speaker responded not to my words but to my tone, inviting me to be more gentle and kind with myself. This struck me, because I hadn’t felt as if I was being particularly harsh! I recalled the same message in another workshop with another teacher years ago. Ironically, her tone was itself harsh, “you need to change how you see your body and your inner dialogue about what your body can and cannot do.”

Both teachers heard something in my tone that I do not. Because for me, its’ my baseline.

The final meditation session of the weekend focused on compassion. First, call to mind someone you love. Send that person happiness, peace and well-being. My kiddo of course – glowing in mind’s eye, every cell tingling with love.

Next, focus on someone you find challenging. After a weekend of meditating, it felt pretty easy to send peace, happiness, and well-being to a frustrating colleague.

Finally, focus on yourself. Gulp. The difficulty I felt when trying to offer myself peace, happiness and well-being brought deep sadness. Gentle tears.

When I hear my little boy talking harshly about himself, I wonder, does he believe that or is he trying it on? Passive-aggressively fishing for a compliment? Trying to get a rise out of me?

Now I have a new question – has he learned that from me?

New scientific research documents that meditation helps build mental control, emotional regulation and non-reactivity, all of which lessen emotional suffering. Brain scans of new meditators show how quickly the effort proves effective. Brain scans of long time meditators demonstrate that the effort becomes effortless.

A few minutes a day, more days than not, and I can be less reactive by the time school starts? That’s motivating. Over time, practicing a few minutes a day will rewire my brain to be less reactive as my new normal? With puberty about 5 years away, I’m motivated to begin.

Each day, using the capacity I have to love those around me,  I can acknowledge my harsh self-talk without engaging, bring my attention back, gently, again and again, to offer myself peace, happiness, and well-being.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Ginny is a pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner, offering classes and support to busy moms carrying the pain of too much stress and too little exercise, rest, and self-care time. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. www.ginnyhamilton.com

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