In Appreciation: The More Things Change, The More They Change (And That’s Okay)

The More Things Change, The More They Change (And That’s Okay)

I have had the supreme pleasure of writing about mindfulness and gratitude for the last year for Hilltown Families, and I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time each month to read my (imperfect) thoughts on these practices that mean so much to me. But as one of the main tenets of Buddhism is the concept of impermanence, or, as I like to joke, the more things change, the more they change, I find myself changing as well, and as I embark on new writing endeavors and wrap up a few in the process, I am now writing my final post for this website. Since this is a post that marks a transition, it seems only fitting that it focus on impermanence, and how through mindfulness, we can find much value in not only understanding change, but the truth and profundity of the deeper impermanence all around us. Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: 5 Books in the Area of Mindfulness & Empathy

Reflections of a Year in Reading

Reading up on mindfulness and empathy is a powerful way to understand and reflect on our own mindfulness practice and our how to work within our current divisive paradigms.

As those who know me well can attest, I love to read. Like the house could be burning down but please just let me finish this chapter first love to read. With 2016 at a close and much confusion and uncertainty in the current morass, I have been reflecting on some of the best books I read last year on the practice of mindfulness and empathy, especially those that I am still pulling lessons from now to help me in my daily practice and daily existence.

Below are five of my favorite books that I read in 2016 on the areas of mindfulness and empathy.

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In Appreciation: Emphasizing Giving over Receiving During the Holidays

Emphasizing Giving over Receiving During the Holidays

A few weeks before Christmas, my 6-year-old lamented the lack of presents under the tree. This was pretty new to me, since up to this point, the kids had really been too young to conceptualize just how much this season can be about what they get out of it. But this past year, whenever they saw something they coveted at a store, they’d add it to the working list of what they want for Christmas or their birthday. Of course, both these events are times in our house when they receive gifts, but in neither case do I want that to be the emphasis for them. I decided to more consciously work with them to first and foremost appreciate the opportunities for giving that the season can afford, because giving to me, is the true gift.

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In Appreciation: Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is always with us, though we are elaborately and profoundly adept at masking it under layers of practices and to-do lists to keep the uncomfortable, frightening feelings that come with uncertainty at bay. But for me, this past month shattered many of the illusions of certainty to which I was clinging. I was suddenly cast into a deep discomfort and fear of the unknown that I had never before felt so strongly or across so many aspects of my life, as well as the lives of many people whom I love.

When I first began to study mindfulness and Buddhism years ago, it was because on an impulse, I purchased the book Comfortable with Uncertainty by the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. I really liked the title, because I was young, insecure, and totally not comfortable with anything. Since in the immediate days after the election, I have been googling how to move to Canada, compulsively cleaning my house, and spending hours composing long, eviscerating responses to comments on Facebook that I would never actually post. I was clearly once again not comfortable with uncertainty. I pulled Chodron’s book back off the shelf for a refresher course on mindfulness when dealing with uncertainty.

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In Appreciation: 3 Ways to Practice Kindness and Teach Gratitude During the Holidays

Three Ways to Teach Gratitude in Time with the Season

With the many weekends of harvest festivals winding down and Thanksgiving right around the corner, the air is thick with the pumpkin spice aroma of, well, everything, and it is hard to miss that another season of thanks is upon us. While every day is an opportunity to be grateful, with children I find this season in particular can offer some prime opportunities to practice gratitude in unique ways. For my family, there are a few variations on familiar themes of gratitude that I have found work to teach both gratitude and interconnectedness, the latter of which helps teach how far our circles of gratitude really can reach.

This first practice is one I only recently learned (with many thanks to my mother-in-law, who introduced it to us during a recent visit). During her trip, I had finally got my Pinterest-deficient self in gear and had purchased some orange and black construction paper so the kids could make festive paper chains to string up in the house as decorations. As they worked on this project with my mother-in-law, she introduced a lovely idea that will heretofore become a ritual in our house. On each strip of cardboard, before you glue it in a ring and add it to the chain, you write something you are grateful for on it.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Greeting Negative Emotions, Mindfully

How to Greet Negative Emotions with Awareness and Ease

Invite your emotions to metaphorically invited grab a pumpkin-spice latte, and give it a name!

With two young daughters, the occasional emotional meltdown, by any or all of us, is not unheard of in our household. In fact, while the children might be most prone to public tantrums, my own metamorphosis after having children involved a myriad of complex and contradictory emotions that easily could have ended with me screaming in the shoe aisle at the department store as well. Especially after having children, I have found that using mindful awareness as a tool to manage negative emotions, and teaching my children the same, has had a profound effect on my ability to cope and rebound from the influx of negative emotions that try to pull us all down on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis.

Mindful awareness is very much exactly what it sounds like. It is a conscious effort to pay attention in the moment to what is around and within you, and you can do it wherever you are. In mindful awareness of emotions, one is paying specific attention to what they are feeling. There are several methods of practicing mindful awareness with emotions, but the method I prefer is as follows..  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: The Value of Being Bored

How to Let Your Kids Be Bored, And Why it Matters

One of our family’s yearly late-summer rituals is a road trip to Michigan, where my husband and I are originally from, and where his family still lives. Because we have small children, a big dog, and we like to visit a few of the Great Lakes while we are there, we opt to drive the 10+ hours instead of flying. Needless to say, we spend a good deal of time during these trips in the car. And for the first time this summer, we experienced a new phenomena. At some point early in the drive my six-year-old announced she was bored. My four-year-old, always eager to keep pace with her sister, announced she too was bore-ing (I assure you, she is not).

At first, we offered my daughters a few solutions for their newly discovered malaise. I had packed books and art supplies, stuffed animals and dolls, all stacked between their car seats to keep themselves entertained. But as my older daughter repeated every five minutes like the world’s most annoying metronome how she was still bored, I told her quite simply what I honestly think about her boredom. Namely, that her boredom isn’t my problem to solve for her. And that boredom has some positive attributes for those willing to tackle their road-trip ennui.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: In Praise of Imperfection

In Praise of Imperfection

The fear of failure, for many, can be the ultimate buzzkill. As a high-achievement junkie myself, I’ve struggled with those fears firsthand, and recently I’ve been reading and thinking even more on it. In the last few months, I’ve watched my six-year-old daughter get so frustrated playing piano that she gives up after a few minutes because she made a mistake (and she isn’t even taking lessons!). Or she refuses to draw a picture of a dog because she doesn’t do it well enough. So how do I teach her to appreciate and embrace the challenges that inevitably come with learning, instead of deciding to give up because she believes she just don’t have what it takes?

Research by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck tackles this very conundrum. Dweck breaks down what she calls “implicit views of intelligence” into a spectrum. On one end are individuals with a fixed mindset. According to Dweck, someone with a fixed mindset believes their intelligence, or talent, is fixed, or innate. Because their intelligence is part of who they are, their priority is to be perceived as smart. They find challenges frustrating and anxiety-provoking for just this reason.

On the other end of the spectrum is someone with a growth mindset. A growth mindset individual believes intelligence is learned through a variety of methods and hard work, and can be developed over time. Growth mindset individuals view challenges as opportunities and are excited by them. Dweck also found that students who had a growth mindset performed better overall. So how do I teach growth mindset to a six-year-old with a perfect dog picture complex? Dweck and others offer some tips.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Reading as a Tool Towards Empathy

This is Your Brain on Books

Summer reading is a wonderful chance to engage your children with a love of reading, and recent research suggests that reading fiction is also powerful tool for strengthening our empathy muscles.

Summer is one of my favorite seasons, but not just for beaches and iced coffees, though those are both really good reasons. With summer comes one of my favorite pastimes—summer reading. Okay, to be fair, I love fall, winter, and spring reading too, but now that my oldest daughter is learning to read herself, summer reading has taken on a new meaning as we take part in our local library’s summer reading challenge, with prizes of more books for reading books, which is sort of my idea of the perfect circle.

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In Appreciation: An Exercise in Perspective Taking

An Exercise in Perspective Taking

I remember a few years ago, seeing a dad at the library whose two kids were pretty out of control. Within minutes of entering the kid’s section, they had their shoes and socks kicked off even though he repeatedly told them not to. As he collected their discarded items off the carpet, he looked beaten down in that way that only an overwhelmed parent can.

I hate to admit this now, but I totally had a moment of righteous judgement about his parenting. I’ve thought of this moment many times since, not because it still makes me feel smug, but because experience has taught me, often and in public, how any parent can get overwhelmed by even the usually best-behaved children.

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In Appreciation: Gratitude Discussions Inspired Joyous Living

An Exercise in Discussing Gratitude

Gratitude discussions are one way to reflect on an event and see the often invisible work that went into making that event special for you and your child.

As spring kicks into high gear, and my husband and I begin our warm weather ritual of shuttling our family around on weekends to outdoor events and festivals, I really want to teach them, and remind myself, of the gift we are being given by others. From a school carnival to a community music festival, there are no small parts when it comes to making an activity or event come together. However, sometimes when in the midst of experiencing these moments, we can get stuck in focusing on whatever doesn’t work perfectly, especially nowadays when we can so easily use social media to amplify our annoyances and get a lot of blue thumbs in agreement.

Fostering something called “gratitude discussions” with our children is one way to keep the emphasis on being appreciative of the work that went into any event or experience, and away from the small guffaws or moments that didn’t go perfectly.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Mindfulness in Action

When Life Gives You Lemons, Be Mindful of Them

Sometimes the greatest mindfulness lesson you can give your children is the one you teach yourself. That’s what happened for me when I finally chose to pay attention to my clumsy struggle to adapt to plans that go awry.

This was going to be a post about basic exercises to teach mindfulness with your children. Then I had a little lesson in mindfulness myself, and decided to write about that instead—because teaching your children about mindfulness sometimes means taking a big dose of your own mindful medicine.

Despite the existential dilemma of it all, I am a big fan of plans. Now plans are fine, but not if they create issues for you whenever things don’t go as planned (and with kids that means plans often don’t go as planned). Other people are able to seamlessly turn the lemons of thwarted plans into lemonade. But me? Not so much.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Reclaiming Rituals of Politeness

Rethinking the Thank You Card

The traditional thank you card can easily feel more like a teeth-grinding practice in proper etiquette rather than a chance to offer true gratitude. How can we reclaim the ritual of a written thank you to make it truly resonate?

I’ll admit it. I kind of hate thank you cards. The traditional event-where-gift-was-given thank you card has always left me a little cold. They feel too perfunctory to me, a practice more in proper etiquette than actual thanks. And they are nerve-wracking to do. I got married over ten years ago and I still worry that I inadvertently missed a thank you card, and that somewhere, someone is seething in anger because I skipped them on the list. In short, the thank you card used to seriously stress me out.

Then last year, a class at the college where I worked did a collaborative gratitude project. Part of the project was to write a note to every staff person on campus and thank them for their efforts. One day in the mail I received an envelope containing a thin yellow slip of paper from a student I had never met thanking me for my hard work. I was moved, even though my job title was so vague that this student likely had no concept of what my work actually entailed. But he had taken a moment and thought of me and my small role in his education. It felt really good. I asked myself, what could I learn about saying thank you from this stranger’s note? Turns out, quite a bit.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Giving Thanks at the ‘Gratitude Table’

Giving Thanks at the ‘Gratitude Table’

Finding time to reflect and give thanks for our daily joys is no easy task in the midst of the hectic churn of day-to-day reality. But as my family and I discovered, taking a break at the “gratitude table’ is a simple, fun way to slow down and not just smell the flowers, but thank them too.

This fall was grueling for my family. My job suddenly became much more demanding and my hours increased. Both our kids had major transitions, with my 5-year-old starting a new school and my 3-year-old a new classroom. My husband had a significant injury which sidelined him for over a month, and we had just gotten a puppy because sometimes we like to punch ourselves in the face for fun.

None of these events were a tragedy in and of themselves, but I noticed in my own day-to-day talking that I was focusing my thoughts too often on the negatives these changes were bringing. The kids were reflecting that in small ways too. We had so much to be thankful for everyday. I knew that. I was just doing a poor job being mindful of it in between the busyness of daily life.

I am a big fan of giving thanks. In fact, the daily act of reflecting on what we have to be grateful for is a superfood for our emotional and physical well being, with benefits ranging from sleeping better and being less stressed to being more empathetic and less likely to act aggressively (University of Kentucky, 2012). I’d read about gratitude journals as a practice—basically you write down what you are grateful for everyday—and liked the concept. But journals (and every other paper product) in our house often end up covered in stickers and Hello, Kitty! doodles. And while a journal is a great individual practice, I didn’t want to just recalibrate myself. I wanted to do it as a family. However, a group journaling project sounded like a recipe for epic Pinterest-esque failure, and I try to avoid those. So instead, we created our own practice. My 5-year-old later dubbed it “the gratitude table.”

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