Mindful Parenting · Mindfulness

Turn your Internal Compass Toward Loving Kindness

loving_kindness_meditation

I first learned the loving kindness meditation during a training course. I had been so taken by it that I immediately began integrating it into my personal life. Over the years, I have brought it forward into my counselling practice.

The loving kindness meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition as a means to develop compassion. Its simple sentences aim to foster unconditional acceptance, love, and compassion for self as well as for others, with no expectation of anything in return.

In this post, I am sharing two versions of the loving kindness meditation. The first one is longer and may take approximately 10 minutes, and the second one is abbreviated for those days when we feel pressed for time.

Here are some suggestions on when to use the loving kindness meditation:

  1. To get centred in the morning and set your intention for the day. Take a few minutes each morning, and create space for loving kindness in your life.
  2. To tune your heart. Elisha Goldstein writes about using compassion to tune the heart, and places this action in the context of a natural antidepressant.
  3. To let go of the emotional journey of others, and still feel as though you are helping. There will be moments when we want to help those in our lives, but we can not carry their emotional suffering for them. The loving kindness meditation creates space for you to connect with compassion for others, in a way that honours their strength and ability.  I have often directed my loving kindness meditation to my children, when they have appeared to be struggling with peers or with the pressures of adolescence. I have directed it toward my husband, when I have known he was entering into stressful times at work. I have directed it toward family members, when I have been keenly aware of the miles between us and my inability to reach out and hug them. When sitting with the loving kindness meditation, picture the individuals in your life, their inherent goodness, and their desire to be happy. Wish the words of the loving kindness meditation to them, with an open heart, unconditional acceptance, and without judgment.

The loving kindness meditation can help you cultivate compassion for self and others. Challenge yourself to use it daily for 2 weeks, and notice with curiousity the beneficial impact it can have on you and your relationships!

loving_kindness_shortened

 

Resources:

  • The loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the first image) was shared with me by Counsellor Mahara Albert, in Vancouver BC, during the Stopping the Violence core training by EVA BC (2008)
  • The shortened version of the loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the second image) is by Jack Kornfield

Prefer to have the meditation read to you? Check out these options:

 

Mindful Parenting

Oh… How Easily we Become Distracted!

messy-roomA friend and I were chatting over coffee recently – a mix of giggles and moans as we gushed on the amusements and perplexities of life with kids. My friend had been expressing frustration about trying to get her children to clean their bedrooms. She shared with me that she would ask them to tidy their rooms, even provide specific directions as to what needed to be tidied, and yet return later only to find them playing in their rooms with no amount of tidying completed! My friend expressed exasperation and admitted to being unsure of how to proceed. As I had sat listening to my friend describe her dilemma, a sudden rush of self-awareness swept over me. I too have experienced frustration when my children were requested to tidy their rooms and instead found themselves distracted in the process. I too have found myself curiously wondering how on earth I can motivate them. I too have berated myself for cutting to the chase and cleaning their rooms myself. Despite these acknowledgements, the realization I had was more powerful: it had to do with the way I carry out my own chores and obligations.

All too often when it is time to prepare dinner, I wander into the kitchen and see dirty dishes in the sink. Well, I can not start dinner with dirty dishes hanging around – so I wash them. As I am washing them, I realize that the dish towel is dirty. I walk to the laundry room with it so that I will remember to put it in with the next load. As I am there, I realize that my cat is laying in the window, bathing in the sun. I take a moment just to stare at him – so peaceful, so comfortable. Then, I walk over to him and pet his soft fur. As I am petting him, I realize that I should probably feed him. So, I go get the can of food, and scoop some into his dish. Then I think I should feed the dog, too. I grab the dog’s bag of food, and feed her. My dog happily lops over to me, and I sit on the step to scratch her behind the ears. I smile as I contemplate how loving my pets are. Then suddenly I remember that I was going to prepare dinner! I quickly walk to the kitchen and start taking items from the fridge. As I am doing so, I see a few leftovers that have remained a little too long in the fridge. Of course they must be thrown out. I start pulling them out of the fridge, and  dump some of the leftovers into the compost bucket. Ahhh… it is almost full. I should take it out. I am about to put my shoes on, when I remember that I am actually in the middle of making dinner… !

So I have to ask: how often are we guilty of the very same behaviours we are scolding our children for?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
– Carl Jung

What I needed in my moment of distraction wasn’t someone yelling at me. I needed to gently remind myself to get back on track. I even smiled at myself, giggling at how easily I was getting everything else accomplished aside from the task at hand! That too is how I need to approach my children. Not with frustration, not with exasperation – but with gentle encouragement.

Depending on the developmental level of our children, they are likely struggling with their own impulsivity.  I read once that our ability to control our impulses isn’t fully developed until age 24 (sorry, I don’t have a reference for this, it is simply something I read once that stuck with me). And, because our impulses are related to root drives, we tend to experience heighten impulsivity when we feel hungry, tired, hurt, and anxious. If that is the case, shouldn’t we be even gentler on ourselves and our children?

Additional ways to encourage and motivate children with their chores:

  • Acknowledge how tough the task can be. Normalize it instead of sending a message of shame: “I know, it is super hard to stay focused with all these neat things in your room…”
  • Use encouragement to assist your child in getting started: “How about I come back to check in a few minutes, I bet you can get this one thing done before I return!”
  • Notice what was done instead of what wasn’t done: “Wow, you’re half through putting your books back on the shelf – and with all these cool toys around tempting to distract you! How did you manage to stay on-track?!”
  • Sometimes, we also need to ask what is beneath all this? Is there something more going on, (such as feeling tired, hungry, and so forth)?

This article was originally posted on March 11 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

You are Worthy of Your Time

beach_italy_2019Think it sounds selfish to nurture yourself? There are tons of great reasons why we should spend at least a small percentage of our time taking care of ourselves. Taking time out to care for yourself will actually sustain you in light of the busy schedules we keep and the fast-paced world we live in. And the best part? What we do to nurture ourselves doesn’t need to take a long time.

If it’s been a long time since you have considered doing something nurturing for yourself, check out this list of potential ideas. Some items on the list might sound great to you, and others might not. Think of the list as a way to get you started on considering  what might be nourishing for you. Nurturing yourself is about identifying what your needs are – and taking small steps towards meeting them. What activity might you do that will bring you a sense of calm, or a sense of joy?

What will nurture you? 

  • Take a walk (or any form of exercise)
  • Work or sit in your garden
  • Try yoga (or an exercise class)
  • Play with your pet (if you have one)
  • Draw, paint, scrapbook, etc. – anything artistic
  • Start reading a novel (or listen to an audio book)
  • Take a moment to say some positive affirmations to yourself
  • Cozy up on the couch with a favourite television show or movie
  • Write in your journal: notice what has been going on for you lately, or explore what your own strengths are
  • Take the time to learn about you – try counselling
  • Walk in nature, take some pictures while there
  • Ever thought of trying out an infra-red sauna?  There are tons of health benefits linked with these and if you like warm temperatures, you might find it to be very relaxing! You don’t even have to buy one: many naturopath Physicians have them available in their clinics
  • Enjoy a relaxing bath (or a soothing shower)
  • Write to a friend (yes, many people still enjoy receiving snail mail letters!)
  • Are you religious? Attend a service at your church
  • Try knitting or crocheting (there might even be a knitting circle in your community)
  • Do some tasty baking or cooking
  • Learn something new (check out the classes offered at your recreation centre or community arts centre, or try an online course)
  • Work on a hobby
  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a meditation
  • Want to try a relaxation cd or guided imagery? The cool thing about guided imagery is that it has been proven effective even if you fall asleep while doing it! If you are interested in learning more, do a Google search for “free guided imagery”.  Here are some additional suggestions if you are interested:
    – Apps: Calm or Headspace
    – CD or iTunes download: Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation); Paul McKenna (visualization and self-hypnosis for optimizing personal potential); Tara Brach (mindfulness meditation). *just to mention a few – there are far too many amazing people in our world who offer meditation or relaxation to mention all of them here!
  • Sometimes are self-nurturing moments involve others: Talk with a good friend or loving family member; Play a fun or silly game with your children; Try hiking together (or plan a fun outing together)

Chances are, if you are reading a blog about mindful parenting, you likely spend a great deal of time caring for others. How about taking a moment each week to treat yourself as kindly as you treat others? After all, you are worth your time!

This article was originally posted on October 3, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Excessive Control is Problematic

IMG_2950A degree of control in our lives can create a sense of security. We also require it in healthy dosages in order to be the autonomous healthy people we strive to be. A degree of control in our parenting is necessary when creating structure, routine, and boundaries in our home and with our children. However, control can also wreck havoc on our interpersonal relationships if it becomes excessive. Before going in to detail, I would like to share a story…

In October 2003, while I was residing in Mississauga Ontario, a beautiful 9 year old girl named Cecilia Zhang was abducted from her home during the night – out of her own bedroom window while she and her family slept. I did not know her, and I did not know her family… but I was forever changed by her. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child. Cecilia’s story was covered on all the news channels, and her picture was plastered in every store window in my community. It is a disturbing story that chills me and brings tears to my eyes even now, 9 years later. As my own precious child was growing inside me, completely safe and protected, I desperately longed for Cecilia to be found and returned home. To her parents heartbreaking dismay, she was not.  As I watched Cecilia’s investigation unfold, the remaining beliefs I held about the world as a safe place began to crumble.

I have worked hard to keep my fears in-check since that moment, so as not to pass them on to my children. But the fears are always there, just beneath the surface. I keep the windows locked at night. I use a home alarm system. I try to get to know parents prior to my children having play-dates. I research daycare providers prior to employing them… But every now and then, when I have had a stressful day at work or some sort of crisis is underfoot, my need for control kicks in to overdrive. I catch myself wanting to tell my kids (and my husband!) what to do. I even start planning it in the car on the way home! And then I realize what I am doing, and I realize that my day has affected me adversely… and I take a deep breath to release it….

I believe that many parents want to have the illusion of control. That illusion helps us feel safe and enables us to believe we possess the capacity to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Trauma researchers Follette and Pistorello (2007) state that when our lives feel out of control, we strive to exert control over our thoughts, feelings, and environment (including the people in our environment!). That control we feel we must exert in order to escape feelings of uncertainty and fear sever only to become the problem!

Too much control is detrimental to our relationships – especially to our children. As parents, we need to successfully navigate the delicate balance between keeping our kids safe and street smart while not passing our own issues on to them.

Are there times when you have noticed a sudden excessive need for control or order within or around you? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control those around you with threats or coercion? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control what those around you are doing, even when it has no impact on you? If so, it might be time to check in on how you are doing.

Keeping our kids safe is one of the most important jobs of being a parent. Honouring what is going on for ourselves as parents, is an important step in that process. How can you nurture your need for security, for stability, for a degree of control and so forth, without alienating your children and loved ones?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Recognize your triggers (what thoughts, emotions, or situations bring up strong feelings or kick on a need for excessive control?)
  2. Become aware of your own internal distress(what is your body’s distress signal? For example, holding your breath or taking shallow breaths, clenching muscles or your jaw, pacing or becoming rigid, and so forth)
  3. When you catch your self calling out directions and demanding compliance, take a moment to tune inwards and notice what is going on for you  (Notice what you are thinking, what you are feeling emotionally, and what changes you notice within your body)
  4. Withhold the judgment  (towards yourself, and those around you)
  5. Reassure yourself that you are a normal human being responding to a tough situation – and that you can get through it

(Please also feel free to leave your own suggestions as comments to this post!)

References:
Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems, by Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello (2007)

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Keeping Score

writing-pen11This summer, my 6 year old daughter told me that I was a ‘no parent’. When I asked her what she meant, she told me that I say “no” all the time. Could this have been true? I was quite sure that I was a balanced parent – with an equal share of “yes’s” and “no’s”! However, because my daughter was quite adamant that I was in fact a ‘no parent’, I decided to check it out for myself. To keep track and deepen my self-awareness, I used an index card, with the word ‘no’ on one side and ‘yes’ on the other. What the process did for me was increase my self-awareness. Was my ‘no’ response simply a knee-jerk reaction, or was there a good reason for me to say ‘no’ to my daughter’s request? By the end of the day, I realized that I was in fact a very balanced parent, and the score card opened up a great dialog between my daughter and I about expectations.

If you would like to increase self-awareness about a particular behaviour, try using the score card technique! It doesn’t have to just be used to increase awareness of  ‘yes/no’ responses. If you are learning to better handle your anger, keep score on when you handle anger well (staying calm), and when you lose your cool. You can then use the score card to better understand what is going on for you when you are able to stay calm in the face of frustration – and hopefully learn to build on these moments!

What helps you to stay present, to pause before responding? Type your ideas to the comments and let’s all learn from each other.

Good luck!

This article was originally posted on November 1, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Developing Mindful Awareness

sunriseThe concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and involves the ability to notice what is going on for you at any given moment, without judgment. Mindfulness is a learned skill that one acquires through regular practice. For example, if you start to feel some of the physiological sensations of anxiety, stress, or anger, (such as rapid heart beat, shallow breathing, heat in face), it is important to stop what you are doing and ask yourself “what is going on for me right now?”. This will get you present and focusing on yourself in the moment. Answering this question will involve noticing what thoughts you are having that may be contributing to physiological sensations (of increasing frustration, anxiety, anger). It also helps to notice what is going on for you in your environment (the immediate situation).

Daniel Siegel (2007), a researcher and author on the topic of mindfulness, describes mindfulness in the following way:

“Mindfulness means paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, without grasping onto judgments. Mindful awareness involves paying attention to whatever arises within the mind from moment to moment. Recent studies of mindful awareness reveal that it can result in improvements in a range of physiological, mental, and interpersonal domains of our lives. People who develop the capacity to pay attention in the present moment without grasping onto their inevitable judgments also develop a deeper sense of well-being.”

All too often to tend to ignore what our bodies are telling us and just get on with daily life. We create habits for ourselves of going through each day in a state of ‘mindlessness’. However, in order to maximize our potential (and our potential happiness) in daily living, andlive without fear and anxiety, we need to tune into ourselves with regular “check-ins”.

Try working through an example so that you are better equipped to apply this technique when needed. Think of a time recently when you noticed you were starting to feel anxious, fearful, angry, stressed, etc. What body sensations did you experience? What thoughts were going through your mind? For example, what were you telling yourself about the situation or about your ability to handle the situation?

When you notice that you are feeling discomfort, it is important to acknowledge it. Notice what is going on for you and then do something about it. Perhaps you need to do something to calm down. Or perhaps you have been triggered and need to take a few moments away from the situation to regroup. Perhaps you need to reframe negative self-talk. When you are calm, your problem-solving skills are enhanced. Remembering to take deep, slow, regular breaths is an important part of staying calm and in control.

If you tend to be triggered by certain behaviours in your children, practicing using mindfulness in your parenting. Remember, it is not the event that determines your reaction – it is your thought or interpretation of that event that determines your reaction. Without mindfulness, we risk reacting to situations without noticing our thoughts and physiological cues that cause us to react in the ways we do. Doing check-ins to increase mindfulness can enable you to take control of your actions and reactions at all different points in the cycle, and increase feelings of control, calmness, and competence.

Reference:

Siegel, D. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well- being.  New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

This article was originally posted on November 1, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

The Process of Therapy

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Medicine go Down

(A Life Hack worth Knowing!)

A lot can be accomplished in a 50 minute counselling session. In order to keep the momentum of progress in healing, it is important to take some time to reflect on the session rather than shutting it out once you leave the safety of the counselling room and re-enter the busy-ness of daily life. For this reason, Counsellors often suggest “homework” to clients: small things a person can do between sessions that will help them to stay connected with their healing journey.

This is especially true when I am working with folks experiencing symptoms of anxiety. The “homework” I give is often about getting grounded in the present moment: a healthful way to cope with the strong emotions. We now live in an age where there are apps readily available to help with this. While many of these apps are fantastic, some cost money, and some are a little confusing to use. I’d like to share a strategy that I stumbled into – which is both free and user-friendly!

Many people use Instagram to stay connected with friends. However, what if every time you opened Instagram, you were flooded with beautiful words, uplifting images, motivational quotes, and messages of hope? It truly is that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down – in this case, the medicine is acceptance of the trials and tribulations that we as humans are bound to come face-to-face with at some point, and the sugar is our ability to cope with it – or ride the waves of strong emotion.

Want to give it a go? Here are 3 simple steps to get started:

  1. Create an Instagram account (skip this step if you already have one)
  2. Use the search button to add as many people and businesses as you can that reflect positivity. You may need to do a bit of research here, and don’t feel bad about removing someone if you discover they aren’t posting the positivity you had hoped for.
  3. Open the app daily and scroll through the posts to get your daily dose of happy!

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • dailyom (Mindfulness quotes)
  • brenebrown (Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection)
  • eckharttolle (Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher)
  • donmiguelruiz (Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements)
  • beherenownetwork (mindfulness quotes)
  • thichnhathanh.bot (Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes)
  • jack_kornfield (Jack Kornfield, (author, Buddhist Practitioner)
  • happy_maven (mindfulness and positive psychology quotes, therapy dog)
  • puppology (photos of dogs that, if you like dogs, is sure to make you smile!)
  • tarabrach (Tara Brach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher)
  • mygrateful.life (gratitude and mindfulness quotes)
  • insightla (mindfulness quotes)
  • drdansiegel (Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist, author, mindfulness teacher)
  • drpeterlevine (Peter Levine, author, somatic experiencing teacher)
  • stevefarber (motivational speaker)
  • melrobbinslive (motivational speaker)
  • theellenshow (Ellen Degeneres)
  • calm (mindfulness quotes)

Have more to add? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Credits:
– “A spoonful of sugar” quote – Mary Poppins
– Instagram image – Thich Nhat Hanh
– Instagram image – Jack Kornfield
– Instagram image – Dailyom

Mindfulness

Where did I just go? Developing Mindfulness in Exercise

Physical fitness has long been a go-to stress reliever in my life. However, at times I have to admit: I wasn’t full present during workouts. My thoughts can be loud, especially the ones that centre around things I “should have” done differently, or to-do lists for the day. The more these nagging thoughts would get in, the more I would lose my mojo and want to end the workout. Then I would feel bad, and stress would actually increase during the very thing that I was doing to decrease stress.

Sound familiar?

When we get caught up in thoughts of the past or future, or get stuck in negative thoughts, we actually set off a stress response in our body. And, the part of our brain we rely on to keep us engaged and focused in the present moment goes off-line. Our thoughts and emotions change our awareness. If we suddenly found ourselves ruminating on negative thoughts, our outlook will shift and we will lose energy and focus for the task at hand.

Mindfulness is all about being fully in the present moment, with loving kindness in our heart, and without judgement. When we take the time to cultivate mindfulness, we learn that we do not need to “get hooked” by our thoughts. We learn that we can watch the chatter of our mind, to extend compassion to ourselves as needed, and become better able to shift focus back into the present moment.

Returning to the Present Moment: Daily Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness

There are books and workshops and retreats designed to help individuals cultivate mindfulness. These are all brilliant ways to start a new habit. But they can take time. Here are a few strategies you can use right now to bring mindfulness into each day and ultimately, into each of your workouts.

Make a plan: When we are learning something new, we are far more likely to successfully learn it when we have a plan, and when we create time for practice.

Create your plan: one way to cultivate mindfulness is to take a moment each day to focus on your breath, to get fully into the present moment. If you need help getting into the moment, or need guidance on slowing and deepening the breath, try an app. Some good ones are Calm App and Mindfulness Daily App. If you do not need guidance but find that you don’t remember to check in, set some alarms on your phone to go off during the day. Give these alarms descriptive names such as: Now is a great time for 1 minute of deep breathing, and Daily Check-in: how are you feeling in your mind and body?

Make time to practice: Life will always be busy.  The world of today has conditioned us to hurry, to multi-task. The cost is this lifestyle is that we constantly feel rushed. If we do not learn to pause, we risk living every day with a sense of urgency, an urgency which on it’s upside enables us to be productive but on it’s downside breads anxiety and seeds a sense of inadequacy. Slow down, allow yourself to pause: we can all afford a few minutes each day to connect with mindfulness. Take the moment to focus on your breath and to return to the present moment.

Set your intention before you workout: before you being your workout, take a moment to breath deeply and set your intention. Setting an intention will give your workout direction. Think of it as a road map: we might not need it on our road trip, but if we get lost it sure is necessary to get us back on track. Today during my spin class my intention was “I will just be present and do my best”. Each time I noticed my mind drifting, I was able to return to my intention with loving kindness. What does that look like? It is noticing my thoughts had drifted by saying “there I go again…” and then repeating my intention.
Use a mantra: Mantras are statements we say repeatedly and which have significant power in impacting our attention, outlook, and mood. You can use any statement that works for you to bring your attention back to the present moment. What words do you need to repeat to yourself to stay in the moment of your workout? It could be “Right Here Right Now” or “Strong and Fit”. If you listen to music while working out, use the beat of the music as your repeat the mantra to yourself.

When all else fails, count: When we are counting, intrusive thoughts are less able to enter our awareness. That is why knitting can be so grounding for people: they have to count stitches. There are many ways to use counting during a workout. You can count your reps; if you are walking or running you can simply repeat 1-2-1-2-1-2 as you shift your weight from foot to foot.

Our thoughts will always be there. Mindfulness just lets us choose when and how we will attend to them. Using a few simple mindfulness strategies when exercising can enable you to derive more enjoyment from it while also cultivating compassion and self-acceptance. You might even experience an increased sense of accomplishment because you were fully present for something you set out to do.

spartan_c_6

Affect Regulation

Focusing in the Present Moment

Taming your Monkeymonkey mind

Learning to be focused in the present moment can be challenging. I don’t believe this is just the case for those who have experienced trauma, of for those with anxiety. I believe it is a symptom of fast-paced society, where we are driven to do more and where flashy technology and advertising vies for our attention. Often when we try to concentrate, our minds have a tendency to wander. It just takes some focused attention (and patience with yourself) to learn to be present and in the moment.

A distracted mind has even been referred to as ‘monkey mind’. I imagine this as having a monkey contained in a room – he’d be jumping from one piece of furniture to another, climbing the ways and hanging on the curtain rod or blinds – and all the while chattering incessantly. It is in this way that our minds tend to do the same: engaging in an endless flow of dialogue, jumping from topic to topic. If you are trying to focus your attention in the present moment, please do not be discouraged if your mind wanders! It is natural. Everyone has ‘monkey mind’ from time to time!

Reassure yourself that iI takes practice to become mindful: to be in the moment and aware of your thoughts without judgment.  If you notice while you are doing any of containing and grounding strategies that your mind wanders, be patient with yourself. It’s hard to learn a new skill; do not put yourself down or call yourself names. Most likely there have been enough people across your lifespan who have done that. Simply notice that it happened, be kind to yourself, and return to where you left off.

Resources:

Tolle, E. (2003). Stillness Speaks.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Guided Mindfulness Meditation, Series 1.