I’ve been falling further and further behind in my online viewing of the mindfulness courses I’m enrolled in, but I’ve been exercising more and more compassion towards myself about the fact that in this season of life, I can’t keep up with everything I’ve set my hand to. And sometimes that includes not being able to honor commitments I’ve made, even if only to myself.
I’m counting that a huge win.
Maybe you know this about me from reading for even a little while, but I’m a leeeetle bit of a perfectionist. Which is not a particularly healthy way to live. And, with 4 young children stacked fairly deep, nor is it a particularly realistic way to live these days. (<-I question the grammatical accuracy of that sentence structure, but not intensely enough to google it.)
So yes, self compassion. A an essential piece of the practical application of mindfulness. Does it ever happen to you that you’re sitting down listening to a homily, trying to pray a rosary, maybe even having a conversation with someone and you catch yourself zoning out and then the negative self talk starts…great, you totally missed the first 15 minutes to that. Why do I even bother. What’s the point of trying to pray. Ugh, if she knew I was thinking about the grocery list when he’s pouring out her heart to me…and so on.
I’m stopping myself now when the spiral starts and gently, with compassion (kind of crucial and not necessarily natural to me!), redirecting my attention back to whatever it is I’m doing in the present moment. I can’t explain how much this has helped with the practice of prayer, and even in going through the mindfulness course itself. I catch myself wandering, see the wandering thoughts as “mental events happening in my brain,” and then bring that attention right back to the present moment. No judgment, no angsting over what I missed or what it says about me as a person. And it’s great.
The other observation I have now that I’m halfway through the 8-part course offered by CatholicPsych Institute is how much more present I am to my children, and how much more possible (note: not easy) it is to stay there. I’m finding myself more attuned to their needs and emotions throughout the day, and I’m a little ashamed (but not a lot, because compassion!) of how often I was tuning them out before, especially when being “tuned in” to them required me to suffer in any way, not least of all, by being bored.
So, in the past, it has not been unusual for me to do a lot of parenting, especially in that delightful 4-6 pm time slot, on autopilot. Kind of numbing myself out to the stress/effort of the task by not really focusing on them, but by robotically doling out after school snacks, assembling dinner, barking orders for peaceful sibling play, and usually succumbing to at least a show or three as they wheedled and whined and honestly, were just trying to get my attention. My authentic attention.
Now that I’m being more mindful of what they’re saying and doing, especially during the witching hour (if ever a name were apt, that’s the one), we’re experiencing a more harmonious home life. I wouldn’t say their behavior has improved in any significant way, but that my behavior (which is the only thing I can actually control, control freak) has improved noticeably. I’m not as productive as I was a month ago, but my kids are getting more of me. And I know I’ve heard some wiser parent say it before, but the more I intentionally lean into those hard moments of motherhood, the stronger those muscles grow. When I zone them out for an hour while I’m pulling a Gayle Waters-Waters on the kitchen and dining room floors and leave them to their own devices, scrapping verbally over the Magic School Bus verses Lego Friends, we both re-engage at the dinner table in decidedly less than pleasant demeanors.
Finally, I’m observing my own limits and capacity for what Dr. Bottoro refers to as “the shallow waters of pain” both mentally (as demonstrated above) and physically, and not running from every experience of discomfort. An oncoming headache doesn’t need to be immediately medicated as something to avoid at all costs, but might be a sign that I’m dehydrated or overly caffeinated. A stubbed toe doesn’t mean that I need to scream obscenities and drop my basket of laundry in a dramatic scene, but that I can lean into the small moment of suffering and observe in myself the feelings of pain, discomfort, surprise, and anger that actually won’t end up killing me.
I haven’t totally unpacked what it means to be mindful in moments of pain and suffering, but from the light dabbing I’ve done, I can see why mindfulness was initially created as a tool for pain management by patients with chronic, unnamable conditions. We’re talking people who morphine couldn’t help. But their own minds, thoughtful and observant and curious about the sensations and circumstances they were experiencing, very often, could.
It’s pretty mysterious and awe-inspiring stuff, what our brains and bodies can accomplish together.
I’m not sure this week of holiday busyness and travel and festivities will bring a lot of time for me to catch up on my missed lessons or travel much further into the course, but I am 100% certain that the skill of “leaning in” will come in handy when Thursday roles around. 🙂
I’ll leave you with the opening lines of what Dr. Bottaro calls “the sacramental pause,” at least as I am understanding it. It begins with a prayer:
“Ever present God, here with me now. Help me to be here now, with You.”
Isn’t that beautiful? May you feel His presence in the present moment today, too.