If you have been writing 5 wonderful things about yourself each day, take a moment to reflect on how that has been. Would you like to continue? A wonderful variation is to notice 5 wonderful things about your child each day, try it and see how it goes!
One way that we can care for ourselves is to be present, not caught up in experiences of the past or worries about the future. In the article Five Steps to MIndfulness, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shares teachings about how to practice mindfulness. Here is an excerpt that can get you started:
First Mindfulness Exercise: Mindful Breathing
by Thich Nhat Hanh
The first exercise is very simple, but the power, the result, can be very great. The exercise is simply to identify the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as out-breath. When you breathe in, you know that this is your in-breath. When you breathe out, you are mindful that this is your out-breath.
Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath. Mindfulness is always mindful of something. When you drink your tea mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of drinking. When you walk mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of walking. And when you breathe mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing.
So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.
It gets even better. You can enjoy your in-breath. The practice can be pleasant, joyful. Someone who is dead cannot take any more in-breaths. But you are alive. You are breathing in, and while breathing in, you know that you are alive. The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful. When you are joyful and happy, you don’t feel that you have to make any effort at all. I am alive; I am breathing in. To be still alive is a miracle. The greatest of all miracles is to be alive, and when you breathe in, you touch that miracle. Therefore, your breathing can be a celebration of life.
An in-breath may take three, four, five seconds, it depends. That’s time to be alive, time to enjoy your breath. You don’t have to interfere with your breathing. If your in-breath is short, allow it to be short. If your out-breath is long, let it be long. Don’t try to force it. The practice is simple recognition of the in-breath and the out-breath. That is good enough. It will have a powerful effect.
We need space and time to care for ourselves, space to hear our own voices and tune into our own feelings. The world--in the form of our children, parents, colleagues, schools, volunteer organizations, etc,--will always have urgent demands on our time. If we feel that we must do everything that we are asked to do, there may be no time for the things that are truly important to us.
Cultivate the ability to say 'no.' Practice it! Think of something you said 'yes' to but wish you had said 'no.' Imagine going back to the moment you said 'yes' and try a mental do-over. What could you have said? 'No thanks, I'm not free that day.' 'I won't be able to make it.' 'I've been really busy, I need to take some time to catch up with myself.' It doesn't necessarily matter what you say, but try out some ways to say 'no' and keep them in your back pocket, ready when the need arises.
If you find yourself agreeing to do things in the moment and only realizing later that you don't want to, consider cultivating a 'wait and see' answer. 'I'll have to check my schedule and let you know.' 'Can I let you know tomorrow?' 'Things have been kind of crazy, I'm just not sure if I can.'
Every 'no' has a yes in it. When you say 'no' to the things that aren't important to you, there's space for the things that matter most, including your own self-care.
As we've been doing all week, let's start with actually writing 5 things that you love about yourself. Seriously, it takes only a moment! Grab a piece of paper and write a few things, or send yourself a text. Notice how you're feeling about this practice, how you're feeling about yourself. Muscles we use get stronger, right? When we practice paying loving attention to ourselves, that gets stronger, too. And amazingly, when we are more loving toward ourselves we tend to be more giving and loving toward other people. Isn't that great?
Today's self-care practice--do something small that you love. Consider small changes in your day and routines that can make you feel good. Try one of these or dream up your own:
Music: Listen to some music that fills your heart with joy. Make a playlist of things that make you really happy. And actually listen to it! Put on music while you cook, while you drive, or while you're doing something that needs a little lift.
Beauty: Put a flower next to your bed or on the table. Hang a beautiful photo near your desk. Wear something that you love rather than saving it for a special time. Add beauty to your day where ever you feel inspired.
Movement: Enjoy stretching your body when you wake up, like a cat. It may feel too hard to start a yoga practice, but just do one pose that you enjoy. Dance while you cook or clean.
Connection. Is there someone you really enjoy but don't have much time with? Maybe reach out and go for a walk, meet for coffee, or just talk on the phone with someone you like. Slow down and connect with people in your own family, taking the time to listen deeply to them, to savor the experiences that you share rather than rush past them or being distracted from them.
Inspiration. Give yourself an inspirational experience. I love my Zen calendar and look forward to reading a new quote each morning! Whether you enjoy a daily reading from a book like Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening or getting an app that shares daily inspirational quotes (Gandhi Inspirational Quotes or Zen Quotes android apps or Buddha Quotes or The Now-Mindfulness and Gratitude iphone apps), build in some reminders.
Day 3: A Week of Self-Care
Today, if you've been following my posts so far this week, maybe you are already thinking about things you love about yourself? Write a list of 5 wonderful things about YOU.
Is it getting easier? Or harder? Do you ever notice something positive about yourself in the midst of your day? Or when you're falling asleep at night? If so, keep going! If not, keep going!! :)
And are you aware of your needs already today? Can you feel that you deserve to meet those needs? Keep on finding ways to take good care of yourself!
If You Would Grow - Shine the Light Of Loving Self-Care On Yourself
If you would grow to your best self
Be patient, not demanding
Accepting, not condemning
Nurturing, not withholding
Self-marveling, not belittling
Gently guiding, not pushing and punishing
For you are more sensitive than you know
Mankind is as tough as war yet delicate as flowers
We can endure agonies but we open fully only to warmth and light
And our need to grow Is as fragile as a fragrance dispersed by storms of will
To return only when those storm are still
So, accept, respect, and attend your sensitivity
A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.
-Daniel F. Mead
Day 2: A Week of Self-Care
First, please join me and write 5 things you love about yourself (from yesterday's practice). Make an actual list,five things about yourself that make you smile. Let this become a new habit.
Your needs matter. . . our needs matter. Parenting isn't a form of martyrdom! We know that becoming a parent can completely transform our priorities, enhancing our ability to serve lovingly. A wise parent stays balanced, though, giving self-care a high priority because:
If you need more rest, actually consider how to make that work. Is there something keeping you up after your child goes to sleep that isn't in the 'need' category? Facebook? Work emails that you're catching up with in bed? Or do you have time during the day that you spend cleaning or getting caught up with bills? Your need for sleep is actually much more important than these things! Simply being conscious of the need may help you to nap before you clean or go to bed without checking your email.
Maybe you need time to talk with friends. exercise, a feeling of order in your space, or opportunities to do art. Imagine the shift from a wistful or hopeful or even resentful mentality toward this need to the sense that you deserve it. Does that help you to begin to create it?
Our needs matter and that we deserve to take care of them. Even when outer circumstances can't change immediately, let inner circumstances begin to shift to elevate your needs to a more important status than they may have had. There will certainly be days when needs go unmet, but remembering that we matter can transform our patterns into healthier ones.
A Week of Self-Care
Sometimes Mother's Day makes us feel pampered, cherished, and cared for, but it can also bring up mixed emotions. Motherhood is complicated, so it's not surprising that our relationship to it is complicated as well, If you are feeling depleted, emotional, exhausted or resentful post-Mother's Day, consider joining me for a week of self-care.
It would be great to spend a week at a spa, but I want to focus on self-care that is accessible to all moms, even those of us without a dedicated budget or babysitter.
Today, let's begin with a powerful awareness practice.
Right now, stop and consider who you are in the world, your relationships, service, work, and play. Consider some things about yourself, big or small, that make you smile. Write five things that you love about yourself. It doesn't matter whether you write them in a beautiful notebook or on a post in note or even as a note in your phone or computer, but do write them.
If you have trouble thinking of five, don't worry! This will get easier with practice, and you're going to get some good practice this week. Start with something simple. Are you kind to animals? Do you smile at harried-looking moms in stores? Do you make a point of brushing your teeth twice a day? Those are wonderful qualities. Do you recycle? Feed the birds? Cook dinner? Make silly jokes? More wonderful qualities.
Think of this as watering seeds. You are watering the seeds of your own goodness, your love, your kindness, or your sense of fun. Each time you notice something wonderful about yourself, you are helping that part to grow.
Understanding Our Own Emotions
Yesterday's post 'Be a Lighthouse,' was about the importance of staying clear and calm when our kids are emotional. Today's follows up on that by making sense of emotions and offering some suggestions about how to work with our emotions.
An emotion is just an emotion--until we react to it. A feeling is not good or bad, and it isn't a choice or an action.
Emotions are grounded in the physical body and begin as a physiological response to a need that is met or unmet. We can feel that as sensation. That sensation is like a physical call to action that moves us to take care of the unmet need. This has served a good purpose evolutionarily. It helps a person who is being chased by a wild animal because it releases lots of energy to help them run.
It's less useful in our modern lives. If you are trying to get your child to school on time, you may feel stressed, frustrated, even angry in response to their dawdling. The adrenaline and cortisol released trigger a flood of physical energy which is unlikely to help you get your child out the door in a calm and reasonable way. Without a natural outlet (like running), your emotions may find expression through yelling or they may be stored up as stress.
So what do we do? Begin by recognizing the physical experience of emotions within yourself. What does it feel like when you're angry, worried, scared? If you know that fear or worry feels like tingling in the shoulder blades, for instance (as it does for me), you can learn to use that sensation as a reminder to be present rather than react.
When you recognize the sensations in yourself, establish a new habit of staying with the feelings rather than acting them out. You can give the physical energy a useful outlet by waving your arms hard for a minute, doing some push ups, or even washing dishes. Consider a physical outlet that you could try when you're flooded with energy.
You can also try a calming practice like deep breathing. As you breathe in, feel the inbreath. As you breathe out, feel the outbreath. Consider breathing in to the count of 4, holding your breath for 4, exhaling for 8, and holding the breath out for 4 several times. Or just make your exhales at least twice as long as your inhales.
These practices can help you to work with your emotions and sensations in healthy and constructive ways so that you can respond to parenting situations by staying calm, clear, and present for your child.
A Simple Breathing Practice
On Sundays, I offer a mindfulness practice. Today, it is very simple, try it! There's an audio below if you like to listen.
Sit somewhere that you can feel comfortable and relaxed. Settle into a posture that's dignified--your spine is straight and tall, your head feels balanced. If you're on the floor, make sure that your knees feel supported (either with pillows propped under them or with a cushion under your bottom so your knees are lower than your hips). If you are on a chair, let your feet be flat on the floor and sit upright.
Notice what your body can feel. Take a moment to anchor in what your experience of your body is right now.
Let yourself get still, starting with feeling your feet and letting them get very still, then slowing moving up through your body until everything is as still and calm as it can be.
As the stillness spreads over you, start to feel the breath moving you. Feel it in your belly.
Breathing in, feel your inbreath.
Breathing out, feel your outbreath.
Breathing in, follow your whole inbreath.
Breathing out, follow your whole outbreath.
Inwardly, just notice your breath moving in your belly, gently staying aware of it. If and when your mind wanders, gently return to the breath as soon as you notice. No problem.
As you sit, stay present with your body, here and now, breathing. Notice how it feels to breathe. Let yourself enjoy it. Maybe you will feel your body soften and relax a bit.
After a few minutes, 5 or 10 or 15, check in with your body again. Take a few breaths while you feel your sensations. Begin to bring movement into your fingers and toes. Let your eyes open when you feel ready. Check in with yourself, noticing how you feel. Appreciate that you've given yourself this time!
Self-Care Is So Important
We can't give what we don't have. I think this is the first and most important rule of parenting. We absolutely must care for ourselves, treating ourselves with loving kindness, if we are to give our best to our children.
In the busyness of parenting, caring for other people's needs can feel urgent and seem endless. Even when we have a few minutes to ourselves, it can be easy to get caught up in things we don't love but that are somehow compelling (social media, perfectionistic projects, etc.). Sometimes we lose track of the small things that we can do do to nurture ourselves.
Is there music that you love to listen to? Make a great playlist to enjoy while you cook dinner, drive to school, or change diapers! Do you love to do yoga but don't have time for a class? It might be wonderful to do one pose on your own every day. (maybe the same pose each day or try a few favorites). Do you care deeply about beauty? You may love to keep a fresh flower next to your bed each day. Do you want to practice mindfulness but find it hard to have time for a formal sitting practice? You could take a moment of mindful awareness each time you wash your hands or close the car door.
As you do small things that bring you joy, I hope you find yourself getting into the habit of nurturing yourself.
And when parenting feels hard and these small practices don't feel like enough, consider budgeting time and money for bigger things-- to get counseling, join a yoga class, have lunch with a friend, get a massage, or join a parent group. You deserve this and more!
I'm a person on a messy journey--healing, learning, discovering and rediscovering. Sharing, writing, talking, and teaching help me to understand myself and the world more clearly. I hope it can help make your journey a easier, too.