Category Archives: Mother

Mindfulness: Reflections on an Emerging Practice

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has emerged over the past couple of years as a major buzzword in both mental health and spirituality. Various forms of meditation have existed for centuries as a vital element in just about every form of spiritual and religious life across all cultures. Jon Kabat-Zinn was probably the first westerner to introduce us to the physical and mental health benefits of attuning our attention to the present moment, without judgment. In his words:

 Mindfulness is never about doing something perfectly, because it is not about doing or accomplishing at all. It is about allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for. Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are often very appropriate responses in particularly trying moments — not a turning away at all, but an opening toward things with clarity and good will, even toward ourselves. Out of that awareness, trustworthy skillful responses and actions can arise naturally, and surprise us with their creativity and clarity.  (From this website: https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/pages/faq)

Meditation and mindfulness have taken a greater and greater place in my life as I have matured. I first encountered meditation in my studies of world religions in university in the 80’s. I embraced it at the time as a way to reduce some of the stress of my perfectionism. It didn’t hurt that many of the guided meditations I participated in were also meant to evoke pleasant visions and experiences of spiritual connectedness.

My mindfulness practice began with curiosity.

Through the years I continued to explore. I have practiced the body-centered mindfulness of yoga, the centering prayer of the ancient Christian tradition, and attempted to empty my mind according to some branches of Buddhism. I was searching for a way to feel whole, free, and deeply connected.

As a young counsellor, I found myself teaching my clients meditation as a way to lessen their anxiety or stress. When I became a parent, mindfulness showed up in my preparations for childbirth and guided meditation became a part of bedtime rituals for my young children when they had a hard time falling asleep. I wasn’t disciplined in a daily way, but it was always there in the background.

 And then, somewhere along the way, my eclectic practice dried up completely. I can’t place exactly when it happened. I just find, looking back over the tapestry of my history, that there is a hole in the weave, a place where the mindfulness thread broke.

Suffering brought mindfulness back to me.

For a number of years my family went through a period of deep disconnection – from our own selves and from each other. Our marriage broke down. We, and our children, suffered the confusion, despair, and anxiety that such a rupture can create. In our individual and family healing work, each of their stories is their own. The story that is mine to tell is that my healing came largely from observing my son as he took on a dedicated practice of compassionate mindfulness.

 I sometimes say mindfulness saved his life.

While that over-simplifies the story, on a feeling-level, for me, it is absolutely true. I watched him gradually transform from someone I no longer recognized to a more peaceful, loving, and happy person as he went from learning the basics to studying the deeper philosophy of Zen Buddhism. That process reawakened my own desire to engage in the practice again, and in the process, brought me back to my life too.

 My longing for a deeper wholeness and connection to the true Self that lies behind and beyond my habits of personality has returned more strongly than ever. I am assured that this is an entirely “age-appropriate” development! In our second half of life we look beyond the concerns that preoccupied us during our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Meaning eclipses success in our hierarchy of needs. And where else can we find meaning, joy, life, and connection other than in the present moment? Our past is gone and unchangeable. The future is not yet, and is far, far less controllable than we thought when we were younger.

 While I’ll probably never give up my eclectic tendency to explore the many avenues and traditions of mindfulness, I have seen first-hand how powerful a regular practice is, and this knowledge supports me in setting down roots in a morning routine of sitting meditation. Not to mention, it gives me lots to talk about with my kids!

 This winter I invite you to join me in an exploration of several mindfulness paths that intersect with the world of art. You never know, one of them might just fit you perfectly! On Saturday February 3rd I am offering Slow Threads, a workshop on meditative stitching. And on Monday, February 26th there will be an evening workshop on making and using prayer beads from several traditions: To Hold A Prayer In My Hand. See the Workshops page for information on all Open Hearth Studio group offerings. I hope also to have an online Basics of Mindfulness course up and running by the fall!

Mother & Daughter, Identity & Intensity

For Mother’s Day my daughter is texting me pictures of all the flowers she’s encountering in her day – it’s one of the sweeter of her many sweet expressions of love for me. No, I’m not going to lie and tell you that our relationship is characterized entirely by sweetness. Our relationship IS characterized by words like “very,” “more,” and words that end in “-er” and “-est.” We are both intense personalities, and therefore, like the “little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead,” in the nursery rhyme, when we are good (or sweet or nice or loving to each other) we are very, very good, and when we are bad (or angry, or jealous, or sad with each other) we can indeed be “horrid.”

 The same can probably be said of my relationship with my own mother. I wish I had known my grandmother better, so I could tell how far back this line of intensity goes. I do know she and my mother could stick to their guns with a truly astonishing level of stubbornness when necessary. My solitary memory of my great-grandmother was her fondness for watching wrestling matches on television! I bet she was a fairly intense lady herself. My father’s mother and I also had an intense relationship. I remember vividly a particular day, when I was boarding with her while in graduate school, that I felt an incredible connection and tenderness for her while helping her with some cosmetic care. Only an hour or two later, we were having a real beauty of a spat about what we would watch on television, both of us with our heels dug firmly in, and chins stubbornly up in the air! (She wanted a Knight Rider re-run, I was in the middle of a nostalgic moment listening to Ernie sing about his rubber ducky and didn’t want to change the channel just yet…yeah, I’ve always been mature that way.)

 I believe that all of us formed our identities, in part, by testing them against each other’s intensity and strength. When I was a teenager, I know I thought I was fighting against something in my mom. My perspective has changed a lot since then, partly because of my own experience of parenting, but mostly from getting to know her as a woman in her own right, and not just as the role of “mother.” I had no idea at the time that the more I insisted on being myself, the more I was like her!

 I am incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by women who, one way or another, find ways to express themselves authentically, and who tend to get better at it as they age. For all of them, young and old, there are certainly lots of times when it isn’t so safe to express their opinions or characters, but when it is safe, or when it is necessary, they do it with gusto. Instead of crumbling in on themselves, they all continue to emerge and blossom, grow and develop their own spirits.

 So here I am, looking at a collection of blooms, everything from cut roses to street corner planters, and from charming paper creations to high-tech designer displays made of metal. Such incredible diversity and individuality! They fit in, or they don’t, with perfect sincerity. They are what they are. They don’t really care what the passers-by in New York think of them, or that their images have now been replicated on computer and phone screens thousands of miles away. May my daughter feel the same sense of comfort in her own skin. May I. And may all of you.

                                                                                                                                                      

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is yet another one of those holidays that carries with it a whole lot of baggage! At its best it’s an opportunity to surround ourselves with warm feelings about our own mothers or to bask in our relationship with our kids. At its worst, it’s a focus for guilt, regret, anger, anxiety, grief, or feeling left out or unacknowledged. For some people I know, what they hope for each year is that it will pass quickly and with as little attention as possible.

I don’t think there’s any one, right way to handle Mother’s Day. But maybe there are ways to think about it that can help. Certainly one of the best places to start is an acknowledgment that the definition of  “mother” is an evolving, complex thing, even on a purely intellectual level. Add to that, the fact that (however you define it) the relationship between a mother and a child is also one of the most emotionally complex relationships we will experience, and you’ve got a recipe for disillusionment, faulty assumptions, and volatile reactions. So first of all, you’re NORMAL if you are riding a bit of a rollercoaster on the second Sunday of May every year.

I think it’s healthy to spend some time in our lives considering and tending to what we’ve experienced as nurturing in ourselves and others. Whether that happens on the specific day in the calendar our governments have chosen to publicly acknowledge as Mother’s Day, or in some other way of our own choosing, is probably less important.

Perhaps with more attention to the qualities of care, nurturing, love, and peace that the originator of the holiday wanted to honour her own mother for, we’d be a more peaceful, nurturing and loving society. If you want to know more about her and the history of Mother’s Day, Wikipedia has an interesting article you can read here. 

If you’re feeling grief, loss, or stress in any way related to your own relationship with your mother, or to your own experience as a mother, Art Therapy is a gentle way to work through the pain. Sometimes words, just like holidays, aren’t quite right or aren’t quite enough.