Back from 5 nights away from the family. In the spirit of mindful awareness, I came to the Mindful Schools annual retreat at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley (across the river from West Point!) with a playful curiosity. I was interested in the content of the two seminar days, but not totally sure what the first 2 days OF SILENCE really meant and even if I really wanted that. What I got from the experience was something magnificent.
“Welcome to silence”
When I heard those three words, I was scared. I was walking into the unknown and, as new experiences are, I was feeling uncomfortable, weird, and stressed. We alternated between sitting guided meditations (focusing on our breath, our bodies, compassion, self-compassion, letting go of thought for 30-45min) and walking meditations (walking back and forth between 20 feet or so for 30-45m in a clip). I was surprised at how exhausting the sitting and walking was–by afternoon I was tired and by evening I was downright exhausted. Meals were incredible, vegetarian and healthy–a la the famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca. We made little eye contact with each other and did not even worry about normal social norms like holding doors for eachother. The experience was designed for each of us to go completely into our own bodies for 2 days without distraction. Each evening we had a talk about our mindfulness practice.
During the silence I practiced staying in the moment without judgement over and over and over again (read: Intro to Mindfulness). It was hard. Our minds have so much practice swinging from thought to thought like a monkey that stilling those thoughts is usually very difficult. It takes a lot of practice to get good at quieting your mind and it is completely dependent on practice. You can not read about it and be good at it, much like swimming or riding a bike. You have to do it. Instead of thinking through every thought or attaching a story to every emotion, I tried to just notice it and let it float on like a leaf on a stream. It was very comforting to allow myself the space to practice this because so often I can get caught in a story that eventually turns into a rumination, which eventually makes my jaw tight, which eventually gives me headaches, which eventually make me tired or cranky, which eventually make me not very nice to be around.
I found the silence to be:
The hardest times of the silence were when I was physically uncomfortable which made focusing on breath very difficult. I also found interesting to note that I really dislike boredom. I would go up to my room and just hear the call of my book to read, or my body to offer going for a walk in the woods, and especially not surprisingly, my phone to call home and hear the voices of my loved ones.
During silence, I can legitimately say I never tasted food quite like what I ate while my sense of hearing didn’t have as much input. My grilled cheese that day was a type of magic I will never forget. As I ate slower than ever before (and everyone else did, too) I got to first notice, then appreciate, than savor every single bite. It was something I had never experienced before and while some moments went faster than others it gave me a deep sense of gratitude I had never had before for a simple sweet potato let alone a veggie burger, bread, or bean salad.
The Tao Te Ching (ancient Chinese text that is referred to as “The Way”) says “We shape clay into a pot, but is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” This simple truth is what I got from the silence, the gift of finding space within myself to hold whatever is dearest to my heart.
With humble gratitude and boundless joy,
Next week I am going away on a 5 day mindfulness retreat through an amazing organization called Mindful Schools. I took their Mindfulness Fundamentals course and their Mindfulness Educator Essentials courses last fall/winter and loved them. They were 100% online, self-guided courses with weekly practice and reflections and were the perfect combination of information and guided practice to start a more formal mindfulness/meditation habit. They offer a 5 day retreat for graduates of those courses so next week I leave for the Garrison Institute in upstate NY and I am SCARED–in a good way, I must add, but also a little in the stressed way. Here’s why:
So, finally, I must apologize for the two months of silence since my last blog post…summer break got me like whoahhhhhh and I honestly needed sometime away to reflect and renew on my purpose here in the blogosphere. The silence, in that regard, has helped immensely. I am ready to get down to business and create a community of parents who are trying to be more conscious of their parenting and mindful of their living. By coming together through facilitated groups, classes, and private coaching we are stronger, we are wiser, and we are calmer. And this task ahead of us–the raising of our kids, matters. A lot.
So 5 days away starting next Wednesday. I am planning on blogging about it so that everyone can know what goes into a mindfulness retreat and how the silence goes! Have you ever done a retreat with some days of silence? How did it go?
(c) 2017. Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, Emily R.Rittenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
The other night my 6 year-old son was having trouble sleeping. I got up to his bedroom and he just couldn’t calm himself down. “Honey, do you want to try some mindfulness?” I asked and waited for him to laugh and say no-way. But he didn’t. I had taught him some basic skills (mindfulness of breath) a few weeks earlier and practiced a few times and as soon as I asked, he knew it was just what he needed. We did a short practice–listening to our singing bowl 3 times and then noticing our breaths go in like we are smelling a flower and our like we are blowing out a candle. When he calmed down, I simply said “I am going to ring the bell one more time and then I am going to leave the room”. Then I did. As I was leaving his room he said “Mom, turn my music on” and then he cut himself off “….no, no, never-mind” and he literally rolled over and went to sleep.
I am not perfect (by far!) and my kids are not saints (also by far!) but this mindfulness stuff is really working for our family. For one, it has made me more patient and present with my kids and able to modulate my strong emotions better. For my kids, they have started to really notice their own emotional states more and become more aware of their needs within those high’s and low’s which is an amazing life skill.
Truth be told, very young kids are the experts on mindfulness. They are the masters of living without judgement or attachment but exposure to culture and unconsciousness teaches kids to care more about doing and achieving than being attuned and grateful of the present moment. Adults in their life may want to teach them a different way: the way of mindful awareness. Being on this path with your child, and in alliance with them on their journey through the highs and lows of life, will be a divinely gratifying and nourishing to you as their parent and greatest teacher. But it is important to go on this journey with intention but also of awareness of these basic tenants so that the pendulum does not end up swinging back into more frustration, anger, or control for you or your child.
1. Start with parent. The first step to bringing mindfulness into your home is to ask yourself what motivates your interest? If your authentic answer is to change your child, it will not work. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the current moment and if your child does not want to do that it will not work. Instead of forcing it on them, invite them to participate with you and be ok with them not being ready to learn it at this point in their life.
2. Learn basic techniques. It is important for adults to have a basic understanding of mindfulness before you start sharing it with your child or you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Learn about how to have a mindful body, how to listen mindfully, how to bring your focus back to your breath, and how to integrate heartfeltness into your moment-to-moment interactions.
3. Choose a time of day to insert mindfulness. Think about your daily routine. Is there a time of day when behavior is generally good and your kids are ready to listen? If your answer is like most parents, that may be hard to identify. Try talking them in the car when everyone is contained. But again, be mindful of your agenda, and willing to drop it if they are not interested.
4. Give them ownership of their practice and let children lead mindfulness. Allow them to ring a special bell to practice listening, cueing you to focus on your breath, or leading you through a body scan.
5. Don’t use it as a consequence. Being aware of your present moment and your breath is not a punishment–it is the sweetest gift you could give a child. Don’t allow it to be associated with anything bad or your child will resent it. That being said, if you want to use it as an intervention for behavior, make sure a practice is established.
6. Be consistent. You can not do a mindfulness activity and expect it to be suddenly integrated into your child’s brain. Like all learning, practice it regularly to strengthen the neural pathways in your child’s brain so that it becomes more and more natural for him to use it.
7. Institute short moments of awareness many times throughout the day for yourself and invite them to participate. Simply asking them to “notice how you are feeling” is a good starting point.
8. Integrate simple rituals. Taking some deep breaths before starting a meal or putting your fork down between bites during a meal is a good way to fold mindfulness into your regular life.
9. Let them teach you what they know. Listen with attunement and presence–exactly how you would want them to listen to you if you were explaining something new to them. Ask questions and look for answers, together, if your child stumbles over their explanation.
10. There is no one-sized fits all approach to mindfulness. Kids of different temperaments, ages, and abilities will need different approaches to learning mindfulness. Some kids might be interested in learning about the brain, others maybe interested in learning during a peaceful hike, and yet others in totally different ways. There are so many directions to try.
We will be sharing more mindfulness resources in the coming weeks so please follow us on FB/IG @NurtureFamilyEducation
© 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
This past weekend my husband and I decided to go to our local ski mountain and teach our kids how to ski. We are not frequent skiers, in fact this was the first time we had skied together in countless years. But we decided we needed to get out of town and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. We told the kids (ages 4 and 5) when they woke up on Sunday morning that this was the plan (and they were very excited!) and by 7:45am we were off. We knew, logically, that taking kids skiing for the first time was bound to be difficult. Borrowing equipment, filling out forms, waiting in lines, trying oddly fitting equipment on, climbing the stairs holding hands with a kid on one side and 2 pairs of skis (theirs and ours) on the other, (not to mention the actual skiing part!)….we knew it was going to be a lot. But we had the desire to ski and the kids were excited so we went despite all of the reasons we could have opted not to.
What we were not prepared for was the actual reality of how frustrating the process of teaching kids how to ski would be. Since neither of us are really well-versed in how to teach skiing we got onto the snow, put their skis on and tried to send them for a lesson. We wanted to stick around for the lesson since it was their first time ever at the mountain and we didn’t know the instructors. The first child flat out refused to attend a lesson after realizing how hard skiing would be from first touching snow to about 100 yds away from where the lesson began. The second child agreed to do the lesson (despite the fact that on the way there he professed to be an “expert skier”–gotta love 5 year old’s confidence). He quite the lesson 20 minutes later after realizing that skiing is actually VERY hard!
This is where I really notice my own negative self-talk coming up. I could almost witness these automatic thoughts coming up (thank you mindfulness practice for teaching me how to “witness my thoughts”) and saying:
Actual thoughts during the day:
I literally had all of these thoughts. I am not proud but that is the nature of automatic thoughts. They are not conscious, but rather appear when some emotion deep inside of us is triggered. The goal of conscious parenting is to notice those thoughts, try to figure out where they are coming from, and try to find a mature and conscious resolution to that trigger.
So we took a break, went to the lodge to get a snack and just relax. We ended up sitting in the lodge for about an hour with a friend and her daughter who we ran into there. They have been skiing many times and while we were there her 3 year old daughter went up the chair lift with her and skied down an adult-sized slope (without being attached to her mom. Impressive no?!) During that hour I turned to my husband probably at least 4 times and said “let’s just get out of here, do you want to go? …ugh…Let’s go!”. But something kept us there for a little longer and eventually our friend decided to take her daughter to the snow tube run they had set up as a special event that day. As we left the lodge, my eldest turned to me and said “I want to try skiing again!”.
So this was the moment of truth. Do I tell my child that he lost his opportunity so we are done? Do I tell them I am tired (from the entire shlep of this and/or of hearing them whine)? Something told me to let them have a second chance.
At that point, my friend offered to take my eldest up the “magic carpet” and down the “bunny hill” to give him an initial taste of skiing and teach him how to make a “pizza’ out of his skis while I took her daughter to do a couple snow-tube rides with my other son. She also gave me some parental empathy (which is basically like alchemy, if you ask me) that changed my entire perspective. She said, simply, “taking kids to ski for the first time is such a shelp and is so annoying”. Ahhh yes!! Literally that was all I needed to readjust my attitude and be a calm, conscious, and mature parent again. My entire mindset about the day shifted when I heard that this was all a normal first-time experience (again, which I logically knew but had quickly forgotten in the heat of the moment). I relaxed, smiled, and accepted the as-is of this situation.
Some magic happened during those 20 minutes and my eldest went down the bunny hill with my friend two times and actually enjoyed himself (in fact his exact words were “ok, now I really am a good skier, just let me go down alone!!). My youngest relaxed and after 3 snow tube runs with his buddy, and seeing his brother enjoy skiing, decided that he wanted to try again too. I then took him down 3 bunny hill runs and we had an amazing time.
We left the mountain an hour later on a high. This day, which could have easily become a really bad memory, became a really exciting beginning for us and something we decided we wanted to do more of in the future. Having fun together as a family, being outdoors together, getting exercise together: these are the things we want for our family and skiing was it. It just takes some teaching and learning–for all of us–to make this vision a reality.
As we drove away, the new monologue in my brain–my new automatic self talk became:
What a day!
What automatic thoughts show up when you are triggered? How does that effect the way you parent? How could challenging those thoughts change you and your relationship with your child?
(C) 2017, Nurture: Family Education & Guidance