Meditation/mindfulness/quiet time/processing – call it whatever you want, for me it’s a critical component of allowing me to feel on top of things, centered, in control, and that I can manage my day. I like to call it processing - but on a higher level than I normally am able to do. I’ve been missing it in my life lately, with my lack of sleep and generally chaotic days.
When I first tried yoga, I found those few blissful quiet moments at the end of practice to be the best part of my day. I felt refreshed mentally, physically, emotionally. I left my yoga class or turned off the DVD with a new sense of calm, direction, and with answers to things that had been bothering me. Even if there weren’t answers, I had a sense of calm about it.
I miss that sense of calm – it’s been missing from my life for 7 months. Yesterday I got up a little earlier than I normally would have, got the Mountain Man’s breakfast and lunch ready for him, planned my day, posted a blog, checked my email and then just sat. I closed my eyes and tried to expel the thoughts running through my head with each breath. I felt my pulse in my eyelids. I heard the birds calling outside, letting us know that spring really is coming. I heard the furnace kick on, and the cat stretch and yawn. I heard the washing machine drain downstairs and a pinecone hit the deck behind me. I heard my Pie yammering away to herself in the bedroom, waking up from her extra-long sleep.
I acknowledged each thought as it popped up, assured myself that I would remember it again later, and let it go. For me, this is the hardest part of meditating. It always has been hard, and now, with baby, it’s worse. Now I feel like if I don’t act on every thought the moment I have it – write it down or take care of it – I will forget it forever, or at least until it’s too late. During my quiet time I have to let the thoughts go. It’s hard, especially when they keep popping back into my head, hollering at me “hey you! you’re going to forget this! come on, just take care of it now while the Pie is sleeping!”
I have to imagine my breath physically evicting the thoughts from my brain. They’ll come back later, or not at all. Right now it doesn’t matter.
How can I process – this is my processing time – when I don’t let myself think about things? Without having any expert knowledge, I consider it like the deep, restorative sleep that we all need (and that new parents often don’t get enough of). If my mind is quiet, if I allow my focus to be on my breath and my pulse and not on things and chores and errands and activities, I can access that restorative, problem-solving nature of deep sleep, even when sleep deprived. I’ve always been amazed how I can go to bed with anxiety, questions, problems that just seem to be unsolvable, and wake up with direction and solutions or at least a kind of zen about the unresolved issue. This is the same. I am not actively problem solving, but I am allowing my brain the calm and quiet to process on a deeper, sub-conscious level. I feel more in control, less frantic, and (finally) centered.
If you’ve never meditated it can seem impossible, ridiculous, too hippie-ish or weird. But if you’re sleep deprived, it may be the only restorative, deep-processing time your brain gets.
So from a former disbeliever, here are my tips for a mama’s (or daddy’s) first meditations – or for a mama (or daddy) getting back into it. It’s a different world with baby, so my practice in mindfulness is going to be different.
- Set the stage: It can happen any time, any where – once you’re good at it. Until you’re a master, you’ll need to create a good environment. Turn off the TV, radio. Eliminate unnecessary distractions. Try to create an environment that will allow you to quiet your mind.
- Find the time: I meditated yesterday on the couch just before the Pie woke up. You can do it while you’re breast/bottle feeding your baby, while you’re in the shower, on the toilet, standing in front of the microwave, whatever. Do it with your eyes open while you do the dishes. The point is to let yourself stop thinking and fall into a rhythmic pattern (breathing, washing, whatever)
- Start slow: Just do a couple minutes. Don’t worry about the time, don’t worry about being a master-meditator who sits for an hour a day. Just be still and quiet for a few minutes, trying not to think about the time. When you can’t do it any longer, stop. Try to do a little longer next time.
- Manage the racing thoughts: There’s a to-do list racing (and screaming) through your brain. Mine too. Here’s what I do – the first few times I try to meditate, I begin by sitting quietly with a pencil and paper next to me. Every time I have a thought that I can’t breathe away within a couple breaths, I write it down and then close my eyes and try again. I find that every day I am trying to remind myself of the same things, thinking about the same projects I could or should be doing. Reminding myself to mail that bill back in on time or don’t forget to buy cat food. Just write it down, and once you’ve written it down forget about it. It will be there when you’re done. After a couple of days of writing down the same things you will begin to give yourself permission to let the thoughts go, knowing that they’ll be back. Then give up the list.
- Don’t think about it as wasting time. It’s not. Sure, you could be accomplishing something with that time, like getting the dishes done. Are you doing the dishes right now anyway? Nope. Just try it.
- Set aside the negative assumptions. It’s stupid. I’m not into crystals and magic. Me either. If it makes it easier, don’t tell anyone you’re doing it. Don’t call it meditation. Do it with your eyes open. Do it while you’re taking a walk. Just give yourself permission to have a clear mind for a few minutes.
- But it’s not fixing anything! Don’t have unrealistic Expectations. Yesterday when I was sitting, I heard the Pie babbling to herself. If she’s just talking to herself I usually let her be. She started complaining, so I stopped meditating and went to get her out of bed. I found her laying in bed with her diaper open – and a runny breastmilk poo all over her and the bed. Meditating sure didn’t fix that problem, but since I don’t get her until she’s complaining it probably would have happened anyway. But the meditation did make me better able to handle it. Instead of crying while i stripped the bed and hosed her down, I just did it. Even a little cheerfully. Meditation didn’t fix the problem, but it made me better able to deal with it and be the kind of mama I want to be. And from now on, we’re sleeping in a onesie EVERY TIME.
I am so excited to make this a regular part of my day again. It gives me so much calm, a feeling of being in control, of being able to manage. I don’t magically have any answers to my problems (car, housing, lack of sleep) but I am more able to manage my anxiety without answers. I seriously recommend trying it for at least a week. It’s when I feel the most out of sorts, with the least time to spare that it is most beneficial. I need it most when I feel like I have space in your life for it the least. If nothing else, you’ll get a to-do list out of it.