Archive | April 2014

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – April 2014


Mother (and Father) hood is a choice you make everyday to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing, even when you’re not sure what the right thing is.. and to forgive yourself over and over again for doing everything wrong.- Donna Bell

This month, I have been reading Susan Stiffelman’s Parenting Without Power Struggles. In her book, Susan talks a lot about the attachment needs of children at different stages and provides practical ways to meet those needs. She talks about the importance of connection with your child in terms of their healthy development, socialization and safe navigation through the challenges of adolescence. The book offers a lot of insight and practical advice, and is definitely worth a read. Come back soon for another Conscious Book Review.

When not reading or writing, I’ve been working on furthering my goal to be a more conscious parent, although the past few days have seen a bit of a return to my “pre-conscious” behavior, serving as a reminder of the importance of this journey. In my interactions with my daughter this month, I’ve been working on using the following mantras and conscious parenting techniques: “Connection or Rejection,” “Flowing with the Current,” and “Apologize and Forgive.”

Connection or Rejection

Inspired by Stiffelman’s book and the realization that my daughter is much happier and cooperative when we are connected, I’ve started to try to bring the awareness, or consideration, of connection into all of our interactions.  Typically utilized in moments of frustration, I ask myself, “Connection or Rejection?” short for “Is she feeling rejected by my words and behaviors or are we still connected?”If, in the middle of a parenting moment, I ask that question and find the answer is “Rejection,” I try to pause and ask myself if there is a way I can address the situation through connection. An example of how this unfolds is typically when I find myself trying to command or demand that she does something and instead change to a more conscious, kind explanation of why I need something to be done. I find when I switch to connection, she is usually, if not always, more willing to cooperate.

Flowing with the Current

Another thing I’ve noticed as I interact with my children on a daily basis is that so much of our enjoyment of the situation depends on whether I am flowing in the direction they want to go or fighting their resistance to go in another direction. So much of our daily interactions with our children have to do with accomplishing certain tasks – getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, getting out the door, cleaning up, eating meals, etc., and when our goals are the same, these things flow easily. However, when our goals are different – as they usually are in my household where my children’s most common goal is to play, start playing or keep playing – these interactions can lead to frustration and conflict.

This month, I’ve been trying to notice and appreciate those times when I am able to relax and flow with them (typically when we’re playing outside with no agenda or other place to be) and enjoy those moments. In times when I notice that I am struggling against the current of their collective desire to continue playing when we have something else to do or somewhere else to be, I try to think of a way to “Flow with the Current” and redirect them to where I need them to be through play. When I join them in their play and expand upon  it to include whatever I need them to do, we typically experience a more consensual flow in that direction and everyone is all the more happy for it.

Apologize and Forgive

My third parenting practice for this month was something else entirely until today, when I stormed through the morning completely conscious (now – thanks to my consciousness habits) of my self-defeating behaviors but seemingly unable, or unwilling, to stop them until it was too late and the morning was lost in a a whirlwind of tears, frustrations and angry words. It was then that I remembered the healing power of a genuine apology.

Before dropping my daughter off at preschool, her little heart filled with sadness and the pain of a morning gone wrong, I stopped and apologized. I told her how sorry I was that I had gotten frustrated and acted on my feelings instead of choosing to be kind. I reminded her of how much I loved her and allowed her to talk about her feelings before setting her on her way for the day.

After she left, it took some time, but I eventually remembered the equally powerful salve of forgiveness, in this instance, for myself. As Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes in The Miracle of Self-Compassion, forgiving yourself is an important practice to keep the negative tentacles of regret from pulling you back into the past and keeping you from moving forward and enjoying the present. So as parents, when we all inevitably make mistakes with our children and do or say things we regret, don’t forget the importance of the practice of “apologize and forgive.” For more on moving past mistakes and reconnecting with your children, read HERE.

I hope some of these parenting inspirations resonates with you this month. If you have any of your own conscious parenting tactics or resources to share, please comment below!

Thanks for Reading!

Conscious Nonjudgement – Learning from Others


In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week, I returned to my regular night of yoga after two weeks off. During my absence, the previous instructor had left and a new instructor had taken her place. The previous instructor was inspirational in her practice of yoga. Her classes were theme based and varied. She had an incredible memory for the positions both in Sanskrit and English; she led us through sequences gradually, building up to more advanced poses; she continually reminded us to listen to our bodies, take breaks if needed or challenge ourselves with more advanced poses if they were a part of our practice. She had an uncanny ability to know where we were out of alignment or tense, allowing us to self-adjust simply by listening to her suggestions. She respected us as adults and yoga practitioners, never giving too little or asking too much. She valued the silence we could cultivate within our minds as we flowed continually, one pose, one breath, at a time.

Over the years, I have practiced with a variety of different yoga instructors and have learned something from each of them; yet I have practiced enough to appreciate the difference between a class with an experienced instructor and one with a beginning instructor, so it was with a little trepidation that I returned to class with a new instructor.

Just as I arrived, the class began slowly. And continued slowly. At times, the instructor repeated sequences as though she was buying time to think of her next move. Other times she left us in restorative poses for what seemed like great lengths of time when we hadn’t, in my critical mind, done anything to merit restoration. She forgot steps sequences; called out the wrong names for poses. My thoughts went from my breathing and postures to a critical stream of judgement. “Does she know this is a mixed level class? Or did it change to a beginning class? Am I really going to drive all the way out here for this?” And on and on in the same vein.

Yoga promotes peace, humility, understanding and equality. Yet throughout my practice that evening, my thoughts were negative, judgmental and unkind. Even as I noticed the tone of my thoughts and tried to return them to my breath, the flow of negativity continued with each pose. Before I knew it, the class was almost over.

As we were preparing for the final, resting pose, the new instructor offered us each a temple massage.Because I felt that I hadn’t gotten much out of the class, I was pleased at the idea of a brief massage to help me relax and finally quiet my thoughts.

I tried to relax and focus on my breathing as the instructor made her way around the class. Finally, I felt her fingers on my temples…

… and they were trembling.

In an instant, all of my negativity and judgement drained from my body. At her touch, I was at once reminded of our shared humanity and of her courage to be at the front of the class, sharing her love of yoga with us, while I grumbled from my mat. Maybe these were her first classes and she was still honing her skills. Even the most seasoned teacher was once in her shoes. I was ashamed of my judgement and lack of humility.

After class, I made sure to welcome her to the studio and thank her for the massage. In part, I did what I did to assuage my own guilt, but also, in the hope that I could pass along a little of the kindness and encouragement that I withheld throughout the class. I am grateful to her, and the experience, for reminding me that everyone has something to teach us, if only we allow ourselves to be open and receptive to what they have to share.

Thank you for reading!

What about you? Is there anyone you have come across lately that you may have judged too harshly? Is there any way you could re-frame the experience to be a learning experience or a reminder of our shared humanity?

Conscious Meditation

Buddha Tree

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”Sogyal Rinpoche

I have wanted to cultivate a regular meditation practice for years. I have started and stopped, tried and failed, found inspiration and lost it. I even spent 10 days at a Buddhist Meditation retreat in Thailand. But I have never set aside enough time, fostered enough motivation or followed through with my desire to sustain a regular practice. Yet now, on my journey to live a more conscious, mindful, life, it seems all the more important to commit.

There are so many reasons to meditate. According to Belle Beth Cooper What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How It Benefits You), meditation quiets your mind; it helps you focus; it helps you to be more creative, compassionate and empathetic; it improves memory and reduces stress. In her Psychology Today Article, This is Your Brain on Meditation, Rebecca Gladding, M.D. explains, in detail, how a regular practice of meditation physically reshapes the connections in our brain, leading those with regular meditation practices to be calmer, less reactive, more empathetic and more balanced in their responses and perspectives.

Yet even with all of this scientifically based reasoning, I find it difficult to sit down for 10 to 15 minutes a day and just do nothing. I am a task-master. I worship at the temple of productivity. A day when I clean my house, cook a healthy dinner, write a blog post, spend quality time with my family and knock a few other things on my to-do list is a happy day for me. I am very conscious of this aspect of my personality. And yet it is just this aspect that I would like to soften through meditation. I would like to be able to sit for a moment without thinking of all of the things I should could be doing. I would like to be more focused and not thinking constantly. I would like to be able to relax and just be.

But it isn’t easy.

As a runner, if I don’t run every few days, I feel a physical pull to get outside, stretch my legs and put some distance between myself and the confines of my four walls. Running exercises my muscles and clears my head. I would love to have that feeling, as a “meditator;” that physical need for regular practice, for mental cleansing.

So I’m committing here, in this post, to finding at least 10 minutes each day to begin a regular meditation practice. Armed with Zen Habits’ Leo Babuta’s 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind and  Goodlife Zen’s Mary Jaksch’s guidance on what to do when things come up for you during your meditation practice, I’m ready to begin…

…doing nothing.

If you are interested in beginning or reinvigorating a regular meditation practice, there is so much going on right now to encourage people to meditate.

Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Choprah have launched a 21-Day Experience called Finding Your Flow that began on April 14 and continues through May 4. Their site offers daily guided meditations on a theme with a free registration.

In May, Mindful Magazine is starting a Mindfulness in May campaign that offers a month of daily guided meditations and interviews with practitioners in the fields of meditation, science and health for a fee of $25 with proceeds going to clean water initiatives around the globe (You have to register by May 1).

America Meditating is an initiative by the Meditation Museum in the D.C. area to encourage people to pause at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day for a moment of peace and contemplation.

The Insight Meditation Center in California offers recorded talks, articles, newsletters and other meditation related resources. You can access the homework for their Six Week Mindfulness Meditation Course HERE.

Thanks for Reading!

What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? If so, do you have any tips or insights for beginners? Are you a beginner or interested in beginning a regular practice? If so, I’d love to start a conversation and share experiences.

Conscious Book Reveiw – 10 Mindful Minutes


10 Mindful Minutes

“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud.” – Goldie Hawn

I recently finished reading Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children- and Ourselves – the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives and I was so inspired that I wanted to share some of her wisdom and practical applications.

As someone who comes to consciousness and mindfulness as a secular pursuit, Hawn’s brain-based explanations of the benefits of mindfulness were particularly engaging. The book begins with an introduction as to why we, as a nation, need to embrace a more mindful lifestyle and goes on to explain the brain-mindfulness connection in detail. Her focus is primarily on teaching mindfulness practices to children, but the information is useful even for people without children. As she writes, Hawn includes personal stories that give the material a more intimate feel and she provides professional references for the facts she cites throughout. The latter chapters cover specific areas of mindfulness and each chapter includes games to play with your children to introduce and strengthen their capacity for mindfulness in each area.

In this post, I’d just like to share a few of the Mindful Sensing and Feeling Games she includes in the book. Not only are these games great for building mindfulness skills, but the are also great for spending one-on-one quality time, building connection and, some don’t require much other than you and your child, so they can be used anytime you find yourself waiting somewhere with a fidgety child.

Mindful Listening

Mindful listening is much like active listening: being fully present and listening without judgement or interruption. Practicing mindful listening allows our children, and ourselves, to practice being fully present, truly hearing what others are saying and building empathy and awareness of the feelings of others.

Hawn suggests a game called Echo in which you ask your child to tell you something as you listen carefully and then repeat it back, word for word. You then as your child to do the same for you. You take turns going back and forth, practicing with longer and shorter sentences. Afterward you can discuss what the experience was like, if it was easy or difficult and if anything helped your child to remain focused on listening. With little ones, silly sentences could make this even more enjoyable.

Mindful Seeing

According to the book, an estimated 80% of the information our brains absorb is visual, registering more than thirty-five thousand images an hour. Mindful seeing slows this process down and, when we use it with our children, allows us to step out of our thoughts and really see our children, as they are, at that moment, without any preconceptions, “shoulds“, or judgement.

Hawn suggests a game called Really Looking to practice Mindful Seeing. Before playing the game, you need to gather a number of similar looking objects – pebbles, rocks, leaves, popped popcorn – and put them in a box or bag. Once you have the back, each person chooses an object from the back and studies it for a few minutes, asking, “What does it look like? What colors or markings does it have? Is it smooth or rough?”  You then place the objects back in the back, shook it up and dumped out the contents. Then each person must try to find the object they were holding. Afterward, you can discuss the game and ask how mindful seeing helped identify the object and what other ways you could use mindful seeing to be more aware.

Mindful Smelling

In the section on mindful smelling, Hawn sates that the olfactory gland is the strongest gland in the body, the greatest trigger of memory and the one that has the biggest impact on our emotional state. She lists a number of scents that bring about specific moods and cites studies that connect specific smells to deeper states of relaxation and improved memory and performance among students.

In the game, What’s that Smell, you choose four things that have distinct smells, ask your children to close their eyes and smell each item one at a time. After they smell each item, ask if they can identify it. When they are finished, if they are old enough, have them choose a few different mystery smells for you. Afterward you can discuss how the felt about the smells. Did they prefer some smells over others? Did they trigger any memories?

Mindful Tasting

In speaking of Mindful Tasting, Hawn brings up the obesity epidemic in America and the importance of being mindful of what we eat. She also talks about how, when we eat in a rush, we not only miss the flavor of food, but we also often overeat, as it takes our brains 10 minutes to feel full. She also emphasizes that mindful tasting reinforces the pleasures of sitting down and sharing a meal together.

In Look and Taste, you walk your children through mindful tasting by giving them raisin or small piece of chocolate. You first place it in their palm and ask them to look at it closely. Then ask them to smell it. Then allow them to place it on their tongue without biting down. Finally, allow them to bite down and eat it slowly. Afterward ask them to describe the experience and contrast it with just popping the item into their mouths quickly.

Mindful Movement

As with exercise, mindful movement, has many positive effects, including the emission of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us a sense of well-being. As with any mindfulness practice, mindful moment also helps us bring our attention to the present moment and also allows us to enjoy freedom of movement through our bodies.

Similar to Freeze Dance, but the a slight variation, Freeze and Melt involves having your child run, dance, jump, hop, skip or otherwise move around wildly, stopping whenever you say, “Freeze!” You should instruct them to tense their entire bodies and freeze on the spot. When you call, “Melt!” they should relax and slowly melt to the ground. Play for as long as they enjoy it.

Mindful Optimism

Moving on from the senses to feelings, Hawn talks about the importance of optimism and the ability to teach the skills and practice of optimism to your children.

In Rainy Day Blues, you pretend that its raining outside and take turns acting out feeling sad or happy about the rain. This game could be continued with other scenarios, like getting sick, moving to a new home, ending a school year, etc. After each, ask your child how each charade them feel?

Mindful Happiness

In the section on Mindful Happiness, Hawn explains that the more a thought is practiced, the stronger the circuits that hold it in memory become. When we continually imagine happy outcomes instead of negative ones, our brains build resilience and we are more likely to feel happy.

In one of my favorite mindful suggestions, Hawn describes the process of making a Mindful Happiness Wall. She suggests choosing a place you and your children pass often and making a collage of pictures and drawings that make you happy. You can use children’s drawings, family photographs, pictures cut from magazines or anything else that brings you and your children joy. Add to the wall regularly and remind yourself, and your children, to look at it any time they need a little more happiness in their day. If sectioning off a wall is too much of a visual commitment, this same idea can be applied to a box or scrapbook.

These are just a few of the practical applications of mindfulness practices described in the book. For those well-versed in mindfulness, it may offer a lot of known information, but, at least for parents, I feel that it offers a lot of ideas, inspiration and encouragement to make it a very worth-while read!

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Have you read 10 Mindful Minutes? What did you think? Have you been inspired by any books lately? If so, please share!

Be Here Now – More Conscious Mindfulness Reminders


It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. – Seneca

Before I begin, let me clarify the difference between Consciousness and Mindfulness (at least as they relate to my posts in this blog). For me, conscious living is living in a way that is more informed, more true to your values (whatever they may be) and more present (as opposed to sleepwalking through the day). This post deals primarily with the third of these branches of conscious living – presence or mindfulness. Those of you interested in living a more conscious life are most likely aware of the concept of mindfulness (if not scroll to the bottom of this post for some great links).

As I work to become more conscious and present in my daily life, more often I find myself noticing that I’m not present, rather than actually being present. I guess you have to start somewhere and perhaps being aware of not being present is the first step to being present. So I have started to utilize conscious reminders throughout my day when I notice my mind (or body) wandering off to something other than where I am.

– When I find myself doing anything in a rush, I stop and consciously continue the task slowly, with my attention on on the task at hand.

– When I experience a craving, whether for sweets or another distraction, I notice the craving and instead of unconsciously (or consciously!) responding to it, I use it as a reminder to refocus my attention to the present.

– Whenever I hear myself, either mentally or out loud, that something SHOULD be a certain way, I try to stop, remove the judgement from the situation, and see things as the are rather than as I think they should be.

– Whenever I feel my self becoming anxious or frustrated throughout the day, I take it as a cue to take a few deep breaths and return more calmly to the present.

– And recently, whenever I am talking to someone, I try to remember to use the interaction as a reminder to be a more active listener (thanks to this great post on the Art of Simple).

Once I notice myself drawn away from the present (which is still probably one out of every hundred times I don’t notice at this point), I remind myself of my commitment to be more present by saying, “Be here now.” This simple mantra reminds me not to berate myself for forgetting to stay present, but simply to return my attention to the present. It reminds me that, typically, whatever thoughts have pulled me away are not as deserving of my attention as where I am right then. And it refocuses my attention on what is important, this moment, this task, this person in front of me.

“Be here Now.”

And for one sweet moment, I am.

What about you? Do you have any reminder throughout your day that help you remember to refocus on the present? Or any helpful mantras to share?

Thanks for reading!

Conscious Appreciation of the Places We Call Home


Look at everything as if you were seeing it either for the first or last time. – Betty Smith

In the past 15 years, I have called eight different places “home.” Before moving on to a new place, I always find myself appreciating my surroundings more, knowing that I won’t be around to appreciate them much longer. As I ran through my neighborhood the other day, I thought about what a shame it was that I often wait until I know I am going to lose my surroundings before developing a more regular conscious appreciation for them.

My current home is in a safe, quiet, friendly community. Not everyone has the opportunity to live in an environment with open green spaces, free of litter and debris, where they feel safe to let their children play. I do and for that I am grateful.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits posted the 10 Essential Rules for Slowing Down and Enjoying Life More. I think many of these can be applied to developing a habit of appreciating our surroundings.

Here are a few things we can do to bring a more conscious appreciation to our environment:

1. Do Less – When you’re walking, walk. When you’re running, run. When you’re driving drive. Use this time to notice your surroundings and appreciate them.

2. Disconnect – It is hard to be aware of what is around us when we are on the phone or plugged into an ipod. Shutting down for a moment, can bring you more awareness of where you are and what is going on around you.

3. Be Present – Take a moment to cease the chatter of your mind and take in the world around you. Express your gratitude for the positive aspects of your environment.

4. Move Slower – When you find yourself rushing- walking fast, driving fast – when you don’t need to or have anywhere you need to be. Slow down and look around. Take a moment to appreciate where you are.

5. Breathe – Use your breath to help you to slow down and bring you into the present moment. If the air is clean, notice it and be grateful. We often take things like clean air for granted.

6. Appreciate Nature – If you have green grass, trees or animals in your environment. Take a moment to appreciate their place in your life, especially during the changing of the seasons.

7. Find Pleasure in Your Senses – Take moment to notice what you see, smell, hear and feel. Use your senses to heighten your conscious awareness of your environment.

8. Bring Awareness to Your Blessings or Fortunes – There are many people in the world who life in unsafe, unclean, undeveloped environments and if you don’t, take a moment each day to cultivate gratitude for the blessings in your surroundings.

Thanks for reading!

What about you? When was the last time you took a moment to appreciate your current surroundings? Is there anything you feel especially fortunate to have in your life?