“Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort… it’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.” ~ John Teasdale
For the second week in January, I practiced developing mindfulness cues. Mindfulness cues are reminders to return to the present moment. Cues can be external, as in a regular alarm set on a watch, stopping as you walk through doorways or when you phone rings; or they can be internal, like noticing a rising level of frustration or a craving for sweets.
The specific mindfulness cue isn’t important; what is important is that it will actually remind you to be mindful. If you simply like the idea of returning to the present each time your phone rings, but continue to mindlessly answer your phone when it rings, that may not be a mindfulness cue that works for you.
For my mindfulness cues, I chose things that often alert me to moments I want to be more mindful of:
Feeling the Urge to Rush My Four-Year-Old Along Throughout the Day
My daughter is four, and as four-year-olds are wont to do, she often dawdles. She always dawdles. She has never seen a flower she didn’t want to stop to smell (or pick), a new texture she didn’t want to touch or a wall she didn’t want to climb on. As a sensory-seeker, she also revels in sensory tasks like washing her hands, choosing the bathroom stall with the prettiest waste bin, and climbing any tree, latter, fence or other climbable things she passes.
For me, often in a hurry, her tarrying invokes a rising level of frustration at not being able to do what I need to do when I want or need to do it. But, honestly, there is really nothing in our lives right now, thankfully, that is that important that I need to rush her all the time.
The taxi driver can wait a few more minutes for her to wash her hands, the groceries can wait a few more minutes to be put away, dinner can wait a few more minutes to be eaten. Rushing my daughter doesn’t feel loving and I want to convey to her that I love her by being patient and understanding her need to experience life in her own, slow time.
That is why I chose this as a mindfulness cue. Because it happens often and it is something I want to be more mindful of. So when I felt the urge to hurry her along, I will try to stop, take a few deep breaths and feel gratitude for this opportunity to watch my daughter enjoying herself in the moment – something I am just now working so hard to do.
Watching My Two-Year-Old Play
While it can be tempting, as a parent, to rush off and do something “productive” during times when my children are entertaining themselves, I find it incredibly soothing to watch my youngest child at play. He is much more like me in temperament: calm, quiet, easily absorbed in self-directed activities, and being with him is calming and joyful. He won’t be two forever, narrating his play and singing songs in his sweet baby voice. Time with him is truly a gift and I want to be present for it.
Being Engaged in Conversation
I, perhaps like many others out there, have a bad habit of half-listening. I often find myself asking, “I’m sorry. What did you say?” if someone addresses me in the middle of a task.
One of my favorite quotes from Leo Tolstoy’s Three Questions: “The most important person is the one who is in front of you right now.” I love that sentiment, because it expresses the inherent value of the moment and the individual in it, regardless of who they are.
I want to convey that I value the people in my life by being a good listener, and so I want to use the moment I am engaged in conversation as a reminder to listen mindfully.
A Rising Level of Frustration
In their article Your Guide to Diffusing Anger, Mindful Magazine places noticing a rising level of frustration at the top of their list as one of the best ways to keep anger in check. As someone working on being more responsive, and less reactive and given to anger, this is an important mindfulness cue for me. When I notice myself becoming frustrated, I want to stop and breathe for as long as it takes me to reframe my thoughts and respond calmly.
The Urge Check Out (snacking, checking email or other “pressing” task)
When we are overwhelmed, bored or overstressed, it is common for people to want to escape from the present moment and avoid whatever thoughts, situations or stimuli behind those feelings. Some people escape through food, others through television or books, others through video games, social media and countless other avenues leading anywhere where they are.
My favorite escapes are email and sweets and it is to these that I usually, unconsciously, turn first when these feelings arise, unless I pay attention. Instead of escaping, I want to use these urges to “check out,” as mindful cues to focus on what I am trying to escape from and instead experience the feelings and causal stimuli consciously.
A Sense of Resistance
As someone who prefers to be self directed and doesn’t like to be told what do to, it is difficult spending so much of my time with an extremely bossy four-year-old and a newly independent two-year-old. All day, I hear, “Mommy, PICK ME UP,” “Mommy, COME HERE,” “No, RIGHT NOW!” It seems like I have been asking “Can you say that kindly, please” forever, but it hasn’t quite sunk in for either of them.
Also, like many parents with an endless list of things I could be doing, I often feel a sense of resistance to requests for yet another book/song/snuggle, when it is time for bed; to a request to be held while I am trying to prepare dinner; or to a request to play when I am rushing out the door. But as so much parenting advice reminds us, our children won’t be young forever and I want to use this feeling of resistance, when it arises, to be more mindful of what it is I am resisting and to move through the resistance if it would be more loving to say yes in those moments.
What about you? Do you have cues that you use to remind yourself to be more mindful? Or are you interested in starting to develop your own. If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!
Thanks for reading!
Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook