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Conscious Meditation: What actually happens when you meditate?

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The quieter you become, the more you can hear – Ram Dass

I have thought about starting a meditation practice for as long as I can remember. I have read countless articles about the benefits  – lowered reactivity, more patience, less stress, improved physical health – have been completely convinced that it is the ideal practice for my often harried mind and over stimulated nervous system. I have started and maintained a regular daily practice for about a week, multiple times. I even attended a 10-Day meditation retreat. But I never made it a regular, lasting habit.

Until this year.

This year, I decided would meditate every day, for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day.

And so far, I have.

And I love it.

But I still have questions.

  • What is the best way to practice meditation?
  • What about when I was actually sitting there focusing on my breath? What was supposed to happen then?
  • Would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation? Would I be more peaceful? Would I be more patient? Would it be easier to pause and respond in the moment instead of reacting mindlessly?

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PRACTICE?

 Just like there is no “best way” to breathe, there is no “best way” to practice meditation – there is only the best way for each individual – the method that feels right, that allows you to settle into your practice and that motivates you to keep coming back day after day.

Before I began, I downloaded numerous guided meditations. I downloaded meditations from Tara Brach, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and found numerous podcasts dedicated to regular meditation, such as A Quiet Mind, Meditation Oasis and Quiet…

…but I can’t speak to their efficacy because after two months, I have yet to open one. As an introverted mother of two – often rambunctious – young children, I found pleasure in retreating into meditation as a way to decompress and rejuvenate myself, preferring the silence and simplicity of just following my breath, to trying to concentrate on a guided mediation, in these moments.

And as in earlier attempts, I initially experienced some of the “monkey mind” often referred to in writings on meditation, when your mind jumps from one thought to the next, but I soon found myself settling into each practice and enjoying the peace, stillness and time to myself that meditation allowed.

WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING MEDITION?

Because meditation is such a personal experience, no one will experience the exact same sensations as anyone else, but initially it is common to feel:

  • feelings of frustration;
  • an inability to concentrate;
  • an increased awareness of repetitive thoughts; and
  • the need to continually refocus on the breathe, mantra, etc.

But as you persevere with your practice, the feelings become more pleasant, such as those mentioend by Light Watkins, in his post 5 Signs You Went into Deep Meditation, including:

  • a feeling of deep relaxation,
  • shallow breathing,

And from my own experiences:

  • a feeling of floating,
  • a feeling of vibrating energy
  • a feeling of heaviness as your body sinks into your meditation surface; and
  • an overall feeling of peace and well being.

WILL I SEE NOTICABLE CHANGES FROM A REGULAR MEDITATION PRACTICE?

I have always wondered how, or if, my life would really change with a regular meditation practice. I knew, that if I practiced regularly, my brain would change in positive ways. I know that I’d have moments of peace, as well as moments of frustration, when I was meditating, but would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation.

According to WildMind Buddhist Meditation, some of the outward signs of a progressing meditation practice include:

  • a greater ability to concentrate;
  • becoming more aware of the outside world;
  • becoming more aware of your posture;
  • becoming more aware of your actions;
  • become aware of more interesting and vivid dreams;
  • experiencing feelings of calmness and a reluctance to end a period of meditation;
  • other people noticing that you are changing – becoming more relaxed, less reactive, and more friendly;
  • having interesting experiences in meditation – like a delightful sense of rhythm in your breathing;
  • noticing a gap between stimulus and response in your interactions, and realizing that you have a choice about how to respond; and
  • becoming more dissatisfied through more self-awareness – and finding things about yourself that you want to change.

And now, after over two months of daily (albeit short) practice – although I haven’t experienced any of the above signs of a progressing practice – I can feel a change when I sit down, legs crossed, eyes closed. While there is still that initial flurry of activity, my body seems to know that this is time to rest. My limbs grow heavy, my focus turns inward, and often when the bell rings to signal that my time is up, I don’t want to move, enjoying the bliss of this trance-like state I’ve fallen into.

I haven’t been any moments where I feel, as others have written, that I am outside myself, connected through a shared energy, to the rest of the earth and it’s population. I’m still in my house, listening to the birds chirp, the horns honk and the occasional rooster crow.

But right now, that is enough for me.

How about you? Have you recently started a regular meditation practice? Or are you a seasoned practitioner with insight to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

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Back to the Well

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“It is not wrong to go back to that which you have forgotten.” — West African proverb

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted on A More Conscious Life.

Last June we left our “school year home” for our nomadic summer existence and with it, the predictable school year schedule – complete with early bedtimes and child-free nap-times. I had planned to cut down on the time I spent on the computer during our break, both because I knew I would have less uninterrupted time to myself and because I was beginning to feel that I was writing more about living consciously than actually living consciously. I loved researching, writing and learning as I wrote each post, but I wasn’t taking my practice off the page and really living what I wrote. Not to mention, that the very mindlessness I was trying to avoid was drawing me to my computer, my email, my blog, my research, and away from my life, again and again.

So I took a step back.

As we moved through June, I played, I visited, I watched, I ran, I stopped, I noticed, I lived each day without opening my computer. I went days without answering emails, I had evening long conversations with family and friends. I stopped rushing to check my email first thing in the morning, stopped spending hours lost in articles in the afternoons and stopped missing out on the pleasure of a quiet evening without obligation. It felt so freeing!

July passed in much the same way and although I felt guilty about not completing my monthly posts, I never quite worked up the motivation to get back to them. I was enjoying living unplugged, without analyzing it, and wanted to hold out just a little bit longer.

August came and with it our return home, the beginning of  a new school year and a resettling into a daily, weekly and monthly routine of schedules, obligations and the necessities of life to be attended to. I thought I would pick back up with the blog, but I didn’t.

That month we moved into a new house, in a new part of the city, where our internet connection was sporadic, if it appeared at all and when it did, we found ourselves, on our pay-as-you-surf plan, spending much more on internet than we had anticipated.

And so the blog was pushed back again.

When other obligations seemed to take up more of my time, I decided that maybe it was time to let it to for a while, physically and emotionally and come back to it at a time that was more practical, more convenient.

But as the months passed into fall, I realized that when I’m not writing about living consciously, I’m also not thinking about living consciously, which makes me less likely to actually live consciously.

And so, I decided to begin again. Maybe not as often, maybe not as regularly, but begin.

Because without the constant reminders, motivation, inspiration and community of others on this path, it is so easy to slip back into mindlessness, reactivity and regret.

And with them, it is much easier to remember that each moment is precious, each moment is a choice and each moment is another chance to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back to your practice of mindful living.

I’m looking forward to being back.

Thanks for reading!

Sharon

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – January 2015

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All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” ― George Whitman

During the first month of my quest for a More Conscious Year, I’ve been steeped in knowledge and inspiration from a variety of sources. Since there is so much to share, I’ll keep this introduction short, only to say that I have learned lesson from my own experiences, from the experiences of others and from great conscious parenting resources available on-line.

Lessons Learned On My Own

This month I have been working a lot on practicing mindfulness and through the practice, I found that I have been more responsive, understanding and present with my children, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but had never really done consistently. The mindfulness practices have really helped me to be more conscious of my own feelings and to wait until I am calm to interact with my children. If you are familiar with mindfulness practices, or positive parenting practices, this probably isn’t news to you, but if not, it really works and it is wonderful to see the positive effects!

On one occasion, facing a situation in which I previously would have reacted in anger, I just sat with the feeling until it passed and when it did, I felt sad and helpless. The sadness and helplessness weren’t feelings I really want to feel when it comes to my children, but they were preferable to the anger, because I could simply accept that sometimes I don’t know what to do with my daughter’s behavior and that it brings up feelings of sadness that I can just acknowledge and let go. While, not really enjoyable, it was a much more positive experience than reacting in anger and suffering the consequences.

Lessons Learned from Others

This year, I have become a member of the Consciously Parenting Academy, a resource for parents run by Rebecca Thompson, Marriage and Family Therapist and Author of Consciously Parenting. As a member of the Academy, I am able to accesses monthly support calls with other members, whom Rebecca calls Tribe Members, and family and parenting e-course offered throughout the year. Tribe members also connect through a closed facebook group to offer support and ask for advice.

A thread on positive discipline recently struck me as being so powerful, that I wanted to share some of the responses as quotes here with you. While they are not in context, maybe one or more of them will resonate with something you are facing now or may face in the future (text out of quotes is paraphrased).

“Sometimes the moment we think we absolutely must do something is the precise moment where we need to stop ourselves. I struggle with this every day. I am often confused about what to do in that space between a behavior and my response to it. You are not alone.”

 When faced with difficult behaviors from your children “… it is okay to let (them) know that you need some time to process this but you will get back with (them). You can give yourself space to allow what has shown up to be felt fully so it can move to wisdom.”

As parents, we don’t always have to react to everything. When I was young…“…it was my thing and I didn’t need my parents knowing nor did I need their stress about it. I was investigating something on my own. That’s it. We are our own people after all.”

Lessons Learned On-Line

Carrie Contey, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Slow Family Living Movement, recently offered a free on-line Webinar on Intentional Parenting. It included a lot of information on her year-long coaching program, Evolve, but in it, she also talked about her understanding of today’s parenting in a way that was really eye opening for me.

While none of the information was really new to me, the way she explained it, in such simple terms really resonated with me. In the video, still available to watch for free now, but only for a day or so (depending on when you read this), she talks about children’s behaviors in terms of brain states.

She explained that when children “misbehave,” they are simply reacting from a less developed area of their brain. And what they need from their parents at that time is not lectures or punishments, but connection to enable them to calm down enough to access areas of higher level thinking in which they can be more receptive to what we have to say.

She explained that we have three main brain centers: our brain stem (or reptilian/lizard brain), our limbic system (or emotional/mammalian brain) and our neocortex (or human/higher level thinking brain).

As Carrie explained it:

When our children are relaxed and happy, they are function from their neocortex. This part of the brain is driven to learn and in this state, what they most need from us is positive reinforcement and verbal communication.

When our children begin to whine or cling, or their behavior otherwise changes from their happy, learning state, they are operating from their limbic system, or emotional/mammalian brain. Their behavior is a way of telling us that they need something from us – food, rest, acknowledgment, connection – to regulate themselves and return to a state of calm. In this state, what they need most from us is connection, what Carrie termed, “eye-to-eye, skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart.” She suggested parents slow down, get down to the child’s level and reflect, “Wow, you’re having a really hard time right now,” and take the time to help them regain balance. She emphasizes that in this state, children are not receptive to language, so it is best to limit speech.

When our children reach a state where they are kicking, screaming, biting (fight) or running (flight), they are operating out of their brain stem, or lizard brain. She states that children typically only act this way when they are really stressed (which can be quite often, inserts the mother of an intense child….), and in this state, what children most need from us is help with regulation. They need us to calm ourselves first, as this behavior often brings up similar fight or flight reactions in us, and then to help them calm themselves. Again, language doesn’t compute when children are in this state, and threatening behavior only escalates their feelings of fear, so they need help to return to a calm, higher-level of brain function.

The take away message for me was, when children act in ways that are distressful, it is not intentional “misbehavior,” but rather their reactions to stress from a lower level of braining functioning; necessitating, not correction, but a calming presence to get back to a higher level of brain functioning where learning can take place.

In the video Carrie, gave an assignment of starting to view your children through this New Paradigm lens and asking, “What does my little one look like in each of these three states? What do I look like in these three states?” And then noticing what helps each of you to stay, or return, to a regulated state.

Conscious Parenting Resources

In this beautiful post, Joy or Just Wait, Katie Wetherbee, contributing author at Power of Moms, shares a story of a conversation with parents of a newborn and the messages they often receive from other parents.

A Fine Parent, another site I discovered recently, described as a Life-Skills Blog for Parents, encourages readers to sign a Positive Parenting Pledge and follows up with blog posts and articles on Positive Parenting topics.

What about you? Have you read or learned any thing new lately that has helped you become a more conscious parent? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thank you for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A Practice of Mindful Eating

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“When walking,walk. When eating,eat.” – Zen Proverb

For the first month of my More Conscious Year, I have been focusing on becoming more present, or mindful, in my own life. I chose presence, or mindfulness, as my focus for the first month, because I believe that it is really the foundation for a more conscious life. If you aren’t aware of how you are feeling, what you are thinking or, sometimes, even what you are doing throughout your day, it is hard to make conscious choices because of the way our brains are wired for automatic processing.

When we aren’t aware of what we are feeling, it is easy for frustrations to build or for stress to adversely affect us, leading us to react strongly or negatively to situations, rather than to calmly choose our responses.

When we aren’t aware of what we are thinking, it is easy for our moods to be affected by our thoughts without our knowledge or understanding.

When we aren’t aware of what we are doing, it is easy to make mistakes, misplace things or waste time wouldn’t have had we been more focused.

Mindfulness practices works to avoid all of these by helping us be more aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking and what we are doing throughout the day.

In order to practice presence, or mindfulness, I committed to developing a new practice each week, each week adding a new task to the previous week’s task, with the intention of continuing each new practice throughout the year to form new positive habits:

Week 1 – “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating

For the first week of January, I worked on doing one thing mindfully each day. I had originally intended to try to do everything I did mindfully each day, but after reading this post, which suggest just choosing one thing to do mindfully, I scaled back my lofty aspirations and decided to just focus on eating, since it is something I am fortunate to do at least three times a day.

My practice of mindful eating consisted of taking three deep breathes after I sat down to a meal, before beginning to eat, putting my fork down between each bite and focusing my attention on the act of eating, while I was doing it. If I was talking or getting up to refill water glasses, I wasn’t eating. When I was eating, I just ate.

As simple as that sounds, the experience was incredible.

As I started to take more time to eat, just simply putting my fork down after each bite, I realized how often I just shovel in food, trying to get through the meal, before getting up to fill little cups, clean up spills or lecture about polite table manners.

It was so nice to slow down. It was like a mini break from the rush of the day. It also gave me more time to appreciate the food and to be grateful for the abundance we have in our lives.

Now after a little less than a month of mindful eating, I have noticed real changes in how I respond to the simple task of eating.

Whereas before, I could easily eat on the go, in the car or rushing out the door, I now notice almost a physical resistance to eating on the run, as if my body doesn’t want food it isn’t offered in a state of calm.

Before, I would often find myself at the end of a meal, after having spent time shopping for it and preparing it, not even haven taken the time to enjoy it; now I thoroughly enjoy each bite.

Before, I thought that I could enforce a state of calmness during mealtimes, but now, I find that I am able to create it within myself and am less agitated and more understanding of the countless ups and downs of meal times with small children.

I don’t always remember to eat mindfully. Sometimes I forget to breathe before taking that first bite. Sometimes I find myself getting up to get something mid-chew. Sometimes I’ll eat a snack in front of the computer when find myself needing to do both quickly. But when I don’t eat mindfully now, I notice it. And I return to my practice.

For me, and maybe a lot of you, new habits are easier to maintain when you see or feel a real benefit. For me, the practice of mindful eating feels good, and in just four weeks, it has become a positive habit that I am looking forward to continuing.

What about you? Do you find yourself rushing through meals or craving more peace and calm in your life? Is so, why not begin a practice of mindful eating today?

For more information on Mindful Eating, see The Center for Mindful Eating’s publication Food for Thought – What is Mindful Eating?

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A More Mindful January

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The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

To begin A More Conscious Year, I thought I would start with the goal of being more mindful, or present, during the month of January. Many of you reading this may be well aware of the definition of mindfulness, but for any who are not, The Greater Good Science center’s Definition of Mindfulness reads, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.” Or as Wildmind Buddhist Meditation puts it in the post What is Mindfulness, we don’t judge experiences as good or bad, or if we do make judgements, we simply notice them and let them go. “We don’t get upset because we’re experiencing something we don’t want to be experiencing or because we’re not experiencing what we would rather be experiencing. We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist. Whether it’s a pleasant experience or a painful experience we treat it the same way.”

Put that way, it doesn’t sound so difficult. But in the midst of a stressful situation, it can be quite difficult to maintain that sort of non-judgemental awareness. And that is where the importance of practice comes in. The more you practice being mindful, the more natural a state it will become, even in times of stress.

The benefits of mindfulness are many:

  • greater ability to concentrate;
  • lowered stress levels;
  • improved immune function;
  • growth in the area of the brain involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy;
  • improved relationships;
  • increased ability to parent responsively, and
  • a greater sense of joy.

In her Huffington Post article, Thirteen Things Mindful People Do Differently Everyday, Carolyn Gregoire describes how mindful people meditate, pay attention to their breathing, turn daily tasks into mindful moments, take long walks, feel their feelings rather than trying to run from them or drown them in chocolate or alcohol, pay attention to what they put into their bodies and minds, and consequently, are more likely to seek out new experiences, appreciate nature, take themselves less seriously and experience more joy.

I would like to be one of those people!

But practicing mindfulness is not easy, especially in Western, multi-tasking, productivity driven societies. Practicing mindfulness involves a conscious effort to slow down, to pay attention to what is in front of you, to push aside all of the planning, worrying, ruminating that many of us do on a regular basis as we go about our daily lives. Practicing mindfulness involves changing neural pathways in our brains that have served us for years, if not decades, of automatic responses.

But it can be done.

Mindfulness, a practice that arose out of Buddhist tradition, is now being practiced in homes, schools, hospitals and offices around the world. The internet abounds with scientific findings on the proven benefits of being more mindful.

So how can we become more mindful?

In his post The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy on Zen Habits, Leo Babauta suggests a 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge and lists eleven tips for practice during the month, including:

  • doing one thing at a time, slowly and deliberately;
  • doing less, with breaks in-between;
  • taking five minutes for a daily meditation;
  • practicing conscious listening; and
  • turning meals and daily chores into opportunities to practice mindfulness.

For the month of January, I have chosen the following practices to help me have a more mindful month:

1. Week 1: “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating and Daily Chores

Because I’ve found it difficult to stay mindful for long periods of time in the past, I want to start this month out with something that will be easy to practice anywhere and that will provide me with regular reminders of my intention. Throughout our days, we are almost always doing something and many of us typically eat three meals a day. Making a conscious effort to eat mindfully and do whatever it is I’m doing at the time, more mindfully, will allow for countless opportunities throughout my days. In the post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, on Daring to Life Fully, Marelisa Febrega suggests starting small by choosing one thing you do every day and practice doing it mindfully. She also recommends pausing before starting a new activity and taking a few breaths before beginning. Eating mindfully would be a good start. For more on mindful eating see Tiny Buddha’s 5 Tips for Mindful Eating and Summer Tomato’s 9 Tricks to Eat More Mindfully.

2. Week 2: Awareness of Mindfulness Cues

Mindfulness cues, or reminders, can be helpful to bring your mind back to the present moment. Mindfulness cues can be internal or external. Internal mindfulness cues include things like rapid breathing, a sense of frustration, or negative thoughts. External mindfulness cues could be entering and exiting through a door (each time pausing to return to the present moment), hearing a phone ring, beginning a conversation, sitting down to eat, starting a car, etc. For the second week of January, I will make a list of mindfulness cues to bring myself back to the present moment and add them to my practice.

2. Week 2: Practice Mindful Body / Sensory Awareness

As many writings on mindfulness state, while our mind can wander, our body is always in the present. By returning to our body through body and sensory awareness, we can connect the two and return to the present moment. Additionally, our body often reacts the same way when we are confronted with a real stressor or are simply thinking about something stressful. Awareness of these stress responses, rapid breathing or tightened muscles allows us to conscious return our bodies to a state of calm. For the third week of January, in addition to continuing my practice of “single tasking” and awareness of mindfulness cues when I notice my mind wandering or my body tensing, I will work to return my attention to the feeling of my feet on the ground or an object against my skin; noticing the sights, sounds, smells and textures around me. to bring myself calmly back to the present.

4. Week 4: Practice Regular Meditation (Twice a Day)

Meditation, it is said, is not essential for mindfulness, but it helps a great deal. And the benefits of meditation both mirror and increase those of a mindfulness practice. So for the third week of January, I am going to add a second 15 minute afternoon meditation practice to my regular evening meditation. For more see GAIAM Life’s Meditation 101 and Goodlife Zen’s How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips.

Throughout the month, I will also use the mantra, “Be Here Now,” to bring my attention back to the present moment whenever I notice it wandering. This mantra has worked for me in the past.

While strategies listed above may work for me, I realize that they may not work for everyone. In her Psychology Today article 10 Best Practices for Being Present, Nancy Colier, LMSW, she acknowledges that all practices for cultivating mindful will not work for everyone because we all respond uniquely to different stimuli. She recommends trying different practices and selecting the ones that resonate most with you (The post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, mentioned above, lists some more varied and creative mindfulness exercises).

Cultivating a mindfulness practice isn’t easy. It takes concentration, dedication and a genuine desire to be more mindful. For every time I have been able to focus mindfully, there are at least 100 times I’ve simply been mindful of the fact that I haven’t been mindful. Additionally, in her post Seven Obstacles to Mindfulness and How to Overcome Them, Tiny Buddha recognizes that “sometimes you want to be anywhere but in the now.” As a parent of two small children, I can recall many instances when I’ve wanted to escape the present moment by any means possible. Yet, again, hopefully, with practice, staying in the moment won’t be so difficult, or unappealing. Tiny Buddha states, that “when you realize that the challenging times are there to help you grow, you will automatically feel more peaceful and relaxed.”

Here’s to automatically feeling more peaceful and relaxed!

Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year! I hope this is a year filled with joy, peace, happiness and countless moments of consciousness!

What about you? Do you have mindfulness practices that work for you that you’d like to share? Are you interested in your own More Mindful Year? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

Conscious Parenting PEACE WEEK – Reasons, Rules and Reflections

 

 

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“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”Albert Einstein

The word retreat may bring to mind visions of peaceful solitude in a mountaintop meditation center or yogis practicing by the sea and sipping tea in a perfectly manicured garden. However, as Jon Kabat Zen writes in Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, “from the perspective of mindfulness, parenting can be viewed as a kind of extended and, at times, arduous meditation retreat spanning a large part of our lives. And our children, from infancy to adulthood and beyond, can be seen as perpetually challenging live-in teachers, who provide us with ceaseless opportunities to do the inner work of understanding who we are and who they are, so that we can best stay in touch with what is truly important and give them what they most need in order to grow and flourish.” While seeing all of our parenting years as a “retreat” may be a bit difficult, taking one week to work at being more conscious is more manageable and can be a great way to really focus your efforts in the area of conscious parenting. 

REASONS

Unlike people with unwavering self-control, I tend to need external motivation or accountability to follow through with most things I set out to accomplish – hence the need for this blog 🙂 My PEACE WEEK retreat idea is in that same vein. I try to be more conscious in my parenting on a regular basis, but so easily, it seems, I fall back into unhelpful patterns of behavior that lead to more struggle and less joy in my parenting and my relationship with my daughter. Sometimes a break or a mental check-in helps to get me back on track, but when I’ve fallen back into a long stretch of unconscious parenting, I need more than a gentle reminder to dig myself out. And typically it is when I find myself exasperated at my daughter’s rapidly de-escalating behaviors that I realize that it might be time for some recalibration. I usually make a note of the challenges we are facing and try to come up with alternative ways of addressing them. PEACE WEEK allows me to set a personal commitment, for one week, to really focus on my parenting in those moments and make changes where things aren’t working. Whatever structure, time period and guidelines motivate you to stick to a plan, should be those that you use in your individual PEACE WEEK (or ZEN WEEK, HAPPY WEEK, MINDFUL WEEK, etc.), should you chose to try one.

RULES or GUIDELINES

Once I have committed to another PEACE WEEK, I create a set of guidelines, that aren’t meant to be a cause for upset if they are “broken,” but rather to act as reminders of the things you want to do to help yourself be a more conscious parent.  

My PEACE WEEK rules this time around are similar to those from my previous PEACE WEEK:

  1. No Screen Time When Children are Present.
  2. Practice Pausing and Noticing My State of Mind Throughout the Day
  3. Limited Speech (Three Breaths before “Reacting”)
  4. Morning and Evening Self-Care (Morning Yoga / Evening Tea and Meditation)
  5. Quality Time with Each Child Each Day

This time, I also wanted to work to model our HUGS (not Hurts) approach to rising frustration, which I’ve been talking about and using with my daughter for a few weeks now, but haven’t been modelling it myself. Whenever my daughter starts to get frustrated or angry with her brother, I ask her “HUGS or Hurts?” and give her our four options for dealing with frustration (HUGS – H: ask for Help, U: Use your words, G: Go take a break, or S: Stop and breathe). 

Additionally, I wanted to try to more consistently use other conscious parenting techniques, such as using mantras, acknowledging positive behaviors, giving options, etc.) It is so easy to fall back to less conscious parenting methods unless we’re, well, conscious, and I’ve been conscious lately of my tendency to use a lot of threats or two unappealing choices to “motivate” her to do what I ask her to do. 

And finally, I wanted to try to use the same words when addressing similar behaviors to help ingrain them into her memory. When you repeat the same message over and over, in the same way, it has more of a chance of sticking with them, than if you alter your words every time.

Ultimately, like a fast or genuine retreat, I just wanted a set timeline and self imposed structure in which to hold myself accountable to the conscious parenting practices I seem to have lost somewhere in the Atlantic on the way to South East Asia.

REFLECTIONS

Probably the most important part of PEACE WEEK is your reflections, whether you jot them down throughout the day, or take time in the evenings to think through your interactions with your children, both positive and not-so-positive and allow yourself the time and space for creative problem solving, “aha!” moments, or mental pats on the back when something you tried worked well. 

I was going to share my personal reflections on my current peace week here, but ultimately, I want this blog to be helpful to others and my detailed reflections only represent the current situation in my unique family and are most likely not very interesting or helpful to anyone else, so I decided to spare my readers. However, if you have any questions or comments to share, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Do you think you might benefit from a personal parenting retreat? If you try one, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

PEACE WEEK – A CONSCIOUS PARENTING RETREAT

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is taken from The Conscious Parenting Notebook.

Before I had children, I attended a 10-Day Buddhist Meditation Retreat. Before participants could begin, we had a to sign a contract stating that we would commit to following all of the rules, which included following a strict waking, eating and meditation schedule; residing in monastic-style dorms; keeping a vow of silence; not writing, reading or using media of any kind and staying for the entire 10 day period. I was able to accept, if not enjoy, all of these rules, except the one that forbade writing. I knew that many thoughts would come to me throughout those 10 days and I knew that without recording them, they would be lost forever. I didn’t want to forget, so, clandestinely, I wrote and am glad that I still have those lessons and memories today.

I recently applied a retreat mentality to my parenting. My parents were coming to stay for a week and my interactions with my then three-year-old daughter had become a bit less than loving and empathetic. So I decided to take drastic action. I called for a self-imposed “Peace Week,” to focus on my parenting and work to improve my relationship with my daughter. My rules were as follows:

  1. No Sugar (outside of honey in my tea)
  2. Limited Computer Screen Time to 3 Times a Day (When I was not with my children)
  3. Limited Speech (I wanted to impose a no-talking rule, but found that to be too difficult)
  4. An Attempt at Conscious Awareness of My Own Moods and Feelings
  5. An Attempt at Conscious Kindness and Empathy in Responding to my Children at All Times

The limited sugar and screen time came out of my realization that when I was getting overwhelmed with parenting, I tended to seek out comfort or escape through sugar or email. Instead I used these urges as a reminder to check in with my feelings and reconnect with my children.

The limited speech came from my awareness of my tendency to lecture my daughter at a level above her age and maturity when she did something I had asked her not to do, and I thought that silence or at least a pause in my initial reaction would be an improvement.

The conscious awareness of my own moods and reminder to act with kindness and empathy to my children came from the fact that I knew that my moods greatly impacted how I treated my children and I wanted to work on being more responsive to them and the situation rather than reacting based on my mood.

Throughout the week, I kept a journal and each evening, I would write down the things I did well, the things that I could improve and insights I had gained. It was a lot of work and I failed and faltered a bit, but through reflection on those times, as well as the positive ones, I learned a lot. And most importantly, by the end of the week, I had improved my relationship with my daughter and gained a lot of new knowledge in the process.

Thanks for Reading!

What about you? Do you think you might benefit from your own unique PEACE WEEK? Do you have questions about how to start? I’d love to help. Or do you have other Conscious Parenting ideas that help bring you back into balance when you find yourself parenting unconsciously? If so, i’d love to hear them!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Nonjudgement – Learning from Others

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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?