Last winter I was at the end of my rope. Winter is not my season to begin with. I can’t stand the cold, the ice, the gray cloudy skies, and 5 p.m. darkness. I hate being cooped up in the house with my three energetic boys. And then there is sickness that spreads from one child to the next. I could go on. Last winter I was also turning 40, and I just felt overwhelmed and unhappy.
When I feel sad I can be really hard on myself. Mostly, I feel like I am being a bad mom. I feel like I am not being fully present and there for my kids, who are young and need me so much. I feel like I should be a constant source of positive energy for them. When I feel down, it’s hard for me to do that.
I also find that when I am stressed out and unhappy, my kids always pick up on it and feed into it. They act differently, as in much worse—and it creates a sort of downward spiral in our house.
So when a friend suggested last winter that I enroll in a mindfulness meditation class, it truly changed my life. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical at first. While I had always admired people I knew who practiced meditation, I never thought it was for me. I wasn’t sure I could quiet my mind for five minutes (never mind 20). And I didn’t see how I would fit meditation into my hectic life.
Despite my hesitation, I enrolled in an eight-week mindfulness meditation course, where I learned how to meditate with a group of eight other men and women of all ages. We started with five-minute guided meditations that we practiced daily, and we worked our way to 20-minute meditations by the last session. In class we learned that mindfulness, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. During meditation, we learned to step out of our regular “autopilot” mode: everything we do without thinking all day long. We followed guided meditations that focus on the breath and quieting the mind. I learned that meditation doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be good. Thoughts will enter my mind as I meditate; we were taught to recognize them, acknowledge them, and let them pass, without judgment.
Through meditation, I came to realize that my judgment and negative thoughts were bringing me down. In class we learned to tell ourselves that thoughts are not facts. That maybe I am having the feeling that I am a bad mom, but that is just a thought. Separating thoughts from facts was big for me—along with also not getting caught up or bogged down in negative thoughts. Meditation helps with that too.
I also realized that my mind needs a moment of quiet during the day. A brief rest. A break from the autopilot and all I that think about during the day—who needs a lunch this morning and who is buying lunch; who has band today; who spilled breakfast cereal all over the floor; who is going to give me grief about wearing a jacket this morning.
So now I try to meditate every day—some days for five minutes and other days, when I have more time, for 10 or 20 minutes. I have found the best time for me to meditate is in the hour before I pick up my kids from school. It allows me to get everything I need done first, and then I give myself time to meditate and relax a little right before meeting my children after school and the busy-ness of the rest of the day.
Since I have started meditating daily, I have noticed a big difference in how I am as a mother. I am calmer. Much more joyful. In the present moment—able to appreciate more. Stronger, better able to handle the surprises that every day brings—like cereal spills and meltdowns. I even notice a difference in myself on the days I don’t meditate: I’m not as patient; I’m more tightly wound. Almost like a day without exercise, it has become something my body needs.
I’ve even practiced meditation with my kids at night and it has helped them settle down and fall asleep. And I am pretty sure they noticed a difference in me since discovering meditation. In fact, after I finished the class, my 5-year-old asked me, “Mommy, are you going to take any more classes?” and when I said, “No, why?” he responded, “Because it makes you happy!”
My life is far from perfect, even with meditation. I still lose it and yell at my kids when it seems like no one is listening to me. I still have days when I feel totally stressed out, or just sad. But those days are fewer now, and I feel like I have one more tool to help me get through each day.