“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
Spring is traditionally the season to tidy up. We speak of “spring cleaning,” of ridding our homes of the piles that have somehow accumulated over the short, dark days of winter. In early motherhood, there may not be much time for physical cleaning. Beyond the onesie-washing and brushing out the milk bottles, tackling the tangible mess may have to wait a season or two, or more.
However, there is always time to “clean out” the chaos in our minds; the “mother-clutter.” Caring for a baby, for all its privilege, can create a build up of emotional residue. This month, “Mother Matters” offers 3 concrete, evidence-based exercises for cleansing your mama-mind, (and your mama-body too, because as the research shows the health of one directly impacts the health of the other.)
In this season, or any season, you can use these tools to help remove the cobwebs and claim a clearer, brighter view.
Pay it forward (to another mother): In the throes of sleep deprivation, toddler temper tantrums and wondering what to make for dinner—again, it’s very easy (and very normal) to lose ourselves in our own woes. And the woes are real. The fatigue can be debilitating, the tantrums exacerbating, and the meal-planning monotonous. One way to break out of the bubble of our own “stuff” is to focus our attention on someone else. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology[i] tested the pop-culture concept of “paying it forward,” to see if the idea would hold up under scientific scrutiny. A group of undergraduate students were recruited to perform brief, one-time-only acts of random kindness. These were simple actions—holding open a door for someone, extending a compliment, paying a parking-meter or offering someone a snack. The study demonstrated a positive emotional impact on both the givers and receivers of the action, with women showing even greater benefit than men.
Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your own emotional mother-moment, make a choice to “pay-it-forward” to another mother in your neighborhood or “mommy and me” class. Chances are, you will both feel better.
Walk Your Way to A Clearer Mind: The Buddha did it, and he seemed to have a few things figured out when it came to making life more manageable. What mother wouldn’t welcome a few tips in that department? Walking meditation has been found in studies[ii] to offer tangible health benefits including reducing feelings of depression, and increasing functional fitness. It also happens to be a wonderful way to connect with yourself, and quite literally, become more firmly grounded. As opposed to adopting the act of walking for the purpose of getting from point A to point B, as is most commonly done, walking as a meditative action has a different objective. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D., founder of mindfulness-based-stress-reduction (MBSR) describes it beautifully; to “bring our attention to our feet and feel the contact of the foot with the floor or ground with every step, as if we were kissing the earth and the earth were kissing right back.”[iii] You can begin to practice a walking meditation nearly anywhere at anytime. You could even have your baby strapped to you in a carrier, or in the stroller. Take a breath. Lift one foot off the ground, feeling the weight shifting from one side of the body to another. Notice the heel come down, the ball of the foot, then the toes last. Then lift the back foot, moving it forward. Be aware of how each step is unique. While there are similarities in the mechanics, each one is different than the next. When you become distracted, bring yourself back to the beauty of your feet, and welcome a kiss from the Earth.
Wipe Away the Blur; See What’s Right in Front of You: So much of our time, mothering and otherwise, is spent going through the motions. We engage in the day-to-day routine, but are we really “awake” as we do so? The American writer Henry Miller wrote “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”[iv] Imagine how you might feel differently if you became more attentive, more focused, more welcoming of each aspect of the daily “grind.” This is a wonderful exercise to try with your baby: Practice observing an object the way he or she does, as if for the first time. It doesn’t matter what the object is—a toy, a piece of food, anything. Really see it. See the colors, feel the texture. Take it in in a deeper way than you are accustomed. Look for the beauty—every thing has at least a hint of it. Try this a couple of times during the day. Seeing things, or people too for that matter, as if for the first time, can reduce the “mother-clutter” and help you gain greater clarity.
[i] Pressman, S.D. (1), M.P. (1) Cross, and T.L. (2) Kraft. “It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being.” Journal Of Positive Psychology 10, no. 4 (July 4, 2015): 293-302. Scopus®, EBSCOhost (accessed April 8, 2017).
[ii] Prakhinkit, S. et al., “Effects of Buddhism walking meditation on depression, functional fitness, and endothelium-dependent vasodilation in depressed elderly.”J Altern Complement Med. 2014 May;20(5):411-6. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0205. Epub 2013 Dec 28.
[iii] Kabat-Zinn, J. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 249. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0638-1, p. 249.
[iv] Henry Miller, American author, 1891-1980.