“Mother Matters,” Back-to-(Mama)-School-Edition

September; a time for heading back-to-school and preparing our little ones for the coming year. As we shop for those new back-packs, books and lunch boxes, what can we do to better equip ourselves for the year ahead, and beyond? When it comes to motherhood, there is no curriculum, no lesson plan, no definitive guide to ensure we are doing the job well. Perhaps this is part of what makes motherhood so trying at times. The stakes, raising a happy, healthy human being, are incredibly high, and yet we are all pretty much winging it. This edition of the Blog then is dedicated not to “how-to-do,” but rather “how-to-be.” Here are 3 researched-based tips on better managing the not-knowing inherent in being a mom. If you can practice these three “S’s” you can learn to better tolerate the unknowns (of which there are so many) and this can transform your experience of motherhood. Shift Your Thought-Process: Our thoughts have tremendous power, which is interesting when you consider that they are just, well, thoughts—intangible, passing notions that fade in and fade out. Think about a night-time feeding. You might find yourself saying “I’m so tired—I don’t know how much longer I can do this!” No doubt you are exhausted, but the reality is that you have been managing night-time feedings for weeks and maybe months, and you will most likely be able to manage this evening’s one as well.   What if you were to replace the initial, emotion-driven thought, “I can’t handle it,” with something more realistic such as “These feedings are exhausting but they will come to an end, and I will sleep through the night again.” This kind of reality-testing allows a mom to differentiate between her own internal thought (“I can’t do this anymore”) and the reality of the outside world (“In fact, I have done this many times before and I am managing it now.”) This exercise can break the cycle of getting caught up in worrying about what you fear you may not be able to do in the future, by instead developing an awareness of what you are capable of doing in the present. (Ironically, the concept of reality-testing is credited to Sigmund Freud; a man who himself had some pretty radical [irrational?] views on motherhood. We’ll save that for another edition….) Stay Present, If Only For a Moment: Timing is everything. Or is it? In Buddhist tradition, the nature of time is very different from the one to which we ascribe in Western culture. The Zen Master Dogen, born in 1200, wrote that “If time keeps coming and going, you are the time-being right now.”  What he means (and I’m hazarding an educated guess here, Mamas) is that the only “time” that truly exists is the present. So how is this useful in terms of quelling the anxiety wrapped up in un-knowingness? Because, according to this idea, the present moment is the only one we have. There is no future. How can one be anxious about something non-existent? Ponder that one---for the time being! Besides reducing stress and anxiety in general, remaining present also brings with it a slew of positive side effects including decreasing depressive feelings and maybe even lessening our chances of getting the Flu! (And you don’t wanna be a Mama with the Flu!) Here are two super-simple exercises to help you return to the only time there is; the now, courtesy of one of the most mindful among us, Eckhart Tolle: 1.)    “Ask yourself, am I still breathing? You suddenly feel the air flowing into your body and out of your body... At that moment, you’ve entered the state of presence. Even if it’s only five seconds.” You may be moved by the way in which something as simple as this can inspire a sense of awe in being alive. 2.)    Be conscious in your everyday activities. Whether you are washing bottle parts, or rocking your baby to sleep, summon your senses fully to the task. Be aware of the warm, soapy water on your hands, or the sound of the stroller wheels moving back and forth on the floor. The beauty of your senses—they only ever exist in the present. Even a reminder of the memory of how something tasted or smelled, for example, happens in the now.   Steal a Lesson From Your Little One: You know who’s remarkably adept at managing the uncertainty of what lies ahead? Your baby! Young children have a knack for immersing themselves fully in the “now,” whether it be delighting in the wonder of a new object or throwing a full-body tantrum. It is not until about the age of three that children begin to develop the capacity to imagine and ruminate about the future, and more so as they turn four and five. So, there was a time in your life, albeit long ago, when you were not even able to fathom what’s to come. You had no other option but to simply exist as you were. Today, when you find yourself preoccupied with what might happen or what could happen, take a cue from your child and place yourself wholly in whatever is happening now. As an adult, you possess the wisdom to recognize that this moment, pleasant or not, will pass on its own. You don’t have to do anything. And as a mother, that is a rare and delightful thing, indeed.