I have always had this view about the modern education system: we pay attention to brain development, but the development of warmheartedness we take for granted.
― Dalai Lama
We heal our hurts and become more loving by learning to direct kind and warm-hearted attention towards ourselves. Author Kristin Neff says practicing self-compassion on an ongoing basis trains our brain in kindness. When we relax our body and quieten and calm our mind and emotions, we enter a profound state of rest. We are at our best. We feel confident and peaceful. And kind.
If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist monk, author and peace activist
Self-compassion practice, Neff reminds us, is in the tiny everyday moments as much as it is in the big moments. It is a "live" practice, and to be effective, we need to do it in the course of our day and not just while meditating.
For me, that means not beating myself up if I am exhausted and a bit snappy with the children. Yes, I would have preferred to do it differently, but I don't blow it out of proportion. I give myself understanding and self-soothing rather than self-criticism. And I feel myself physically soften. Self criticism makes me tense.
Neff's research has shown that self-compassion leads to higher motivation to change unhelpful ways. Not lower motivation. So I am not being self indulgent either! I am setting myself up to make positive change where I need to because I am "on my own side".
When we criticize ourselves, we also reinforce the illusion of control. 'I should have been able to do it right. I should be able to do it perfectly.' Is it scarier to acknowledge that we are imperfect human beings, with limited control? I am sure it was for me.
But becoming a mother put that illusion of control under way too much pressure. I couldn't control everyone around me to create the "perfect" family environment. Especially not the children! Having compassion for my challenges, accepting imperfection and accepting the lack of control was far healthier. Mindfulness was the only way I could do this.
Barbara Fredrickson wrote about loving kindness meditation in her books Positivity and Love 2.0. Barbara's research found that loving kindness meditation increases our self-compassion. And it is an easier practice for beginners than straight mindfulness meditation. (Two reasons why it's an integral part of the mindfulness4mothers online program!) It is soothing and rewarding in a way that resources us for good times and challenges.
And there are challenges in mothering like no others I have experienced before! This made it an ideal time to make kindness practice part of my life. When I first started it felt hard to find the time. I would remind myself that it was worth the effort. Research shows that kindness practice is helpful for many of the qualities that would make my life better: like flexibility, resilience, calm, wellbeing and happiness.
Before his bestsellers Buddha's Brain, Just One Thing and Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson wrote a book on mothering. He talks a lot about the 'almost illegal levels of occupational stress' and depletions mothers experience after having a child. In our interview with Rick, he refers to a time when many mothers are at their most vulnerable, both physically and psychologically. Rick says it is most common when the first child is 2-3 years old and perhaps a second child comes along. At such times mindfulness offers a powerful way of helping a mother:
o Stay in touch with where she is at and what she needs to become more supported, balanced and healthy.
o Take a step back, get less distressed and take wiser action when children are challenging.
o Bit by bit regain the inner resources to handle these challenges.
o Support her children's wellbeing through her own greater wellbeing and a better relationship with her partner.
The thing about compassion based mindfulness is that it makes so many things easier. In tough times and on good days.
This in no way denies the reality that mothers also need plenty of external support from other adults in the child's life. So that "the village it takes to raise a child doesn't look like a ghost town" (a favorite expression of Hanson's). Indeed:
When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.
― Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General
'But I don't have the time!'
Hanson likes to quote Dipa Ma, a Bangladeshi meditation teacher who taught in the United States. To the common comment, above, she would say:
"Do you walk between your bedroom and the kitchen? During those steps you can be mindful of those steps. You can come home to presence when cooking, washing the dishes, bathing and nursing your baby. You can't separate mindfulness from living."
Yes, we need to learn the basics, and there are many insights to gain from experts. But that doesn't mean finding huge slabs of time outside of these daily tasks. A few minutes a day can make a huge difference.
Meditation, mothering and practice all flowed into each other in an effortless way. They were all the same. They were one whole. There were no special places to practice, no special circumstances, no special anything.
― Dipa Ma
To learn more about how compassion-based mindfulness can support you as a mother register at: