What's the best gift you could imagine receiving for Mother's Day?
Your kids delivering breakfast in bed? Your husband giving you a foot massage to express his gratitude for all you do to hold the family together?
I'm wired to wake up at 5:30 a.m., so waiting in bed a few hours with a growling stomach isn't appealing. And I have a thing about people touching my feet, so foot massages have never been part of my Mother's Day fantasy.
One year I just asked for everyone to simply not fight for the day. I think we went to an amusement park to facilitate this, even though roller coasters make me throw up.
Life became a lot simpler once I discovered the power of mindfulness practice to ensure my own happiness on Mother's Day and every day.
What is Mindfulness?
Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk and founder of Headspace.com (a meditation app used by over five million people), defines mindfulness as:
"The intention to be present in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever is happening, free from distraction or judgment, with a soft and open mind."
I stumbled into mindfulness quite by accident while recovering from a mastectomy seven years ago. There's nothing like cancer to bring the message home that life is happening right now and we'd better start paying attention.
I had spent the first several years of motherhood looking ahead to when "my life" would begin again, when everyone else didn't need as much of my attention. Though I didn't regret stepping off the career ladder to raise my kids when the nanny skipped town unexpectedly, I kept a tight little bundle of resentment buried inside me. I infected everyone else in the household with my self-inflicted stress.
The epiphany came when an audiobook that I thought would help me with career planning turned out to be about how ego creates suffering in our lives. (The book was A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle, whom I had never heard of before I saw the title on sale at Audible.com.)
Ego is what tells us to compare ourselves to others, to judge ourselves and others. Ego tells us that no matter how good life is, things could always be a little bit better. Ego either directs us to the past to tell us we're victims or pushes us into the future to tell us things must be better one day.
Ego does whatever it can to hide the beauty of the present moment, because it would be put out of a job otherwise.
But here's the kicker: ego isn't our true essence. We don't have to buy into it. By taking the steering wheel out of the hands of ego, the beauty of life in the present moment--the only time when anything real happens--opens up to us.
Why This Message Is So Important for Mothers
Let's face it. As mothers we're constantly judging ourselves, second-guessing ourselves, never feeling as though we're doing enough or doing it well.
We keep our calendars full, always prioritizing everyone else in our lives. Our heads are packed so tightly with to-do lists and worries about future scenarios that we can't hear ourselves think.
Mindfulness teaches us to step back, take a breath, and reconnect with the present moment.
Whether it was on an airplane or elsewhere, you've probably heard the advice to "Put on your oxygen mask first so that you can be most helpful to others." A few minutes of stillness each day simply focusing on your breath, in meditation, or practicing other mindfulness techniques all serve as that oxygen mask.
Only in stillness can we untangle which thoughts are valuable and which aren't serving us. With practice, we can shine a bright light on those bullying thoughts that stem from ego and simply let them float by without buying into them.
Mindfulness, and meditation in particular, is sort of like cleaning out your closet, getting rid of outdated clothes that aren't flattering on you anymore. With practice, we learn to discard unflattering thoughts that make us unhappy.
7 Ways for Mothers to Reap the Benefits of Mindfulness
1. Carve out some time each day for stillness. It doesn't have to be long--even ten minutes a day is helpful. Frequency is more important than the length of time. It's all about habit building.
2. Engage your senses in an enjoyable activity. Neuroscience has proven that multitasking is a myth--our brains can only do one thing at a time. When we're focused on the feel, aroma, or sound of an experience, our racing thoughts dissolve. Gardening, exercise, and floral photography are my personal go-to sensory activities, but yours might be walking in the woods, painting, or any other activity that brings you to your senses.
3. Incorporate mindful moments into your day: instead of checking your phone as frequently, take 30 seconds for mindful breathing; instead of scanning tabloids in the grocery store line, breathe in some presence; instead of being angry at the traffic light for turning red, relax your hands on the steering wheel and focus on the sensory feel against your palms.
4. Give yourself permission to view self-care and self-compassion as essential to good parenting. Though your children's path in life is ultimately outside of your full control (sorry, folks), the best you can do is model self-care practices that will hopefully influence them to cultivate their own healthy habits down the road.
5. Recognize that your energy, whether positive or negative, is contagious. Kids have enough of their own stress and drama to deal with. Our own presence and positive energy can help to ease their burden.
6. Take action where you can in the present moment and let go of what you can't control. I promise you, life becomes a lot easier.
7. Pay attention to what brings you joy and do more of it. Mother's Day is the perfect day to get quiet, listen to your heart's whispers, and follow the path of inspiration.
Mindfulness helps us cultivate gratitude by noticing the beauty in life's tiny details in the here and now. What better gift to give ourselves on Mother's Day?
Because when Mama's happy, everyone's happy. Right?