Family life has always been challenging. Balancing it all often leaves us struggling to find time for ourselves, personal interests, and friends. A close confidant going through a particularly tough stretch once described feeling like he was the ring master of a never-ending circus of chaos.
We laugh, shrug our shoulders, proclaim, “It is what it is!”, give each other a hug and carry on with our days. There is something wonderful about this interaction. In a moment we acknowledged what a mess life can be, put a humorous spin on it, and encouraged each other to keep at it.
Connecting with a friend for a laugh is a tried-and-true family stress coping strategy, but what about when our illusions of safety and predictability get rattled in a way that causes us to want to withdraw from everything, perhaps even our own support systems? A close family member falls ill. The stock you invested in drops. Work slows down. Your partner has been cranky and withdrawn. Nothing feels like it is working out. When carrying on in good humor no longer feels doable, practicing mindfulness meditation can help keep us actively engaged in our lives and connected to the people that matter the most.
But what does mindfulness even mean? Simply put, it is cultivating the ability to be present and tap into the wise part of our minds regardless of what life throws our way. It teaches us to make space between us and our thoughts and appreciate our families moment-to-moment in all their messy glory.
Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book describing Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and called it, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness”. Published in 1990, it is credited with being one of the works that brought mindfulness meditation to mainstream North America. When I recommend the book to my clients they often laugh, as I did, at the title. I’m confident that this is exactly what the author intended. Kabat-Zinn points out the timeless truth that life is painful and challenging. What is not always so obvious, especially when we are caught up in our thoughts and emotions, is that we often add layers of suffering and drama to our problems through excessive judgmental and wishful thinking. This is especially true when it comes to how we interact with our families.
With the right approach, mindfulness meditation can shift unhelpful ways of thinking in a gentle and lasting way. Many people report a decrease in their tendency to allow ‘shoulds’ to take over their thinking. A mind full of ‘shoulds’ boosts the intensity of our uncomfortable feelings, promotes a victim mindset, and discourages connection and creative problem solving. Mindful acceptance of ourselves and other members of our family cools the intensity of our emotions, promotes humility, and sets the stage for us to connect and have those tricky conversations.
If weeding out 'shoulds' and growing calm in the midst of busy family life sounds appealing to you, then mindfulness meditation is worth taking the time to explore. The article on mindfulness meditation in the Walmsley Wellness Library is a great place to start.
Click the link to read more: Midfullness Meditation
Wishing you all the best,
Jeremy Biffert, MEd.