When I talk about being "mindful," I've noticed that some think I'm speaking in very general terms and then there are others who smile and nod and say back, "ah, yes, mindfulness." I, myself, didn't really have a specific grasp on the term and its journey until I read Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (1998) by husband and wife writing duo Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. The concept seems so simple in theory, but can be so difficult in practice. The basic idea is to slow down, be aware of each and every moment as it's happening, and to not allow judgment (positive or negative) to color that awareness. This book couples this larger life goal with the specifics of parenting and how practicing mindfulness can help us to be more compassionate, gentle, and respectful of our children.
There is a meditative quality to reading this book, that makes me want to add it to my personal library so that I can revisit it again and again. They come back to the same or similar points repeatedly, making my reading experience feel circular and flowing. The Kabat-Zinns interweave narratives from their own experiences of raising children, narratives of others, and traditional stories together to explore the larger idea of being mindful. This is not a list of "things you must do to raise a good child." They set no rules and impose no constrictions on the reader. Rather, they gently encourage the reader to explore how mindfulness can work into their own lives and how it can be used to buttress their own values and goals.
Some might find this frustrating. I did at times. What this book is promoting is really a way of living, so if one is looking for hard and fast one-size-fits-all answers to how to parent, this book may feel like a letdown. My desire to read it came out of my desire to raise children who, above all else, are ethical, respectful, and kind. This book did set me on a path that I think can help me achieve those goals and I'm glad that I read it before I have children as I think I need a lot of practice. In our society there are few if any rewards for taking our time. At every turn we are encouraged to multi-task so that we can get more done faster. But if we are constantly allowing our minds to wander to the next thing we have to do, we miss out on the small joys of what is happening right now. So often I find myself at the end of another week and it's all a blur of getting up, going to work, making dinner, and going to bed. It makes me sad to think of my life in terms of such a routine. What about the way the sun reflected off the ice as I walked to work? What about the way the sausages sounded as they sizzled in the pan? What about the way Steve's hand feels on the small of my back when he hugs me "hello?" I think these small moments are important and they are worth noticing and they only become moreso once children enter into the picture. Children are small for such a very short time and our influence on them is so very great. I don't want my parenting experience to be one of automatic routine. I want to notice the small moments and relish them.