Imagine being able to coolly observe your toddler’s tantrums with mild amusement, ditch yelling for compassionate sweet nothings, suggest impromptu mural painting sessions on the basement walls, and magically find humor—not stress—in the idea that you’re supposed to have three kids in three different places at five o”clock tonight. With the help of a regular meditation practice, these behaviors may be within reach.
In recent years, researchers from institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the Mayo Clinic have determined that meditation can improve overall health by helping reduce stress and anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation “can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health.” Other benefits include increased patience and tolerance, a focus on the present, increased imagination and creativity, and a new perspective on stressful situations. Sounds like a list of aspirations for moms on a daily basis.
Gary Hardin, a parent and practice leader of the Boulder Zen Center, and meditation practitioner of 25 years, offered his tips on meditation.
Carve Out the Time and Place
Beginning a meditation practice is essentially building a new habit—”a new way of being,” says Hardin—so you have to be intentional about it. Choose a regular time and place (phone-free, please) that you can return to every day. Outside, inside, on a chair, on the floor—it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a place you can regularly get to and sit in peace for a given period of time. How long you sit is up to you. Hardin says that starting with just five minutes is great. The trick is adhering to those five minutes every day, around the same time. (But if you miss a day, no guilt.) Perhaps it’s right after you drop the kids off at school or right before you get into bed at night. The key is finding a commitment you can stick to.
Focus on Your Breath
Hardin says that in Zen, “you bring your attention to your breath because it’s dynamic, so you can notice it. Through this, bring attention to your body, and through that, to all of your senses.” The intention is to move from consciousness—our “normal” state in which we”re constantly thinking and editing—to awareness, our immediate sensory experience right now. This focus on the breath is nourishing to the nervous system that is overloaded by the fast pace of our thoughts. This focus gives the nervous system a break, and that’s when the calm starts to come.
Words with Intention
Zen does not employ mantras, but instead, turning phrases. The difference is that mantras work through continuous repetition, whereas turning phrases work through periodically pausing to deeply feel their intention. Hardin suggests using simple phrases such as “just now is enough” or “no self, no other.”
If we examine ourselves more closely, we are often holding conditions we feel need to be met: I need a better car, a raise, or so-and-so to apologize. The idea is that this phrase will turn your attention to your immediate experience. A turning phrase allows you to bring a bit of the calm into the midst of your busy day. You might consider saying it every time you enter a new circumstance. This is a small opportunity to remind yourself multiple times a day to feel the current moment.
Let Go of Judgment
When you let go of judging yourself, even for five minutes, it can be liberating. “The idea of a meditative practice is to embrace our lives as immediately unfolding, exactly as they are,” says Hardin. If you’re stepping into the now, there is not past or future for comparison. There is only the present moment, the breath, and the body, and those are pretty good. Groovy, right
Certainly, Zen is not the only form of meditation out there. Experiment with different types to find what works for you. Find your time and place and just do it.
Courtney Messenbaugh is a freelance writer based in the Boulder area. She is married with three children and a big dog.
A great way to get started is to take a class or engage with a group. The following spaces and places offer meditation group classes and one-on-one training.
Boulder Zen Center, boulderzen.org
Zen Center of Denver, zencenterofdenver.org
Kadampa Meditation Center in Denver, meditationincolorado.org
Shambhala, Denver and Boulder with a retreat center in the Red Feather Lakes area, shambhalamountain.org
Transcendental Meditation in Boulder and Denver, tm.org