In Part 1 I talked about the top five benefits of meditating when you’re a mom. In Part
2, I discuss the major obstacles and how to overcome them.
There are plenty of barriers to creating and sustaining a meditation practice for any
of us, but when your life centers on caring for small humans, that ups the ante. In
particular, I see five big blocks standing in the way of moms who want to meditate:
No time. Duh! – Since I became a mom, time has changed, simultaneously moving
more quickly and more slowly (there’s a reason they say “the days are long but the
years are short”). Most days it’s as if an endless succession of tasks, errands, and
worries swell to fill every inch of my day from the moment I wake up to the moment
I fall asleep. At the same time I know there are stretches of time – most are on the
shorter side – in which I can actually decide what I want to do. But in those
moments, I often resort to the lowest common denominator in terms of demands on
my attention and effort.
Misconceptions about meditation – Some of us might have significant
misconceptions about meditation, for example, that we need to change religions or
wear robes and chant in a foreign language (FYI: this is not the case). But for moms,
even basic misconceptions can interfere with ever getting to the cushion: believing
that meditation requires us to stop thinking, that we have to sit for long periods of
time to gain any benefit, that meditation is only for certain people (calm people or
spiritual people). Moving beyond the misconceptions can open the door to a practice
that has real benefits for your real life.
Not knowing where to start – How can we know how to do something before we
learn? And to whom do we turn to teach us? Googling “meditation for moms” turns
up guided meditations for troubleshooting pregnancy, childbirth, or stress reduction
and “meditating without meditating” but little in the way of developing a sustainable
regular meditation practice. What’s missing seems to be how to develop a simple,
time-tested practice that can adapt to the constant changes of raising children.
Perfectionism – This is a big one. Many of us believe that unless we can meditate an
hour every day for the rest of our lives, meditation is not worth doing. Spoiler alert:
SO. NOT. TRUE.
Lack of support and community – Before I became a mom, I attended classes and
retreats at meditation centers. Even if they were fairly few and far between,
practicing with others helped maintain the thread of my practice, occasionally
reinvigorating my commitment and reminding me of the many others on a similar
path. After my son was born, these simply have not been possible, and as a result, I
lost a great support for my practice.
Since meditation was so integral to my life before my son was born, I’ve worked
very hard to figure out how to make it work as a mom. Here are my thoughts on how
you can also do this in real and sustainable ways.
Learn a simple technique from a reputable source – If we are going to add
something to our already full and very busy lives, it’s best to keep it simple. And,
while there are many offerings of targeted “meditations” for moms, these might lack
a foundation in a tried-and- true technique.
The Shamatha technique I practice and teach is also called the practice of tranquility
and has been handed down from teacher to student for nearly 2600 years. If I had to
choose three words to describe this technique, they would be: simple, gentle, and
precise. The instruction is to place your attention on your breath – to feel your body
breathing – and every time you get distracted, let go and gently come back.
Whether you choose to learn Shamatha or another time-honored form of
meditation, make sure you learn from a trustworthy source that maintains the
integrity of the technique.
Lower the bar on what counts as meditation – It’s great if you can sit in a chair or
on a cushion to practice meditation for a set amount of time, but it’s not necessary to
“count.” Meditation is something you can do anywhere and everywhere and for any
length of time. Riding the subway, waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting for your
child to get out of school, sitting on a park bench, or standing at a street corner
waiting to cross – all of these are perfect opportunities to connect with your breath
and work with your mind.
Let go of meditation perfection – A lengthy and consistent practice is great but not
if holding it as an ideal prevents you from doing the practice that you can manage.
Consistency is much more important than length so 5 minutes a day, most days, is
more likely to have an effect than 20 minutes once a week. And feeling guilty about
not meditating perfectly (which no one has ever accomplished, ever) helps no one,
while practicing when you can – and keeping in mind that the ultimate practice is
gentleness – helps everyone.
Make meditation a priority – Starting with my thoughts in Part 1 of this piece,
meditation benefits moms in so many ways. If you begin the day with it toward the
top of your list, those benefits are more likely to show up in your life. To help this
along, you might try to practice at the same time each day, append it to something
you do anyway like showering or brushing your teeth, ask your partner to help you
protect your meditation time, and find an accountability partner in another mom.
And no that none of these will work all the time.
But, and this is a big but: the only thing that will really elevate your meditation
practice to the level of priority is if you personally see and feel its benefits. Once you
start to practice, notice how you feel, whether anything changes, if your heart
softens or you become slightly more tolerant of discomfort. This is the real evidence
of meditation in your everyday life.
And, and this is a big and: consider the effect of your child observing that you
prioritize meditation. The fact that mommy cares enough for herself to take a time
out and cultivate gentleness speaks volumes directly and indirectly.
Practice with other mommies – Whether you find a local meditation group to
meditate with or extend on-the- spot compassion to other moms in your heart,
connecting with other moms through your practice will help to deepen your
connection to meditation.
This is why we created the Open Heart Project Mommy Sangha, a weekly online
gathering of moms all over the world. We begin with a reading that relates Buddhist
philosophy to motherhood, meditate together, and connect with one another. We
celebrate each other’s joys, hold each other virtually through sorrows, commiserate
when the going gets tough, and laugh every chance we get. The combination of
open-hearted moms seeking to bring the gentleness and sanity of meditation into
their lives and the regularity of our meetings provide the constancy many of us need
to maintain the thread of our practice. And though few of us have ever met in
person, the connection created through practicing together is unmistakable.
This post originally appeared on Susan Piver’s blog on December 20, 2016.
To learn more about the Open Heart Project Mommy Sangha, click here.