“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Science has now proven what Lao Tzu wrote thousands of years ago.
A growing body of research on mindfulness and meditation shows how being in the present moment offers a range of benefits, from improved immune function to enhanced creativity, clearer communication to greater satisfaction in relationships.
If the wellspring exists in the present moment, why do we spend so much time in the past and future? The answer is simple: because we’ve not been trained to live in the present moment, but we’ve been conditioned to live in the past and future.
When we observe these conditionings we can stop perpetuating them in our lives and the lives of our children.
We may look for practices to add to our lives in order to be more mindful. Sometimes dropping old habits, however, is a powerful practice itself.
Here are three such practices:
1. Mind your future.
Several months ago I became aware of my constant need to talk with my children about what’s coming up: “after this we’re doing this, after that we’re doing that, Grandma’s coming tonight, three more sleeps until holidays, two weeks left until school starts”
… a constant push out of the present moment.
I observed this behaviour in my conversations with my family; this need to fill the silence with some future event. I decided when the urge came, to simply stop. I don’t say it. I don’t say anything.
Certainly some children need notice. They need to prepare themselves for changing events in their day. “Please finish what you are doing so we can go outside. Meet me in front of the school at 4:00 and I’ll take you to gymnastics.” But notice just how often your conversation points them to the future.
When I’m tempted to fill the silence with upcoming plans, I don’t say anything. And in that not saying what’s coming up next, I rest – even if briefly – in the present moment. And I stop perpetuating the conditioning that pushes myself and my children out of the moment which they inhabit naturally.
2. Mind your relationship with time.
Children have a natural relationship with time; they don’t mind it at all. In our helping them, however, get accustomed to society’s schedule, we often set up an adversarial relationship with time. “Come on, we’re late. Hurry up. We’re pressed for time. You’re going to be late. There isn’t time for that. We’re running out of time. There aren’t enough hours in the day. I want to get there on time. What a waste of time. You’re wasting time. Let’s go.”
Awareness of speech is a practice in itself. Notice what words you use with your kids – and yourself – every day. You can get creative and choose different phrasing around time or simply drop the conditioning and don’t say anything. Take a deep breath and continue on your way without perpetuating struggle with time.
3. Mind the gap.
Struggle can often be found in the distance between our expectations and our reality; where we expect our kids to be and where they actually are. “You should be blocking those shots. You should be better at math. You should have your dance routine memorized. You should know how to tie your shoes.” Close this gap and you reduce struggle: in yourself and your kids.
Help them with their practices. Help them grow, but accept them where they are, as they are. With support they will get to where they’re going soon enough. There is no need to rush them towards the future. According to Lao Tzu, that only brings anxiety. Let them rest in the present moment and take a break there yourself.
Mindful parenting doesn’t require you to add new practices. It simply requires you to be present with your internal and external environments.
Notice your conditioning to move out of the moment. Observe, without judgement, the pull towards the past or future. Take a deep breath, feel at peace in the present, and set a mindful example for your children.