Sunday, July 2, 2017

How do you wake up your child?

Sport Psychologist Anna Andérsen introduced me to Jon Kabat-Zinn. I remember driving to the stable from our meeting listening to the Ted talk, The Healing Power of Mindfulness. Little did I know that I would be listening to him and his wife Myla Kabat-Zinn a few years later on a beautiful summer weekend in Helsinki.

On Friday night Mr. Kabat-Zinn introduced the audience to Mindfulness. He started by telling us that what is coming out of his mouth is only secondary. The most important thing what he can give us today is something that is coming straight from the heart (little did I know that mind and heart are the same word in all Asian languages).

The mind is supposed to wave
He elaborated on words such as wakefulness, awareness and embodied presence. He talked about meditation and how we often misunderstand meditation as shutting the mind. He said that just as the nature of the water is to wave so is the nature of our mind. He told us that the surface of our mind is continuously waving, but we can learn to go below the surface where it is more calm and quiet and evaluate the surface from there.

Mindfulness according to Kabat-Zinn is really about being in relationship with our inner and outer experience. Just like any other muscle we can exercise our brains, i.e. the brains of monastics looks different than the brain of someone who has been practicing mindfulness for a shorter amount of time. Mindfulness is the awareness that allows us to be in a wise relationships to whatever is emerging, both good and bad. Mindfulness does not take time. You can practice mindfulness continuously by practicing the art of being right here in the present moment. There should be no separation between meditation and life. As Kabat-Zinn stated, "a lot of the times we plan what is going to happen or worry about the past. The thing is however that we are not smart enough to know what will happen in the future and the past that we are worrying about is already over. No thinking about it will change the past. We should remind ourselves that life is now."

Mindfulness: The awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally.

As human beings we have judgments about everything and we get stuck in bad habits. Sometimes life comes in and teaches you a lesson but even if you are not in a stressful situation in life it is important to cultivate the capacity to hold and cultivate our feelings and thoughts. If we don't cultivate the heart it becomes harder and more self centered.

Our lives are mostly very stressful and we keep running and doing things continuously. Jon Kabbat-Zin takes a little moment every morning where 'he drops' into the present moment and takes some time in the being before going back into the doing. He then tries to bring the feeling of being with him into the doing of the rest of the day. He wants to feel as unstressed after a day of interviewing patients as he would on a day off. "The real practice if how we be. The doing should not affect our being and life itself becomes the meditation practice and you can bring it to anything you do. To all different areas of life; family, exercise, work and so forth. When we tune the instruments we are better able to cultivate a love affair with life."

You don't have to be good at it
We are so used to setting goals and trying to do the best in everything we do, but when it comes to being mindful, it is not a competition. As Kabbat-Zin says, "'you don't have to be good at it'. If you are feeling what you are feeling, whatever the feelings are, you are doing it right. Awareness involves all kind of feelings. Awareness is knowing but it is also not knowing."

Mindful parenting
On Saturday the couple gave a talk about Mindful parenting discussing how we can apply mindfulness to parenting. The talk started of with both microphones not working and Jon Kabbat-Zin told us that "this it just like life. It never unfolds the way we think it should. It applies to families as much as it applies to technology. It is important to be flexible because if you want to fight with reality you will always loose. If you get rigid around something it is hard to steer around different situations in life."

During the talk the couple said that we as human beings often get lost in our heads and believe that we are right. We are so strong in our views that we think that my view is the only right view. Part of the practice of mindfulness is to also see what other peoples views are. Such as little people's views. If we are not home with ourselves we are not present and are mostly lost in thought. It is very common for all of us, but can we recognise where our thoughts are? The more we can recognise it, the more we have the ability to have the choice to come back to what is happening right now. We actually get to be home: to be in our body. 

As Kabbat-Zin said: "Children are so smart. They see everything. They know when you are not well and they also see and feel when you are embodied and in your true being. Feeling good is contagious".

Love is the biggest motivator
Myla Kabat-Zinn talked about parenting and how different it is in all ages. She said that we get so much joy from our children but also so much pain. The pain is more physical when they are young and emotional when they get older with the possibility of connecting deeply with our children in all ages. She said that love has always been her biggest motivator.
Myla Kabat-Zinn also said that whatever we do, nothing can prepare us for what will happen in life. She does however believe that the more we cultivate mindfulness, the more it also spills into parenting. Both Myla and Jon also talked about the importance of nurturing ourselves so that we can continue to grow when the children are outgrown. 

How do you wake up your child?
One of the themes that struck me was when Jon Kabat-Zinn said that we should be mindful of how we approach our children. He told us that we should pay attention to the small things such as how we wake our children up. We should stop and gaze at them and think what small miracles they all are. Rather than waking them up in a hurry we should remember that how we wake them up also affects the rest of their day. As parents we need to practice the yoga of parenting. We need to develop strength, flexibility and balance of both heart and mind. Even if we get afflicted by our children we can come back to ourselves and drop into the moment. It does not mean that there won't be any conflicts or life will not have pain. It just means that we can befriend the suffering and the pain becomes different. Also having a parent who doesn't go crazy even if life is very stressful is just pretty nice.

Our children are whole the way they are
During the talk, Myla Kabat Zinn said that children can be very different from us but we should not get too stuck on different nuances and never judge them for who they are (even if they would according to us wear the wrong clothes or play the wrong sport). She also stated that parents will not always be accepting, kind and compassionate, but we need to respect our children's true nature however hard it might sometimes feel.

"Once the realisation is accepted that even between the closest of human beings infinite distances continue to exist. A wonderful living side by side can rise if we succeed in loving the distance that allows each to see the other whole against the sky." - German poet

The couple has  written a book called Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting. In the book there are three key themes. 
  1. Sovereignty, the true nature of a childCan we honor who they are and not who we want them to be? Each child has their true essence and nature. Can we be open to it as parents?
  2. Empathy
    Can we see things from our children's point of view. Especially when children act out or have a total meltdown. When children act out they are usually very stressed or under pressure, just as we are as adults. When 
    things come out of children's mouths we should see it for what it is and not take it personally. We need to pay attention to how we answer our children and how we talk with our bodies toward them.
  3. Acceptance
    Can we see our children as whole against the sky? Can we accept things as they are in this moment? 
     Even if there are huge differences between us, can we still make our children feel our acceptance and our strength. You know that feeling when you might not be your best self in some moment, but you can be with someone who still makes you feel accepted. Who makes you feel that it is ok. That they are reaching out their hand. Think of yourself as a child. What else could your parents have done differently? We all needed to follow our path to who we are. The same applies to our children. Sometimes it helps to reflect toward you own trajectory and to who you are now. Give space to your children to grow.
Becoming a closed off parent
During the talk we discussed that it is sometimes easy to get contracted and closed off as a partner or parent when we feel fear and anxiety in our lives. We can have the thought of being more accepting and the next moment it can be lost. Can we however notice the inner landscape, body and mind? Feel, see and sense what is happening and how we are feeling? Can you feel when you shut down? That is why mindfulness is called a practice and we need to cultivate it all the time. As Myla Kabbat-Zin said, "Parenting is a rich laboratory and we need to pay attention, learn and grow. We can learn so much about ourselves and our children. We can be present with a nonjudgmental awareness."

It is so easy to think that everyone else has a perfect life
Toward the end of Saturday evening the audience could ask questions from the couple. What Myla Kabat-Zinn said was that it is so easy to idealise other people and families. Especially in this digital age where every picture put on Facebook seems to mostly tell a happy story. Then she continued saying that "behind every happy family photo there is also a lot of pain and drama. That even if we can't control what we are given and some suffer more than others in their families, there are no perfect pictures or lives."

Then Jon Kabat-Zinn continued saying that mindful parenting does not mean that everything is going to be peaceful or in total harmony forever. That life can sometimes be completely wild. "It is not about becoming an ideal Buddha but rather about finding out who you are when you are still alive and living who you are rather than who you think you are. We can learn to stay balanced in the midst of chaos and start to approach things with openness and joy even in difficult moments, nourishing ourselves along the way. We cultivate balance by loosing the emotional balance and finding it again."

Acting out when something is missing

One of the parents was worried about a child acting out and being aggressive. Myla approached the situation by saying that if a child is lashing out we need to ask what it is that the child is not getting right now? What is it that the child feels that he/she is missing and how can we give the child more of what is needed. A lot of the time the children need more relationality. Maybe try spending more time with the child and try not to bring back old feelings from your own life into the situation. Maybe use mindfulness to bring in a fresh perspective and work with the child more openly. Bring in the attitude that the acting out will probably happen again tomorrow but work together with the child and be curious. Try to create a yes rather than a no relationship. 

As Myla said we all have different temperaments. Some people feel more and some are more interior. Instead of painting a story of what is going on we should try to have conversations of what is happening and talk about how we feel. Not only is it important for the children, but for all members of a family. "What do I need, what do they need so that everybody's needs are met. We are all in this together and we are different. How can we all work together?"

Jon Kabbat-Zin and Myla Kabbat-Zin came to Finland to share some of their wisdom with us. Both evenings were extremely beautiful and the couple felt so present and full of love and compassion. The way they carried the audience and showed support to us all was just mind blowing and then again not at all. As Jon Kabbat-Zin said, "it seems that Finnish people are very much in tough with certain cycles of nature and being quiet. In Finland you are so close to the earth and close to the very dark and the very light. We are all part of the same cell."

"Life is too short for loose ends, for feelings that were never acted upon, gestures that were taken. it's time to start telling people how you feel about them. Get on that plane, tell them you love them, drive all night to see them in the morning. I don't care if it makes you vulnerable, it if exposes you. Expose yourself! Open the hell up, Let life fill you with hurt, with happiness; let it weather you, let it teach you. Let it inspire you, let it break you down and build you up. You are here to risk your heart." 



  1. Thank you Kia for sharing this.

    My heart is smiling after reading this. :-)

    Maarit L.