Who doesn’t want to bring calm to their life? I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I know I would like more of it. Over the years, news of the the health benefits of meditation has piqued my interest, and though I’m not sure where to start and am even a bit intimidated by the idea, the interest is there.
So I was particularly pleased when Judy Goldberg (whom we love here in The Motherhood!) introduced me to her cousin Priscilla Warner, author of Learning to Breathe. You might also know Priscilla as co-author of the hugely popular The Faith Club.
Learning to Breathe, about Priscilla’s year-long quest to bring calm to her life, is just out in paperback, and in celebration, I thought it would be fun to post a Q&A with the wonderful Priscilla. Here’s to all of us finding a bit more calm in our lives, with Priscilla’s help!
Q: Why is it important for mothers to meditate?
I think it’s very important for a mother to feel whole, grounded and calm. We beat ourselves up for what we did or didn’t do as parents and women, at home and at work. We often put our children’s needs ahead of ours. We compare ourselves to other mothers and wonder if we’re doing all that we can or all that we are “supposed to do.”
Meditation provides a safe haven for an individual – a port in a storm, a quiet study, or, as Virginia Woolf wrote, “a room of one’s own.”
Motherhood can be lonely, hectic, depressing, exciting, rewarding, confusing and exhilarating.
Meditation teaches us that all of those moments come and go. Once I developed a meditation practice, I became less reactive to events. I’m not in control of my emotions, but I also don’t try to control them. I’m able to step back and observe myself, my family, and my friends without jumping to conclusions or donning a superhero cape to try and fix everything heroically.
Q: On some days, I don’t even manage a shower – how can I fit in time for meditation?
The Dalai Lama suggests that people start out meditating for just five minutes a day. If you force yourself to sit still for 45 minutes, you’ll just set yourself up for disappointment, he says.
My goal was to build up my meditate practice to 20 minutes a day, which is what the neuroscientists I consulted agreed was beneficial. It’s not the amount of time you devote to the practice that’s important; it’s the consistency of your commitment. And a practice is built up slowly, over time. It’s very personal and private. No one but you knows that it’s happening. I find it so much easier than dieting, where there’s a scale to answer to. Or tight jeans.
My first teacher, a young Tibetan monk, understood the demands of modern life very well, and taught in a very open-minded fashion. I learned how to meditate while sitting down, with my eyes open or shut. I learned how to do walking meditation and how to meditate while lying down or listening to music. He suggested we vary our practice, so that we wouldn’t get bored. I don’t meditate in a certain time or place. On busy days, I meditate at the end of the day, in bed, lying down. I meditate in my minivan in parking lots all over town, when I have a few spare minutes to myself. When I see something I find calming in the middle of my day, I pull over to the side of the road and take a few moments to breathe.
And I often listen to guided meditation cds, when I’m tired or need a meditation partner or teacher. Sometimes chanting or music takes me where I need to go. I offer many resources for guided meditation and teachers at the back of my book.
Q: Do I need a special place in my house for meditation?
I meditate all over the place, but some people find it helpful to pick one spot that becomes more and more comfortable over time. Sometimes just lighting a candle, wherever I am, will help differentiate the time and place where I’m meditating from the rest of my busy life. Or music can do that as well. I bought a meditation cushion, so sometimes I sit on the floor, but I often meditate on a chair or couch.
Wherever you meditate, I think it’s important to let the rest of your family know that you’re taking time to take care of yourself. I found it awkward to announce to my family “I’m meditating!” I felt self-conscious. What would they think I was up to? But as I fell in love with the idea of caring for myself in this very special, powerful way, I grew less and less self-conscious. We don’t announce to the world that we’re eating chocolate. Or going to the gym. Or reading a magazine (which I so longed to do when my kids were little!) We just do what we know works for us. Or we should.
Q: Can meditation help with postpartum depression?
I’m very careful not to offer up meditation as a magical cure for anxiety or depression. Anti-anxiety medication played an important role in my life for many years, allowing me to function well at home and in the workplace. I do think that people can play an active role in their own health care. I became my own sort of holistic physician, and I know the rhythm of my own body better than anyone else. Meditation deepens that knowledge of myself. And the better I know myself, the better I’m able to work with therapists and doctors in order to heal. Meditation is an important part of the internal toolkit I’ve assembled. Along with exercise and a good diet, it stabilizes me.
Q: How has meditation helped with your parenting?
I am calmer and happier. My children know that, and feel a sense of security and calm, knowing that my hair trigger temper is mostly gone, that I won’t jump to conclusions, assume the worst will happen, or worry so much that I drive them a little bit crazy. My children are older now, but problems still arise. I still lie in bed at night on occasion, wishing I could make their lives easier. But by strengthening my own coping mechanisms, I’ve shown them that they will learn and develop their own coping skills. I hope that includes a meditation practice!
Q: Can kids meditate?
Yes. I think children come into the world knowing how to meditate. And then the world teaches them how to fill their brain with other stuff. If you’ve ever looked into the rear-view mirror of your car and seen your child staring off into the distance, you might agree that they’re “somewhere else,” and that place might be a meditative place. Of course they could also be thinking about Chuckie Cheese. Or the teenage equivalent, which is more frightening to contemplate. That’s one of the wonderful things about meditation, by the way. No one can read your thoughts. No one can see that you’re doing something “wrong.” Meditation is a very internal process, and if you’re not hard on yourself, things will fall into place the more you practice.