Do you sometimes find that moments pass you by without you even really experiencing them? Perhaps moments speed past without you even noticing at all? Family life is BUSY! We’re often multi-tasking, we have huge to-do lists floating around inside our heads, there are often multiple threads of conversation going on at once. Increasing our levels of mindfulness can help us to be more present and aware of the moment, to reduce stress levels and, ultimately, boost our wellbeing.
Mindfulness has received growing attention over the past few decades. It refers to a state of awareness of and therefore presence in the current moment. It can also mean taking a gentler and kinder approach to ourselves and our inner dialogues. Mindfulness has been associated with benefits such as reduced stress, better working memory, increased concentration, and increased relationship satisfaction.
We briefly interviewed Cory Muscara, founder of the Long Island Center for Mindfulness, integrative health coach, and positive psychologist. Here are his thoughts on mindfulness and advice on how you can bring more mindfulness into your family life.
What do you feel are the most transformative effects of mindfulness- and are there any benefits that might be particularly pertinent for children and their families?
It varies from person to person, I think it’s so subjective and how mindfulness is going to impact on a person is really contingent upon what they are bringing of themselves to the practice, meaning is there particular grief at that time, has there been trauma, has there been stress is there depression, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or are they looking to be more present. What someone reports as most transformative will be dependent on what has preceded the practice.
In general I think what is most powerful for people is just developing a more kind relationship with themselves and becoming more of their own best friend rather than their own worst enemy and starting to pacify and temper the inner critic. I think that’s really powerful and this would be particularly pertinent for children just to be able to see and be aware that they have a mind and that they can be friendly towards their mind rather than caught up in and enslaved to their minds and their thoughts.
What are the common traps that people fall into when trying to be more mindful?
Thinking that they need to clear their thoughts and that mindfulness is the absence of thinking and never having any judgement or never thinking about the future and the past and that’s just going to set the person up for more frustration.
You can be mindful and still have thoughts. Just be aware of the thoughts as they come into your mind rather than trying to force them away or beat yourself up for thinking. Just take a light relationship and notice what the mind is thinking right now and maybe what you decide to do is just watch your thoughts coming and going over and over or if you are doing something else, trying to have a conversation with your child or engaging in some work, then just notice the thoughts there, allow them to come, allow them to go, and then just come back back to what you are doing, so the thoughts can just be there like radio noise in the background without us having to take them so seriously or force them away so much.
Which everyday activities do you feel present ideal opportunities for mindfulness?
Traffic, taking a shower, going for a walk, getting in your car, being in your car, having a conversation with a friend, a loved one/a child, someone that annoys you… all of these are valuable opportunities. Maybe just start by trying to be present whilst brushing your teeth or whilst having breakfast. Then when you are in your car on the way to work, are you actually in your car? Or whilst you are in the shower, can you feel the sensations of the water in the shower and be fully there? Those are all great opportunities.
What are your top five tips for parents who are trying to increase levels mindfulness in their family life?
Everyone wants the tops five tips or top three tips! I totally get that.
The first thing is to start with yourself. You cannot bring mindfulness into your family without starting to embody it for yourself. Before you even start teaching mindfulness to your kids or your spouse or your loved ones just do the practice yourself and really learn what it’s like to embody it. If you have to tell people to meditate or you have to tell people that you’re meditating for them to meditate then you probably need to be meditating that little bit more.
The transformative impact of the practice is going to come from the inside out and it’s going to be seen and understood by others based on the way you embody it. That’s also going to influence the family dynamics and it’s going to influence the behaviour of your children, how they respond to you, so just starting from the inside out is the biggest thing.
People don’t like that answer because they think ‘I want a mindful family right now, how am I going to do it?’. Patience- that’s the first thing. This is something that takes some time to integrate. This is not another program that we are going to implement and then off to the next fad. We are talking about actually showing up for your life, learning what it means to be a human being. The more that you can do that for yourself the more you’ll be able to understand organically how to provide that for your family and your child and how to teach them to do that.
Are there any quotes, stories or comments that really transformed your mindfulness practice early on?
This quote by Viktor Fankl… “between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and our freedom”
Continuing to remind myself early that just being able to see that space and inhabit that space was key for moving through my life a bit more intentionally and deliberately not just getting swept away on automatic pilot.
Cory Muscara is founder of the Long Island Center for Mindfulness, integrative health coach, and assistant instructor on the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He has undergone professional training in mindfulness practice and teaching. Cory offers a 31 day mindfulness programme over on his website.