Photo credit: Cameron Lee
I have a confession.
I don’t get mindfulness meditation. No offense to the practitioners. Focusing on something, watching thoughts, listening to your breath, so many things! It doesn’t relax me. If it works for you, mazels. To me, transcendental (tm.org) just makes more sense.
So when we discussed mindfulness communication techniques in our DBT* parenting skills class this week, I inwardly eye-rolled. I assumed it was too thinky for me.
Then yesterday happened. Here’s the background:
No one in my home loves mornings but me. The silence, solitude and sunrise, so great! One of my teens holds them in particular low regard, specifically mornings before school. Getting him out of the house on time is such an effort that—after two years of me being the primary person— my husband Mark and I made a schedule of who is it. Tbh as a mother hen to the core, I prefer to do it myself. For my own self-preservation though, I had to get off this baby chick for a few mornings.
In the past, it has involved yelling, foot dragging, begging and threats. Not pretty.
Take yesterday morning. After an invigorating chilly run, I felt ready to clock in as the designated handler. Quietly entering his dark room, I raised the shades halfway, allowing the rising sun to gently wake him. Mark had taken a long run so this guy would have nobody disturbing him but me.
“Morning my boy, time to get up,” I said, softly.
No response. Plenty of time, I’ll come back.
Ten minutes later:
“Do you want to take breakfast to school or make it here?” I asked, attempting to Becky Bailey him like the old days. He flopped toward the window away from me.
“Ok, kiddo. I’m getting in the shower and won’t be back. Please be ready to go in 20 minutes.”
When I was dressed, I walked passed his now mostly closed door. I could see movement and—was that a pair of pants coming off a hanger? I took it as a good sign that he was getting dressed.
“I’ll be in the car.”
I went out to the garage and started the car, feeling moderately confident.
Three minutes to spare, plenty of time for him to still walk to class.
As the minutes ticked down, the time cushion disappeared. My heart rate began to rise and my teeth clenched.
And then I remembered the mindfulness work. During the class I recalled thinking, how the f>ck am I going to stop and do that in the heat of the moment?
Having nothing to lose but more of my sanity, I trotted out the techniques we had practiced, asking myself a shorthand version of what we had learned in class:
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS MOMENT?
What do I pick up with my senses?
Notice my thoughts.
Put words to what is happening without evaluating or narrating.
Drop all judgments.
If it’s something that cannot be observed through the senses, it’s an opinion.
Become one with what you are doing.
Go with the flow.
Be in the present moment.
Focus on effectiveness instead of being right.
I am sitting in this car getting increasingly agitated as time is ticking down.
My heart rate is increasing, teeth are clenching, chest is tightening.
This guy is driving me freaking bananas.
When will I get to have an orderly morning?
Why is this STILL so difficult?
In that moment, I noticed more of what was happening around me. The purr of the engine of my car. The brilliant blue sky. My hands on the wheel.
I unclenched. Just this act of noticing allowed calm into my nervous system.
Then I experienced a flood of compassion for my son with the following thoughts:
He is doing the best that he can.
He hates every single day he has to go to this school.
Getting up to do something you hate for days on end must feel absolutely awful.
When he finally came out, he got in the back seat.
“Do you have my phone?” he asked.
“No,” I said mentally patting myself on the back for my un-codependence. But then he ran back in the house.
F$%@k! I should have grabbed his phone.
I observed all the pre-freak out body sensations once again and breathed.
Cultivate the ability to observe physical sensations.
Become the observer with open awareness.
When he got back in the car, I adjusted the rearview mirror to look into his eyes.
“Listen. I know how hard it is to find the motivation to go someplace that sucks for you. Despite all that, you are getting your work done and making excellent grades. You’ve got just a few more months. I am proud of you.
We enjoyed a quiet ride and off he went. With one minute to spare.
This was a good lesson for me to hold my beliefs lightly. Mindfulness is not too thinky. It helped me be effective where I had previously felt sucked into an inevitable escalation. This practice is an excellent regulator of difficult emotions. Practicing non-judgmental observation truly helped me find greater empathy for my son and I am so grateful for that most of all.
When you observe what is happening in the moment and don’t judge it, you are left with the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
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* I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen Dialectical Behavior Therapy from the vast array of options, however Miriam Harrison in Miami is wonderful and invited us, so DBT it is.