A Holiday Message

Today we celebrate the winter solstice as the sun reaches its nadir in the sky. This is the moment of greatest darkness in the northern hemisphere. It is also the beginning of the return of the light.

On this auspicious occasion, may you see your own inner light. May you see the light in others. May you be a light for others. May you be a light for this world—now and as our earth continues her forever journey around the sun.

“From out of the darkness and cold, the light and hope return.”
–Anonymous

Mindful Parenting and the Holidays

Ah, the magic and mystery of the holidays. Oh, the stress that comes along with them. This season of joy can be a minefield for parents whose already busy lives are compounded by the shopping trips that never end, decorating, baking, wrapping, socializing, and organizing. How do you navigate the demands of this hectic time of year while keeping the spirit alive for your children and yourself?

These mindful parenting tips can help you give the gift of your presence to your children this holiday season, even when the pressure is on.

Remember what is truly important.
This is the basic tenet of mindful parenting. Your wellbeing and that of your children are deeply entwined, says Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction founder Jon Kabat-Zinn. If your children suffer, so do you, and vice versa.

When you’re aware of and sensitive to the needs of your children, you’ll be better able to find ways for everyone to get what they need, even when those needs conflict. Through the quality of your presence, your children will feel the strength of your commitment to them, even in times of stress.

When you get stressed, pause and take a breath.
Stress can put you in a reactive mode that causes you to do or say things you later regret. A deliberate pause, a few deep breaths, and the conscious intention to relax your body and mind can be remarkably restorative, and allow you to respond to the situation (and your children) with greater clarity, openness, and ease.

Be emotionally available.
Take time each day to engage with your children. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. If they are upset about something, hear them out. This may not always be easy when you’re under pressure to meet the demands of the day, but your kids may be feeling holiday pressures of their own. By offering your undivided attention, you let your children know they are valued, heard and understood.

Cultivate compassion.
Parenting is a tough job. Even with the best of intentions, it’s inevitable that you will make mistakes and confront your own faults and imperfections many times over. That’s why compassion is an essential practice to have in your mindful parenting toolkit. You need to love and accept yourself as you are even while you continue to grow as a person and a parent. And, the more compassion you have for yourself, the more compassion and kindness you’ll have to give to your child.

See the holidays through the eyes of your children.
Kids are the true Zen masters. They live in the moment and the immediacy of whatever arises: sorrow, joy, pain, hunger, delight. As adults, we’re largely preoccupied with reviewing the past and planning for the future. Children have much to teach us about being present.

This holiday season, consciously make an effort to step out of your parenting role and look through the eyes of your children. Join in their curiosity, wonder and innocence. You’ll gain a renewed appreciation for the simple things in life and open your heart and mind to the magical spirit of the season—and that’s a gift both you and your children will cherish.

 

Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health.

Copper Beech Institute is offering a weekend retreat just for mothers who wish to explore mindful parenting and self care. We invite you to explore the Mindfulness and Yoga Retreat for Mothers which will be held March 31–April 2, 2017. 

© Photo by Tanner Joe Photography

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The Light Within Darkness

By Anne Dutton

All human beings suffer. It is suffering that often leads us to begin a meditation practice.

In my case, the catalyst was a car accident that shattered my left leg when I was in college. At the time, I relied primarily on my body to regulate my emotions. If I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night, I’d go for a run. If I got blocked writing a paper, I’d sneak off to the pool and swim. If I felt socially anxious, I’d jump into a pick-up soccer game. When filled with angst, a few sweaty hours in bed with my beloved would alleviate my discomfort—at least temporarily.

Everything about our world and our lives is in flux, a constant state of change. Nothing is permanent. Of course I knew this intellectually. Yet deep in my subconscious, my identity was rooted in being five-foot-two with two legs, two arms, and curly brown hair. Suddenly I was lying in a hospital bed, unable to walk, listening to my doctor talk about amputation. (Fortunately, this didn’t happen.) The sheer relief and gratitude associated with being alive carried me through several reconstructive surgeries and subsequent months in a wheelchair. But, in fact, like a cartoon character, I had walked straight off a cliff into the void. Tiny hairline cracks had formed in my “self” as I knew it.

About six months later, once I could walk again, I disintegrated into a cascade of particles. My protection, my home—this beautiful, wondrous body—had turned out to be a mirage, a temporary illusion, a puff of smoke.

Who was I?

I had taken a leave of absence from college and, not knowing what to do, decided to go on pilgrimage in the countryside of Japan where I had grown up. Putting one foot in front of the other seemed doable—and just about the most I could manage at the time.

The turning point for me was an innocuous and mostly wordless encounter on the trail. It was a glorious fall day. A net of diamonds lay on the surface of the ocean and the sky was high and a rich blue. I had finished walking for the day and was sitting on a bench reading a book in the courtyard of the temple where I was staying. I was so engrossed I didn’t look up when I heard footsteps approaching. A pair of bloody feet in waraji, traditional straw sandals, appeared in my peripheral vision just beyond the pages of the book. I looked up slowly and gazed into the face of a young man with a shaved head wearing the black robes of a Zen monk. He asked me what I was reading and I told him. I don’t think we exchanged any other words. But there was something in his eyes.

“I should try meditation,” I thought.

I was fortunate to find my way to a great teacher a few weeks later. I told him about my accident, walking off the cliff, and my experience of disintegrating. “But of course!” he said. “You must solve the problem of life and death.”

Not only did he understand, he thought what I said was perfectly normal. Astonishing. “We have a retreat starting tomorrow,” he said. “Why don’t you come?”

Never having practiced for even a minute, I faced a wall in the freezing cold from four in the morning to nine at night for seven days. I wouldn’t recommend this method as a starting point for beginners. It is similar to learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. But I was hooked.

Nearly forty years later, I am inexpressibly grateful for this path. Incomparably profound and mysterious, it has opened up under my feet, step by step, never leading me astray. Fortunately, I didn’t have many preconceived ideas about it when I started. But if I had, it would not have been what I thought. It’s not about magically escaping pain but about becoming more intimate and better able to cope with it. It’s not about freedom from states of mind that are uncomfortable but about finding that freedom right in the midst of any sort of conditions—comfortable or uncomfortable.

One of the delights of teaching MBSR (besides the fact that it is a friendly way to learn to swim) is bearing witness to moments when students get a taste of the fruits of practice. They have a slightly puzzled look and trouble finding the right words because they are reaching for a way to express something that has come to them unbidden, unlooked for, as pure experience.

We can read books and know things intellectually but only when we experience them directly do we suffer. And only when we experience them directly do we heal our suffering.

 

Anne Dutton, MA, MSW, LMSW, is an MBSR instructor, psychotherapist, yoga teacher, published Buddhist scholar, public speaker and translator. She works at the Yale Stress Center where she gives classes and workshops on mindfulness, and is a psychotherapist at the Branford Counseling Center, a public clinic serving low-income clients. She has completed all levels of the professional training program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness and will be teaching the eight-week daytime MBSR course offered Copper Beech in the spring of 2017.

 

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Cultivating Resilience

Dr. Brandon Nappi, founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, delivers a message of resilience, hope and healing at the annual Harvest Celebration, November 2016.

The story that we carry affects how we move through the world. It affects our level of suffering and ability to bounce back when we encounter hardship.

If we change the story, we change everything.

– Brandon Nappi