Sandra Dodd

A few days ago on this list, someone seemed unhappy with the way I
used "mindful." For years, some of the regular writers here tried to
find a good word for what we were trying to convey�a kind of
mothering that involved making infintessimal decisions all the time,
day and night, and basing those decisions on our evolving beliefs
about living respectfully with our chidren, and giving THEM room to
make their own decisions of the moment.

We finally settled on "mindful," in the sense of being fully in the
moment. Though "mindfulness" is used as a term in western Buddhism,
the word they chose when they were translating from Japanese,
Chinese, Hindu, Vietnamese and whatever all hodgepodge of ideas were
eventually described in English, "mindfulness," is an English word
over 800 years old. It's a simple English compound, and has to do
with the state of one's mind while performing an action. It creates
a state of "if/then" in one. And IF a parent intends to be a good
unschooling parent, a generous freedom-nurturing parent, a parent
providing a peaceful nest, a parent wanting to be her child's
partner, then the best way she can live in that goal and come ever
closer to her ideals is to make all her decisions in that light. The
more mindful she is of where she intends to go, the easier her
decisions are.

When you come to an intersection, how do you decide which way to go?
It helps, before operating a motor vehicle with all its attendant
expenses and inherent dangers, to know where you want to go. When
you DO have a destination, then each intersection has some wrong
ways, and some better and worse ways. It's the same with
unschooling. If that's where you're headed, there are some wrong
ways you can avoid simply by being mindful of your intent.

So I was working on a webpage, as I do, and cleaning up some links,
and came to this article by Danielle Conger, one of the owners of the
AlwaysUnschooled list. Every paragraph is powerful. If you have
someone to read it aloud to, that might bring it to life even better
than just running eyes over it. The writing is big, and it
illustrates the concept wonderfully.

From here to the end is the writing of Danielle Conger:

Mindful Mothering: The Art of Being Present

Mothers today juggle so many activities, appointments and duties that
they may more closely resemble carnival entertainers than icons of
love and calm. Of course, being an icon is over-rated, but we could
all probably benefit from the ability to slow down some, become more
focused and find a greater sense of calm and well-being.

Mindfulness�borrowed from the Buddhist practice of being present and
aware of one�s thoughts, actions and environment�can add a powerful
tool to our mothering repertoire, allowing us to take better care of
ourselves and those around us.

Each moment we spend playing with and caring for our children while
thinking of what to make for dinner, the bills we need to pay, how
many more minutes until we have to run out the door, the groceries we
need to buy or anything other than exactly what we are doing with our
child is a moment with them lost. Truth is, life with our children
goes by all too fast. For many mothers, it seems like the time
between birth and the first day of school goes by in the blink of an

More and more, mothers are choosing to slow down, reject the cultural
values of multi-tasking and maximum efficiency, placing value instead
in natural living and attachment parenting and homeschooling. Going
back to the Earth and Mothering centers our Selves, revealing meaning
and value that nourishes instead of fractures. Motherhood offers us
the chance to rebirth ourselves through the birth of our children.
Mindful mothering becomes the spiritual practice of our daily lives.

Miniature Zen masters, our children offer us valuable insight into
living with present awareness as well as the opportunity to practice
on a daily basis. A smile, a laugh, the sense of wonder at each new
experience call us back to the moment, back to ourselves, begging us
to see the world through our child�s eyes, to re-experience and re-
awaken to the world around us.

A squeal of delight as our child experiences the movement of a
�kitty� invites us to look more closely at the cat, to see the
texture and color of the fur, the suppleness of movement, the
flexibility and focus the cat commands. We see with the wonder of our
toddler�s eyes and the world is new. Our children generously lend us
their perspective from moment to moment, renewing for us the miracle
of living, if we only accept their gift as graciously as it is given.

What does it mean to accept this gift? How do we live each moment
more fully? We can begin by unlearning many of the lessons our fast-
paced society tries to teach. We can begin by slowing down, breathing
deeply, focusing on the task at hand, and we can allow ourselves to
experience the moment with all of our senses, bringing our body and
mind together as one, united in common experience.

Becoming More Mindful

Nursing mothers know the benefits of prolactin, �the mothering
hormone� that�s released during breastfeeding, physiologically
relaxing us into the moment of nursing�a perfect example of mindful
mothering. Everything stops when we nurse our newborn in the days
before it becomes as routine as brushing our teeth. Think back to
those first weeks of nursing, sitting still, quieting mind and body
as we cradle that new life against our skin, breathing deeply the
smell of our infant and gazing intently at wondrous, tiny features.
This is mindfulness. The key is to carry this sense of present
awareness into all our actions and interactions throughout our days,
but as mothers, we already recognize it.

We can continue our mindfulness with something as simple as
breathing. Buddhists have long known that focusing on the breath
unites mind and body, bringing the Whole Self into present awareness.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and 1967 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee,
has called conscious breathing the crucial bridge between mind and
body, unifying the two and allowing us to become whole again. He
recommends using the words, �Breathing in I calm my body; Breathing
out, I smile.� Simply taking a moment to breathe, to recall our
conscious mind and to relax our mouth into a smile enables us to see
and experience life more clearly, richly and honestly.

As parents of young children, we have countless opportunities
throughout the day to practice this bridging, using conscious
breathing to recall ourselves to mindfulness in stressful moments.
More than the classic adage �count to three,� the practice of
conscious breathing taps into our deepest awareness, refocusing our
energy from reaction to recentering. Moving past reaction by
breathing deeply, embracing our emotion and owning it, we can avoid
horn-locking our energy with our child�s and focus instead on
compassion and empathy, parenting our child through intense emotion
rather than supplanting it with our own.

We can continue with small moments, like giving a child a bath.
Rather than sitting by the tub with countless obligations running
through our mind, there in order to keep our child safe but not
really there, we can join the experience, become really present.

Climb into the tub, or roll up sleeves to feel the warmth of the
water. Naturally scented bubble bath can augment the sensory
experience, pulling us back into the moment with the foamy lightness
of the bubbles, the soothing scent of lavender or chamomile, relaxing
body and mind into the moment. We can compress a thick sponge,
release, feel it drinking in water, becoming heavy, then squeeze,
inviting warm water to rain down our child�s back. Being present and
aware creates a moment of connection between ourselves and our child
as together we live that moment fully.

We can continue by truly listening to our children and viewing the
world through their eyes. By allowing our child�s voice to be our
clarion call back to the present, we can focus all our being on her
wonder, curiosity and need to explore her world. We can look into her
eyes as she tells us about the discovery she�s just made, rub her
back as she describes the hurt she feels, get down to her height as
she explains her needs and plans, shifting our perspective to meet
hers as much as possible.

By making physical, emotional and spiritual connection with our
children, we assure them that they matter in our lives, that they are
more important than the book we�re reading or the phone call we need
to make or the laundry list of things we need to get done. These
connections, as they occur, make up the ongoing symbiosis of nurture
and wonder between mother and child, weaving us together at countless
points throughout the day, wrapping us both in the warmth, love and
safety of togetherness in each moment, really breathing, really
loving, really living.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Living more mindfully brings us closer to our child�s perspective,
allowing us to glimpse the world through his eyes, but more
importantly, providing us insight into our child�s Self. Because we
are able to view things more readily from our child�s perspective, we
become an important ally, a trusted advisor and a partner in problem

Through the empathy gained by mothering mindfully, we can aid our
children in fulfilling their dreams and desires in safe, productive
and healthy ways. Because they trust that we understand them and can
see the world from their perspective, they are more willing to turn
to us for help, fostering the openness and communication essential to
a positive parent/ child relationship.

Mindfulness also offers us a shift in our own perspective, enabling
us to see life for what it really is�each moment a miracle. By living
life moment to moment, we leave the regrets of the past behind us and
the worries of the future for the day they may come to be. Moreover,
we begin to see that each moment offers us a fresh opportunity to see
what we have right now and enjoy it while it graces our life.
Mindfulness centers us in the moment we are alive�breathing, living�
freeing us to see the joy that surrounds us in our child�s smile, the
light catching the leaves in summer, snow crystals glinting in the
crisp winter sun. We learn to see the joy that�s all around us.

Practicing mindfulness is an excellent way to counter the fear-based
culture in which we live, providing an antidote to each primetime
newscast sensationally reporting yet another threat to ourselves and
our children. Fear demands that we dwell in what-ifs and a false
future, sacrificing the joy of the moment for the fear of someday. As
we work to live in the moment, we recognize more deeply the worries
and emotions that wrestle us out of the moment, seeing them for the
chimeras they so often are.

Beyond the clarity that mindfulness brings to our perception of the
world, it simultaneously offers clarity of Self. Fostering
introspection and greater self-awareness, mindfulness can give us a
deeper understanding of who we are and our place in this world. When
we hold our mind in focus, we begin to prioritize our life by placing
the people and the principles that are most important to us foremost
where they truly belong. Too easily do we lose sight of the value our
children bring to our lives, wishing away the moments of finding
shoes and buckling car seats. Mindfulness brings that value back into
focus, reminding us to treasure each moment we are blessed with them,
however mundane, because it is a gift.

When we can hold the truth of that gift in our minds, we can find a
greater sense of peace within ourselves that allows us to respond
with a greater sense of peace and gentleness to our children. How
many times have we woken in the middle of the night to gaze upon our
sleeping children, assuring ourselves that they are still breathing,
whether they are next to us or in the next room, two or ten? How many
times has the mother who lost a child wished for every moment back
again? If we can hold that sense of mindfulness of life�s precious
value, we hold the key to responding to our children with love and
kindness instead of sharpness and exasperation.

We can easily recall ourselves to this sense of mindfulness by
practicing conscious breathing, recalling our priorities and clearing
our perspective from the baggage we bring. When we can stop, focus on
our breathing and re-center, we see the spilt milk for what it truly
is: our child�s attempt to explore his world, to become more
independent, to perform an act of thoughtfulness.

Our practice becomes our child�s practice as well, as we model for
them peaceful and empathetic response. By modeling conscious
breathing before reacting, we show our children how to deal
effectively with intense emotions without ever giving a lesson. Young
children, too, can benefit tremendously from learning to breathe
through their anger, frustration and disappointment. In my family, we
call it �blowing bubbles��breathing in good energy and blowing out
negative energy in tiny bubbles that float safely skyward, popping
without harm to ourselves or others. Such deep breathing and
visualization techniques give children positive and practical tools
that stay with them through life.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of mindful mothering is the joyful and
compassionate home it creates. The ripples of our own mindfulness
emanate, touching all members of the family. Our own empathetic and
compassionate responses are rejoined by compassion from our spouse
and our children. When we maintain perspective and clarity, we bring
others back to mindful living with us, reminding them of their own
priorities and the joy that surrounds them. When we feel peace, we
become peace and embody the grace of that serenity, embracing our
children with a heart of compassion and joy.

� Danielle E. Conger 2005


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Sandra Dodd

On Mar 11, 2006, at 2:08 PM, Sandra Dodd wrote:

> A few days ago on this list, someone seemed unhappy with the way I
> used "mindful."

So this is where that post went. I had a dozen windows open on the
desktop, went to find the right spelling of infinitesimal, and when I
came back the post was gone! (Probably because I clicked send, but
no matter...)

Right: infinitesimal
Wrong: whatever I guessed before