Dr. Britta Bushnell is a longtime pregnancy educator who has helped countless people prepare for childbirth. With Sounds True, she has published a new book titled Transformed by Birth: Cultivating Openness, Resilience, and Strength for the Life-Changing Journey from Pregnancy to Parenthood. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Britta discuss why birth is a momentous rite of passage and the experiences that brought Britta to her life’s calling. They delve into the mythological resonance and cultural significance of childbirth. Britta and Tami also talk about life-affirming rituals that one can establish during pregnancy and the misconceptions many of Britta’s students initially bring to her. Finally, they speak on the spiritually transformative dimension of childbirth, including what we both give up and gain the moment we become parents.(70 minutes)
It’s still dark
when one small bird
fluffs his feathers
And lifts his voice
To sing up the sun.
Snuggled deep in our dreams,
we hear his clear song.
And we open our eyes
To the gift of a new day.
Years ago, we attended a family meditation retreat with the beloved Buddhist teacher Thich
Nhat Hanh. The children loved him. He showed them how to count their breaths from one to
ten. (The best part was finding ten perfect stones to move from one pile to another.) During
walking meditation, he urged them all ahead with a running meditation. Another time, the
children served tea to the adults, moving carefully and slowly, focused intently on the task at
Today, there is growing recognition that practicing mindfulness has benefits for children
regardless of religious or spiritual background. From preschools to middle schools, educators
are incorporating mindfulness into their learning communities as a way to help young people
cope with emotions and anxieties.
I hope my new picture book, Mindful Day, with gorgeous illustrations by talented California
artist Shirley Ng-Benitez, will also be helpful to families. Rather than a how-to, the story instead
follows a young girl, along with her mom and little brother, as they go about the simple,
ordinary activities of a day: eating breakfast together, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and
going to the market.
Shirley’s child-friendly artwork makes the characters come to life and examples of how to
practice mindfulness are integrated into the text. As the young girl pops a raspberry into her
mouth she says, “I chew slowly. It tastes sweet as summer.” She also practices being aware of
her breath. “Together we breathe: in out, soft slow. I look and listen. I play.”
Mindful Day was inspired by the time I’ve spent with my toddler grandson. I hope readers will embrace Mindful Day and make mindfulness part of their own family life. In this way, we can better treasure each precious moment—and help our children learn to do the same.
Thank you, Deborah Hopkinson
Deborah Hopkinson has a master’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, where she studied the role of women in thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhism. She lived in Honolulu for 20 years and practiced Zen Buddhism with the late Roshi Robert Aitken, founder of the Diamond Sangha and Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She lives near Portland, Oregon. For more, visit deborahhopkinson.com.
Goldie Hawn is an Academy Award-winning actor, director, producer, and activist best known for her roles in films such as Cactus Flower, Private Benjamin, and Death Becomes Her. She created The Hawn Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind MindUP™, an educational program that is bringing mindfulness practices to millions of children across the world. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Goldie about her longtime interest in meditation and why it’s so important to teach brain basics to kids. They discuss the neuroscience that demonstrates the clear benefits of teaching emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and the basics of brain science to children from an early age—as well as why Goldie is teaching these aspects to her own grandchildren. Finally, Tami and Goldie talk about what it means to differentiate one’s true self from the projections of others, as well as why love and family remain Goldie’s first priorities in life. (67 minutes)
Bedtime should be the calmest moment of the day with our kids, but often it is anything but. Whether we are dealing with last-minute pajama changes, tooth brushing negotiations, or we’re trying to corral our kids into their rooms, it can end up being an exasperating time for both kids and parents alike.
There are many reasons bedtime can be hard. The first is that we are tired, and of course they are too, so no one is exactly ‘at their best’ at the end of the day. Another challenge for children is that they are about to say ‘goodbye’ to us for the night and that can bring up anxiety about being on their own. Also, let’s face it, falling asleep can be difficult regardless of age. The shift from active to rest is not easy; especially when you add a mind full of racing thoughts—which is typical for children (and adults) when things get quiet at night.
What is needed is a way to help children settle mentally and physically at bedtime. When they feel safe and at ease, falling asleep gets a lot easier. Guided visualizations are tools to support children in using their own imaginations to let their bodies and minds relax at bedtime.
The visualizations in Sweet Dreams: Bedtime Visualizations for Kids ,by Mariam Gates and illustrated by Leigh Standley, engage children in mini journeys to underwater worlds, a horseback ride through a field, and even into space while helping them naturally shift into relaxation. The fun and gentle exercises move them into a calm state which is essential for a good night’s rest. Each visualization is also short enough that it can be easily added as a ‘final story.’
We invite you to try the “Rocketing to the Moon” visualization from Sweet Dreams and see if it helps make bedtime a little smoother for everyone.
Lie down on your back and bring your legs together, pressing your arms tight against your body. You are a rocket ship going to the moon.
Start bouncing your legs to ignite the engine.
10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . .
As you launch into space, point your toes and make yourself as long as you can.
Take a DEEP BREATH IN and a LONG BREATH OUT. Relax your whole body as you sail through space. You are heading toward the moon.
All around you are bright stars and clusters of asteroids. It’s peaceful and quiet.
The moon is getting bigger and bigger the closer you get.
Thud. YOU HAVE ARRIVED.
Step out of your rocket. Bend and extend your legs to make big steps onto the moon like you are walking in slow motion.
You can see Earth in the distance. It is blue and green, like a jewel hanging in the dark sky. Take some deep breaths in and out and think about Earth and how beautiful it is. Think about how lucky you are to live on such a wonderful planet.
It’s time to climb back into your rocket ship.
Take another DEEP BREATH IN and a LONG BREATH OUT.
YOU ARE HEADING HOME.
MARIAM GATES has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and two decades of experience working with children. She is the author of the bestselling Good Night Yoga series. Mariam likes to spend most days writing, where she can explore underwater depths, fly through the sky, and walk on the moon—all in the same afternoon! She lives with her highly imaginative family in Northern California. Learn more at mariamgates.com.
LEIGH STANDLEY is the artist, writer, and owner of Curly Girl Design, Inc. She creates art for greeting cards, calendars, journals, wall art, and more, and her art is sold throughout the U.S. and around the world. Leigh resides in Boston with her husband and twin little people. She can’t live without yoga, her family, Snickers, and Lucy the Wonder Dog. Leigh believes in magic and is quite certain that given a cape and a nice tiara she could save the world. Learn more at curlygirldesign.com.
Martha Sears is a registered nurse and former childbirth educator who has co-written more than 25 celebrated books on pregnancy and parenting. Her daughter, Hayden Sears, is a health and nutrition coach who is also the co-host of the Dr. Sears Family Podcast. Together, they have written The Healthy Pregnancy Journal, which will be released by Sounds True in May, 2019. In this special Mother’s Day edition of Insights at the Edge, Sounds True associate publisher Jaime Schwalb speaks with Hayden and Martha about the extraordinary journey of motherhood—from pregnancy through day-to-day parenting. Martha and Hayden detail the Sears family’s growth as parenting experts, as well as the original ideas behind The Healthy Pregnancy Journal. They talk about the benefits of journaling and a full community’s encouragement throughout pregnancy. Finally, Martha, Hayden, and Jaime talk about speaking with one’s partner about basic values before becoming parents, as well as how society’s view of pregnancy has evolved in the last four decades. (67 minutes)
It’s no surprise that the well-worn aphorism “It takes a village to raise a child” has resonated with many parents, along with another ancient proverb thought to have originated in Africa, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Why do these now-clichéd old sayings ring true?
Because being a parent is lonely sometimes, and these sayings evoke a felt sense of connection and interconnection for which many parents long.
It’s the warm, fuzzy feeling that bubbles up at children’s holiday concerts, sporting events, and other neighborhood programs. It’s an understanding from the inside out that being a parent is as much about the community as it is about our children. It speaks to a holistic perspective that challenges the narrow view that we are independent, self-contained individuals and instead elevates a mindset that recognizes the many ways we are dependent and connected.
When we tap into this view, we remember that the way we relate to our children ripples out to touch their friends, teammates, classmates, teachers, coaches, doctors, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and on and on and on. Remembering this ripple effect can be a powerful antidote to the stress, strain, and even the doldrums of a busy parent’s life.
Here are five themes that help parents connect with interconnection.
A Ripple Effect
When their caregivers are so tired, stressed-out, afraid, or frustrated that they habitually speak and act impulsively without thinking through the consequences, it’s tough for children to imagine a community of relaxed, reflective adults who relate to one another thoughtfully, collaboratively, and with kindness.
Similarly, when kids live in communities where the prevailing mindset is that resources are scarce and there’s not enough to go around (like many of us do), it’s tough for them to imagine a world where collaboration and altruism, fueled by an understanding that achievement is not a zero-sum game, are woven into the culture. Switching the lens through which kids and parents view the world from a me-first orientation to a generous one can be an uphill battle, but it’s a struggle that can be won. How? By remembering the ripple effect made by even small acts of kindness and collaboration.
Takeaway: Today, watch for places that you’re starting a ripple effect. How does that make you feel?
“The highest to which man can attain,” wrote Goethe, “is wonder,” but when busy parents are pulled in many directions at once, it’s easy to lose sight of the wonder in every moment. If you pause and look closely at chores and workaday obligations that feel relentless, you’ll notice that even what seems to be a fixed routine is anything but solid and predictable.
By bringing a sense of wonder and mystery to the everyday occurrences that make up family life (this flower, her smile, his laugh, that traffic jam), what once seemed like ordinary occurrences become nuanced, extraordinary ones. Okay, maybe not the traffic jam.
Takeaway: Today, make time and space for the “ordinary magic” of everyday experience.
Meet Everything with Love
If you’re anything like me, your knee-jerk reaction to a crazy to-do list and an over-crowded schedule is to bear down and muscle through. There’s an alternative, though. When you react to being busy by pausing rather than speeding up, you’re brought back to what’s happening in the moment.
If you relax rather than power through, you interrupt your body’s fight or flight response that releases adrenaline and activates the wing of your nervous system that promotes ease and calm instead. A few breaths later, you’ll be able to see what’s happening within and around you more clearly, set priorities more confidently, and return to what you were doing in a more balanced way.
Now you’re ready for what I think is the most radical piece of the mindful worldview. You’re ready to meet whatever comes your way with love—a practice I learned from the remarkable meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein. Can you think of a more apt intention for parents?
Takeaway: Test drive this approach the next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is challenging. See what happens if you meet what they say with love, even if you don’t feel it.
Don’t Expect Applause
It’s not a great idea to expect something in return when helping others; it’s better to do what needs to be done for its own sake. That’s what it looks like to prioritize motivation over results. Prioritizing motivation doesn’t mean ignoring outcomes, though. It just means remembering that there will always be things outside your control.
So how do busy parents with long to-do lists acknowledge uncertainty without becoming overwhelmed? By staying present in the moment and focusing on the goodness of what you’re doing instead of the results.
Takeaway: The next time you’re faced with a job that seems overwhelming, break it down into small tasks. Take-on one job at a time, and focus on the goodness of the task that you’re doing instead of the result. See what happens.
You’re basically good (seriously, you are).
Parents often hold themselves to unrealistically high standards because they want the best for their families. Being hard on yourself can backfire though, because the more preoccupied you become, thinking about where you didn’t measure up, the less bandwidth you have to remember the places where you did.
What if, instead of being hard on yourself, every time you feel mildly dissatisfied you view that dissatisfaction as a reflection of your basic goodness? Let’s say you’re frustrated and cranky because your children aren’t getting along. What if, rather than beating yourself up for being impatient, you view that frustration as a manifestation of a deep desire for your kids relate to one another happily and with ease? In other words, you see frustration as an expression of your basic goodness.
Takeaway: If feelings of dissatisfaction or impatience bubble up today, see if you can view them as an expression of your basic goodness—your hope that everyone is healthy, happy, safe, and living with ease.
Susan Kaiser Greenland is a mindfulness teacher and founder of the Inner Kids Foundation (along with her husband, author Seth Greenland), a not-for-profit organization that taught secular mindfulness and community-based programs from 2001 to 2009. She has researched the impact of mindfulness in education, childcare, and family health at UCLA, and her research has been published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology. Susan’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, USA Today, Real Simple, HuffPost, and Parents Magazine. She currently works in the United States and abroad as an author, public speaker, and internationally recognized educator on the subject of sharing secular mindfulness and meditation with children and families.
For anyone who wants to bring mindfulness into their family life, Susan Kaiser Greenland, a pioneer in bringing mindfulness to children and families, presents easy-to-learn practices created to help busy parents fit mindfulness into their daily routine. Mindful Parent, Mindful Child is structured as an “audio journey” for daily use, offering 30 potent practices that will teach the essentials of mindful awareness, compassion, self-regulation, stress relief, and much more in just ten minutes a day.