Like most people, I’ve experienced some pretty challenging times in my life (reporting in the aftermath of natural disasters, live broadcasting, and jumping into an open ocean in front of a 30,000 kilogram whale immediately spring to mind) but by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done is be a parent. It’s an unrelenting occupation involving sleepless nights, tantrums, childcare juggling, meal planning, sibling rivalry, constant vigilance, potty training, endless cleaning, and schedule management – all of which are things that occur multiple times a day, on a good day. It is, of course, all worth it, but in the daily grind of modern-day parenting, it sure can be hard to keep my cool and manage my stress levels, let alone find the time I need to look after myself.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m an advocate of mindfulness. Scientists have shown that the formal side of mindfulness (meditation) can enhance your immune system, help you cope with chronic illness, improve your sleep, and even change your brain structure to help with anxiety, which are all things I need with my history of having an autoimmune disease. And, while I’ve interviewed a number of the world-leading experts on mindfulness, I’ve found that often my greatest teachers are my kids, especially when it comes to the informal side of mindfulness – practicing being in the present moment at different times throughout the day.
And so, without further ado, here are my three favourite lessons in informal mindfulness that my three-year-old son, Theodore has given me.
All I Need, I Already Have
Recently I took Theo out for a special treat to see the musical version of Aladdin. We got chatting about Genie’s powers of being able to grant three wishes and I asked him what he would ask Genie for. He thought long and hard and I soon began suggesting ideas – “Maybe a holiday? Or what about a toy train?” I asked. He became quite upset by my prompting, clearly struggling to think of something. “Mum,” he said, “I don’t want ANYTHING!” Given that we’re a few weeks out from Christmas, his statement was no small thing. Theo reminded me to stop thinking about all the things I want in the future. I already have everything I need.
It’s About the Journey Not the Destination
The other day was racing around the house picking up laundry, sorting out clutter, and cleaning surfaces. As I picked up a shriveled up flower bud and threw it in the trash, I realised that it was the third time I had done so in the last 20 minutes. All over our house, my son had left little specimens he’d found in nature – dried out flowers, green buds, twigs, seeds, leaves and stones. They were in our bathroom, in his room, on my desk, even in the washing machine. These were little things that Theo had found on our walks to and from his kindergarten, which is just down the road from our house. Theo reminded me that sometimes I’m so caught up in my daily To Do list and getting him to school that I forget to look around me and enjoy the journey getting there, where there is an abundance of tiny little wonders.
Savour the Flavour
Ever since he was very young Theo has eaten his toast with the buttered side down. At first I couldn’t work out why, until I realised that all the flavour touches his taste buds when it’s upside down. All these years, my mindless eating habits have prevented me from this one life-changing lesson – toast tastes better upside down. He reminds me every morning that even every day food tastes spectacular when we take the time to savour the flavour.