How Mindfulness Got Me Back to Myself (And How it Can Work for You)
Turning inward helped turn a part of me back on. It made me a more complete person, loving mother and giving partner.
I was once under the misguided impression that turning inward was selfish thing to do.
I was conditioned, like many of us, to forget myself and care more about others. For me, it started when I was about fourteen. I had just entered high school and had been “let go” by my best friend’s circle. My biggest fear was not finding someone to sit with at lunch, and on the days it came true, I would bury myself in a corner of the library so nobody would see me alone.
During passing periods I would swim through the crowds of students, wondering which of them would become my new best friend, who would take me into their group. I remember writing pages and pages in my journal each night, mulling everything over in my mind and processing it on paper.
Those four years in high school began, socially, from square one, and ended with being voted “Best Personality.” This involved an excruciating process of not only figuring out who I was and how I fit in, but also of turning outward. I remember my mom telling me on more than one occasion, “the world doesn’t revolve around you, Jen.” Undoubtedly, this was said in some of my finer teenage moments of expecting everyone and everything to cater to my wants and needs.
In some ways, she was right. I needed to learn to care about others, to befriend others, to make others feel important instead of waiting around for others to do this for me. Such an integral part of finding our place in the world during adolescence and blossoming into mature, successful adults is learning that the world doesn’t revolve around us, after all. But instead, we are all full of gifts to give. And a fulfilled life is to learn to give those gifts away—to make a significant contribution to the world.
Turning outward is an essential part of human development.
Empathy, compassion, and benevolence are the bonds that create interpersonal relationships, families, friendships, communities, and a functioning world. But in all our outward focus, is it possible that we, at times, lose touch with ourselves? I think this is poignantly true as we become mothers and are required to give so much of ourselves. And as our children grow, we make sure to teach our young ones to share, to sympathize, to be kind. But are we teaching them to get to know themselves?
I certainly spent a lot of time in introspection during my youth. I was probably not your average teenager, but I’ve got volumes of journals documenting my journey of self-discovery.
I devoured personality tests, inspirational quotes, even palm-reading and handwriting analysis. But as I gained a secure enough grasp of myself to be a confident, self-actualizing twenty-something, much of that interest fell by the wayside. As the responsibilities of life increased, the balance between introspection and extroversion never really leveled out. Work, then marriage, then children, and then all three at once had thoroughly squeezed out those quiet moments of self-reflection, as the demands of life had taken over and convinced me, there’s no time for that.
Just as life started suffocating me, mindfulness and meditation fell into my life.
My daughter’s middle school was offering a mindfulness class for parents, and as we had just moved back to the States after ten years abroad, my interest was piqued in this new-to-me practice I knew absolutely nothing about.
On the first day of the course, we were thrown headlong into a group meditation about ten minutes into the class, and I found myself looking around, wondering what was going on. It was a bit uncomfortable to be doing nothing, tending to no one, and not to have a greater purpose in that moment than to just sit and be present. I doubted my ability to “do it right,” just like most people do in the beginning. But as I soon learned, all those feelings were normal, and establishing a practice takes, well, practice.
After just a few weeks, I could see that this was going to be something powerful. Because, at virtually no other time of the day was I taking a moment to pause. Modern life doesn’t really allow for that.
Pausing, for most of us, looks a little more like catching up on some texts while sitting in the bathroom (because, multi-tasking!). Meditation taught me to stop. It taught me to go back into myself, to check in, to pay closer attention, to see where I was at. It taught me to find out what I needed and to keep myself and my own well-being a critical part of the puzzle of life. And what’s amazing is that when we’re taking good care of ourselves in this way, especially as mothers, everyone around us benefits.
Fitting meditation into a busy life may take a little shifting, reprioritizing, and as a mother, flexibility.
It helps to find a time when often you can be undisturbed, like right before falling into bed (if you are alert enough) or just before you shower. Maybe it’s getting up ten minutes before the kids do. There are plenty of times when I have a child crawling into my lap as I meditate, or when I have to end my session a few minutes early to help squabbling children and make sure no one gets hurt. But once you begin to see the ways in which mindfulness can improve your life, committing to it becomes easier.
A mindfulness practice can serve us in many ways, but first and foremost, it helps us return to our center. It helps us to think less and feel more. It teaches us to judge less and love more (most importantly, ourselves). When we go within, we learn to listen to ourselves, observe and question our thoughts, and move past the ones that don’t serve us. On the inside, we can move past the chatter of our minds and connect with our spirit. We can more clearly feel our higher purpose, and our entire life perspective can shift.
It’s unfortunate that many of us are having to learn this practice as an adult. I hope our children can learn some of these skills earlier than we did. But it’s never too late to learn to turn inward more often.
Find a practice that works for you.
As a mother of four, I know that it takes work and commitment. But once you learn to get more in touch with yourself, you will find that your self-compassion will grow, you’ll have better access to intuition, you’ll empathize more, and you will be better able to establish an inner peace that will carry you through the daily storms of motherhood.
Self-care and self-discovery, as many of us are learning, are critical to serving and loving your family. And it all requires a little bit of turning inward.