Tag Archives: mindfulness

What’s the Difference Between Family Time and Sabbath?

The seven year old, reading the holy texts on a recent Sabbath...

The seven year old, reading the holy texts on a recent Sabbath…

Three years after the publication of Sabbath in the Suburbs, I continue to speak to groups about our family’s experience of taking a day each week for rest and play… which looks very different now than it did during the year-long experiment, but that’s another post.

People who’ve read the book will notice that we didn’t spend the day doing “holy” activities. We didn’t read scripture together or pray (except before meals) or even talk about God all that much. We often lit a candle to designate that this time was somehow set apart, but otherwise, there was nothing particularly religious in our observance. So what gives?

Or as many people ask me, “We already have family time together; what makes Sabbath different?”

First, I don’t believe in creating a division between so-called secular and sacred activities. In my tradition, we believe and profess that God is the Lord of our whole lives. Yes, there are times that we intentionally focus on our spiritual lives, through study or prayer or small groups or a worship service. But all of life is (or can be) an act of devotion to God as we understand God.

That said, I believe the language we use matters–in fact, what we name something changes the nature of the thing we’re naming. It’s great to have family time, and there’s nothing wrong with calling it that. But invoking the word Sabbath acknowledges that God is also present, and that the things we do during this time can nurture our spiritual lives as well as our sense of family connectedness. It gives us a different vision and perspective on that time.

The other day I was listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being interview of social scientist Ellen Langer, and they were talking about this exact phenomenon. In one study, subjects were asked to evaluate a series of jokes and cartoons. For half the group, the researchers framed the activity as work; the other half, play. Those who were told to play reported a much greater enjoyment than those who were “working” at the very same activity.

Similarly, Langer referenced a study of chambermaids–women who are on their feet all day doing constant physical labor. This group experienced actual physiological changes when they named their daily activity “exercise” rather than simply “work.” Fascinating!

So here’s an easy experiment for those of you who want to connect with this old, ancient practice that has such resonance for Jewish and Christian communities but don’t know where to start. Put the label of Sabbath on something you already do: family time, your daily ritual of tea and Sudoku, even your workout at the gym. See what changes, what feels different. See if the activity resonates on a different level. And report back!

~

By the way, the entire interview with Ellen Langer was fascinating. Did you know mindfulness is possible without a meditation practice?

Mindful Parenting: A Q&A with Kristen Race

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I reviewed the book Mindful Parenting recently, and today I’m delighted to share a Q&A with Kristen Race, the author of the book. Thank you for your time and expertise, Dr. Race!

1. What first led you to research stress responses in the brain, and especially its effect on children and teens?

When I was working in schools I became increasingly concerned by the high level of stress that students were experiencing. I knew that this stress was influencing their attention, their mood, their behavior and their ability to learn. I want to learn more about how stress and these other symptoms were linked. When I first learned about the stress response in the brain it was like an “Ah ha” moment for me. I started sharing this information with students and it was as if I could see a weight being lifted off of their shoulders. They suddenly had an explanation for how they were feeling!

2. Your book is written primarily for individual parents to use in their own families. But I was intrigued by your “Hang Up and Hang Out” initiative that partnered with local schools to encourage parents to put away the cell phones and just focus on their kids. Are there other models or practices that you’d like see implemented throughout entire communities, rather than just household by household? (I see lots of potential in churches and other religious communities, for example.)

Absolutely. Hang Up & Hang Out is tailor-made for those organizations that you mentioned. During the Hang Up & Hang Out week we hosted a family fun night at one of the elementary schools. The theme of the night was “Ways to Engage without Technology.” We had a family yoga station, a dinner games station, a station where families decorated boxes that they would use to hold devices during family time, and we had a dance party station in the gym. We were blown away when we had 480 people attend the event! It was a blast!

3. My favorite chapter of the book is “A Guide to Creating a Mindful Family,” which has tons of activities and practices that parents and children can do together. I can’t wait to try the Praise Pancake! Is there a particular practice that’s your personal favorite, either for your kids or yourself?

We love Rose Bud Thorn in our house. We play it around the dinner table, and every person gets a turn to share their Rose (something good that they experienced over the course of their day), their Thorn (a mistake that they learned from today), and their Bud (an act of kindness that they witnessed or initiated.) It is a great conversation starter, and there are tons of elements to this activity that benefit brain development, including teaching kids that struggles are ok.

4. In my work around Sabbath-keeping, I’ve found that it’s easier for parents of young children to envision making changes in their family’s behavior, whereas parents of teens feel like it’s too late, that the patterns are already set. What advice or encouragement would you give specifically to parents of teens who want to take your message to heart?

I am asked all the time, “Is it too late to start?” The beauty of practicing mindfulness, informally or formally, is that it benefits the brain for a 2 year old as well as the brain of a 92 year old. MRI scans demonstrate this. We need look no further than the Google campus, and the waiting lists for mindfulness classes that their company is offering, to see the demand for these types of support by adults. My single piece of advice for parents of teens is to start small, with one or two activities. Starting a ritual of a family adventure can be a great place to start with teens. And remember, modeling still matters when you have a teen! Think about how you manage your stress (do you go for a run or run for the liquor cabinet?), your teen is watching.

5. How have you changed your own parenting as a result of your research, and what aspects of mindful parenting do you still struggle with?

I have become much more compassionate towards myself as a result of my research. I am a recovering perfectionist:) I now realize that I AM going to make mistakes as a parent, that I can learn from those mistakes, and that modeling that mistakes provide opportunities for growth is incredibly important for my children!

~

So thankful to Dr. Race for her thoughts. Folks, do check out her book, it’s worthwhile.

Related Posts from The Blue Room Archives:
Jesus the Buddhist?
What It Means to Be Attentive
Brother Lawrence’s Guide to the First Day of School
What Are You Paying Attention To?

Mindful Parenting: Capsule Review

17910356I was recently sent a review copy of Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World by Kristen Race. A self-proclaimed “brain geek,” Race has a PhD in the “neurology of stress.”

Race speaks as an authority on what’s happening in the brain in today’s high-stress world—and especially what happens in children’s brains when they are overscheduled, short on sleep, and inundated with technology. But she also speaks as a parent and as a classic overachiever, who sadly developed an autoimmune disease in the wake of the stress of working on her doctorate, remodeling their house, caring for a toddler, and gestating a baby. (Oh Kristen, my sister… let’s you and Brené and I have virtual coffee.)

You can view Race’s TEDx talk here:

I appreciated the mix of solid brain research as well as stories and anecdotes about the consequences of what Carrie Newcomer has called our “culture of perpetual motion.” From the book’s description:

Research has shown that mindfulness practices stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Regular stimulation of this part of the brain helps us feel happier, healthier, calmer, less anxious, less stressed, and makes it easier for us to concentrate and think clearly—the very behavior we are hoping our children will display.

Race’s work is informed by folks like Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MD and practitioner/proponent of mindfulness meditation, and includes lots of exercises and practices that you can implement right away with your kids—or by yourself. She points out that if we want our kids to be grounded, centered and free of stress, we have to start with ourselves. I say this all the time to parents who want to incorporate Sabbath into their lives but can’t figure out how to convince children (especially teens) to go for it. Don’t let that stop you from doing it.

The exercises in the book are categorized for different ages of children, which is a nice feature. I liked the sections that model how to talk to small children about this stuff. She also addresses some of the naysayers in effective ways (“But I watched tons of TV as a child and I turned out fine!”)

There is a real spiritual dimension to Race’s work—it would be a good companion for families of any religion, or no religion. For those interested in something more explicitly Christian, though of the monastic flavor, I happen to have recently read and can recommend The Busy Family’s Guide to Spirituality: Practical Lessons for Modern Living From the Monastic Tradition by David Robinson.

I’ve sent some short interview questions to Race’s people and I hope she will respond so I can post her thoughts here.

Jesus the Buddhist?

Jesus_Meditating_-34R-L-Bob_Clyatt_SculptureSeveral months ago a pastor friend gave my book to a gal who’d been visiting his church. She really liked it, and for this self-proclaimed seeker, a major point in its favor was “It’s very Buddhist!”

She has a point. I write about living Sabbathly, which means that whether we are at work or play, we strive to be fully present: neither hurried nor sluggish, but awake and alive. This kind of Sabbath mindset is connected to mindfulness and attentiveness, both of which are traditionally associated with Eastern religion and philosophy.

But Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, wrote that Sabbath is not just a date, but an atmosphere. And as I told the group last weekend at the Oasis, you don’t have to stray far from the Christian tradition to see mindfulness and attentiveness in play. In fact, Jesus strikes me as a very mindful dude.

This is the guy who told distracted but well-intentioned Martha to focus on the “one thing needful.” I’m convinced he was not telling her to drop her work in the kitchen; after all, he relied on the hospitality of his friends for his itinerant ministry. Rather he wanted her to live with intention. Jesus demonstrates and offers an abundant life, but his abundance is not about sheer copiousness. Rather it flows out of simplicity, and a sense of depth.

This all seems to be an argument against multitasking, which research tells us isn’t really possible anyway. When we are multitasking, we are really switching quickly between tasks, with a loss of effectiveness each time we make the switch.

And yet, it is possible to be in a state of flow, which we might call multitasking at its best. Sometimes people call it being “in the zone.” Those moments don’t happen often for me, but when they do, it’s such a joy, even when the work is hard or feels like “too much.”

Here’s what flow looks like: In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’s daughter when he has an encounter with the so-called hemorrhaging woman. (Lord love the Baptist church of my childhood, how did I not know what the heck was the matter with her until I got to the Presbyterian Church?)

There’s a great little line, after the woman is healed of her twelve-year period, when Jesus calls her “daughter” and bids her to go in peace and healing. While he was still speaking, Mark says, Jairus’s associates come up and tell him that the little girl has died. Jesus overhears them and is able to respond. Did you catch that? He is speaking words of grace to one person even as he feels the pain of someone else.

That’s what true attentiveness looks like. Is there any doubt that Jesus was fully present with the woman? And yet his senses are so heightened that he is equally tuned in to a completely different situation.

Amazing. And such hard work.

Whether you call it mindfulness, flow, or living Sabbathly, when have you experienced this feeling? What helps create that sense in your own life?

~

The title of this post comes from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s song “Conversation with the Devil”:

I said, “Hotshot tell me this: which religion is the truest?”
He said, “There all about the same; Buddha was not a Christian, but Jesus woulda made a good Buddist.”

Image: Meditating Jesus by Bob Clyatt

 

What It Means to Be Attentive

I’m writing this as the girls play upstairs with two neighborhood friends. I can hear squeals and thumps and am confident I’ll see them all at some point, wearing my daughters’ fanciest dresses. (It’s a favorite activity.) I am ready to intervene if necessary, but I have no idea what they’re doing.

The other day I was with a “soul friend” who asked me how things were going now that all three are in school. I’ve been so excited for this new chapter of our lives that I was surprised to find myself blurting out, “I’m feeling a little grief right now.”

But I am.

James has lost all his baby-ness—and though it is heresy in some quarters to say so, the baby phase is far from my favorite. He’ll be four soon, which is one of my favorite stages. I love the questions—400 a day. I love seeing them move beyond describing their world and into evaluating, analyzing, imagining. The shift to preschool is not as dramatic as it is for some kids, since he’s been in daycare at our neighbor’s house for a long time. But still. He now has a hook with his name on it for his coat and his tote. There is a specific start and end to the day. There are rituals and hallway rules and forms for me to fill out.

Margaret is in kindergarten now. She’s been longing for kindergarten for sooo loooong, watching her sister get on the bus and buy her lunch and do homework. When Robert attended back to school night, Margaret’s teachers said, “We wish we had more time with you tonight, because we have a lot of Margaret stories to share.” Is anyone surprised?

Caroline is starting to care about what she wears. She composes songs on the piano and walks around singing all the pieces she’s learning in choir. She ran for student council rep, writing a speech for her class and reading it with her trademark forthrightness. She did not win, but she brushed it off with great maturity.

Every phase is better than the one before it.

But… yes. Grief.

Part of this is the typical realization that it goes by very fast. (In a way—it also goes verrrrry slowly.) But what my friend and I were able to unravel is that I am changing as my children change.

It’s a goal of mine to parent mindfully, to notice what is going on, to name it (aloud or on paper), and just generally be attentive to what is going on. This parenting thing is fun, you know? And it’s easier to be attentive with littles. It’s kinda built in. When they’re young, you’re with them for hours at a time, face to face, looking them square in the eye, beholding them as you nurse them, bathe them, brush their teeth. And there’s so much intervention required—they need you to set up the Chutes and Ladders, to pull on their socks, to cut their meat.

We’re still eye to eye a lot, but more and more, we’re side by side. As it should be. I read a magazine and they play a game. Robert cooks dinner and Caroline reads to James. Just as toddlers experience parallel play, it happens with parents and their children too.

So I have to learn a new way of attentiveness. They’re upstairs with friends right now, making up whole new worlds. I shouldn’t be lurking about. They need their space.

But I don’t want to miss this either.

Yes, we must always make time for long moments together. (The Sabbath practice continues!) But the challenge now is to be attentive at the margins: while sharing an errand together, in the last few minutes before bed, walking home from the bus stop, at the breakfast table. Every moment is an opportunity to savor, to experience joy, to express love. But it feels much harder, as the busyness of life presses in, and as these little people develop their own busynesses to contribute.

I feel as though I’ve finished the Basic Mindfulness course. Now it’s time for the upper-level work.