Articles about Self and Spirit

The most effective form of self-care for parents.

I used to believe that the best self-care was to have time away from my children. I was desperate for a break from their demands for attention and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted.

Getting away from my children, even if only for an hour or two was something I craved. I wanted walks in nature, relaxing baths, personal shopping, chats with friends and time with my husband. These were precious pleasures and I still very much enjoy them today.

As important as it was, this “me time” was not enough to sustain me in the long term, especially once I made the choice to home educate my two sons. We were going to be spending a LOT of time together and it was going to be a long haul. I knew that I wanted more than just coping strategies. I wanted my parenting years to be joyful. So I set my sights on discovering a life free from constant stress and emotional turmoil. I wanted inner peace – not just while I was in the bath or out of the house, but while I was with my kids in the thick of our messy family life.

These are my top 3 suggestions for self-care.

If you want self-care that’s going to bring long term transformation and joy into your life, here’s what I suggest:

1. Meditation.

You may have an image of hours spent in an uncomfortable pose trying not to think. But before you dismiss the possibility of meditation completely, know that it doesn’t have to feel like hard work and it doesn’t have to be done in isolation sitting on a mat.

Meditation can be as simple as focusing attention inwards rather than outwards. It can be done while washing the dishes, hanging out the clothes or sitting in the toilet. Closing your eyes is nice, but not essential.

When you focus on what is going on inside you, the first thing that you notice is thoughts. The most effective form of meditation is one that takes attention inwards but away from thoughts. There are various ways to shift attention away from thoughts and it’s worth exploring what works best for you. Focusing on the breath is popular. Some people use a mantra or guided meditation. What works best for me is to focus on what I call my inner energy field. This is the sense of tingling aliveness within my body. As I focus on this inner energy, while walking, sitting or even playing with my children, my thoughts calm and drop away.

As well as helping to reduce stress and making you calmer, mediation can also be a process of spiritual discovery. It can be a time to explore the deepest questions about who you really are, like “Who am I when I’m not thinking?” Perhaps you’d like to explore this question for yourself? If you let your thoughts drop away, even if just for a few seconds, what and who is there?

The answer I’ve found to this question is this: I’m Awareness or Presence. It’s always peaceful, no matter what is going on around me.

Over time it’s possible to lengthen the periods spent with an inner focus and become more familiar with the calm Awareness that is always there. This familiarity with Awareness can loosen the grip of our thoughts – which are always the primary cause of our stress and suffering - and bring us peace, even in the most challenging moments.

The ultimate self-care is actually self-realisation; when you realise that you are not your thoughts.

If you would like to learn more about how to rediscover Awareness and how it will help you care for your children, you can get the first chapter of my book “Joyful Parenting” for free when you sign up for my newsletter here.

2. Understanding fear and anxiety.

Sometimes, it’s not a practice or activity that provides the most effective self-care. Sometimes it’s understanding that makes a big difference.

Anxiety and worry are one of the main reasons that parents get exhausted and overwhelmed. If we didn’t have anxiety driving us relentlessly or simmering away behind the scenes, parenting wouldn’t be nearly as tiring. If we woke up feeling calm (even if sleep-deprived and tired), rather than immediately tense and worried, we wouldn’t need as much “me time” or crave escape.

One of the most liberating things that I have learned in my parenting journey is that there are two types of fear. Eckhart Tolle describes them in his book The Power of Now. On one hand there is fear of immediate physical danger; I don’t put my hand in the fire because I know that I will get burned. I grab my child before they run on the road. There is an instinctive response to true immediate danger. Then there is psychological fear. This kind of fear is always of something that might happen in the future, not of something that is happening now. Psychological fear arises in response to thoughts and images about a future that does not exist. It is a creation of the mind - a pattern or habit of thinking that can generate much more harm than good.

We imagine a scary future and it can completely terrify us, especially when the health and well-being of our children is involved. It’s exhausting to feel all that anxiety and it drives us into conflict with our children.

When I worry about my children it is always psychological fear; its always a scary story about the future. For example, at one time I worried that if my children kept eating bags of sweets their health would start to suffer. I also feared that if they didn’t learn to read by a certain age that they would become academic “failures” when they were older. And yet, at the time those fears arose, both my sons were healthy and learning happily at their own pace. In the present they were both just fine.

It really helps to notice when fears are about the future and to clearly understand that these thoughts are fiction and not based in reality. Reality is happening Now and only ever Now. Remembering this, again and again, helps to pull the plug on the scary stories so they don’t run my life.

Just because I don’t give attention to psychological fears doesn’t mean I don’t take action in the present to support my children. I offer healthy food, learning support, guidance and attention. The difference is, I’m not driven by anxiety and I’m not pushing myself, or my children into conflict or overwhelm.

3. Quieting self-judgement.

We all know that parenting is physically hard work. All those sleepless nights, the demands for our attention and the cleaning! But the most painful part of being a parent is the self-judgement that goes with the role.

We don’t realize that we’ve taken on a role that has already been scripted for us. Our days become ruled by a set of beliefs that appear so objectively true, but are in fact all learned when were young. I’ve come to realise that just because the beliefs that go with the parental role been passed down for generations doesn’t make them true or helpful.

Here’s a small sample of the beliefs that used to dominate my thinking. Do they sound familiar?

  • I’m responsible for my children’s health, well-being and future.
  • It’s my job to keep my child happy.
  • I must try every day to be a good mother.

What happened when I didn’t meet the vague, arbitrary standard of the “good mother”? 
What happened when I couldn’t keep up with those impossible responsibilities and my children resisted my control?

I judged myself. Ruthlessly, constantly. And it HURT. It hurt like hell.

There is nothing more exhausting and demoralising than trying to live up to the role of the “good mother.”

The only sure way to make parenting easier is to question our beliefs about the role and responsibilities. But we can’t just get rid of patterns of thinking that formed when we were children. They don’t just disappear - it’s useful to have a process that helps us unlearn and dissolve them.

That’s why I’ve dedicated a decade of my life to using, sharing and teaching a form of self-inquiry called The Work. It’s a simple practice for questioning and dissolving the beliefs that bring stress into our lives. It’s a great way to unravel the pattern of self-judgement and finally relax into our true, loving nature. It was developed by an amazing woman called Byron Katie. You can find out more about her work here.

The process of self-inquiry consists of asking yourself four questions about a thought like “I’m not a good enough mother.”

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you think that thought? How does it affect the way you relate to yourself and your child?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

There are no right or wrong answers. It’s like a guided mediation; you sit with yourself and test your stressful thought against these four questions. Then you wait until your deepest truth emerges.

There is a bit more you can add to this basic form of self-inquiry, but these four questions get to the heart of it. You can read an example of how I have used these questions in my parenting here.

Questioning your thinking has a powerful ability to change your perspective on an issue. You come to realise, though your own direct experience, that it’s not so much the situation that is causing your stress, but the thoughts you are thinking about it.

When I used self-inquiry to question my stressful thoughts I found that my negative self-talk was starting to dissolve. It didn’t happen overnight. It took dedication to identify what I was thinking and to ask myself the questions when I found those self-judgments wearing me down.

The best way to make parenting easier is not to change or fix our children or ourselves. It’s not to keep trying harder. Its not relying solely on the short-term fix of “me-time”. The best way is to go inwards and to question every thought that brings worry, stress and self- judgement into our lives.

It’s time to celebrate making parenting easier, with self-care  from the inside out.

What dolphins taught me about harmonious family life.

Swimming with Spinner dolphins

I recently had the privilege of swimming with wild dolphins off the Kona coast of the Big Island, Hawaii with dolphin researcher and advocate Roberta Goodman. It taught me a lot about family harmony and living in flow.

I’m not very familiar with dolphins. I’ve seen Bottlenose dolphins playing in the surf in Australia but I’ve never seen a captive dolphin show or been up close in the water. Hawaiian spinner dolphins are much smaller than Bottlenose dolphins and travel in larger pods. They hunt at night in the deep waters off the Kona coast and they come into shallow water during the day to play, sleep and socialize. This brings them into close contact with humans who use these crystal clear waters to fish, surf, dive, sail and swim. These wild dolphins don’t avoid human contact. Long stretches of coastal water are empty of people and yet dolphins linger in the area where boats are gathered and snorkelers are in the water eager to see them. Barbara has been swimming with these dolphins for 20 years and she confirmed that these dolphins seek out and seem to enjoy their interactions with the people who come to meet them.

My son and I were lucky enough to have beautiful calm weather for our morning of dolphin watching. We were with a small group of two guides and 5 visitors. The captain of the boat kept watch for dolphins and dropped us in the water just ahead of where they would swim past. The first few times we were in the water the dolphin pod swam past at their “travelling” speed. We had a short and delightful view as we swam hard to keep pace but we soon dropped behind them. There were a few other boats in the area and other snorkelers in the water waiting for a chance to see the dolphins swim past as they cruised up and down the coast. The dolphins obliged by slowing down and cruising around the gathered observers allowing us to swim alongside them for longer. They started playing with us, swimming up behind us and then zipping past very close. A few times we saw individuals leave the pod and leap up out of the water in a magnificent spin and then slip back into the flow of the dolphin group.

Dolphin consciousness

I lost all sense of time as I watched these delightful creatures. There was so much to take in!  The flow of the pod as they moved through the water was effortless and graceful. They truly moved as one, like a school of fish or a flock of wild birds. And yet, there were also bursts of individual expression as one or more dolphins swerved out of the group to do their own thing. It was clear to me after even this small time observing them that these dolphins experience both a collective consciousness as well as an individual consciousness. Continue Reading →

5 shifts I made to transform my marriage

My husband and I have shared 16 years of intense, passionate and challenging marriage. Things had been the same way between us for a long time. Then just in the last few months our relationship has changed dramatically. The change is so wonderful I can hardly believe it. The intermittent episodes of strain and disharmony have fallen away. Painful patterns have dissolved. There is more intimacy, deep connection and fun than we have ever experienced before. It’s like a whole new relationship with someone deeply familiar.

What brought about this transformation?

I can only tell my side of the story. It’s a story very much connected to my spiritual awakening. I have experienced five shifts in myself that are now being reflected in my marriage. It still feels a bit weird and I want to pin it down for myself. Somehow writing stuff down makes it seem more real. And maybe something of my experience will resonate with you and help you to find more trust, delight and joy in your relationship too. Continue Reading →

Don’t blame me!

 

TO BLAME: To think or declare that someone is responsible for a fault or wrong.

Most of us blame without giving it a moment’s consideration. We blame others for hurting us. We blame our child for making a huge mess and ruining our day. We blame our parents for criticising or neglecting us. We blame our partner for not loving us in the way that we want. We blame the guy who ran over our cat and we blame Hitler for starting the Second World War. We are so used to blaming and being blamed that we think it is an inescapable part of human life. If that is what you wish to keep thinking, then read no further. Because I am on a mission to end blame. I want a world without blame, for myself and for all of us.

Never having to say Sorry
I want to be free of my deeply ingrained habit of accepting blame. I want to live without fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. I want to be free of the pain of believing that someone else’s suffering is my fault. I want an end to wallowing in self-judgement and to live without needing to say “I’m sorry.” I have been making myself wrong and apologising my whole life and I’ve had enough. I want to give myself a chance to love and give and shine without the fear of blame.

Refusing to accept blame does not mean that I take no responsibility. In fact I am willing to take 100% responsibility for my own actions, words, thoughts and feelings. But I am no longer willing to take responsibility for anybody else’s. That means that you can go on believing that I ruined your life (or whatever) and I can be quite clear that I am not, and never were, to blame for how you feel. Continue Reading →

Spiritual practice can be fun?

How many times have you told yourself that you should meditate because it would be good for you? And how long do your good intentions usually last?

We all know that mediation is supposed to be a good for health and wellbeing. Many of us would like to have a regular spiritual practice that keeps us grounded and in touch with our inner selves. But we also have lives full of other commitments, relationships and activities that take our attention. How often does meditation end up dropping down the list of priorities?

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Is our world dying, or is it waking up?

It is so very, very easy to get lost in despair about the state of our world. Those of us who are passionately in love with the natural environment can become overwhelmed and hopeless or alternatively very angry as we witness the great upheavals of change and loss that are occurring on earth today. Often these changes also bring with them new waves of human suffering. Global warming, pollution, deforestation and extinctions are all increasing and the effects are seen and heard with increasing intensity in the lives of those who care to notice.

I am one of those people who feel most at home while out in nature. It doesn’t really matter what sort of environment. I love being in the sea, walking through the arid landscape of Central Australia or watching birds deep in the forest. I feel most peaceful and alive when I am surrounded by rocks, plants and water. I feel safe, connected and filled with joy when I am alone in a wild landscape.

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Life is just so exciting

Hello Gentle Readers!

There is a whole lot happening in my life at the moment and I want to let you know about it.

The BIG news is that I have finished writing my book “Being with Children in Peace, Joy and Freedom: A Book of Skills and Resources for Parents.”

After five years of not being particularly interested in my writing project my husband has finally agreed to read the book, give me his comments and correct my hopeless grammar. Once I have made a last round of corrections I will be moving full-steam into the process of publication. I am SO excited to be this close to having a book to share with you.

Continue Reading →

A natural flow of desire and challenge

I have these moments when inspiration comes to me. So often it is when I go walking on the mountain near my home. I park the car part way up and then walk the last kilometre up the road to the top. The road climbs up through a tall forest of turpentine and eucalypts. The trees arch over the road creating a leafy vaulted ceiling. When I walk early in the morning the bush is gently peaceful with the choir of birds providing a background chorus. And the smell! The smell! I think that’s what brings me home most quickly. I take deep draughts of the forest smell and I feel instantly calmer and more centered. I come home to presence. I breathe in the aliveness and timeless peace of the forest and I know that I AM.

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When giving is no longer helpful

I have spent most of the last 14 years feeling overwhelmed by parenting. Thankfully, this has eased up a lot in the last few years but that familiar feeling still comes to visit. It feels much more subtle than it used to but it can still have me in tears and even make me feel sick. I felt the classic signs of a cold coming on this week. When I lay down and meditated I felt the familiar heaviness, exhaustion and despair that overwhelm brings.

What are the other classic signs of parental overwhelm?

  • I feel the urge to complain, and it is usually about my children.
  • I want to blame somebody, and it is usually my children.
  • I get grumpy, irritated and reactive towards my children.
  • I burst into tears at the drop of a hat.

Continue Reading →

How can I help with my child’s problems?

“Exude the state of being that you want your child to end up with and they will find their way to that.” Bentinho Massaro.

Being genuinely helpful to my children when they have problems is something that brings joy into my life. I want to give help that is calm, supportive and that increases my child’s confidence in their own ability to help themselves. This did not come naturally for me, at least not to the extent that I would have liked. It was a skill that required a lot of practice as well as a lot of unlearning of old, unhelpful habits. For example, I often fell into the trap of trying to fix a problem when my help was not requested. My child would react to my intrusion and I would become part of the problem.

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How I discovered the joys of less doing and more Being

Do you ever feel exhausted, overwhelmed or resentful as a result of what you do as a parent? Do you find that there are times when it all gets too much and you start loosing your temper and yelling at your children? I used to experience this often. I understand, now, that these were symptoms of over-doing. I was pushing myself to do way too much and believing that I had no choice. It seemed as if parenting was such a bottomless pit of work that feeling overwhelmed was inevitable. Fortunately, I have discovered that over-doing is not inevitable or incurable. The solution is less doing and more Being.

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Food, glorious food: our journey from nightmare to nourishment

I love food and I love caring for my body with the best food that I can provide. Until I had children, I thought that I had no real issues around food. It wasn’t a big deal for me. Having children changed all that. Not straight away, of course, but over a couple of years I gradually felt myself descending into a nightmare of anxiety and conflict that I had never experienced before.

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I grow what I choose to give attention to

What you resist will persist. This has been such an important lesson for me to learn. It is so easy to resist things about our children, to not accept them as they are. How many times have I wanted to change something about my child? Somehow the problems came to dominate my thinking.

Unfortunately, focusing on what I wished would change did not seem to help. This is because you grow what you give attention to. What shows up in our lives is a direct reflection of our inner thoughts and emotions. If we devote our minds to what we don’t want we end up noticing it everywhere.

Continue Reading →