A Mother’s Lessons in Letting Go of Stress
If you look up the word care in the dictionary, you will find two perspectives. One definition says care is to have an inclination, liking, fondness, or affection for something. The other definition says care is a state of mind in which one is troubled; a cause of worry, anxiety and concern. As the mother of a toddler, caring for the well-being of my son factors into much of my day and I’m no stranger to worry and stress. I’ve learned that navigating a healthy balance of care for both myself and others requires taking an honest look at what is realistically in my power to control, and finding acceptance in what is not.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (Serenity Prayer)
I can control myself. And while I am free to express my opinion to another if their choices upset me, only they are the driver of their life. As a mother, I have felt an impulse to want to change how others interact with my son when their actions don’t agree with what my maternal instincts are telling me. However, it is also important for the well-being of my son, and everyone involved, that I see how acting on this in a state of worry contributes to greater disharmony in our environment. This becomes especially important when my husband and I disagree about a parenting approach. It serves me well to remember that I also care about modeling behavior to my son that promotes respect for differences.
Similarly, while I might have a desire to soothe my son’s feelings when he experiences disappointment or upset, mindful parenting approaches encourage validating and accepting our children’s feelings, rather than fixing or controlling them, as the latter implies there is something wrong with who they are and can contribute to their own lack of self-care to regulate emotions.
I have found that practicing self-control in an effort to maintain harmony with others, or within myself, can also come with the misguided pitfall of denying my truth or feelings. Just as I work to validate and support my son’s feelings, I also must do the same for my own. Mindfulness helps me develop the inner resourcefulness to observe what I am thinking and feeling with allowance, so I can redirect my focus to what serves my well-being. One of the most useful places to redirect my attention is to my breath. In the practice of yoga, the breath is seen as the source of our vitality, or life force. Simply focusing on my breath is one way to neutralize my overworked mind, and by using specific breathing techniques I can produce different effects in my body. The following breathing exercises can be used to create inner-calm or boost energy.
For Calm (Moon breath): Place your index finger on the outside of your right nostril and use it to close that air passage. Take a big breath in through your left nostril. Then exhale out of your mouth, while keeping your right nostril closed.
For Energy (Sun breath): Place your index finger on the outside of your left nostril and use it to close that air passage. Take a big breath in through your right nostril. Then exhale out of your mouth, while keeping your left nostril closed.
While I have the ability to control my breath, and even train my lung’s capacity to hold air for periods of time, my body’s response system will eventually override my conscious choice to hold my breath. This happens when the carbon monoxide concentration in our blood becomes so high that the part of our brain that controls our heart and lungs (the medulla oblongata) forces a breath. Considering I am not even in control of when I take my last breath, I must recognize a power greater than my individual will. Accepting this truth can help me to let go of the individual burden I sometimes feel of caring so much about what is not in my control.
One of the only certainties we have in life is the impermanence of everything. This includes people, circumstances and our emotions. There is a teaching in the ancient Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita that says happiness exists in the space between two pains, and pain exists in the space between two happinesses. Through a radical shift in perspective, we can choose to let go of what we have become accustomed to wanting and expecting. It’s a process of taking an honest look at how our desires and expectations are often for unattainable ideals of perfection. The more I am able to practice letting go of my preconceived ideals, the more able I am to have a deeper appreciation for life. And by choosing instead to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, I am able to see something that once seemed negative as positive. For example, when my husband and I disagree about a parenting approach, I am able to see the wisdom we are each bringing to our son’s experience, which also teaches him to value different perspectives.
Strength comes from allowing life to bring what it does and being honest about my feelings and vulnerability. It is from this space that I can focus my attention on self-care and respond with the resiliency to shape a new perspective; perhaps one that is free enough to see imperfection as perfection.
Written by Kristin Stoddart, MLL Teacher