Interview with Krystyna Łukawska, the program’s author
A mere second ago you were holding a pair of earrings in your hand… and now they have disappeared into thin air. Other things have a similar tendency to disappear only to materialize a moment later in the most peculiar places – for example, you find your hair shampoo in the fridge. Is this sclerosis, absent-mindedness, or maybe spiteful poltergeist? None of these, in fact … it is simply a lack of mindfulness which can effectively and adversely impact not only the quality of your life, but the joys of maternity (things getting lost is merely the tip of the iceberg).
- Most of us have experienced a situation when we are conversing with someone, yet if we were told to summarize what we heard but a moment before, we would be unable to do it, or for example – we go to the next room and we suddenly realize we don’t know why we went there. Why does this happen?
Most of the time we are immersed in our own thoughts and we are not even aware of their content. We do many things mechanically, without even thinking about what we are doing. While brushing your teeth you’re thinking what to prepare for breakfast or what’s waiting for you at work. You seldom feel the taste of toothpaste or realize which direction you are moving your toothbrush. Similarly, when someone is talking to you, you are listening to them a little, but at the same time in an equal part you are thinking about their hairstyle or clothes. Or you are unable to listen to them at all since an hour ago you received some important news and you cannot stop thinking about it.
Our mind operates on two levels – the automatic and the conscious. Automatic thinking is fast, instinctive, and requires no effort. Thanks to this mode of thinking we perform simple learned actions fluently and without analyzing them. For example, we can read a word or entire sentence without repeating each letter separately as we used to when we began to learn how to read. The automatic level is therefore important and necessary, but it is only on the conscious level that we get a chance to analyze, verify, and change. Our brain reacts to every, even the most subtle, change in our surroundings. Without conscious attention, we miss hundreds of phenomena occurring before our very eyes every day.
We can train our minds in mindfulness, meaning maintaining the conscious awareness of what is going on in the present moment. The training of mindfulness is powerful training. It allows us to develop fortitude and skills helping us integrate brain functions, maintain emotional balance and sensibly and consciously approach challenges that life throws our way.
- Worrying about each trifling detail – the worst case scenarios of events appear in the mind with the speed of lightning … Many of us are stuck in such stressful visualizations of things that „might” happen. Why?
Thinking is habitual. We pick a specific mode of thinking from the people closest to us.
If your parents frequently fretted narrating tragic scenarios of real or imaginary events, you will develop an inclination to catastrophic thinking. When something happens, for example your kid gets a high fever – the brain connects this situation with other similar events from the past. You remember your mother panicking over your fever. Your brain plays a film from your childhood featuring more or less drastic scenes. You are stuck – to use your words – in this stressful visualization even though your kid’s fever poses little danger. You are swept over by fear with its roots in the past and having little to do with the actual situation in a given moment. If you realize that your fear originates from the past, you will be able to calm down and refrain from comments able to scare your child.
Becoming aware of our tendencies to worry excessively is the first step to freeing yourself from them. The more aware we are of our habitual reactions, the better chance we stand of not replicating and passing them on the future generation.
- A robot, automat – is it possible to say that this is the mode of functioning of a person unable to focus on the present?
There is both an autopilot and a conscious person in each and every one of us. The problem lies rather in the ability to expand the scope of operation of this conscious person. Let us take a look at the nature of the difference between both of these modes of thinking.
The mind can be linked to a car running on cruise control. It will continue driving, but it will not slow down when atmospheric conditions change for the worse, nor will not accelerate when the weather improves. If in our contacts with the child our cruise control is constantly on, we will not notice our son or daughter’s unique skills or specific conditions conducive to their knowledge acquisition. We will only focus on achieving the goal we are pursuing at a given moment (e.g. helping them solve a math problem or build an airplane model).
Stress is conducive to our turning cruise control on and repeating habitual reactions. They can be expressed in facial expressions, gestures, or words. Then, without thinking we use phrases we are familiar with from our childhood or youth. You yell „Calm down!” – at your son, screaming and jumping on the couch – not because it is a good method to calm down your overexcited child, but because this is what you yourself were told in similar situations.
The practice of mindfulness allows us to expand the area of our consciousness and become liberated from automatic reactions; it helps us to avoid repeating the mistakes of our parents.
- Is a mother whose body is in one place, but thoughts are wandering somewhere else, able to truly experience the joys of maternity, instead of feeling frustrated by it?
Each of us has both a ‚mindful’ and ‚non-mindful mom’ within; we all have experienced physically being in one place while our spirit roamed elsewhere. Nonetheless, if contact with the child causes frequent frustration, you may start to doubt yourself as a mom. Not only does mindfulness help us become free of our habitual and ineffective reactions towards the child, but it also allows us to appreciate who we are – to become liberated from inadequate expectations and perfectionist standards, allow ourselves to feel spontaneous joy.
A mom who does not know how to enjoy maternity – is a mom who is unable to relax, who is unable to sit down with her child on the floor and play, a mom who is unable to let herself stop, even if for a moment, thinking about the laundry to be done or an urgent phone call to be made. If for the time when you are playing with your child, you are able to put thinking about your duties aside, you will be able to observe the spontaneous reactions of your child with interest and share his or her natural joy of being, exploring, or achieving further steps of development. We draw true joy of maternity from those moments when, with an open heart, we are able to tune in to our child’s feelings and experience the same joy and delight in our own body.
- Is the ability to focus on the present able to help us enjoy that which these present moments bring?
Focusing on the present allows us to react in keeping with what is really happening at a given moment. These do not always have to be joyful moments. It is difficult to feel happy when your child comes home from school in tears after some fiasco. Yet also in a situation like this, mindfulness will be very useful. It will help you calmly and patiently listen to the story which brought your daughter to tears and assist her in dealing with the emotions she is experiencing.
In turn, when something good happens, even if it is but a small step forward, mindfulness allows us to experience heartfelt joy. It is nice and satisfying for the parent, but important for the child as well. The joy and celebrating even small achievements inspires and encourages enthusiasm for further efforts.
- How does mindfulness translate into the quality of life, relations with children and family?
Not only does mindfulness have the capacity to enrich, but it can completely transform your family life. Training in mindfulness teaches us how to live consciously, with greater awareness, and look at ourselves with amity; by practicing mindfulness, we learn how to vest family ties with a deeper sense and enrich our contact with the child. Moments which were previously nothing more than an everyday routine, can become transformed into a shared time of fun and a source of joy.
Mindfulness fills our relations with ourselves and others with kindness and compassion. It may lead to a sense of deep contentment and happiness. A regular practice of mindfulness helps us develop a sense of being connected to the surrounding world. This sense of connectedness results in the feeling of cheerful calm.
- Can you learn mindfulness? Does it require complicated training?
The training of mindfulness consists in rather simple exercises in focusing your attention. Usually it results in a pleasant sensation of relaxation and calm inner silence. Anyone can learn mindfulness. In many countries, mindfulness type activities are conducted with children at schools and kindergartens. The practice of mindfulness can be started from the age of three or four.