Transforming my family life with mindfulness
Here at Calm Connections, mindfulness underpins much of what we do. For me personally, it’s more than just a practice, it’s a way of being that has fundamentally transformed my life, both personally and professionally…I’m a very passionate convert! In this blog I’m going to focus on the massive impact that mindfulness has had on my family life in the hope that other families may be inspired to give it a try and reap the benefits.
Rewind to 2010…
I was living with my then wife and my two adorable children, aged 6 and 3. As a recently-qualified primary school teacher, I loved working with children, building relationships with them and seeing them develop. However, the heavy workload combined with my perfectionist tendencies resulted in an unhealthy work-life balance and much stress. At the time, I had a short temper, was impatient, critical and unhappy with my marriage. The two children were being brought up in an atmosphere that was often punctuated with anger, bitterness, resentment, anxiety, stress, tension and many marital arguments. I would beat myself up for every mistake that I made, especially if it negatively impacted on the two beautiful, innocent souls I was helping to bring up. Something had to change.
The following year, my ex-wife and I decided to separate. I believed that it would be best for us parents as individuals and also better for the children to be brought up in a shared custody arrangement – two happy homes rather than one unhappy home. It wasn’t as easy as that, though. Depression and loneliness set in for me, which affected the relationship I had with the two people in the world that I cared most about. Fun Dad wasn’t around much; stressed, tired and deeply sad Dad was. I hoped it wasn’t too late to repair any damage I had done…
My transformative springboard came in 2012 in the shape of the Hoffman Process – an expertly choreographed, week-long residential retreat ‘for people who are fed up of being fed up.’ I found acceptance, compassion, forgiveness and peace, rediscovered the power of love and came away feeling so alive, full of fun, joy and hope – it rebooted my whole life! One of the key tools that I learnt there was – you guessed it – mindfulness.
Six years on and our household is a very different place to be. Gone are the constant arguments, tension, criticisms, dissatisfaction, impatience and rushing around in a haze of anxious multi-tasking. In their place we have calm, compassionate relationships, empathetic communication, understanding, gratitude, kindness, gently loving connections and a relaxed, balanced lifestyle. Result.
I’m continually delighted and blessed that two wonderfully balanced, compassionate, sensitive, beautiful, emotionally literate and peaceful young people have emerged from what was once a potentially traumatic home environment. My daughter is such a caring, helpful, kind and thoughtful soul who is beautifully mindful of others’ needs – she naturally helps those less able than herself, whether that be in the school environment, in her dancing classes or assisting with her brother’s homework or craft projects. My son’s approach to life was perfectly summarised in a recent school report:
“He is one of the sweetest boys I have ever come across; he is so gentle and thoughtful, which is reflected by his love of any living thing…he explained to the class how we can make small changes in our lives that will really benefit the world – this really is a reflection of his kind and caring nature.”
How did we get there?
For me, maintaining a regular mindfulness practice has been the key to opening the floodgates of change. I have taken a softly-softly approach to mindfulness and meditation with my children (now approaching their 14th and 11th birthdays respectively) – rather than brainwashing them, I’ve modelled by example and introduced them to various tools and techniques to show them how mindfulness can help us on a daily basis. Although they don’t maintain a formal daily practice, they know that they have a set of powerful tools at their disposal should they feel the need to use them. They sometimes accompany me to group meditation sessions, we have enjoyed several family mindfulness retreats together, they have various mindfulness websites/apps that they occasionally use and I often proudly observe my son closing his eyes and taking deep breaths before embarking on a potentially stressful experience such as taking a penalty in a game of football!
The PEACE acronym
There are many aspects to mindfulness but I would say the key factors that have led to such a successful integration into my family life can be summarised by the handily apt acronym PEACE:
- Perspective: most of the things we worry about are never going to happen and, even if they do happen, they rarely turn out to be very important. Focusing on the truly important stuff (nurturing loving relationships, for example) really helps.
- Example (leading by): maintaining my daily mindfulness meditation practice is crucial – it allows me to be the best version of myself more of the time, and this filters down to my children’s ways of being.
- Acceptance: accepting things as they are without judging them or labelling them as good or bad. Letting go of the things we can’t control (e.g. the past, traffic, the weather, other people’s behaviour) and acknowledging that all we can control are our own actions is very liberating.
- Communication: listening to one another with respect, empathy and understanding (and without judgement), then pausing before responding compassionately.
- Emotional awareness: increased awareness of our emotions and thoughts…and realising that are thoughts aren’t true – they’re just a story in our heads…our thoughts create our feelings but we don’t have to believe them – we can choose to be happy.
So…have we got it cracked? Are we a family of Zen Masters? Despite the fact that one of my friends calls me ‘SuperZen’, the truthful answer is, “No.” My younglings are perfectly imperfect beings who have moments and, for me, mindfulness is an ongoing practice…I’m getting better as I practice but I still have those human moments where I occasionally lose my rag or attempt to multitask rather than focusing on my children’s emotional needs. In the wake of such flaws, I don’t beat myself up like I used to do – I take a breath, apologise whenever necessary, remind myself that I’m an imperfect human, smile to myself and enjoy a relaxing meditation.
Calmness and Connection
Having embraced mindfulness over the past six years, I feel so much more CALM and the CONNECTIONS within my family (and to my inner self and the world around me) are so much stronger.
The heightened awareness I have gained has helped me make many other significant changes in my life over the past few years, too. Leaving office life and setting up Calm Connections with my lovely friend Emma is one example – mindfulness and helping others are two of my biggest passions so this was such a natural and exciting step on my journey.
Paul Wolstenholme, August 2018