We’ve all been there.
You’re driving your oldest to soccer practice (10 minutes late because the shin guards were hidden in a basket of laundry), you’re stewing over a crunchy conversation you had with a coworker earlier that day and you just realized that you forgot to set out the frozen meat for dinner. Lost in your own little world, bouncing between thinking about the past and the future, you’re abruptly brought back to reality when one of your children asks, “Are you listening?”
Your youngest child has been giving you a play-by-play of her day at preschool and followed it up with a question. Given your lack of response, she has now realized that you have committed one of the cardinal parenting sins: you have tuned her out.
While a common parental coping mechanism – especially during the years when your toddler fills his or her “word quota” for the day by 10 a.m. – once you’re busted for not listening, you now have a choice to make. You can either admit your wrongdoing and risk your child starting over completely, or give a vague answer and hope for the best.
If you’re looking for an alternative option, however, you may consider the practice of mindfulness. A bit of a buzzword this past year, chances are you’ve at least heard of the idea. But what is it really? And how can it help you to become a better listener, maybe even a better parent?
Mindfulness is the practice of being present; it is being aware of your present experience without judgment.
Very few of us have the time or ability to attend back-to-back mindfulness retreats, or delve deep into the neuroscience behind the concept, so I like to keep it simple. Basically, if you are breathing, you can practice mindfulness. One of the basic tenets is to notice the breath. Doing so allows you to recognize how you are feeling in any given moment. Is your breath quick and shallow? Is it relaxed and steady? Our breath is typically a good indicator of how we are physically reacting to a situation.
While mindfulness is sometimes only thought of as a tool to help aid in regulating emotions and staying calm in stressful situations, its benefits can also help you savor the sweet moments in life. The next time you are experiencing a peaceful or happy moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and allow whatever feelings that arise to permeate every fiber of your being.
If You Are Breathing, You Can Practice Mindfulness
Beyond the breath lie more opportunities for us to cultivate our own personal practice. This includes noticing when our minds have wandered to the past or future. Most of us are guilty of multitasking to the point where it has become second nature. Even if we are not doing several things at once physically, we are often playing mental ping pong in our minds, making it difficult to tune into the moment at hand.
Practicing mindful listening is as simple as removing outside distractions (yes, put down your phone), noticing the breath and paying attention to your reactions to the words that are being spoken. As we learn to resist the urge to interrupt, interject, advise or opine, we improve our ability to truly hear, to truly listen. And what better gift can you give to someone than to let them feel heard?
As you continue in your practice by using your breath and being present, listening without distraction will become second nature. That way, the next time your child asks, “Are you listening?” you can truthfully answer, “Yes, I am.”
Mindful Senses Nature Walk
One of my favorite ways to practice mindful listening is to get out in nature with my family. Free from all other distractions, we can truly listen to one another and tune in to our senses. This simple, fun exercise has proved to be a family favorite, and I invite you to try it with your family this summer!
During your walk take turns where each of you pause and share what you can see, hear, smell, taste, touch and feel. Make the experience come alive. Write it down.
“I see the mountains before me,
I hear the birds chirping in the distance,
I can smell the pine sap from the trees,
the taste of summer in the air,
I touch the earth below and feel at peace.”
Jill Tuttle is the founder and owner of Mindful Humans, a cause that is dedicated to teaching mindfulness to children, teachers and families. She teaches private and group sessions, and provides in-home parenting consultations. For more information on how to create mindful spaces and implement mindfulness practices in your daily lives, checkout Mindful Humans on Instagram and Facebook.