Author of the ‘Buddhism for Mothers’ series, Sarah Napthali shares how mindfulness and meditation have helped her find herself in the midst of mamahood.
Six months into mamahood with a baby who wouldn’t sleep or feed, I discovered what I now call ‘my bible’. ‘Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children’ found it’s way to my bedside table, and after studying baby books like ‘Save Our Sleep’ and ‘The No Cry Solution’ for weeks on end without ever feeling like I was getting anywhere, it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t my baby I needed to change.
Maybe it was how I was dealing with it all.
Babies cry. Children wake up overnight. Toddlers scream when you cut the crusts off their sandwich, even when they asked you to cut the crusts off their sandwich. That’s mamahood.
The moment I realised that if I shifted my focus from all the things THEY were doing to the story I was telling myself ABOUT it, was the day my life changed. And it was Sarah Napthali’s genuine reflection on the realities of raising children and how the teachings of Buddhism can help us mamas turn our inner-chatter around that was the turning point.
Here, Sarah shares how the buddhist teachings of mindfulness and meditation transformed her experience of motherhood, and how we can all do the same:
“When a women becomes a mother, it’s a potentially very stressful time. Everything she thought she was, and all the things that gave her life structure, are ripped out from under her. She is faced with isolation, she’s at the beck and call of her baby or she’s got toddlers interrupting every conversation – or in my case, I had a toddler who was always running away, and it felt like I was just chasing him for a couple of years. At social gatherings I couldn’t even participate because I was always running!
There can be a lot of frustration at all the drudgery, and we can get into the habit of believing our thoughts and letting them push us around rather than saying ‘That’s just a thought, it’s not the truth. It’s just this crappy language that’s passed through my head and it’s really nothing.’
The main Buddhist teaching I draw on for nurturing myself is ‘self-compassion’. I feel as though the biggest enemies to a mother’s mental health are self-criticism, harsh self-judgement and the habit of beating yourself up. Practising self-compassion guards against these. For me, it is a commitment to always treat myself as a kind friend would and to shine some of the unconditional love I feel for my children onto myself.
Self-compassion includes self-acceptance and self-forgiveness and many Buddhists argue that without compassion for ourselves it is much harder to have compassion for others. In practice, self-compassion involves ensuring that, when going through a tough moment, my inner self-talk is soothing and sympathetic – like a caring mother.
Motherhood has taught me unconditional love, and from that, I have started to be able to practice that towards myself too. I feel as though I can understand and forgive anything my children do. I see them as so precious and want so much for them to be happy and avoid suffering. Experiencing that kind of love, I have tried to spread that to others and to myself. Everyone is precious. Everyone wants to be happy and avoid suffering. I feel like being a Mum has taught me how deep my heart, or capacity to love, can be.
As mamas, we have to remember that the cultivation of self-compassion is key – and a part of that might be ensuring that you make time to do the things that nourish you, whether it be spending time with wise friends, getting exercise, reading inspiring or spiritual literature, meditating, getting out into nature.
It also helps at such times to remind yourself that you are not alone: millions of mothers have felt what you feel and are even feeling that way right now. And whatever you are feeling right now, as solid and as convincing as it seems, it will definitely, definitely pass. Every emotion that visits you is temporary and it is possible to observe it with curiosity instead of becoming completely subsumed by it. Shining a little awareness on a mood may or may not remove it but almost always takes the edge off it as you enter into a different kind of relationship with it.
Mindfulness and meditation are about learning the skills to watch your thoughts and feelings. You develop this capacity to watch it all come up and not identify with it quite so much, which in turn has an effect on the way you behave, the way you talk, the way you think. And as time goes on, you just see yourself growing and maturing because you’ve become more aware of the ways you sabotage yourself and sabotage your happiness.”
Sarah Napthali’s books on Buddhism for Mothers have been translated into nine languages, and have transformed mother’s lives around the world.