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My Unexpected Journey to Mindfulness: How You & Your Kids Can Get There Too

(4.5 minute read) Who would have guessed that the two things I fought my husband hardest on in our 20 year relationship would end up being the same two things that have drastically changed my life for the better? (Don’t tell him I said this…but I should probably listen to him more often. He seems to know me better than I know myself.)

First of all, if you would have asked me seven years ago, I would have told you that I was born to live in NYC. I loved everything about my life there: raising my daughters with everything I needed at my fingertips, being able to walk everywhere, the high-power corporate job I worked so hard at. I ate up that fast-paced, hustle-and-bustle lifestyle that is so characteristic of the city. It fit my personality to a T.

I used to pride myself on how well I was able to juggle everything, my ability to multitask. People would marvel at how much I could get done in a day. And I love it. My self-esteem was somewhat based on my productivity, and being praised for it only increased my desire to be just that…productive.  

So, as you can imagine, when my husband sprang on me that he wanted to move to the burbs, get a dog, and have a third child, my reaction was not exactly supportive. “No, no and absolutely NO!”

My world (that I seemingly managed so well) was about to turn upside down.

Lo-and-behold, a year later I found myself living in Long Island. Being out of the city allowed me to think about aspects of my life that weren’t working as well as I would have liked. One major change led to another and I decided to ditch my career in television to do something more fulfilling. That’s when I started GAALS.

Ironically, transitioning out of corporate America and moving out of the Big Apple made it more difficult for me to manage everything on my plate. In this new life, my knack for multitasking seemed to disappear. I became much more aware of how little time I spent relaxing and enjoying the day-to-day, which is something I think my new suburban lifestyle made me realize (or maybe it was age – or both)! And it bothered me. Living in Manhattan, I never thought about relaxing or slowing down because there was always a reason not to (even if it was just needing to get out somewhere to escape the feeling of being cooped up in an apartment). But here, I could no longer pretend that it wasn’t a priority to live in the moment – something I have always struggled to make a reality.

The next thing I knew, I had another thing thrown on my plate. If you guessed that we got a dog, you were right. I was 0-2 on the things I initially refused to agree to. Even after moving, I told my husband that under no circumstances would I be responsible for walking a dog or anything do related.

By the time Ziggy arrived I was just getting acclimated to the burbs. While he was super “adogable” (a term my youngest daughter made up and I love), I just couldn’t understand the hoopla around being a dog owner. I know it sounds ignorant, or even heartless, but I simply couldn’t figure it out the purpose of having a dog.  To me, it was simply more work and more noise. It took a little over a year and then something clicked.

Living in the burbs with a dog was the magic combination that started me off on my mindfulness journey.

Each morning after the hustle bustle of getting my girls up and out the door (yes, as I have come to find out, hustle and bustle exists even outside of NYC), and then dropping them off at school with Ziggy in the car, I began going directly to a local nature preserve. I would arrive just as this magical place opened. It is the perfect mosaic of nature with wooded trails that lead to the Long Island Sound.  

At first, I began walking aimlessly through the trails without a care in the world, watching gleefully as my dog frolicked through the woods. I used the uninterrupted free time to talk on the phone (something I rarely have time for).

After a while, I found myself annoyed by the conversation or getting disconnected because of shoddy service, So I opted to listen to music instead. I used my mood to dictate the genre. If I was happy and energetic I’d listen to pop, and walk briskly. If I was nostalgic, I hit the Billy Joel playlist and found myself lollygagging through the trails. And when I was melancholy, I would lean in to my mood and walk ever so slowly, head down, and listen to my sad songs mix (you know, the type of songs you would have added to your break up cassette when you were a teen). While I enjoyed my ritual, I realized that what I was enjoying had nothing to do with the world around me. That’s when I ditched technology altogether.

I began to engage my senses.

I challenged myself to see something new each day or to simply look at something differently, like the changing of the seasons and colors, new growth, the direction branches would grow, leaves dancing, the animals, the tiniest footprints on the trail, whether the water was calm or choppy and where it met the sand.

I noticed how the air felt on my skin, regardless of the weather – humid days, chilly autumn days, and even cold blustery winter days. I even embraced the sprinkle of the rain and the cold specs of snowflakes landing on my skin (and on those days I would marvel as I watched my breath descend into the air and then disappear).  

I started to feel my heart beating and could even detect its change in rhythm depending on how much effort I would exert.

I absorbed the sweet smells that permeated the air, like flowers, the salt of the sound, fresh cut grass and sweet mulch.

I detected the familiar sounds that surrounded me, like leaves blowing in the wind, waves crashing, birds chirping, acorns falling, brittle branches cracking and various hums in the air.

I’ve been cherishing this daily ritual for the past few years now and I’m happy to report that it still has not gotten old. In fact, the opposite is true. I find myself enjoying it even more.  I’ve gotten to a point where I can allow myself to simply get lost in my own world.

I watch intently as Ziggy gallops through the woods, so agile and nimble. Sniffing and staring without a care in the world.  After disappearing for a couple minutes, he canters back to me at full speed. His pads on the ground sound like the hooves of a race horse. I marvel at all of this each and every day. And for the longest time I wondered why I get so much joy out of watching a dog aimlessly wander through the terrain.

For some reason, I was bothered by the fact that I couldn’t figure out the answer to this question (for those of you who know me, know I have an analytical side). One day, the answer hit me: Ziggy lives a carefree life. He lives in the moment, taking it all in without any thought or concern. Can you believe I found myself wanting to embody an aspect of the dog that I never even wanted? But it’s true. Ziggy led me to the realization that I want to be carefree and present for every aspect of my life.

I don’t want to be playing a board game with my kids while my head is somewhere else, thinking about the gift I need to buy for their friend’s birthday or the dishwasher that needs to get emptied. I don’t want to read the paper, the whole time consumed by the text I forgot to respond to instead of the content in front of me. I want to be free to enjoy every moment that life has to offer. While I know it’s not always realistic, I wanted to make the effort to do better.

I needed to parlay the mindfulness I was creating into my everyday experiences.

And so the next part of my journey began.

In the morning when I wake up, I crawl into bed with each of my girls and focus on trying to get my breath in sync with theirs (unless or until they kick me out).

At the gym, instead of keeping my phone next to my water bottle (like everyone else), it stays in my jacket. And during water breaks when others check their phones, I use the brief moment to focus on my breath or think about what I just accomplished.

In the car, when driving alone, I turn off the radio and make fewer calls. I use the time to just zone out, often times taking in the scenery through the window.

At night, when I tuck in my girls, I now relish the moments alone together versus being in a hurry to get up and out. This is perhaps the most valuable time we have together. We talk about things (which seems to be easier since the lights are out). Sometimes, we just lay there and decompress together, which makes me feel even closer. In fact, a wave of emotion often comes over me – this overwhelming sense of love. I start crying as I think about all of the things I admire about my girls and I feel grateful for them.

While my goal is to continue to increase the opportunities to be mindful, I also want to teach this important lesson to my daughters before life gets too hectic. Through mindfulness, I want them to gain the tools to:

  • Decrease stress and anxiety
  • Focus
  • Calm down & control impulses
  • Manage emotions
  • Nurture compassion and empathy
  • Be positive
  • Balance and enjoy life in a healthy way.

All of these important concepts can without a doubt be fostered through a mindful approach to life. However, becoming mindful is not something that can be forced upon others (that would defeat the purpose altogether). So as much as I want my daughters to understand how mindfulness can positively impact their lives, and to find their own practices,  I recognize that becoming mindful is a personal journey. It takes time, practice, and patience. All I can do is share my experience and create an environment that encourages mindfulness.

When my daughters are in the car with me, I can explain to them why I have chosen to turn off the radio for a bit. When we are sitting down at dinner, I can request that no technology be brought to the table so that we can all focus on, and appreciate, the food and company in front of us. When we are laying in bed at night before I tuck them in, I can share with them why the experience is so meaningful for me. And in doing these things,  I can hope that they start to incorporate these same practices and learn for themselves how enriching mindfulness can be. And you can do the same with your children.

Finally, I want to emphasize the fact that seven years ago, I was probably the furthest thing from mindful. I’m not sure if I even knew the word mindful. I was always on the go. Keeping busy. Proud of my ability to multitask and accomplish so much. But here I am, sharing with all of you my journey to becoming mindful.  I truly believe that if I can do it, anyone can.

A special thank you to Seth, for moving our family to the burbs and getting a dog despite my saying, no — for starting me off on my mindfulness journey. Hopefully, reading this blog will guide those who are seeking mindfulness in their lives down their own path to success.

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