Mindfulness, Uncategorized

Back to school – What have we gained? What have we lost?

Standing at the school gate (behind the freshly painted yellow line) I watched yesterday as my children skipped off towards their classrooms without looking back.

Seeing their school bags bob out of sight, ushered by smiling teachers, marked the end of 6 months of lockdown. Parents were shuffled out through the new one-way system, blinking in bewilderment as we stepped out onto the pavement. Everything was so strange and yet so familiar; we seemed to slip back into the routine so easily that in some surreal sense it felt as though lockdown hadn’t happened.

Standing in the drizzle, I was, for the first time in half a year, free. Free from what had begun to feel like an inescapable, chaotic dance of multitasking, entertaining, cooking, tidying and refereeing, Now I had the chance to look back down the mountain we had climbed.

Our little nuclear family experienced no tragic personal losses from COVID-19, beyond those we witnessed in the news, which we followed helplessly, until the numbers and the politics became too confusing. Our three boys are young. They hadn’t missed out on any milestones or rights of passage. In many ways they adapted into lockdown with as much ease as they adapted back out of it. Just like that.

Lockdown had its upsides. Our children bonded and their bonds grew stronger. They played together for hours. In the absence of schoolwork they had to do, they began to lead their own learning; crafting, drawing, painting, reading, writing stories. They explored every inch of the garden. They spent more time than ever before with their dad, who was working from home. They built genuine friendships with their grandparents. As parents we realised the strength of our support network.

But there were losses of a different kind and with these came consequences for the whole family. We lost routine and a stabilising structure to our day. We began enthusiastically enough, the children and us, following a timetable, keeping up with a ‘school day’ of sorts, juggling working from home with homeschooling reasonably well. The grandparents joined in with zoom lessons and virtual story time. But as the weeks went on, the novelty wore off. Enthusiasm waned. Bedtimes got later, school days got shorter. Keeping homeschooling varied and interesting for three different ages was a challenge. Fighting was relentless and inevitable. The children learnt about Netflix and how to use the remote control. Their methods of mischief became extraordinarily creative.

As parents we lost time. Time to invest in our own projects so that we could feel personally fulfilled and able to give more of ourselves. Time to invest in our own self care so that we could do a better job of caring for others. Time to focus on one thing at a time, whether it was work, a phone call, or admin task so that we could give others our full, unwavering attention.

As parents we also lost space. Amidst the unbroken noise of three boys, we lost space to think. Space to get out and go. Space to calm down. Space to have an uninterrupted conversation. We literally lost space to sit, as the couch became a fortress.

We tried to solve these losses ourselves, but ended up simply moving the loss from one place to another, like a sliding puzzle.

We took on new projects to mark our personal space. In turn we lost time to invest in caring for each other and for ourselves, and we lost patience with our children as we piled yet more on to our multi-tasking list.

We stayed up late to gain back some child-free time with each other and time for ourselves. In turn we lost sleep, and we lost both time and space the following day as we limped groggily through the day with tired brains.

And now, looking back down the lockdown mountain we have climbed with its steep slopes and craggy crevices, we have time and space to process the last 6 months.

I have time and space to ask myself – How much did our lost space and time as parents impact our family through lockdown? Could I have done things differently? What could I have done better? Will my family be ok? These questions are likely to lead me to negatively introspect about the past and negatively forecast the future, creating worry and anxiety.

We have waited a long time for this time and space. Too long to fill it with self criticism and doubt. So I’m going to fill it with gratitude. Gratitude is an immensely powerful tool we can use to situate ourselves firmly in the present. Consciously considering what we are grateful for connects us with the people around us, and with the present moment itself. So,,.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for home.

I am grateful for passion.

I am grateful for hope.

What are you grateful for?

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Looking on the bright side

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, one of our main intentions is to shift the client’s focus away from the problem and towards the positive. Humans have a natural negativity bias, particularly when we are feeling stressed. This is because when we are stressed, we spend more time in our primitive minds and the primitive mind is a negative mind: it always sees the world from the worst possible perspective. The primitive mind has to be negative to ensure our survival as a human species. If we answered the door to an eight foot tiger, it’s highly unlikely that we would invite him in for tea, and chuckle as he ate all the cupcakes and drank all of Daddy’s beer, as happens in Judith Kerr’s children’s story The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

Thankfully, if we did open our front door to an eight foot tiger (or it’s less fantastical equivalent) our fight or flight response would kick in within a fraction of second, pumping out adrenalin, increasing our heartbeat, preparing our body for escape. Operating from within this stress response, we would assume the worst, we would be hyper-vigilant to any movement the tiger made, and we would be obsessional about figuring out an appropriate escape route. In this scenario, our stress response is our friend, it’s working for us, we are immensely grateful for its input.

However, in many situations, this negative focus causes us an enormous amount of needless suffering. Raging or descending into gloom about a smashed wing mirror doesn’t fix the mirror. It just suck us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can both give and receive from our interactions with others. When we surface from our rage and gloom back into our intellectual minds, we are likely to reward ourselves with a hefty serving of shame about how we handled the situation. We have grown our hurt. Similarly, ranting when we find our kitchen wall has been redecorated with permanent marker, courtesy of our three-year-old, doesn’t miraculously remove the scribble. It just sucks us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can give to, and receive from our child. When we escape from the cycle of ranting and regain intellectual control, we’re rewarded with the all familiar weight of parental shame about how we handled the situation. Our suffering has swelled.

In these stressful moments, wrenching our attention away from the problem and towards the positive can loom like a mammothian task. ‘Looking on the bright side’, as simple as it sounds, actually entails a lot of practice if we are to be able to apply it when we most need to. In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris suggests that just one positive thought can act as a lever to pry the mind loose from “whatever rut it has found on the landscape of unnecessary suffering.”

Acknowledging, out loud if necessary “at least the rest of the car is undamaged” or “at least we have some paint left to cover up the marker pen”, can help us to manufacture a feeling of gratitude for all the bad things that have not happened. Research has shown that gratitude is a powerful mechanism for increasing well being over time, but it can be equally powerful as a safety net when stressful events occur, bouncing us back into our intellectual minds where we can access rationale and reason, and suffer less than we otherwise would have done.

References

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster

Kerr, J. (2006). The Tiger Who Came To Tea. (1st Ed). London: HarperCollins