The situation began with a simple attempt to change my toddler’s nappy. Despite having adopted the stagger of a drunken cowboy to accommodate the growing bulge, this process featured as highly on the small person’s agenda as reading Donald Trump’s auto-biography features on mine. This was understandable: she was busy trying to change the nappy of Bunny; a square piece of fabric with a rabbit’s head attached and no sign of a urinary tract.
Bunny and I cooperated for, I think, about 5 hours before beginning to lose our patience and any hope of leaving the house that day.
‘But we have to change your nappy’, I said, ‘it’s scraping the floor and may cause you lower back problems in later life if we’re not careful.’
‘But I don’t even have a bladder’, said Bunny, ‘and if I did, I flatter myself that I would be able to control my bowel movements by now.’
Some time later, I completely lost the plot.
I’ve known for a while that my batteries were running low, and I wanted to make some small changes. Prescription and recreational drugs are out as I’m currently pregnant, and I already donated enough brain cells to that particular cause in my teens and early twenties. Apparently neither a month long retreat in India nor a live-in masseur are viable options either. Then I read about this thing called mindfulness.
I began to investigate: googling absent-mindedly whilst eating dinner, chatting to my husband and watching episodes of Homeland. The problem is, how to find the time?
I give myself a high five if we’re both dressed by 10am; making time for mindfulness meditation was as likely as making time to iron my husband’s underwear (this will never happen).
If I was going to become mindful and serene, it would need to be seriously simple. And, so, Parenting Calm was born. I decided to try one thing every week to help me live more mindfully and be a calmer parent.
So this week I am trying out walking meditation. I love concurrent activities as they increase my incredibly low levels of productivity. Usually concurrent activities involve things like doing squats whilst eating a biscuit or googling ‘why won’t my toddler sleep’ whilst watching my toddler not sleep, but now it’s time for something new…
Walking meditation is something I first tried 5 or 6 years ago, at the lovely Tipi Valley surf and yoga retreat, pre-baby and in between marriages. I was, as I am now, living in London but life was somewhat different. I went out most nights and was pretty relieved, if unnerved, by the prospect of a night in.
Working in the wine industry meant that my days were often spent eating and drinking (I mean ‘tasting’) too, and all in all life was a deliciously busy blur. So when I went on my first yoga retreat and someone suggested walking through pasture, breathing slowly and paying attention to things, I wasn’t entirely sure what the point was. But the experience was something of a revelation.
My retreat buddies didn’t seem too fazed by it, but I’d been spending most of my working days racing through Mayfair’s lovely squares and gardens, from hotel to restaurant and tasting to meeting. I kept my eyes down, tapping my Blackberry and trying not to take out too many oligarchs with my wine carrier on wheels. This way of walking was entirely new.
During my first pregnancy I walked for 30 minutes every day and I’ve pretty much kept it up ever since. These walks are rarely meditative though. More often they are a stomp down to the shops because we’ve run out of milk, nappies or chocolate (I jest…we never run out of chocolate), swerving the buggy one-handed whilst checking in on Facebook to see what my friends’ children have been up to (there’s a reason for all the posts of our kids; we’re all so knackered we can no longer bear to post pictures of ourselves).
So, I’ll let you know how I get on. Here’s a quick ‘how to’ if you’d like to give walking meditation a go too.
You will need to be vertical to attempt this, and I recommend you keep your eyes open. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the practice of walking, and jump straight to the ‘meditation’ bit.
Begin by taking a walk, wherever you happen to be. I like to head for trees, but anywhere can work and tuning into urban buzz and hustle can still give your busy mind a break.
Check-in with your body, notice any niggles or places of tension and relax your shoulders and jaw. Take a few deep breaths. Then, simply focus in on your environment.
Listen to the sounds that surround you, smell the smells, feel the ground beneath your feet and see what the sky’s up to.
Notice how the air feels as you breathe in and out. Is there a breeze? Become conscious of where your body meets nature.
Look at the textures of things and take in the details you would often miss. Do this for as long as you feel like doing it. If you find your mind reverting to thoughts of your next meal, the laundry pile or Hugh Jackman’s biceps then simply come back to your surroundings and begin noticing again. Or maybe just roll with the Hugh Jackman visualization; that could also be pretty relaxing.
You can try a version of this with kids too; pointing out small details and encouraging them to do the same. Young children are naturally observant and curious anyway, and will be delighted if you slow down to their pace rather than hurrying them along.
Notice how you feel when you return to your thoughts. Hopefully a little calmer, more grounded and with a shifted perspective. Let me know.