Intentional Attention

From Part One ("The Danger and the Promise"), Chapter "What Is Mindful Parenting?" of Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, the meaning of "mindfulness" summarized:

To bring mindfulness into our parenting, it is helpful to know something about what mindfulness is. Mindfulness means moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time as best we can. In the process, we become more in touch with our life as it is unfolding.

Ordinarily, we live much of the time in an automatic pilot mode, paying attention only selectively and haphazardly, taking many important things completely for granted or not noticing them at all, and judging everything we do experience by forming rapid and often unexamined opinions based on what we like or dislike, what we want or don't want. Mindfulness bring to parenting a powerful method and framework for paying attention to whatever we are doing in each moment, and seeing past the veil of our automatic thoughts and feelings to a deeper actuality.

Mindfulness lies at the heart of Buddhist meditation, which itself is all about cultivating attention. The practice of mindfulness has been kept alive and developed within various meditative traditions across Asia for over twenty-five hundred years. Now it is making its way into the mainstream of Western society in many different contexts, including medicine, health care, education, and social programs.

Mindfulness is a meditative discipline. There are many different meditative disciplines. We might think of them all as various doors into the same room. Each doorway gives a unique and different view into the room; once inside, however, it is the same room, whichever door we come through. Meditation, whatever the method or tradition, is the tapping into the order and stillness embedded in and behind all activity, however chaotic it may appear, using our faculty of attention. It is not, as is so commonly thought, an inward manipulation—like throwing a switch or merely relaxing—into some "special state" in which everything feels different or better, or in which your mind goes "blank," or your suppress your thoughts. It is a systematic and sustained observing of the whole field of our experience, or of some specific element of it.

While it received its most elaborate articulation in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is an important part of all cultures and is truly universal, since it is simply about cultivating the capacity we all have as human beings for awareness, clarity, and compassion. There are many different ways to do this work of cultivation. There is no one right way, just as there is no one right way to parent.

Mindful parenting involves keeping in mind what is truly important as we go about the activities of daily living with our children. Much of the time, we may find we need to remind ourselves of what that is, or even admit that we may have no idea at the moment, for the thread of meaning and direction in our lives is easily lost. But even in our most trying, sometimes horrible moments as parents, we can deliberately step back and begin afresh, asking ourselves as if for the first time, and with fresh eyes, "What is truly important here?"

In fact, mindful parenting means seeing if we can remember to bring this kind of attention and openness and wisdom to all our moments with our children. It is a true practice, its own inner discipline, its own form of meditation. And it carries with it profound benefits for both children and parents, to be discovered in the practice itself.

^z - 2014-07-29