It’s the first day back to school for my soon to be 15-year-old.
I have a consultant appointment later in the day. It’s taken two years to get to this point.
The 5-year-old wakes up with a gastric bug and is expelling bodily fluids from both ends all over my brand new bedding.
The soon to be 15-year-old is complaining that her hair is too “soft”. She has Autism so this is a genuine complaint and not a delay tactic to avoid school.
The cat has got her self-stuck in a tin cylinder in the bathroom and I don’t know how to get her out.
The doorbell rings. It’s the postman with a parcel that I need to sign for. The 5-year-old is covered from head to toe in bodily fluids and the postman won’t let the soon to be 15-year-old sign for the parcel. I swap places with the 15-year-old and rush down the stairs, most of it on my elbows and ass.
I return to find the
soon to be re-homed cat trodding through the expelled bodily fluids and evenly distributing it on the two piles of freshly folded laundry.
FUCK. THIS. MOTHER-FUCKING. SHIT, I growl at myself in the mirror.
That was pretty much the theme for the rest of the day and I had to reschedule my appointment which I was really pissed about. As a single mother to three, two of them on the Autism Spectrum, days like this are a regular feature. It can get chaotic at the best of times and my sanity clings on for dear life as I try to juggle the tasks and unexpected fuck ups of my day while trying to create an environment of calm for my children.
Mindfulness meditation is the only way I get through it all.
It’s so strange to even hear myself saying that when I think back to my first encounter with mindfulness meditation almost 20 years ago.
A longtime mentor was running a group for young mothers to help them explore and develop their education options. Come along she urges me. There’s free childcare. You can relax and unwind. You don’t need to ask me twice Dee, I’ll be outside the gates waiting for you in the morning!
A group of eight young mothers and two education facilitator’s fit snugly into a room that was no different from any living room you would find in our neighbourhood. Comfortable sofa’s with scatter cushions. Low lighting and soft rugs on the floor.
Dee explains that they start every group session with an opening circle. A therapeutic check-in with each member of the group sure helped me to unwind. There is always something so liberating with shedding a load you weren’t even aware you were carrying until it was lifted. A seamless transition takes the group straight into preparations for phase two of the opening circle.
A guided meditation!
I had never done meditation up until that point and I found it to be the most uncomfortable and terrifying experience of my life. Being guided to close my eyes and focus on my breathing sent me into a head-thumping panic. The other girls sat at ease and looked increasingly relaxed as the guided meditation went on. Me? Oh, I looked like I was about to give birth on a crowded train!
I desperately wanted to get up and leave, but the silence and calmness made even the sound of my mouth drying up feel like I was chewing crunchy nut corn flakes. I swore to myself that once I got out of there I would never go back.
But I did go back. I went back every single week!
As uncomfortable as the meditation was to experience it in that moment and in that environment, I was fully conscious of the calmness and clarity I felt for a day or two after it. The weekly meditation was the gateway to my curiosity about the powers of meditation and prayer.
Over the years I explored all kinds of ways to meditate and find calmness. I changed God’s five times. I avoided wearing certain colours. I placed crystals in every window in my home and went through a period of only having red light bulbs in every room in my home to ward off depression. Oh, and I cleared the house of electric magnetic energy twice daily with divine rods made from coat hangers and organic autumn straw.
I even spent 7 days and 7 nights at a monastery in the South-west of Ireland on a meditation retreat where we only ate rice and peas and couldn’t talk for the whole entire time. We could only communicate by using our intuition or expressing our emotions.
I talk excessively and don’t express my emotions too easily so that retreat was extremely challenging but equally rewarding.
Each method benefited me in some way, but not as much as somebody else may have benefited. It was all about exploring and trial and error to find a method that worked for me. I’m a visual person. I need to have my eyes open so that I can get the full benefit of my mindfulness exercises. I’ve also got a busy mind with constant chatter going on night and day. In order for me to lower the volume of the mind chatter, I need a visual distraction. By focusing on an object or picture I can lower the volume of my mind chatter enough to concentrate on getting the full whack out of my mindfulness breathing.
This is my little oases at the end of my bed and its were the magic of mindfulness happens for me. I focus my attention here whenever I want to shut the world out or just calm my racing mind and slow down my breathing. As you can see there are lots of things to focus my attention on, but each one has a specific relevance for me. A visual reference of a calm ocean, a place to let my worry drift away from me. Butterfly’s to encourage a feeling of joy or courage in facing a change. Buddha’s for prayer and a word board to remind me to breathe at full capacity; filling my stomach as I breathe in, and empty it fully as I breath out. For me, a meaningful affirmation or quote can skyrocket my motivation and inspiration, so I always keep a fresh supply on my mindfulness wall for that instant kick in the morning.
I am a person with Autism and have a variety of sensory overload triggers. Sound is one of them. Trying to follow a guided meditation with background noise drives me nuts. Most meditation music gives me the same sickening sensation as being on a roller coaster. The high pings and the low bongs and that god damn frickin annoying low tone humming with fluctuating volumes? Christ! Just thinking of it is driving me insane.
When I am doing mindfulness meditation at home I like to have something from Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky playing on a low volume in the background to drown out the white noise of silence when the kids are asleep or in school. When I’m out on a mindfulness meditation walk I like to listen to anything from The Revivalists to Linkin Park and I can still achieve the same level calmness and clarity as my friend who sits cross-legged on a yoga mat half-naked in the middle of a forest tapping his fingers and chanting Oomm.
The point is, I work with techniques that suit my needs and ability’s and can still access calmness and clarity without the need for a yoga mat or swamping my house with sage.
But why engage in mindfulness at all?
Well, What if I gave you 50 party balloons filled with helium with no string attached to them and told you that your ability to feel calm depends entirely on you being able to keep those 50 balloons on the ground?
Logic would tell you that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, right?
What if I handed you a large piece of netting and told you it will help you keep the balloons on the ground!
Would you use the netting or run around frantically trying to gain control of the balloons and keep them on the ground?
The 50 party balloons represent all of the shit that life throws at you. The bills, the car, the in-laws, the house, the kids, the job, the school, traffic, the diet, the annoying neighbour, the lost or stolen debit card… The list goes on and on and is unique for each and every one of us on any given day.
The netting represents mindfulness meditation. It helps us keep our shit on the ground so that we can manage it in a calming environment. The shit is still there. The Zen zone is not all pink fluffy clouds and unicorns. You still have your 50 balloons to deal with. But having a good strong netting helps us to manage and contain those balloons so they don’t fly away taking our calmness with them.
Even 10 minutes of mindfulness breathing every day can help maintain the quality and strength of your netting. The stronger your netting is, the less time you need to spend running around chasing your balloons and the more time you can spend in the Zen zone where the environment is more calmer.
That’s why it is important to engage in mindfulness every day!
Practising regular mindfulness every day is the only reason I managed to get through the day from hell. In the past, the negative feelings from a day like this would have followed me around for weeks. It was one bad day on top of another all building up and eventually exploding.
Don’t get me wrong, I cried, I felt sad, I had a thumping migraine from stress. I’m exhausted and fragile.
But a short burst of mindfulness breathing throughout the day got me from one point to the next, and onto the next and before I knew it, the kids were in bed, the cat was fed and I had made it to bed in one piece.
The house looks like it has been trashed and at tonight’s bedtime story we pretended we were ogre’s living in a smelly swamp.
I suppose I’ll have to hope that you will trust me when I say that I feel calm and relaxed as I focus on my mindfulness wall to give gratitude for today and set my intentions for tomorrow. Then I intend on having a good nights sleep.
If mindfulness hasn’t worked for you in the past, I recommend you explore different methods and find a technique that suits your needs and ability. Not everybody can sit cross-legged on a yoga mat or tolerate the pings and pongs of meditation music. Whatever method you use, remember to breath at full capacity; fill your stomach as you breathe in slowly, and empty it fully as you breath out slowly.
10 Minutes a day. As they say… Practice makes perfect!
I send you all wishes of an abundance of happiness and calmness.
Thanks for reading.