Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, is a scientist and meditation teacher, and has spent much of his career leading workshops throughout the world on the power of mindfulness and its applications. His wife Myla Kabat-Zinn has worked as a childbirth educator and birthing assistant. In their co-written book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, the Kabat-Zinns provide a groundbreaking guide to mindful parenting, an approach that brings the practice of mindfulness to the art of parenting.
Parents of three, and grandparents, the Kabat-Zinns pepper their informative, reassuring book with emotionally resonant personal anecdotes, all of which help emphasize the power of living each experience of parenthood in the present moment. In the excerpt below, the authors introduce their approach to mindful parenting, describing parenthood as a "spiritual discipline."
To parent consciously requires that we engage in an inner work on ourselves as well as in the outer work of nurturing and caring for our children. The how-to advice that we can draw upon from books to help us with the outer work has to be complemented by an inner authority that we can only cultivate within ourselves through our won experience.
Such inner authority only develops when we realize that, in spite of all the things that happen to us that are outside of our control, through our choices in response to such events and through what we initiate ourselves, we are still, in large measure, "authoring" our own lives.
In the process, we find our own ways to be in this world, drawing on what is deepest and best and most creative in us. Realizing this, we may come to see the importance for our children and for ourselves of taking responsibility for the ways in which we live our lives and for the consequences of the choices we make.
Inner authority and authenticity are developed through that inner work. Our authenticity and our wisdom grow when we purposely bring awareness to our own experience as it unfolds. Over time, we can learn to see more deeply into who our children are and what they might need, and take the initiative in finding appropriate ways to nourish them and support their growth and development.
We can also learn to interpret their many different, sometimes puzzling signals and to trust our ability to find a way to respond appropriately. Attention, inquiry and thoughtfulness are essential to this process.
Parenting is above all uniquely personal. Ultimately, it has to come from deep inside ourselves. Someone else's way of doing things may not be appropriate or useful. We each need to find a way that is our own, certainly consulting other perspectives as we go along, but above all, learning to trust our own instincts while continuing to examine and question them.
Still, in parenting, what we thought and did yesterday that "worked out well" is not necessarily going to help today. We have to stay very much in the present moment to sense what might be required. And when our inner resources are depleted, it is helpful to have healthy ways to replenish them and restore ourselves.
Becoming a parent may happen on purpose or by accident, but however it comes about, parenting itself is a calling. It calls us to re-create our world every day, to meet it freshly in every moment. Such a calling is in actuality nothing less than a rigorous spiritual discipline, a quest to realize our truest, deepest nature as human beings. The very fact that we are parents impels us to continually seek and express what is most nurturing, wise, and caring within ourselves, to be, as much as we can be, our best selves.
As with any spiritual discipline, the call to parent mindfully is filled with enormous promise and potential. At the same time, it also challenges us to approach our parenting with consistent intentionality, so that we can be fully engaged in this fundamentally human enterprise, this remarkable and decades-long unfolding passage of life and learning from one generation to the next.
People who choose to become parents take on this hardest of jobs for no salary, often unexpectedly, at a relatively young and inexperienced age, or under conditions of economic strain and insecurity.
Typically, the journey of parenting is embarked upon without a clear strategy or overarching view of the terrain, in much the same intuitive and optimistic way we approach many other aspects of life. We learn on the job, as we go. There is, in fact, no other way.
But to begin with, we may have no sense of how much parenting augurs a totally new set of demands and changes in our lives, requiring us to give up so much that is familiar and to take on so much that is unfamiliar. Perhaps this is just as well. Each child is unique and each situation is different.
We have to rely on our hearts, our deepest human instincts, and our memories of our own childhoods, both positive and negative, to encounter the unknown territory of having and raising children.
Co-written by Myla Kabat-Zinn, B.S.N., R.N. Myla has worked as a childbirth educator, birthing assistant and environmental advocate. She teaches mindful parenting workshops in the U.S. and in Europe.
Copyright © 1997, 2014 by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn.