What I Learned in 8 Weeks of Sitting Still

compassion and mindfulness to reduce stressTap, tap, tap…is this thing on?

It’s been an awfully long time since my last Vegimental. Turns out my visions of me tapping away at the computer while the baby sleeps in his bassinet was a complete and utter fantasy. In reality, baby Teddy hasn’t been interested in doing much sleeping at all unless someone—namely, me—is holding him. It’s been eight weeks of me doing a whole lot of sitting still.

At first I got really cranky about not being able to roll out my mat at least once a day and lose myself in a few choice yoga poses, or take advantage of this time when I don’t have any deadlines to work on some pet projects. But over the weeks, I realized that all my staying in one place was having a pretty amazing effect—it has helped me reconnect with the ability to be gentle, something I’d gotten away from in the last several months when I’d been focused on getting ready for the baby’s arrival.

What does being gentle mean, exactly? Instead of getting impatient that I’m not able to sit down and focus solely on writing a Vegimental, I can pick up a book (with the arm that’s not holding the baby) and actually enjoy reading in the middle of a weekday. Rather than gritting my teeth when Teddy starts stirring after sleeping for only 15 minutes, I can concentrate on savoring the sensation of having his little body curled up on my lap. Instead of snapping at my husband when he’s grumpy after a rough night’s sleep, I can find the humor in the abnormal behavior this intense period sometimes pushes us to. I’m not always successful. I’m certainly not always blissfully content. But I’m a lot more level-headed than I was after our first baby was born, when I was a hormonal stress monster, always ready to break in to a sweat at the slightest little peep from the baby. To me, the process feels like softening—replacing rigid, knee-jerk reactions with more thoughtful, kinder responses.

Not just for toilet paper
Except for the paper we use to wipe our tushies, softness isn’t something that’s highly valued in our society. “He’s gone soft,” is a put-down. “My brain has turned to mush,” implies that we’re incapacitated in some way. But I have found that softness is something to welcome. When I can manage to react with softness to other people, my interactions are a lot more peaceful and insightful.

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun who writes about mindfulness in plain and entertaining language, describes how to allow your edges to soften—which she refers to as removing your armor—in her book, The Wisdom of No Escape:

“Removing our armor [means] removing our protections, undoing all that stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness. Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are. I may have a zipper that goes right down the front and has padlocks all the way down. But you have sewn a seam up under your left arm with iron thread. The next person you meet has these big boots that come all the way up and cover their whole body and head. The basic instruction is simple: Start taking off that armor. That’s all anyone can tell you. No one can tell you how to do it because you’re the only one who knows how you locked yourself in there to begin with.”

So, how do you remind yourself to take off a tiny piece of your armor when something or someone causes your habitual defenses to go up? (Aside from spending several hours a day holding a sleeping baby, that is?) Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Take a deep breath. Just that tiny little pause helps me not react out of defensiveness and creates a little space for grace. When I remember to do so (and remembering is the hardest part) my reaction takes care of itself. I don’t need to think up the perfect thing to say or do—it just flies out of my mouth.
  • Touch your heart, which gives you a quick reminder to react out of compassion and intuition instead of your intellect and defensiveness.
  • Repeat a favorite word or phrase (otherwise known as a mantra), which could be anything from “om” to “heaven help me”).

Share Your Tips
How have you remembered to act with gentleness in the heat of the moment? What techniques do you use to take off tiny pieces of your armor? Leave a comment and if I publish your idea in the next Vegimental (whenever it might be – although I hope it won’t be another eight weeks), I’ll send you a copy of Pema’s audio CD Don’t Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and other Destructive Emotions.

Take care and keep breathing,
Kate

12 thoughts on “What I Learned in 8 Weeks of Sitting Still

  1. I love your story about Teddy! When my son was born, over 17 years ago now, it was one of the most creative times of my life simply because I *was* sitting still and letting life come to me through a small baby’s day … now, when he’s a big blustery 17 year old man-to-be I take a deep breath, remember that little baby’s day, and can respond with LOVE and support for my darling child!

    Best to you, Kate, and very nice to see you back here!
    Anne

  2. For me, my armor comes down and gentleness flow naturally towards others when I have been treating myself with gentleness. So I work to notice the shoulds or the judgment that sometimes murmurs under the surface in my head, and replace it with acceptance and compassion. When I am in the habit of doing this for myself, I find that gentleness, perspective and a light touch is my automatic response in the heat of any moment with others.

  3. When ever I feel angry or anxious about the daily and sometimes not so daily happenings in my life–I sit down in my favorite chair with my cat on my lap–I sit in silence(except for the purring of my cat), and do a breathing meditation–starting from my toes to the top of my head, until I am feeling centered and calm–one of my favorite mantras is “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

  4. Watching it float away

    If in a heated moment of frustration, anger or impatience, I do a visualization. I step outside myself and assist the angry self (or whatever other peace shattering emotion) into a small boat and have that part of myself go down a river. I watch at the banks until I can no longer see it. Sometimes, I don’t even need to go as far as getting in the boat. Just seeing myself behaving unskillfully will put me in line with some centeredness again.

  5. I always wear a silver bracelet on my left wrist that says “Peace comes from within”. When I am in a heated moment I only need to touch it to remember to take a pause and know that I am able to bring peace back to the situation – that through peaceful thoughts and a little empathy I can help diffuse the tension surrounding me and within myself.

  6. In February, I started a new job where for a few months needed to deal with a rather long and stressful commute. I was having an extreme case of anxiety one morning due to traffic, feeling extremely resentful that I took this job in the first place for several reasons. I stopped at a drive in for coffee, needless to say, feeling “why me” feelings. I glanced across the way to a small cemetary. There was a funeral going on with people wrapped around each other on the cold windy morning. Seeing their pain and comfort of one another at the same time. i quite often think of that morning and it reminds me to just be simply present and be with life. From that day, I looked at that commute a little bit differently. If you are sitting in that traffic due to a accident. That is someone’s loved one or child in that accident. Feel compassion. Just breathe through it.

  7. I had layers of armor built up against the world that I started working to dismantle four years ago. The best way I’ve found to do that and to prevent myself from building new armor is to journal. Every day. It’s my form of prayer/meditation and is truly just miraculous in its effects on my physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Anytime I find myself dropping into anxiety or depression I can almost guarantee that I haven’t wrote for a few days.

    Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, but if I make myself sit for just five minutes and write, I almost always find a hidden issue that’s been bothering me and I work through it finishing lighter and most certainly more gentle and free.

  8. When my husband and I were first married, I couldn’t believe how much the man ate. It was such a sinking feeling to finish the dinner I had worked so hard to prepare and see his eyes start darting around the room, searching for something, anything! else he could eat. After responding with annoyance (disguising hurt) a few too many times, I set out to change.

    Other than adjusting my expectation of portion size, one day when he seemed still searching after a meal, I didn’t just offer to make him a sandwich. I told him, “I would love to make you a sandwich.” Astonished, he repeated, “you would love to?” and took me up on it. What a difference. Coming from a nonjudgememtal place of love and gentleness to my loved one was a priceless feeling. Good encouragement to try it again next time!

  9. When my defenses go up, first I had to train myself to be aware of the symptoms – quickened breath, increased heartrate, irritability – those were my warning signs. Once I became aware, then my solution was to think defensive? and go for its opposite – defenseless. To consciously leave myself open – to open my hands (even when they weren’t quite into fists – consciously open my hands fully), open my mind (take a deep breath and listen not just hear) and open my heart (in my mind’s eye see my green heart chakra opening like an emerald blossom). Even though it meant that I felt like I was vulnerable at first, experience has taught me over and over that I only FEEL that way. Actually, placing myself in a vulnerable, open, defenseless mode has allowed me to be prepared to be hurt, therefore the hurt does not come. I am available and honoring myself and my values, so really nothing anyone can say to my defenseless self can hurt me. I am calm and in control of my reactions and my actions. It’s worked for me when I can remain aware and not reactive to my ‘fight or flight’ response.

    Hope someone finds this helpful.

  10. Og Mandino once wrote that we should treat everyone we meet as if they were going to die that day. I’d add that we should treat everyone as if we were going to die that day. How can we spread as much kindness and humor as possible during our brief time here? That should be the question with which we all fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.

  11. I loved this post – it’s something people rarely talk about in a positive way.
    I take a deep breath and let it out with an ‘ah’ sound – the sound is enough of a jolt to remind me of the part of me I want to access.

  12. Is anyone else ASTOUNDED with the igconarne of questions about marriage and infidelity?Folks no it is NOT ok to cheat. Stop LOOKING for signs that the marriage won’t work.Is there anyone out there that TRIES TO MAINTAIN A GOOD MARRIAGE? Do you think it is a one-way street? Marriage is HARD! Especially when you keep doubting yourself! Grow up, people!!! Deal with it, and be happy!asaaiki are you QUITE serious? Thank you for strengthening my point about igconarne. GOOD GOD.jackass what gives you the impression that I have problems in my marriage? Are you that dumb? I am outraged by the lack of effort people bring to marriage, you jerkoff. You have also strengthened my position on igconarne in this hopeless arena of morons.

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