Friday, 20 April 2012
Interview # 4....with Sarah Napthali, author of Buddhism for Mothers.
I landed in 'Motherhood' four years ago, almost to the day. I say landed as though those nine months I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was having a baby.... and in some ways I was. For nine months the focus was on pregnancy, the 'romantic' notion of motherhood and....da da da dahhh, the birth.
I knew there would be a baby but there was little talk of what it would 'really' be like, how bombed I'd feel from lack of sleep, where we would find our support once our baby was born, the second guessing or the incredibly overwhelming realisation that we were responsible for this mind blowingly beautiful little lad 24/7.
From the very beginning it has been one amazing ride. One that has brought more love and the most incredibly tender, melt-your-heart moments. One where I've been called to step up constantly because gauranteed straight after one of those melt-your-heart moments.... the shi@ could invariably (and quite literally) hit the fan. Just when I thought I'd 'got it', came the consistent changes and challenges, met with self doubt and motherly guilt (why did it look so darn easy for everyone else?)...... There was no guide book, G.P., paediatrician or maternal health nurse who could ease my anxieties over motherhood or Z's inconsolable colic. My mum had passed away the year prior leaving a huge deficit and a bout of challenges, all it's own. I itched for a maternal figure to say "You're doing a great job. It's all ok."..... actually, people were probably saying that....I just itched for my mum to say "You're doing a great job. It's all ok."
Fortunately I came across a book by Sarah Napthali, 'Buddhism for Mothers'. Her writing was like sitting down with the most honest, dearest friend. It's a book that I'll cherish forever. Sarah's practical, humorous portrayal of motherhood was like being thrown a life line. I devoured her book. As a mother of two rambunctious boys Sarah made it 'ok'...the self doubt, the questioning, the sheer frustration and moments of escalating joy. My dog eared and well worn copy has been a source of solace and I often return to the book, open at a page and read. It's always the perfect place. It reminds me to slow down and enjoy the ride. Sarah's wisdom and humor offer me relief and a chance not to take motherhood so seriously. To let go, laugh, play and be here, now. As a humble show of gratitude, I asked to interview Sarah.
Thank you Sarah for your time here at SJ. Without sounding like a complete groupie.... actually what am I talking about, I am a complete groupie... I'd like to thank you for your words and for what you offered me as a new mother. Your books are an incredible resource, regardless of a persons faith. They're written from a totally honest heart. That's a priceless gift to offer new mothers.
Here today though I thought we could focus on some of the more general day-to-day issues of living a more mindful life. Life is so fast for most of us, there is constant stimulus via media, technology, work, as well as our social and family lives. It's hard to take stock of things, give ourselves the space and rehone on what matters. I came across a passage in Buddhism for Mothers with Lingering Questions which has stuck with me. It could apply to anyone, anywhere and highlights this issue so beautifully. I also thought it would be a lovely way to start our interview.
'What matters, however - according to a bevy of Buddhists, psychologists, philosophers, academics and wise laypeople - is that we make time for reflection, to ensure that the way we live our days aligns with how we ultimately want our lives to unfold.'
Looking back now, with your life experience and Buddhist practice, what's the best advice you could give your younger self?
In my youth I actually believed all the thoughts that appeared in my head. If a desire for a particular object or experience arose, I actually believed that I needed it. If I felt down, I actually believed that my problems were overwhelming. If I felt angry, I actually believed that I was 100% right and only my perspective mattered. With age and Buddhist practice I have learnt to take my thoughts with a large grain of salt. They are only fleeting, impermanent mind events and do not represent any great truths. Believing all of your thoughts, you become a slave to them and they push you around. Rigid and inflexible, you overlooked all your choices in the present moment, as a result. Some of these choices.... might be to change your perspective or reframe a problem, to forgive someone or to simply 'let go'.
What would you encourage yourself to do more of in life?
Although I practice trying to be in the present moment as much as possible, I could still so this so much more than I do. Like almost everyone, I find it difficult to stay in the present for long and it is easy to forget to be mindful of the present for long stretches of time. Meditation is the ideal time to practice being in the present and I would love to find more time for this than I currently manage.
I've recently developed an interest in neuroscience (at an elementary level!) and have been thrilled to discover that the Buddha's advice chimes with the advice that neuroscientists are giving those who want to improve the potential of the brain. For instance, the prefrontal cortex, the front part of our brain behind the forehead is responsible for conscious thinking such as planning, reasoning and monitoring our behavior. yet this highly important structure is only 4 or 5% of the brain's total weight. It's capacity is extremely limited and it tires quickly. One way to conserve its capacity is to spare it from all the wasteful distractions we put it through, which include not only the technological interruptions to our day but also worrying and constant planning.
Tuning into sounds, bodily sensations or the visual details in our surroundings gives the prefrontal cortex time to rest so that when it is needed again it is capable of better decisions, more flexible responses and operates from a clearer understanding of what is going on.
Talking about being in the 'present moment' is all well and good however it can often be a tricky habit to establish for a novice, such as myself. What simple tool would you recommend to help with this practice?
One of my favorite aspects of Buddhist practice is mindfulness of the body. We are capable of living a life miles away from our body. Yet the body is always in the present. To be aware of how your body is feeling, to tune into all the different sensations, is to coax your mind back into the present, away from worries about the past and compulsive over-planning of the future. Mindful of the body, we can consciously release any tension, tightness or contraction and live in a calmer state. I constantly scan my body throughout the day for tension I can release. I also try to tune into the present sensations: a breeze on my cheek, the feel of warm clothes or a full stomach.
Lastly, I was hoping you could shed some light on joy's elusive nature in our day to day lives. Why is it that we so often overlook joy and how could we best actively invite more joy into the day?
I have a friend who has a post-it note stuck to her bathroom mirror saying "dare to be joyful". It looked quite odd there but she claimed it helped her to remember the possibility of joy, the choice, offered in so many of the moments in her day.
In a similar vein, I have a 'mantra' that I stole from a Buddhist nun, the late Joko Beck: "Joy is whatever is happening minus your opinion of it". I have repeated this over to myself many hundreds of times over the years to remind myself that whenever I can short-cuircut the stream of judgements about 'whatever is happening' I multiply my chances of feeling joyful in the present moment.
Our habitual thought patterns are constantly making judgements: "Is this good for me?" "Does this stimulate me?" "How could this be better for me?" "Is this fair for me?". Buddhist practice is about 'letting go' of those thoughts and judgements, cultivating a non-judgemental mind and being open to the moment. This paves the way for joy to spontaneously arise.
My humble & heart felt gratitude to you Sarah. Now that's Z's four I've started reading Buddhism for Mothers with Lingering questions and am finding the same, practical beauty and wit in your writing. I love it. Thank you. x
Sarah Napthali links:
: SMH article 'Will children who play shoot-'em-up games commit violent acts?'
#1 Clare Bowditch
#2 Susannah Conway
#3 Paula Constant