Kids sitting at a table, breakfast flying, too many people running around a kitchen that’s too small no matter how big it is... Suddenly milk spills, a glass breaks, cereal crunches (or squashes) underfoot and then - and then the yelling. It might not be much, maybe only be a single shout of frustration, but suddenly your kids scatter, your husband/wife ducks for cover and you stand there seething and maybe sometime, later in the day, you wonder to yourself, “what was that all about? It was just milk.” And you feel bad and later you go home and hug and kiss your kids and they go to bed placing one more tick in the “Dad/Mom has multiple personality disorder” box on the scorecard of life. Your spouse, on the other hand, just tucks it away for a moment later in time when he/she needs to zing you with something (but that’s another blog post).
What if it didn’t have to happen like that? Certainly your kids would be happy and would probably have fewer stories to tell your future grandchildren about how nuts you were, but you might actually be a little happier too. And surely that’s worth something. Right? But how do you do that? You stop.
Well, actually you S.T.O.P.
Cute right? Clearly it’s acronym and it stands for:
Take a breath
It’s a technique that touches on all the core elements of mindfulness and here’s how it works. In that moment, when you feel the urge to just lose it (or maybe you’ve already lost it) stop, take a mindful breath, observe what’s going on inside you and then, with that new awareness in mind, proceed with what you now want to do.
I have a feeling I need to explain this a little more.
Stop: Now the best time to do this is clearly when you are the most overwhelmed. Unfortunately that’s also the hardest time to do it. Your blood pressure is up, your skull is ready to pop open - I mean, really - you’re going to stop and breath then? Not likely, not unless you’ve had some practice with it already and that means practice on the small stuff of life. Burnt toast - stop. Jerk cuts you off in traffic - stop. Telemarketer clearly ignores the do not call registry – stop and then…
Take a breath: And when you do, try to be aware of that breath. Try to notice how it feels. You know what, go ahead - do it right now. Take a breath and try to be aware of the feeling of this one breath, right now. If it feels weird, that’s ok - try it again. Try to notice the air going in your nose or mouth, or your chest rising or your belly expanding and then try to notice how it feels as you exhale. Maybe try to be aware of one place in your body where you feel that breath and as you do…
Observe: While you’re breathing try to observe what you’re feeling inside. Maybe there’s some tension in your stomach, maybe you’re anxious, maybe you’re sad, maybe you just haven’t had your coffee yet and your brain isn’t functioning all that well. Try to notice, try to observe those thoughts or feelings going on in this moment, right now. “I feel anxious, I feel sad, I feel worried…” And try to notice if there are any thoughts or feelings about those feelings and thoughts. “I feel anxious - that’s not good!” “I’m sad - because I’m no good…” “I feel worried - something terrible is going to happen…” See, what might be happening is the observation “I feel anxious” is being tagged with a judgment “that’s not good!” Our goal with this step is to try to observe without judgment and maybe with a little kindness toward yourself - so “I feel anxious… I feel worried… I feel happy…and maybe that’s OK right now…” and just be with the experience of this breath, this feeling in this moment, right now and then…
Proceed: Then move on with the expanded awareness of what you’re feeling. Maybe that urge to scream isn’t really about the spilled milk and so instead of yelling, maybe you grab a paper towel and kindly ask your kid to clean up. And while their response to that request may give you the opportunity to practice STOP all over again, you may get an entirely unexpected response, if not from your kids, then maybe from yourself. And then, you go on with your breakfast and kissing your kids goodbye as they head off to school and you head off to wherever it is you’re going until you find the need to STOP again.