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Mindful Media: Book Reviews, DVDs, and CDsIf I’ve done it right, this post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

We read a lot of books about living mindfully in my family and I love hearing from others when they come across a book that they or their kids liked. We also use other media like movies, music, and spoken word to talk about and practice mindfulness. In this continuing series, I’ll be writing posts about the mindful media that my kids and I recommend. Feel free to share any you’ve come across in the comments and if it looks like it might be a nice complement to the one I’m reviewing, I’ll be happy to review it or add a link to it in my post.
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The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

 by the Dalai Lama

(this review is a little different as it’s more stream of consciousness observations that I made while paused during various sections of the book and I don’t have time to proof.  I hope it makes sense.)

In this book, the Dalai Lama explains the lifelong dialog between science and spirituality in which he has been engaged.  The book urges combining wisdom and compassion in all research and exploration.  Much  repeated introspection and discussion with others, as well as a continual questioning of all of the ideas and methodologies we hold as true are, at the same time very Buddhist and scientific.

 

The title real does the book justice as it manages to touch on a broad range of subjects including genetic research, cosmology, quantum physics, evolution, the nature of consciousness and reality.  The topics can be dizzying, and he freely admits to not grasping portions of them.  He says that his lack of mathematical training holds him back from going as deeply into the subjects that he’s obviously so passionately interested.

 

I found it fascinating to hear about his interest in mechanics and science as a boy, in the palace in Tibet before the exile. I enjoyed reading about his lifelong spiritual and scientific education, dialogues with scientist, and how he recommended that scientific courses be included into the Buddhist monastic education, which it was after a few years.

 

He talks about the discussions and correspondence with the many elite scientist he has had during his life, many of them life-long friends, and I can imagine many of those scientists leaving with just as much to think about as he did.

 

Every time that I read something by him, I’m amazed at the willingness to not know, to be wrong, and to keep learning.  This book is no exception.  There’s no dogma or agenda undermining differing points of view.

 

I look at my own small glimmers of understanding compassion and I can see the edges of what it must be like to exist in a sea of compassion.  This book gave me a grasp of the freedom there is in not having fear of being mistaken and to be able to never tire of reexamining belief structures and judgments.  The real connection of true listening without ego in the way, is what I heard in his words.

 

The main crux of the book deals with the difference between knowledge without restraint, which is an unbalanced materialist view of science, and knowledge tempered with compassion and ethical search, creates a space for compassionate wisdom.  It wasn’t mentioned in the book, but I think of the Nazi scientist that generated information by conducting horrific experiments before and during World War II.  The research was useful to later scientists, but it was agreed not to use it, but to find ethical ways to look for the information.  This is science with wisdom.

 

I like how he explained the rigour of the scientific method for inquiry about the world around us and the principle similarities with deep meditative introspection.  He talks about the biases and errors that both methods can fall into, as well as how vital both are for each other for balance.

 

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the final section where he begins with his concern about genetic manipulation that is now available to us, and the need for scientists to balance themselves with deep introspective study on the ethics.  Given the human race’s horrific history with eugenics and the current abuse of the food supply through genetic modification, I agree that this balance is going to be vital now and in the future.

 

Overall, whether you’re experienced or new to Buddhism or to scientific inquiry, this book will leave you thinking.  I found it readily applicable to my issue of SciAm that arrived the afternoon after I finished reading this book, as well as to my own studies in mindfulness-based education.

 

I ended up reading the text as well as listening to the audiobook version.  While both are easy to read and listen to, I felt as though getting the words in two different ways, stimulated different parts of my brain and allowed me to think about the book more deeply.  The audiobook version was read by Richard Gere, who is a long-time practicing Buddhist and has met the Dalai Lama on several occasions.  He is interviewed at the end of the book about what he thinks of the Dalai Lama and what he thought about the book. So, if you have a choice, I’d recommend going for the audio version.

 

Related Posts You May Like:

Have you read any good books lately? I’d love to hear from you.

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Disclosure: If I did this right, there are affiliate links in this post. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

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Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

I haven’t slept in 4 days. Or maybe it’s 5 days.  I can’t remember anymore and it’s unimportant.  The point is that I’m bone tired and I’ve fallen into the patterns that I learned as a child.

 

The patterns I’m in do not foster connection with my family. They are authoritarian rather than authoritative parenting.  Authoritarian parenting is like a fallback position when I’m backed into a corner. All my willingness to work together toward a common goal is gone and I’m baring my teeth while I grab what I can.

 

I want obedience to my will rather than compromising to get things done.  My snarling animal brain wants quiet over connection, acquiescence over acceptance. And my kids are looking at me as if their mom has been replaced by some strange animal.  They’re not sure whether I’ll bite if they reach out to pet me.

 

I want everything to stop or leave me be or go away.  I want the pause button now, please.

I just want everyone to stop needing me for an hour so I can find the off buttons on this alarm system.

 

It’s ironic, really, because treating them like this doesn’t make things easier for me, but my exhaustion-fogged brain hasn’t got the capability to listen to reason. The blinking red lights are on and the alarms are blaring too loudly to notice anything else.

 

I’m mean mom inside-way meaner than I appear to the kids, because I’ve gotten good at biting my tongue before I yell.  But, I’m commanding instead of explaining. I’m barking orders instead of gently leading. And I’m sticking to my guns, even when it doesn’t matter because this tiredness makes my brain rigid.

 

This is the reason I wrote the post on being mindful while sleep deprived this morning.

 

I’ve been struggling all day. I put on one of those yellow Livestrong bracelets as a reminder to break my negative thinking chain and it helped to have that visual trigger.

 

As the afternoon went by, I noticed that I wasn’t able to break my train of negative thinking before it happened. But, I was able to stop mid-sentence or mid-thought a majority of the time.  I’d start off with “Get down from there this instant!” and end up with “Get down from…!” and take a breath.  I could then walk over and gently move the child off the counter (today was a counter-climbing day, unfortunately) while saying, “It’s not safe to climb on the kitchen counter.  I’ll help you down now.”

 

I wasn’t able to be spark my brain into suggesting a safer alternative climbing activity that would have saved me from having to repeat this ad infinitum today, but I was able to repeat this process with equanimity and I’m pleased with that.

 

The other thing I had no success with was breaking out of thinking about everything negatively and seeing everything and everyone as intruding on me.  I think I was mildly shocked anytime something happened or someone said anything to me, and this alarm translated into a feeling of being on alert.

 

I also didn’t have success in changing my mood by putting on music, getting outside, exercising or getting a major household task completed today.  Even though I did all of those things, they had little to no impact on how I felt.  I’m sure when I’ve caught up on sleep, I will feel better looking back on them.

 

Overall, I’m pleased that I didn’t yell or shame anyone today, except myself. But, I’m remembering to be gentle with myself about that, too.  So maybe I’m not entirely mean to myself right now.

 

 

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Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

Sleep Deprivation Photo 1You were up late because of the baby, sick kids, a holiday party or a deadline. And today you stumble, bleary-eyed into the morning routine, snapping at your partner, blaming your kids for making you late and raging at the bad drivers on the road.  Even your morning coffee and the sugary carbs you deserved for breakfast because you’re so tired, can’t wake you up enough to stop the negative emotions that will make you and everyone else want to be very far away from you today.

 

But, as you see the puffy-eyes stare back at you from your review mirror, you sigh and think, how many nights in a row has it been since I’ve had a decent night sleep? You can’t remember through the brain fog, but you can remember the anger and the sadness you’ve been feeling at the end of every day when you think about how you treated yourself and the other people around you.

 

You keep cutting yourself some slack because you’ll be able to apologize and be kinder to your family and friends tomorrow. After you’ve had a good night’s sleep.  But, that decent sleep never seems to happen and you’re left feeling as if the rage and the despair are the ones driving you in the car.

 

Breaking the cycle of sleep-deprivation induced anger and sadness isn’t easy. According to Psychology Today, multiple studies have shown that “when people are sleep deprived, they feel more irritableangry and hostile. Sleep loss is also associated with feeling more depressed.”

 

From the same Psychology Today article, we learn that “in addition, sleep deprivation seems to be associated with greater emotional reactivity –people who suffer from sleep loss are especially likely to react negatively when something doesn’t go well for them.” So we are more likely to lash out than to respond with more equanimity. Our negative reactions to stimuli are more likely to be larger than they would on a well-rested day.

We need reminders to be gentle with ourselves when we snap at someone or yell at the kids because our higher brain functions are moving more slowly than our reptilian brain. Apologizing and starting over, however many times we need to, helps. Restating what we would like, more slowly, so that we an absorb the words ourselves along with the person we are speaking with helps. This is mindfulness to slow way down and do less today.

Studies have also shown that when good things do happen to us, when we are sleep deprived we underreact to them.  So, the hoped for buoyed-up feeling we hoped for from a reward or achievement does little to break us out of our cycle of anger and depression.

Sleep Deprivation Photo 2

There’s no doubt that sleep deprivation is brutal. It takes its toll on interpersonal relationships and on our relationship with ourselves. So, how to break the cycle of anger and sadness when we just can’t get ourselves what will really fix us up: namely when we cannot get ourselves some healing sleep?

 

When we can’t follow the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps, catch a nap or cut out the extraneous and get to bed yet, we can still find ways to be mindful.  Mindfulness is the key to stopping the anger and despair.

 

Bear in mind that your brain is going to be slow to catch on to this mindfulness.  So, you need to be able to stop yourself at any point that you notice an unkind thought or word. Chances are, you won’t be able to stop a negative thought before it happens when you’re sleep deprived.  Just as we know that driving while sleep deprived is dangerous because we respond as slowly as if we were drunk, the brain we are operating is going to chug along in its irritated rut.

 

Sometimes we will be able to notice and stop mid-sentence when we are thinking or speaking it.  Most of the time, however, we won’t notice until after it is out.  This is the time to very explicitly remind ourselves that the brain is driving while under the influence of sleep-deprivation and to pull over.  We can take a breath and notice the irritation, rage, and sadness, make a conscious decision to not use those emotions right now and change to a new sentence that offers more gentleness.

 

And, yes, we may have to do this as a back to back practice simply to get through one conversation or finishing one task.  This is where mindfulness comes in as a practice.  It’s okay to mess up, especially when you’re tired.  The idea of cutting yourself some slack is a good one. Being upset with yourself for acting on anger and depression won’t help, but reminding yourself of that, even when you don’t believe it to be true, really does help.

 

Mini-mindfulness meditations help, too. Anytime the feeling of being overwhelmed by emotions arises, you can take a breath or repeat a sentence to yourself that will stop the thoughts and bring your brain back to the present moment.  It’s important to remember that you will probably not remember to this, unless you have a meditation habit. So, placing a trigger on your body can help.

 

Positive triggers for mindfulness can be something like tying a bright string on your finger, wearing your watch on the wrong wrist or having frequent popup alerts on your phone. These work well for mindfulness because they override the habit patterns that our brain relies on to simplify our actions when its taxed by sleep deprivation.  These are the habits that allow us to drive home, but realize we have no memory of actually doing it.

 

Think of your own positive triggers, preferably when you have some sleep and can think creatively.  Positive triggers can be anything that is just slightly uncomfortable or marginally outside of your normal routine that you break out of the sleep-induced mood, but they’re not so far out that they cause more irritation and anger.

 

It’s also an excellent idea to let everyone around you know that you’re struggling.  Everyone has experienced sleep-deprivation and understands the difficulties. They will often pick up some slack for you until you feel better.  Going without sleep is a good time to rely on other people’s minds.

 

Above all, to thine own gentleness be true.  Be soft with yourself.  It’s okay to mess up when you’re running on empty.  You know you’ll be back to normal soon and until then, put the self-judgments away because they’re only going to use the gavel as a weapon.

 

Photo 1 Credit: Flikr Krisztina Tordai

Photo 2 Credit: Flikr Krisztina Tordai

Citations:

Psychology Today: Up All Night: The Effects of Sleep Loss on Mood

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Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

Be A Light Buddha PhotoOne of the translations of the word, Namaste, is “the light within me sees the light within you.” In other words, recognizing the inner strength in myself and seeing the same in others helps us recognize that there is no right and wrong, male and female, old and young, mean and kind, just people that share experience without separation.  If we can see everything around us with a supportive eye, both toward ourselves and toward others, we can begin to recognize the humanness, warts and beauty included, that we share.

 

Learning about ourselves is the first step in extending outward to others. And lest you think this is about moral relativism, let me say that this seeing everyone as the same as myself gives tremendous benefits to anyone on this quest.  It costs nothing to give gentleness, but everything to look at others as though they are wrong or different from me.

 

Just as we cannot control anyone else besides ourselves, self knowledge has absolutely nothing to do with anyone except ourselves.

 

If we are unhappy with a current situation or frustrated with how someone is behaving, the only way to resolve these issues is to look within ourselves.  Armed with self-knowledge, we will find disagreements and formerly hopeless situations far easier to bear. Our satisfaction with our lives will increase.

 

Through self reflection we can ask, “What do I need to know about myself at this point in my life?”  We can then practice cultivating the space for inner wisdom to surface. These self-reflective meditations help us to build trust in our inner knowing, making us less reactive to outside stressors and other people’s responses to us.

 

We can honestly Namaste, seeing the light within us and acknowledging the light within everyone around us.

 

To practice this inner light meditation:

 

First, find a comfortable cross-legged seat. Sitting upright on the floor is preferable, leaning against the wall if the back complains, to keep the mind alert and calm.  Resting the palms of the hands on top of closed eyes for three breaths.

 

Then keeping the eyes closed, place the hands palms up on the lap. Bring awareness to the space between the eyebrows.  You can picture the space between the eyebrows in your mind.  If it is difficult to hold the attention there, a trick I learned is to lick the thumb and press it to the space you are concentrating on. The evaporating liquid helps to keep awareness in the space between the eyebrows.

 

Once you feel your focus, check in with the breath. Without straining, see if you can make the inhale and exhale even. After a few even breaths, make the exhales one count longer than the inhales.

 

Expand the awareness from the breath to the entire body and begin to think of it as a hollow vase, waiting to be filled.  See a brilliant, liquid white light pouring into the center of your body, spilling into the feet then legs, then trunk to the hands and arms, then finally the neck and head.

 

Hold the image of your entire body shining with this white light for several breaths.

 

Slowly allow awareness to return to the breath, making the inhale and exhale even.  Return awareness to the space between the eyebrows for several more breaths.  Then slowly open the eyes when you feel ready.

 

Post meditation: moving slowly, trying to carry the benefits of meditation with you, think about how you identify with yourself.  If you can remember that you are filled with light, perhaps you can let go of what you self-identify.  Knowing it is safe to release the stories we make up about who we are, in favor of this lightness of being helps us move back into the complexities of life with a greater ease and connection to those around us.

 

Image credit: AlicePopkorn on Flikr
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Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

Mindfulness: There's An App For That on TouchstoneZIf I’ve done it right, this post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

Much has been written about the disconnect created by our constant ability to receive information. More than ever, carving out a space for ourselves to experience full presence while living with ready access to distraction is important for our well-being.

Technology can also be a tool to help with mindfulness. For example, we can learn about mindfulness practices, set alarms to remind us to practice, and record our experiences.

My goal with this series is to share mobile apps that I have found especially useful in cultivating mindfulness practices. I believe that harnessing the power of our handheld distraction devices has the potential to integrate mindfulness into our already overfull lives. Or, as a friend aptly noted, bring balance to the force.

 Today’s app is, called:

Mindfulness for Pregnancy
by MindApps
Developer Website
iTunes Store

Version 1.2 demo: 1.2 on iPhone
Cost: $2.99 US, no ads

Mindfulness for Pregnancy is a an app that can make mindfulness practices while expecting more accessible.  If the reminders to meditate and take a moment for mindfulness are right there on your phone, it’s much more likely that they will happen.Mindfulness for Pregnancy App Welcome Menu Screen Shot

 

Or at least the intention to be mindful can happen, and that has some value as well.

 

This is another one of those apps that I wish had been around when I was pregnant. I downloaded mp3s of pregnancy meditations and loaded them onto my phone, but without the reminders to practice, I would forget, especially during the morning sickness at the beginning and brain fog of the last trimester.

 

It would have been nice to set an alert during the times I knew I felt most sick so that an alert would pop up on my phone to remind me to breathe through it and remember that all would be well. Towards the end of my pregnancies, when I was feeling anxiety about birth, it would have been good to have a personal mantra come up to center myself.

 

And, of course, the body scan meditation and mindful yoga practices are useful before, during, and after pregnancy and birth. This app has everything you could want for preset and personal mindfulness alerts that can scheduled for the most useful times of day and night, along with reminders to breathe and to meditate.

 

Mindfulness for Pregnancy App Guided Practicies Menu Screen ShotThe app offers a brief introduction to mindfulness and meditation, specifically for pregnant people. There are plenty of included guided meditations (and the option to purchase more, although, it’s not necessary) and the option for silent meditation or meditation with soft chimes.

 

I found the “Being with Baby” to be wonderful for times when the stress of pregnancy and all of the preparations distract from the special time of just being present with your baby during this all too brief time before birth.

 

Lovingkindness meditation is very useful, if you’re having trouble seeing eye to eye with a care provider or if feeling unsupported by someone in your life.  Sending them, and yourself, a little of this allows you to let go of how you wish things would be and move on to how things are.  If you can’t guess, that is a key practice during labor and birth, as well.

 

The walking meditation is a nice addition, as most meditations for pregnancy seem to be seated or reclined. And there are definitely times when moving the body can help cope with all the changes when mindfulness can bring aches and pains to the forefront of awareness. Of course, the seated meditations can always be adapted for reclining or side-lying meditation. It’s more important to keep up the practice, especially if being upright will be a reason to skip.

 

The statistics page is a nice addition.  I remember not being able to remember when and how long I meditated while experiencing pregnancy brain (or regular brain, for that matter.) And it’s nice to see how much you’ve done when motivation is low.

 

There are also versions of this app for non-pregnant people, for kids, and for teens (I’ll be reviewing those soon, too.) They share the same framework, so if you’re interested and not a pregnant person, I suggest that you check them out.

I recommended using this app along with the Mindful Birthing book. Between those two, you’ll be a zen birther!

If you try this app, I’d enjoy hearing how you use it in the comments.

Consider adding this app between Candy Crush and Twitter to bring a little mindfulness into your device, won’t you?

Do you have a mindfulness app that you recommend or one that you would like me to review? Please let me know in the comments below. I would enjoy hearing from you.

Related articles

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Disclosure: If I’ve done it right, this post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

 

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Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

Mindful Media: Book Reviews, DVDs, and CDs
If I’ve done it right, this post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

We read a lot of books about living mindfully in my family and I love hearing from others when they come across a book that they or their kids liked. We also use other media like movies, music, and spoken word to talk about and practice mindfulness. In this continuing series, I’ll be writing posts about the mindful media that my kids and I recommend. Feel free to share any you’ve come across in the comments and if it looks like it might be a nice complement to the one I’m reviewing, I’ll be happy to review it or add a link to it in my post.
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Mindful Birthing: Training the Heart, Mind, and Body for Birth and Beyond by Nancy Bardacke

Mindful Birthing Cover

Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond

by Nancy Bardacke, CNM

 

I wish I had come across this book while I was pregnant, especially with my first.  It was published in 2012, toward the end of my last pregnancy and I missed seeing it until after my twins were born.

 

The book is easily applied for first-time birthers as well as those with at least one birth under their belt.  And while the focus is on vaginal birth, these practices can be used to help with caesarean and other interventions.  The practice of mindfulness becomes a tool for the birthing family to make decisions from a calm perspective, as well as to remain centered during intense times or when things do not go as planned.

 

Because nothing will go as planned, of course.  Birth, by definition, is a mindfulness practice because at some time, usually around transition, the mother can do nothing but be fully present in the moment.  If she already has familiarity with the feeling, she will be much better off when the choice of being in the now is facing her fully in the face.

 

I like that both the pregnant mother and partner are included in the book.  The practices are primarily for the mother and can be done by her alone.  But, the book addresses the benefits of working together as a team, which will be vital during birth and as parents.

 

I showed some sections to my own partner who commented that he would have participated in them if it would have supported me during birth. Of course, he went to “Birthing from Within” classes with me and is pretty open to trying anything at least once, if it has the potential to aid our family.

 

Looking at this book from the other side of my birthing days, I appreciated the viewpoint of finding calm in moments of feeling out of control because mindfulness is a useful tool to keep sharp after the birth, during recovery, and adjustment to having a newborn.  It’s a parenting asset to be able to breathe and center before responding to a crisis.  The entire family reaps the benefits of a calm parent.

 

The book is structured in such a way that you could read only the sections that you needed, which is nice if you don’t want to go through the introductory information or have already experienced birth.  I recommend reading the introduction by John Kabat-Zinn, a big name in the mindfulness world, and Chapter 1 before diving into specific chapters of choice.

 

It is an enjoyable read if you have the time to read the entire book. Much of it centers around the Mindfulness Childbirth Classes that the author teaches.  And the stories of the families, how they experienced the exercises and their responses are how the author bookends the information  and mindfulness practices.

 

There is information about birth interventions, plans, things that can go wrong, physical and emotional conditions, and life with a newborn, just as with any birthing book.  I wouldn’t recommend that this be the only book for a first-time mother, but grab some accompanying Ina May Gaskin and Pam England books and you’re pretty well set for pregnancy and birth.  Of course, if you’re ready for some mindful parenting reads while pregnant, check out John Kabat-Zinn and Thich Naht Hanh‘s books.

 

If you’re going to get the most out of this book, the meditation practices are necessary.  I wish that a cd or download were included with the book, but I haven’t seen them sold as a set.  The guided meditations are available on Mp3 download, CD and iTunes.  I highly recommend these for cementing your practice. They could be especially useful during labor if they’ve already been used in an established practice during pregnancy. Many of them can be used before and after pregnancy and birth, much like the book.  So, it’s not a pregnancy-only purchase, at least.

 

Overall, this book makes it into my top 10 list of the best mindful parenting books (which will be a forthcoming post.) It’s unusual for a pregnancy book and guided meditations to be useful post-pregnancy, and I’m not just talking about the immediate post-partum period.  And while it barely addresses multiples, I definitely could have seen myself using this book and mp3’s during my singleton and multiples pregnancies-something I had trouble melding during my own experiences of having to read entirely separate books for singleton and multiple pregnancies.

 

I recommend using the Mindfulness for Pregnancy app along with this book, too.  Please see my app review here.

Related Posts You May Like:

Have you read any good books lately? I’d love to hear from you.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Disclosure: If I did this right, there are affiliate links in this post. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

Breastfeeding Older Children in Public

Please be sure not to miss the first half in: Part 1 of Breastfeeding Older Children in Public.

 

Do you care about whether a mother and older child are breastfeeding?

Or do you care about whether a mother and older child are breastfeeding in public?

The first question is the important one as the financial and societal cost of not breastfeeding and the personal benefits to mother and child are arguably well-established. Yet, it’s the second question that seems to be on the minds of most people when they see a mother breastfeeding older children in public. The complex issues over control of women’s bodies clouds the issue immensely and leads to some of the worst shaming I’ve ever seen hurled at breastfeeding mothers.

Why should we care whether mothers feel comfortable sitting with their older child (or any age, really) and breastfeeding in public? Well, how about if I put it this way: Why should we care whether a segment of our population is excluded from public spaces? This segment isn’t limited to the specific women and children, it also includes their other children, partners, friends, and relatives of those mothers and children. All for someone’s discomfort with breastfeeding.

For the most part though, the questions that arises most often when people see public breastfeeding are politely asked, whether or not they come from a place of judgment or curiosity. Most often, I hear:

“Are they still breastfeeding?”

There are certainly places that I feel more comfortable breastfeeding, especially tandem nursing, than others. But, having been on twitter, and seeing that it doesn’t matter where, how or when a mother and baby breastfeed, has been extremely freeing. I’ve read tweets casting shade at breastfeeding in the car, in the mother’s rooms at stores, in daycares, church, and anywhere that people can be, for that matter.

I can recall the time when I was with my toddler and 4 year old, searching for a quiet, comfortable place to sit and nurse with minimal distraction for them. I had (gasp) worn a flattering, but decidedly not nursing-friendly, underwire bra and turtleneck sweater. (Aside: this was going to be a short, kid-free trip.) I finally found a shady table, outside a glassed-in, unoccupied banquet room of a restaurant with the bonus of a large shrubbery in front of us. I ordered a warm drink, walked over to our table, and got us settled, the kids were pleased to nurse and I was feeling completely comfortable, even with my chilly, exposed muffin top.

 

About half my cup later, I realized that while the three of us enjoyed our drink, the entire banquet room of recently seated business had been enjoying a presenter standing directly on the other side of the window behind us. I’m sure the entire meeting room had a view of the three of us breastfeeding the entire time.  I felt instantly embarassed.  Even though a moment before I noticed, we had been contentedly together, my perspective changed by the realization that we were being observed. But, I really have no idea about whether the people inside cared. I assumed that they judged me and my own insecurities were projected onto them-much like someone who is judging a nursing mother and child does to them.

 

But, if I had turned around to see the group pointing and tweet-shaming us, I probably wouldn’t have been embarrassed.  I probably would have felt offended that someone would be offended. This image mutual righteous indignation-those subjected to seeing the breastfeeding and those subjected to being seen-always makes me laugh at the ridiculousness of reactions.

 

Amusement at judgment reactions, is not to say that shaming breastfeeding mothers and children doesn’t do harm. An expectation of a hostile environment can cause breastfeeding women, children and those in their company to avoid public areas. It can also lower breastfeeding rates and has been cited as a reason for many mothers not to breastfeed at all.

 

That mothers feel that they have to know the law in order to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public spaces says it all.

Most of this shaming is for moms and babies. I can barely stand to think about the vitriol that’s thrown at mothers with nursing toddlers and kids. If the wonderfully infamous Time Magazine article with Jamie Lynn and Dionna, from “I Am Not The Babysitter” and “Code Name: Mama,” respectively, is any indication, we have a very long way to go (in both the press and the public) on acceptance of women and their use of their own bodies.

 

As the ever-amazing Blue Milk wrote on Feministe “Why Breastfeeding is a Feminist Issue“:

I swear, I really do write about other issues in motherhood, even though I seem to have made breastfeeding my core topic in guest posts at Feministe.. and this is maybe why it has been my topic du jour, because breastfeeding is more than a choice about how to feed your baby, it is a lens through which you can see with absolute clarity the intersection between misogyny and motherhood. There are a million other possible examples but this area of mothering is a stunning case of it. Because, let me be clear about this – women get harassed and shamed and illegally evicted from public space for breastfeeding; women get threatened with losing custody of their children for breastfeeding for ‘too long'; women get ridiculed and bullied for trying to pump milk at work; women get described as a freak show for breastfeeding twins or tandem feeding; women get called names like ‘stupid cow’ or ‘filthy slut’ for breastfeeding; women get told they are sexually abusing their children for breastfeeding; women get told they’re not allowed to keep breast milk in communal fridges because it’s a dirty bodily fluid (and cow’s milk isn’t?); women are bullied into stopping breastfeeding because breasts are the sexual property of their husbands; women get told that breastfeeding is obscene in front of other people’s children or other people’s husbands; women get told their bodies are too fat and too saggy and too veiny to be exposed while breastfeeding; women get told to stay at home with their babies until they are no longer breastfeeding; women get instructed to throw blankets over themselves and their babies if they wish to breastfeed outside the home.. and on it goes. This is not the result of some peculiar sensitivity towards babies and small children eating, this does not happen with bottle-feeding, this is specifically about breastfeeding and it is about policing women’s bodies and lives.

 

(But seriously, go check out her blog, Blue Milk. It’s intelligent and passionate feminism and motherhood. Somebody give her a book deal already!)

 

Birthing and nurturing my children has, ironically, turned my focus inward. I do so many outward actions, mentally and physically, to be the parent I want to be, that it has led me to be more compassionate and softer with myself when judgments arise. But, this inward focus has made me more passionate about human value and human rights. I have learned to listen deeply to my kids, my inner voice, and to what other people are saying about their experiences.

 

I look beyond the hang ups that people have indoctrinated about “tits” being out is offensive when they’re working breasts instead of pushed up for display to sell something. No matter how women use or don’t use their breasts, they are going to be criticized anyway. The responsibility needs to be on the subject creating the object, but that is going to take compassion for them to understand that listening to the mother and child won’t cause them to let go of their perceived power in judging.

 

With two nurslings, I’m more concerned with my muffin top showing in public than if there’s a momentary nip slip. If someone is standing close enough to actually see nipple, they’re either someone comfortable around breastfeeding or will become so very quickly. My issue with my muffin top is my issue and I’m working on self-love for it.  It’s not like it will disappear for my being embarrassed about it or being mean to myself.  I earned this body with every choice I’ve made in my life and I wouldn’t change a thing, even if it meant rock-hard abs.

 

Does it need to be said that I do not want anyone to see my breasts? Perhaps it does. I do not want anyone to see my breasts. But more importantly, I do not care whether someone chooses to be offended by my breasts.

Because, unlike my kids, grown ups can choose whether or not they want to be offended. Just like I trust them to be adults in public, and all the common societal courtesies that go along with that, I trust them to make the decision whether to be offended.

Breastfeeding (or muffin tops) isn’t something that is done to an offended person. The private, intimate part of breastfeeding that is constantly thrown at breastfeeding moms is exactly that: private and intimate between mom and babies. Breastfeeding (and women’s bodies in general) have nothing to do with anyone else.

 

I liken the offense of seeing a mother and child breastfeeding the the offense of seeing fat people eat in public.  If you don’t believe me, search twitter. It’s the same language used to shame and defend the shaming for both groups. The only way it’s going to stop is, the same way bullying stops, for bystanders to call out the behavior. Otherwise, they give it credence. And we know the hostile atmosphere this creates.

 

I have my own judgments and I’m constantly working to not react to them.  I’m always trying to let go of judgments so that I can really see and hear what someone else is saying. I have a lot of compassion for people who hold tightly to their judgments, even when it’s expressed as vitriol. I try to call out the hatred without calling out the hatred.

 

Opinions and judgments are great. They help us to discern what works for us and what does not. But, we need to be cautious about how we listen to our own judgments and opinions within ourselves. And never, ever should we take our own discomfort with an opinion and project it onto someone else.

 

Whenever I remember this, it becomes easier to feel compassion for other people. Somewhere along the way, that message wasn’t shared with this person. I know, I certainly missed it, even if it was shared with me. I didn’t pull apart the person from the actions until well into adulthood.

 

Breastfeeding my older children with my even older children around helps them to see normal nurturing and normal bodies as neutral.  It opens the lines of communication for honoring their own bodies and the bodies of others. Issues around consent, objectification, misogyny, curiosity, and othering began at my breasts, in the security of my arms. Families are able to create this open-closeness whether they breastfeed or bottle feed.  It’s the connection that is important. Whether a woman’s breasts or a bottle are out in public should be a non-issue.  And this is one of the rare times that I do enjoy the use of the word “should” but it is with the caveat of complete compassion and acceptance for where people are with their judgments.

 

The judgments my children have and that they hear from other people, as in “are they still breastfeeding?” have given us a way to talk about listening to themselves and deciding whether to listen to others-including their mother. And for that, I am grateful for every last bit of shade that has ever been thrown our way.

 

Citations:

Resources:

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Post for NaBloPoMo(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

See you tomorrow for Nablopomo.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

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