The Zen Approach to Mother and Child Development

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The Natural Phases in a Lifetime of Learning

Throughout our lives we grow, learn, and change. In the present moment, we are always at the perfect point between what we have been and what we are becoming.

There are times when we push ahead, eager to see what can be accomplished, and others when we feel stuck, or fight to stay still because it seems like a safer option. We can be certain that these phases of direction and certainty will become lostness and confusion at times. No one gets to feel sure of themselves ad infinitum, and if they tell you otherwise, then they are labouring under an illusion of which you are free.

There are few guarantees in life, but one is that change will happen, no matter how we feel about it, and another is that how we feel is bound to change, no matter what we do.

Having a baby is a foolproof way of ensuring that you will embark on a whole new stage in your life, through which you will develop on many levels. As you find your feet in your new role as a mother, or a mother of multiple kids, your baby is exploring and learning by your side. You complement one another in this process, sharing the universal human experience of ‘becoming’.

Sometimes we are really clear about what we need to do in order to adapt to changes in our lives, and at other times we have no idea what we are doing. These are the phases which characterise this experience.

On Acorns and Oak Trees, and Universal Human Experience

In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert recounts a zen understanding of growth and development:

“My thoughts turn to something I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. but only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well – the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which is was born.”

My google search for this quote brought me a short and sweet reflection about it, which you can read here.

So, using the metaphor of the acorn which wants to unfurl into an oak, and the oak tree that wants to pull itself into being from the acorn, you can understand why there are different phases, with their own characteristics, that play a part in the process of growth.

On the one hand, you have the ‘I am going to surge ahead because I know exactly what I am doing!’ moments. On the other, you have the ‘What the hell is going on? I have no idea what to do!’ moments.

The former are ACORN MOMENTS, characterised by a sense of excitement and wonderment at the opening
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The Amazing Ability That Most People Ignore

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Continuing on the theme from I Gave My Baby To A Stranger In The Supermarket:

There’s a little-known ability that everyone has. It is part of the basic wiring you get as a human being. You use it every day, whenever you talk to others, or take part in an activity with other people.

It is the ability to create culture.

Most people understand culture as part of their identity:

I am English, so I am descended from Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. I come from the land of Shakespeare and Monty Python, but also The Only Way is Essex. I drink tea on an almost continuous basis. When I say hello to people, I sometimes get flustered because I don’t know when to kiss, hug, or to shake hands, or to do an awkward little wavy thing with one hand. I have big feet and skin that goes red at the first hint of sun. I have the right to live and work in the UK. I enjoy fish and chips, Yorkshire pudding, and cucumber sandwiches, though not all at once. When provoked, I say words like bugger and bollocks.

Culture is about belonging to a group, understanding how things work, knowing how to walk the walk, having the right to.

However, all the knowledge, beliefs, and behaviours that we think of as OUR culture or YOUR culture, are really grist to the mill. It is from our experience of cultural stuff, the bits which we call our own, and the bits that do not belong to us, that we can make new groups, with new rules about what it is ok or not ok to do.

What often goes unnoticed is that culture is not just something you are, but a connection that you make with others.

It is an understanding of what rules apply when one person interacts with another. This understanding might follow along with familiar patterns, like how to know when it is your turn to be served in a pub. It might just get made up as you go along, like deciding that in your family there needs to be a system for deciding which child gets to sit on the loo while they brush their teeth.

You make culture. All the time.

It is Thursday morning, and you just participated in baby singing group.

You made a bit of culture.

You sat in a circle, singing in harmony (or near enough), and making quacky ducks with your fingers. You welcomed and encouraged one another, while your offspring chortled and dribbled on one another. You figured out how to get three pushchairs out of a church hall door, without getting wedged.

In a fit of sleep deprived anti-logic, you just gave directions to a nice stranger, which will now result in him driving the wrong way round a one way system.

You just made culture (and maybe an enemy).

You looked approachable, and in gesture and word, passed on information. You accepted hasty thanks. Realising your error too late, you whispered a quiet apology ‘sorry dude’.

Last night, your first baby was born and you made a new family.

You also made a whole bunch of culture.

You held your baby in your arms, watching them open their eyes to the world. You said ‘hi there, baby’. You offered a feed. You snuggled skin to skin. You laughed and cried with your partner. You realised that your imaginings of this moment could never match the experience. You modified your thoughts and behaviour around your new understanding.

Every day, we walk around making culture, without even noticing.

Every time you interact with another person you are ‘making’ culture.

This is so exciting, because when you make culture, rather than inherit it, you are free to choose what it looks like. You are free from prejudices which infect communities, and can experience greater empathy and better communication with others. In the context of carrying, birthing, and raising a child, culture making allows you to find a rhythm for life, which speaks from the heart of the people in that family unit.

When you think of culture as manifesting in a different way, in each group you take part in, there is much less room for examining differences between one set of people and another. Take the way that you parent in a family unit. Whether you wear the baby, or push them in a pram. Whether you breastfeed them to sleep, or let them settle themselves. Whether you allow TV or not. Whether you serve up fish fingers or quinoa. Whether you call the meal ‘dinner, ‘tea’, or ‘supper’. As long as basic human rights are protected, it really does not matter a jot whether you agree with what someone else is doing. They are making their culture, and you are making yours.

All of the knowledge, beliefs, practices, that exist in your life are there at your disposal. They don’t need to be consistent or constant. They don’t need to look like anyone else’s. They are just what you have invented in a particular space and time, to make getting along with other people a bit more straightforward. It is created one way today, and if you want to change it tomorrow, you have the means to do so.

I reckon it is worth noticing that.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to NOTICE yourself making culture. Then come tell me about it!

Join the Mamajestic Facebook Group, or use the sidebar buttons to receive updates and musings. Thanks for reading!

Click here to see the abstract of the article I drew on for this post. More to follow!

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I Gave My Baby To A Stranger In The Supermarket

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I gave my baby to a stranger in the supermarket. I can’t really explain why, but it just felt right.

My family and I live near Coimbra, in Portugal. When my youngest was a few months old, we started going to the cafe in a local supermarket (such was the glamour of our lives). We tended to pop in after dropping the older kids at nursery. There was ( and still is) lively gaggle of retirees from the neighbourhood, who would convene for their morning coffee and gossip session.

One of the ladies used to come over to us and say ‘Ola!’ to our daughter. She would deliver a torrent of Portuguese expressions about how lovely our baby was.

‘Oh she has blue eyes, how precious! Just like my daughter when she was little. Can I take her to show my husband? Oh he’ll be so thrilled!’

Hmm. Had she asked this of me with my first child, I might have taken my baby myself, then hovered in awkward politeness, as the baby show commenced. Depending on my mood, I might have flat refused, then cringed into my coffee awhile.

This ‘Can I make off with your little one for a bit?’ scenario is not unusual in Portugal. A friend of mine’s other half ended up in a tug of war situation, when he was unwilling to let a lady in a restaurant take their baby to show to her son. My friend looked on incredulous, as the stranger not only ignored the hint, but attempted to pick up her baby, despite protests.

I am not talking about my first child though. This was my third baby. She seemed very happy with the situation, as I waved her off to meet her new friend. I enjoyed having my coffee without having to worry about tiny grabby hands. I could see and hear my baby girl laughing among her ‘amigos’. There was a mutual benefit to this arrangement.

This became a regular thing, and now the lady and I often exchange pleasantries when I bump into her, baby or no baby. Her name is Maria, and she is a retired nurse. Our daughter forgot about her friend after a summer in England, but smiles hello when she feels like it. From a kind stranger’s enjoyment of interacting with my little girl, I got to know someone new, and to have a few moments without a babe in arms. At the time, that was none too common a thing, and I was grateful.

So, what changed between babies one and three? My attitude to their preservation has not altered. I have to admit I am rather attached to them in the long term. I think the change must have something to do with cultural expectations.

While there are exceptions, Portuguese people tend to act as if engaging babies in play is a national pastime, whether they know the child or not. In England, people tend to imply that keeping kids out of others’ way is a vital part of parenting.
When I had my first child, my behaviour was more rooted in the norms I experienced in England. After living in Portugal for some years, my ‘normal’ is changing.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I can’t imagine this situation arising in my native country. In England, people would think you were mad if you suggested that giving your baby to strangers was a positive thing. Even if you were only a few feet away. Even if you could see and hear them the whole time. Not ever.

In Portugal however, it is customary that babies get attention heaped upon them, from everyone they encounter. As you push your buggy past bands of teenagers, they exclaim how sweet your baby is. Waiters wink at children. Shop assistants wait with indulgent smiles, while toddlers take all the products off the shelves they just stacked. It is rare that you hear of someone slighted because their baby trespassed on the patience of strangers.

The feeling I get in England is that, though many people like babies and are kind to them, children are a private joy. It would seem presumptuous to intrude on a family outing, unless there is need of assistance, or the parents make the first move. Likewise, as a parent, I feel the need to mitigate my children’s impact on others. Most people are nice to kids, but little people are not always welcome, as they are in Portugal.

To someone who makes a personal study of these things, it is entertaining to watch an English parent in a lift trying really hard to pretend you do not exist, while their kid is attempting to feed you a bite of their sticky bun. You might get an embarrassed smile, as if to say ‘I can see what an inconvenience this is, let’s just get to the third floor, then we can go our separate ways and forget the whole thing’.

There is no lack of goodwill among the English, but preserving a polite distance feels more important. Sometimes people do reach out, but there has to be more than the simple ‘fact’ of a baby being present that inclines them to do so. In Portugal, people might be reserved with strange adults, but the presence of a child is a bridge between you and the rest of the community.

You might assume that this cultural difference was down to a lack of stranger danger in Portugal, but this is not the case. Especially after the horrifying abduction of Madeleine Mccan in 2007, child-snatching is on the radar, taking its toll on the national psyche. A neighbour warned me that I must not let my toddler out of sight, for fear someone would take off with her.

In Portugal, the people who you see around the shops, or eating at the next table in a cafe, are considered to be acquaintances of sorts. Therefore, they are to be viewed with a certain degree of trust, not least when entertaining your baby. Not forgetting that you are right there to keep an eye on the kid, there can be a degree of discretion rather than an assumed taboo on contact with people who have no prior relationship to a child. In England, it seems that without a more solid prior relationship, one should be wary.

Now, I would not hand my kid over to just anyone, and never if the child were upset by it. I would put my child’s wellbeing before politeness every time. Beyond that, I am willing to relax and exercise judgement, rather than jump to an immediate decision that my kid cannot leave my side for a moment.

Through living in Portugal, I have experienced a shift in my cultural expectations, in that I have a greater sense of confidence in the people around me, and a willingness to reach out to them, as they reach out to my children. The world is a nicer place for your child when people welcome them with open arms. It is rather nicer being a parent when you know that this will happen, even if you have three marauding rascals following in your wake.

I am also reminded that culture is not a fixed point of reference, but a conduit which flows between people whenever they interact. It is helpful to consider, not just what seems polite or normal, but what feels right when it comes to the person in front of you at a particular place and time. By following the feeling, you can connect with lovely new people, and convert kind strangers into known persons. You also get a little more help along the way than you might otherwise have expected.

So, what do you think? Brilliant or barmy? What is your experience of normal or strange parenting culture?

Want to chat? Come join the Facebook Group. If that’s not your thing, use the buttons in the sidebar to receive updates. Thanks for reading! Xx

The Culture theme continues in ‘The Amazing Ability That Most a People Ignore

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What Pregnancy, Birth, And Motherhood Could Be Like

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I have this vision of a woman.

She discovers she is pregnant. Whether it is a surprise or a plan, she knows that she has everything she needs to find her way through the transitions of the childbearing journey: from not pregnant to pregnant; from pregnant to birthing; from birthing to mothering; from mothering a newborn to caring for an older baby; from caring for a baby to caring for a child. She feels safe, capable, and confident. She is at peace with herself and her surroundings.

There are many stages that she will traverse on this journey, and though they do not all have a specific name, she sees and feels them. Every so often, her baby grows into a new phase, and her experience of mothering shifts to a new place. The woman rings the changes in her own life that occur as a result of these transitions, and creates her own understanding of her unique experience. She maps out and names the locations on her path, the way that seems right to her, in light of each moment she lives in.

Though sometimes it is tempting to look at collective understandings of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood that emphasise problems and fears, she sees that these are stories about reality, not reality itself. She faces challenges and draws on the strength that she knows is always within her, no matter what.

She is not alone on her travels. Along the way there are many people and services that are ready to receive her, to encourage her, to help her along. She is able to survey her options, reflect on the available information, and make sound choices for her pregnancy, birth, and family life. She arranges practicalities as necessary, and does not fear the future.

She and her child are working in harmony, playing out a duet, as they travel  down the road of life. By including and welcoming others into their music, a family is born. Their song becomes a trio, a quartet, a chorus. It evolves beyond all imagining. They move onward together.

She is human. She is not immune to the ups and downs of life. There are moments when she feels lost, angry, scared, or sad. When her merry band of musicians makes nothing but painful howls. When this happens, she knows that she does not need to fix herself, or her world. She only has to wait for the path to reappear, the melody to reassert itself.

She knows she is light. She knows she is love. Her path is one of peace. The way is clear and utterly hers to make. Even when she cannot see these truths, does not feel them, they are always waiting within her to be realised.

When she looks back on her experiences, she sees how her transformation has unfolded. She trusts that each moment brings with it the promise of a brand new universe for her to step into.

I invite you to share with me this vision. This reality of pregnancy, birth, and mothering. I invite you to live it with me.

Who’s up for it?

If this speaks to you, and you want to share ideas, work with me, or just say ‘Hi’, I have created a Mamajestic Facebook Group. Come on over for a chat any time.

If Facebook groups are not your thing, you can also leave a comment or connect with me using the Facebook, twitter, or pinterest buttons to the top left of this page. Alternatively, email me at mamajestic1@gmail.com.

As ever yours,

Alexis xxx

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A Brilliant No Cost Gift To Give Yourself

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Tell yourself that you are enough. Because at this time of year it is easy to entertain doubts. Is ________ enough?

The Christmas List
Did you stock up on enough food, enough drink?
Did you buy enough presents?
Did you spend enough money?
Is there enough time?
Will everyone feel loved enough?
Am I doing enough?
Am I providing enough?

The New Year List
Did I do enough last year?
Did I earn enough last year?
Am I rich enough?
Am I thin enough?
Am I grateful enough?
Am I patient enough?
Am I working enough?
Am I present enough?

Let me answer those questions.

Yes.

It is enough.

You are enough.

So is everyone else.

Step away from the calculator. Stop adding up all the good and bad that you did this year, this week, today. Stop making notes to do X, Y, and Z.

If you truly accept that you are enough, just as you are, then wonderful things can happen.

You can have a break from your hard work thinking.

You can see the best in your surroundings.

You can see the best in those around you.

You can see the best in yourself.

Give yourself a present.

Don’t worry about making any New Year’s Resolutions.

You are enough, just as you are.

Breathe.

Enjoy!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

All my love,
Alexis xxxxxxx
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What Pregnancy Cravings Mean (For The Love of Radishes)

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Pregnancy cravings are usually harmless urges to eat unaccustomed foods, and they can be funny and entertaining. It’s a lovely reminder that your body is changing to accommodate a new life growing within you. Satisfying cravings can be a way of celebrating your baby, of saying ‘Hi honey, what do you want to eat today?’ No wonder people enjoy asking pregnant ladies about it, and often do.

Research reports that women the world over experience pregnancy cravings, but the most common items craved vary with geographical location. This suggests that cravings are universal, but the way they are experienced is not. This indicates that they are not only initiated by the body, but also the mind.

It is worth noting that ‘Pica‘, the craving of non-food substances, is recognised as a different to pregnancy cravings, because it is not just experienced by pregnant women and is a symptom of some illnesses, such as anaemia. If you do feel drawn to non-food items like chalk or bleach, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about it. Here is one mother’s account of her pica experience.

A Fairy Tale Case Study

The other day, my 5 year old daughter and I were reading Rapunzel from her Grimm’s Fairy Tales picture book. The beginning of the story is all about pregnancy cravings. Even for a fairy tale, I found the way cravings were shown surprising.

Before I go on, here is a recap of Rapunzel:

Once upon a time there was a peasant couple, who were expecting their first baby. I’ll call them Betty and Frank. All was joyful anticipation in their little cottage, which overlooked an abundant kitchen garden. The garden belonged to a powerful Enchantress who was feared by all. 

Betty was gazing out of the window one day, when she spied a succulent crop of radishes. They looked so inviting, she decided that she would not, could not eat anything else. She must have the radishes or starve. Frank was concerned and offered to sneak into the garden and steal some for her.

True to his word, he scaled the garden wall, while his wife got ready the butter, a salad, and a light vinaigrette. The couple feasted on buttered-radish salad, but alas! Betty wanted more radishes, and persuaded her husband to return to the scene of crime.

After nightfall the following day, Frank crept back into the garden. As he bent down to take another bunch of radishes, the witch appeared. He threw himself on her mercy. He explained that his wife was expecting their firstborn and would not, could not eat anything but her radishes. Without them, he feared she and baby would die.

Not one to miss an opportunity, the Enchantress offered to make a bargain. Frank could take all the radishes he wanted for his wife and unborn baby, but in return they had to give up their child to her. He agreed.

So, the newborn Rapunzel was taken away by the witch and locked in the top of a tall tower. There she stayed until a handsome prince heard her singing and came to the rescue. He battled with the witch for her freedom and reunited Rapunzel with Betty and Frank, for whom she harboured no resentment. Prince and Rapunzel fell in love and lived happily ever after with their many offspring.

Though I accept that fairy tales have their own logic, I had a number of questions, chief of which was…

‘What was it about those radishes?!’

There are a number of reasonable explanations, but no one knows what causes pregnancy cravings. The favourite theories are:

  1. They are a natural response to hormonal changes;
  2. They are a message from the body telling the woman she needs a certain nutrient;
  3. They are a way that the body encourages women to eat foods with pharmacological properties;
  4. They are a part of how pregnancy is seen in particular cultures.
  5. They are a product of psychological state.

So based on this, Betty might have needed those radishes for several different reasons:

I Need Those Radishes Because…..

…Radishes Will Balance My Changing Hormones!

There is little scientific evidence to confirm that this would be true. Were it the case, cravings would only happen at the same time that major hormonal changes occur: during the first trimester. Though they are often reported at this time, they tend to peak in the second trimester, when hormones are more stable.

On the other hand, a link may exist between food sensitivity and hormonal changes, especially those that happen in the first trimester of pregnancy. Many pregnant women report food aversions early on to substances like alcohol or coffee because they become unpalatable. It is suggested that the increased sensitivity to particular odours and flavours could explain the urge to make unaccustomed food choices. I guess there is no way of knowing if Betty ate radishes in general. If not, they may have appealed more to her during pregnancy because of her altered palate.

….My Body Needs Radish-Based Goodness!

Like other brassica, radishes contain iron, folic acid, vitamins B-6 and C, magnesium, calcium, and are a good source of dietary fibre. Plenty of reason for a pregnant lady to gobble them up, and Rapunzel’s mother would not be the first to report cravings for a vegetable.

As pregnant women often crave other, less healthy, substances like cake or sweets, scientists are reluctant to suggest that cravings are always, or even often, beneficial to maternal health. However, one could argue that the body does send such signals, but the message gets lost amidst other thoughts and becomes confused. One way or another, the fact that Rapunzel’s mother felt compelled to refuse all food, but radishes, does not indicate she was being given orders by bodily wisdom, or that an internal message had been corrupted somehow.

…My Body Needs To Be Protected By Radish Power!

In Oriental medicine, radishes are thought to be essential for health, leading to a prevalence of radishes, especially Daikon, in Asian cuisine. They do promote general wellbeing, as they contain detoxifying agents and are a known antioxidant. Radish is a diuretic, and so can be helpful in preventing urinary infections, which can plague pregnant women. In warm climates, they might also have a cooling and hydrating effect on overheated pregnant ladies. These are all good pharmacological reasons to crave radishes.

It is worth noting too, that studies have shown a link between food aversion and protection from toxins during the first trimester of pregnancy. This might indicate that Betty was hyper-sensitive to the available food except radishes, rather than only able to eat radishes. The timing in the story is unclear, but she appears more likely to be in the second or third trimester. In the picture book, she has a big baby bump. This would indicate that the time of greater sensitivity should have passed, as aversions tend to dissipate after the twelfth week of pregnancy.

Again, to only eat radish would not be wise, and so the wisdom-of-the-body theory seems an unfit explanation here in and of itself.

…My Mood Demands I Eat Radishes!

Another pharmacological reason for eating particular foods is that they are believed to alleviate negative feelings. A common example would be eating chocolate to abate  PMS. Perhaps Betty feels that radishes would help her to cope with some sort of psychological problem. In eating them, she is seeking relief from stress or depression.

Pregnant women often experience anxiety about such issues as diet, health, childbirth, the approaching transition to motherhood, or their changing relationship with their partner. Maybe Betty is going through some difficult thinking and seeks the comfort of radishes.

…..My Culture Demands I Eat Radishes!

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that culture plays a part in how pregnancy cravings are experienced. Becoming pregnant represents a change in the way that society perceives you, like getting married, or turning eighteen years old, you take on a different status. We often mark transitions by eating special food, and some cultures have very definite ideas about what pregnant women should crave. In third world countries, scarce foods such as meat or festival foods are often desired, whereas in the wealthy first world, sweet treats like ice cream are most common.

Perhaps there was a tradition in Betty’s village or nation that women should eat radishes when carrying a child to ensure their wellbeing. It is certainly possible!

…..Forbidden Radishes Taste Sweeter

Another possibility is that radish eating could be taboo in Betty’s culture. You have to wonder otherwise, why she doesn’t just go to the market and pick some up, or even steal them from someone who will not demand your baby as payment. The radishes are behind a wall, maybe under an enchantment. Perhaps this made them especially attractive to Betty.

Falling pregnant is sometimes used as a justification to consume food which would usually not be acceptable to that individual. For instance, women in cultures which have both unrealistic ideals of female beauty and a wide availability of rich, calorie dense food products are more likely to have mixed feelings towards sweets and fast food. Women in such environments are at greater risk of gaining excessive pregnancy weight than those in other locations. Women who have a history of dieting, or high control eating, are more likely to experience cravings as a call to eat ‘forbidden’ food.

Radishes hardly fit the bill for calorie dense food, but they could be considered taboo for other reasons. Perhaps in Betty and Frank’s village, radishes are associated with witchcraft, and therefore it is socially unacceptable for Betty to eat them. Maybe the locals all know that the price for eating forbidden radish would be high, and therefore would judge her for giving into the craving.

…..There Is No Choice But To Eat Those Radishes

So, it seems pretty incredible that Betty and Frank risk their firstborn child for the sake of a few radishes. Wherever the craving came from , you have to wonder why Betty felt she had no choice but to satisfy her urge for radish. She believed she had one possible course of action, and that her life depended on it. This narrowing down of possibility indicates that she was probably not doing her best thinking.

When in a negative state of mind, it is human nature to fixate on a particular need or want. Were she to relax and wait for a while, rather than to demand her husband gets her the radishes, Betty might realise that eating them is not such a big deal after all. Other, better opportunities for sustenance would present themselves. She is the innocent victim of her own thoughts, because she doesn’t realise she can just ignore them.

The Lesson Beyond The Fairytale

Cravings are a weird and wonderful curiosity of the pregnancy journey. Perhaps they originated as a signal from the body that it was important to eat a certain substance. A communication between body and mind, that hailed the changes in physical requirements experienced when growing a baby. This is the voice of  wisdom, which says things like:

  • one fat slab of cake in one sitting is enough;
  • fresh green vegetables are, like, really yummy;
  • you cannot get Heinz Salad Cream imported to Portugal, even though you really, really want it, and that is not a huge problem.

Social or personal pressure to consume or avoid certain substances can chatter in our heads and cloud our judgement. In cultures where food is promised to deliver more than nourishment, and where ambivalence to particular foods is common, unhealthy thought patterns regarding food can blind us to our wisdom.

So, if you experience a craving and are not sure whether to indulge it, perhaps the best question to ask is ‘will eating this contribute to my true wellbeing, or will it simply alleviate a negative feeling I am having at the moment?’ In the case of the latter, it may be best to relax, wait, and see if the craving disappears. There is a difference between enjoying a really great plate of chips or radishes or whatever, and trying to fight a problem through urgent consumption of food. The bad feeling and sense of urgency are the clues that there is a battle going on. If these are not present, why not go ahead and munch away. The best reason to eat is to nourish our body, mind, and spirit, consuming in a mindful way, to satisfy our genuine appetite.

Bon Appetit!

What experiences of pregnancy craving have you had?

The most noticeable ones I had were for carrot salad with mustard and raisins, green vegetables, and cake. Not together. I had the strongest desire to eat lots of sweet and sour condiments like ketchup and ate pickled chillies out of the jar a lot. I also had a strong meat aversion in my third pregnancy. Once, I had the urge to eat a bunch of flowers, but fortunately it passed!

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Finding A Quiet Place

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The Search Begins…

People have always searched for quiet places: timeless spaces, comfortable silences, safe retreats. Quiet places offer calmness and a sense of harmony with the world around us.

Evidence suggests that women should seek quiet places when they want to conceive a child, connect with their baby, labour, or give birth. This is because the all-important hormone for childbearing, Oxytocin, is released when we feel at peace. Bonding with and breastfeeding a baby work best in this place of softness.

If you are pregnant or a mother, then chances are that you look for quiet places in order to gather your energy for growing and raising your offspring. Such tranquil spaces provide respite from the vagaries of modern life.

We can look for quiet places in gardens, temples, churches, wine bottles, foreign countries, homes, cafes, sofas, cushions, baths, or books. We can do aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, massage, gardening, yoga, tai chi. We can meditate. We can rest. We can cuddle, have sex, hang out with our kids, spend time alone. We can have a crack at much more than I can list here.

One could observe that different ways of finding quiet places work for different people. This suggests that creating particular sets of circumstances is not a guaranteed recipe for quietness.

It is thought rather than situation which is vital to our sense of quietness. While we try to get quiet in different ways, our minds become quiet in the same way: by reducing the speed and volume of our thinking. No matter how we contrive to arrive at a place of peace, it is quietness on the inside, which promotes feelings of calm and wellbeing.

How Thought Works…

Let’s say that the stream of thought which runs through your head is like a real stream. Your consciousness is like a lake into which it feeds and from which the stream flows onwards.

Imagine that the stream feeding the lake flows at varying rates, depending on weather conditions. There is always water arriving in the lake, whether it is a gushing torrent or a steady drip. The stream leaving the lake allows only so much water to pass at once. Therefore, the rate at which water comes into the lake sometimes exceeds the rate at which it can exit.

When the stream entering the lake flows at its ideal rate, water goes in and out without the water level going up or down. When the incoming stream flows too fast for too long, the lake water rises up the bank, until the lake floods.

Fluctuations in the water level of the lake happen all the time to some degree, and small changes in the stream’s velocity and volume are not problematic. Flooding occurs when the water entering the lake overwhelms the capacity of both the lake and the exit channel over an extended period.

Flooding is temporary, because at some point the incoming stream always comes back to its ideal rate of flow. When this happens there is time for the excess water to drain away, returning the lake to normal proportions.

In this way, your consciousness is like a hollow into which your thoughts enter and exit. Your thoughts have an ideal rate of flow, at which your consciousness is at its best level. Your rate of thinking increases and decreases with your moods, which come and go in their own rhythm, like weather, putting more or less pressure on the capacity of your consciousness.

A positive mood has a lightness to it, which makes thoughts seem more ethereal and less serious. In this state, thought meanders into and out of your consciousness with ease. Conversely, the weight of a negative mood makes itself felt by increasing the speed and volume of your thoughts. This means that they look more real and imposing.

Your level of consciousness rises and falls all the time without major problems, as small shifts in thought rate do not affect its boundaries too much. However, when your consciousness is overwhelmed with thought, it floods. When this happens you must wait for it to clear in order to return to equilibrium. The only thing that allows this to happen is a decrease in the rate of thinking. In this sense, it is inaction rather than action which helps you to return to an  ideal state, because action tends to increase the rate of thought.

My personal favourite way of getting quiet is soaking in a warm bath. I have built up many positive associations with bathing in the past, so it is easy to assume that the bath is vital. However, I can just as easily have the happy disposition I find soaking in the tub in other circumstances. It is the way my thoughts are flowing which makes the difference.

I particular, I usually focus on the present moment when I am wallowing in bubbles, and this is most effective in reducing the volume of my thoughts and improving their quality. If I choose to accept that the past is finished and the future has yet to happen, it does not make sense to harbour resentments or fears. By focussing only on the present, and downshifting a gear or two in the physical sense, my thoughts cease to race and those which overfilled my consciousness with their urgency and importance drain away.

The Simple Truth of Quiet Places

While creating certain circumstances may seem essential in the search for a quiet place, it is really an internal location which we can access in many ways. It is by embracing the present, slowing down our thinking, and doing less that we can arrive in this tranquil space. By observing the texture of our thoughts, we can notice if we are moving too fast, running too hard. When we are flooded with concern and ill feeling, it is a sign to do as little as possible. We should merely focus on the moment and allow our consciousness to clear.

This simple understanding can reassure us that our quiet place is always there waiting for us to inhabit it.

How do you like to get quiet? What helps you to slow down your thinking?

mamathree