For the last seven years, my kids have been living in a state of perennial influence.
I’m not talking about psychosomatic hysteria or neurotic alarmism, we’ve never had episodes of bubonic plague or allergy to oxygen: the fact is, since I am a mother, my children have been sick every fortnight, winter after winter.
Considering the long cold season in Zurich, I would say that I had my share abundantly: as Forrest Gump used to say, I am pretty tired!
Being alone as an expat mom, and constantly having to deal with infections of all kind, high fever, pains and endless nights spent awake, it has been one of the hardest things I had to cope with.
While there were breaks of physical wellness, sleep and happiness for everyone, there were times I felt without energy for school runs, play dates, afternoon activities.
In the middle of everyday chaos, there was actually no time for me, at all.
You know the drill too…
Motherhood can bring a certain sense of apathy, of chronic frustration and can suddenly start to mine the foundations of a peaceful life.
Long story short, the time came to look for a sustainable way to handle the situation.
As a mother, I reckon that a healthy relationship with your children, family and friends, begins with a healthy relationship with you.
However, it is difficult to find balance in a society that requires us to be fast, always connected and constantly projected towards our busy schedules.
It’s hard to take a break as a mother when you don’t have someone to back you up.
It is hard when you are an expat and, as an Italian, you are also deprived of that heart-warming morning chat at the bar!
So how to slow down, start being calmer and more grounded?
How am I changing this?
Parenting is a deep work.
Keep valuing yourself, when there is no time for yourself, is hard.
Start the day with less anxiety, without picturing all the exhausting chores of the day, well…sometimes it looks like the toughest performance.
I have started to live slower and I have started practising a bit of meditation.
I hear some of you already (because I was one of you, aha) wanting to stop reading this and thinking I am another hippy, obsessed, fanatic mother.
But listen: slow life does not mean monochromatic palettes, growing vegetables on the terrace or being a vegetarian.
To live slowly and to meditate, even for just a little, has helped me re-centre on what my core values are. Which are MY values, and not of others.
Everybody will need to find their own.
This is not a rapid fix: the process towards a better balance from within takes time, for both you and your family.
We have just started a path here and it will take time to get there.
Probably because there is no ‘there’, no end: the journey is slow, deliberate, unfolding and imperfect.
However, as soon as you will feel stronger and refreshed, you will start noticing the positive changes in your life and you won’t stop wanting to learn and better adjust.
This is what I found helpful in slowing down and savouring family life more. It is just the beginning of my journey but I would love to share it with you now.
- Take care of yourself.
You cannot sip from an empty cup.
Meditation helps me making sense of my values and priorities in order to be the person I want to be and, most of all, it lets my mind wind down.
Our mind takes in so much, as information, sounds, sights, eccetera., all day long; and it needs to rest. It seemed silly to me but with just closing my eyes, I can turn off the world around and stop distracting myself. I focus on my breath and I pay attention to my body without trying to do or change anything.
Nowhere to go, and nothing to do.
You can aim to set your intention for the day after some sessions or reach a deeper understanding of our inner self.
I am still enjoying ‘just’ the pause, the connection with my breath and that alone looks already like heaven to me.
I wake up ten minutes before each morning to meditate, while in bed, eyes closed, easy peasy. I have started meditating by myself, but I found it extremely difficult initially so I now use an app or two to help me stay focused on my thoughts.
There are many apps available online and they do help: you just need to find the type that resonates with you.
Otherwise, you can join a meditation class which will help you start off your journey.
For my friends in Zürich, NOW Meditation Studio is the place you want to check out.
Ah, do not forget to read. My first book about meditation was “Whenever you go, there you go” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (I think it has been translated into lots of languages too).
- Be present.
We lose the abundance of gift that is “today” when we focus on the past or on the future.
Slowing down helps a great deal with being more present in life.We do not over schedule anymore, for example.
I had days filled with playdates, tasks, errands, afternoon activities and so on, I have rushed from one thing to another without a break to think about what I was doing. You’re busy, you say, and you absolutely cannot do less, right? Yes, you can. I have been there, and I am not the only one.
Figure out what is important and let go of what it is not.
Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”
Trying to keep a laser-focus on the present moment and take a deep breath when something upsets you: don’t centre on one little thing and ask yourself if this thing will really matter five months from now.
Most of the time, it won’t.
Walking in Nature helps to live the present moment and to relax.
We live shut in our apartments or offices, cars, trains most of our time, and we seldom really observe and enjoy the peacefulness of water, of wind against our face or the calm that only silence can give you. When we are outside it is because we are running to go somewhere, sometimes talking on our phones.
Nature has the power of soothing our senses with its colours, sounds, smells and I always find myself refreshed and calm after a walk in the forest.
As a family, we practise being present by eating together, which is our number one thing (again, Italians!). Dinner is generally the easiest time of the day during the week, although for our family (having my husband being at home late) the best time to eat together is in the morning (see our breakfasts here). During this time, you can try to create a conversation and ban technology at the table. The kids are curious by nature and will definitely inspire a dialogue with their 500 questions per minute! Or, you can mention fun memories, maybe share in what you have been doing during the day (or when you were little).
- Own less things
This is the latest addition to my list for a more valuable life so I will write more about it, but here’s my thought. I have approached the concept of minimalism and I must say that it is fascinating to me, a lot.
It seems we don’t have the exact perception of how much time and energy our possessions take from us.
Our things need to be cleaned, organized, cared for, repaired, and this without considering the fuss to earn the money to buy these things in the first place. Imagine now owning less: it would mean less stress, fewer chores and less time spent looking after these objects. SCORE.
Most of all, having less could possibly lead to a deeper understanding of what really counts for me which is another great thing to achieve.
If you are interested in this topic, I will write soon about being minimalist when you have a family, which is not exactly the same as being one when you’re single!
There are many techniques that can fit into your daily routine, these are just my top three at the moment although I am eager to get better and aim for a better practice.
What I think is most important is that the majority of us already have everything we need in order to be present in this moment and the ability to enjoy life more, since this very second.
We are alive, healthy and this alone is an immensely precious gift.
If you focus for a second on this thought, your mind will be wholly at rest. Try it for a minute.
You can now decide to go back to your life and already start seeing your world differently.
The power of unplugging.
Till next time.