Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Be where you are (there really isn’t anywhere else to be)

Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment.

                                                                                                   -   Pema Chödrön

I read this quote a few weeks ago and it has been brewing in me ever since. It really affected me because I have been having those nagging feelings lately that I want to be doing more than running the house and being a mum. Partly that is because it’s true - there is a new stage opening up for me - and partly it’s because I feel there is something more meaningful I could be doing on top of what I am doing right now. And that’s the bit that’s not true.

And I think it’s really important for us to remember this when we are parenting small children and we really are giving so much to the practical, day-to-day bottom-wiping, washing up, running-the-bath side of life. Especially when we are forced to g.o.  s.l.o.w to accommodate young, present people who need to stop and look at flowers and inspect bumblebees and put their own shoes on (v.e.r.y s.l.o.w.l.y).

And so this has been percolating through my system for a while. And then we had a very interesting weekend in the Holden household this last few days. We arrived back from a month of beautiful, warm, beach-life San Diego into an actual, real-life snowstorm in London. In April. Goodness.

It was pretty hard to adjust and the children both ended up with big coughs and very high fevers. They so rarely get ill, it was a shock and I always find fevers challenging as they seem to ignite my mummy anxiety very easily. And fevers + jetlag basically = chaos.

To top all of that, my whole family is out of town – even my husband, who went to do a workshop in Belgium. All in all, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. (I haven’t even mentioned the – literally, I’m not joking here – knee-high piles of stuff everywhere that I still haven’t had time to unpack and sort.)

And then I got a message from my younger cousin, Jack, who is studying psychology and mindfulness at university at the moment. He asked if I would spend 15 minutes filling out a questionnaire and doing a mindfulness meditation as part of his study. Of course I said yes and wanted to do it for him AND I had hot, coughing children, did not know what time it was and was feeling the opposite of zen.

But I sat down once the children had fallen asleep and filled out the answers and did the meditation. The voice guided me to feel the tips of my fingers and then to include my hands and so on. I had to pause twice to go to the children but I managed to make it through to the end.

And, honestly, I am so glad I did it. Partly because I know it is helpful for Jack with his studies but mostly because it really reminded me about being present particularly when you feel you can’t or you don’t have time or there are too many people needing you.

Because that is basically how parenting feels a lot of the time – so it would be easy to put off being mindful until you have a peaceful moment to yourself. But when we need to do it – to be really present – is right in the thick of it all. Right when we feel we are in coping mode and going onto automatic pilot to handle so many things. That is precisely when we need to be the most present – and to forgive ourselves when we can’t manage it (that is the subject of my next post !).

My children have been my greatest teachers when it comes to mindfulness and presence. They actually pull up chairs and bring snacks to watch someone fixing a toilet. And when our builder comes (see the lovely Mariusz below!) – or the window cleaners – it is like small-person theatre. They watch their every move and sit in the wonder of all the fascinating details unfolding in front of them.

Living with them has made me slow right down. I now talk to everyone in a whole new way – we are genuinely interested in our postman’s latest story and we sit and watch snails making their slow, precious journeys in the garden.

BUT when I am faced with yet another washing up session or tidying up and then a moment where everyone wants a cup of water at the same time and the phone rings and the cat poos on the floor, that is when I need to remember to be mindful. I do my best to feel the water on my hands, to sense my feet on the ground, to slow down so that I really experience it all. Because there is nowhere else to be, nothing more to do. 

And I find that when I do this, I am more present to everyone, including my children. I am available to them. And I can love them and really, truly see them, which is really all I want to do. And Jack’s meditation allowed me to return to my centre and be present to the children and I actually really enjoyed being awake for 2 hours in the middle of the night playing with the trainset on the floor with them and felt such gratitude for them.

Buttering Christopher’s toast is the path to enlightenment.
Washing the bottom of a burnt pan is the path to enlightenment.
Re-building the marble track for the hundredth time is the path to enlightenment.
Cleaning out the cat litter is the path to enlightenment.

Because right now is all there is so we might as well really be in it. Whatever we are doing. 

So thank you, Jack, for the reminder and for helping me to be present just when I thought I couldn’t.

Love Hollie

PS If you want to do the meditation and help Jack with his data collecting, you can do it here:


  1. When I sat down to read this I was feeling really frazzled. I had too many things to do, I didn't know where to start and this post has been an oasis of wisdom and calm. I have been so far out of the present for the last 45 minutes, but now I'm going to get back to the now and enjoy the rest of my day. Thanks Hollie!

    1. Clare, I'm so pleased ! Thank you for your encouraging comments - they are so helpful to me. Where are you based and how did you come across the blog by the way? Realise I have never known that.. ! x

  2. Thank you Hollie :) I am based in Auckland, New Zealand and I found your blog through your lovely husband's facebook feed :) You have both made such an enormous difference to our lives through your writing, so thank you again! :)

  3. Hollie, I loved reading, and relating, to your honesty about combining the path back to love, with parenting. My children are my greatest teachers, and it continues to be an ongoing process. So glad your husband posted your blog on Facebook. Looking forward to more insightful, honest postings from you. Lisa

  4. Hollie, I am also at home. My son was born on January 6th and diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Thank you for reminding me that being present (mind, body, and heart) is the greatest "intervention" for both my son and myself. Your blog is a delight!

    1. Hi, good to hear from you. My dearest friend had the same experience with her now 3-year-old son, who has Down Syndrome - she didn't know until he was about 3 days old. A January baby too! Have you read the Martha Beck book Expecting Adam? I loved that book and Adam is amazing.. Do you have an enlightened support system? I'm sure my friend would be so happy to offer you support should you need it. So happy you enjoy the blog! x