In every situation you’ll encounter as a new mom, whether it is chaotic or mellow, there are three things happening. Examine what’s going on for you right now. You are probably having some thoughts, or your mind is focused on reading and digesting this information. You may be having some feelings or emotions. There may be some body sensations, like relaxation, coolness or warmth, or tension. And everything that is happening “outside” of you is being perceived through your senses—the usual five senses of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. There is also a sixth sense that I like to call your felt sense, or your gut feelings or overall bodily perception of things (like when the hackles rise on the back of your neck or you feel at home and relaxed). Mindfulness begins with noticing what is happening in these three realms of experience—thinking, feeling, and sensing.
Another part of your experience is emotional. Tune in to what you are feeling right now, emotionally. Sometimes you are feeling discrete emotions, like sadness, joy, guilt, or love. You may be feeling something you can name and you know the origin of—an experience you had or are having with another person, something you read, a memory, or an imagining about the future. Other times, you have more diffuse feelings, like depression, anxiety or agitation, or general contentment. These feelings or moods may not come from any source in particular, but many things might be contributing to the mood—what you’ve eaten, how the last few days have gone, the season or the time of the month, and so on. And sometimes you have feelings that are pretty hard to put your finger on, that are hard to even name and even harder to find a source for. You might feel an overall sense of stress or a general peacefulness. Most of the time you feel some combination of all of these. This whole realm of being we are going to call feelings.
Like thinking, feelings are not problems by themselves. They perform very useful evolutionary functions for you. Fear alerts you to potential dangers in the environment and gets you energized to mobilize a response to the danger. Love, compassion and empathy, and even the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one ensure that you make strong connections with other people. Shame and guilt, while often harmful, at their roots can help you to maintain ethics and morals as a social being. Even sadness has its upside, helping you to feel for the plight of another, to process a loss or separation, or to recognize and find a resolution to unworkable situations. Happiness, joy, awe, wonder, amazement, surprise—these positive emotions are not just pleasurable, but research shows they are actually linked directly to health and well-being and can serve as buffers or antidotes to more difficult emotions (Folkman and Moskowitz 2000).
The problem occurs when you are either overwhelmed with feelings to the extent that it interferes with your functioning and healthy interactions with others, or when you chronically engage in thought patterns or behaviors to avoid or suppress feelings you perceive as unbearable. Sometimes feelings get so uncomfortable that it becomes hard for you to tolerate your own feelings, or the feelings of those
close to you. When pregnant, feelings can be like powerful steam engines, overwhelming and intense, and the ways you usually blow off steam or mellow out (like going for a run or having a drink) might not be possible. When the baby comes, depressed, or anxious, or other overwhelming feelings can be preoccupying, getting in the way of connecting with your baby and enjoying your time together.
Excerpt from: MINDFUL MOTHERHOOD: Practical Tools for Staying Sane in Pregnancy and Your Child's First Year (New Harbinger Publications)
Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, research psychologist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, codirector of the Mind Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, and vice president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology. Her research has focused on mindfulness-based approaches to cultivating emotional balance, the involvement of biology, psychology, and emotion in addiction and recovery, the role of compassionate intent and belief in healing, and the factors, experiences, and practices involved in psychospiritual transformation to a more altruistic, compassionate, and service-oriented way of life. She has published several academic articles and chapters and has conducted numerous presentations at international scientific conferences.
Foreword writer Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D., is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center and a psychotherapist, wife, mother, and grandmother. She is author of several books including It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness; Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat; That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist; Pay Attention for Goodness' Sake: The Buddhist Path of Kindness; and Happiness Is an Inside Job.