Earlier this week, Carla Naumburg wrote about mindfulness, parenting, and her first book Parenting in the Present Moment. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
So, I’m Jewish. And I’ve got a Jewish grandfather who was a classically trained psychoanalyst who looked not unlike Freud. (Actually, he was once analyzed by someone who was analyzed by Freud. In certain circles, that’s a very big deal. Apparently.) I’m also the child of a difficult divorce who grew up to be a clinical social worker, which means I’ve spent more than my fair share of time on both sides of the therapy office. As an academic, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and then writing about what I was thinking and then getting feedback about my thoughts, which I then thought about some more.
What all of this means is that my culture, my genetics, and everything I’ve learned over the years have instilled in me a deeply held belief that my thoughts are terribly important, and that they matter deeply. I have moved through most of my life believing that the ideas bouncing around inside my head truly define me, and that they tell me, and those around me, who I am, where I come from, where I’m headed, what I’m capable of, and how I understand the world and my role in it.
My thoughts are, apparently, so important that they’re worth paying large amounts of money to therapists so we can spend an hour discussing and exploring and analyzing every single one of them.
And so when I stand at my kitchen sink and look out the window at the vines growing over the chain-link fence and think that all I want to do is run away from the tantrums and the whining and the dinners left uneaten on divided plastic plates, it must mean that I am a terrible mother. Good mothers don’t fantasize about leaving their children, do they?
A couple of years ago, in a desperate attempt to become a good mother, I started studying mindfulness. One of the first ideas I learned in my mindfulness-based stress reduction course is that thoughts are just thoughts. That’s it. They’re not reality or anything even close to it. We’ve all got theories about where they come from, but no one really knows. (If you look up “thought” on Google, the first definition that pops up says, “an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurring suddenly in the mind.” Um. Thanks. That clears up everything.)
Perhaps our thoughts are the result of the random firings of neurons. Maybe they’re just the repetition of phrases our parents used to mutter under their breath when they thought we couldn’t hear, or they’re ideas that we’ve had over and over again through the years for no apparent reason. Every once in awhile, they might even be a stroke of divine inspiration. Who knows?
The point is that despite what my grandfather and my education have taught me, my thoughts aren’t necessarily worthy of my attention, and I can actually choose how much time and energy I want to spend on any given one.
That thought (ahem) literally changed my life.
Now, when I stand over my kitchen sink, shoveling chocolate in my mouth and wondering how I ever got myself into this mess (both literal and figurative), I don’t immediately assume that I should hand my kids over to DSS. I try, whenever I can, to remember that it’s just a thought, and I can choose to let it go so I can calm down and get a little perspective.
Let it go. It’s as simple as that, but it’s not necessarily easy. I have over three decades of experience getting all wrapped up in my thoughts as if they were God’s word inserted directly into my mind. But I’m working on it, because the better I get at noticing, and dismissing, my frequently unhelpful thoughts, the more I can stay focused on what really matters.
The thing is, I can’t figure out what that is until I let go of all the ramblings in my brain that don’t matter.
Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., is a clinical social worker, writer, and mother. She is the mindful parenting blogger for PsychCentral.com and a contributing editor at Kveller.com. Carla's writing has been featured inThe New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Parents.com, among other places. Her first book, Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters, is now available. Carla currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and two young daughters.
- Essays: Parenthood
- Reading List: Parenting Resources
- In Search of the Spiritual: Gabriel Marcel, Psychoanalysis and the Sacred by Paul Marcus