Out of My Mindfulness

Purposefully harness the power of connection

Kristine Petterson
Kristine Petterson

Last week I took a walk with my oldest daughter on a cold fall evening. It was a leisurely amble really, the kind of walk that would make me cringe on a normal day. “We’re late, pick up the pace,” is my usual mantra when hustling my kids from one place to the next. However, I had a head cold and just couldn’t muster the energy.

What a gift to really slow down so that I can feel the sun on my face, to really see that intense shade of red in the trees. Our conversation paused long enough to notice the crunch of leaves underfoot and to take in the crisp autumn scent. The best part was occasionally locking eyes with my daughter, really looking at who she was becoming around each corner. It felt so good to connect meaningfully with this 7-year-old who often seems too busy for me. No distractions, no demands, just she and I making our way on our own time.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not strolling along in a state of utter mindful bliss. This connection stuff takes work for me. As a recovering perfectionist, I had a list of “shoulds” threatening to crash my moment of sweetness. It was dinnertime, and in the back of my mind I kept thinking I should be opening cupboards and deciding what to prepare. I was aware of the impending rush of bedtime routines, dishes, folding laundry and tidying up the house so I could collapse in bed and do it all again the next day.

What is this whole connection thing, really? While connection is described as a link or relationship between people, ideas or things, I like to quote Dr. Brené Brown in my Mindful Parenting program: “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

This connection business is powerful stuff. I resisted it for a long time thinking I just didn’t have time or energy for one more thing. Now I know that connection is not something extra you have to do; it’s just making a choice to do all the things differently. Whether it’s family dinner, scrubbing your shrieking child’s hair in the bath (we’ve all been there, right?), buying groceries, pumping gas or even cleaning house. We can rush through our whole day feeling resentful and undone, or we can take each step with love, looking for magical moments to connect with self and others.

Do The Work

It’s helpful to acknowledge that, at first, creating deep mindful connection habits takes work, focus and awareness throughout your day-to-day grind. For me it also requires a commitment to reversing downward “should spirals” so that I can put the stuff of life on hold to truly see and be seen. I used to think some people were just born into a life of calm and ease and deep eye-gazing, and other people (like me) were born running around like chickens with their heads cut off and never really seeing anything other than the next check box on the never-ending to-do list.

What I’ve learned is that connecting meaningfully is a muscle you build, and right before the “holidaze” is a great time to start. I mean, honestly, the time from Halloween to New Year’s can really just be one chaotic, booze-laced festival of self-abandonment if people aren’t really tapped into what’s important for them. When you slow down to ask yourself what you want and who you want to share it with, you’ll notice all sorts of bright lights and souls you want to connect with intentionally. You’ll also notice some dark or heavy things that create disconnect or worry. Go ahead and drop them, say no, so that you have the energy to do the work that feels good, easy and joyful.

Step by step, I was able to apply strategies to my relationships with myself, partner, friends, kids and clients that cultivated connection and deepened the fun we had. I took lots of detours on this journey, so I’ve broken down what I feel is the easiest path to powerful connection here for you.

Pause

Slowing down is key, and also really hard to do if you’re not in the habit. I actually had to get ridiculously deliberate about making space for connection, but now the practices that felt difficult and disjointed are comfortable, and I feel irritation and resistance when I don’t stick to them.

It might look like:

  • Setting a timer several times a day to just check in with your breath or to put your hand on your chest to see if you can feel your heartbeat.

  • Making a sign to put up in rooms where you usually feel rushed and frustrated (for me it’s the kitchen) that says “Stop. Breathe. What about life is beautiful right now?”

  • Putting your phone on its charger for a few hours each day so you can connect with certain tasks and people without distraction.

Notice

Check in with what you are thinking and feeling when the timer goes off or you see that sign. Are you frantic and weighed down by the dozens of tasks on your list? Exhausted by the never-ending work of keeping up appearances?

It might look like:

  • “I’m overwhelmed by all that I have to do today.”

  • “I feel hungry or thirsty or need to move my body right now.”

  • “I’m feeling really lonely, yet I’m surrounded by people.”

  • “I’m holding my breath, rushing from one thing to the next, as if that will help me go faster.”

Connect

Make a conscious connection to what you want to be thinking and feeling in this moment — you don’t have to change what you’re doing. Keep chopping veggies or mopping the floor and look for something kinder, easier and more joyful to connect to in that moment.

It might look like:

  • Shifting from hate-cleaning to connection cleaning — turn on some tunes, take a deep breath and sparkle up the home you love.

  • Asking loud obnoxious children to play a game outside while you breathe easy and enjoy making dinner in peace and quiet.

  • Calling your grumpy child (or partner for that matter) over for a hug and a deep breath. Bonus points if you do it without saying a word — just smile and look them in the eye.

Will they think you’ve been smoking something? It’s possible. And honestly, these practices can provide a wonderful rush. The hormones created by connection are the real deal and don’t cost anything. I cringe to think about how much beauty and sweetness I missed when I was focused on the miserable acts of doing, cleaning and box-checking. I’m going into the holidays this year knowing that I tend to get distracted by the never-ending emails, errands and obligations, but that I’m going to do the work to slow down and connect to the everyday magic along the way.


Petterson lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and mindful parenting educator. She can be contacted via her website at www.kristinepetterson.com.

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