When did you first start practicing mindfulness and why were you motivated to do so?

I first became interested in mindfulness in 2002 while trekking in the Himalayas and reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Being Peace.  When I returned to the States after my 16 month trip in Asia, I quickly got sucked back into the craziness of graduate school and thoughts of mindfulness faded.  

This all changed when I became pregnant. I knew that I needed to become more centered and peaceful in order to be the parent I hoped to be (not to mention the wife I wanted to be). I was always rushing around, stressed out, thinking about the future, worried about the past and I wanted to change so that I could be fully present and calm with my daughter once she was born.

Did you take a class? If so, what sort of a class did you take?

A midwife I was studying with for my Nurse Practitioner certificate recommended a Mindful Birth and Parenting course to her patients eager to have a natural childbirth.  I looked this class up online and was excited about the depth of the course, the commitment to daily meditation, and the ability to share the experience with my husband.  

The 9-week course was taught by Nancy Bardacke, a midwife and mindfulness instructor, and it was wonderful.  It introduced different meditation techniques that were then practiced at home. While there was a lot of information presented about birth and the postpartum period, Nancy always stressed that this was a practice that could be useful in all aspects of parenthood and life. She liked to say that our babies would be our best mindfulness teachers—and she could not have been more right!

Since this course I have sustained a regular practice, took a 6-week Mindful Parenting course and am currently in the middle of a 30-week introduction to Buddhism (with a focus on Insight Meditation) at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

How has mindfulness made a difference in your life?

Mindfulness has improved my life, and, consequently, that of my husband and daughter, immeasurably. While mindfulness is not a panacea and has not magically transformed me, it is a priceless tool that has enabled me to be less reactive, calmer, and more focused. I am present in my life. I still get stressed out, angry, frustrated, guilt-ridden, judgmental, worried. However, instead of reacting and then regretting, I can often find my breath, come back to the now, feel the emotions without judgment, and decide how I want to proceed.  The more I practice, the better I get.

The most important way this has benefited my life is by enabling me to be present with my daughter and be a source of calm and love in her life. During the first year, there were so many times I felt exhausted, rushed, or distracted—but was able to breath and refocus on my daughter and her needs.  When she wakes in the middle of the night, cries and squirms when getting ready to leave the house, flings food to test her limits, wants the same book read 20 times, or when she is inconsolable when teething or sick—mindfulness helps me be there with her completely. I believe (hope!) she feels secure, loved and connected to me as a result.

What do you do for your livelihood (e.g., homemaker, teacher, firefighter) and does your practice of mindfulness affect that?

I am a Labor and Delivery nurse at a hospital and a Nurse Practitioner providing women’s health care in a community clinic. I could not overstate how much mindfulness has benefited me in my work.

My ability to connect with and be present with patients has greatly improved.  If I start to worry about time limits, paperwork, or other issues while talking to and caring for patients, I am better able to refocus on what the patient is saying, their immediate needs and how I can meet them. There are many stressful moments on a labor and delivery unit but since I started my practice, I am much less likely to get overwhelmed.  Instead, I am able to breath, take things one step at a time, delegate effectively, stay calm. Ultimately, this benefits the patient, my co-workers, and myself.  

Furthermore, compassion and loving kindness practices help me feel more interconnected, less judgmental, and more empathetic when problems or disagreements arise.

One of the most important changes is the way I interact with co-workers. I used to worry excessively about what people thought of me, always wanted to sound knowledgeable, afraid someone would know something I didn’t (and would therefore look bad). This led to defensiveness; I talked too much and missed opportunities to learn.  

Since practicing over the past year, I have changed dramatically. This was especially apparent when I recently started a new job.  I was focused on the present, was not worried about my image, listened intently, and was open to suggestions and advice.  In return, I learned so much, felt appreciative of, and connected to, my new co-workers and felt free to ask questions and grow in my position.

Is there anything else you would want people to know about mindfulness and you?

Mindfulness seems to affect every aspect of my life.  It helps me deal with physical pain, emotional upsets, relationships, and just mundane day-to-day living.  It also makes me feel so hopeful for the future; that as my practice deepens, my wonderful life (and the lives of those close to me) will continue to improve.