Group meditation offers parents quiet time away from the kids and stress of daily life

  • A meditation group for parents is held on the first and third Sundays of every month at the Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley in Easthampton.  GAZETTE STAFF/LISA SPEAR

  • Rachel Maiore, 48, left, a mother of three, says the meditation sessions give her some time to focus on herself. — GAZETTE STAFF/LISA SPEAR

  • A meditation group for parents is held on the first and third Sundays of every month at the Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley in Easthampton.  GAZETTE STAFF/LISA SPEAR

  • Sarah Stolwijk, of Northampton, is wrapped in a blanket as she meditates next to Sigrid Schmalzer, the parents’ meditation group facilitator.  GAZETTE STAFF/LISA SPEAR

  • Tim Reynolds and Rachel Maiore engage children Luco, 8, Rafael, 5, and Adi, 9, with mindfulness cards at their home in Northampton, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rachel Maiore holds mindfulness cards she uses to help her children focus. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rachel Maiore plays with Rafael, 5, at their home in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tim Reynolds and Rachel Maiore engage Rafael, 5, with mindfulness cards at their home in Northampton, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tim Reynolds and Rachel Maiore engage children Rafael, 5, and Adi, 9, with mindfulness cards at their home in Northampton, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At left, Tim Reynolds holds a mindfulness jar that is also used to help his children focus. After it is shaken, the sparkles it contains are suspended in glycerin until they fall to the bottom.

  • A mindfulness jar is used by Tim Reynolds and Rachel Maiore, of Northampton, to help their children focus. After it is shaken, the sparkles it contains are suspended in glycerin until they fall to the bottom. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2018 11:51:31 PM

Peace and quiet is hard to come by when you’re a busy parent. A moment to yourself is rare, and it can be a challenge to think about your own needs.

“For parents, self compassion is a big thing and it can become just another thing on your list to do,” said Rachel Maiore, 48, mother of three young children in Northampton.

That’s one reason why she meditates each week with a group of other parents. The time they spend at the Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley in Easthampton, they say, is a way to be kind to themselves, but it is also a tool to help with their parenting. A regular meditation practice means that they can be more attentive to their children, more patient and better aware of their own needs, too, they say. It makes fights among siblings and tantrums in the grocery store seem a little less significant. And having other parents to talk to after the meditation gives them perspective and a sense of community.

“We use it as a place to go and have support around our mindfulness practice,” said Maiore’s husband, Timothy Reynolds, a software engineer. The community of other parents motivates the couple to go to the sessions, said Maiore. “There is something nice about doing it with other parents. We are all kind of tired and distracted and it’s nice to be with adults, but not feel like you have to smile or make conversation.”

When they get home, they like to help their three young children, between the ages of 5 and 9, understand what mindfulness is by playing games. They sometimes use a deck of cards that instruct the children on how to be present in each moment. One card might ask them to notice sensations in their bodies and count the sensations. Another card might ask them to place a finger on the child’s forehead and have them notice the feeling. They also created a mindfulness jar, filled with water and glitter. The children are instructed to turn the jar and watch as the glitter falls. “It’s a meditative practice that is more accessible to children,” Maiore says.

Sunday moments

The small room at the Eastworks Building on Pleasant Street in Easthampton is warm and inviting, softly lit with just a few lamps.

On a recent Sunday, the 30-minute session began with Sigrid Schmalzer, facilitator of the group, striking a Buddhist instrument called a singing bowl with a small wooden stick. Its soft ring filled the room.

Maiore was among the four parents sitting on meditation cushions in a half circle.

Her face was soft and expressionless, her hands resting on her knees as she sat cross-legged. She took a deep breath, slowly inhaling through her nose, her eyes closed.

She and the others were practicing vipassana meditation, which involves observing the breath and sensations within the body. As the meditators breathe in and out through their nostrils, they are to notice every sensation in their bodies without reacting, without trying to push them away. They just stay still as the feelings come and go.

The meditation leaves the practitioners feeling refreshed, they say.

The time went by fast and Schmalzer struck the singing bowl once more to let the group know the meditation was over. As the parents opened their eyes, Schmalzer said softly, “It’s so nice to enjoy that quiet.”

A woman to her left, Sarah Stolwijk of Northampton, is wrapped in a blanket. “It feels so nourishing, huh?” she added. 

The parents gather in this rented space on the first and third Sundays of every month, the group is open to anyone, regardless of experience with meditation; there is no cost to attend, only a suggested donation of between $7 to $25.

At the end of each session, the parents exchange stories about how their meditation practice has affected their parenting and their relationships with their children. One person leads the conversation and picks a theme, but often the parents just talk about coping, Maiore said. 

This time, Schmalzer opened by asking the group to think about frustrating moments when their children misbehave: “How do we know when to intervene and when not to intervene? And how do we intervene in ways that don’t result in anger bubbling over?” she asked. 

Stokwijk told a story of a family trip to a Buddhist monastery in Mississippi where every meal was to be eaten in silence. Her young son struggled with this. “It was getting to me and I just felt embarrassed,” she said.

Later that day she went for a consultation with a Buddhist nun to ask for advice. “The first thing she told me is that you have to practice loving speech,” she said. Stokwijk was advised to change the language that she used with her son, to not demand he behave, but speak to him in a kind, loving way. “I have been practicing this and it is really working,” she said. Now, instead of scolding her child when he is acting up, she might politely ask him to stop. “I say it in a kind way and he immediately responds to it. It is kind of miraculous. …It is still setting the boundaries, but in a different tone.”

Other parents shared stories of skirmishes around getting their children to school in the morning, of dealing with sibling fights, and setting consequences for bad behavior. 

Occasionally, Maiore said later, she talks about her three boys, Adi, 9, Luco, 7, and Rafe, 5, during this part of the session. The parents don’t often offer advice, she said, they just listen. “Mostly we just try to give each other a lot of compassion.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com.

The Parenting Group is one of six group meditation sessions held at the Insight Meditation Center of Pioneer Valley in Easthampton, 116 Pleasant St. #242, Easthampton, throughout the month.

There is also a People of Color group as well as a Young Adult group. For more information, call 413-527-0388 or  visit http://insightpv.org.

    

 

 

 

 

 

 




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