Integrative Health|Mindful Parenting
“Expecting” and Beginner’s Mind
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Suzuki Roshi
When you have a baby on the way, you inevitably put a fair amount of energy into planning, anticipating and preparing for what to ‘expect’. We help families both become informed but also, encourage some confidence in all that can’t be planned.
So what, exactly, are “expectations”?
I was contacted some weeks ago by a radio show host. She was hoping to put her co-host through a series of pregnancy empathy exercises to help him appreciate what his wife might be experiencing. Throughout the week, Remy was wearing an empathy belly, denied favorite foods that would be unsafe for pregnancy, and was put through simulations of common discomforts and experiences of pregnancy, including the full bladder, weight distribution changes, and on the final day, ‘contractions’ brought on by a TENS unit that puts out electrical impulses.
I participated as a consultant to the radio personalities and hoped I could contribute some positive messages to the conversation but I think we all understood that this ‘pregnancy week’ was not a way to fully know this unknowable and embodied experience. The hosts were delightful and in this lighthearted 4 minutes I let go of the expectations that I would have any grand impact or could make things turn out in any particular way, even though I was there as the ‘expert’ on childbirth. This was a new experience for me to be on a morning radio talk show, let alone in this kind of script, and I too didn’t know what to expect…
I know that when you come to us for support, you trust us to bring expertise. I believe that to be the right kind of expert for you, it takes not only a wealth of knowledge and a storehouse of experience, but also, some confidence in walking with you through all that can’t be fully planned.
All of life is filled with moment to moment experiences that we can’t actually preconceive, until or unless it arrives and is a felt experience. Yet, we go about building up lots of plans and expectations about things we think we can know. We think we know…
- Exactly how our partner will react when we share feedback.
- What a patient will most be worried about when we tell them their test results.
- What idea our work team will resist.
- What our child will be like.
- What will happen when we go home for a holiday with family.
- Or even, what the leftover chili will taste like when we eat it for lunch.
Our mind takes past experiences and tries to build up stories about future experiences based on what has happened or based on similar experiences. Or we take in research and imagine the odds of an event occurring, for instance, as we plan a trip to a vacation spot during hurricane season.
Sometimes we take a brighter, optimistic view or sometimes expect the worst, but in either case, anything that happens will be measured against the imagined experience. We might even get this little rush when we think we got it right, even if it’s unpleasant.
We think life feels safer when we try to figure it all out, and we want to find confidence in a “plan”.
What lies in ‘not knowing?’
But what happens if we approach life with the mind of a small child? Forgetting what we are supposed to know, see, feel …and instead, go into this next moment wondering what might happen?
Wonder-(noun) – A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
Being prepared and staying curious
As educators, advocates, consultants and doulas we do offer insight into what to expect and shed light on some blind corners. For instance, we can give an in-depth preparation to help families to be informed and prepared for the stages of labor and can share evidence to help a new mother approach breastfeeding with confidence and insight into how supply and demand works. We may skillfully help a couple ask meaningful questions when faced with an intervention or medical decision in labor.
There is no argument that preparing for birth and parenting is helpful, essential even for your wellbeing and adjustment. And of course, you want to be guided by experts who have experience with these things that are unfamiliar to you, who will have insight and foresight to keep you and your baby safe and to support you getting what you need.
But much of what we do in supporting the expectant family in their preparation is ALSO offering tools for being with the unknown. We hold the space for wonder and welcome opportunities for us all to be with Beginner’s mind.
We love the opportunity to bring this tool into our work together. We enjoy being able to practice wonder and curiosity as practitioners! We stay tuned in to your experience as it is, not what we think it should be. This process makes us both wiser and more skillful at getting you what you need.
Practicing Beginner’s Mind: Exercise
Invitation to Pause
Entering each moment with a sense of not-knowing has its gifts, but it goes against our habit mind. We are asked to drop a false security we feel when we think we can figure everything out.
This takes some practice! As you go into the next thing you’re about to do, maybe answering the phone or checking email, see if you can take a few moments to pause. Notice what your breath is like. Is it short or long? Is one arm more tensed than the other? What does the keyboard or the screen feel like under your fingertips? What’s on your desk or what do you see if you look out the window right now? What sounds do you hear? Do you think you know where they are coming from or what is happening outside your door? Be with this curious self for a few moments and see if you can bring a shrug of ‘who knows’ to the next person or experience you encounter.
Because wonder is within you, and the possibilities are many.
Contact us for more information on Mindfulness based approaches to preparation for birth and parenting.
For more on Beginner’s mind..
Are you a professional in a related field of maternal/child health who is expecting? Has it been interesting to balance what you know with what feels so new? Do you feel a sense of conflict about being ‘just a parent’ and an ‘expert’?
In this video, I share my experience of preparation for parenting. I speak to the common tensions that can come up for those who might be midwives, child experts, doctors, nurses… who are pregnant or parenting, but also the lessons of Beginner’s Mind that can support us all.