As parents we pay very close attention to our children which helps us to attune to them. Being attuned then helps us to know what they need and provide for them appropriately. Practicing mindfulness can help to attune to yourself in a similar way. Helping you to be there for yourself in a caring and loving way.
One of the things I have learnt as a new parent is that it takes a lot of attention to be a good mother. With that I don’t just mean the normal kind if attention we pay to other people or things, I mean this special kind of attention where we need to be fully focused and tuned in with our child. My son is now 3 months old and one of the milestones for me as a mum was when I could tell by my baby’s cry, what it was that he needed. The only way this was possible is because over these 3 months I have been watching him and listening to him very attentively.
Babies can’t tell us what they need so we need to be extra attentive and tuned in with them. Attunement is the technical term for this phenomenon. In the dictionary attunement is defined as ‘being at one’ with another being. According to Bowlby (1988) paying close attention to a baby aids in developing attunement with one’s child and helps the baby and caregiver to bond. Bowlby also believes that it takes this kind of special attention from a parent or caregiver to raise happy and healthy children.
As I was thinking about the importance of attunement with my son I had this brief thought that it would be great if I had a person in my life that pays so much attention to me and tells me or gives me what I need when I need it. Then I realised that I have such and adult in my life. I have me. But when do I take the time to pay so much attention to myself?
When do we stop to observe our body, our mind and our emotions with the same loving care we do for our children? When do we stop to tune in with ourselves? And if we don’t do that regularly, what do we deprive ourselves of? How long do we wait to give ourselves what we need?
For too many of us however, living on autopilot is the norm. According to Siegel (2007) this way of living can leave us feeling numb and empty and prevents us from responding in an appropriate way when inter- or intrapersonal difficulties arise. When we are mindful however, our awareness of what is going on within and around us, increases and enhances our ability to engage with ourselves and others in a more authentic way.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way of tuning in with ourselves and to get to know our body, our mind and our emotions better so that we can start being there for ourselves more often. It can also help us to read our own signs of distress better so that we can respond to ourselves in a timely manner before we get too distressed. Siegel (2007) also describes mindfulness practice as one way of becoming one’s own best friend as we practice intra-personal attunement when we are mindful.
Mindful awareness, says Siegel, is also at the heart of any caring relationship we have with others or with ourselves. He uses the acronym COAL to describe to patients the attitude in which we can respond to ourselves and our environment from this point of view. COAL stands for: curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could respond to ourselves from a place of COAL, particularly in difficult moments? And when you think about a person you care deeply about, isn’t that how you approach them when they are in pain? Why not try to use the same attitude towards yourself for a change?
I therefore encourage you this month to be curious towards your own mind, body and emotions. When you notice for example frustration, try to be curious about this sensation. Where does frustration sit in your body? Do you know? Be open to whatever it is that you experience, just as if you were trying to get to know yourself in a new way, exploring parts of yourself you haven’t met yet. Accept whatever you discover, even if it is not the prettiest side of yourself. Maybe saying something like ‘it is what it is’ to yourself. And finally extend some love towards yourself as you do this. Be lenient towards yourself just as you would be towards a child that is only just learning about the world. Notice if you are judging yourself for being frustrated and see if you can let go of this judgment and just acknowledge to yourself that this is a challenging moment for you.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A Secure Base. Routledge, New York.
Siegel, D.J. (2007). Reflections on the Mindful Brain. A Brief Overview Adapted from The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being (New York: WW Norton 2007).
Share this Post