Ady Griffiths’ new book ‘Mindful Thoughts for Fathers’ hits the shelves today. He explained how he can help working dads adopt mindfulness, what it is and the improvements it can bring.
Ady Griffiths new book would be unreadable if he wasn’t a working dad.
His Mindful Thoughts for Fathers might drive dads mad if it wasn’t rooted in real experiences.
After all, it’s very easy to tell a dad to keep calm. It’s a different matter staying calm in the hurly burly of juggling work and life.
“It can be hard to be mindful when you wake up with sick all over you, or you’re struggling to get the kids out the door or you’ve got to work long hours because a certain project has to be finished,” admits Ady. “I wanted to be honest, there are difficulties that come with being a dad.
“But the book seeks to help with thinking about being aware of who we are, where we are, how we are feeling in those moments.”
There’s a telling anecdote in the book about a family disagreement over directions while on holiday in Spain. Lots of dads will recognise the scenario of sitting in the driving seat and having to decide which way to go. Ady turns it into a lesson on taking the path less travelled and embracing the uncertainty that comes with fatherhood.
In the book he talks about the shock of becoming a dad. Again many men will recognise the feeling.
His daughter Francesca is now seven. When she was younger he was working at a Buddhist retreat. (He’s an ordained Buddhist given the name Vidya dasa meaning ‘disciple of knowledge’, appropriate for a new author.) Now he’s self employed as a web designer and yoga teacher. A slashie in the current language.
“I’m grateful to be able to juggle things,” he says. He mixes and matches the school run with his wife according to their work needs.
One of his yoga pupils is a commissioning editor and approached him about writing a book for dads. Of course there was an equivalent book for mums first, but at least publishers are now waking up the idea that fathers might need some help and advice too. “We have particular difficulties as dads, trying to find the right work life balance.”
Meditation and mindfulness don’t exactly lend themselves to a handy list of shortcuts. They take a bit of learning. But the book is a good primer. And Ady has some simple steps to bear in mind. “I try to be aware of the body. What do I sense in my body? I try to feel the ground beneath me, be aware of any tightness or tension in my body. Are there particular feelings or thoughts I need to deal with. And I try to be aware of my breathing. And it’s also about being aware of who is in front of me, who do I need to turn to with kindness.”
He’s a practical example of that. “Recently I was taking my daughter to school in the car and ended up shouting at her. I pulled over, apologised to her, she apologised to me, we worked out what was going on and then we were back in human contact. We put some music on and enjoyed the rest of the ride together.”
There’s an interesting chapter on friendship in the book. A signal of Ady’s scope but a welcome recognition that no matter how mindful you are we all need support. “I have a friend I made through our NCT group, he sometimes comes round with his child for a sleepover. The children will play, we’ll have a good conversation, sometimes meditate together. Some men find that a bit weird! But with some people it’s just easy to be around each other.
“Connections with other men are important.”
You can read an extract from Mindful Thoughts for Fathers below. Ady sums up his approach to fatherhood and mindfulness in a pithy and poetic phrase. “The question I try to ask myself is ‘how can I fragrance this experience with kindness?’”
Creating and maintaining positivity requires effort, and it’s not always possible to be positive. Accepting that fact is actually a realistic place to start: unless you are some kind of superhero dad from another planet, it’s highly unlikely that you will always be chilled out and cheerful.
A plastic smile helps no one: good attitudes and healthy thinking can’t be created on a superficial level. What we need is to find ways to be in touch with the good, the bad and the difficult. Everyone feels the temptation to get lost in fantasies about how life could or should be, but lasting happiness needs to be built on mindfulness of body, mind and feelings and a sturdy relationship with reality. It’s particularly important to maintain such habits when you are struggling to juggle work and life.
There are some useful teachings from the Buddha known as the ‘four right efforts’ or ‘four skilful efforts’. I will use the latter term here, as ‘right’ can sound rather black and white: this is about developing skills, and there are many ways to find a ‘right’ solution to a problem.
So, what are these skilful efforts? They come in two pairs: preventing and eradicating unhelpful states of mind, and developing and maintaining helpful ones.
Unskilful states of mind are characterized by greed, where we only care how to satisfy our own desires; hatred, where we act harshly to anyone or anything that thwarts those desires; and delusion, where we forget that our desires are not the only thing in the world that matters – even to us.
As fathers, we need to accept these unhelpful states of mind will arise within us. We may want to do something nice for ourselves, and our child wants or needs the exact opposite. If we let our frustration drive us to speak or act harshly as a result, though, it’s not going to do us, or our child, any favours. All we will do is model bad behaviours for our child to mirror back to us – or else hit us in later years with a therapy bill! It’s easy to let unskilful states of mind overwhelm us, but they aren’t a recipe for anyone’s happiness and it’s good to notice when they bubble up inside ourselves.
Skilful states of mind, on the other hand, are characterized by generosity, love and wisdom. When our child is doing something we don’t like and we are able to empathize, understand, and see why they are behaving as they are, then we’re in a much better place to give what they really need. Putting aside our own needs and wants takes generosity, but it’s generous to ourselves as well as our son or daughter: responding kindly (though that may sometimes, of course, mean a kindly ‘no’), means they will feel more content. As every father knows, a content child is a better-behaved child, and a better-behaved child means a more contented dad.
Be alert to unskilful states of mind building up in yourself. Look out for angry, harsh thoughts; feel the heat in your belly, chest or head; notice a habitual action, such as wagging a finger. Then stop. Bring your awareness back to your body; create a stable upright position. Take a few deep breaths. You know this is not how you want to act, so create a mindful moment, calm yourself, and find your better intentions.
Choosing skilful states of mind is a creative act, helping you to nurture a family where everyone’s sense of playfulness is free to expand. What activities do you and your kids enjoy that help you change your moods and thoughts? Dancing, messing about and laughing release energy and create joy; acrobatic balancing and pairing up in gymnastic movements create supportive connections; and slow, careful games like chess encourage patience and attention. Make these part of your lives together, and bring your loving attention to bear while you and your children enjoy them together. You may find you grow and mature almost as much as they do.
Think of your state of mind as a living ocean, with your current actions surfing along the top. When you’re in a good mood, you can ride the waves of previous skilful actions – but you can’t just drift. You will need to keep making subtle efforts to stay balanced, or the next wave may knock you back into deep water.
Creating skilful habits is deeply positive, both for you and for those around you. If you are in a resourceful state, you can help lift the mood of others and make a playful day or a united learning experience, which will help you feel happy about your parenting efforts.