Being a big reader of books on psychology and the inner workings of the human mind and heart, there has been many a book on my adult reading journey that’s brought me an ‘aha!’ moment or two.
Few books, however – no matter how life-changing or enlightening – have brought me so many aha! moments, I thought I’d been whacked over the head with an Oprah Winfrey magazine collection.
The newest addition to Sarah Napthali’s stable of enlightening books for women, Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren brought me not only a superfluity of ahas, it also brought many an ooh, ahh and so many ringing bells, it was like entering a figurative Buddhist temple, replete with tinkling, ringing, pealing… and the merest hint of a waft of sandalwood.
I absolutely loved this book. I loved it for its honesty, openness, frankness and tender adherence to a belief system steeped in the antithesis to indoctrination – simplicity and Love. I also loved it because Napthali wrote it for me. Like, directly for me. It was like she had sat down and interviewed me, and then written a bespoke “Ok – now here’s how to change all this for the better” manual, with my name plastered across the front cover.
Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren is subtitled ‘Finding Calm in the Chaos of the School Years’, and the book lives up to its promise (yes I am deeply entrenched in the school years, how did you guess?).
Far from professing to take mothers on a magic carpet ride to enlightenment, where stress is eliminated, children become idyllic and parenting becomes an all-knowing, spiritually fulfilling trip, Napthali’s latest work affirms that its how we respond to parenting – and indeed, to life in general – that can transform a miserable parenting experience into one of greater peace and contentment.
Napthali’s commitment and authenticity in her work is clear in that she, like every other mother, consistently struggles to find balance and satisfaction in the often selfless, tedious and downright exhausting passage that is motherhood with school age children.
As Napthali quotes in the book’s preface, women who finally send their last child off to school somehow presume their days will become a series of open-ended, vacant hours. Of course, reality is very different. Very quickly, we are rushing. Rushing to fit it all in, get it all done, and perhaps even manage to carve out 20 minutes to perform long-forgotten rituals like washing hair or filing nails – before the school day is over and little ones are once again battering the front door down.
Many of the teachings of ‘mainstream’ Buddhism are ideas we all understand and appreciate in life – and do not require religious awakening nor a set of orange robes to both appreciate and integrate into our lives.
One of these teachings, as presented by Napthali, is the concept to just Be. To be with an emotion, sentiment, thought or idea. To experience it, acknowledge it – and be able to release it. This idea is centered in the notion that what we focus on gains momentum and becomes more powerful in our hearts and minds. Both the good and the bad.
Learning to just ‘sit’ with life’s stressors is a great task to most mothers, and I must admit, it’s something I consistently struggle with. When taking Napthali’s advice over a recent life stress, however, I was astounded to watch the aggressor begin to lose its power. Sure, the shift is ever so slight, but the positive shift continues to build, and I for one, couldn’t be happier.
Changing our perception and reactions to life is only a fraction of the lessons and soul reminders in Napthali’s work. The author writes as though talking to a friend over coffee. Her tone is familiar and responsive and candid. Not only does she provide personal examples of her struggle with balance and calm in a buzzing bee motherhood world, she also draws on the experiences and triumphs of other friends and colleagues, giving a well-rounded view on the different ways different women respond to motherhood – both its highs and lows.
Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren is divided clearly and practically into priceless chapters – priceless in that they are headed with titles almost every mother will be salivating to dive into – stress, balance, boredom, explaining, socializing, sharing, fear, the self, disciplining and best of all – happiness.
The book is holistic in that it shifts between ideas that centre on the mother’s perception of family life and also the child’s perspective. In this latter instance, Napthali even utilises the life experiences and learnings of her own young sons, bringing readers an understanding that may have been lost had the author taken a moralizing tone rather than one of warmth and sharing.
Throughout her book, Napthali presents both timely and timeless counsel that can be moulded to suit a variety of situations and mindsets. Her ideas are not only drawn from Buddhist teachings, but clearly from the author’s own compassion and personal insight as a dedicated mother. There are a plethora of a viewpoints and thoughtful ideas every mother can use to discover ways to become a ‘better’ parent.
What I like about Napthali’s work is that she’s not afraid to tell it like it is – not in terms of Dr Phil-style smack-in-the-face shock tactics, but in terms of her openness and willingness to admit she is not perfect and often experiences the dark side of parenting – the fact that it’s not all a bed of roses and raising children can be downright disabling at times.
If reading Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren can bring women anything beyond a strong feeling of empowerment and re-enthusiasm for the beauty of motherhood, it will be the sensation of feeling deeply understood. Of not being alone. Of knowing a few simple shifts in consciousness absolutely have the power to change the direction of a mother’s parenting and subsequently the future lives of her precious children.