by Nataleigh Kohn, LMSW
Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been thinking a lot about participation: perhaps participation in activism and problem-solving surrounding challenging current events—and simultaneously, participation in joyful experiences that may provide momentary distraction or respite from those same events. In DBT, participation is one of our core mindfulness skills, and therefore one of the core underpinnings of everything we practice. Participation is the act of throwing your whole self into whatever it is you are doing or experiencing, and turning all of your attention toward the present moment. By participating fully in the moment, we are able to experience life more clearly, connect more fully with ourselves and others, and increase our attention and effectiveness toward achieving our goals.
So many of us struggle with mindlessness much of the time: trying to be in ten places or complete ten different tasks at once, of running on auto-pilot, and of frequent attention to the past or the future rather than what’s right in front of or within us. It’s part of being human. And it turns out that when we are able to turn our mind and our whole self back to the present moment, we can not only be much more effective and more skillful, but also can open ourselves up to richness and beauty around us that we may have otherwise missed or taken for granted.
I have been a therapist at Metro NY DBT for three years now, and like most of our staff and clients (and the rest of the world) have experienced a great deal of change since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. For me, the most significant change was becoming a mother for the first time in December 2021. I could write 100 essays on the ways in which my life has transformed since my daughter was born, and the ways in which DBT skills have helped me along the way, but today we’re talking about participation. The idea of mindfulness through participation took on a whole new meaning when I became a mother.
The experience of brand-new parenthood is often overwhelming, all-consuming, and like many major life transitions, fairly difficult to comprehend or plan for until you’re in the midst of it. For me, the urge to be ten places at once, to move quickly and multitask, was constant. In the first six weeks or so, you could probably find me attempting to change a diaper, while researching the difference between various sleep training strategies on my phone, while wondering when I was going to have time to eat lunch, while attempting to narrate my every move to my infant daughter to expose her to language, while asking Siri to play Raffi. And while doing all of those things, I was often experiencing judgments about what I was or was not doing. Needless to say, I was not being mindful.
Over time, I came to understand that the urge to do everything at once—that was undoubtedly prompted by varying beliefs, judgments, and myths about my experience as a new parent—was actually taking my attention away from what was most important to me: spending valuable time with my (very cute) daughter. When I was able to let go and to allow myself to be all-in in the moment, I was able to bring much more attention to beauty and joy that I might have otherwise missed. These days, I make sure to allow myself to let go of distractions and judgment, at least for a few minutes, when spending time with my daughter. I could be playing with her, giving her a bottle, or watching her attempt to fit her entire foot into her mouth. It’s not always easy, or possible—sometimes you have to ask Siri to repeat “Baby Beluga” or realize you forgot to make lunch and scramble to order take-out. The point, though, is that I do my best to stay present.
My hope for our community this week is that we are able to participate in at least one thing in the present moment every day. Whether it’s going for a walk outside, spending time with a loved one, eating a favorite meal, or meditating, do your best to let go and to be all-in.
WORDS OF WISDOM
MEME OF THE WEEK
What adults can learn from kids with Adora Svitak
BOOK OF THE WEEK
(Click below to Purchase Book)