Mindfulness in Sarah’s Words: Not ruled by Fear, Anxiety, & Anger (An Interview Series)

Sarah MacDonald is one of the most resilient and positive individuals I have ever met through my mindfulness practice. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and works as a social worker in Toronto. She is currently co-parenting her son (and another baby on the way!) and is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Here, Sarah shares candidly about her childhood and how mindfulness has helped her along the way.

1. How did you first come across mindfulness?

Answer: Perhaps it sounds cliché but it felt serendipitous.  I grew up on a rural self sustaining farm so I was no stranger to hard work.  It was something that became ingrained in me.  Life took some turns and I was apprehended permanently at age eleven in Children’s Aid Society.  There were many people who helped me and many people that cultivated deep suffering.  I understood one thing without question: If I worked three times as hard as everyone around me, I could have the same things as everyone else.  I had 2-3 full time jobs for most of my life.  I have done this without the supports of any family members.  I understood that any reliance on anyone was a terrible risk I could not afford.

I carried this through my life and found myself doing my Master’s Degree at York University in Social Work.  I was supposed to take a course in Neuroscience, but due to a registrar error I ended up being stuck in a Mindfulness class.  I was furious.  I couldn’t believe what a colossal waste of time the class was…the teacher took all the desks and made us sit in a circle without phones or computers…it was a three-hour class.  I was SO MAD.  I generally would work on my assignments during my classes and manage work/life details.  I was constantly multi-tasking.  The second day, I felt like I was going to spontaneously combust – we had to sit in front of a tree for 45 minutes.  Then, the class slowly started to grow on me; I would read things that would infuse hope into my very critical social work world view.

(Credit: Jennifer Ma, Getstencil.com)

One day the professor mentioned a retreat.  I thought “hummm retreat, that sounds relaxing” and I could just squeeze it between several courses and commitments.  What I never could have anticipated was the magnitude of how my life was about to change.  I still remember the sensation of the soft grass under my bare feet, standing in the cool summer night looking at the moon…the way I sobbed as I touched the earth for the first time, understanding the magnitude of just how connected I was to the land, all of my land ancestors, how each cell in my body was made up of living things, the drops of water on the flowers were drops of water in my body.

I suddenly understood I wasn’t alone.  I sat for hours meditating, chewing broccoli, listening until every cell in my body ached.

2. What does mindfulness mean to you?

Answer: Initially, I took my practice on with the same work ethic I did with everything else I had known.  I would diligently meditate for an hour every day, spend hours reading my practice books, attending multiple retreats, and mindfulness groups.

I really like the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh as it is an integrated and spacious model of practice that I can bring into the way I approach life.

Mostly it means that I am not ruled by fear, anxiety, and anger.  It means I have returned to the childlike wonder and enjoyment of the little things in life.  I can hold a cup of tea in two hands and take pleasure in it, instead of drinking it while running down the street to catch a bus checking my e-mail on my phone.

(Credit: Pixabay.com) 

3. With a busy family life, how do you instill mindfulness into your everyday life?

Answer: Parenting in ways takes me closer and further from my practice.  Children are naturally mindful.  My son wants me to be present all the time and he helps me to find joy and delight in all of the little gems of life.  It also means that the demands on me can really lead to a lot of unmindful practices.   Trying to manage not sleeping at all some nights, saving all my sick days for when my kid is sent from daycare, working full time, all the duties and social responsibilities often leaves very little for me.  Often I don’t have time to shower, or even cook properly.

When I get caught in the exhaustion, the relentlessness, the frustration, and the unending demands on my patience, my practice helps me.

I can take a breath.  I can remember that all things come to an end…the good and the difficult.  I can think about how I will feel about this in five years.  I remember how hard I have fought, struggled, and worked to have a good solid stable life.

Sarah & her son at a playground. (Credit: Sarah MacDonald facebook)

4. When you feel stuck in a rut, what do you to do get out of it?

Answer: I really grieved having formal practice space once my son was born.  He was breastfed and I couldn’t leave him long enough to get to my mindfulness group.  At a certain point, I realized I could just make my own .  I started a practice space for other parents in my home.  However I’m 2 weeks away from having my second child so I will need to re-establish and find a new way to practice.

5. Who’s your favourite author, podcaster or blogger

Answer: hahahahhahaa these luxuries have sailed since parenthood has begun.

6. If you could tell your 5-year-old self (inner child) one thing, what would it be?

Answer:  Dear sweet child, You are so beautiful and perfect.  I love you and I want you to know that the world might try to tell you differently, but those things are not the truth.  Those things are a manifestation of the suffering and unskillfulness in others and not a reflection of you.  You will have to work very hard in your life to come to understand this truth.

Sarah’s black & white maternity photo with her beaming son. (Credit: Leydon Photography, reproduced with permission from Sarah.)

I want to thank Sarah for taking time out of her busy life to share her life experiences, both her ups-and-downs, with us. Sarah encountered difficult moments in her childhood, but she became strong and resilient through her own perseverance and determination. To Sarah, mindfulness means to live a life not ruled by fear, anxiety, and anger, and to enjoy the little things in life with childlike wonder.

What about you? What does mindfulness mean to you?

Leave us a comment below.

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Jennifer M. | Founder of Simply Mindful (www.smindful.ca) | INFJ personality type | Proud owner of 2 guinea pigs

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