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How Awe Transforms Us – and How to Create More of It for Your Kids

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This past summer’s Fourth of July fireworks were more spectacular than usual. My four-year-old daughter was seeing them for the first time in her life, and I was blown away by her reaction.


She was laughing, yelling out joyously at each new decoration in the sky, and even shaking in her chair. Witnessing her remarkable response allowed me to view that moment through her young eyes — to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.   

We sometimes have special moments in life that are so profound we don’t even know how to describe them. Maybe you just spotted a rainbow, watched a video about our expansive universe, or witnessed the birth of your child. The emotion you feel is hard to grasp — an overwhelming mix of wonder, joy, and sometimes even fear.

These moments are so exhilarating that we get goosebumps on our arms, feel tingling up and down our spine, tears flood our eyes, and our jaw drops.

This is called awe. Awe is an emotion that has a powerful effect on our body and mind. It’s a feeling very hard to put into words. David Delgado, a visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and co-founder of the Museum of Awe who spoke at the Greater Good Science Center’s recent Art and Science of Awe conference, describes awe as an instant when you can’t quite grasp something. “It feels like magic, amazement, mystery, reverence. It’s the moment when we realize it’s a gift and privilege to be alive.”

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How we feel awe

Awe has been addressed throughout history by the amazing works of great writers and scientists like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and John Muir. However, researchers have only recently begun to study how awe impacts our well-being.

In a key 2003 paper, “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual And Aesthetic Emotion,” psychologists Dacher Keltner of University of California, Berkeley (now the director of the Greater Good Science Center) and Jonathan Haidt of New York University presented how awe works and the effects it has on us. They found that awe consists of two core qualities:

  1. Perceived vastness — something we think to be greater than ourselves in number, scope, or complexity,
  2. It challenges or alters our understanding of the world.

Awe allows us to transcend the ordinary, tests our concept of time and scale, gives us the sense of being small in a grand universe, and helps us to truly be in the moment.

Awe can be triggered by different things for different people. It can result from profound beauty; spending time in nature; feeling connected to others; remarkable human accomplishments; scientific discoveries; or great works of architecture, art, and music. According to award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg who created the Gratitude Revealed film series, “It doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. What is important is…to be moved.”

How awe transforms us

On average, we feel awe only about two-and-a-half times per week, Dacher Keltner explains. As our culture becomes more self-focused and over-worked, awe provides an amazing tool to instill a deeper sense of worldliness, kindness, and peace in our children. Recent research shows that awe can make us happier and healthier in a number of significant ways.

1 | Broadens social connection

Awe changes our perspective of the world. We feel smaller and as though we are in the presence of something greater than ourselves. A study at the University of California, Berkeley concluded that awe makes us lose our awareness of “self” and feel more connected to the world around us. This helps get rid of dangerous “us versus them” thinking. Additionally, when we witness a remarkable moment, we want to share it with other people, causing us to bond with family, friends, and even strangers.

2 | Stimulates curiosity

When we observe something awesome — like images of Earth from space, a fascinating science experiment, or a talented athlete — we want to learn more about how it’s all possible. Curiosity is so critical to children’s growth and success. Even though their constant questions may be trying at times, it is ultimately what we want them to do so they’re always craving new knowledge. What’s even more incredible is that people who are curious tend to get along better with others.

3 | Expands creativity

Awe inspires us to be more creative because we begin to view the world in a broader sense. This expansive thinking helps us consider new perspectives and see beyond our present situation. In a 2012 study from Tel Aviv University, one group of children was asked to look at a series of photos, starting with basic everyday objects and then shifting to vast or faraway things like the Milky Way galaxy. The other group was shown the same images but in the opposite order. The children who saw the objects from small to expansive performed significantly better on creativity tests.

4 | Leads to kindness and generosity

Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California, Irvine, has found that “awe boosts a person’s generosity, willingness to help others, willingness to behave in ethical ways, to take on needs of others, and de-prioritize their own needs. Awe connects us to things larger than ourselves and motivates us to care for others and the collective good.”

His experiments prove that when people experience a moment of awe, they tend to be more generous. He had participants first either look up into tall, beautiful trees or at a large building. They then came across a person who needed assistance. Those in the tree group were more apt to help to the person in need.

5 | Changes our perception of time

In our hectic 24/7 lifestyle, don’t you wish we had more time? Awe has been shown to give us the illusion that we do have more time and no longer need to rush. A 2012 Stanford University study published by Psychological Science found that participants who watched awe-inspiring videos featuring whales, waterfalls, and other nature scenes were more likely to report feeling like they had more time.

6 | Guides us to find our purpose in life

Positive psychology researchers have discovered that people who have a clear purpose in life experience less pain and anxiety and are less depressed. By being connected to something larger than ourselves through awe, we are more likely to be inspired and motivated to face new challenges and reach our goals. Research shows that children who grow up with a sense of purpose are typically happier, have a more successful career, and have stronger relationships later in life.

7 | Makes us grateful

Awe gives us a sense of hope and the ability to see the bigger picture. It teaches us that there might be something magical in everyday life that we can be grateful for. Louie Schwartzberg says that, “Awe inspires us to open our hearts and minds to engender gratitude.”

8 | Improves our immune system

Researchers at Berkeley have discovered that awe reduces the level of pro-inflammatory proteins (called cytokines) that cause our immune system to work harder. This is important because high levels of cytokines cause illness. “That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions…has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” suggested Dacher Keltner, co-author of the study.

9 | Reduces anxiety and depression

Feelings of awe boost our mood. Our nervous system reacts in the opposite way to awe than anxiety. Instead of the “fight or flight” response kicking in, awe keeps us still and relaxed, benefiting both our body and mind. Additionally, elevated cytokines have been linked to depression. As discussed earlier, awe reduces these cytokine proteins, therefore reducing depression.

 

Ways to help our children experience awe

The world offers so many opportunities for us to feel awe, but how can we capture these moments for our children? The key is to seek out experiences that 1) involve a sense of vastness and 2) alter their perspective.

Fortunately, children are born with a sense of wonder and amazement. “They are naturally curious and interested, with a great imagination and a special ability to see beauty and good all around them,” explains Dr. Brenda Abbey, educational consultant and director of Childcare by Design in Australia.

However, children need direction from their parents who can share these moments with them. “We need to model, identify, respond to, preserve, nourish, enrich, and sustain these special moments in our lives.”

By visiting, recording, viewing, and listening, our children will be exposed to many potential awe-inspiring moments. To make the most out of these experiences, take the time to ask your children how these encounters make them feel. Reflection reinforces the positive energy and encourages curiosity.

Andy Tix, professor at Normandale Community College in Minnesota who writes about awe on his blog Reflections on Mystery and Awe, notes that “awe seems more likely to thrive in an environment of inquisitiveness and questioning.” So ask lots of questions and allow your children to do the same.

1 | Visit

In order for children to truly understand awe, they need to experience it. Andy Tix believes that travel provides endless opportunities for awe because we are exposed to stimuli that are out of our typical routine. He suggests families take “awecations,” instead of just vacations, to places that can inspire awe. If you can’t get away, look for local spots to explore. Remember to consider your child’s age, interest, and attention span when you choose where to take them.

We can find awe just about anywhere. Here are a few ideas for your next awe adventure:

Nature: zoos, mountains, forests, hiking trails, beaches, waterfalls, clear starry nights, sunsets, sunrises, botanical gardens, canyons, caves

Urban: historical monuments, skyscrapers, subway systems, large sports stadiums

Indoor: libraries; art, science, and history museums; cathedrals; concerts; musicals and other performances; planetariums; aquariums

2 | Record

Writing: Developing an awe narrative is an effective way for children to capture an awe-inspiring moment. Julie Mann, high school teacher in Queens, New York who also spoke at The Art and Science Of Awe conference, added journal writing to her curriculum as a way for students to reflect about awe for time, space, amazing events, and people who impact their lives.

Artwork: Ask your children to create their own masterpiece to reflect something that brought them awe. Tap into their talents using drawing, photography, painting, sculpture, or collage.

3 | View

Media: If you are unable to visit a place in person, the next best thing is to observe it using various media tools such as videos, photographs, slideshows, and even 3D or 4D movies at an IMAX theater. Images of nature’s beauty, such as sunrises, sunsets, weather events, and rainbows, tend to easily evoke feelings of awe. Check out these nature documentaries, Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe, and Louie Schwartzberg’s Gratitude Revealed.

Science experiments: Observing the incredible way science works can be quite powerful for a young child and pique their interest to learn more.

4 | Listen

Stories: Read awe-inspiring books, poetry, and short stories to your children, such as biographies about great heroes and descriptions of nature, scientific discoveries, great places, and historical events.

Music: Listen to touching music or play your own. From piano ballads of the great composers to rap songs about changing the world, your child will discover what moves them.

Awe offers so many ways for our children to prosper in this challenging world. Actively seeking opportunities to experience awe as a family is critical to their well-being, and has the power to improve society as a whole. 

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Summer is upon us and my mind is already whirling with all the exciting plans I'm going to do with my toddler. We're going to go to the zoo, and the beach, and I want to see his face the first time he sees a firefly.

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Life

One of the toughest parts of having the kids home all summer is finding activities that will keep everyone entertained. But, you don't have to go on a grand adventure or spend tons of money to do that, mama. 👏

Set aside one day (or night) a week for an at-home movie night. Make some popcorn, order pizza, lay out pillows and blankets in the living room and curl up with your favorites to watch a movie. Not only will a film keep the kiddos entertained for a couple hours, but they're great conversation starters and can teach valuable life lessons. Want to make it more special? Surprise them with a toy that will give them a hint of what you'll be watching that night!

We picked our favorites that both kids (and mama) will enjoy.

1. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Our toy pick: Toothless plush dragon

We're back with our favorite dragon and Viking, Toothless and Hiccup, for the final installment of this trilogy. On the search for the Hidden World to keep all of the dragons safe, we'll see how far Hiccup and Toothless will go for love, friendship and family. (Psst: The film is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD!)

We interviewed Jay Baruchel (the voice of Hiccup) and writer and director Dean DeBlois. One of Baruchel's fondest memories as a child was watching movies with his mom and having conversations about the themes throughout the films—he hopes HTTYD does the same for families.

DeBlois touched on a theme that every parent can relate to. "There's nothing quite like raising a child and then, despite wanting to protect them and shield them from all of the unknowns in the world, you have to let them go and follow their destiny—and that's a difficult process... that's one of the big topics we tackle in the movie." Now cuddle your littles a little tighter.

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2. Christopher Robin

Our toy pick: Winnie The Pooh

This film will bring your own childhood memories back as you make new ones with your kids. Grown Christopher Robin recieves a surprise visit from Winnie the Pooh and the two go on an adventure in the Hundred Acre Wood to find all of Pooh's friends. On this journey, you and your kids will follow along to see what happens when Christopher isn't excited about childhood wonder anymore, but focused on his own priorities... until his daughter encounters the beloved characters.

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3. Mary Poppins Returns

Our toy pick: Illustrated edition of the book

The original kids are now grown with their own children, but while going through a tough time and dealing with personal tragedy, Mary Poppins is back to lend a helping hand again.

Throughout the magical adventure, Mary Poppins has a surprise around every turn and the use of imagination is a necessity—but the bigger lesson isn't for the smaller Banks kids. There are valuable lessons about grief, dealing with emotions and becoming resilient throughout.

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4. Smallfoot

Our toy pick: Sticker pack

Migo is a Yeti who comes across something he's never seen before, a human. After seeing the 'smallfoot,' he goes back to his village to tell everyone, but when no one believed him, he was banished from his home. His quest to prove that humans do exist takes him on an adventure of a lifetime. Kids will learn about friendship, what it means to be a family, and how to deal when you're feeling different from everyone else.

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5. A Wrinkle in Time

Our toy pick: Space water coloring book

This fantasy film will take the entire family on an exploration through time. A young student, Meg, is having trouble accepting that her scientist father disappeared when she was a child. When three figures coming to visit her (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which) she goes on a brave expedition to find out where her dad is in the universe. Along the way, she'll learn how to conquer her fears, persevere and the importance of kindness, no matter what.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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It's hard to believe that summer is upon us... wasn't it snowing and dark outside at 4 p.m., like, yesterday? Now the days are longer, the kiddos are starting to wrap up their school years, and as luck would have it, all the retailers are offering MAJOR deals in honor of Memorial Day.

Need to invest in a new bike for the summer? We got you. Time to restock the kids bathing suits? Got you there, too. Desperate to get yourself a new mattress, but don't want to pay full price? Fear not, we've still got you!

We checked in with our absolute favorite brands to find out what deals they're offering, and we corralled all that info into one tidy story.

Here are all the best online sales for this week and weekend. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Home

Parachute: Get 20% off the entire site, including towels, sheets, duvet inserts, pillows, rugs and more.

Wayfair: Get 60% off backyard play items, 65% off patio furniture, and 50% off grills and fire pits.

Cost Plus World Market: Up to 50% on outdoor furniture and top sellers.

Target: Up to 30% off patio and home items, 25% off grilling favorites and 20% off select Lego sets.

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BuyBuyBaby: 20% off Bob strollers, $30 off Stokke highchairs, 20% of many nursery furniture brands and more!

Walmart: Get massive discounts sitewide, including home, kitchen, kids and outdoor gear.

Best Buy: Get up to 40% off appliances.

Maisonette: Shop the brand's biannual home sale, which is happening this weekend.

Pottery Barn: Up to 50% off all outdoor items.

Pottery Barn Kids: Up to 60% off kids furniture, bedding and decor.

West Elm: Up to 40% off outdoor furniture.

Grandin Road: Get 30% off all outdoor furniture this weekend.

Frontgate: Up to 25% off outdoor furniture, outdoor entertaining essentials and pool and beach gear.

Dyson: Get $100 off the Dyson V8 Absolute and Dyson Ball Animal 2 and $150 off the Dyson Pure Hot+Cool Link HP02.

Mixbook: Get 50% off $149+, 40% Off $99+, or 30% off sitewide with code: DADSGRADSA.DADSGRADSA.

Williams-Sonoma: Get 20% off all outdoor cooking and dining essentials.

All Modern: From May 22 (starting at 9AM) to May 28, take up to 65% off + an extra 15% off with code LETSGO.

Joybird: Get 30% off couches, chairs, ottomans, beds and more.

Houzz: Up to 80% off outdoor essentials, bathroom vanities, bar stools, area rugs and more.

Artifact Uprising: Receive a code for your free 5 x 5" Color Series Photo Book after any purchase (a $20 value).

We Are Knitters: Up to 25% off on select kits and yarn balls.

S'well: Take advantage of a rare sale from this water bottle brand.

Lumens: Save up to 50% on modern lighting, fans and furniture.

Brooklinen: Get 10% off your first order.

Snowe Home: Spend $300 in May, get a $50 credit to home essentials brand in June.

Lulu and Georgia: 15% off $300 (code: GOOD); 20% off $600 (code: BETTER), 25% off $900 (code: BEST).

Lovesac: Up to 35% off sactionals.

Sleep

Marpac: Up to $300 off Yoga Sleep mattresses and 25% off all bedding accessories, including sheets, pillows and the new weighted blanket.

Parachute: Get 20% off the brand's new luxury mattress.

Eight Sleep: $200 off and free in-home delivery.

Bear: 20% off the purchase of a mattress, plus two free pillows with the code MD20.

Tempurpedic: Up to $700 off select mattress sets, plus 25% off pillows and bedding.

Cocoon by Sealy: $150 off all Cocoon Chill mattresses plus two free pillows and a free set of sheets ($337 Total Value).

Lull: $150 off any size mattress purchase.

Sapira: 18% off all mattresses, plus two free pillows with the purchase of a mattress.

Zinus: 15% off Zinus Exclusive Mattresses and platform beds.

Helix: $100 off a mattress and two free pillows with code MDW100, $150 off a purchase of $1,250+ and two free pillows with code MDW150, $200 off a purchase of $1,750+ with code MDW200.

Nectar: $125 off a mattress, plus two free pillows.

Layla: $125 off a mattress plus two free pillows.

Wayfair: Save 31% on all Nora mattresses.

Allswell: 15% off mattresses and 30% off all bedding with code SUMMER.

Purple: Up to $100 off a mattress, plus a free set of sheets.

Tulo: With code MEMDAY, receive two free pillows and up to $378 off.

Ostrich Pillow: Take advantage of the travel pillow's 20% off flash sale on Memorial Day.

Lifestyle

Jack Rogers: Get up to 50% off the brand's iconic sandals.

Aurate: Depending on your order value, get up to 25% off the brand's fine jewelry.

Primary: Take advantage of one of our favorite kid clothing brand's massive warehouse sale, happening right now.

Anthropologie: Get an extra 25% off all sale items.

Kid Made Modern: 20% off all arts and crafts, 40% off apparel and home decor.

Paravel: Get 20% off the purchase's of the site's collection of sophisticated luggage and bags (bundles not included).

Antidote: Get 20% off sitewide with code MOTHERLY20.

ASOS: 25% off the entire site.

Target: Tees and tanks for the whole family starting at $4, swimwear starting at $8

Gap: Up to 50% off everything.

Old Navy: 50% off all tees, tanks, shorts and swim.

Prana: Select activewear styles are now 25% off.

Macy's: 20% off sale & clearance clothing & accessories, Jewelry, home items, watches.20% off sale & clearance clothing & accessories, Jewelry, home items, watches.

Shopbop: Up to 40% off 5,000+ styles.

M. Gemi: Get 25% off the site's gorgeous handmade Italian shoes that are currently on sale.

Mark & Graham: 20% off the sitewide with code SAVE20.

Nordstrom: Shop Nordstrom's Half yearly sale, with up to 50% off clothing, shoes and accessories.

Bloomingdales: The brand's Big Brown Bag sale is happening now, with up to 70% off site-wide.

Saks: Get up to 50% off the entire site.

Untuckit: Get 25% off sitewide, including the brand's famous no-tuck-necessary button-down shirts for men and women.

Holly & Tanager: 20% off the entire site.

Kipling: Buy one sale item get a second sale item 70% off through May 30.

Soma: Get 15% off your entire purchase or 30% off your purchase of $150 or more, or 40% your purchase of $200 or more. Get 15% off your entire purchase or 30% off your purchase of $150 or more, or 40% your purchase of $200 or more.

Beauty

Beautycounter: Get a free summer sun set with a $125 purchase.

Birchbox: This weekend only, get a two-for-one Birchbox discount.

Charlotte Tilbury: Get two free samples at checkout.

Stila: Get an extra 30% off sale items.

Algenist: Get 20% off $100, 25% off $200, 30% off $300.

The Body Shop: Get 40% of most of the site's items, and get a free American flag tote with a $60 purchase.

Make: 25% off all orders from May 23rd - May 27th with code MEMORIAL25OFF.

IGK: Get a free Airplane Mode Kit with a $40 purchase.

La-Roche Posay: 25% off when you spend $50; two free deluxe samples when you spend $65 with code MDW2019.

Clinique: Get a full-size freebie and a four-piece kit with any $55 purchase.

Shu Umera: Get a free mini paddle brush when you spend $85 with code FAST19.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

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By the time I became a mother at 30, I was well-versed in healing my personal anxiety. I began teaching myself mediation through books I found in the library and then when I was 19 I met my yoga teacher who also taught Zen meditation. My first experience with Zen meditation was powerful. After I got past the discomfort of stillness and silence I began having powerful visions—some I still remember to this day.

When I had my first child, I was well-practiced in maintaining my anxiety and being aware that, while it would probably never go away, it didn't have to be something that would hold me back. Instead, it could become an asset.

Anxiety could be a spiritual antenna for me to pay attention to what circumstances don't work for me, especially in motherhood. I could use it as a tool rather than as something that would hold me back.

In some ways, motherhood was its own spiritual awakening for me. During my pregnancy, I was also closing my business of five years and wrapping up a divorce―on top of feeling totally nauseous the whole time. It was the perfect storm to trigger anxiety.

Despite those challenges, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood felt so natural to me. This was what I was supposed to be doing―it was like the sun was rising and leaving all that destruction behind.

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Of course, meditation was a huge help. But as a mother, your meditation practice changes so much. During my pregnancy, I was so nervous about not having that time to myself―and for the first few years, I never really had 20 minutes to sit in silence and stillness (as any new mom knows!). So if I did get time during one of my daughter's longer naps, it was cherished.

I went from having a regular meditation practice to having a "meditate when you can" practice, and the sporadic schedule made my meditation an even more honored practice. It was something I got to do instead of something I just did.

Motherhood made me show up for meditation more presently―it became something I really worked at.

As a result, I felt myself becoming a more present mother and feeling more attuned to the energy of my child. In that first year, so many developmental changes are happening, and my meditation gave me a sensor to read into those changes. I even felt like it made up for the loss of sleep in a lot of ways.

I really feel as though motherhood itself is a meditation. Whether you get to sit in silence or not, you are so present―so aware of this kid―you are already in this state of awareness that meditation brings. Just by being a mom, you are meditating enough.

Whenever I'm able to find peace and stillness―no matter what may be happening in our lives―the practice kicks in. I take a deep breath and drop whatever I was doing before to be more present with my daughter. I grant myself grace when I have to multitask because I always know I can come back to that presence. For me, part of meditation is noticing that I need to take a moment to check in with myself, take a deep breath and recenter.

The good part of meditation is that there's always more to learn. I'm continuously growing―both as a mother and a person. Even in the most chaotic moments of motherhood, there's always a place of stillness I can come to.

The moment I became a mother was such a beautiful one―like waking up and knowing this was what I was meant to be doing. And just like meditation, it's a practice that brings me peace every day.

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