Meet Jackie Stewart, mama to Phoenix, mindfulness and meditation teacher and new Rose & Rex Advisor. To say we are excited to introduce you to Jackie is an understatement. Many months ago we had the opportunity to meet when we hosted an event together about Finding Your Family Zen through mindfulness. We were immediately drawn to her calming, magnetic demeanor and were deeply inspired by the wisdom she shared about making mindfulness a part of family life. By the end of the event we knew we had met someone whose philosophy was remarkably aligned with our mission. Over the coming weeks Jackie will be sharing a series of articles about family mindfulness. She'll be covering everything from meeting meltdowns mindfully to teaching children the art of checking in. We feel lucky to learn from Jackie and know you will feel the same.
Why were you initially drawn to mindfulness practices and how did your personal journey evolve into a career?
I was first exposed to meditation and mindfulness in college, but I feel like the first time I really got a taste for the experience was while studying at acting conservatory. So much of what we were learning was about presence, spontaneity, not judging our experience, and freeing ourselves up emotionally… The human experience became beautiful and creative to me. It made me feel alive. After years in the entertainment industry, I found myself chasing after external sources to validate my sense of worth and happiness. “If I get this role, this apartment, this kind of relationship, this amount of money… then I’ll have made it,” were the thoughts that consumed me. I felt so disconnected from myself. I started questioning what happiness actually was, and whether or not it was something one could cultivate. So, on a very good friend’s recommendation I went to Nepal and spent some time at a monastery. It offered me the space to reconnect with how remarkable our human experience is, and that it is so much more profound than any of the things I had found myself caught up in.
When I came back to NYC, I knew I had to find a way to stay connected to these practices- the practices that make being human something beautiful, the practices that remind me how exquisite every single one of us is. It’s also all I want to do. I feel lucky that the very thing that lights me up, that brings me to life, has become my career.
How has motherhood impacted or influenced your mindfulness practice?
Motherhood has absolutely transformed my mindfulness practice. Every single moment has become an opportunity to practice how I’m showing up- for myself and for him. I have to understand that my interactions with the people around me are being absorbed through his observation. Any old narratives I carry with me will color my perception. The more aware I am of them, the more I can look to see beyond that narrative to what else is possible. My perception has a direct impact on the way his world gets shaped, and this becomes such a great source of motivation for staying mindful. The stakes are higher so my motivation is deeper.
When and how did you introduce your son to mindfulness?
My son is currently 2, and I like to think we’ve been practicing mindfulness together all along. What I can offer him is language and context for processing his experiences. Mindfulness is awareness, so I will oftentimes point something out and ask if he notices it. For example, if we are walking in the park and I feel a cool breeze, I will say, “Do you feel the wind blowing on your face?” Now that his language is developing, he will point things out to me that I hadn’t noticed. He’ll say, “helicopter,” and I’ll suddenly notice the vibrato coming from overhead.
We also talk about different emotions, which I believe is an important aspect of mindfulness and just being human. My son will say, “Phoenix, sad, cry…” and I’ll respond with, “Yeah buddy, sometimes when we feel sad, we cry. I saw that you started playing with Colby, and you were having so much fun, you weren’t sad anymore.” I think it’s important to point out these moments, so there’s an understanding of the fluidity of our experiences.
Any tips you can share with other parents eager to begin (or return to) a daily meditation practice?
Consistency is key… and becoming a mom pretty much threw that out the window for me, so staying open-minded, flexible, and even creative with what my meditation looked like that day became my practice. If I intended to sit for 20 minutes, but only got 12, that's what I got for the day. If I needed to leave the house 10 minutes early so I could sit in the stairwell of my building, then that’s where my practice happened. When I could loosen up any rigidity about just taking some time to create some space and check in, there was a greater willingness to just show up for what the practice would be today (note the emphasis on *today, because it is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment navigation).
In a nutshell, the biggest thing that helped me get back into my formal meditation practice after having a baby was remembering that nothing about it had to be perfect. It is, after all, a practice.
What are a few of your favorite mindfulness resources for families? (We are especially interested in family resources, such as children’s books, parenting podcasts, etc. )
For parenting, I’m a huge fan of Laura Markham, Ph.D., who is a clinical psychologist and coaches parents on how to raise self-disciplined, connected, happy humans. Her website ahaparenting.com, book Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, and weekly newsletter have been incredible resources for me.
For practice, I use a harmonica with my son as a stealth deep breathing practice. It’s feels fun, musical, and tangible. It’s such a playful way to create learning and language around something that can help regulate emotions. Sometimes I ask him if he can take a “harmonica breath” when I see that he might be getting worked up about something, and whether or not in that moment he actually takes a deep breath is mostly irrelevant to me… What happens is he’ll pause and listen to my words, and that reorientation of focus seems to give him some space to work through whatever had him caught up.
For play, we love Andrea Beaty’s series of books (Iggy Peck, Architect; Rosie Revere, Engineer; Ada Twist, Scientist). Reading is a big part of our bedtime routine, and we have so much fun making up voices for these characters. These books rhyme with a playful cadence, they make you think, they address emotions, and even some philosophy (“How does a nose know there’s something to smell? And does it still stink if there’s no nose to tell?”). Each book highlights young people who are inspired to follow their interests.