Jackie Stewart on Mindfulness and Motherhood
After a college course on "leading as a way of serving," Jackie Stewart found herself drawn to mindfulness and the lifestyle of living in harmony with the environment. Now a meditation teacher and mindfulness advisor, Jackie cites her practice as a grounding force that has helped her adapt to the growth and change that comes with motherhood.
"When I am able to support myself by honestly addressing my needs and honoring them, I am better able to show up for my loved ones because the focus can be on them and how I can show up in the most supportive, creative, and playful way. "
Tell us a little bit about your journey -- when did you first become interested in mindfulness and what led you to become interested in supporting women through pregnancy and postpartum?
My first introduction to mindfulness happened in college, and I was immediately intrigued by this way of living that seemed to make so much sense, yet was very different than the way I found myself living my life. One of my majors was organizational leadership, and I took a course called Leading As a Way of Serving (which in retrospect I’m still so inspired that such a course existed). During this course, our entire class spent a week at the Zen Mountain Center in Southern California. During our time there, we ate our meals in silence, were given instructions for how to practice zazen, and learned about their lifestyle of living in a coherent and harmonious way with the environment and land. It felt like my eyes and heart were opened to a new depth of how we can live in the world. One of the monks gave me a hug when we left, and there was such a warmth and kindness in his presence that it felt palpable in his embrace. The impact of that hug and the love that was felt is something that has stayed with me after all this time.
My practice and understanding has evolved throughout the years, and becoming a mother has certainly been an experience that has put my practice to work. I found the tools I had developed through mindfulness to be invaluably supportive as I navigated the transformation to becoming a mother. It is an incredibly complex experience that is full of change, uncertainty, new challenges, exhaustion, doubt… AND it also has the potential to be a beautiful empowerment. The hug I received from that monk is such a beautiful embodiment of the qualities I believe are instinctual to a mother, sometimes we just might need a little practice and encouragement to remember those qualities are there. I believe women are total goddesses, and whatever I can do to support them in knowing that, I’m up for.
How did you land into the role of teaching mediation?
This is an interesting question because I did not initially plan to teach meditation. I found myself at a point in my life where it was clear that the film and TV industries were not fitting for me anymore, and I wanted to take a step back to re-assess where to focus my efforts. A dear friend encouraged me to think deeply about spending the next few months simply doing what I wanted to do, exploring what I naturally felt pulled towards. Soon after, I found myself enrolled in a teacher training program simply for the love and appreciation of meditation practice. During the course of my training I ended up becoming quite involved and helping out wherever it could be useful. After completing the program, I was asked to host a weekly community class for the same organization I did my training with. Even though I felt completely unprepared to accept the role, I felt so grateful to those teachers for their commitment to our development, and for their belief in my capabilities, so I said "of course." To share these teachings is a true honor, and I am endlessly inspired by the kindness and generosity of my teachers who dedicated their time to study, practice, and share these teachings.
In the midst of the mindfulness trend, what does mindfulness sincerely mean to you?
Thank you for this question. To me, mindfulness is an honest acknowledgement. It is spaciousness and a willingness to feel what's there, a willingness to be touched by life without being succumbed by it. It is vulnerability, connection, and letting go. It is a deep knowing, an intimacy with yourself, and, thus, with everything. It is aliveness. It is freedom.
What has mindfulness taught you about motherhood?
Mindfulness has taught me that motherhood is a path in and of itself. It is something that will continue to shift and evolve, and along the path I will make mistakes, I will grow, and there is a sweetness that is available in every single moment - even the tough ones. A big part of my practice is remembering the sweetness that is always there, in the preciousness of each moment we get together, that I have the honor of being this person’s mother. It’s so amazing.
How has meditation influenced your relationship to your own self as you navigate being a mother?
Meditation has offered me the ability to be really gentle with myself in my learnings as a mother. There are times when I’ve gotten impatient, frustrated, and simply fallen apart, and my practice has allowed room for all of that to be a natural part of my process. I think having a contemplative practice has also given me the opportunity to consider what motherhood means to me, and allow myself to swim in possibility and discovery, rather than simply having society’s ideas or familial expectations form my perspective.
How has your idea of “motherhood” evolved over the years?
My notions about motherhood have relaxed a lot. I used to have a lot of ideas about parenting, especially before becoming a parent, which I completely recognize the irony in. Being a parent, especially during a pandemic, seemed to immediately create a sense of closeness and belonging to all other parents. What I’ve come to find is there’s so much more understanding and forgiveness both for myself, and also for other parents, because at the end of the day, we all love our kids, and are doing what we can with what we can. Knowing we are all trying our best allows us to be in a big support group together rooting each other on.
What are tools that help guide you through your day as a new mother?
Taking deep breaths, asking for help, communicating my needs, and knowing my limitations are all tools and practices that I am continually developing. And I’m pretty sure I interact with each of these tools daily.
How do these tools help you support your loved ones?
When I am able to support myself by honestly addressing my needs and honoring them, I am better able to show up for my loved ones because the focus can be on them and how I can show up in the most supportive, creative, and playful way.
What advice would you give to anyone who is beginning the journey of motherhood and seeking to feel more grounded?
I have relied so much on my meditation practice, it is something I would whole-heartedly encourage anyone to do, but particularly someone embarking on the journey to becoming a mother. It has offered me a kind of strength, resiliency, and trust in myself that has been the very ground I stand on in my most joyful and most challenging moments.
What are new rituals you picked up during your journey as a mother?
While I was pregnant I was given a practice by a dear friend of mine who is an elder yogini called Garbha Lepam. I would rub an herb mixture on my belly, and then do my meditation. It was such a beautiful way to do something small each day to consciously connect with the new life that was growing inside me. It was particularly helpful in the early months when I was feeling nauseous and not quite showing yet.
Since my son has become a toddler, we’ve incorporated rituals into various parts of the day. At mealtime we will share our “appreciations” with each other, and before bed we do a metta practice that we call “blessings.”
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of following my inclination to do what has most inspired me- whether it was what I majored in in college, to completing a conservatory training in theater, to pursuing teaching as a path, to mothering in a way that I find most nurturing for our family’s dynamic.
Who inspires you? Whose work do you look up to?
This is pretty nerdy, but I’m currently inspired by the work of the Center for Healthy Minds. The founder, Dr. Richard Davidson, has a long standing relationship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and has done an incredible job exploring contemplative practices through the lens of neuroscience, and making these practices even more accessible to westerners.
Best advice you’ve been given?
I had an acting teacher call me out on my perfectionism, and it changed my life. She told me that people aren’t interested in perfect, they’re interested in what’s REAL. It was a total gift, and gave me permission to be human and messy and raw.
In Love with the World by Mingyur Rinpoche and Helen Tworkov