Melissa Errico: A Life Of Mindfulness

“I’m a woman with children struggling to live the life of higher purity, ‘Gwyneth-ing,’ and not always succeeding,” says actress and singer Melissa Errico, who keeps a watchful eye on her thoughts.
photograph by Brigitte Lacombe

Spring cleaning makes me think of my messy makeup drawers, or all the size 4 dresses that are sitting there and probably never going to fit again. Time to clean a little, make space for the new. Important no doubt, but an experience with my 9-year old and her teacher rises to the top and makes me rethink beyond the drawers in my room, to the drawers of my mind.

“You are in control of your second thought,” he said, fixed with a kind smile on my little daughter. This story happened a few years ago when my child must have been at the end of second grade or third grade. This teacher worked at her school and was a very cool guy for a headmaster. He offered me a book called Meditations For Children, and together with that book and a few ideas, I was able to help one of my kids who was starting to seem nervous at times.

What did he mean by second thought? He said that we all have worries and they pop into our heads. Concerns about a car running out of gas, concerns that we might not have time tonight to do our homework. Memories of someone saying something unkind. These kinds of “bad thoughts” come and we can’t control their arrival into our minds, but we can control the second thought—the way we react to that initial worrisome one. This kind man, her science teacher and elementary school leader, was reminding her, and me, that each of us in life can choose how we react to a bad thought. We can keep developing it until we are sick to our stomachs with further worries like oh my God, my teacher will not trust me if that homework doesn’t get done, then I’ll have double the assignments to catch up on, I will be an exhausted terrible student and not get into college. That’s a way that third and fifth thoughts can surely walk us into walls!

But the second thought can be I’ll get my homework done, I always do. And more importantly, move on to another next thought altogether and all subsequent, and chosen, ones. We redirect our minds not because we are lacking vigilance and are lazy optimistic idiots, but because it is the healthy and positive way forward. It is a way of not watering bad seeds, and not writing negative headline news for the day.

One of the first things I noticed about parenting is that we can re-parent ourselves in the process. Sitting there as a mom, watching my kid working stuff out, I was left to be a kid myself, listening. It’s simplistic to take control of a second thought, but what if we actually did it? What if we began cleaning up the troubles in our lives by cleaning up how we react inside, quietly in our minds, to one passing worry? One by one. No vacation, no tidy makeup table, no new dress can make you feel better than a positive second thought.