I recently asked Betsy if she could tell us a little about herself, her new book and the writing process of Zen Mama.
Betsy please tell us about yourself.
I am a wife of 23 years, a mother to three teenage sons, a daughter of wonderful parents, an aunt to 6 nieces and nephews and a sister to three siblings! I am a preschool teacher. And finally, what I’ve always wanted to be ... a writer! I also like to garden, read, cook and travel.
How long have you been a practicing Buddhist, what led you to this path?
Well, I’ve had an interesting upbringing. I was christened Catholic. Back in those days the wives of Catholics promised, at their weddings, to raise their children as Catholics. My mother was a philosophy major and the daughter of a Christian scientist. So on Sundays my siblings and I were Catholics, the rest of the week we were raised with my mother’s philosophies.
So to really answer the questions...I love to look through all religions and see what I like the best. So far the Buddhist path is my favorite and I so enjoy reading and practicing the Buddhist way.
What is a technique you personally use to get back into a Zen state of mind when you're in a stressful situation?
To start with I don’t react to what ever is bothering me. I need to clear my head whether it’s by meditation, a long walk, a cup of coffee and a book.
A good 2 minutes meditation:
First, you need to stop thinking so get comfortable. Begin to notice your breath. Take a deep breath through your nose and breathe out your mouth. Put your hands on your rib cage. If your ribcage expands, then you know you’re breathing right. If it doesn’t, then you’re not taking a deep enough breath. The more deeply you breathe, the more oxygen that gets to your brain. It will help you relax and let go, to let go of the things over which we have no control.
My favorite is this walking meditation:
Don’t walk fast. Fast walking equals anxiety. Slow walking is happiness, peace and joy. Be in this moment. Next coordinate your breathing with your steps. I like to think something as I exhale and another word as I inhale. Maybe you say, “Exhale anger, breathe in peace.” “Breathe out stress. Breathe in joy.” Don’t forget to have a slight smile on your face. Do this for about 20 minutes (give or take) and I think you will feel better able to take on the world!
Betsy, I can really relate to key points in your book. On page 18 you touch on the view point that your children's failures and successes are not a reflection of you. Let your children be who they are and learn to let go. This is such a hard but important realization of parenthood.
Would you agree that while under stressful situations the energy and vibrations of parents influence their children?
Absolutely! It’s the reason I wrote this book, mostly for myself and my husband, because we were angry with our teenagers all the time. While anger isn’t the only stressful situation, it’s often one of the most damaging. It definitely affected the relationship with our kids. They didn’t want to be around us. When we came into a room, they’d find a way to leave. At the table, they’d ask to be excused right after they ate dinner.
The first thing we worked on was getting them to stay longer at the dinner table so we could all talk again. Using humor, jokes and riddles worked immediately. Some other benefits came later. For a while I had to start out a sentence saying, “I am not angry but....” They would still think I was mad about certain things. And I was for a while but after practicing not getting angry, you really do stop.
By the way, being a zen mama doesn’t mean I don’t discipline. It just means I say and react to things in a different way.
You talk about Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence. I became familiar with his writing when I was homeschooling my youngest son Josh. This is a very important topic. Children do learn in so many different ways. I love how at preschool you ask the children "What kind of smart are you?" instead of "How smart are you?" Every child is good at something and it's our job to help them discover what it is.
What is your philosophy on life? On parenting?
Accepting children as individuals
Keeping anger at bay
Unconditional Love and compassion
Doing what you love first
Being as positive as possible
In chapter Eight "Find Out What They're Interested In" you talk about relating to your children by speaking their language. Living in a house full of males this chapter really resonated with me.
A few of the things I learned was how to camp, fish, watch football, Dragon ball Z and Pokemon. You have to find ways to connect to your children on their level. One of the best ways is to learn about something they are interested in. Thank you for pointing this out.
What inspired you to write "How to be a Zen Mama" and how long did it take to write?
I conceived the “Zen Mama” concept when I was going through the challenging time with my children a few years ago. I kept joking around that I was becoming a “Zen Mama” so I could let go of the controlling and angry feelings I was feeling. As my husband and I applied the principles that would eventually become the book, he said, “Here’s the book you’ve always wanted to write! I wrote down what those chapters would be on the back of an envelope and those original 13 ideas became my 13 chapters.
It took about 10 months to write and edit. It flowed once I started. I mostly wrote in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep when I was worried about the kids. When I’d edit and reread at night, I’d find advice for myself. It was kind of funny! Now I’m sleeping well again and can’t find any time to write!
Can you tell us about the publishing process for Zen Mama?
I self published through Createspace.com, an Amazon company. I had a great experience. It’s a print on demand company so you don’t have to put up a lot of money to start. It wouldn’t work for everyone. For instance they don’t print hardbacks. Another plus createspace gets you onto Amazon automatically. I did write to agents and publishers. First, I found ones that might be interested in publishing a book like mine. Then I went to their website to see what their submission requirements were. Finally, I sent letters out. A friend of mine in publishing told me that many publishers aren’t looking for new books. In fact they like to see you self publish and then if you do well, they approach. When I got the negative replies (mostly form letters before the manuscript had been looked at) I forged ahead! I’m glad I did. As for marketing, you have to enjoy it. This can be tough. My book is doing quite well in Colorado. I’ve gone to conventions, taught Zen Mama classes and had a number of book signings. This fall, I will explore how to get it marketed to the rest of the country.
Do you have any advice for our writing audience?
1. The publishing industry is so discouraging! I decided to ignore what I read and just write.
It may have been nice to find a publisher but I’ve really enjoyed the process myself.
2. The more you write, the easier it is to write. That’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed about having a blog.
3. If you have the right idea, it will flow. You can think and dream about it but when it’s right, it flows.
What's next for Betsy Henry and Zen Mama? Anything you would like to add?
I’m working on a second book. I’m compiling many of my blog posts plus some other work into a sort of Zen Mama diary. I’m also working on a book of quotations that will be offered as an ebook as well. And, I will continue to blog and teach Zen Mama workshops. It’s a second job for me and I love it! My husband and I are also considering putting together a travel website because we've so enjoyed traveling.
Do you have a newsletter to keep your readers up to date on your writing, book tours and more great parenting tips and advice?
I am going to start a newsletter in the fall to send out to subscribers and people who have bought my book. Another thing to add to the list!
Zen Mama Blog
Thank you for sharing your Zen wisdom with all of us.
Keep us posted on the process of your second book, we look forward to hearing all about it.
There's still time to enter to win "What We Have" by Amy Boesky & "Operation Beautiful" by Caitlin Boyle
Drawings for all three books will be held Friday September 25th.
Written By: Carol Lawrence