One might believe that a mother like me, the author of a blog titled, “Mindful Mothering,” must have a well-oiled meditation practice complete with a special pillow, a well-decorated alter and a neatly blocked out period of time in which to practice quieting her mind and noticing her breath each and every day. She must conduct this practice quietly and in her own space and with no interruptions. It must be that she begins her day this way and her family just knows that, “Mommy meditates in the morning!” It turns out that I don’t, at least not in the way that one might imagine. I do have a Buddha kitty statue sitting reverently beside my front door and I have looked up various satsangs and Buddhist temples and other mindfulness gathering opportunities on the internet more times than I would like to admit—never having attended any of them! No, formal meditation has not found its way into my life. Instead—as I’ve noted in previous posts—I discover an inner silence, in the space between filling sippy-cups and cleaning up crumbs. I focus on tiny fingers placing magnets on the refrigerator door and the varied expressions of my children’s faces, allowing my attention to come to my breath, allowing my mind to quiet. I absolutely have a meditation practice, it just isn’t formal and it would take a keen eye to even know that I am practicing. To an untrained eye, I may just appear very, very patient (in those moments in which I am meditating, that is).
I’ve been noticing recently when these moments occur and how they can be very powerful in thwarting blind reaction, in slowing things down so that I can think, in preventing me from being too harsh with word or action. I am not always capable of tempering things enough and sometimes I do react unconsciously. Some would argue that this is good for the children, that they need to learn the varied ways in which people may be. It is this (occasional) harshness that will prepare them for the world. I do not agree with this reasoning—perhaps it is just my perfectionistic nature! If I were to humor this idea, though, there is another—maybe even more powerful—realization that I would come to. It would become clear that even if my reacting harshly is “good for the children,” it is not good for me! I do practice mindfulness for my children. I want for them to experience me as peaceful, as someone they can trust, but I also practice mindfulness because of the tremendous beauty and peace it allows me to experience. No matter how many pictures we take of our children—and I have taken thousands—nothing compares to the breathtaking moment of truly taking in the depth of a child’s gaze and realizing the pure love that is in your midst. Nothing compares to truly experiencing a child’s words as they earnestly ask for your opinions, for your knowledge about the world around them. Nothing compares, even, to fully witnessing a child gripped with anguish and blaming you and still discovering enough space in your heart to know that they both need to make you wrong and to be comforted by you at the same time. I practice mindfulness because I’ve seen my children just melt before me because of that little extra heartbeat that I’ve allowed to beat between us.
With all of this in mind, I’ve created a list of a few unexpected moments, perfect for beginning your meditation practice today. All families, all humans, have their challenges, myself included. My hope is that these ideas might awaken in you the knowledge that there is time to breathe, there is always time for one more heartbeat to inform your next steps.
- You’ve been out with your children and they didn’t want to leave your previous location and now they are beyond hungry for a meal. You enter a restaurant and they begin acting out as soon as you are seated. You are temped to pick them back up and storm out of the restaurant, or worse. Instead, sit back into your chair and allow your feet to sink into the floor. Feel your attention come down into your abdomen and begin noticing your breath. Take a drink of the water before you and notice the water as you swallow. Rub your hands back and forth on your legs noticing the texture of your clothes. Connect with your child’s eyes and smile. You’ll know what to do next. Maybe you’ll leave. Maybe you won’t.
- It’s bath time and no one wants to take a bath. One child is running naked down the hall and the other is standing on top of the sink making faces in the mirror. You begin threatening that there will be, “no books tonight!” It doesn’t matter that you know this is an empty threat. Find a space where you can be near enough to the climber to keep them safe and release your expectations for bath time, for bedtime at least for the moment. Release the need to “get there” when you had planned to. Raise your arms up in the air stretching and clasping your hands, turning them inside out. Pull your elbows back opening your chest, opening your heart, noticing your breath. When you are able, walk over to the tub, turn the water on and dip your feet in truly experience the water washing over them. Notice your children as they surround you in all of their naked glory. Wash and repeat.
- It’s a cold and rainy day—your only day “off” away from your children. You have a doctor’s appointment and you are made to wait. This is your only free time! You don’t even need to be at this appointment anyway, you think. They aren’t going to help you. Notice this way of thinking. Notice the tightness in your chest. Make a choice and sit up in your chair finding your spine lining up with the back of the chair. Curl your lips into a smile even if you have to pretend to be tickled by the way your mind is working so hard to make you miserable. Allow a flush of gratitude to come forward within you. Find your breath and just unweight yourself of all of this. Let it go and just breath. Close your eyes and breath and relish this ability to be in life. Open your eyes and look around you at the other faces in the room. Notice the varied ways in which people occupy their time. Notice the lines on their faces. Are they smiling? Are you?
- You’re in the car and the decibel in the backseat is raising exponentially. You begin to whine, “can’t we just have a good day?” Then you start to threaten about pulling over the car or swinging your arm into the backseat like your Mom used to do. Meditate instead. First loosen your grip around the steering wheel. Slide your hands back and forth, noticing the texture. Roll down your window and breathe in a bit of fresh air. Feel a sense of spaciousness arriving inside of you and sink into your seat with your whole body. Look into the rear view mirror and smile. You might need to stop and let someone know that they are distracting the driver or maybe you won’t.
- You’ve had a very rough day at work and you just know that when you walk in the door at home the smiling faces of your children are going to make everything all better. Instead you walk in and all of the children are crying or screaming or throwing something. The house is a train wreck and your partner greets you with a scowl. You feel like you might scream or cry. Sit down immediately and drop all of your things. Let go of the idea of the house being a mess. One day it will be clean again. Maybe even sprawl out completely on the ground, notice how your children begin crawling all over you. Close your eyes and find your breath, noticing the miracle of living. Notice the many varied sounds around you. Wiggle your fingers and toes then tighten and loosen them. Feel your shoulders relax and settle into your being. Stay as long as you need to and then you will know what needs to be attended to first.