Prior to the birth of my child, I had a semi-regular meditation practice. Fifteen months later, emerging out of the primitive trenches of early motherhood I stepped blinking back into the rest of the world and I felt a little unsure of where I had left myself along the way. How does a parent find the time for a meditation practice? I have yet to figure out how to shower regularly and only recently mastering the art of feeding myself three full meals a day (conceding that scraps from the highchair tray don’t count). With a part-time job, a full time toddler and a partner working long hours away from home, there are days when it seems like I am attempting the impossible – trying to find balance when the scales are hopelessly awry.
But the signposts in my inner life were clear. Somehow, somewhere, something had to shift. I didn’t have time for a new hobby or a project. It did not feel like there was a single spare minute in 24 hours to squeeze in anything extra at all. I was running an obstacle course from 4 am until I crashed into bed at 10 or 11, my mind racing with anxiety and recounting the moments I could have used more wisely: what more could have been accomplished, how I could have been a better mom, partner, friend, employee, enlightened being. With the restriction in my throat and tightness in my chest I was visited nightly by the familiar berceuse, “I can’t keep doing this.” I was in a terrible trap. While for the time being, there were practical factors in our life as a family that simply were not changeable …my task was to work from the inside.
A Google search on “Mediation for mothers with small children” and like wording yielded only one article I could find that that delved into the subject: Ten Tricks to Meditating with a Baby or Toddler. Kara-Leah Grant’s inspiring appeal to: establish the possibility in your mind, be open to the experience and letting go of expectations became the catalyst for my renewed commitment to a daily sitting mediation practice WITH my toddler.
I probably need not recount the boundless evidence of the benefits of meditation. Recent studies report that in just 8 weeks, a daily meditation practice has the power to alter brain waves. (It is fascinating how much “proof” modern society demands before it will accept a thousand year time-tested remedy or practice as valid or beneficial, yet yields little apprehension to the scores of new grocery, beauty and pharmaceutical and “health” products hitting the market daily, usually with a much, much narrower margin of study.) However, one need not delve into scientific research to discover for themselves that just 5 minutes spent quieting the activity of mind and body can create immediate notable shifts in the way we feel, think and react for the rest of the day…all it takes is five minutes.
I decided to commit to 60 days of sitting meditation practice, aiming for 30 minutes a day and journal my progress along the way.
As parents we know (we know! we know!) but may still tire of the mantra self care. Because frankly it is just so damn hard. We know that taking care of ourselves makes us better parents to our children…but on a fundamental level, it makes us healthier, more balanced people and everything else follows. While attending to our own needs for the sake of our children is a worthy quest, it is still just what it is – for others. Sometimes this can feel like another task on the “should” list, which left undone just leaves more guilt in its wake.
Maybe, like me, you find it pretty easy to get lost even on the good days in the land of laundry, 4am wake ups, endless meal prep/clean up, negotiating unpredictable toddler meltdowns, the unanswered emails and voicemails, pending/abandoned projects not to mention endless Huffpost Parenting articles aimed at giving you that little bit of wisdom or perspective you are lacking (somebody, please?) but leave you at best feeling much the same as you were before, but with 5 minutes less that you could have used to do something actually productive … oh but now the baby is up from nap and you’ve used up all your break time and haven’t even thought about dinner.
Soon I am the one feeling like a toddler. What about me??
What about you?
It took me awhile to realize that no one else can answer that question. It is taking me longer to learn that I am worth my time. I am worth a few (or more) of those 1440 minutes I get every day that I desperately try to maximize efficiently and yet mostly slip away like beach sand. Here was my biggest hurdle and most days still is: No one is going to give you more time but you.
By default my parenting skills and ability to be more present for everyone else in my life improve because I have found a more comfortable home within myself. I have found amidst a wild and strange terrain, it is possible to find a bit more peace with what is unknown. What do I have to teach my son about spiritual health if mine is indefinitely “on hold” because life demands are too much?
It is true that our children are our greatest teachers. They teach us to see things differently, they push us past our perceived limitations, they show us how much we can love, how exhausted we can be and still keep going. Our kids show us how to maximize every spare moment to full efficiency and the benefit of time spent not looking at the clock or multi-tasking. They shift our priorities indefinitely. They show us clearly the things that are most important and the freedom that comes with letting go of things that once carried such great weight in our lives. Our kids make it easier to say NO to the things and people in our lives that do not serve us and to say YES to what will ultimately bring about the kind of person you want to be, the kind of life you want for your family.
Unfortunately, we don’t master all this by the time they learn to walk or sing the alphabet. My kid is growing up fast but I feel like my growth is slow and tedious. I see clearly enough to know that there isn’t a destination but an ever-unfolding process of small but significant moments, some hard and some victorious, but all equally beautiful. I am just grateful to be on the path.