Parenting will call into question virtually everything we think we know, beginning with who we think we are. (We’re not!) Children have an extraordinary talent for breaking apart our roles, demanding again and again that we meet them right in the moment, meet our lives, meet difficulty, moment by moment meet and resolve the extraordinary mystery of ‘the other’. To do this we must time and again lose our precious adult facades and have recall or regain access to the mysterious and creative core that has no name, the source, that we brush again and again in meditation.
Susan Murphy, in Buddhism for Mothers
“I can‘t meditate.” That’s the recurrent message I’ve played out for, hmm, about 15 years – the period of time since I first seriously tried meditating, at a vipassana meditation centre in Chiang Mai, back in my good old footloose hippy days. I lasted 4 days out of a 10 day retreat, telling myself, as I pulled my various shades and layers of tie dyed clothing back on, “I’ve learned all I need to.” Nothing to do with the lack of food, sleep, interpersonal communication, colourful attire, or my inability to sit still for THAT long then? No, nothing at all.
So, the fact that I have now been meditating regularly for two and a half months comes as a little surprise to me every now and then. I know many Buddhists would balk at the idea of it, but for practical reasons, I’m doing it the 21st century way (through an app on my new iPad – Headspace, check it out), and it’s really working for me. Now that my children are old enough to not need something from me every 10 minutes (unless I’m on the phone or toilet of course), I have the space and time to give this to myself almost every single morning. And I’m loving it.
Ok, so often my practice looks a little like this:
“Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out… Gosh my breathing sounds loud today! I wonder why. Funny how my breathing sounds different one day to the next. Oh yes… Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out… Is that a mouse I can hear in the rafters? Ooh sounds bigger than a mouse. A rat? What’s it eating? Maybe it’s just a bird on the roof after all. Oops… Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out… Is that K getting up? On her own? Hooray! Oh, maybe it’s the cat. She’d better not have brought in another bloody rabbit and left it to half fester under our bed again. Aargh that cat! Ahem… Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out… Hmm what shall I write my next blog post about? Haha, I know, I could write about meditating. Oh lord, what a joke… COME BACK TO YOUR BREATH WOMAN!! Breathing in… Breathing out…”
(Yes… I realise I’ve a way to go before nirvana becomes more than just a few graphemes put together in an interesting way…)
BUT I do believe that those tiny moments of bliss I experienced in the first few weeks of meditating are genuinely growing. And I’m seeing myself, in a detached, interested, reflective kind of way, in how I deal with things the kids throw at me in particular. A common one is: “Why did I just respond like that? That was unnecessary.” Because it’s a learned REaction, rather than a conscious response, that’s why. And it’s time to change direction.
I know I have weeks, months, YEARS of practice ahead of me before some of these neurological habits are shifted onto other clearer, cleaner, calmer pathways. AND I know it must be doing something good already, because I look forward each morning to starting my day in this way. I’ve had glimpses into what that clearer, cleaner, calmer mind looks like.
I’m learning a LOT about how and why my mind works as it does and that, actually, what is crucial is not so much about WHAT is happening but HOW I choose to run with it. I could let all these (quite frankly unimportant) thoughts rampage round and round my head, distracting me from what I’m doing here and now, OR I could learn to simply acknowledge them as mere thoughts and bring myself back to the (much more interesting) present.
After all, the present is where life’s really happening. It’s where the kids reside every single minute of their tiny, beautiful, inspiring, innocent lives. And it’s where they constantly drag me back to when my mind is wandering off in other (deceivingly seemingly more enticing) lands. They’re a relentless wake up call to live life HERE and NOW.
Ah yes indeed, “children are the most demanding and merciless of spiritual teachers” (Sarah Napthali, Buddhism for Mothers). I’ve known this on some level or other these past 9 years I’ve been mothering, of course. Now I’m trying really hard to pay deep and close attention to what they’re actually trying to teach me.