I was told that when you first begin to meditate, it is best to practice for many short sessions throughout the day. This could also be useful for seasoned practitioners, and what could be more perfect for a parent, especially a parent of newborn or toddler? Any ‘free time’ parents have during the waking hours, are little moments here and there where we can direct our focus to our own rhythmic breathing, and yield, giving our thinking mind a rest.
Sounds simple. It is simple. But it requires the willingness to incorporate the discipline of short meditation sessions into the routine of daily life.
In my mind, I had no choice but to figure out how to merge a very disciplined meditation schedule with the spontaneity and uncertainty of day to day life with a new born. It is not only with newborns, but at all stages of parenting that this practice can be useful. Like a Sidney Pollack canvas of color, vibrant, seemingly random, and alive, the mothering mind offers a perfect condition that is ripe for working with. It wasn’t until the mothering began, that I was able to truly see the vastness and the depth of value in meditation. This is because once I had children, my inner world opened up and I experienced like never before the ecstasy of joy, unconditional love and empathy, and the visceral qualities of fear, anger, rage and sorrow. With the overload of mothering and emotions what could be better than to engage in a grounding daily meditation practice?
Full disclosure: I was a serious meditation practitioner before kids and I wasn’t going to let the having of kids get in the way of this precious link to self awareness and sanity. But how? Where? When? Like most mothers, it was quite natural for me to just sit with my baby while we gazed into each other’s eyes. But I yearned for more connection and less mentation. Then I remembered the famous Zen saying: before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. So nursing could be become a time, a place and a way to meditate. Infusing this natural expression of mother-infant bonding with the practice of watching the breath, would ultimately serve to heighten my awareness and tune me into to my baby rather than to zone off or complete a bunch of mental lists that could wait.
During nursing I would (attempt to) apply the techniques of meditation, by focusing one pointedly on my breath for 2-3 minutes while my baby nursed. Sometimes this would work for only 20 seconds, and then I would need to attend to latching him on correctly, or wiping up spit up, or burping, or …. But still the 20 seconds really did affect a change in my whole being, and I could also sense my baby’s ease as my mind loosed it’s tight hold. The time together with my baby became an opportunity to work with my mind as my new little boy and I spent moments gazing into each other’s eyes. During a 20 minute nursing session I might be lucky enough to incorporate four or five meditations with a short break in between each. Though I wasn’t sitting in the most proper meditation posture, both my baby and I enjoyed many of the benefits that naturally arise through calming my mind and allowing its relentless activity to just simply BE.
Soon, I found this process of meditating adaptable to all activities that come with mothering. As I would cook or wash the dishes, I simply would allow my attention to rest on the activity at hand, and whenever I noticed my mind wandering I would gently coax my it back to it’s resting place.
Little did I know this bonding and mindfulness would become invaluable not only to me but for my three children as they grew. And as my kids have grown, (they are now 15, 12 and 10 years old) I am more and more grateful for the sanity and calm that this adaptable meditation offers our entire family.