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Bonding Moment by Moment
by Celia Straus
"When I am with my daughter, I have practiced being in the moment and sensing all that is around me. I have delighted in making mud soup, searching for worms, watching and laughing as a pet bunny rabbit hops around the yard, dancing in the warm rain. She has shown me how to receive what is, rather than focusing on a need to accomplish or produce something."
Patience Robbins, "The Call To Spiritual Growth In Parenthood"
Shalem News, 1997.
Being in the moment with our children can be as natural as breathing. Take a deep breath and, as you fill your lungs, say to yourself, "Be." Hold it a second, then, as you exhale slowly, say to yourself, "Still." Repeat this simple exercise five times and see if you don't feel more centered and aware of what's going on around you instead of focusing solely on your own thoughts.
When we are young children, we live "in the moment". We have access to a kind of visionary simplicity. With the open heart of a child, we are able to experience moment after moment of transcendence every day. Tibetan Buddhist masters teach that little children are "with the moment" or "with Tao." Each child is a little Buddha master. We have not yet developed what Yogis call, the mind of a "drunken monkey", a mind that lurches from past to future, but is never able to stay focused on the present. Often our ability to stay focused starts to disappear when we leave childhood and enter puberty.
Later on, as adults, most of us are unable to stay grounded in the here and now . Being in the moment no longer comes naturally to us, but instead requires concentration and practice. We must relearn what it is like to be a child - open, trusting, spontaneous and capable of finding the magic of everyday life. And when we do, we will find ourselves bonding with our children with far less effort.
What do we personally gain from this effort? Balance. Integration. Love. Wonder. As Charlotte Joko Beck says in Nothing Special: "Living is about wonder. As you go through your day, through your little upsets and difficulties, ask yourself, 'Where is the wonder?' It's always there. Wonder is the nature of life itself. We can't force ourselves to feel it. We can only work with the barrier we are facing. The barrier is created by ourselves; it's not caused by what has happened to us." No matter who we are, what we are doing or how we feel, the more we break down our self-created barriers, the more we experience the wonder of life in that moment.
A mother of a twelve year old said to me that she have just about stopped taking photographs of events in her daughter's life because she finally realized that, in capturing these "Kodak moments," she wasn't experiencing them with her. Rather than trying to capture "Kodak moments," we are strengthening our natural ability to experience extraordinary moments in the most ordinary, humdrum details of our day in the company of our children. There is nothing we can do to make these "moments of being" happen except shift our awareness to the giftedness of life. There's no formula except to gently bring our mind back to here and now. There is no outcome except that we can then appreciate the wonder of God's love in everything around us. Bonding in the moment changes from moment to moment. How simple is that? What doesn't change is how we perceive the world around us. If we are bonding with our children in this manner, we are seeing them clearly, exactly as they are in that moment and respecting them for their unique presence.
When we give our full attention to the wonder of what is going on around us, and then share that wonder with our children, our relationship with them deepens. Moreover, if our relationship is on shaky ground or fragmented, as all relationships are at times, building on the most ordinary of moments gives us credibility in our children's eyes. Step by step, little by little, we are saying to them: "I love you for what you are as well as what you are not."
I love my fourteen year old, Emily, for being able to stand up for her convictions. I also remind myself to love her for other qualities associated with her certitude such as stubbornness, an obliviousness to the need for communication with others (that would be me) and a certain defensiveness (as in "what do you mean I'm not using my time wisely? I always use my time wisely"). If I am with her in the present, I can love her both ways.
Your children will remember the moments when you loved them "both ways" more than you think. An Email from a forty year old mother of two demonstrates this fact: "I remember going to the library for the first time with my Mom when I was little. It was late afternoon and I remember how it smelled like books. We spent a long time choosing books for her to read to me." As does one from a twenty-one year old: "My mama used to braid my hair. There was this one time before my birthday when she wouldn't let me look in the mirror until she was done. When I saw myself, I loved her so much for making me pretty."
If we can stop ourselves from making judgments about our children and simply experience them, we are bonding moment by moment. However, when we are not mindful, and are, instead, mindless, we cannot take advantage of the invitations our children give us to be in the moment with them. These invitations are not always offered with words. They can also be communicated with silence, body language, movement, tone of voice, or facial expression. Often our responses are formulaic, even though we recognize the invitation. We want to bond; we even think we are, but, in reality, we are physically with them, but mentally someplace else, either distracted by the past or anticipating the future. These responses should give me clues that I'm clueless about being consciously present to the child trying to communicate with me: "That's nice." "Tell me later." "It's not that big a deal." "Well, just as long as you had a good time." "Don't think about it." "Not now."
Most of us have spent many years trying to be someone other than ourselves to please others. After we become mothers, we try to be whatever we believe a mother should be, so it is difficult for us to stop and simply be. It's sometimes hard not to approach mothering as if we were baking a soufflé, worrying the whole time about whether it will rise or fall. Who doesn't dream of being rewarded for being a good mother? Yet, in order to ever receive that reward, we must accept it by celebrating who our children are and who we are now moment by moment.
Each moment of the day
Can be a miracle
For beauty shines
If I look with truthful eyes
If I give with a generous soul
Each moment of the day
Can be a miracle
For wisdom builds
If I learn with an open mind
And joy comes
If I live with love in my heart.
~ More Prayers On My Pillow
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