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From Moment to Moment
by Celia Straus
In Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jon says, "As I see it, the challenge of being a parent is to live our moments as fully as possible, charting our own course as best we can, above all, nourishing our children, and in the process, growing ourselves." If I had to choose a single precept to guide me as I parent my two teenage daughters, it would be this one.that when I am with my girls, I can be one with them.that I can relax and allow all expectations and anxieties leave my mind so that I am attentive and clear.that I can love Julia and Emily as they are in this very moment." Of course, this being said, living in the moment is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Period. For myself, let alone for my daughters.
I am continually pulling back my left brain, ego-centered, self-absorbed distracted "monkey mind" to the present. When I manage to do so, I am always rewarded with the peace of mind that comes from presence and attentiveness to the pauses and cracks in life. For it is in these subtle places that we experience the Divine. I am especially rewarded if these fleeting moments of Divinity include either or both of my children. We can experience the moments, what Thoreau called the "bloom" of life, every day if we allow ourselves to be in nonjudgmental awareness, relating to the whole of our lives with our children, ever on the lookout for connectedness and love. This takes discipline and practice.
Today was a spectacular day for June in Washington, D.C., sunny and warm without being humid. As busy as I was, with the usual assortment of emails and phone calls, I got up from the computer in my basement office to stroll out into the garden where Emily, now officially a ninth grader, was sunning herself while listening to music. (Yes, I know about the dangers of tanning, but try telling a fourteen year old with a dusting of pimples across her cheeks that she can't go out in the sun, especially if she's a good sport about slathering herself with sunscreen.) We started talking about whose turn it was to walk the dog, falling into a routine and automatic (mindless versus mindful) conversation, "Someone has to walk the dog." "It's Julia's turn. I did it yesterday." "This isn't about turns. It's about responsibility and what the dog needs. Julia isn't here." "Julia's never here. I always get stuck doing her stuff. It isn't fair." "Life isn't fair." "You always say that."
Suddenly a large blue butterfly landed on first one of her shoulders, then the other. Both of us stopped talking and kept perfectly still, watching it. Well, actually, I watched it. Emily could only glimpse it out of the corner of her eye since she was afraid to move her head. It was brilliant in the noon sunlight as it slowly opened and closed its wings. "It must like my pink tank top." "Maybe." It lingered for several magical moments, then flew away. We smiled at each other and I went back inside. Nothing was resolved about the dog.
The last eighteen years have been filled with moments like this, filled with wonder and bliss, that I will treasure forever. Most, if not all, remain in my heart because of their simplicity and spontaneity: Lying in bed nursing a premature Emily every two hours day after day until time becomes Kairos time, eternal time; coloring with Julia; making "soup" out of dirt and weeds and water; playing at almost anything where I can act silly and childlike again whether it is spending hours in a "house" made from sheets over furniture or sliding down a slide in the park; being led down a ski slope by my 8 year old who keeps saying, "You can do it, Mommy. Don't be afraid." I think we often mistakenly believe that experiencing the Divine will only happen if we go on a retreat or learn how to meditate. But, as Celeste Snowber Schroeder says in her beautiful book, In The Womb Of God, "spirituality is not ethereal, but real, embedded in the earth, getting mud on our face. Spirituality is a messy enterprise." Moreover, spirituality often eludes us if we aren't attentive to it. That business about discipline and practice again. After all, I can regret or second guess the past, and I can worry and "stress" about the future, but there is nothing to do in the present, but be in it with clarity and calmness, open to whatever life offers: play dough, finger paint, purple lip gloss and nail polish, pleasure, pain, joy, suffering, laughter, tears. Remember that sixties classic, Be Here Now by Ram Dass? He had a point.
All that being said, when my girls were little and I started working at home, scripting for television, I prided myself on my ability to participate in a conference call (never on speaker phone of course. I'd learned the hard way how professional I sounded trying to make some insightful "on task" remark over Bert and Ernie really turned up loud) while dressing "my little pony" in a full dance costume complete with braided mane and tail or making macaroni and cheese so quietly that my clients never heard the water running once! Multitasking is the antithesis of mindful parenting, but as a working mom, I often, mistakenly, felt I had no choice but to resort to go on autopilot to get everything done. As a result I seldom missed a scripting deadline, but I often missed precious moments with my children.
Far too often I rushed Julia from school to violin lesson to basketball practice carrying my work in a tote bag to do as I waited for her instead of listening, watching and enjoying what she was doing. We always got to where we had to go, the girls and I . . . school, sports, brownie scouts, birthday parties, doctor's appointments, usually in good spirits. I was very good at using my energy, caring and discipline at parenting the outer lives of my children, but how good was I at attending to their inner lives? The needs of their souls? How much of the time do I still run on automatic pilot, and not even realize it? How many days do I congratulate myself on meeting all my complex and competing demands when, in so doing, I have been continually "there" and not "here? How often do I pretend to be listening intently to what one of my girls is telling me, agreeing, disagreeing, giving advice, but really pondering something as insubstantial as if I only pay a thousand dollars on my Visa account, will the accrued interest cancel out the refund I just got from the phone company due to yet again their completely miscalculating my long distance bill.
For all the moments I treasure there are many, many more I have missed and will continue to miss. Yet, at the same time, I continue to notice where my attention is when it is not in the moment. I continue to gently pull my "monkey mind" back to the present countless times each day, simply noticing what is in front of me without judging it or trying to change it. And each time I achieve a degree of attentiveness when my daughters are present, I become a more compassionate and understanding parent, a particularly daunting task now that they are both adolescents. I become more able to honor their distinct and individual personalities and, even more important, their souls.
So I believe that it is in the moments of daily life when we are probably not doing anything particularly special, but are simply being with our children one hundred percent that we are at our best as parents, and in fact, as people. Being "in the moment" with our children is an ongoing journey that begins with the birth of our child and continues for the rest of our lives. The practice is not easy, for it demands that we pay close attention to our own behaviors and responses, respectful of our children's unique nature, and aware of the joyful possibilities if we allow our children simply be themselves. The practice is not easy for it requires that we understand why the lessons we think are most important for our children to learn are the very ones we never learned as children. It requires, in fact, that we learn from our children. Our children are, as the authors of Everyday Blessings put it, "our live-in teachers." Here are two prayer-poems I wrote for Julia, and, by extension, myself, about being in the moment from my book, More Prayers On My Pillow.
May I take this moment
To listen to my Self
Turn off mind's chatter
Silence the voices
That interrupt prayers
And hear the rush
Of spirit's release.
May the soft sweet murmur
Of childhood's singing
Reach down deep
Into regions unknown
And find Love waiting
To show me the way.
Each moment of the day
Can be a miracle
For beauty shines
If I look with truthful eyes
And love grows
If I give with a generous soul.
Each minute 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.
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