The New York Times has been running a lovely series over the last few months that explores meditation in real life, offering suggestions about when and how to move into a more mindful state.This piece looks at how to be mindful while holding a baby. I am drawn to this piece, and to this practice, but especially drawn by these parts of the practice:
If the baby you are holding is awake and content, notice the changing expressions on his or her face.
If the baby is interested, gaze into its eyes for some moments. Notice any thoughts or emotions that may arise as you do this.
If the expression on the baby’s face changes to unhappiness or you hear sounds of fussing, notice any emotions this brings up for you — sadness, compassion, frustration or anxiety.
If the baby begins to cry, notice how this makes you feel, as well as any thoughts about the future, such as “how long will this last?” or “I don’t know what to do.”
Feel the feelings, as unpleasant as they might be, and return to the breath. By working at being with your breath, your body may become an anchor for the baby to find calm in the present moment.
This interplay between child and parent, parent and child, is the essence of the practice, just as it is the essence of the relationship: observing the other with care, noticing and allowing whatever thoughts, feelings and experiences arise for us as we observe, and returning to the place of calm within us in a way that allows the other to feel that calm and to use it for themselves.
I spoke with a group of parents yesterday about just this: how to mindful of what is happening for each of us as we live in relationship with one another at the same time as recognizing that our needs and our child's are not always the same. It’s hard work—work that often goes unacknowledged because it is described and/or dismissed as “natural,” meaning instinctual, effortless, lacking in intention. Good parenting is the antithesis of this: it is a skill that we learn in relationship with a particular child who has particular needs; it requires great effort, often when we are feeling depleted ourselves; and the more clarity we can bring to our lived experience as parents, the more easily we can notice those moments when we are or are not acting in accordance with our own values.