Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Three Reasons For Parents

I occasionally write for a local magazine entitled Island Parent. It's fun putting pen to paper for a family-oriented audience. Family is, after all, where I spend a great deal of my time and do much reflecting on the meditative journey. Creating something for Parent also has an element of challenge to it. How can I communicate something real about this practice while, at the same time, enticing frazzled and too busy parents to give this a shot?
This is an interesting question. If appropriate, substitute some element of your life for 'parents' and you have something many of us who give so much time and energy to this path wrestle with. 'How can I communicate something real about this practice while, at the same time, enticing [teachers, students,  health care professionals, elders, recovering addicts, athletes - the list goes on] to give this a shot?' What elements of the practice are relevant? What benefits are attractive? What sort of language is most appropriate?

The piece below appears in the June 2012 issue, which features a number of other worthwhile articles. It's original title was 'Why Meditate? Three Reasons for Parents'. I have shortened this here and even considered more brevity ('Three Reasons') as I think these apply to pretty much everyone, parent or not. I hope you enjoy!

As a longtime meditator, a meditation teacher, and the parent of a grade-school child, I can tell you this: We all have lots of reasons for not meditating. We’re busy. Our homes are noisy. We don’t know how. We feel lousy. We feel great. We’re tired or anxious. We’ll do it tomorrow. The permutations on this theme are, in my experience, limitless.

This said, however, many of us do think about meditating from time to time. The practice occasionally draws our attention as a ‘good idea’. “I really need it,” is something many people say to me. “How about coming to a class?” I’ll ask. The mood between us shifts with these words. “Maybe,” my companion will hesitate. “Maybe once we’ve finished renovating.”

To repeat: We all have lots of reasons for not meditating - and many of these seem pretty darn convincing. What, then, might be some reasons for engaging this practice? What sort of benefits can meditation offer that will tease us toward a class or workshop, a book or DVD? What can meditation give that might keep us going after that initial exposure?

Off the top of my head I can think of three reasons for parents to meditate. This is far from an exhaustive list, though it does touch upon a few benefits whose presence I suspect most of us would deeply appreciate.

Stress - Meditation is a wonderful tool for helping us relax with the stress of our lives. The key word in this sentence is ‘with’. The practice does not remove stress from our lives. It does not magically pay our bills or remedy our workplace troubles. Meditation does, however, help us develop a certain ease with our difficulties.

The practice of meditation asks us to simply be with what is happening. Feeling excited? Just be there. Confused? Just be there. Over time, this sense of presence strengthens and radiates into our everyday lives. We become more accommodating of the joys and sorrows, uncertainties and delights that are part of being human. The more we cultivate this sort of accommodation, the less stress we feel.

Put another way, meditation helps us surrender some of our ongoing fight with life - ‘Things should be different!’ - and this has far-reaching effects. We become a little more able to be with our families through all the challenges and wonder they offer.   

Seeing - A second benefit of meditation is the gift of insight. With practice we begin to see our actions and behaviors with greater clarity. An example might highlight just how this clarity manifests and why it might be of benefit in our lives.

Several days ago, I returned home in a sour mood. The moment I walked through the door, my daughter approached all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Dad! Dad!” she exclaimed, jumping from foot to foot and pulling at one of my arms. My skin tightened and my jaw seized under this onslaught. I drew breath, intending to yell at her.

Then, in an instant, I saw that the main reason I wanted to scream was the above-mentioned mood. I wasn’t really angry at my daughter, though her exuberance did offer a very tempting target. I let the breath escape. “Just give me a sec,” I eventually said. “Then you can show me whatever has you so excited.”

This sort of insight is a natural consequence of meditation. With practice our minds settle. Imagine a glass of water cloudy with sediment. Stop moving the glass and the sediment sinks to the bottom, leaving the water relatively clear; we are able to see more. When we meditate, the same thing happens. Mental chatter subsides and we see things that previously passed unnoticed, things that perhaps obscure our ability to be the kind of parent we aspire toward. 

Setting An Example - Like most parents, I want the best for my child. Among other things, I want her to enjoy the best possible quality of life. With this in mind, I recall an exchange from many years ago. 
I was at a meditation program and the teacher was taking questions. “How can we get our kids to meditate?” someone asked. One could feel all the attention in the room focus on this inquiry. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know how we might avail our children of the benefits of this practice. The teacher smiled and let the moment stretch out before giving an answer. “Make certain you meditate yourself,” he said.

A picture is worth a thousand words; it all comes back to that common phrase. In meditating ourselves we are setting a powerful example for our kids. We are showing them that it is possible to deal with stress in a healthy way, to see our behavior with enough clarity and understanding that we are able to defuse the kind of ‘kick the dog’ moments outlined above. Through developing our own familiarity with this practice, we are providing an example that is far more likely to be emulated that any admonition to “Meditate because it’s good for you!”

All this said, however, it’s still not easy. We’re still going to be busy and our homes are still going to be noisy and we’re still going to say to ourselves, ‘Maybe tomorrow.’ The good news is we can meditate anyway. Even if it’s only for five minutes in the midst of a crazy day, we can - with a lot of patience, gentleness, and self-understanding - do it.

As this happens, we’ll find these three benefits coming into our lives with ever increasing frequency: reduced stress, clear seeing, and the experience of offering our children a positive role model. And the more these appear, the more we’re going to feel motivated to find a little room in our lives for this practice. At least, that is, some of the time.