Fifteen months ago I became a mom. My little one is my teacher as much as I am hers, reminding me of truths I’m sure I once knew. One of the ways she’s taught me is by being an emotional mirror - when I’m playful and happy she’s joyful, when I let myself get carried away by worries about the future, or sad thinking about the past, she will often reflect my emotions. She also picks up on when I've let my mind wander off someplace, and am mindlessly doing some household task. She’ll toddle over to me and I’ll feel her tiny, powerful fingers pinch my thigh, as if to say, ‘I’m right here, mama. Where else would you want to be?’
It was hard to always stay present this past year. It was a challenging year, as it was for many. At times I was desperately sleep deprived while managing professional and personal challenges that would have felt formidable with a fully rested brain and body. To be so tired and then have my internal state picked up and amplified by an infant felt crazy making. If I felt impatient and agitated, she was restless and sleepless; if I gave into emotion and cried, she wailed. Yet, it was also true for the opposite end of the emotional spectrum - when I smiled, she often smiled. If I slowed my breathing, cleared my head to focus on her and willed myself to feeling calm, no matter how I felt when I picked her up, and no matter how distressed she may have appeared, she would, in time, calm. As tired as I was in so many moments in the first half of this year, through the action of calming her and being present I was often able to shift how I was feeling. When I went onto whatever was next in my day or evening, I was mentally present and better prepared to do the next task.
I’ve since realized that this trick and personal parenting survival tool I stumbled upon is a form of meditation, a very short practice of mindfulness. The beneficial shift I felt while trying to calm my daughter has been studied and documented, and I’ve over the past few months I’ve added ten to fifteen minutes of mindfulness as a (almost) daily practice.
I stress practice because that’s what I do - I practice being present, sometimes peacefully and sometimes while being pestered by the thoughts, ideas, memories and anxieties that seem unwilling to end the noisy party they’re throwing in my mind. Yet, even on the days when it’s been more party than peace, my mindfulness practice serves me. Outside of my formal mediation, I’m more mindful in accomplishing the goals of the day, and more grounded when faced with inevitable challenges, whether for work objectives, or in trying to understand the needs and wants of a strong willed toddler who doesn’t have many words yet.
Like many people, I have great hopes and big goals for 2017. Also like many, I feel unfamiliar uneasiness and uncertainty when I look forward at the year to come. No matter the challenges that occur, whether opportunities or trials, I’ve been learning that the only moment I can affect is the one I’m currently in. Being and staying present is a choice. I don't always remember that it's a choice, yet I’m practicing, working to remember and to live it because it makes me better at all that I do. I've also noticed that I find more laughter each day.
So, when that small pain of my daughter’s pinch yanks me out of my head and into the present moment, I look down to that cheeky smile (or defiant expression) and, in gratitude, I pick her up for a hug. I want her to know that no matter how easy and tempting it is to worry about what's to come, or wonder about what-ifs from moments already past, I realize that there's nowhere else I should be, and nowhere I’d rather be, than where I am in this moment. ’Nowhere, baby girl,’ I let her know, ’I don't want to be anywhere but here.’
*For those who are looking into a mindfulness practice: There’s an app I’ve come to love as I continue to learn how to be present. It's great for beginners and the first ten sessions are free. I’ve found it helpful enough to become a subscriber.
A few books I've enjoyed this year and continue to learn from that touch on mindfulness and the power of being present:
I’d love to hear about other book recommendations; please drop me a note in the contact form.