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How to Change Your Life in 20 Minutes a Day

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Like many of you, I am a busy mom. And yet, my life allows me just the tiniest bit of space to nurture quiet within.

By that, I mean I meditate daily, and by “tiniest bit” I mean I do it for just 20 minutes a day — sometimes only 10 or 15 minutes. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in such a short time.

I meditate every morning at 6:30 a.m., while my husband makes breakfast and sorts out whatever kid arguments have arisen overnight (somehow my children manage to nurture grudges while asleep). After 20 minutes or so, I emerge. I greet my family, pack their lunches, and get on with it.

Without that brief time apart, I couldn’t be a decent parent, a disciplined writer — or very sane.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a hell of a lot on my plate. I care for my kids, teach yoga classes and — last but not least — I’ve been busy writing and selling my first book. You do the math.

But I know that touching that quiet point within myself gives me so much more than the time it takes away from my responsibilities. When I meditate, I find I have more inner reserves and more patience —  with a strong-willed 5-year-old daughter and an insatiably curious 8-year-old son, God knows I need it.

For an introvert like me, life with young kids can be overwhelming. My kids talk a lot. I’ve found myself discussing the  elements of design for a perfect LEGO set with my son while arguing about what God looks like with my daughter — yes, we’ve actually argued about this — all before breakfast.

My brain won’t give me a moment’s peace until I sit on my comfy purple meditation cushion. Here’s what I do: As I open my eyes in the morning, instead of starting with the complaints that come most naturally (“Oy, it’s early,” or, “There’s so much to do” ) I practice hakarat hatov — recognizing the good, or, gratitude. “Yes,” I say to myself. “It’s early. And yet, I am grateful for a healthy body, wonderful children, and a husband I love.”

Then, I brush my teeth, splash water on my face, and bundle up. I sit on my meditation cushion facing the canyon behind my house. I set a timer, close my eyes, and try not to do much of anything. Thoughts come, and feelings, too. And I try to recognize them, and then I try to let them go and just stay aware of my breathing for 20 minutes. That’s pretty much it.

Much of the time I’m sitting in meditation, my daily agenda rolls through my head, or worries about why this person said that thing. But, then, the gift of the practice peels back layer upon layer of gunky mind-stuff, and I’m in an ocean of peace.

Of course, as soon as I’m aware of that feeling of peace, it’s gone. I’m back to thinking and worrying a mile a minute, as we humans tend to do. But I’ve found that just a few short breaks from compulsive thinking in a 20-minute sit are actually enough.

And when I say I meditate daily, what I really mean is almost daily. I give myself a once-or-twice weekly pass, if needed, for whatever life throws my way: a hectic weekday morning when my husband’s out of town, a rare Sunday sleep-in, or a day like last Thursday when both kids had been up multiple times during the night with a fever. I forgive myself for that inconsistency, because while my life as a mother can be structured — much like my mind in meditation — it cannot be forced, predicted, or tightly-controlled. Yes, I need my morning meditation, but my life requires flexibility.

It’s not an impressive practice, but it’s mine. After years of talking about the benefits of meditation — and of practicing them on and (mostly) off — I finally find myself with the motivation to practice daily. What’s changed? Maybe it’s rounding the corner on 40, and realizing that life is happening now — this moment — and I want to live up to my own ideals. Maybe it’s the fact that my kids are finally old enough to entertain themselves for a bit when they wake up.

I’ve learned my brain is a little clearer and more focused when I meditate regularly. My breathing is slower and deeper; my nervous system a little less rattled. And when those physiological signs are modulated, my parenting and writing benefit. Synapses fire a little differently, a little more in synch. My intentions with my children, and words on the page, are all cleaner.

Being the kind of mother I want to be requires that I give much of myself to my family. But it requires that I give to myself, too. That I take care of my own needs as well as nurture theirs. And, for me, that starts with a short pause before the day begins.

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