Back in March, I wrote about the case of shingles that knocked me flat on my back (though that hurt, too) after a month of covering the Winter Olympics, and my subsequent decision to basically… change my entire life.
I resolved to learn how to relax, so we wouldn’t have a repeat of that stress-induced chicken pox virus. Naturally, I focused all of my Type A personality on the endeavor because, well, Rome wasn’t built in a day….
I wasn’t just doing it for me, either. I wanted to set a good example for my kids. After all, if my high school freshman son is already loading up on SAT prep books and literally ripping his hair out over exams he’s scheduled to take at the end of the year despite my insisting that it’s not that important (like Mark Twain, I don’t believe in letting school get in the way of an education), it does not bode well for a future where my son isn’t following in my over-stressed footsteps. I wanted to show him that there was another way. That life could be lived off a treadmill.
Inspired by Carla Naumburg, I decided I would take up meditation.
I thought I’d start with the “guided” variety since, goodness knows, I need guidance. (When it comes to my son and stress, it is definitely a case of “do as I say not as I do.”)
I looked up some recordings on YouTube and prepared to zone out from the world.
“What are you doing, Mommy?” My 7-year-old daughter peeked into my bedroom, noting the dimmed lights, the music, and the strange voice emanating from the iPad.
“Meditating,” I mumbled without opening my eyes.
“Can I meditate, too?” she asked, bounding up on my bed and plopping down next to me.
“Meditating? Who’s meditating? What’s meditating?” From another room, my 10-year-old, who lives in abject fear that somewhere, someone is doing something he hasn’t had the chance to study in depth yet, came running in. “Can I meditate? How do you meditate? What’s that? Who’s talking? Where did you find that music? What language is that? What does it say? Move over,” he shoved his sister.
“Are you doing something without me?” my 14-year-old called from the kitchen. Ever since he started high school and began getting home later, he has become convinced that I am lavishing his brother and sister with non-stop praise, affection, and attention that he has been cruelly deprived of.
“Fine.” I opened one eye to note that my bed now had a person occupying every corner. Then again, I did say I was trying to set an example, here. “We can all mediate together. But, the point is to relax, let go and BE QUIET.”
They all promptly shut their mouths and their eyes, ready to join me on this newfound spiritual quest.
For about a minute and a half.
“Mommy,” my oldest reminded after a moment. “You know I can’t breathe with my mouth closed. My nose is too stuffy. That’s why I talk all the time. Otherwise, I’ll suffocate.”
“So breathe through your mouth,” I hissed.
He proceeded to do just that. Rather loudly.
Kind of hard to focus on silencing the noise inside your mind when you’re sitting across from Darth Vader: The Teen Years. (No, it’s not adenoids, it’s allergies. He’s been tested and he’s on medication, but his nose is still perennially stuffed.)
Meanwhile, my middle child, peeking through his half-closed lids, noticed the assortment of yoga poses that came with the meditation music.
“Hey,” he observed. “I can do that.” After which he promptly flung his knees over his elbows, balanced on his hands, feet off the ground, and grinned at me in triumph. “And I can do that, too!” He tucked his heels behind his ears. (Yes, he takes ballet.)
“Mommy,” my daughter studied her brothers critically, obviously finding both lacking. “Am I the very best relaxer?”
I sighed and turned off the recording.
We tried it again over the next few days. My boys eventually got bored and drifted off, but my daughter stuck to it.
We ended up one day both lying on my bed, side-by-side, holding hands, listening to the latest in guided meditation. (I’d cut down from 20 minutes, to 15, to five. I realize I’m headed in the wrong direction, but that’s about as long as she can keep still without starting to fidget.)
I listened to a voice tell me to go to my peaceful place.
I have no peaceful place. When the voice talked about sitting on a calm beach and letting the healing light fill me with energy, all I could imagine was sunburn followed by blisters, pain and melanoma (I am a very, very white person). At best, I could summon up the sticky residue and smell of sunscreen. (I am a very, very hyper-sensitive person.)
The voice next advised me to listen to the silence all around me.
I live in a New York City apartment. Even with the windows closed, silence is not an option. (And then there’s the sound of my boys arguing over whose turn it was to do the dishes, only a thin wall away.)
So I improvised. The sound I listened to was my daughter breathing, dutifully in and out, just like the meditation advised. And when it came to peaceful, I didn’t focus on a place, but on the texture of her hand in mine. I rubbed the back of her palm with my thumb, feeling how soft and smooth her skin is. I paid attention to how she seemed to trust me completely–doing what I was doing for no reason other than the fact that I was doing it–and how happy she seemed to be when doing anything at all with me, even if it was just lying still with her eyes closed.
I realize that isn’t the point of meditation. I shouldn’t be thinking about my daughter. I shouldn’t be thinking about anything.
But, at the moment, holding her hand is the most relaxing trick I’ve got. I’m still working on the rest–I really am!–but, for the foreseeable future, I suspect it’s going to be meditation… with children.
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