My twins’ busy schedules had become a source of worry for me. Rare were the moments when I saw them relax with a storybook, while the afternoon away with friends, or unwind by throwing hoops in the basketball net. Gone were the days when I could call them to go over old photo albums together or walk on the beach, collecting seashells and memories along the way.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~ Rumi
I thought back to my own childhood. The idle summer afternoons spent climbing mango trees in the backyard or strolling the ravine trails. The cozy winter weekends spent building castles, sometimes with pillows, and sometimes in the air. There was magic in that idleness. It allowed the mind to flow into the unknown vistas of creativity and tap into the brilliance of awe and wonder.
But childhood had more. It had parents who were around. Not simply to hug us and cheer us on, but to shake their heads and stop us from many of the things we wanted to do. Our parents had time for us, for themselves, and for all the others in their lives. I remember my mother sitting with the needy and destitute lady who came to do our laundry once a week. As she would wash our clothes clean, my mother would listen to her woes and worries and wash her pain away, even if temporarily.Making Time OUt a Priority
I knew I did not make that kind of time. I prioritized my to-do list and missed the opportunity to share in the laughter once too often. I tended to finish that one last load of laundry only to find my little one fallen asleep without her bedtime snuggle. I preferred wiping the counter to perfection instead of taking a much needed walk in the moonlit night. I justified it by all the usual reasons: working mothers, pressured lives, single unit families, and the rest. But deep down, I knew the change I wanted to see in my children’s lives had to come from mine.
So I made taking time out a priority. I struggled. There was always so much to do, to read, to finish up. I felt like the passenger standing on the platform and consistently missing the speeding train. I felt that I was holding my children back onto the emptiness of a space that had little to offer. They too found moments of open time difficult to deal with. They fidgeted impatiently and complained endlessly about the work piling on. I feared the effects on their grades and their motivation. Was I crippling them in a world that wanted them to speed ahead? Was I teaching them to lie back and let go of the passionate pursuit of goals?But then I reminded myself that the pace and structure of their days was actually weighing them down. I thought of their yo-yoing emotions and their stressed out expressions. I thought of the fact that they lost their calm much too often and seemed to derive little joy out of what little they were actually accomplishing. I thought of cultures that allow space in their days to maneuver the uncertainties of life and real friends to sit alongside them in their times of need. Through my confusion, I felt that I was not totally mistaken in my agenda.
Then What Happened?
Luckily, things began to change. Slowly, I could see them look forward to sharing the highs and lows of their day after the lights were out.Slowly, they began venturing out into the backyard and mucking around the garden or playing an impromptu game of soccer every so often. Slowly, they began to fill the empty space with stories and laughter, dreams and imaginations. One day, I caught my son playing pretend tennis in his room and receiving self-accolades from the cheering fans. I smiled to myself and felt strangely satisfied. In some little way, I was returning them their precious childhood.
This was just the beginning. As I began to purposefully make more time in our physical worlds, I noticed a change in my own mental world. I reacted less. I was no longer slave to the quick responses of an older brain that used my rational capacities to justify its actions. Instead, I could allow reason to step in and take its time to introspect and empathize. I began to unlock myself from my singular and speedy worldview and welcomed more and more perspectives. I had entered the realm of open-mindedness.
A New Calm
I noticed it too in the reactions of my children. They appeared to be more grounded, less jumpy. They too were learning to keep the biggest possible picture in mind, through which to see the minutia of their lives. In the process, they were becoming wiser at making sense of events and of life. Our physical worlds had affected our mental worlds.
It was likely the effects of this new calm that there emerged a new energy and direction towards their work. It was perhaps these quieter moments that had called forth the hidden gems of the subconscious. For their eyes sparkled, I saw vibrancy in their ideas and flexibility in their approach, and work engaged and motivated them more than I had seen in a long time. My fears were finally put to rest.
But there was more. By disconnecting from needless busyness and reconnecting to what was truly important in work, relationships and in life, I was finding deep fulfillment. Not the fleeting moments of positive emotions that I had tried to tally, in the hope that they would add up to a life of happiness. But a deeper fulfillment that was more lasting and more peaceful.I had touched something deep within me. Was it my soul? Or a higher consciousness? I do not know yet. But what I do know is that something seems to have emerged from the harmonious union of my physical and mental worlds, and it feels authentic and it feels right.
I’m not sure my children have felt the fulfillment I have. After all, their budding consciousness is still in the making. But by providing it with the right fuel, I am hopeful that in standing up against the forces of our times, I am helping shape its coherent and critical emergence. I am hopeful that like Michelangelo, I have seen “the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Britta K. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T. & Lazar, S. W. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36–43. Abstract.
Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. New York, N.Y.: Harmony Books.
Siegel, D. (2014). Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. Brunswick: Scribe Publications.
Colored shells courtesy of Brian Moriarty
Sleeping child courtesy of tempophage
Stressed Egg faces courtesy of Bernard Goldbach
Playing soccer courtesy of USAG-Humpreys
Michelangelo’s David courtesy of Marco Crupi