When my son was three, in addition to being cute and funny, he was exhibiting some really annoying behavior. It helped at the time to know Will’s defiance was a normal stage of development, but still, I was exhausted. Something had to change.
During this time, it was increasingly challenging to get him to go to sleep. My husband, Josh, and I were trying really hard to not give in to Will’s desire to sleep on our floor or in our bed. We were afraid of starting a bad habit. So instead of that habit, we created another one. Strange as it may seem, he chose to sleep on the wood floor in the hallway outside our bedroom, and to get him to fall asleep, we made up songs. He would tell me what style to sing in. My favorite request which I heard often, was, “Bob Marley and Opera.” A particularly interesting request indeed!
Continuing to feel like I was losing my marbles, I decided that perhaps it was time to take a meditation class. I had attempted seated meditation in college as well as in various yoga classes. However, I had never had any specific instruction. In fact, in college, when I tried to meditate, I found it more anxiety inducing then relaxing. Years later, when I was sharing this with an older, wiser, and more meditative friend, he laughed and said something about people in their early twenties weren’t supposed to be meditating. He said we were supposed to be having fun. I recall him mentioning how our brains were too busy thinking about the opposite sex to meditate. Although I hate to admit it, I think he was right.
I’m not in my twenties anymore, and as luck would have it, a wonderful therapist in town was leading an eight week long Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. Right when Josh and I felt like we were reaching our breaking point, we signed up and arranged for his mom to come watch the kids every other Saturday. MBSR is a particularly effective and well researched program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is a great tool for learning how to sit in silence and also for bringing a steady and non-judgmental awareness to every day activities. It is very helpful for certain medical conditions as well as for anxiety and depression.
I promise I am not being dramatic when I say this class (and the subsequent practice of meditation) saved our lives! And still does to this day.
After our first class, instead of begrudgingly trying to get our son to sleep, we started meditating. Previously we would mindlessly flop on the couch and watch television or get on the internet, but we were committed to bringing about more peace in our house. This new practice consisted of us sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes in our little front room and breathing together in silence. Will could see us from his hallway “bed” and I think watching us in this silent way was reassuring for him. The peacefulness we practiced came straight out of us and right into him.
What happened over the course of the next couple of weeks felt nothing short of miraculous. Will never seemed to find our sitting in silence odd, and furthermore, he was now falling fast asleep without any fuss. This happened night after night, and the more we sat, the more our perspective seemed to change as the energy in the house shifted too.
Why it worked, I think, was because we needed to change. Not Will. Instead of trying so hard to get him to sleep, or reading blogs and books about what we should do, we just relaxed, listened to our own intuitions and let go of all of our expectations. We started to react less and enjoy our time with him more. I told myself he would most likely not want me to sing, let alone speak, in his teenage years so I kept up my operatic/Bob Marley inspired songs and did so with a smile.
Although, sitting regularly is something I still struggle with, it is also a practice I always come back to. When I haven’t had a seated practice and then start one again, I am always amazed at how wonderful it feels and wonder why it took me so long to bring it back.
As soon as I learned via MBSR that I didn’t have to clear my mind to meditate, I was able to relax and not worry about whether or not I was doing it right. I quickly felt the beautiful benefits of meditation while I was sitting and often throughout the day. A veil of clutter seemed to lift and I found a bit more space in my heart and head. I still had a million thoughts racing through my mind, but as Eckhart Tolle discusses in his best selling book (and one of my personal favorites,) The Power of Now, I started to notice the space between these thoughts was growing. This felt like an ocean of much needed and much appreciated bliss.
These days, our kids, ages six and three, will even sit with us and meditate on occasion. We don’t ask them to, but they just do. This morning while I was sitting, my daughter came and sat on my lap. When she asked me, “Now what do I do?” I told her to just sit, listen and find her happy place. She said, “You mean my sun?”
I’m not sure if our kids will meditate as they get older, but I do think they have learned something about the importance of stillness, silence, and getting to know the internal and eternal suns residing in each one of us. I know I certainly have. As for Will, he now sleeps in his bed, in his room, every night.