“How do you get up early to meditate when you have four kids?” an acquaintance asked recently.
“I get up early to meditate because I have four kids,” I responded.
Most mornings my alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. I argue with myself for several minutes, before I usually succeed in avoiding the lure of the snooze button. (Full disclosure: sometimes I hit the snooze button eight times and barely manage to get my pants on before I race out the door to work.)
On my better mornings, I drag myself from the warmth of my covers, start the coffee, and settle into a chair. I pop in my earphones and pull a blanket over my legs. I flip through my phone to the Calm app and feel my my breathing deepen and my pulse slow. My eyes close, my shoulders sink, my mind settles. Until…
“Mom! Where is my shirt? I do not have any shirts! I need new shirts! Why won’t you get me any new shirts?“
“Mom! He’s hitting me!”
“No, she’s hitting me!”
And I roar in response: “GET OUT OF HERE! I’M TRYING TO MEDITATE!!”
And then I think, Well, that didn’t exactly come from a place of tranquility. I chase the various children and pets out of the room and settle down in my chair again, wishing for the thousandth time that our office had a door. I replace my ear buds and start over trying to slow my now-elevated breathing and pulse. So I have a long way to go to enlightenment, but meditation has changed my life.
It doesn’t come easily to me though. I am high-strung, to say the least. I’ve been worrying about my grades, my hair, and global hunger since I was about six years old. My first entree into mindfulness came with a freshman year yoga class in college. My roommate and I whispered to each other, “Why do people do this voluntarily?” as we struggled to hold a chair pose. Then I fell asleep during savasana and skipped the rest of the sessions.
I did develop a love for fitness that eventually included yoga again, and I even taught yoga classes for a while. Though I felt centered and calm after completing class, my focus was always more on how long I could hold a plank rather than on how long I could hold my focus.
In recent years living in Madison, I have become intrigued by mindfulness-based practices, especially because of the research on mindfulness at UW-Madison. I am drawn to the idea that we can improve our mood and overall well-being by focusing on the present moment and observing our emotions as a bystander. I buy into it all. But that doesn’t make it easy.
I try to meditate most days of the week for 10 or 15 minutes. Someday I want to expand that to longer periods of time, but I am still in the baby-steps mode. Probably more often than not, my mind races during this time hopping from topic to topic like a caffeinated bunny. But when I notice that happening, I gently draw my attention back to my breath. Over and over and over again. And that, I have learned, is the point. Focus and tranquility and meditation don’t come naturally to me. So that’s why I need to practice. A lot.
Lately I’ve noticed a Pavlovian calm settle on my shoulders as I head for my usual chair in the mornings. My mind has started to race a little less. I more often calmly respond to interrupting kids rather than yelling at them. And I find moments during the day to breathe and notice small details around me to quiet my mind.
Meditation has changed my life. But I’m still getting a door on the office.