Tuesday, September 14, 2010

start where you are

"We already have everything we need.
There is no need for self-improvement...
We are one blink of an eye from being fully awake." - Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library)

I spent the morning with my babes at a local meeting for fellow baby-wearers - mothers and fathers who carry their babies on them in various structured and non-structured slings, wraps, carriers and so on. I've been wanting to attend for a couple of years now, and there were lots of other parents there and babies of all ages. It was lovely. And it was also hard.

Start where you are. The teacher Pema Chodron has a wonderful book with this title, full of pith teachings on compassion in everyday life. Our everyday life. It has become a parenting mantra for me. I repeat it to myself throughout the day. We have to start where we are. This is where we will wake up. Nowhere else. Not on a mountain. Not in a monastery. Not when we have lost those 10 pounds. Not when we are finally together, happy, "good" people or "good" parents.

My toddler is slow to warm up to groups. We met at a large playground, very spread out and bounded by busy streets. This made it difficult when, intimidated by the group, he spent the morning running away trying to find the car so he could go home. I was trying to get some advice on how to get my youngest onto my back in a carrier by myself and so it was a bit of a juggling act, keeping my toddler close to me and relatively calm while experimenting with my infant (who by the way, was quite unhappy about being put on my back with a stranger's help). I got the advice, I fed my toddler a snack, and we got back in the car and went home, rather than linger and risk more upset. None of this was a big deal, just a normal navigating of a new experience for my little ones and me. But I was aware of my mind when the other mothers commented on my eldest.

They meant well. But because my son was behaving in a different manner than the other toddlers, he stood out. And some of the mamas looked a bit askance to me, and one asked if he was not feeling well or something along those lines. I replied that he was feeling fine, but groups are challenging for him. He is a cautious little guy. Like his mama. It takes him a while to feel comfortable in new surroundings and around new people. This isn't a problem. It is only a problem when I make it one, or allow others to make it one.

You have to start with your body, your mind and your heart, just as they are. With your children, just as they are. Your partner, just as he/she is. Your home, just as it is, as cluttered, dirty, filled with pet hair...whatever. We often have the idea that certain things have to be in place or our lives have to look a certain way before we can practice mindfulness. Or that our children should be a certain way before we can really enjoy them. Our lives a certain way before we can enjoy them. This just keeps us running running running towards something that we already have present in every moment.

It is true that we need our basic needs met - food, shelter, a certain level of physical safety, before we can turn our minds outwards. Once those needs are met though, we can wake up. Just like that. We can be joyful. Just like that. Compassionate, wise, patient ...all of that is available to us, every moment, just as we are. There is no place we need to get to. No way we need to be. And the same holds true for our children. Just as we are training to trust in our basic sanity, we are training to trust in their's.

We can stop in the middle of our child's tantrum, the middle of our messy apartment, the middle of our chaotic morning, and stop pushing. Stop pushing our child to be a certain way, or pushing for our breakfast to be something other than it is or our cat to stop shedding all over the clean laundry. It gets so claustrophobic, trying to make our lives fit into how we "think" they should look or feel. There is no space there, and it is so easy to panic. Starting where you are means accepting everything for what it is. And then acting out of that. Making a choice, rather than feeling driven to do something, to feel a certain way. Rather than feeling the need to in some way apologize for ourselves and our situation.

So that's what I told myself today, when I felt my insides tighten while my toddler cried, my infant pulled my hair, and the other mama furrowed her brow at me. Start where you are. This moment, this life, these children. I could smile, laugh genuinely, and tell her, "yes, groups are hard for him sometimes. We are going home now for a nice lunch." As soon as we were back in the car, his smile returned and he agreed with me that we should go back to that nice playground with daddy, just not with all those other people. We went home, enjoyed the fall sunshine on the front walk while drawing with some chalk, went inside and had a nice lunch. Blue sky, smiles and lots of space to be exactly where we were.

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