I’ve had the privilege recently of working with a group of moms on a study led by The Joyful Mother, Sigrid Stover Kjeldsen. Her work is all about getting moms into a mindset of joy, love, and peace in their parenting day-to-day. Who couldn’t use more of that, right? Even though I don’t have time now and no hope of finding more time when I have a third child to care for in a matter of weeks, I figured this investment in self-exploration and hopefully improvement could pay dividends in the stressful months, life, ahead. Moreover, it’s inspiring me to write about the experience and the journey, and writing is a passion I’ve discovered I just can’t neglect. One of the huge benefits to my leaving work over a year ago has been getting to know myself a bit better, and what makes me happy, and doesn’t.
This week our study challenge was meditation. I’ve pretty much never meditated. I lived in San Francisco for two years in my twenties, the age of self-exploration, so it’s damn-near impressive that I managed not to learn this art form before now. And my mind is still not primed, so it’s safe to say I have a long way to go before reaching guru status like my girl Sigrid.
This is a somewhat stressful time of year for our family business, and that coupled with 3rd trimester stress, made concentrating on my work for week 2 of the study difficult. On last week’s group discussion, I multitasked through most of it. I didn’t dedicate even the tiny amount of time necessary to try the meditation exercise. My mind, heart, every cell in my body, was closed off. I checked in on our Facebook study forum throughout the week but found myself feeling agitated by the comments rather than inspired. I didn’t get it and started to feel it was a waste of my time. At least I noted that for the most part I felt it was me who wasn’t ready or open, rather than criticizing the study, the forum, or the women on it.
By Friday, my husband and I realized we needed a break, and more than that, our children did, from our yelling and constantly saying no. One woman posted on the forum that “our children aren’t giving us a hard time, they’re having a hard time.” That resonated with me. Our stress isn’t their problem, yet we were making it theirs. My mother offered to keep the kids for the weekend. My husband and I spent the day together doing nothing in particular. It rained all day. I made brownies, we watched crappy tv, we talked out the stress we were both feeling and agreed we’d let it interfere with our parenting too much in the last few weeks. We worked on a game plan to clear out and organize our garage the following day. We fell asleep cuddled up on the sofa. The kids meanwhile made Halloween treats and decorations with their grandmother. They were getting a much needed break too.
The next day we got up and went to the DIY store to look at shelving for the garage, then went home and started our project. The sun had come out and there was a crisp autumn breeze. While my husband cleared out boxes and junk from the garage, I faux-finished a table someone had given us to use as office furniture when we started our business, and a bench my husband had made using the footboard from the first bed we owned as a married couple. Those pieces of furniture had sat in the garage taking up space for months. Once finished, both items would go in the kids’ playroom as an art table and reading bench. I envisioned the space, and them in it. I felt inspired.
Reflecting on the weekend, I realized that meditation doesn’t come easily for me because I’m a creative soul trapped in an intellect’s brain. Of the doctors, chemists, and researchers in my family, I stick out as a writer and marketer. My soul (Brain? Heart?) craves active creativity, catharsis, and visual, tangible progress toward goals. Through those activities, I become fully in the present moment; even if my mind wanders, it does so in a state of calm acceptance rather than active problem-solving. Ideas flow and dissipate without me feeling the compulsion to list-make or reach for an electronic device to send an email or look something up. Everything I need is right there, and it’s Right there.
I spent hours sanding, painting, staining, white-washing, with the sun warming my back. My husband and I moved around each other as we worked, the space between us becoming less and less congested by stress. We shared the occasional laugh, a smile, a joke, a glance. We became in sync again without any effort. We spent another night vegging on the sofa watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory. My body, a week into my 3rd trimester with my 3rd baby, ached pleasantly for a change, from a satisfying day’s work rather than the oppressive stress. I felt grounded and sturdy rather than heavy and burdened.
Finally, faced with a next-day homework deadline for the study, I listened to the meditation exercise. I didn’t try to force it, and I was still reluctant. It was after all another task on a long list. With the kids still at my mom’s until lunch time and my husband on the way to the office, I did the meditation in bed with a cup of coffee on the nightstand next to me, as a prerequisite to writing this entry.
The feeling that inevitably entered my mind as the exercise called for a predominant emotion was worry, and I instantly knew it would take a lot of practice to release that emotion effectively. However, after only one cycle of the exercise, I was surprised at how effectively, if not completely, I was able to release it, if only for a moment. I was also surprised at how pure and uncomplicated my image of joy came to me. When I visualized worry, it appeared only as a word in my mind. After several breaths, the word started to dissipate like sand, and I started to naturally envision waves washing it away, so I went with that imagery and didn’t try to influence it with my mind. Then the exercise called for an image of joy. Instead of a word like love or joy, I experienced very complete imagery: My children running to me on the beach. I could see my oldest son’s thoughtful blue eyes and the flecks of copper in them, and the sun bouncing wildly off of my younger son’s bright blonde hair. I could actually hear my oldest laughing and my youngest saying ‘mommy’ over and over, feel the warmth of the sun and the sand on my skin as they tackled me, and the wet kisses on my face. I was pleased that I didn’t have to think, even for a second, about what gave me joy. That image came to me without searching. And I was surprised that what came to me wasn’t even related to my stress and worry. I expected to envision life without money worries, like the lottery win my husband I often half-joke about. And yet that feeling, that moment, was more real than my worry had been. That made me start to understand how my negative thoughts, fears, worries aren’t real, but love and joy are very real.
I think we’re taught as early as childhood that our day to day is what is most tangible and that’s where we should direct most of our energy and attention. And of course we have to focus on our basic needs and survival. But if we can prioritize what gives us joy, maybe it makes us more capable of tackling obstacles, guilt, fear, and even the mundane day to day. Here’s hoping, instead of doubting.