You don’t have to venture too far afield into the realm of mindfulness to hear the words: Be here now. Echoes of Ram Dass’s seminal 1971 tome still reverberate within the walls of today’s yoga studios, self-help seminars, and air-conditioned Burning Man RVs. And when you plant yourself beneath your Tibetan prayer flags, find your sitz bones, and begin to emanate that vibey glow that gets turned on when one discusses complete and utter presence, we totally feel it, too, man. We get it. We’re here. Now. It’s so good, right?
But what about when your squirmy nine-month-old is howling and writhing in her dirty diaper and it takes every ounce of might to prevent this morning’s broken-down breakfast from getting over every surface in sight (including you)? Or what about when your potty-training toddler smears his own digested dinner all over everything in the crib (including him)? Are you here? Now? Or is it more, “For the love of Ganesh, will somebody please, please get me anywhere BUT the here and now?”
Taking this tenet of mindfulness off the mat and into the minefield of motherhood is approximately 108 times harder than sticking a one-armed handstand. Approximately. I measured it once. And I will confess that I didn’t know what living in the moment really meant at its core until I had kids, who at their core, hearken all the mindfulness of wild raccoons. Rabid, wild, sleepless, hunger-striking raccoons. (Except for the fact that wild raccoons would actually finish the quinoa and organic vegetable medley it took you 30 minutes to make.)
Sure, every day post-childbirth for me had been an exercise in living in the present, insofar as I couldn’t look beyond the actual moment unfolding before me since I was always responding to the ever-changing needs and mercurial whims of a baby. It was like being in quicksand, but with less sand and more poop. Like treading water, but with less water, and more poop. Like being on a treadmill, but err, less…treads… Well, you get the point.
But the “presence” penny truly dropped for me on a cold January night as I was rocking my colicky baby in a used glider someone had convinced me I needed in order to get my baby to sleep. (Side note: They are usually wrong, when it comes to your kids.)
As I tuned out the crankles and turned up my shushing, I totally left the “now” of that wintery night. I was definitely crawling out an “anywhere but here and now” escape hatch, so fervently that I might well have called it Transcendental Abdication. But when my attention returned to that cold corner of the bedroom, I was taken aback to see that my sorrowful babe had stopped crying. I hadn’t even noticed when he had stopped. The little bundle in my arms was now a beautiful, sleeping, peaceful boy. My heart melted and hope sprung eternal. An unfamiliar but confident voice in my head said, “You see? Don’t despair. At any given moment, sleep might be right around the corner.”
This one moment crystallized every hackneyed saying I’d ever been offered on being present: 'Be with each moment, good or bad, because this, too, shall pass'.
Taking this tenet of mindfulness off the mat and into the minefield of motherhood is approximately 108 times harder than sticking a one-armed handstand.
After that cold night I began to apply my realization to all the short, sharp pains of motherhood. Teething. Terrible twos. Stomach flu that shows you precisely how much fluid a human body can expel. Through it all my mantra now was: Don’t despair. [Fill in the blank] could be right around the corner.
(Confession: That blank was filled with “a big glass of white wine” more often than once.)
As such, instead of feeling trapped in the here and now by becoming fettered to a precise moment, I had finally understood the inherent freedom in it: That each and every moment coming down the pipe could be a totally different experience, and that grasping too firmly to any one fleeting reality was self-defeating.
It’s the lesson that would probably be the opening track on the Buddha’s ‘Greatest Hits’ album; non-grasping, non-attachment, non-clinging. You may have encountered it in the yamas of the Yoga Sutras as Aparigraha. Or maybe you’re heady and know every word to George Harrison’s triple album “All Things Must Pass.” It’s easy to grasp, at least on paper. But applying it to the trials and tribulations of life with my wild raccoons suddenly made it so much more potent, palpable, and frankly, practical for me.
For a new parent, the forest can oftentimes appear as one big quagmire of wailing and poop and reflux and sleeplessness. Instead of seeing the forest for the trees, I could now see the trees for the forest. And each and every tree was distinct, and allowed to exist as a separate entity all on its own. I was able to get back down on the level of these granular moments and see them for what they were. Many of them were actually precious and tender beyond description, but they were getting lost in the overall landscape as the paintbrush of my tired memory smeared tough experiences over them, creating a canvas roughly the color of, oh, say, crap.
Once I finally “got” this, a recollection of one the finest teachings I’d ever heard on the topic of being here now floated to the top of my memory. Allow me a tiny bit of context, if you will.
In my life before kids, one of the most treasured positions I undertook was as producer of Wanderlust’s lecture series, the Speakeasy. I was privileged to seek out and make contact with inspiring thought leaders, and to work with them to bring their teachings to the festivals. I became intimate with them as individuals, as well as their work. And I sat, part-producer and part-student, through each and every Speakeasy lecture over five years of festival life.
Here’s where you get to snicker. The truth is that, while I was sitting right there in each lecture, fully able to take in the wisdom that each of these teachers had worked to distill for us, I still shrouded myself in busy-ness, working away. I often found myself thinking, “Oh, this is a really good lecture. I’m going to have to watch this one when it comes out on YouTube.” Let me repeat: I was sitting right there. You can now see how my prior references to my not being good at being here now are painfully, laughably true.
But every once in a while, there came a lecture that grabbed my ear and my heart simultaneously, and made me stop the pitter-patter on my all-important keyboard and listen up. One such moment came in Lama Marut’s pithy and witty lecture on “Being Nobody” at Wanderlust’s Speakeasy in Squaw Valley.
In a brilliantly surreptitious moment, he offered to translate the meaning of Om by having the audience repeat after him. “It’s…” “It’s,” they repeated. “Like…” “Like.” “This…” “This.” “Now…” “Now.” Pause.
It took a moment for the audience to chuckle at the meaning, and perhaps the joke didn’t even hit some of them. But it stuck with me, and formed the basis of a mantra I invoke often: I look at a moment that I’m just totally stuck in and tell myself, “This is how it is now.” Usually by the time I’ve so much as finished the thought, a new reality is emerging. And if it’s not, that big glass of wine is always waiting so very quietly and patiently in the fridge.
While my baby’s howls often reached over 100 decibels, his explorations in chuckleography made my heart detonate into a million little pieces and I was weightless.
“This is how it is now” gives me the freedom me to admit, “This moment stinks, fully and completely,” without allowing the entire morning, day, or month to be swallowed up by the ongoing siren of “Waaaaaaah”.
But it also gives me the perspective to say, “Wait, this moment is transcendentally magical,” without feeling like I’m duping myself by indulging in moments of rosy self-delusion that everything is hunky dory all the freaking time. Because we can pretend it is on Instagram, but we all know the parenthood gig is most definitely not#hunkydoryallthefreakingtime.
So, while my baby’s howls often reached over 100 decibels (yes, I measured, just forfun), which is the equivalent of a jackhammer, chainsaw or speeding express train, my baby also discovered how to laugh, and his explorations in chuckleography made my heart detonate into a million little pieces and I was weightless. Even if only for a moment or three.
This is how it is now.
That’s where I want to dwell. In the weightless world of moment-to-moment unfolding, as harrowing and magnificent and fleeting as each might be.