The other day I really felt the need to meditate. To be completely honest, my meditation “practice” was only so established before my second baby was born, and now he’s here there’s a snag – a teething, crawling, twenty something pound snag.
But as hit-and-miss as my meditation habit had been, it was embedded enough for me to feel the benefits of it – a calmer emotional baseline, a feeling of peace – and established enough for me to feel when I hadn’t meditated enough. Closest way to describe it is like the stiffness you feel when you need to stretch your back.
I took my baby into the garden, as I was also craving some time in nature to enjoy the rare British summer sunshine we’ve been having. I set up my baby’s pop up tent, tossed in a bunch of toys, set up a lounge chair and plopped baby down.
Once baby was busy playing with his toys, I closed my eyes. Then opened them. Baby had a fistful of grass he’d grabbed from outside his tent and was moving to put the grass in his mouth.
I got up, removed the grass, engaged baby with another toy, and sat back down to close my eyes. Immediately, I felt I needed to open them. Baby was fine.
Deep breath as I closed my eyes again. And opened them again.
Basically, I couldn’t settle into breathing or clearing my mind because I kept needing to check on my baby. Even as much as I tried to put him in a baby-safe space, I couldn’t relax. Maybe this says something about my parenting style (ahem, helicopter!) but I’ve learned, often the hard way, how vigilant one needs to be and how quickly a baby can find the one thing you haven’t baby proofed well enough.
So instead, I sat back and really watched my baby. I watched him pick up a toy and look at it, cooing at it, before bringing it to his mouth to chew on it. I watched him take it back and look at it again. I saw him looking around him before setting down the toy and reaching for the grass. I watched him stroking the grass with his hands, grasping it and releasing it. I did this for what turned out to be about a half hour.
I didn’t intervene except for rare occasions. I stopped him eating some grass (I’m sure it’s fine if he did but I’m also pretty sure we have foxes that frequent our garden and didn’t like the idea of him eating fox urine), and I stopped a spider that was on the tent.
While I watched, I breathed deeply, just as I would in my “normal” meditation practice. My baby and my breath became my anchors. My mind wandered, and when I noticed it I would gently bring it back to my baby – what he was doing, what he looked like in that moment, what he was looking at – and my breath – in….and out…belly swelling…belly deflating.
The most helpful analogy I’ve heard for this is like training a puppy. The puppy will leave the pad, and when it does, you gently, kindly go and pick it up and bring it back. You don’t get angry with the puppy. You just gently bring it back. So it is with the mind.
When I finished this meditation, I experienced the same level of calm and peace I achieve with a “proper” meditation. It definitely met the need of grounding me in the moment and calming my mind.
And more than that, it made me realise that despite spending 24 hours a day with my baby, I don’t watch him for the sake of watching him that often. Sure, I stroke the hair off his forehead and savour the smell of him when he’s nursing to sleep in my arms, at least once a day (which is AMAZING and I’m loving this as I know this is my last baby). But how often do I watch him when he’s awake and playing? Really watch him, for more than a few glances between doing other things or checking to make sure he’s okay and safe? It was actually nice to sit and watch him, without trying to do anything else at the same time, for a longer period of time.
Meditating with a baby is different to meditating child-free. And that’s okay*. There will be times later in life for ‘real’ meditation, maybe even a weekend retreat or taking a course. But in this season of my life, meditating will have to mean meditating with baby.
*I think I need to make that my catchphrase as I realise just about every blog post has the phrase “And that’s okay” in it somewhere.