People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Before I had children, I woke up on a Saturday morning with nothing to do. Following a busy work week, I often started off the day feeling a sense of unease. I had free time and no plan of what to do. Although I complained about having a busy and hectic life, not being busy filled me with anxiety. Once I settled in and worked through that initial feeling of Saturday morning dread, I could enjoy the weekend-- the down time and the activities.
I no longer wake up with that feeling of anxiety at having free time, because I have no free time. Instead, I have children.
Now that I have children, I wake up on Saturday mornings, and every day, with countless things to do. On days when I'm not working, in addition to the daily tasks of caring for young children, there are the household chores to contend with. As any parent knows, there are always dishes to be put away, piles of laundry to wash and fold, and floors to vacuum-- not to mention the drawers and closets that haven't been cleaned out in months, or in some cases, years. The "to do" list is endless.
The summer, a time when life is supposed to go at a slower pace, is almost over. As a teacher, I'm lucky to have spent the summer home with my kids. With two major family weddings, a funeral, and many weekends trips, we had an unusually busy summer. We made some wonderful memories with family and friends, for which I am very grateful.
However, a strange thing started to happen. In between busy weekends, I often felt compelled to keep up the busy pace, to keep doing. Why was I having such a hard time slowing down? I had to resist the urge to do and consciously try to slow down our lives. In the afternoons, my daughter would take a nap, and after rushing through household chores-- I would force myself to stop doing and just sit outside in the yard with my son, mostly watching him swing to his heart's content. The doer in me would push hard, so it took effort and awareness (and my son's pleas) in order to stop doing and just enjoy those moments of down time.
Sometimes there was no plan, so I let the kids think up an adventure or lead the way into whatever their spirits were inclined to settle on. Instead of playing on the playground equipment at the park, we ventured down a path to explore. In the mornings, we spent time meandering around the yard and watering the flowers. I cherished these simple moments of slowing down and just enjoying nature and each other's company.
Before I had children, it was important for me to wake up on those Saturday mornings, work through the anxiety, and tune back into myself. Now, there are always more things to do to fill the void. I often feel compelled to do, and I wind up bringing my family along with me. So now, more than ever, I need to consciously slow down and make room for being.
Now it's almost fall. The routine for my son, daughter and I will change drastically. All three of us are headed back-to-school. I'm tasked with the challenge of how to bring more being into our days as we move forward into fuller schedules.
With this purpose in mind, we have decided not to sign our kids up for any fall activities. Last year, our children were signed up for a total of four activities, and I served on one committee. My children were ages 4 and 1, and my husband and I both worked full time. Why was I overcommitting us? Why rush into activities that my children are not asking for? Why push ourselves into crazy lives that our culture seems to value? Are the slow moments of being what bring us joy and peace in our lives? At the very least, there needs to be a balance.
I want my children to grow up feeling that it's okay to be still. To feel like they do not always have to be doing, posting, tidying, texting, achieving, improving, practicing. Maybe it's okay to just sit and reflect. To spend some time staring out the window and noticing how the sunlight hits the leaves. To feel the joy in something as simple as watering plants in our garden. To feel the miracle of walking on the earth. To take time to just breathe.
If my children don't see me enjoying just being, how will they ever figure out how to do it for themselves?
I know being happy, contented, and present myself will be the best thing for my children, but how do I get there? I have to resist the urge to do. I have to stop cleaning, scrolling, planning, thinking-- and tune back into my center, into being. It may bring up some feelings of boredom, unease, anxiety, or fear. I have to let those feelings pass through me in order to get to the other side, where I will feel a greater peace.
As our children grow older and we approach the inevitable busyness of lives filled with activities, I often wonder if it is possible to experience a sense of joy and peace amidst the craziness. I don't know. I'm not there yet, and I don't want to rush it.
Maybe we need to look more closely, as a culture and as individuals, at our compulsion to do and where it comes from, and where it's taking us. What are we avoiding? What are we achieving? Are we rich in what brings true happiness? Are we showing our children how to just be?