Enlightenment

We seem to be living in a greener, more enlightened world. Or at least, in a world that wants to be greener and more enlightened.

I used to be earthy, crunchy. I did yoga daily, hiked, and took long walks. I held memberships in the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Federation. Sadly, as my life unfolded, these passions got lost in a small-city shuffle after I moved to Boston. Getting married and having kids somehow overshadowed my guitar-strumming, mantra-muttering self. I guess I wasn’t someone who could readily reconcile those identities, though plenty of fine women do. All right, I was also a little bit lazy.

But this past year taught me a little bit about staying true to who you are, as well as spending some time on enlightenment. Well, if not enlightenment, then spending some time on clearing a little mind clutter, stepping outside of yourself to the bigger world. Doing this may mitigate some of the daily stresses we all feel, or so I’m told.

Lately I’ve revisited yoga and meditation and some old, familiar writers like Natalie Goldberg, who in her search for her writing self stumbled across her true self — through writing practice and Zen Buddhism, Natalie embarked on a lifelong journey we all must face at one time or another. Or something like that. “Be here now,” wrote Ram Dass in his book of the same title. (My cousin Marcello gave me this book about 15 years ago, when we were both exploring the same world. Alas, it was lost in a basement flood a few years ago.) The message is, of course, to be mindful of the moment, do what you’re doing. Make a peanut butter sandwich without focusing on the bills to be paid or what you need at the pharmacy.

I’ve been trying. It flies against every modern thought of multi-tasking, the fuel on which we contemporary moms thrive. Once upon a time, moms were applauded for their ability to talk on the phone, help with math homework, cook dinner, fold laundry, and look beautiful, all at once. These days, while multi-tasking is a necessary evil of parenting, I have been striving for a more peaceful, Zen approach to my daily duties.

For instance, today, while changing Joanna’s diaper, I think only of the tush, the rash, the cream. I actively ignore the sound from the living room, the smack of hand slapping on arm, as Ellie defends her toy from her brother’s grasp.

I sigh, apply cream. The cream is white on red rash, I think. Yelling erupts from adjacent room. Be here now, I whisper, aligning diaper with rear end. Something heavy lands with a thump nearby; lack of cries indicate object is inanimate, not human. I fasten diaper, put legs in pants. The sound of sobs, soft and sniffly, waft to my ears, hallmark of a fight ebbing. I stand Joanna up and give her a kiss, send her on her way.

Natalie Goldberg’s teacher Katagiri Roshi, in response to her description of an overwhelming emotion she was having, told her, “Pay no attention to that. Continue to feel your breath, bow, drink tea.”

Having finished the task before me, I pay no attention to the noise from the other room, which has resolved itself quite well without me. With an almost undetectable bow, I head to the kitchen and turn on the stove to boil water for a cup of tea.

Of course, as students we often fail. Not all days am I able to watch my breath, meditate, and allow the chaos of parenting to flow around me. On many days, I sit on the couch after tucking the children in their beds, a glass of red wine by my side. Recently, I stood by the counter and mindfully swallow bite after delicious bite of the chocolate birthday cake we had for Cooper last Saturday.

I haven’t decided which way is better. But whatever way, I hope that I can be present in my life, the moments that flow too quickly. Breathe, drink tea. Be grateful and bow.

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