I can’t meditate. If I sit cross-legged with my eyes closed for any length of time, one of two things will happen: I’ll either fall asleep or become very bored and begin distracting myself by noticing the random sounds in the room, or how my foot is starting to cramp up, or thinking about the new season of Game of Thrones. I’ll wonder how many people in the quiet room are stifling farts or thinking about sex. Then I’ll begin to think about sex. At some point, I’ll have to work hard not to giggle aloud.
As Hanna Rosin writes on Slate, meditation is much ballyhooed these days, from Lena Dunham to 50 Cent and even the Marines. Years ago, I gave it a try and attended a meditation class. It felt like one of the longest hours of my life! I wanted to ask the soft-spoken barefoot leader with his bronze cymbals, “What do you mean, still the body and quiet the mind?” I’m always thinking, and I like that about myself.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy relaxing. Going for a walk or a run helps to chill me out and soothe my stress. Taking a yoga class is helpful too — it gets the blood flowing, and focuses me on my body and senses, my balance and movement. There is a quietness to these activities, for sure. I mean, literally: I’m not talking or relating with anyone except myself. But I don’t feel still, nor do I strive to achieve a blank mind. Running and yoga are dynamic, active experiences that require concentration and thought and discipline too—can I hold this pose just a little bit longer? Can I run just a few blocks farther? The mind plays an important role, and often good ideas pop into my head at random, solutions for conundrums that I’m wrestling with, or a new perspective on a troubling situation.
What does this have to do with parenting? A lot, as Mindful Parenting is now a Thing—there are books, a tag on The Huffington Post, and training services that you can buy, like this one. The central questions mindful parents ask themselves are:
- Am I providing my kids quiet time to just sit and be every day? Or am I over-scheduling them and encouraging their “monkey minds” to bounce from sensation to sensation, too distracted to ever fully experience the present moment?
- Am I stressed out and so not breathing fully and appreciating life as it is, and not as I want it to be?
- Am I accepting that I’m a fallible human being and not a perfect parent?
- Am I recognizing my children as individuals, as human beings with their own stresses and failings and inner lives? Am I withholding judgement on them, and letting go of my expectations, fears, and neuroses, so as not to pass them on to my kids?
- Am I treating myself and my children (and every living thing, for that matter) with compassion and kindness?
These all, to some extent, sound good to me. The problem lies in the execution. The books and services and even products (like this wearable smart bracelet that helps you disconnect from your phone) to help you achieve a state of enlightened parenting means that mindfulness has been commodified, yet another thing that we purchase for ourselves, another brand of parenting.
The theory also, as Rosin writes, gives us parents else to worry about. “Am I being mindful enough?” And despite talk about accepting things as they are, it sets a high expectation for parents and children: “…In practice the prescriptions given by the new mindful parenting gurus seem suspiciously to be all about molding a very particular kind of child — one who eats vegetables, doesn’t watch TV, shares his feelings, and loves the Earth.”
As the father of a very active, imaginative, rough-and-tumble little boy who reacts first and thinks later, this type of child sounds very foreign to me. Nor do I identify too much with the exercises and approaches that I’ve read about in articles on mindful parenting. I live in the present moment, for sure, and for me that’s an active, somewhat noisy place. What if, in accepting things as they are, you accept that stillness and quiet just don’t have a big place in your life? That you prefer a certain amount of activity, and intellectual stimulation, that living a packed day is actually what helps you sleep at night? And that even then, you have an vivid dream life.
I prefer to think of myself as stillness in motion. You can’t achieve a balance without a certain amount of tension in the rope, right?