“Breathe in and out. For several seconds, try to clear your mind.” The meditation instructor whispered these sentences in a room filled with people yearning for quiet.
I am in the middle of this space, legs crossed Indian style, attempting to find this mythical Zen place. Instead, I fidget with my watch, anxious for this meditation hour to end. With open eyes, I bargain with the next ten minutes, finding a way for the time to go faster. Instead of emptying my mind of noise, I sabotage my efforts by counting the tiles on the wall that faces me.
“Time’s up. Take another deep breath in and open your eyes.” The instructor’s command interrupts my thoughts.
Thank goodness this is over. This meditation thing is not for me. The quiet is making everything worse and amplifying my insecurity. I am not doing this again.
My veins carry a restlessness I’ve struggled to tame. Quiet is an unreliable narrator in my story. The more I crave calm, it slips out of my reach. In my late twenties, my anxiety levels ran particularly high at a new job. I kept slipping, trying to gain my momentum, but failing to anchor myself with my work or boss. As a way to find a solution, I signed up for a meditation class to help pacify my nerves. My first foray into mediation occurred over fourteen years ago and I decided in that session it wasn’t something I wanted to revisit.
But that all changed when I recognized the same restlessness in my daughter.
She cannot sit still. When she reads a book, she fidgets with her fingers. At a recent school performance, she readjusted her feet in different directions, unable to stand without moving. Dinnertime involves a series of getting up and down for no real reason. Her movements incite nervousness in me.
“Sit still, please.” My pleas evaporate into the air.
“I can’t, Momma. My mind is jumping around.” When my now nine year old said this two years ago, it scared me. I didn’t want her to harbor the same restlessness I felt most of my life.
It is Sunday morning. While I drive, my daughter makes several requests: “Can I have your IPhone, Momma? Will you turn on the music? Where are we going?” In the span of thirty seconds, she’s unfastened her belt a few times and shifted in her seat.
All of my answers to her questions are no and without any hesitation, I say the words again, “Sit still.”
These two words roll off my tongue with ease and I glare into my rearview mirror and I recognize myself. Her restlessness talks to me like a kindred spirit. When quiet might descend, flight takes hold.
Maybe the quiet scares her too.
We continue to drive and pull into the local Hindu temple parking lot. It is an experiment to try this now, here, in this way. I am uncertain it will work, but I am seeking safe refuge for both of us.
We climb the steps. enter the temple, grab two cushions and sit in front of one of the deities.
“What are we doing, Momma?” She asks.
“We are going to meditate. We will sit still for five minutes without talking or moving.” I don’t trivialize it because my hope is that she takes it seriously.
And she listens to my subconscious pleas. Sitting Indian style for several minutes, our eyes are closed, hands at the edge of our legs, angling our bodies forward. Once the timer chimes, we exchange knowing glances with one another and smile.
This is a practice we’ve cultivated over the past year. Through the weeks, the meditation time increases. We are now up to seven minutes of silence.
At home, I’ve noticed there is a different cadence. Dinner is quieter. She sits through meals. She spends more time in her room, playing without interruption. There are moments in the car where she is content in her car seat. The change doesn’t only occur with her, but I am able to spend time in my office without any distractions. It might not represent active meditation, but it offers a calm respite where my mind is willing to sink into quiet.
I think back to our shared space and experience. There is no instructor. No commands. No yoga mats.
It is just a mother and daughter.
And I am grateful that my little girl has taught me to breathe.
In and out.
In the quiet.
Stillness first appeared on Tricia’s site, Raising Humans.
Image: stillness at sunset by Jack via Flickr.