“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.
I remember that piece from Tricia’s blog but I think I love it even more now. Cassidy fidgets a lot. I think I do too. I don’t see it much in the kids but I’m aware it could be. I can sit still but my brain can’t. It’s a weird thing – that it’s racing, but no one can tell but me.
Thanks, Tamara, for rereading and I am glad you found something to love about it again.
I know exactly the feeling you describe – it is such a battle! My husband is very content and chill – so the meditation part isn’t a struggle for him. I envy people who can quiet their minds as a natural extension of their selves.
I’m like Tamara. “I can sit still but my brain can’t.” It’s tough. I’ve tried the class (which sort of worked for me) but I much prefer home-based meditation. Still, I struggle with it. I love that your daughter was your key. Beautiful. My son is a lot like me so I wonder… But I’m going to try this with him. Thanks for sharing.
Sarah – I’d love to hear how it goes for you and your son. I think it will hold (hopefully) some good unexpected surprises. xo
Lovely. Those who can sit in silence without the need to speak are the closest of all…in and out…the cultivation of inner peace.
Yes – there is so much beauty and comfort in a relationship where the lack of words do most of the talking.
I love this! This year I have been practicing yoga Nidra and I love the calmness it gives me. My life is so hectic and busy and I needed it desperately.
Ayala – I’ll have to look into the practice of yoga Nidra. Thanks for sharing and glad its brought some calmness in your life.