A few months before my first son was born, I went to check in with my meditation teacher. How am I going to keep practicing mindfulness after he's born? What do people do?
“Forget the cushion,"she laughed. “Just focus on mindfulness in your daily life and on living your values to be present for your son."
And it's true. Since my son was born, it's almost impossible to be truly in the present moment, when part of my heart and mind are always with him. And focusing on my values has been a rich and rewarding experience.
And so with that, I've attempted to remain in the moment as much as possible.
And with him, it's so simple.
Watching him sleep, and now play, he's the new anchor of my practice.
There was even a moment after he was born when I tried to sit down on my cushion across from him as he rested. Of course with each creak of his bouncy chair, I found myself distracted and gazing at him again. Finally I gave up on eyes closed and just focused on him as he rested.
Listening to the sound of his breath, smelling that sweet baby smell, watching his chest rise and fall and his mouth flicker into smiles and other expressions.
At the same time, I watched my own reactions as they unfolded. Each time he'd squirm, I'd watch my anxiety rise—will he wake up, is he about to cry?
Each time he'd settle down and into a smile, I could feel the warmth of love spreading through my chest.
And then I started to watch my bigger thoughts and worries…what will he do when he grows up? What will his voice sound like? What if he struggles with mental illness, or any illness? What does the future hold?
I simply watched my thoughts as they arose and passed—each worry, each wish for him, each question, and then back to watching his new sleeping body as he slept reasonably well through his first few weeks of life.
At nearly two now, he's hardly amenable to staying still and sleeping during the day, let alone letting me watch him and not interact.
I still sneak into his room when I'm home late from work and see him sleeping and feel my heart want to burst out of its chest.
But my mindfulness practice has become more informal, and now I try to take moments to live in the present and to appreciate the world through his fresh blue eyes.
Following as he watches the tops of the trees swaying against the blue sky, smelling with him as he scrunches his face to inhale the spring flowers recently in bloom, or running the sand through our fingers and feeling all the sensations.
Of course, there are limits—I'm opting against putting mulch and books in my mouth and exploring the world through him quite that much.
But being with him and seeing the world for the first time, again, is a powerful reminder of mindfulness.
And it's simple for me to make a little more time for everything we do.
Slowing down as we walk home from the park, unhurried, to just watch him explore and inspect each rock, each ant along the way. Or we pause and stop for each awe-inspiring truck rumbling past or airplane overhead, to appreciate the wonders of both the natural world and humanity's engineering feats.
And soon enough, I'll have some time to return to my cushion, he'll have a bit more daycare, and I'll justify the pricey payments I make to have someone else watch him while I do nothing on my cushion, because I know the value of that, too.
And perhaps in another few years, we can sit or breathe together, and I can teach him to explore his surroundings mindfully on purpose, rather than just because it's his natural state.
But for now, for this and these moments, I can enjoy practicing exploring the world through his beginner's mind.