I never used to believe people when they said “my children teach me so much.” It felt like something people thought they were supposed to say – like the way Miss America contestants always bring up “world peace.”
Then I started meditating.
I started meditating because my anxiety, normally a pesky type of background noise that only made things mildly unpleasant, started creeping its way toward the foreground. Sure, having kids – two in 15 months – was a tremendous source of that anxiety. But it’s not fair to put all the blame on my tiny humans. I’m hard-wired to feel at least a bit uncomfortable at all times. Even in my happiest moments, a tiny voice in my head is telling me the feeling won’t last, reminding me about all the things I should be doing and offering me a list of reasons why I shouldn’t be so happy.
According to mindfulness experts like Deepak Chopra, Tara Branch, and Sam Harris, meditation can help with these issues.
I trusted their expertise, downloaded an app called Insights, and began a regimen of five- to 10-minute guided meditations as often possible. In many ways, it helped. In some ways, however, the physical process of meditating actually gave me anxiety.
I’d worry about my wife barging in to find me cross-legged, palms facing upward toward the heavens, breathing deeply and slowly, wondering what the hell was wrong with her husband. I’m honestly less worried about being caught masturbating. At least the latter is something everybody does.
From what I’ve gathered, all meditation is about mindfulness, or the ability to live in the present moment, to some degree. While I’ve had some success with my Insights app, it’s hard to be 100 percent in the present when you’re worried about your wife catching you in the act of spiritually whacking it or constantly thinking about how stupid you look.
For me, the moon works better.
Or, I should say, my 21-month-old daughter Emma’s reaction to the moon works better. See, every night before bed, my daughter and I have an elaborate routine that includes going outside and walking up the driveway to get a clear view of the moon.
On a clear night, the view of the moon is spectacular – but it pales in comparison to the way Emma’s face lights up when she sees that familiar celestial body. It doesn’t matter that we do the same exact thing virtually every night (on cloudy nights, I tell her the moon went to bed early). When Emma catches that initial glimpse, it’s like she’s seeing the moon for the first time. Her eyes widen, she gasps audibly, and she laughs with glee; she’s 100 percent in the moment.
I look forward to seeing Emma see the moon every night. I love Emma’s moon face.
I could go off into the mountains for a month-long retreat where I subsist entirely Om breaths, mindfulness seminars, and chakra massages, and I still wouldn’t come close to being as present as my daughter is every night at bedtime.
I spend a lot of time watching Emma watch things – things that should be so much more interesting to me than the toddler I see every day. When we’re at the zoo, a majestic lion stalking back and forth in his cage just isn’t as captivating as the awestruck little girl who unconsciously mimics the lion’s manic pacing to keep her front-and-center view.
Part of me is jealous of Emma. I can rarely engage in any task without worrying about something else I should be doing. Not Emma. Whatever thing she’s doing at that moment is the most important thing. She gets the moon face for just about everything. For Emma, achieving what Silicon Valley assholes call “the flow state” is effortless. She’s never physically scribbling in her Hello Kitty coloring book but mentally fretting over whether she’ll be able to realistically accomplish her five-year plan by the age of seven.
When they’re not destroying their surroundings or throwing epic temper tantrums, toddlers live in a state of complete wonder.
Age has dulled my sense of wonder, but viewing the world through my daughter’s eyes is starting to sharpen it again. Often, when I’m in the middle of wishing a shit day would hurry up and end, I’ll catch a glance of Emma’s moon face. It’s a good reminder that I shouldn’t simply be trying to get through my limited days in this wonderful place – I should always be striving to experience them one moment at a time.