Thursday, September 5, 2013

Are You Smarter Than A Ten-Month-Old?

Allie is ten months old now (yes, I know, time flies) and entering the most fascinating - and aggravating - stage of development. She’s fully mobile (not quite walking on her own, but almost) and getting into everything. Life is one big discovery and common sense is non-existent. It’s cute, funny, annoying, frustrating, and amazing all at the same time.

Yesterday she pulled a spoon out of the dishwasher. She looked it over from every angle and smiled at the shiny metal. She stuck the handle in her mouth, unimpressed by the taste. Then she tapped it on the open door of the dishwasher and looked up at me with wide eyes and a huge smile as she continued banging it on the other items in the rack.


I stopped chopping tomatoes and sat down on the floor to watch my little drummer. I love those moments. Actually, I love watching her do anything – pull all the sandwich baggies out of the box, push tiny pieces of banana around her high chair tray, play with her toes. I love it because whatever she does, she’s completely absorbed in the moment. Every smile conveys genuine, unfeathered joy. Her shoulders carry no weight of any burden. Her heart is not heavy with worry or fear. She’s just being her. Just being here. Just being.

We have so much to learn by watching our little ones in action. How wonderful would it be to be able to close our minds to any thoughts that are irrelevant to - or distracting from - the beauty and peace available in any given moment?

When I first started leaning into spiritual growth several years ago, the concept of presence kept coming up. Just be where you are. At first, I didn’t get it. How can you be anywhere else? As it turns out, you can be in many places at once if you give your mind and your thoughts the freedom to wander. Once I really became aware of the constant disconnect between the actions of my body and the thoughts in my head, I discovered that I am really not very present at all. Rather, a large part of me is chronically absent.

Presence is all about being fully engaged in the current moment with no part of your mind dwelling on events of the future or past (or judgmental thoughts about others or personal insecurities or what’s going on with healthcare reform). For most of us, that is not easy to do because we are not even aware that our minds are fragmented. Having irrelevant or counter-productive thoughts when we’re supposed to be enjoying a movie with our spouses or building block towers with our kids or praying in church is so common that we don’t really recognize it as a problem. We entertain our thoughts and worries so automatically that we don’t even know we’re missing out on the full experience of being wherever we are.

The key to breaking these habits is awareness. It’s kind of hard to stop yourself from being distracted if you’re not even aware that you are distracted in the first place. It starts with turning your attention inward and recognizing that being absorbed in irrelevant thought serves no purpose other than pulling you away from feeling pure joy for this moment.

Growing in presence has helped me tremendously with my tendency to feel overwhelmed by the many demands of life and motherhood. Often, when I engage with my kids, a part of me remains focused on what’s not getting done. Then I start getting things done and another part of me feels guilty for not engaging with my kids. That’s so silly, and yet, so common. By focusing on presence, I can find guilt-free joy in playtime and productive time and my days flow with less effort.

Try it today. The next time you’re engaged in an activity (anything from washing dishes to playing with your kids to getting a manicure), notice where your thoughts are wandering and notice how present – or absent – you are in the experience of what you’re doing. Then try doing that activity as if you are a ten-month-old child. No competing emotions. No worries. No outside thoughts. Just being.

Then take in the joy.

Joy? Even for dishes?

Yes, joy for dishes. Sing while you rinse. Dance while you dry. Who knows? You might even start drumming with a spoon.

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