I am learning to listen from my grandson. (And if my son his father tells you it’s ‘indulging him,’ disregard.) I am learning to pay attention to cues — both verbal and non-verbal. And remember: at a scant six months, ‘verbal’ does not include words. 🙂
Still, Trinidad is quite articulate. And he makes his wants known. IF you listen. He greeted the older woman at the table next to us at lunch. Following her ‘Hi!’ was what sure sounded to both of us like a responding ‘Hi!’ Pronounced more like ‘Hah!,’ but who’s going to be so picky?
And when he turns the pages of his new board book, and babbles happily, why can’t I tell him what a smart reader he is? Who’s to say he isn’t mimicking his mother, father, grandmother with their beloved books? What can I remember of being a baby, myself? Who is able to fathom what we know, and when — and how — we learn it?
Babies begin understanding language, according to research, around six months. And language is complex. Actions? Most mammals understand actions. I’m betting on Trin, myself. I think if I listen, I’ll be able to learn the language of Trin: his gestures, his verbalisations, what he’s trying to tell me. Because I think that like most of us, he has a lot to say. If you just pay attention.
It’s something I’m carrying out into my public life, this lesson from Trin. Confession time: I interrupt. A LOT. It’s my family culture! You would NEVER get a word in edgewise w/ my three sisters if you didn’t interrupt.
But it’s not the way I want to live my life, at least not intentionally. And increasingly? I want to live w/ intention. Good intention. 🙂 Which means: I’m listening to Trinidad. And that’s a start.
As a teenager, I spent a few summers on an island in southern Thailand. Then a backwater (you had to take the ferry to get from the mainland to the island), it’s now famous. Both as a resort and as the site of a horrific tsunami.
Phuket. That’s where I spent school holidays, at a villa nestled between a crematorium & a slaughterhouse. Really. But while the crematorium/ slaughterhouse combo make good telling, what was magic were, of course, the beaches.
There were places you could walk a mile out, without the water reaching your chin. And the water was breath-takingly, heart-stoppingly clear. Whether the beach was like this one — creamy white sand and sky-blue water — or black rocks and water as green as glass, it was all crystal clear. In a boat between small offshore islands, you could see all the way to the bottom, no matter (it seemed) how deep it was.
If you study meditation, and/or mindfulness, you know that they are linked inextricably. You come to mindfulness through a meditation practice. And you come to clarity — to that still, clear water — through the two together. Through being still, and focused. Here’s my problem: I fidget.
My paternal grandmother used to tease me that I had St. Vitus Dance — a not rare occurrence in the days when many children had rheumatic fever. It’s now called Sydenham’s chorea, and it still happens: rapid, herky-jerky movements of the face, hands, feet. My grandmother just said I was too fidgety. And I am. At those events where you’re supposed to sit still? You know: weddings, funerals, movies, lectures… Well, I fidget. Cross my legs, uncross my legs, kick my feet, jounce my knees… I am NOT still.
But as I said the other day, meditation isn’t rigid. It’s fluid, like water. And it’s called practice for a reason: you don’t worry so much about the right or wrong of it. You don’t beat yourself up, like over a bad exam. Any more than you beat up yourself up over the difference between black beaches with greenglass water, and white beaches with skyblue waters. Both are beautiful. You just keep practicing, trying to get better.
I suspect this is why so many of the arts — martial, visual, abstract — serve as aides to Buddhist practice. You can ‘practice’ Zen through Ikebana (flower arranging), or the Way of the Sword, or the Way of Tea, or the Way of the Brush.
The stillness, though? That clear seeing to the very bottom, where the Durban dancing shrimp vacuum the rocks? It’s going to take me a LOT of practice to see that. And, I suspect, a heavy dose of still.
Today I made my tea in a mug, on a cutting board, with a plastic spoon. Big deal, huh? Unless you know me, and know that almost every day I make tea in a pot, on a tray spread w/ one of the many tea cloths I have, and drink it from a china cup and a silver spoon. Sometimes the spoon my Aunt Leona gave my mother when I was born, in my mother’s pattern. Engraved with my family name.
Yup. I’m that girl. 🙂
It comforts me to connect with women I knew long ago & far away — some family (Aunt Leona), some not-quite. Some closer than family. This teapot is from my niece, a dragon, and Yixing clay. Because she knew I’d love it. The creamer & sugar my beloved mother-in-laws. The tongs my mother’s. The tray my husband bought me, so I’d have enough room for all my ritual.
But today, since life is far more hectic in grandson-ville, I did as I’ve done every day since I arrived: boiled water in the kettle, poured it into the small filter I brought last visit, over tea I had shipped here. Set the tea filter in the dish drainer, and stirred my milk & sugar in with a plastic spoon (the dishwasher is running, per usual). No glass creamer & sugar. No tongs. Nothing fancy or tea-ish.
And you know what? It was GREAT! Still the same Queen Catherine’s from Harney’s. Still the same ritual of choose the tea (I shipped TWO)/ warm the cup/ pour the water through the leaves. Add raw sugar (they don’t have Demerara, and I’m okay with that), milk, and stir. Then inhale deeply, and the world stills. Steam rises, the cup fills with fragrance, and I breathe in. For a moment, the world is perfectly balanced. Still.
Even with a plastic spoon instead of Aunt Leona’s almost-heirloom. Even in a mug. Even off a cutting board. I’m sure there’s a beginner’s heart lesson there, somewhere…
But the point in meditation process is to just begin again. At least once you’re actually doing meditation, that’s really just about the only ‘rule’: if your mind wanders, just bring it gently back to your meditation focus. Which in my case has been objects as different as a pebble, a picture of one of the Buddhist bodhisattvas, a candle, or just my own breath. So when I begin to wonder, while following my breath, if I should make a frittata for dinner, I observe — hmmm…thinking again — and return my attention to in/out, rise/fall. Sounds simple, huh?
My elder son introduced me to something that helps. And yes, there’s an app for that. 🙂 It’s called Headspace. You can try it for free! N.B.: I get zip for putting this out there in the blogosphere — it’s just something that’s working for me, so I’m sharing. 🙂
Apparently I respond well to guided meditation. The time that normally creeps by like a dead ‘possum in the middle of the road suddenly moves swiftly to its conclusion — well, almost swiftly. Swiftly-ish.
I get busy, and the time-crawl factor grows in my head. Until I make up excuses — I’m so busy! There’s so much to do! — to let meditation lapse. Until ‘lapsed’ becomes ‘last month.’ Or longer. And I’m as wound up as ever.
What I’m trying to do these days is just return to the process. And again, doesn’t THAT sound simple?? Wellll, it’s not. At least not for me. (and if it is for you, please share! I’d love to hear!)
So if you’re looking for a way to be a bit calmer, a bit clearer, a bit less frazzled this holiday season, I recommend just sitting down. Focusing on something — whatever that is. Meditation is one of the best ways I know — really the only way I know, truth told — to calm my mind and help me remember that all perspectives matter, even if I disagree w/ them passionately. And when family gets together that can be a good thing to recall!
No one can get to you quite like family. The childhood pecking order, the old taunts & jokes at each other’s expense… But here’s the flip side of that coin: no one else IS family. And they don’t get you the same way.
Maybe this holiday one of your family members will, like my sons often do with me, send you something wonderful. A piece of music. A book. A meditation app. And it may well be just what you need.