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Baby Practice: Being A Mindful Buddhist Father

by Paul Griffin

I am attending the Thich Nhat Hanh program this Saturday at the Beacon Theater in New York City.  I’ll be sure to report back tomorrow, Saturday, with a blog entry on what goes down (the schedule calls for a mindful walk through the streets of the Upper West Side).  So, I have been reading my TNH today.  I picked his The Miracle of Mindfulness off my shelf and reread the slim volume.  It is a fine book, exquisite like a tangerine, calling us to mindfulness in every moment. 

The opening of the book is particularly apt for me at this time in my life.  In the opening, TNH writes about his friend Jim who talks about what it’s like as a practitioner to have and raise children.  Jim says, “I try not to divide my time into parts anymore.  I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time.  When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time… The time for him becomes my own time.  The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself!” 

My girlfriend and I recently had a baby girl.  Iris is now four and a half months old.  She is at the center of my life in so many ways.  And while she is so often the object of my attentions, she is also always on the periphery of my mind.  I want today to write a post about how taking care of my baby has been in many ways the single best practice I have ever had…

I have tried over these past four and half months simply to enjoy my baby.  She certainly is a bundle of joy.  At the same time, life goes on, and my plans and patterns and desires seemed to have continued on their merry way right alongside my growing little baby.  And I’ve noticed a few things so far about myself and about baby practice. 

First, baby practice is all about patience.  Whatever plans I have for the day, I know now that if baby Iris is involved, we’re going to need to schedule in an extra hour or two.  Everything takes longer with a baby.  Life slows down.  Priorities become clearer.  Everything from waking-up to planning meals to moving around the house (so that I can see her and, if possible, so that she can see me, too) becomes much more deliberate and mindful.  But most of all, I’ve learned that to really get down with Iris, to really get to know her, takes time and patience.

Second, baby practice is about mindfulness.  I’ve always kept pretty good watch on my mind, but with Iris around, all of my thoughts are that much more loud and clear.  Now, if I think about my blog post or my lunch appointment while I’m holding my child, I’m much more aware of the fact that my mind has wandered from the present moment and into another realm (of future or past or imagination).  Previously, it was easier perhaps to lose track of these little blips of consciousness–when we slip out of the present phenomenal moment–whereas when I’m with Iris, I notice the movement of my mind, and its dissolving back into emptiness, all the more vividly. 

Lastly, I’ve noticed that having baby Iris in the home diffuses my attention more than anything else.  Diffuse as a verb means to spread over a wide area or a large number of people.  The adjective, though, means “not concentrated,” and even “lacking clarity.”  And I’ll admit, it has been awful confusing at time.  But the heart of it is in the root diffus, which is Latin for “poured out.”  Indeed, the spirits of my girlfriend and me have been poured into a new form–we have been diffused.  And I can see it in the shift in the quality of my attention.  Now I don’t have the authority to speak about mommy-mind or how childbirth and breastfeeding have released whacky chemicals throughout my brain, but I can attest to the fact that with our little one in this world, my mind is constantly returning to her.  It sure as hell tries to get back to “me”–to my ambitions and desires and patterns, to my books and writing and favorite tv shows, etc.–but again and again, my mind goes back to Iris.  She is the central object of meditation in my life these days, and she will remain there for a long time.  Because I love her.  Whereas there once was more me, more self, now there is more other, more her.  This is the Big Change that mothers and fathers talk about when they talk about having a baby.  It’s not about me anymore, it’s about her.  Because I love her.  And because she is me.  And she is her mother.  And she is her own self, too!  She is living, breathing proof of the interconnectedness of everything.

At the end of The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Let’s return to a more modest scale: our families, our classmates, our friends, our own community.  We must live for them–for if we cannot live for them, whom else do we think are living for?”  That sounds about right to me.

In tribute to TNH’s famous eating-a-tangerine-as-life analogy, click here for Led Zeppelin’s song “Tangerine”!


Comments read comments(8)
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posted October 9, 2009 at 4:00 am

imagining being in your shoes fills me with warmth and a kind of calm. thank you for sharing some of that!

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posted October 9, 2009 at 12:54 pm

What an amazing way to think about your practice and your child. Inspirational. I hope more parents see this is a way to approach parenting mindfully.

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posted October 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Has anyone read, The God of Buddha by Fozdar? Its a fascinating book.

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Anan E. Maus

posted October 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm

wrote this about 12 years ago, for a newborn’s family:
we had been waiting for you
it seems for years,
it seems before we even knew you,
we were waiting for you,
waiting for you always.
for the smile,
your smile,
your eyes,
the smile you give back to us.
thank you for this love, this precious love,
little one, thank you for the gift you are to us.
your eyes – they smile
your each and every gesture – smiles
now we live amidst a daily tapestry of your doings of delight
woven in and through us now,
love we never knew could ever exist before,
love you have brought out from within us,
to us,
you make us laugh,
you make us smile,
you make us cry.
Do you know what gentleness we wish for you?
I saw a photo of a mother holding her daughter in her arms.
I saw a woman in a hospital with her first child,
holding her daughter in her arms.
where warmth is, there is a sweeter blanket surrounding us.
mother’s eyes,
all love,
all love,
no other-ness & other-nesses,
& other encumbrances.
O life,
I had wished a purity like this,
an all-love like this,
like that you give to us,

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Scott Hartley

posted October 12, 2009 at 6:16 pm

You might like to know that there is a father in Sydney, Australia, who has a 7 week old daughter, who read those same lines in his copy of “The Miracle Of Mindfullness” 2 days ago, after gently rocking his beautiful daughter to sleep….me! The journey that my wife & I and a little girl have embarked on fills me with hopefullness, excitement & peace.

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Scott Hartley

posted October 12, 2009 at 6:16 pm

You might like to know that there is a father in Sydney, Australia, who has a 7 week old daughter, who read those same lines in his copy of “The Miracle Of Mindfullness” 2 days ago, after gently rocking his beautiful daughter to sleep….me! The journey that my wife & I and a little girl have embarked on fills me with hopefullness, excitement & peace.

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Paul Griffin

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:07 am

Scott, it is good to know that!
And thank you for your poem, Anan!

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posted January 25, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Wow, this post is fastidious, my younger sister
is analyzing these things, therefore I am going to tell her.

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