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”!