Diana Winston on maintaining meditation and mindfulness practice while being the mother of a young child.
The most common question I get as a mindfulness teacher and new mom — right after “Has she slept through the night yet?” (FYI, no!) — is: “Are you still able to meditate?”
The implication is that amid the chaos of a wailing, demanding, pooping baby, my formal meditation practice would likely find itself out the window. And that’s sort of true… Well, depending on how you define meditation practice.
No, I rarely sit on my cushion these days. I did move my zafu into my bedroom for those chance nights when my ten-month old is asleep and I have the energy to sit up properly. Unfortunately those nights are rare. Now the puffy zafu has become my daughter’s favorite obstacle course: Can she climb it with a single bound?
So formal sitting practice is sort of, well, on hold, for a decade or more.
But life practice — day-to-day mindfulness with baby — is alive and well, and… perhaps more profound than I ever would have imagined. And here’s how it works.
- I’m mindful when I breastfeed. That’s a no brainer. There’s not a lot you can do while breastfeeding. You’re just sort of sitting there. So I tune into her breathing or my own breathing, trying to have no agenda, to just be. I attend to the little slurps and my own blissy feelings. I try to reel my mind back when it goes astray, but often, since she’s so damn present (and occasionally pinches me if I space out), mindful “breath-feeding” has become second nature.
- I’m mindful when I walk. I take walks with her in a sling. Up and down the street, through my neighborhood. When she’s awake it’s challenging as she needs to interact with every dog we encounter. But when she sleeps, I enter my body. My consciousness slips down into my feet and legs. My back-body comes alive. I enter a state of full presence and we walk together in mindfulness.
- I meditate when I change her millionth poopy diaper. As I lean over to drop a soiled diaper in the bucket I feel my body, notice my hand against her to protect her from rolling off the table, mindfully connect with the physical act. I notice my mindstate, am I agitated? Am I hoping she doesn’t wriggle and fuss? Am I thinking of something else? Am I present or miles away?
- I’m mindful when I’m simply observing her. When she turns and twists and rolls and explores, I bring my awareness into my body and also include her. So I am not rigidly focusing on her, but letting her be a part of the larger field—while staying in my internal seat. She seems so naturally mindful—I just attune to her.
Truthfully, the variations are endless. Formal practice may be obliterated, but of course I meditate now. What else would I be doing? Mindfulness in the midst of chaos, responsibility, activity, life itself.