Monday, October 31, 2016

MEDITATION FOR MOMS AND DADS: Why the Busiest People of Them All Can Have a Regular Practice

Why the Busiest People of Them All Can Have a Regular Practice
By Shana Smith, c. 2016

                The date was June 27, 1995.  It was both my 25th birthday and the five-year anniversary of having a committed daily yoga practice, and my friend Charlotte and I were celebrating with two back-to-back yoga classes followed by meditation and brunch.  We even had special new yoga outfits to wear, and the stage was set for a perfect morning befitting the occasion.

                We had just started the first class, sitting peacefully in half-lotus and grounding with some pranayama, when suddenly the door creaked open, and the high-pitched sounds of children pierced through the quiet blanket of the room. Reflexively, we all looked towards the door, and saw a mother with a toddler clinging to her like a spider monkey and an older child--wearing an unmistakable pout--at her hip.

                “Sorry I’m late,” she offered. “Can you please tell me where the child care room is?”
                “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO CHILD CARE!” wailed the older child, while the toddler nestled her head deeply into the mother’s neck. “I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND!” The mother held her gaze on the teacher pleadingly, awaiting an answer.

                “I’m so sorry,” said the teacher, “but we no longer offer child care.”

                The look of dejection on the mother’s face was palpable. She fell into a slump, but then tried again: “But your ad in the local paper says you have child care on Saturday mornings. I planned all week for this class.”

                “It must have been an old ad,” said the teacher. “We used to have it, but we don’t right now.” Then, with a firmer I-need-to-get-back-to-the-class tone in her voice, the teacher said: “Sorry again.” She turned her head back to face us, and restarted her instructions for yogic breathing.

                My gaze lingered on the mom for a few moments, long enough for me to catch her hungrily gazing at us blissful breathing yogis before she put her head down and closed the door.  I heard the muffled sounds of the older child’s shouts of “YAY! PLAYGROUND!” Charlotte gave me a look of “can you believe that?” which I acknowledged, feeling relieved that the interruption of my perfect day was over.  Still, I couldn’t stop thinking of her…for years.

                Long before I ever had children of my own, I worked with them: first as a babysitter, then as an educator. I also worked with parents by default, and while I didn’t yet fully comprehend the kind of mojo it really takes to parent, I did pretty easily see that families have a lot going on. I knew some parents who handled the busy-ness like expert managers, while others could barely keep it all together and always seemed to be on the brink of falling apart. I knew some parents who made it all look effortless, and others who liberally shared the travails and endless sacrifices they made in the name of parenthood. But that morning, for the first time, I became aware of a person who had a longing for something that seemed inexplicably unobtainable:  a simple hour of peace.

                The years went on, and my yoga and meditation practice deepened.  I always seemed to have plenty of time to practice.  I met my husband at an ashram, where we meditated, did yoga, and enjoyed kirtan together daily.  We married. We got pregnant. Throughout pregnancy, I meditated, did yoga, and chanted.  When my daughter was a baby, I blissfully swaddled her to my side and my practice became our practice, knowing that it would bond us together and to the Universe in ways deep and beautiful.

                And then one day, and seemingly overnight, I became that same mother of my 1995 yoga class.  My daughter was 2, and it wasn’t so easy to put her in the sling or nurse her while doing my practices.  She woke up one morning and had her own ideas about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go, and she wanted all of it to be with me. To compound this sudden change in flow, I was also going back to work, which was in direct conflict to our attachment style of parenting and caused separation anxiety.  She became the spider monkey, and I the slumped mother, watching others breathe and ground and stretch and sit unhampered while I felt longing for the unobtainable. 
But my years of practice had taught me surrender and patience, and soon enough, my husband and I found a wonderful meditation group that offered free child care.  While we sat for two hours, she enjoyed her time in the play room with other kids and I became introduced to formal Zen meditation.  Our weekly sit with the Zen group became my church, and sustained a daily practice that provided a vital grounding each morning before my daughter woke up.  

                A few years later, and without warning, the funding for the group’s child care was cut, and so was our ability to sit weekly with the group.  We had our second child soon afterwards: an energetic and insatiably curious son who demanded time and attention at a whole new level.  Daily morning meditation became a distant memory with two very young children to attend to. An experienced father of grown children gave me a well-meaning picture of the road ahead: this is the busy time of life. My practice now is to be fully in the world, doing what householders do, raising kids and making a living. He advised me to simply remember to be present as much as possible, but to not expect to return to formal practice anytime soon in the way I’d known it.

After four years of dedicated Zen practice and many more as a yogi, I had already seen the effect it had on my inner and outer worlds. Meditation had become a foundation for living, and I was unwilling to accept that it was no longer an option.  The kids deserved a mindful, compassionate mom.  My husband, co-workers, and neighbors deserved a mindful, compassionate peer. My alternative “sans meditation” persona was harried, anxious, a bit manic, overachieving, and dramatic. I heard the arguments that giving up yoga and meditation is part of the “sacrifices one must make” to be a good parent. But I could only think: sacrifices are about giving up “just me” stuff. There was no doubt in my mind that “my” meditation benefitted everyone.  Giving up meditation was simply not an option. I had a whole list of things that somehow got done every day, like brushing and flossing and bathing and cooking and getting work done and even getting to the gym. It took some serious time management and focus, but this list was doable. Meditation needed to be on that list, so I put it at the very top, right after “wake up.”

                Like going to the gym, the hardest part about doing regular morning meditation is simply getting straight to the cushion instead of filling up those sacred thirty or so minutes with distractions like making tea, checking emails, or making a dent in the laundry. It takes discipline and determination to report to the cushion, but it works, proving that the old adage “I don’t have time to meditate” doesn’t have to apply. It is simply a matter of priorities.

In a householder’s life, meditation can be just as much a priority as that of a Zen monk’s.  In the words of Zen master Ruben L.F. Habito Roshi, “Even if we’re not called to monastic life in the formal sense, we are called to awaken to truth, to awaken to the mystery of our existence here on Earth.” [1]Like the monastics, parents do well when they take time to manage their day, putting the  priority of “awakening to truth” in the forefront and minimizing distractions like cell phones and TV and other things which rob us of time to meditate and live holistically and mindfully. With an established meditation practice, life becomes more mindful, or in the words of Habito Roshi: “a life in total harmony with one’s true nature, an authentic way of living one’s life.”

In Philip Kapleau’s “Three Pillars of Zen,”[2] there are many accounts of enlightenment that happen during mundane life, or life that Charlotte Joko-Beck simply calls “Nothing Special.”[3]  In “Autobiography of a Yogi,”[4] after Yogananda broke through the veil of illusion and touched the sky, Yogananda’s master handed him a mop and bucket to clean the ashram floor.  Monks surrender to a life of deep practice, letting go of worldly wants and desires, while tending to work that must be done and contemplating the mystery of the gentle opening of a mountain cherry blossom.  Seeking parents surrender to the miracle of things as they are now, letting go of wanting things to be different, while tending to the work that must be done and contemplating the mystery of why the laundry and dishes never cease while the cherry blossom is gently opening. The beauty of a daily morning practice is that it sets an attitude for the rest of the day that can really make some great waves that have a wonderful impact on everyone.

Here’s a great real-life example of this idea, one that proved to me that the world of awakening is indeed available to all of us:  I had been rather drudgingly tackling a very large pile of laundry, and after three days, the floor where the laundry pile was heaped was at last bare.  Precisely at that moment (for the Universe is determined to help), my two kids arrived and dumped their clothesbaskets of soiled clothes all over that precious, smooth, floor, wiping my “done with laundry” hopes and dreams right off the board.  The “plop” of the clothes on the tiles was as cathartic as the chime of the temple bells after a long meditation retreat, when the Universe cracks open and spills gloriously all over you.  I broke out into laughter—it all suddenly seemed so funny!  Endless laundry. No laundry.  What was the difference? I’m here, alive, now, able and strong.  It was all so beautiful, and so clear. The wiping out of wants, expectations, desires—even for “spiritual” things—brought me home. For the monk, it was the gentle opening of the mountain cherry blossom. For me, it was the “plop” of soiled clothes.  There was no difference.

Happy as I was, my kids were even happier.  They fully expected a disgruntled response to the extra piles, but instead they got the full brunt of the boundless joy of a momentarily free being. My kids loved this light and blissful me, and the day simply got lighter and happier.  All that because I got myself to a cushion for a few minutes in the quiet morning.

Start meditating. Today and from now on, set your alarm clock just fifteen minutes earlier and create a daily life routine that includes some space and time for yourself on the meditation cushion at home.  If you are new to meditation, start with five minutes of counting your breaths in and out.  If you are experienced, return to your practice for five, fifteen, or thirty minutes.  If your thoughts wander, label them “thoughts” without judgement, then return to your breath. That’s it.  Through the simple act of sitting you have set forth a powerful intention into the cosmos that manifests for you by its very nature. It doesn’t take much time, and isn’t as hard as it seems once you get yourself on the cushion and just begin. Get to yoga class and meditation groups when you can, but make your personal daily home practice your foundation.

I still often think about that mother from twenty years ago.  Today, her children are grown, and she is probably free to attend any yoga class she wishes whenever she wants to.  After twenty years of raising her children, of surrendering to the playground while yearning for the siren song of the Universe, she probably reached a profound understanding that there is no difference between the playground and the Universe, that matching yoga outfits and formal classes don’t a yogini make. How I understand her better now, and how honored I feel to be walking her same path. It’s the path of the masters: full of grace, presence, wonder, and gratitude.

By simply sitting and breathing with intention at a scheduled time each day, you can reach deep states of awareness and peace. By practicing meditation and yoga from the perspective of transcending  wants and expectations, your practice is the most authentic of them all.  You, mom and dad, will benefit in marvelous ways, but your children and the world itself will benefit most of all.

Reprinted with permission from Om Yoga Magazine.  

Insight Timer: A great App to support and encourage your meditation!
Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers: A new book by the author to keep you motivated.

                ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
            Shana Smith is a mom, musician, marine biologist, teacher, and writer.  She is an avid and longtime practitioner of Zen and meditation, a decades-long yogi, and a much sought-after kirtan wallah, or devotional chanting leader.  For the past twenty years, she has been known to many across the state of Florida and the U.S. as the nationally award-winning (Parent's Choice, iParenting, NAPPA, Just Plain Folks) children’s musical persona “Shana Banana.”  Shana and her family (husband Dan, daughter Grace Ohana, and son Benny Albert) have settled down in Gainesville, Florida to run their meditation- and yoga-based Gainesville Retreat Center, which attracts many renowned teachers and practitioners and offers weekly meditation nights. 
In addition to book and music appearances, homeschooling her two kids, and running the retreat center with her family, Shana is currently working on a series of children's books based on her original musical stories currently available on Shana Banana CD's. She is also writing a tween mystery series developed over the past two years with her kids, and recording a CD of devotional chants from various traditions.   In her free time, she walks in the forest, gardens, cooks, writes poetry, and plays. A lot.  Also visit Shana at: and and Facebook

[1] Habito, Ruben L.F., 2006. “Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World.” Wisdom Publications, Boston.
[2] Kapleau, Philip, 1989.” The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment.” Anchor Books, New York.
[3] Joko-Beck, Charlotte, 1994. “Nothing Special: Living Zen.” HarperCollins Publishers, New York.
[4] Yogananda, Paramahansa, 1998. “Autobiography of a Yogi.” Self Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles CA.

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