Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stop, Drop and Meditate

When I was pregnant I bought a set of meditation cushions -- a zafu (the round, buckwheat -filled one you perch upon) and a zabuton (the flat one for under your zafu to make meditation a little friendlier on ankles and knees). Until then, having "props" always seemed superfluous and silly. Any pillow would do, and I'd also meditated in my car (not while driving), on boulders and benches and beaches and subways and planes, sitting up in bed, anywhere I could be still and close my eyes for a few minutes. But I had a hunch I'd need some reminding about my meditation practice, postpartum, so I shopped for bright-colored gear that would snag my eye. I ended up with orange and raspberry pillows (or "sweet potato" and "plum"), which I placed where I suspected I'd be spending most of my time early on -- in the room of my baby-to-be. I'd settle my spherical self on down, cross my sapling-size ankles, clasp my hands under my belly and make like Mother Earth for a half hour most mornings.

Once Stellina resided on the other side of my skin, things weren't quite so routine, of course. For one thing, despite all that deep breathing I'd done, she was a less-than-serene newborn. I was in pretty much constant motion for the first three months, mostly while straddling an exercise ball, as this was what she demanded in order to not holler her head off. I'd bounce so hard we'd catch air, then she'd calm down, and sometimes doze off. I'd plan to meditate once I had taken a shower and thrown in a load of laundry...at which point, of course, she'd wake up and it was back to the ball...or time to breastfeed, and this I could do on the cushions. We'd sit in a stack -- the baby on the Boppy on my lap on the two layers of padding. In hindsight I think these "medilactation" sessions were beneficial for us both in establishing our longterm nursing relationship (17 months so far). I was mindfully feeding my baby and spirit simultaneously. When faced with breastfeeding challenges like engorgement, plugged ducts or just feeling plain "touched out," I'd remember that uncomfortable sensations that arise during meditation, both physical and emotional, eventually pass -- if I can just stay seated and focus back on my breath, and now, on the breath of my baby, as well.

I also learned to "stop, drop and meditate" when she was napping (if I wasn't sleeping at the same time). Housework, e-mails, paying the bills, phone calls, Facebook, freelance work could all wait. Sometimes I'd open my eyes every couple minutes, watching the clock, practically having to clutch the cushion to stay put. I had never felt both so tired and wired at once. Plenty of times I gave in to the five little monkeys jumping on my brain and cut the session short.

These days I try to plant my butt on the buckwheat tuffet every night after getting Stellina to bed. It's a quiet corridor of time between my day as a mom and evening as a partner (and writer and e-mailer and dishwasher and watcher of TV and payer of bills...). I will also, when feeling frazzled, drop to the pillows and take the position no matter what else is going on in the room -- what electronic gizmo is trilling, what CD is playing, what toddler is lurching the length of the house, pushing the wooden clackety long-handled toy in front of her like a landscaper in her cups. I'm not there for long before I hear, "Hi!" in front of me, or feel a stuffed animal or bongo drum or board book being stuffed into the bends of my elbows or knees. But even just putting myself in timeout for that minute or three seems to create the necessary space between my feelings and my reactions.

And here's the whole point of this long-winded post. I've meditated in order to remain somewhat sane in the membrane, not to model meditation. But just as Stellina mimics the good (teeth-brushing, hugging the dog) and not-so-good (door slamming, scolding the dog) habits of her housemates, she's caught on to this contemplation thing -- or the mimicry of such. The other day she purposefully lowered her tiny heiney onto the zafu, crossed her legs and grinned. She inhaled and exhaled three long times. Then -- and this was when I wished we'd installed that nanny spy cam, despite not having a nanny -- she propped her babydoll next to her on a little pillow (an herb-filled sachet she'd found while ransacking my bureau and had toted around all afternoon). So, not only is my kid learning to meditate literally as she is learning to walk, but she's showing HER baby how to do so as well. Let's just say the relaxation habits I inherited from my parents involved altering one's mind in an entirely different way. Holy proud parenting moment.

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr