Some days feel like a total whirlwind. A million things need to get done, put away and cleaned. Food needs to be made. Children fed. Did they even brush their teeth? Meh. Pretend you forgot to ask…
When you finally stop to breathe, you trudge to their rooms to check in on whether THEY’RE breathing and their beauty takes you by surprise. You feel that lump in your throat. Time slipped through your fingers once again. The last time it happened, you swore you’d be more present. You’d slow down. Take a minute. You swore you’d enjoy this time, because you know it’ll be gone before too long.
Life is beautifully, fiercely, clumsily imperfect and parenting often unfolds in that same way. I believe it’s that way by design. While that fact will never stop us from trying to be perfect, if we’re lucky, before they’re grown, we will have mastered the art of accepting the imperfect as perfect enough.
For the days when life seems like it’s racing by, leaving you to feel like time’s moving too fast, make time “stop.”
I know it sounds elementary, but when we’re a million miles away and scattered, it’s our most direct route to being present and back in our bodies again. Chances are, if we’re stressed out, racing against the clock and scrambling to make that next scheduled activity, we probably aren’t very present. The casserole can wait. The soccer practice won’t fall apart without them. Shoes will get tied in their own right timing. Just STOP. Look at your gorgeous kids being their kid selves. Take one minute to just delight in how they could really care less if they’re on time, and BREATHE. Embrace the breath and their lawlessness long enough to come back to the present again.
We miss out on the little things the most when we act in frustration, anger or dissatisfied haste. When we’re overcome with these emotions, we can’t possibly be present. We’re in our heads. If we’re fixated in the past, or worrying over the future, we miss the “now.” If we miss the now, how can we remember or appreciate it?
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us to “wash the dishes to wash the dishes.”
He says in his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Mindfulness Meditation, that in his early lessons as a young novice monk he needed to learn the valuable lesson of being present. He learned: “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes, and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”
“If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
The work never ends, but rather than scowling through our work, just to get to our free time, if we can be present, our work becomes joy. On those magical days when I remember to be present, my mood is better, which means I can still enjoy all the little things happening around me even through my tasks. I can look up from cooking and engage with my son, giggle when the dog bolts from the vacuum, or fold the laundry, grateful I have people I love to fold it for. When we work with presence, time seems to slow down for us. Try it sometime. It works.
DITCH THE CLOCK
We all have obligations, but think about nature for a moment, and the way things move within it. No clocks are needed. If you watch animals, they move in their own rhythms. Robins hop, squirrels flit, and things grow, happen, and change in their own right timing.
We are beings of nature, and we have rhythms too. Embrace a rhythm where you feel like you’re in the zone, and follow it. Set timers if you need to meet obligations at certain times, but during the rest of your minutes, try to find your own rhythm. Take off your watch. Put down the phone, and just flow. Time will slow for you, for sure. You will get lost in your task, be more attentive to your kids, and will be absolutely amazed at what you accomplish.
We cannot slow the rotations of our planet, freeze our kids at a certain age, or make a day not end, but if we can slow down enough to focus on the now, we can embrace and appreciate our day with gratitude and mindfulness, fully connected. No time machine required.