Merry Christmas, Dear Friends!
This past year I interviewed for a few different jobs with our school district. During this process, I was given a compliment by my current principal. He told me he’s never seen me rattled. Ever.
Now, my work as a teacher aide (currently in my fourth year) is admittedly not stressful in that I have no deadlines, no one reporting to me and nothing to bring home at night. However, I am required to wear many hats and be able to change them at the drop of a… you get the picture. This is accomplished surrounded by hundreds of children under the age of ten who are under our care, with the expectation they will be taught the three R’s, along with manners, self-respect and respect for others. Things happen. It’s unpredictable. And it’s loud. But Ron is right. I rarely do get rattled.
My meditation practice has grown since I began two-plus years ago. I have been practicing yoga for over ten years now and have been teaching a little over two. Still a beginner in many ways. I have a morning routine that gets me up at 5:30 during the week and helps me to ease into my day. My meditation practice is a key element of this routine. While this may sound admirable, you must know that many mornings I go through an entire laundry list of what I need to accomplish (usually it IS laundry) when the chime goes off and I realize I did not meditate at all.
I do not berate myself or judge how “good” my practice was. I accept it as it is. I practice presence. And this is what meditation does. It teaches you not to stop your thoughts, but train your mind to be present and still. It is not easy. The beauty of it is, however, if you practice quieting your mind in silence at 6AM on a cushion with the scent of bergamot diffusing in the air, you will slowly learn to be present and still when it’s 2PM in a classroom full of third graders a half-hour before their Halloween party in a room that smells like, well, third graders.
This past year, we went on several college tours and trips with our oldest, to North Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., Gettysburg, Bethlehem, and Chicago. Yes, next fall we will be sending him off to begin this new chapter of his, and our, lives. Some trips involved the four of us and a few were just he and I. Precious, precious time.
My goal is to be present. Not nostalgize the past and worry about the future, but be here now. So often I find myself reeling myself in. When I start spinning, thinking about how I will get through the transition of having one less spot at the dinner table, or being fearful of some event in the future, I stop and “return to my cushion.”
When I find myself rushing, arms full of bags and papers, holding a hot cup of coffee with two fingers while I search for my keys, and feeling like I just can’t…do…one…more…thing, I recognize that I am spinning, that I am not present. I remind myself to notice my breath. I ask myself, “What can I do now?” Then I do it if I can. If I can’t, I can be comforted knowing I am practicing living in a way that is compassionate and accepting. Remember, the only people finished with everything are dead. Truth.
Presence can also be practiced with your interactions with others. Lord knows, we need it now more than ever. We are a culture bombarded with information, texts, tweets, posts, emails and voicemails, all demanding our response. Release the vice grip on your phone, put the internal dialogue aside and focus, really focus on the one you’re with. Listen and respond, whether it’s your first-born who will be leaving your home in a few months, the harried cashier at the grocery store or a seven-year old (who seriously needs a tissue) telling you about her loose tooth.
Be where you are. Wherever you are. Feel the warm water on your hands when you do dishes. Notice the steam rising from your coffee, dancing in thin air. Feel your feet gently touching the Earth when you walk. Feel your feelings, whether they are comfortable or not. Listen to what they are telling you. Slow. Down.
This all takes practice. Sometimes years of it. But keep practicing. Most importantly, be forgiving with yourself when it’s hard.
Pema Chodron, one of my most favorite people, says it best:
“Being present is not something that happens once and then you achieve it; it’s being awake to the ebb and flow and movement and creation of life, being alive to the process of life itself.”
I never did get those jobs that I interviewed for, but all is still well. We are all healthy, riding the waves together.
May you receive the gift of presence this Christmas and in the coming year, and may you be awake to its ebb and flow, accepting all as part of your own personal journey.