Before having Jake, I lived a tightly-scheduled life. It was a fine balance trying to “keep all the balls in the air”. At that point, I had a sense that life wasn’t meant to be lived with so much structure and so much to do but I didn’t dare drop a ball. Then Jake came along. As a baby, he didn’t nap for more than 40 minutes at a time and, when he wasn’t sleeping, he constantly wanted to be held – by someone who was standing up and not in a front pack or sling. A day spent standing up with a baby over my shoulder was exhausting. But worse than that was the incredible frustration of not being able to get anything done. Sometimes he’d fall asleep on me while feeding. I didn’t dare move him incase he woke but I’d feel stuck, angry even, that he wasn’t in his cot so I could use his nap time to do something. (On retrospect, maybe God was trying to give me some rest!) Many of the balls I had been juggling promptly fell to the ground and I felt that I was failing.
But, over time, I shifted gears. It seemed to partly happen on its own, just by being in Jake’s presence. He was never in a rush or concerned by the dishes stacked on the kitchen bench. I realised I had to pick which balls to juggle and which to let go of. Of course, I never dropped the love-and-care-for-my-baby ball but I learned to sometimes let someone else carry it for a while. I did let go of the regular-contact-with-friends ball and the clean-and-tidy house ball and the keep-fit ball. All of which I have picked up again as the boys have gotten older and it has seemed more manageable but with far fewer expectations.
Dropping all of these self-imposed obligations created the opportunity to sometimes JUST BE. I am no longer attached to the madness of constantly doing. It is an enormous relief and has added such depth to my life. I enjoy doing puzzles with Thomas and building Lego with Jake without being distracted by things I feel I “should” be doing. I’d be lying if I said I am always present with them but I am much less torn between BEING with my boys and tasks that need to be done. I compartmentalise better, trying to give my full attention to whatever is at hand. I measure my day by the quality of my time, not what I produced.
So, three years after Jake’s birth, I was able to enjoy Thomas’ babyhood a lot more. It wasn’t easy-breezy, I especially found it hard to meet both of their very different needs at the same time. But, if Thomas fell asleep on me and Jake was ok, instead of worrying about the housework, I enjoyed JUST BEING with Thomas or listening to an inspirational audio book. Instead of surrounding Thomas in the anxious energy I had Jake (I’m so sorry Jake), I bathed him in my contentment & peace & joy in him. It felt like time well-used.
WHY WE NEED TO JUST BE
Presence and stillness have so many benefits. We’ve heard research sited showing that the health of people who regularly spend time in prayer or meditation is better than that of people who don’t. We know the refreshed and alive feeling we have after taking time to do the thing that absorbs us so much that we loose track of time. And have you noticed that your best ideas come to you when you’re not trying? Mine usually come to me in the shower or when I’m out on a walk – when I’m quiet enough within to hear the guidance I’m being given.
“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” – Eckhart Tolle
JUST BEING is, from my experience, a spiritual practice. Without the busy noise of our minds, we can feel the energy of Life. We can sense more easily what it has to say to us. I want Jake and Thomas to be able to go about their day with presence and to be able to stop at times in order to fill their tanks, reflect & hear the voice of their own spirits. If they are to be able to live their own truth, our children need to be able to connect with it first and, as their parents, we are the ones to teach them how to do it.
There’s a lot we can do. There are two things I do at the moment that I think help my children to JUST BE at their young ages (2 and 5 years):
1) Show them, model for them, how to take time to be present and still.
2) Give them unstructured, quiet time to be present and still.
1) Show Them
I think being a model is one of the most powerful tools we have as parents. If our children watch us constantly busy, not taking time to focus on this moment or to enjoy ourselves, rest and connect with God, they are going to believe that that is how life is lived. Don’t we want more for them – both in adulthood and in their childhood years? When they enjoy my undivided attention as we play together or see me take 5 minutes to play the piano or are asked not to disturb me because I’m having “quiet time” in my room, I’m showing them that these practices of JUST BEING have an important place in my day. They may also notice that, when I don’t do these things, my patience is shorter and I become more preoccupied with my to-dos. As Jake is getting older, I find myself naturally telling him a bit more about how these habits connect me with myself and God. (I’ve only been discussing who God is relatively recently so it’s baby steps at the moment)
2) Give them unstructured, quiet time
I have always been very careful to preserve Jake and Thomas’ unstructured, at-home time. Now in his first term at school, Jake has no after-school activities because my husband and I feel he needs time to rest and not be “on”. When he’s in his room playing with his Lego, I consider it his spiritual quiet time. He is present, following his own rhythm, resting his body and mind. Once he has adjusted to his new life as a school-by, we’ll have more playdates and consider 1 or 2 extra-curricular activities. If there’s an activity he’s keen to do or we think could be a match for him, we’ll sign him up to have a go. But, most afternoons he needs to be at home. From what I have seen, over-scheduling only exhausts children, gives the message that they must do, do, do & achieve, achieve, achieve in life and robs them of their time to connect with themselves & God.
CHILDREN WILL SHOW US HOW TO JUST BE
However, this task of teaching a way of life that embraces presence and stillness may not be as big as we think. Because the best example I have of JUST BEING is my children themselves. This is their natural state and perhaps our job is more to preserve it than teach it anew. When I’m rushing to get Thomas to his Mainly Music session and he’s insisting on getting out of the car by himself (so slow!) then discovers the puddle in the gutter, begging to be splashed in, he’s enjoying what’s happening now, not thinking about the time on the clock.
One morning recently, when he was supposed to be getting dressed for school, Jake asked me to watch him “dive” off the sofa into the “sea” to go “scuba diving”. I took the time to watch his enactment, made an affirming remark and went back to filling the lunchboxes in the kitchen. A few minutes later, I realised it had gone very quiet out there in the lounge. Suspicious, I went in to see what was going on. Jake was still lying on the floor where I had left him. Knowing he’s been feeling tired since starting school, I said “are you feeling OK, Jake?” His reply was, “Yes, I’m just sinking”. It took me a moment to realise that his role play hadn’t finished and he was imagining that he was sinking deeper & deeper into the ocean. I had been intending to tell him to keep moving, we needed to get to school, but, instead, I left him to it. For a few minutes, he had disconnected from the busyness of the morning to be present with his creativity & dreams. My heart sang (and we still got to school on time).
Are there any spiritual practices for stillness that I could teach my boys now, suitable for their age?
How can I encourage presence in the moment as they get older and their minds are more likely to distract them?
How can I put more stillness and presence in my own day as an example to my children and for myself?
Much love to you and your little souls,
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