April 14, 2010

Zen and the Art of Childhood

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment, wisely and earnestly. – Buddha

Children know this already. I am always amazed by their natural and effortless awareness. Watching a colorful mobile spin can be endlessly mesmerizing, and banging a spoon on a pot is pure noisy experience. The transition from meltdown to contentment might be as easy as a cheesy snack, and conflicts over ownership last for a matter of seconds. I can learn a thing or two here.

When my mind isn’t racing around lamenting my lack of discipline, regretting a glowering lapse in compassion, or planning supper, I might realize a blessed moment of stillness. Maybe I’ll feel the warm sun on my face, relax in traffic when I’m late for an appointment, or notice that i’ve already eaten plenty of chips. Maybe I’ve chosen to spend so much time with children because they are better at this than I am, and they  provide a little-fingered tap on the shoulder back to the present whenever they’re around.

I was lazing around in a hammock last Sunday, with my small friend Isabelle. While I was wondering if I shouldn’t be home cleaning the bathroom, she reminded me that we were having a very nice time by chanting “This is fun” at least once every ten minutes. With the effectiveness of a gong, I came back to the hammock and the bathroom faded away.

The learning doesn’t stop at mindfulness. Children are jolly good at reminding me of other precious nuggets too:

Curiosity: A child’s curiosity is natural and unbridled. Somewhere between asking “What makes it rain?” and “Can I borrow the car?” I lost my obsessive interest in the details. When I remember to pay attention, I begin to remember that I really do care about the spider in my bathtub and if she’ll survive in the flowerpot on my porch.

Joy: When was the last time you sang into a hairbrush pretending you were the only girl in the Beach Boys, did cartwheels in your underpants, or laughed so hard you snorted your beverage? For me, it’s been double-digit years. That seems like too long. I like to hang out with kids to get back in the swing of joy.

Creativity: Children don’t really get that there is a box, so it’s easy for them to think outside it. Trees can be purple, grass is sometimes orange and at least one of them has dreamt of launching a cardboard box rocket to the moon. I need to remember where I put those drawings…

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