February 11, 2011

Flights of Fantasy.

Reality or Fantasy: The Choice is Ours to Make.

By some impossible quirk of the space/time continuum, last week I found myself in the lobby of our high school standing next to the boy we thought would never sleep through the night. Over and over we were reminded that his decisions now (at the wholly clueless age of 13, when the release date of the next Call of Duty video game is about as far out into the future as he can imagine) would determine his pathway to college and beyond.

I felt myself begin to panic as I stared at the flowchart of science classes that could determine my child’s future. Would he be able to handle all that work? What colleges would be interested in him if he didn’t take the honors track? What would he eat in a dorm cafeteria? What would life be like without him under our roof?

My son interrupted my spiraling thoughts by exclaiming, “Cool! Did you see those computers they get to use in Intro to Engineering?”

His expression of excitement yanked me back to the moment. Somehow, this glimpse of his future didn’t drag him into a fit of wondering and worrying. I’m not even sure he was really considering what it would be like to be in that engineering class. In his mind, high school isn’t real. Middle school is. High school is big and new and has cool computers. That’s all. Middle school is where the action is – for now. And, “now” is all that matters when you’re 13.

When you’re the mother of a 13-year-old, however, “now” can seem precariously short. If it feels like yesterday that he was wandering the halls of elementary school, then doesn’t it follow that the next four years are going to fly by just as quickly? And they’re really important years. Defining years, even. The very thought makes my heart race.

That’s right about when my yoga training kicks in. The feeling of my racing heart, the haze of my worrying mind and the panicky sensation of losing my footing get my attention. In a flash of objectivity I see that I have a choice here. It’s an important choice. A defining choice, even.

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali teaches us that the highest intention of yoga is to consciously still our fluctuating minds. He goes on to describe five activities of the mind – clear perception, misperception or misunderstanding, imagination, sleep and memory. None of these activities is good or bad. In fact, all have the potential to trip us up or help us on our way. A gift of practicing yoga is the ability to understand which mental function is occurring at any time. Through our practice, we gradually gain a better understanding of how our minds work.

Which leads me back to my moment of panic and my choice. My yoga practice has helped me to see my spiraling thoughts and their accompanying emotions for what they are. I can choose to continue to allow myself to be carried away by my imagination – creating futures, manufacturing worries, and building elaborate, fictional pathways to similarly imaginary outcomes. Standing in the lobby of the high school, I’d already gotten a taste of the resulting agitation that comes from focusing too heavily on the unknown.

On the other hand, I can choose to recognize these fantasy futures for what they are – figments of my imagination. Instead of being carried away by my imagination, I can choose to rely on the facts actually surrounding me. I have a bright, well-liked son in the middle of eighth grade. He still has a lot of growing up to do. But, then again, don’t we all? While I hope and pray that he matures in time to successfully navigate high school, that growing up is not mine to do. I can clearly see that my work is figuring out how to best support him a he grows. I realize I have plenty of work of my own to keep my hands full. There is no need to borrow any from him. 

While the fact of my son’s transition to high school and beyond remains, I can simply choose to focus on the real work of being his mom. In doing so, I am choosing to wait with him to see what his future holds. There is a certain peace that comes from making this choice. It’s a job I know, after all. Even in uncharted waters, I know how to do this. If, as a clueless, first-time mother (who could not imagine my baby walking let alone taking engineering in high school), I somehow managed to wait for him to sleep through the night, certainly I can handle this.

One moment at a time …
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