It’s the close of another busy day at school and I head the car into the endless stream of homeward bound commuters. It is about a twenty-minute drive from the school to home. Suddenly I realize that I have only about 5 miles to go and cannot remember at all having driven the middle portion of the route. The effect is startling and sobering. I force my full attention to my driving and continue on my route.
Has this happened to you? Perhaps some similar situation has occurred in which you could not recall having processed a necessary activity or step in your day? It is usually an activity or step that occurs with regularity, one that is performed daily. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, instead of being mindful, we have allowed ourselves to be distracted. Often it is not unlike sleepwalking.
In his book Awakening to the Sacred, Lama Surya Das addresses the underlying principle of the awakened being, that of living in awareness, of knowing what is going on around oneself moment to moment. He then suggests 10 simple cues within one’s day that can serve to remind us “to pay attention by creating moments of mindfulness.” These are not exotic rituals but everyday activities, such as brushing teeth or walking through a doorway.
This very same principle can be applied in our daily lives with our children. To be fully present, to be fully on cue, to be fully there when encountering your child can serve as one of the greatest gifts your child can receive. How often do we let the cares of the day distract us from these little people? How focused are we, really, in our contacts with them? With a nod to Lama Suyra Das, I would like to suggest 10 mindful moments drawn from your daily routine that you, as a parent, can use to bring your awareness and focus totally into the present moment while being with your child. You can establish each moment or activity as a call to focus, to mindfulness.
- Mindful waking
Be fully awake yourself, ready to awaken and greet your child with a happy, fresh attitude. Perhaps establish a simple breathing or stretching exercise routine that you can do together each morning. Encourage your child to be someone who greets each new day eagerly as the gift it is. Of course, you can only do this authentically if you have practiced it yourself.
- Mindful dressing
This requires preparation. The child, with your assistance as needed, can select clothes the night before and place them in readiness. If your child can dress herself, build in ample time to allow her to do so at a child’s pace. (Many disagreeable moments centered on the child’s selection of clothing can be alleviated if the closet and drawers contain only clothes that are acceptable and seasonally appropriate. This way, she is free to select from any items in the closet or drawers.) A mindful portion of dressing is recognizing the body’s response to room temperature. Is it cold, warm, chilly? Perhaps there is an opportunity to luxuriate in the feel of velvet on skin, or the warmth of cotton tights on chilled legs. The focus is not fashion but the awakening of the senses to the moment.
- Mindful eating
Sit and enjoy breakfast together. Pay attention to the smells, textures, and colors, of what is eaten. Savor each bite. Express gratitude for food that nourishes and for the opportunity to commune together. Create a moment for sharing a meal and conversation. Assure that no television, radio or newspaper is distracting you from this time together. Place all work concerns on hold for these few precious minutes.
- Mindful tooth brushing
Do this alongside your child. Ritualize it. Once the brushes are loaded, pay full attention to the task at hand. Brush with care and with focus. After rinsing, look at each other in the mirror and smile broadly. It’s a new day!
- Mindful departure
Careful preplanning is needed to do this with calm and focus. In great Montessori style, establish a time for departure and adhere to it; establish a storage place for all items needed at departure time – lunchboxes, keys, jackets, hats, mittens, and tote bags. Remain completely focused on closing up the home, on having all items in hand, on walking out of the door and on entering the car. Do not allow your mind to jump ahead to traffic or work concerns. Pause for a brief moment and consider the start of a new day with preparedness. Share these thoughts with your child.
- Mindful arrival at school
Stay completely alert and focused during the commute. While parked and waiting for your child to be greeted, be present for him. Enjoy this moment together. Observe what is happening about you: who do you see, what do you see, what is the weather like? Have the cell phone and the radio turned off. Engage in light conversation. Some children enjoy playing an “I Spy” game. Perhaps read a portion of a book that “can be continued.” Stay alert, upbeat, and positive.
- Mindful departure from school
Be on time. Greet your child cheerfully, authentically. Put your office mates, friends, and cell phone on hold. You have not seen or spoken to your child for much of the day. This is the moment to reconnect. Relish in the warmth of her smile and her delight in being with you again. Be ready to listen. I often recommend to parents that they park a good walking distance away (completely out of the departure areas) and walk to the classroom to meet their child. A jaunty walk back to the car, fully absorbed in one another, is a great way to reconnect. It also builds in downtime for the children as they move from the classroom environment to home, much as adults often need downtime between work and home.
- Mindful recreation
Build in a small portion of time in the evening for you and your child to play together. It can be a jog around the block, a short bike ride together, building with Lego’s, or coloring together. Whatever the choice, clear your mind of any other thought and concern and totally focus on your child and the activity. Laugh and smile together. Relish the moment. Observe your child and delight in his delight.
- Mindful bath time
Establish a time and routine. Enjoy the child’s pleasure in the water, the bubbles, and the play. Sing together. Enjoy conversation together. Recognize the washing away of cares and residue of the day and marvel in the perfection of a small child.
- Mindful bedtime
Once again, establish a time and routine. Indulge in cuddling and inhale the fresh, sweet smell of your child; enjoy the warmth of her small presence. Be fully present as you process your routine, paying full attention to how you are saying goodnight. Are you irritable, rushed, impatient? Or are you soft, warm, attentive? Recognize that this moment is all there really is.
These are activities we encounter daily. It is how we do them which matters. The essence of mindful living is captured in the following story from Awakening to the Sacred: “The Buddha was once asked ‘What do you and your disciples practice?’ The Buddha answered, ‘We sit, we talk, and we eat.’ The questioner was confused. ‘But,’ he continued, ‘doesn’t everyone sit, walk, and eat?’ ‘Yes,’ said the Buddha, ‘but when we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.” This is the practice of being present!
Charlotte Kroger is the Consultant/Mentor for Children’s House Level at Austin Montessori School, Austin, Texas. Following her 14 years of leading Children’s House communities in both Oregon and Texas, she retired, only to return shortly after to her current role.