Moving to a Different Beat

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Embracing a slower perspective. 

 

We all have an internal metronome that ticks to a different rhythm. If I had to rate my tempo relative to other members in our household, I would be in the faster end of the scale. It goes without saying that I am intolerant of those who live on the other end of the continuum. For many years, I have paced anxiously, yelled out constant reminders, updated with a minute-by-minute countdown or just seethed with rage as I watched the clock.

 A wise and dear friend once told me, not to be hasty in my pursuit to speed the rest of our family up, as they have been strategically placed in my life to recalibrate ones overall pace. Much like a herd of emigrating elephants, we will be forced to slow the speed of the entire herd to ensure everyone moves together. I groaned as she cautioned me.

After several years, working on accepting her sage instruction, I found myself deliberately downshifting – reducing our scheduled activities so we could just spend larger periods of time at home with no planned agenda or allowing larger time intervals between appointments. I began to take a more positive perspective towards down time and behaved in a less adversarial manner towards my slower moving family members. I witnessed that during the days where our busy school-going children had the opportunity to be bored, they pulled out board & card games, lazed around to read books for leisure, reconnected with each other in imaginary role play, doodled or just day dreamed. Similarly as adults on the fast paced treadmill of modern life, we could clock in more sleep, take time to prepare an elaborate meal, catch up on reading or participate with the kids in their games.

I read books such as Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow and similar literature about the rise of the Slow Movement. I would also ask questions of my more snail-like family members to explain to me how they felt when they were rushed, or to describe their reasons for their pace. When hurrying them along at meal times, I once was told “I like eating slowly.” I realised that more often than not, it was a deliberate decision to take their time, rather than an inability to move quicker or even sprint, as I had previously assumed.

I began taking the time to welcome the alternative perspective. That personal shift in itself made me smile, as the wisdom of this friend’s advice, so many years ago, echoed in my head. The impact of our varied speed inadvertently results in greater connections with and a deeper appreciation of my loved ones. I have reflected in horror that if all of us were as time-anxious as I am, how dysfunctional a family we may have become.

While I still have lapses in enlightened patience and find myself trying to quicken up the pace, I am able to respond more constructively to personal observations of “You know me, I’m just slow” with “ You are not slow, you choose to be less time conscious.”

The Burden of Self-Reliance

Asking for help isn’t always as easy as we think.  

Some of us willingly put our hand up for help and subscribe easily to the saying “many hands make light work”. Others might persevere for a while longer on their own before seeking reinforcement. We seem more likely to respond to requests for help when it is sought happily, out of incapability or couched as an invitation to join in a shared activity.

I have observed that the point at which my children feel ready to ask for assistance varies. For my self-reliant child, seeking assistance appears to be tied to a sense of failure, self worth or pure embarrassment. And so, she would sometimes wait until she is at a point of complete frustration, exploding with anger and shattered by self disappointment, these words are expressed desperately “Can somebody just HELP me?!” .

I notice during such an outburst, many of us seem less willing to assist. Mostly, we start scattering like ants spritzed by bug spray, afraid to be hit by more shrapnel. Our spirits appear unable to deal with the surge of energy; we prefer to leave her to combust alone. She starts spinning into a spiral of rage and annoyance.

During quieter moments, I have encouraged her to consider her own perspective towards the concept of seeking assistance. I explain that putting your hand up for help is not an admission of defeat. It may be purely functional, that of physical ability (not being able to reach) or even simple logistics. Give others an opportunity to be in your life as you are in theirs, open yourself up to greater resource. We exist together as a family, a community and a team. We are here to support each other’s success and we can achieve so much more collectively than alone. Be grateful for a chance to share your load.

I am optimistic for her as she grows in self-awareness. We celebrate the times where she walks up to me calmly and says “Hey Mom, can I please get your help?”. I jump up quickly and stand deliberately at attention, ready to be deployed “Yes ! What can I help you with ?” and she smiles wryly at me, conscious that she’s making progress with another one of mom’s self-improvement projects.

“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.” Zaid K. Abdelnour

The Practice of Sitting Quietly

Meditation for non-gurus.

I would like to say that I meditate religiously, but I do not. I admit that I try to find some time in each day to “sit in quiet”. Some mornings though I hear my name being yelled and then a child will burst in through the closed bedroom door, mouth open, halfway through a verbal request or inquiry and suddenly stop when they realise I’m sitting cross legged, eyes closed, breathing deeply. On occasion, they have come to join me. They may giggle uncontrollably to cheekily distract me, audibly whispering as they find a comfortable position on the floor. My heart smiles during these moments. It piques their curiosity and in the imitation they are somehow led to experience the tranquility of being in my space.

Apart from crashing my meditation sessions, I have set aside time to guide them through short five to ten minute relaxation journeys. I began ambitiously with plans for weekly sessions and it quickly became another forced commitment driven by me rather than initiated by them. I have forgiven myself for not being able to commit to that ambition and I have forgiven them for moving, fidgeting or getting into strange positions instead of lying flat on their backs limbs outstretched and unmoving. If we are interrupted with snoring as they have fallen into a deep slumber, I will continue to guide their consciousness to the close of the session. There are some moments during our sessions, which are just hilarious. I recall a time when someone kept clearing her throat and at the end of the session, she confessed to trying to get my attention to ask a question but was too afraid to speak.

We practice it when we feel a calling. It is especially helpful during times of elevated stress or anxiety that may cause sleep restlessness or before a presentation, examination or performance. It has introduced an awareness of breathing, that they can instill calmness within themselves or just imagine a “happy place” and be present to that feeling. We may do visualization as part of the session – I may suggest they picture themselves calm, focused and clear minded in preparation for a presentation that they are making to an audience at school the next day. I have allowed them to lead their own visualisation and for children, they may choose to verbalise the pictures in their head aloud – “I am walking through the woods with white flowers, polka dot toadstools, tiny fairies and Hello Kitty … “ It is a wonderful opportunity for them to explore their imagination and for us to reconnect with ours.

I no longer aspire for them to be regular practitioners; instead I have set an intention for them to know meditation, as one of many tools and techniques useful to them as they navigate through life. They are never too young to be reminded of its powers or start practicing. It is not just for bearded gurus in robes seeking enlightenment in the mountains. Neither need you be a guru to lead them.

Prayer is when you talk to God; Meditation is when you listen to God.                                – Diana Robinson

Equilibrium

Recognising when I need self love. 

I have lost count of the number of times I have found myself bent over a snoring child, in the darkness of a quiet bedroom, showering her face with butterfly kisses while tears stream down my face. My heart filled with regret after a day that I have been overly negative or critical; nagged, berated and yelled too much.  I make heartfelt promises to be a better mom tomorrow and beg for her understanding and forgiveness. My child stirs. I accept this as an acknowledgement that she has heard my confession. I sit on the floor, in silence, as the weight of guilt lifts gradually from my aching shoulders. Eventually I get up, walk away slowly and close the door behind me, gently.

I don’t always have great days. It is especially on these exhausted evenings that I am reminded about balancing my passion with personal limits. While it is tempting for the mind to allow thoughts of self-pity or spin convoluted excuses, I will usually put aside all non-essential tasks and spend time with me. I have learnt to recognise that when I have given too much of myself, my spirit is not in equilibrium. I react explosively; I lack patience and speak hurtful words. Yet feel awful guilt afterwards.

It is time for some self-love. I may take a warm bath, sing my heart out to some great music or a lose myself in a good book, apply a luxurious face mask or start writing. On some evenings, I sit in meditation to bring myself back to my center. I allow thoughts to come and go, try hard not to dwell on them or pass judgement. When an emotion is reluctant to leave, I sit with it and feel deeper into it. Messages, images and physical reactions that occur during such quiet sitting cannot always be rationally understood but our spirit heals nonetheless.

Life is as much a journey of detachment and healing as it is of unconditional love.