Magical Journeys

From Mayhem to Mindfulness. 

 

At 8 o’clock in the evening, I can be heard herding our children up the stairs to their bedroom with an enthusiasm to match a team of bouncy cheerleaders on the sidelines of a premiership game – “C’mon girls! Let’s GO! GO! GO!”

We race up the stairs together – “Last one to the room has to turn off the lights!” Squealing and screaming as we sprint, I rush them through our bedtime routine. They have hardly climbed into bed when I hurriedly peck their cheeks, fluff their pillows and pull blankets over their wriggling bodies. I rudely interrupt them midsentence, as they begin to share a story with me about an incident earlier in the day, assuring them that I will definitely make time to hear their exciting recollection tomorrow. I close the door a little too loudly, as I holler through it “No more talking. Lights are out. See you tomorrow. SWEET DREAMS! Oh…. and say your prayers!”

Once in the safety of my own bedroom, breathless from the bedtime-routine-triathlon of “run, tuck-in and kiss”, I may grab my phone and send a message, “OK. Kids are in bed. I’m on my way!” or I may collapse in a heap, exhausted from the day’s activities. In the meantime, right upstairs, I am sure, there are three little hearts still pounding from being scurried into bed and voices being deliberately stifled afraid to be heard. While they eventually fall asleep, it really isn’t the most ideal preface to a peaceful night’s rest.

Inspired to create better pre-bedtime habits at the start of this year, I initiated guided meditation-mindfulness-relaxation classes for three young pajama-clad participants. I have been impressed with their attentive enthusiasm. Armed with a variety of simple visualisation, breathing and meditation techniques, each evening I quickly reflect on the day’s activities, events or behaviour and make a decision if we will just do a few minutes of conscious breathing or embark on a “magical journey” with a longer scripted visualisation exercise.

There are many styles of meditation and a plethora of literature expounding its virtues. For me, meditation is the calming of the mind, body and spirit, so as to encourage self-awareness and connections with our inner being. I find guided meditation or visualisation journeys to be the most effective for our young beginners. It allows them to be freely and individually creative while holding their own quiet mind, focusing attention within themselves, while their thoughts are encouraged with some imagery and storyline. I often choose to add one affirmation or a positive statement to develop their sense of self or emphasize positive ideas or feelings such as: I am special. I am brave. I am real. I sleep in peace.

We now end our days hearing a calmer version of ourselves, with voices that are deliberately paced and positive. It feels right. It feels effortless. It feels more like unconditional love.

Making the Lifesaver Redundant

Staying strong amidst waves of discontent

I cannot count the number of times I have made threats or laid down ultimatums that I am downright convinced I will follow through on. Yet as our children appear to be drowning in the ocean of misconduct, heading straight towards tragedy of consequence, the lifesaver in me is awakened. Albeit under tumultuous internal conflict, I grudgingly toss in the life ring. Just as soon as I do, I am filled with grave disappointment, profound regret and undue annoyance with myself. It’s too late. The opening to communicate a consistent message is now adrift; the opportunity for a lesson to be learnt has been lost. Mischievous smiles can almost be seen while they forcibly prevent the sides of their mouths from turning upwards. Breaths of relief are suppressed, exhaled instead as a whisper. Sometimes an arrogant, knowing smirk overtakes their evidently guiltless faces, taunting me with “Yeah, I knew you wouldn’t see it through!”

I spend the next few minutes, hours or days in self-flagellation depending on the magnitude of the lost opportunity. Only allowing self-forgiveness to creep in with a definitive promise that I will be unyielding and resolute from this moment on.

When the lifesaver emerges too often, my apparent influence fades further into background noise and my credibility diminishes.

This year I have decided to turn this entire unproductive cycle on its head and reschedule this lifesaver’s roster. With a revised strategy to not “sweat the small stuff” and only taking on selective and necessary battles, I may offer that role a permanent redundancy.

A Message from Nature

Staying open to messages communicated in all forms

She proudly announced that she had a book to share with me. It was the first book she checked out from the school library this year. I was excited to see it. She said she would leave it on my desk and I could take my time to read it uninterrupted after she and her sisters were in bed. She added that it would definitely make me feel “Awwww”, a feel-good book. Knowing her well, it would either be an inspiring story or have adorable illustrations.

Once the house settled into calm and quiet, I walked into my study and picked up the hardcover book on my desk. I smiled as I read the title out loud “A Little Book of Sloth” written by Lucy Cooke, a National Geographic explorer, zoologist and author. And yes, as my child had predicted, my heart murmured an “Awwwww” as I admired the cover, which was a photo of a baby sloth cuddling up with a plush bunny toy.

The first paragraph of the book read “I love sloths. I always have. I love their sweet smiles, slo-mo lifestyle and innate hugability. I believe that being fast is overrated and that the sloth is the true king of the jungle.” A smile washed over my face and I chuckled out loud. If she wanted to send me a message, this was a very direct one. Our child with her sweet smile, deliberate slowness and love for hugs were undeniably analogous to how this animal was being described.

I unhurriedly read every single word and took time for thoughtful pauses between sentences. The book described a sanctuary in Costa Rica, the Sloth Appreciation Society, various facts about and endearing photos of these slow moving mammals. I heard myself laughing when I read that sloths spent seventy percent of their time resting and did everything upside down. I took note of the fact that despite their idleness, they belong to a prehistoric classification of mammals known as the Xenarthra and their evolution can be traced back to 60 million years ago. They are survivors in spite of their slow mobility. They were a misunderstood creature and had been labeled less intelligent and even lazy, as a result of being named after one of the deadly sins.

“ You’ve made your point.” I uttered almost audibly, as if my child was standing in front of me. My heart smiled broadly: as nurturing parents, we are our children’s sanctuary and the founders of their appreciation society. As their caregivers, we have much to learn from their ways. We are champions of their cause and will guard their survival with our own lives.

As my head lay on my pillow later that evening, I had trouble falling asleep. I was not fully able to recollect the exact words from one of her favourite stories as a young child. I took myself out of bed and up to the shelf of their treasured books and read out loud:

“ “ I am relaxed and tranquil, and I like to live in peace. But I am not lazy.” Then the sloth yawned and said “That’s just how I am. I like to do things slowly, slowly, slowly.” ”

– Eric Carle’s Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth.

 

The Luxury of Conversation, Magnificence of Time and Glory of Shared Observation

If only we could live everyday like we were on a road trip, we would discover more of each other and ourselves.

Over the recent holidays I decided to be a follower and let the travel planning be initiated and plotted out by someone other than me. It was deliberate. I found myself completely relaxed, as I was not personally vested in ensuring we kept to any plans or schedules. I didn’t own time. I didn’t care, as much. I could flow with the eventualities. I did not judge. I did not have an opinion. I did not have a preference. And if I did, I chose not to speak them aloud. It was refreshing. I was present in the moment, not obligated like a GPS to live one step ahead of the now.

With a simplified travel itinerary, we spent many hours on road trips. During these journeys we sang with abandon in a sound proof bubble, we laughed hysterically at the silliest jokes like drunks on a Friday night at a noisy pub. We fought like fox cubs vying for an inch of space in an overcrowded den, almost drawing blood as we kicked and scratched. We enjoyed quiet moments where most of us had fallen asleep, hypnotized by the hum of the engine and rocked to bed as the wheels revolved. We posed “what ifs” ranging from the preposterous to the poignant, and learnt just that bit more about personalities we have shared a home with for over ten years. We interrupted fervently, listened intently, sparred verbally and shared long silences, quietly gazing out of our own windows, lost in reflection.

There was no talk of homework, deliverables or schedules. There was no groaning over unfulfilled pledges, obligatory responsibilities and debating priorities.

I loved getting to know myself and my fellow life travellers better through these unending conversations – verbal observations, expression of ideas, cryptic questions and the “why” and “why not”s.   We shared stories of the past and we hypothesized about the future. We met each other as people, souls and kindred spirits. It was a road trip, a shared journey of conversations.

Today is the first day back at school. I greeted each of them in the afternoon with the cursory “How was your day?”. They grunted an equally perfunctory reply. The unspoken “any homework?” question hung like a grey cloud in the energy-sapped atmosphere. Our conversations are once again clipped, interrupted by reminders of the time and what’s next on the to do list. We hurry our words and condense our stories and thoughts. The luxury of conversation has been taken away. At least till the weekend. If not, till the next term break.