Monday, June 22, 2015

Moms and Dads Wait -- A Lot

Jacqueline Kramer

As I sit in the waiting room while my granddaughter, Nai’a, has her weekly piano lesson, it occurs to me that all over the world, moms and dads wait. They wait on cold, wet benches during soccer practice, they wait at markets to procure ingredients for the evening meal, they wait in cars, they wait in lines, they wait on couches during lessons and doctors visits, and they wait outside on dusty roads. Waiting is a universal factor of being a parent and homemaker. It is a factor few discuss, except occasionally, and then only with contempt. Waiting can be mind numbing. We tend to see it as a waste of time, a waste of what could have been a real life. Because of these many hours spent waiting instead of utilizing our talents, writing our novel or moving up the ladder of success, parenting is often viewed as the bottom of the occupational food chain. Women, particularly Western women, may feel they are watching their lives slip away from them like sand through open fingers.

There is a Zen practice called shikantaza that has some features in common with waiting. Shikantaza translates as just sitting. Bonnie Myotai Treace describes shikantaza as, “The brightest pain, the dullest ride home on the subway: just mountains and rivers proclaiming the awakening way. Nothing excluded.” This is how shikantaza works: with eyes closed or open, wherever you find yourself, just sit. Don’t try to do anything. If a thought comes, watch the thought as it enters and exits. It doesn’t matter if the thought is pleasant or unpleasant, kind or cruel. Adding judgment to the thought takes us far away from the present moment. Thought is just an amorphous event passing through your field of awareness. If a sound arises, hear it until it fades, if a challenging feeling comes, feel it without turning away or distracting yourself. If a pleasant feeling comes, share the space with it without trying to make it last longer. Everything just happens within a field of consciousness that watches without our making any attempt to change, understand or judge the content. In other words, we just sit. We become a field in which things happen. There is no doing anything, no visualizing, no noting, no focusing, no trying to be more or less anything. All is welcome. We are like a tree or a boulder. This is an openhanded, openhearted, intimate way of being with life just as it is.

The difference between waiting and just sitting lies in how we frame our experience. When we think we’d rather be somewhere else, rather than where we are, we are waiting. We are waiting until something in our environment changes, until our life begins again. When we are fully surrendered to, and intimate with, our surroundings and the state of things as they are in the moment, then we are just sitting. We do not wait for things to be different than they are in this moment. We enter the moment full-heartedly. It’s that simple. But simple does not necessarily mean easy. Our habits of aversion and attachment are strong. We like the sound of bells and a crackling fire but are not so fond of the sound of sirens or crying babies. We like our life to be moving in the direction of greater success rather than towards dissolution. We like our comforts and try to avoid cold and heat. But when we practice allowing everything to be just as it is, each moment becomes a precious jewel. The dissolution is just as interesting and beautiful as the success. Cold has an alive bite to it, hot brings an animal sensuality. We no longer imagine we are wasting our time while sitting in a car or standing in a line, we are alive! And the world all around us is rich, interesting and full of vitality. Each moment is like a drop of sea water under a microscope.

The practice of just sitting has been engaged in by monks in chilly quarters for centuries. They wake up at five in the morning, have tea, and begin just sitting. Their practice continues on until late in the evening. Just sitting, or just being, can also be practiced by busy parents while waiting in doctor’s offices, by those who are bedridden, by those who are in small prison cells, by those whose lives are falling apart all around them and by those who live in the lap of luxury. Surroundings, any surroundings whether noisy or quiet, do not adversely affect this practice. Moods, mental clarity, physical well-being or even unhappiness, do not have any adverse impact on this practice. Just sitting meets us where we are and has the simple power to put soccer moms living in the fast lane in alignment with mountain monks in quiet wooden buildings.

In order to make good use of this meditation in the midst of our busy lives it helps if we set aside time to engage in uninterrupted practice.  Just sitting for an extended period of time enables us to develop concentration. Whether we go on weeklong meditation retreats or sit each morning before the kids wake up, time spent in uninterrupted practice enables the mind to settle in, to get its see legs. Once we’ve found a place of intimacy with the moment and experience acceptance of things as they are, we can bring that same intimacy and acceptance into more challenging circumstances. We become comfortable with the field of awareness and can watch as it operates in all parts of our lives. We come to embrace every part of our self, every part of our life, and find joy without limitation, even as we wait in the car while picking up the kids.


Photo credit:
Photo 1: courtesy of David Gabriel Fischer Photography via Compfight cc 
Photo 2: courtesy of David Gabriel Fischer Photography via Compfight cc 
Photo 2: courtesy of David Gabriel Fischer Photography via Compfight cc

Jacqueline Kramer: Author

Jacqueline Kramer, author of Buddha Mom: The Path of Mindful Mothering and 10 Spiritual Practices for Busy Parents, has been studying and practicing Buddhism for over thirty years in the Sri Lankan Theravada tradition and Zen for eight years. When she became pregnant with her daughter she applied Buddhist principles to her pregnancy, birthing and mothering to good effect. This led to her books and teachings. In 2008 Jacqueline received the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award at the U.N. Day for Women in Thailand for her work teaching Buddhism to mothers. She is the founder and director of the Hearth Foundation, www.hearth-foundation.org which offers online lay Buddhist practice classes designed for mothers, a monthly newsletter and other resources for today’s mothers seeking spiritual support and inspiration. Hearth has students in Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Europe, the US, Canada and throughout the world. She is past vice president of Alliance for Bikkhunis, has been on their editorial board, and actively supports female monasticism. Jacqueline has studied koans with John Tarrant and Joan Sutherland, written on femininity and Buddhsim for Turning Wheel and other magazines, and developed teachings for laywomen which are informed by feminine spirituality. Jacqueline is a mother and grandmother. She lives in Sonoma County, California.

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