My journey with mindfulness, at least in a deliberate form, began when I was about 19 years old. I wrote a report in psychology 101 about meditation, mostly centred around a book called The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. Herbert Benson was a medical doctor who framed transcendental meditation in a way that western people would accept it.
I was one of those people.
I never talked about it, or called it “transcendental meditation,” I just did it. That’s because the universe, at the time, was trying to convince me meditation was crazy. It was a time when the Natural Law Party just arrived in Canada. The well- publicized and ridiculed practice of yogic flying was weird enough to make me avoid the brand “Transcendental Meditation” altogether.
Hilarious! Yet the science in Benson’s book was convincing. A few years later I found the same practice gaining popularity, using the term “Mindfulness.” (Thankfully, there was no bouncing). I was willing to go with that. Jon Kabat Zinn wrote a book called Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. I read it over and over again, usually a chapter at a time, so each topic had time to enter my everyday life.
The New Zen Masters
Now “Mindfulness” has gained a lot of popularity. There are apps like “Muse” and “Headspace.” My wrist watch tracks minutes of “mindfulness” right along with my steps, exercise, sleep and heart rate. It’s a really big deal. Electronics are an interesting tool, but no, the new Zen Masters are not apps or robots.
My own meditation practice has waxed and waned over the years, and I was looking for a little inspiration. I found out I could travel to the US attend a mindfulness retreat where I could meet John Kabat Zinn. After contemplating the time away from my family, I decided not to go, but there was his book on my shelf. It was right there, right now. Free. And so I opened it up.
You know, they say that when a pupil is ready, the teacher appears. When I opened the book this time, a chapter appeared that I had never noticed before. It was called “Parenting as Practice.”
I would have to give up the retreats, at least for some time, I said to myself that I could always return to the contemplative setting when my children had grown up enough not to need me around all the time…
This chapter, at least in my consciousness, did not exist before. I had no reason to read it. But now here it was, telling me to stay home. Affirming that my priorities were correct.
But there was more.
This is how I saw it: You could look at each baby as a little Buddha or Zen Master, your own private mindfulness teacher, parachuted into your life, whose presence and actions were guaranteed to push every button and challenge every belief and limit you had, giving you continual opportunities to see where you were attached to something and to let go of it. For each child it would be at least an eighteen-year retreat.
It was at that moment I walked into the next room and sat with my kids. Just like before I would read the chapter and let it permeate into my daily life. And so the retreat goes on with my two kids, my personal Buddha and Zen Master… And wow, there is no limit to what they can tell me.
By Gary Barone.