Our dishwasher died last summer. For the next few months I was forced to wash dishes by hand. (First world problem, I know.) Sometimes my 6-year-old did it, sometimes the babysitter, sometimes my husband, but mostly it was me.
The threat of impending dishwashing as I watched plate after plate, bowl after bowl, and cup after cup stack up in and around the kitchen sink consumed my thoughts.
Uck. I so don’t wanna do the dishes.
It’s gonna take forever.
Why am I the one who’s stuck doing this?
Worrying about having to wash the dishes drained me. It sucked the energy right out and made me feel frustrated, unhappy, and tired, and therefore, even less encouraged to wash them because, See? This is exhausting.
The thing is, when we got down to our last fork, our last glass, our last square inch of available counter space, I’d suck it up and get to work.
And you know what?
It might have taken 30 minutes to wash the dishes, but it left me, remarkably, no less energized than when I started, unlike the anchor that thinking about doing it was.
Moms are perpetually told that we should be present, appreciating every minute with our kids, that we should be engaged and engaging, that we shouldn’t numb out with wine, weed, or Wi-Fi. But you know that’s easier said than done. You’ve tried, and it’s hard. You try again and again, but nothing ever sticks. You wonder what’s wrong with you, how all those other moms make it look effortless, and if maybe you’re not cut out for this gig.
Our minds like to stay busy, and if we don’t enlist them in meaningful or fulfilling work, in being present in the now, in embodying peace, then they, like bored puppies, will find ways to entertain themselves—ways that tend to be destructive.
Our minds are adventurous spirits at best, ransacking marauders at worst.
They like to travel into the past and stew in regret, guilt, shame, sadness, bitterness, resentment, and resistance, picking scabs, rubbing salt in wounds, and exploring that which may better be left unexamined.
When you beat yourself up over a low parenting moment, your mind is time traveling. When you resist the loss of the body, self, or life you had before kids, your mind is time traveling. When you resent your partner’s freedom, or feel the bitterness of not being appreciated, or can’t seem to forgive the friend with whom you had a disagreement, your mind is time traveling.
Your mind likes to travel into the future, too, of course. There it worries about whether the baby is getting enough to eat or if she’s pooping normally or if she’s going to the right school and what might happen if she’s not. It stresses when your child is not walking, like others his age, or talking, or writing his ABCs. It feels anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills, do family activities, go to that yoga class. It fears that your relationship with your partner will never be enough or that you won’t figure out what do to with your life. It gets scared. Really fucking scared of things that might happen but for which there is no proof will or are even likely to. It’s also stubbornly convinced that you’ll be happy when . . .
With all this going on in your head, it’s no wonder it’s so damn hard to be present in the moment—in all the moments. To feel peace, joy, non-judgment, wisdom, acceptance, alignment, and creativity. To observe and experience, without naming, criticizing, or play-by-playing, the world around you and your place in it. To act when it’s time to act and be still when it’s not. To be there, really there, with your kids, your partner, your friends, yourself.
What would it be like if your mind weren’t on a mission to busy itself with unnecessary thoughts, to deplete your spirit, to drive you insane?
What kind of space would free up for you?
What would you feel?
What might you accomplish?
Who might you be?
But I need to have those thoughts, I hear you say.
Ask yourself just how true that really is.
This is the first post in a 3-part series on presence. Here’s Part II.
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