As my daughter nears her first birthday and several friends welcome new babies, I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep. Specifically, the lack of it. In a way, the exhausted haze that comes with caring for a tiny person is perfect for meditation. When you’re too tired to focus on anything, at least you’ve successfully stilled your mind, right?
Let’s face it: sitting back for a peaceful meditation session can seem just about impossible with a baby demanding your attention. But fortunately for sleep-deprived parents everywhere, there are more than a few ways to sneak meditation into our day.
The baby wants to rock to sleep. She also thinks eye contact means it’s playtime. Your challenge: close your eyes and soothe her to sleep without dozing off yourself. Try focusing on your breath. Five counts in, five counts out. My kid falls asleep when I reach 300.
It's never done, so you may as well treat laundry as a way to give yourself one tiny pat on the back at a time. With every baby sock that finds a match, a little more order is established in the universe. Choose an affirmation, like “This onesie is clean,” to appreciate each article of clothing that’s no longer covered in avocado stains (or worse). Just like thoughts will always be there, so will laundry. Just acknowledge the sock, fold it, and let it go.
Bend over to pick up the baby and lunge back to grab a thumbtack off the floor. Something metallic under the couch catches your eye. Kick back your other leg and lower your belly to the floor to rescue a credit card, then wonder why you’re thinking of your last yoga class three years ago. OK, so you can’t really count your cleaning routine as a sun salutation. Movement is still a good way to find a calmer mental state. Strap the kids in the stroller, pop in a pair of earphones, and let the rhythm of a walk slow your racing mind. [Editor’s Note: there’s a meditation for that.]
Using an object as a meditation guide is a time-honored practice. Your toddler is an ideal teacher. Consider the slice of strawberry he’s poking. Its rich color and delicate heart shape are inspected from every angle. Not to mention that he needs to touch each seed one by one before he’d dream of taking a bite. If strawberries aren’t your thing, watching the coffee drip for 10 minutes while breathing in and out, in and out, is another way to mentally regroup. [Editor’s Note: there’s also a meditation for that.]
The toddler is playing with a racecar on your back, the baby is emptying your purse, and the cat is making hairball noises. There are still three errands on the to-do list, but the floor feels as cool as a hotel pillow against your cheek. Congratulations! You’ve reached a coveted meditative state. Relaxed awareness lets you acknowledge busy thoughts or sensations without feeling a need to dwell on them. Take it all in from your vantage point on the floor. Then let each thought drift away. You can deal with miniature tire tracks on your thigh later. [Editor’s Note: there’s a meditation for this, too.]
Parents who claim they never want to escape are almost certainly lying. In my house, witching hour strikes around 4 p.m. My daughter is at her crankiest, and my coffee buzz has worn off, so I am, too. Worst, I really do need to clean the counters now because there’s no space to start dinner. I set my phone down and ground myself in the moment by muttering, "This is my life." The tough-love mantra keeps my feet shuffling forward. It also brings me back to the moment and serves as a reminder that even if I could switch places with the Instagram traveler with her feet in the sand, I wouldn't do it. I'm almost positive. [Editor’s Note: you guessed it—there’s a meditation for this, too. Try Headspace for Kids with your crankiest kid. And let us know it goes.]