Beginning with Halloween and through Chinese New Year, it is the busiest time of year for our family. We have all the holidays as well as two birthdays. Add in other friend’s birthdays, holiday get-togethers and travel to the already full schedule of school, violin and life in general, each day is filled to the brim; each moment bursting. And you hear coin phrases to slow down, minimize, say no; appreciate it all because it goes by so fast, enjoy and soak it all up! So many expectations of yourself, your family members and the desire to have it all go seamlessly without tears. Lots of effort in trying to meet (and exceed) everyone’s expectations; to please, to help, to create memorable memories. Otherwise, why do we even do it all? What other option do we have aside from staying under the covers?
Last week at my son’s school they had a mindfulness expert come and talk to the parents. It was very hard for me to be present while working on the two and three minute exercises. I shared my story that I’ve tried these “mindfulness” techniques but they never seem to work for me, for our family. And then in one of the last silences of the meeting, I realized that I spend more time talking about this narrative than actually practicing any of the techniques. They don’t work because there is no muscle: I haven’t exercised them with any sort of consistency. It’s been easier to throw my hands up and say it’s hopeless; nothing works! Stress is permanent, cooking dinner or the bath time tension is here to stay.
Then I jump to the story that this holiday season is going to be so hard and so busy; let’s race to the end of it. Then things will be get better, slow down. Again, spending more time dreading/anticipating than actually getting tasks done, enjoying it or being present.
To be truthful, there really aren’t many things that I would take off my list or say no to: it’s all good stuff, all the things I like doing this time of year and it’s pretty paired down. But here’s my goal: to let go of perfection (who cares if we use the stained napkins or if the bunt cake sticks to the pan or the kids talk with their mouths full?) and to seek out the pauses in my mornings, afternoons and evenings. Moments of presence, moments of quiet. And these moments will not be found in large quantities, separate from the daily demands. To me, this realization is key. Waiting to have time to be mindful means it will never happen. Seeking out the pauses inside the busyness is what’s required.
From the pictures, you can tell these pauses and moments have been there, I just haven’t been present enough to acknowledge it. Instead I’m waiting until the next thing that needs to be done. There is no habit or muscle built to seek out these minutes of time consciously. I don’t recognize that in these little moments, I can pause, settle and be still. I’ve always been waiting for a large swath of time to be reinvigorated, re-energized, restored.
Because I’m choosing to host Thanksgiving, celebrate birthdays, travel to family, see dear friends, I also choose to start a different narrative. One that acknowledges that it will be stressful, at times overwhelming; something will be burnt or forgotten, feelings may be hurt, but along side it all is the notion to take a pause, breathe and look around in little moments of my day. Be present. It’s the one tradition I’d like to cultivate this season and pass on to the next.