This is his simple request whenever he needs my attention and he sees that I’m otherwise engaged. This happens most often when he’s battling for my attention with my Blackberry.
He battles Buddha-style, speaking very quietly. “Mama, look at me. Mama, look at me. Mama, look at me.” The earnest voice combined with brown eyes and eye lashes that any girl would die for is more than enough to bring me – kicking and screaming sometimes – into the present moment. Which is where Leo always resides. In the moment.
As I’ve shared on Facebook, to live with Leo is to ride an emotional rollercoaster. Earlier this week, he delivered the following three sentences one after the other in the space of five minutes:
“Mama, I love you SO much.”
“Mama, you’re the meanest mommy in the whole world.”
“Mama, you’re a genius.”
So, it’s fair to say that Leo knows how to live in the moment unlike his Mama who has a Masters in Multitasking.
This past couple of weeks, the assignment from a group coaching program I’m participating in was “do to do”. As in, write to write, paint to paint, photograph to photograph – as in for the sheer joy of it, the process of it not for the outcome or product. Not to write a book. Not to sell a piece of your art. Not to get a new photography client. No, simply to do that thing for the joy of that thing. The purpose of the assignment was to move our focus from the end-product to the process itself. To live as Leo does. In the moment.
When I reported back on how I’d done with the assignment, I admitted that I’d found it really tough. I found myself to be a slippery character. There would be a fleeting moment here and there where I felt like I truly was in the moment and then, POW, I found myself buried in thoughts/must-dos/shoulds/don’t forgets and I’d try desperately to get back in to that moment which, by then, was already history.
“We inhabit ourselves without valuing ourselves, unable to see that here, now, this very moment is sacred; but once it’s gone – its value is incontestable.” … Joyce Carole Oates
All children seem to reside perfectly in the moment, moving from impulse to impulse, knowing instinctively what they want to do at any given moment. I don’t know many adults who retain that innate ability. At some point during the journey from childhood to adulthood, we lose touch with our instinct to know what it is we want to do. It shouldn’t be that difficult to know what we want to do with our moments, our days, our months, our lives. And yet it is.
At some point, whether it’s due to traditional education or the way our parents raise us (even with the best of intentions) or what we see our peers doing, we learn to practice doing what we think we SHOULD be doing rather than what it is we WANT to be doing. We practice that day after day until we become very good at it.
There’s a concept called “deep practice” which is what people do who want to master a skill – musicians, writers, painters, Olympian athletes, world-class litigators. They practice and hone their craft hour after hour, day after day. It’s estimated that it takes 10,000 hours of deep practice to truly become a master of your craft.
I think that many modern mothers have logged those 10,000 hours mastering a way of living and mothering which although it appears to be serving our families and societies on one level – in that kids get to school on time (mostly), get to all their various after-school activities, are washed, have their teeth brushed (sometimes), dressed (Leo, rarely) and grow into functioning adults for the most part – does not serve us (or them) well at all. It depletes who we are, diminishes who we really are as individuals and short-changes our children who only fleetingly get to meet their real mothers. They experience fragments of who we are as we manically try to multi-task our way through days, years, and, ultimately, lives. Our attention is split so many times that we forget what it feels like to be fully present.
Daniel Coyle talks about deep practice in his book “The Talent Code”. He explains what happens to the neural pathways in the brain when we practice a skill. What neuro-science has quite recently concluded is that it is possible to teach an old dog (where the old dog is your brain) to do new tricks. The more time you practice the new trick, the thicker the coat around that specific neural pathway becomes and the more easily you can perform that skill and to greater effect.
“Mama, look at me.”
My mini-Buddha Leo has wisely helped me to recognize that I don’t want my children to ever feel second-place to a Blackberry (where “Blackberry” can mean any distraction/thing/activity that is less meaningful to me than the truly important people and things in my life).
So, I’ve started to deep practice putting down my Blackberry. I move away from the Blackberry and toward Leo. I get down on my knees and look into those hypnotically deep brown eyes and am present with him. I don’t want him to ever conclude that a small machine is more important to me than he is.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a business to run (which I chose to do to enable me to stay at home with my children – trust me, I get the irony) and there are times when I genuinely need to take care of that business. I’m starting to deep practice carving out times in my day that are all about work and to be fully present in those moments. I try to do that away from my children so that they don’t have to fight for my attention with an inanimate object.
You can replace “Blackberry” with any pattern of behavior you recognize that you don’t like in your existing life and replace “Leo” with anything you’d like more of in your life.
The interesting part about deep practice which can sometimes cause us to give up trying to master a new skill is that you will fail at first. In fact, let’s be honest here, you will fail repeatedly. But each time you will “fail better”.
I’m getting better at this “in the moment” living. I’m not a master of it yet but I’m practising it, often with Leo’s encouragement. In those moments, when I stop the chaos in my mind, it’s a little like having been stuck in Niagara Falls and then finding yourself in calm water. I see why Leo likes it so much.
Now, if I could just get him to keep his clothes on, I’d really be on to something.
Have a great week!