I often stand before the window over my kitchen sink. The ledge has become an altar. You will discover different treasures there depending on the season of the year and of my life. Right now summer is blazing, and I long for gentleness and aliveness. There is a clear stone given me by my five year old friend Mia who moved away. I think of her and lift her to the light when I see it. Also, a nautilus shell fossil I found on a weekend away with my husband. Bleached white, no colors distract from its winding shape and timelessness, reminding me time is long and mysterious. And to care for my marriage alongside myself and our children. Another stone has the word faith carved into it because I need it. A delicate dried rose from a bush we planted for our oldest daughter’s baptism sits next to the stone giving me hope for her. As I stand before my window, I pause and breathe. Then turn back to my work.
Before I had children, I longed for the balance of contemplation and action in my life, but I couldn't find it. I worked tirelessly as a graduate student then social worker to solve problems or meet others' needs. Sounds a lot like parenthood, I know. Interestingly, becoming a mother taught me about balance, about living slowly with awareness, about finding my center. My children became my guides. Waking in the stillness and quiet of the middle night to feed my baby, I found the wonder of undistracted attention, connecting with another without words or rush or schedule to follow. My first centering prayer happened in those precious, quiet hours. As toddlers, too, my girls taught me pause and attention. One cannot move quickly with toddlers! I learned to stop, breathe and let the putting-my-shoes-on-by-myself happen. Attempts to force my time frame just invited frustration and overwhelm. Allowing the 10 FULL minutes to get from house into car, I learned acceptance and slowed down. Much of being centered lies in those two things.
My girls saw everything: black bug on the floor; snail climbing a spring green blade of grass, leaving its glistening trail of slime; tiny yellow flower blooming on weeds in the park. Each thing worthy of pause. Each sacred. This noticing happened with their whole bodies. In the kitchen especially. We felt the sticky-finger pressure it took to slice an apple with a corer, smelled cinnamon sprinkled over pancake batter, witnessed the alchemy of dry and wet ingredients tumbled into a new substance. Picking sun warmed, tiny tomatoes from our small—mostly neglected—vegetable garden and tossing them into lunch connected us to the planet, our bodies and the moment.
A rhythm, too: Eat and play (their work) and rest. Eat and play and rest. Eat and play and rest all day long. I vowed to sink into the silence of their rest—dishes, laundry and work be damned—and found my own longing for balance met. My inner wise child knows her need and demands attention in impossibly irritating ways until I surrender, sit with her and find peace. My girls also taught me that through their pleas for attention. The unshakable pull on my leg. The constant interruptions when I talked on the phone or sat at my desk. The volume turned up and up and up until I faced my child’s need squarely and PAID ATTENTION. Sighing my way to the floor for ten minutes of cars or reading or tickling brought relief for us all. Then other work could resume. The power in the listening and responding.
Now my girls are 15, 17, and 22. I learned their lessons well. Moments of centered awareness offer themselves constantly. A deep belly breath pulls me to my center. Noticing the slow and steady changing of the seasons grounds me and expands my view. My senses offer me the present moment in time and space. And opening to and following children still leads me to the still point at my center.
Possible paths to the center:
Create a home altar
Create rhythms including nature
Bring the outside inside
Listen and engage
Be still, quiet and aware of the Sacred before eating slowly together
Ask, “What gave me life today?”
Say good morning and thank you to begin of each day; say good night and thank you at the end
Pause in the presence of beauty