November 22, 2011

Dear Screaming Child on My Airline ( AKA the Six Steps of Meditation).

Anyone who has read any of my articles, or knows me at all, knows that I have a veritable gaggle of children. Boys, to be exact. Nature hasn’t seen fit to bless me with daughters.

My children are rowdy, loud, slap-fighting-as-fun individuals. I’m used to it. Well, mostly. And not without the occasional mishap or cocktail to see me through.

So what was I thinking when I dragged all of us, plus another family 4 hours round trip to see Amma, the hugging saint, knowing that there would be a multitude of childless devotees? I was thinking I wanted to see Amma, to introduce my children to darshan and quite selfishly: to be there to receive blessing myself. God knows I need it.

And so there we are, in the throng of people, when a brief meditation is led, and to my pleasure, my children (aged 2, 7 and 10 years old) were pretty quiet. A tough task for small people who don’t know what is going on, or the meaning of meditation. I mean, you can’t ask a two year old to meditate. And at that moment, the very moment I was telling myself how good all these children were behaving,  a woman in front of us proceeded to shush  them, and pretty much spend her entire, blessed, rare time of meditation with her guru, focusing on the inadequecies of my children and/or myself.

I should have felt embarrassed. I should have reprimanded her. But you know what? Instead of feeling angry, or embarrassed, I simply felt compassion. She hasn’t yet discovered that silence in on the inside. This is something that many parent-yogis may already know. How else do you find sadhana (practice) when you’re surrounded by small, needy, demanding people? (Pun, intended).

And so it wasn’t a big deal. We all received darshan, and prasad (blessed food) and all were happy.

But in reflection, this evening, I meandered in my mental wanderings to an earlier conversation with my sister about screaming children on airline flights. Quite the leap, I know. Pesky chitta, dragging my internal thoughts all over the place.

In the past I have seen women holding screaming babes on airline flights and felt nothing but compassion for them, even as I hear others complaining, whispering (well not really, whispering,  practically yelling: I hope that kid is not next to me!) I have been you, sweet mothers.  I have been blessed with compassionate compatriots who talk to my children the entire flight, and who console me that flying is hard on baby’s ear drums, that it is painful and that the mom is suffering too, incapable of calming her child, that even the five year olds get bored.

Hell, I get bored. And uncomfortable. Really, flying just sucks, whether you’re an adult or a child.

But what about you? This is the classic flight-from-hell, no? Some five year old kicking you in the back the entire time, mom oblivious and 3 hours turned to nightmarish hell?

My most nightmarish passengers weren’t, in fact, children, but adults. Those that picked their noses openly and enthusiastically. Those that kept “falling” into my lap. Farts, burps, squashed-against-the-window-have-to-climb-over-you-to-get-out-dear god-I-am-choosing-an aisle seat-next-time…kind of flights.

But let’s assume you’re stuck with a screaming, back-kicking child for the duration of your flight. You could just sit there, growing increasingly more angry. You could wish silent influenza on all of them. You could  make it ruin your day and then go home and tell everyone you know about it and therefore make them a part of your anguish.


You could  turn around and strike up a conversation with the family behind you. You could offer support, a pen and paper for drawing, snacks, or play hide and seek. You could  find a way to connect and therefore identify with people you would otherwise hate.


You could take this moment to see how impervious you can become to distraction. Let it be a meditation. Let you not be moved, no matter the environment. If we had to all organize the world to be just right before we could sit for meditation, we would never get there. Many of us never do.

If you had only six steps to meditation, let me propose that they are this:

1. Sit down.

2. Breathe. More accurately, become aware of your breath. It’s been there since birth, it is affected by and conversely can affect your mind. Breathe. Focus.

3.  Stay seated. I know, it’s hard, because:

4.  Your mind is a mess. Congratulations, you’re human. Accept that it’s a mess, and it’s not going anywhere soon. So sit.

5. The world isn’t waiting for you to be finished. Kids will scream, phones will ring. Sit. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to be. Stay put.

6. Start all over from 1 again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. That is the yoga, above any asana.

That’s it. You see, children are like little animate examples of the spiritual journey: we start out loud, easily distracted, easily upset, quick to point the finger at others for our inequalities or ineptitudes, ignorant of the magnitude of what is going on around us. Then, slowly, we grow up. Physically, and hopefully,  spiritually.

And we realize the silence is inside, that kids are kids, that moms are people too, and that we are responsible for our experiences in this world.

Or at least, we hope to. You see, the world is not experiencing us, in so much as we are experiencing the world and that experience is what you make of it. You can use it to harbor hate and judgment or you can use it as an opportunity to connect and grow.



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