Slow Down During Meals
These days, few families take the time to have meals together, and I believe this is a great loss. Having at least one meal together every day has always been high on my family priority list, and though my children sometimes complained, wanting to be like their friends and eat on the run, when they were older we ate together at least one night a week, and they complained if we didn’t.
Humans are built for ritual. It is the ritual celebration of what is good in our lives, of our connection to each other, that makes life rich. If you don’t do it already, I’d like you to consider having at least one meal together every day as a family. Responsibilities for cooking, cleaning, and atmosphere can be rotated or divided up. Keep it light, let the kids have a little fun, and try to find some funny stories to tell. It’s wonderful to start the meal by saying grace, if that’s comfortable for you, or just thinking creation for food and togetherness.
When we ate together only once a week, holding hands and giving thanks for our connection, our safety, and our food was important to us all. After dinner, we sometimes watched a movie or played board games or just sat around and talked for a while. The kids’ friends and sometimes one of my friends or family members were invited and treated with the relaxed acceptance of family. It got our week started in a way that made us all feel part of something bigger, and reminded each of us how fortunate we were to be so loved, regardless of what else was going on in our lives. Small children like it when the same blessing is said every night. For children, ritual means safety, stability, and continuity. Having table decorations to celebrate holidays or the seasons added festivity and remembrance to the meal.
When the kids were adolescents, naturally rebellion had to come out around this ritual. The kids would refuse to say the blessing, or when it was their turn, say something silly. the boys would find some way, at some point in the meal, to start talking about something gross or disgusting to the adults. At first we tried to stop and control it, but that just led to a tension-filled meal that was no fun. Finally we let it go. Then it was a kind of family joke. As the boys grew older, they would wait until the very end of the meal to bring up something totally tasteless, just to let us know they hadn’t for gotten — and we’d all laugh. Eventually that little “tradition” went by the wayside as they grew up and got more interested in the food and the positive energy of our family being together. By taking the long-term view, keeping the end in mind, I allowed them to work through this period in their lives. Sure enough, it eventually just died away.
Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang says,
“One of the best images of Tao is to be like bamboo,or a bow. You can feel the weight here on your shoulders. But instead of resisting, you bend like a bow and then spring back then the weight releases. Instead of resisting the energy, you store it up and use it as you recoil.”
Unfortunately, it often seems that just about the time life is going smoothly, we find some way to get caught up, once again, in our unhealthy thinking— speeded up, worrying about a bill, concerned about the future, regretting the past, resenting something that happened at work, or simply consumed in our to-do list for tomorrow. There are an infinite number of ways to get off track. However, they all have one thing in common: They are the result of our own thinking. When we recognize that we are thinking, however— when we remember that we are the thinker responsible for the feelings we are experiencing—we then have the capacity to wake up and bring ourselves gently back to the moment.
Slowing down allows us to see aspects of life that were previously hidden in the frenzy of a busy mind. It allows us to open to the radiant, joyful feelings that reside within . We find that beneath the vicissitudes of our thoughts lies a spaciousness, a peacefulness of being, that is incomprehensible to a mind caught up in analytical thinking or a mind operating too quickly. When our mind isn’t racing to the next series of thoughts or holding on tightly to old ones, we gain access to the peaceful feelings of our innate mental health.
Those of us who have children know how quickly they grow up. One minute they’re keeping us up at night, and in what seems like the next minute they would rather be out at night. One minute all they want to do is spend time with us, and the next we are the last people they want to be with.
Yet despite knowing how short is the time we have with them, most of us seem to speed through our parenting years, almost wishing them away. We tell ourselves, “I’ll be happier when the infant state in over”; “I’ll be relieved when we’re out of the terrible twos”; “It will be so much better when the teen years are over.” But, ironically, as our children grow up, we convince ourselves of the opposite by rewriting our personal history. “It was so much nicer when the kids were little”; “I miss the baby stage”; “I long for the days when my kids took me seriously.” In short, we miss most of the present moments of our parenting experience by focusing our attention on thoughts of the future or memories of the past. Our minds are spinning a mile a minute, trying to get everything accomplished. We go back and forth between believing that “ someday” will be better than today, and convincing ourselves that “yesterday” was better than it really was. Rather than immersing ourselves in the present moments of our experience, we keep ourselves one step removed from life with our own thoughts.
Slowing down so powerfully enhances the raising of children that parents who find raising supposedly impossible teenagers will find it as wonderful and rewarding as raising a tranquil eight-year-old. By learning to live in and appreciate this moment, regardless of how it may be unfolding, instead of reliving memories of the past or anticipating moments yet to be, you too can transform your experience of parenting into a peaceful one.
Exercise for Principle Two
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and relax each part of your body.
- Take two deep breaths. As you inhale repeat, “slow,” and as you exhale repeat, “down.”
© 2015 Vimala McClure