Act well, without attachment to the results.
Act well, without attachment.
I can think of no greater opportunity for mindfulness meditation than working with children. Perhaps people with different affinities find other forms more conducive to their natures, but to practice living in awareness in the moment, enacting compassion, and reflecting on my own reactions, I just have to step into my living room when the two two-year-old boys are running wild and the two infant girls are doing what infants do. What does this moment call for with this particular child? What about this one?
But kids are fickle creatures. One day they like taco meat; the next they cry when it’s in front of them. Sometimes they run to the bathroom to have their teeth brushed; other times they start flailing on the floor at the mention of a toothbrush. They run up to you to give you a hug one morning, and the next they don’t even look your way. It’s how it goes. My role is to stay consistent and expect certain actions even when emotions are all over the place. I told my sister the other day, ‘You can’t judge someone’s parenting based on the kids’ behavior; but you can judge it based on how the parents react to the behavior.’ If I were to base my own behaviors and emotions on those of these kids, we’d be a hot mess of a house. Someone needs to have some perspective.
And yet. Sometimes I get so tired of having to remind the two-year-olds that we don’t throw our cups and that we don’t bite each other when we’re upset and that we don’t get our way just because we can scream the loudest. Or I get jealous that the child chose to sit on someone else’s lap today, forgetting that I was the chosen one just yesterday. Or I feel the anger swell up inside when the child kicks me in the gut or shouts, ‘Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!’ in my face. I’m right alongside these kids on the roller-coaster of emotions throughout the day, and it can be exhausting.
But here’s the thing: whereas the kids act on those emotions, I am allowed to notice mine and act differently. I repeat the same phrases with the kids, over and over every day, to give them alternatives to the impulsive actions they usually resort to as a way of processing what’s going on inside their little bodies. They can say, ‘It’s okay,’ ‘Please,’ and, ‘No, thanks,’ for a whole host of situations. I’m basically teaching them mantras, and part of the mantras’ charm is that they aren’t magic. The boys don’t get their way just because they said them, but they are learning how to communicate better.
I, too, have some mantras that I repeat in my head to help me manage my own emotional load. I need as much reminding throughout the day as the kids do how to respond to the various situations. ‘It doesn’t matter’ comes in handy when I’m holding onto something that would be best left released. So many things that end up in my head don’t actually matter, and if I can see that, then it helps to sift through all the thoughts. Worrying about what someone else is doing in another part of the world? It doesn’t matter. Trying to enforce a rule that is less about safety and more about my own convenience? It doesn’t matter. Guilt over something I ate or didn’t do or wish I had done better? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.
Another go-to mantra of mine is, ‘Every moment is a gift.’ One version of this goes, ‘Each moment is an unrepeatable miracle.’ Wherever I am, I use this phrase to remind me that I am where I am supposed to be. Every moment with any of these children is not to be taken lightly; I will never be able to get it back once it’s passed. It helps me not to be overcome with stress for not doing something else or with guilt for not being with all the children all the time or with jealousy when someone else is getting their time in with a certain child. That moment is a gift for someone else, and I have to accept that. In fact, it’s much easier to find joy when I can accept that even the moments not my own are miracles nonetheless.
The last, and possibly most repeated mantra, is, ‘Act well, without attachment to the results.’ It’s a shortened version of a line from the Bhagavad Gita. This is the only mantra that refers to behavior, but it also deeply affects my motivations. If I am holding or chastising or simply spending time with a child, I want it to be in love. I’m acting on the one hand, but I want what’s inside to align with that action. And then I have to release my attachment to whatever happens after I act: my hope that the child will love me back or will act a certain way; my disappointment when a situation doesn’t turn out how I’d hoped; my expectations of anything, at all, in general. All I can do is to act well. If I’ve done that, I’ve done my job. The rest will sort itself out. Or it won’t. But it’s no longer in my control. My control stops with me, and I have to learn to be ok with that.
Sometimes I think I could write a book about what happens in my day-to-day life. So much happens; time goes by so quickly; it can all feel so hectic. But there’s always time for reflection. I just have to grab it. These children won’t be here forever; neither, for that matter, will I. I want what happens here to count. I don’t know what will happen later, so I will try and try and continue trying to act well now. And when I don’t, I will try to act well in the next moment.
It’s the best I can do.