My Meditation Instructor

Today I drove down to Indianapolis for a meeting. It's about two and a half hours from my front door to that of my coworkers, and always a good opportunity to catch up on some thinking.

Sometimes I listen to the local NPR station on the way out of town, then pick up the Indy affiliate as I get close enough to the city that it comes in decently. Other times I just listen to CDs, preferring to hear familiar songs instead of world events. Sometimes I drive in silence, but not often.

I've taken to running the GPS as I drive lately, even though I know the path well. And I like seeing when the device expects I'll arrive, even though on this particular run I always seem to better the estimated time by half an hour or so. (I suppose it's because my preferred route is all two-lane roads through small towns, and the open stretches between each town provide an easy opportunity to cruise a few mph above the posted limit. The car I take -- an elderly Acura handed down from Mom -- fairly glides down these threads of pavement, though I'm not much of a speeder, really. Usually I just go 8 or 10 over, give or take, preferring to take in some of the scenery and enjoy the wide, flat fields out my windows.)

My phone is also on, of course, awaiting any news from home about Veda, or Penelope, or I suppose Vince or the cats, though there's rarely anything to report with those guys. Or, you know, work might call.

And there are the windows to mess with, plus the sun visors, and this car happens to have a sunroof which can be powered into whatever position you like - open, closed, tilted, whatever. It's all quite comfortable once you fiddle with the electric seat motors and get into position.

And, of course, since it's a work day I'm also jotting things down from time to time as I drive -- pressing my paper against the steering wheel as I scrawl down whatever phrase or idea seems promising enough to transcribe later. On the passenger seat sits my reference materials: printouts from my coworkers' emails, client-approved briefs, research dug up by astute account folk.

So really, while driving oneself down open highways between the city where one lives and the city where one grew up and knows like the halls of his house (I'm actually not that familiar with the back of either of my hands, so that aphorism doesn't quite apply) would seem like a simple task, I've managed to complicate it with perhaps a dozen different distractions -- an assortment of stuff to adjust and record and connect and propose, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

At one point I was steering with my left knee while using my right hand to pick up the phone (Lope was calling, asking when I'd be home) and my left hand to turn down the radio, and wishing I had an extra finger to deactivate the cruise control since the truck in front of me had signaled a turn and would soon be slowing down, all while eyeing the GPS and planning to have it route me to the nearest gas station. (The gauge was reading pretty low.) My papers were slipping and blowing around the cabin, brushing up against the water bottle I'd filled and brought along for the journey.

I didn't think of it at the time -- all I thought was something like, "What a pain in the ass; I hope this call is important" -- but it was really a blown opportunity for me to place myself in the moment and focus on one simple task: driving the car. Even driving the car and taking the call would have been okay.

But I insisted on jumbling things up with three electronic devices, two mental tasks (listening to music and brainstorming on client work) and a host of mechanical dials, knobs and sliders. Here I drove five hours today through pretty Indiana countryside and damn near missed it.

And I thought of this phenomenon later this evening, while Lope was out at Yoga class and I was putting Veda in bed for the night.

(I know it's not really tucking her "in" when there are no real covers, and all you do is place her gently onto the crib mattress and align her stuffed animal beside her head, hoping she'll nuzzle in and drift off, but I really don't like typing the phrases "putting the baby down" or "putting her to sleep." Both sound far too euthanasiac for my taste. Though I suppose "putting her down" could simply involve insults, like "You can't read!" and "Your algebra skills are sorely lacking!" It's difficult to see how this would facilitate sleeping for anyone.)

She was pretty tired, and had finished her bottle -- well, turned away from it a couple times in a row -- so I was singing to her on my shoulder, patting her little bottom in time with the music. Gradually, gradually, she was letting go of the day and laying her head down on the burp cloth I'd strategically placed over my shirtsleeve. Her eyes were closing, and I could feel her little legs stopping their twitching and kicking, as her fists unclenched and arms started to swing lazily at her sides.

I thought about the sun still coming into the room -- It was only 7:30 or so, but bedtime is bedtime -- because I had neglected to lower one of the shades all the way. I thought about the fan blowing on us both, the air conditioner I'd set to just circulate air instead of refrigerating it, now that the house is all opened up for this week's temperate weather.

I thought about the bottle and how much was left, wondering where we stood on the continuum between so much drank that she really needed to burp and so little drank that she wouldn't be able to sleep very long. (When she turns away, bottle time is over; that's just how it goes.)

I thought about the clock I couldn't see in the next room, wondering if it was time for Lope to come back from Yoga or if she'd only been gone a little while. I wondered when Veda had gone down to sleep here in the room, so we could at least attempt (though it never works) to guess when she might be awakening next.

I thought about the emails I hadn't checked yet, having been away from my computer most of the day and unable to connect to the office network.

I thought about this blog and whether I could or would post it or not, wondering whether there was anything interesting to say today.

And then, at last, I thought about what Penny had said in the car yesterday, as the two of us discussed happiness and I apparently forgot something I must have read a thousand times before.

"Well, you know what the key to happiness is, right? I mean, everybody says it." She looked up into the rearview mirror, making eye contact with me from the back seat where she sits beside Veda.

"No," I said, shaking my head after a few moments' thought. If everybody's in agreement on this, I ought to know, right? But I didn't.

"Living in the present moment," she said, and went back to amusing the little one. "If you can do that, you can be happy."

Ah yes. I remembered now. I'd read that somewhere too, and thought to myself, "Well, fantastic. I can do this incredibly important and impossible thing -- attain happiness -- by just doing this other incredibly important and impossible thing and somehow 'living in the present.' Lot of help this book is."

Still, for a moment the task wasn't difficult at all. I rocked Veda, and breathed in deeply for each soft verse I sang to her, and exhaled slowly as the words floated out. I looked down at her face, watching for the pretty pale eyelashes to bat back open, watched her eyelids twitch gently as she drifted off. I listened to the fan as it blew from the window onto our skin, cooling us a little and drying the damp sweat where her skin laid against mine.

She was asleep enough to try laying her down in her crib. But I hesitated.

Why rush, after all? Penny wasn't due back for a while, I knew -- even though I hadn't checked the clock since I came up the stairs. And Veda had all night to sleep; this was hopefully just the beginning of a good long snooze. As soon as I was done here it would be back downstairs to check emails and confirm meetings and delete spam, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

So I stayed. There in the rocking chair. In the darkened room, not too dark with its one still half-opened shade. With Veda breathing deeply and ever more slowly on my chest. Listening to my sung verses fade into whispers, then just long breaths. Feeling the rocking chair slowly drift into stillness, its repetitive motion no longer needed. And I sat there. We sat. Stayed. Listened.


It undid all the miles of fidgeting and projecting and reflecting, just those few moments there in the room with Veda. And though I knew that in a bit I'd be laying her down, hoping she wouldn't wake up and cry and start the difficult process of going to sleep (she did), and though I knew that in a few years I'd be miles away from these days of soft rocking and repeated lullabies, and looking back happily if with a bit of sadness over what had come and gone, I didn't think much of either of those things. Not at the moment.

I was able to sit with her and just be calm, and just be there. Then.

It was a gift she gave me, I think, and it was just what I needed, and greatly appreciated.

And I was able to post that blog after all.


Valarie said...

I need to get there fast so I can meet her because she looks so different from the last pictures I saw of her! Time is flying! She is not far from being 5 months!

Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

"Listening to my sung verses fade into whispers, then just long breaths. Feeling the rocking chair slowly drift into stillness, its repetitive motion no longer needed. And I sat there. We sat. Stayed. Listened."

Reading those words, I could feel the tension in my temples and the muscles in my lower back relax. I needed that.

josh said...

Really a great post. Like liquid. I need some of that medicine myself these days.

Stephanie Ladd said...

I just stumbled upon your blog from Goddess Leonie's site and loved this little zen moment in your life, and also your beautiful baby's pictures on Flickr as well as your commentary. My little girl just turned 13, and the cliches of enjoy every moment because... it just seems like yesterday she was... is so true! You and Penelope and Veda sound like a great team. From the Stephanie, Rob and Chloe team in North Carolina.

Stephanie Ladd said...

correction: cliches... are so true. Tee-hee.

Colin said...

Thanks so much for your comments. It was a great relief to get this post written down -- I know from the wisdom of all you veteran parents that these moments will be memories before I know it.

I'm even happier to see that it's lightened some other people's days as well.

Being mindful of the wonders in your life and being able to share them with others... there's not too much better than that.

Anonymous said...

I think it's easiest to be in the moment when you're with a baby, because *they're* so in the moment by nature...but I could be biased since she's my favorite niece ever. Either way, I'm glad you got a chance to slow down & enjoy your precious daughter, and her breathing patterns, and her eyelashes, and her twitching & relaxing. She is such a wonderful gift.