After Levon conks out and the bed time stories are over, I lay with Lulah as she smooths out the wrinkles of her day and drifts into quietude. Then, either I fall asleep with her, or the desire to finish my evening tasks overwhelms me and I give the sleepy girl a kiss and roll out of bed into the evening. Sometimes even when I think she’s asleep she catches my arm and says, “Stay here, Mamma.”
The first few verses of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describe the aim of yoga as the increased (and eventually perfected) capacity to direct the mind in a singular chosen direction. “Restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind”, as well put by one concise translation (You can read it here, if you like – it’s straight forward, no commentary).
Here lately, I’m feeling that challenge.
In Winter, life gets smaller, somewhat simpler, or at least more interior. It’s easy to forget the breadth and depth of our labors and life outdoors. The life of a Mamma in our house revolves largely around cooking, cleaning, and cooking some more, with more cleaning to follow. Then there’s keeping our selves clean, and reading with little minds, and playing with little bodies, and sleeping. Over and over.
But now, there is Spring coming on, and our lives go to the outdoors, and the outdoors follows us back in. There are seedlings growing, demanding hours of tending, transplanting, and nudging along as necessary. There’s ground to clear and compost to spread, and Nature’s clock is ticking. Rain approaches, better hustle! But don’t plant peas when the ground is too cold, they’ll just rot. Not to mention the facts of the Hunger Moon, when mice, moles, and voles are searching for food in the ground. Peas are yummy to more creatures than us.
So, my days boomerang round and round, in and out the doors, watching laundry and dishes pile up as I pull back the winter debris from the garden, then zooming back in to knock those piles down, for a few hours anyway. Water seedlings, open the greenhouse, hang the laundry, make lunch. Is it time write a blog post already? Wow.
It’s nearly impossible to stay still this time of year. It’s equally difficult to keep my mind in one place. While I water seedlings, I find myself thinking about the yoga class I will teach that evening. While I wash dishes, my mind wanders outdoors to the compost pile and where I’d like to put it. Lulah asks questions and I have to be asked twice before I think to answer. Oops. It’s not that all those things I’m thinking about aren’t important to consider, but thinking about them while working on something else that could stand my attention is a mistake.
Here begins the description of the work of yoga
Stay here Mamma. There’s enough to see right here.
I’m out in the greenhouse, clipping back the extra sprouts of some heavily seeded flats. The air is thick and warm and the seedlings are beautiful shades of green. There are fine hairs on the new leaves of the spring kale sprouts. If I don’t pay attention, I’ll snip the wrong stems and make poor choices about which seedlings to keep and which to discard. So, I focus.
It’s a wonderful experience. Even though my focus is on the greens, my breath steadies and grows deeper. It’s as if all the peripheral experiences that might otherwise distract me are absorbed and integrated into the act of focusing. I hear birds singing, and Levon warbling one of his long stories to the blue sky as he plays in the yard.
Stay here, Mamma. This moment will not last forever. It’s fullness is sufficient unto itself. Everything else will return in its own time.
The baby greens are piled up in a stainless steel bowl, saved for a salad sometime soon. When we eat them, I will remember that sun kissed task with enjoyment, and allow that memory to enrich the enjoyment of the meal.
In time, Levon will grow up and no longer play around me. I will remember his little body, his small voice, his stories, with tender pleasure. It will be important to remember all that I can.
When I am not focused on the task at hand, whatever it may be, I am robbing myself not only of the pleasures of the present, but also of the future. If I am inattentive when I wash dishes, my dishes don’t get clean. If I am not attentive to the work of the garden, I will make mistakes, and pay for them, most likely in reduced food supply or food quality. If I am not attentive to my children, I will not know them as they are now, and will be less capable of accepting their changes when those changes come. If I miss this moment, I will not have it to remember, later. Paying attention pays off.
There will always be too much to do. There will always be an excuse, maybe even a good one, to rush onto the next thing, or think about something other than the work happening right now. But being dragged around by the wild monkey of a mind diminishes the quality of my life and works, internally and externally.
I never accomplish the entirety of my to-do list, and probably never will. And I rarely succeed in taming my wild monkey thoughts for sustained periods. But every time I do, it’s worth the effort.
As I drift in dreamy quiet in Lulah’s little bed, I try push aside ideas about tomorrow, regrets about what didn’t happen today, worries about what could have been or might be. Instead, I welcome into my senses the breathing of my child beside me, getting softer and deeper as she sinks into sleep. There are the stars visible through the cracks around the curtains, and night noises beyond. It’s good to stay here.