I worked for a Buddhist magazine for six years. While I never officially considered myself a Buddhist, I jokingly referred to myself as “Buddhist by diffusion” when practitioners asked me how I identified. Working for and with the Buddhists was in many ways the most chill job I’ve ever had. At noon every day, someone would ring a gong and we’d turn the office phones off, slip out of our shoes, and gather in a circle with cushions to meditate for 20 minutes.
We preached mindfulness, non-violence, and living in the moment — all universal philosophies that self-help books have raked in billions of dollars trying to peddle. That time in my life was the closest I’ve ever gotten to stasis, to feeling like I am actually paying attention and appreciating life as it unfolds. I had little breakthrough moments — during meditation, on Buddhist retreats, and during mundane activities like washing the dishes — where I felt like I was fully present and in the moment. For the rest of my waking moments, though, I exhaustively and obsessively think about my to-dos, my aspirations, my wants and needs, everything that’s happened in the past, and all that I yearn for in the future. Without the Buddhists as my 9-to-5 guide, I found it very difficult to truly exist in the present moment and just be.
Until I had a baby.
I wouldn’t necessarily compare having a baby to the calm and peaceful evocations of sitting under a bodhi tree in complete silence focused only on your breaths. A newborn brings total pandemonium. I recall looking in the mirror, perhaps for the first time after my baby was born, and seeing huge bags under my eyes, hair that looked like a tornado had ripped through it, and a shirt with at least three different types of stains on it that I realized I was better off not trying to identify.
The cries of a newborn in the middle of the night are not exactly zen-inducing.
And yet, sitting in the glider chair with my new baby, the warmth of our embraced bodies and the rhythm of rocking lulling us both, was transformative.
In those moments, I found myself not thinking about my to-do list at work or housekeeping tasks. I was not anxiety-ridden thinking about when he might wake up crying, or how to comfort a baby who cannot use his words to tell me what’s wrong. I was so physically exhausted that my brain could not process new thoughts. I simply sat. Completely present. I was aware of my breath moving in and out, and not focused on much more. I inhaled the scent of my baby, pressed my lips to feel the softness of his tiny, warm head, and felt more fully in the moment than I had ever been.
As my son has grown into a tiny person who can walk and talk and play, the joy of living in the moment has taken on a new form. I have found myself totally immersed in his little world of make-believe. There are times when I realize I don’t know where my phone is because I haven’t looked at it in a long time (a far cry from my usual habit of constant check-ins). I don’t know what time it is or what else might be happening around me. I am so focused on making fake soup with my son on his play kitchen stove or launching Hot Wheels cars off his ramp that the rest of the world melts away. I’m not thinking about the bills due or the dozen emails waiting in my inbox or how it’s almost bath time. I am simply living in the moment. It is pure joy. It is Buddha-nature to the Nth degree.
I have learned that there is nothing more centering, more reality-invoking than spending time with my baby. It doesn’t matter how horrendous my day was, how distracted I feel, how many times my phone dings; when I look into my sweet son’s face, those distractions dissolve, and I am in the moment, fully present, soaking up every last bit of that fleeting little’s one’s attention I can get.
When he’s old enough that he no longer wants to hang out with his mom, I can go back to seeking nirvana elsewhere.