-by Karen Maezen Miller
How I wish I had read this book the minute I became a Mom. Using a calm and often humorous tone, Maezen Miller leads us along her “crooked path” of motherhood as a Zen priest. Her stories transcend religion; I felt a deep connection with her and other readers of her book. To the extent that I struggle with stress, self-doubt and worry as a parent, I was comforted that I am not that different than someone who became a Zen Buddhist Priest.
Chapters are little essays that show how the ancient guidance of Zen practitioners apply to every day challenges. Titles like “Self-Discipline”, “Be Yourself”, and “Making Change” are favorites that I visit again and again.
My Main Takeaways
1) I spend too much time managing our kids. When I think about Summer vacation, I plan for camps and activities to enrich and entertain. When I’m cooking or working, I think of a project to set out. I need to let go of needing the kids to be entertained or managed and let them just be.
2) The mindless tasks of motherhood leaves a lot of room for us to think—maybe too much. “I should be more patient” or “When will the dishes ever end?” The real “workhorses” of the family are our children and their physical, behavioral, and cognitive transformations. Yet, they wake every day raring to go–free of thoughts and self-doubt. Yes, we all carry a load in our hands, but the heaviest load is in our heads.
3) Zen students often participate in meditation retreats called sesshins. The goal of these days away is to clear your mind, to set free your self-preoccupation, and to see things not as good/bad but as they are. Days follow a very rigid schedule and participants often find it hard to go from being their own timekeeper to being told by bells whether to come or go. After a few days, though, participants tend to feel free. They experience how keeping the routine is a path for healthy life. Regular meals, regular sleep—and the benefit of a free mind. The simple ceremony of ritualized activity dignifies our ordinary life and a feeling of security for our children.
I Tried It
It all sounded great, but I had heard some of it before. Be “present” or “mindful” with your parenting. You need to “live in the moment” and spend “quality time” with your kids. I am hardest on myself as a mom for not being able to realize this state very often, and the tricky thing about having kids is figuring out how to manage time.
But I do thrive on routine. I was comforted that Maezen Miller wrote of feeling it can be a bit of a compulsion for her as well. I sat down and mapped out a typical week of school, activities, and naps for my 3 kids. But I didn’t stop there. I thought about when “my time” was and how I would use that. Then there’s the shopping, cooking, and errands. It was fun to get it all organized.
There is a rhythm emerging and Stewart (5) and Reese (3) are seeing it too. I guess the next step is to “publish” the schedule in a way that they can view. “Leaning into the routine” has cleared our minds of the stress of unpredictability. I feel, too, more present when we are together or when I am having coffee with a friend.
The ultimate time management task, for me, is to consider my priorities. I often worry about my kids each getting enough attention from me, doing too many or not enough activities, or planning to reduce childcare now that Lewis is nearly one.
I have begun meditating with the routine laid out in the last chapter, with a goal to reduce my many “daydreams.” I started with three minutes, then four, and now five. At first I was blushing and giggling a bit. But now I realize that I am not trying to be a Zen Priest. I’m just a mom in her PJs trying to clear her head before her merry band wakes up for breakfast.