By Aaron Teasdale
After a half hour of mindful breathing my morning meditation session is interrupted by Silas, the indefatigably curious three-year-old ball of mischief. For several days now he has been sneaking upstairs into the meditation room and sabotaging my daily attempts at stillness. I've calmly explained to him that when Daddy is meditating, Daddy doesn't want to talk. A zafu sits on the floor next to mine and Silas knows he's welcome to meditate with me whenever he wants, but no talking. Twice, with my gentle coaching, he's sat on the cushion, placed his hands in a meditation mudra, and done a young child's version of meditation: following the rise and fall of his little belly he snorts in and out a half dozen rapid, hyperventilation-like breaths. I doubt it brings him much inner equanimity—in fact I can testify that, as a three-year-old, his equanimity is in very short supply—but it's a nice, early introduction to meditation. Maybe when he's five, I figure, he'll break the one-minute barrier.
Right now he's tiptoeing towards me whispering, "Aaron... Aaron." I'm trying hard to ignore him, to stay focused on my in-breaths and out-breaths, but through my ever-so-slightly open, downward-looking eyes I see his naked little figure doing an impish dance in front of me. It takes every iota of my concentration to keep from bursting with laughter. Laughter of course would be ruinous. My concentration derailed, Silas would begin laughing and bouncing around like a little monkey, and, worst of all, he'd keep coming up every morning expecting the same response. I should know, because it's exactly what happened yesterday.
Somehow, against all odds—I mean, c'mon, the imp dance is really funny—I hold back. Finding the whispering strategy ineffective, Silas begins yelling, "Aaron…Aaron!" about 18 inches from my ear. Loudly. Emboldened by my success withstanding the imp dance, I don't flinch. Then he starts pounding on a large drum.
"This is good," I think to myself. Really. Here's an opportunity to let my reactions to outside stimuli—and booming stimuli at that—arise and be calmed in full mindfulness. Good practice for life, I figure, and what better teacher than a cavorting three-year-old? I concentrate on being aware of mental formations, or thoughts and feelings, on the in-breaths and calming them on the out-breaths. It works too. I find a nice, calm meditative state; not clinging to my thoughts, dwelling in calm awareness.
Then Silas begins climbing on me. First he bounces on my knee. Then he gives me hugs that threaten to crush my Adam's apple. This is full-contact meditation and I've become a human jungle gym. I notice anger arise inside myself and subside. I'm determined not to acknowledge Silas in any way. I want him to learn that I won't respond while I'm sitting. Then, the reasoning goes, he'll give up trying.
Now though, he's playing with the zippers on my fleece and I know that if he puts his cold little hands under my shirt and on my bare belly, it's all over. The laughter will be impossible to contain. I close my eyes entirely and concentrate on my breathing, letting everything come and go.
"This experience could become a little essay," floats in and sticks for a few minutes. It's an enticing thought and my mind follows it. For a minute I lose touch with my breath. Then I make a note to come back to it later and let it go.
Finally, after about half an hour, Silas leaves.
I did it. I didn't crack. My sitting may have turned into a form of meditational aerobics, but a lesson has (hopefully) been taught and I doubt Silas will surmount me during sitting again. As he walks down the stairs he calls, "Mom, I was talking to Dad and playing with the drum and sitting in his lap and he didn't say anything. He just sat there with his eyes closed. Isn’t that funny?"
After a few minutes I head downstairs myself, calm, and filled with my usual resolve to maintain my sense of mindfulness for as long as possible into the activities of the day. Silas is there in the kitchen.
"Daddy, Daddy," he blurts, "You know who that was that was talking to you and playing the drums and sitting in your lap? It was me, Daddy. I was doing that. It was me!"
"Oh really," I say with a smile, "I had no idea."
Aaron Teasdale is a writer and photographer living in Missoula, Montana. He is married with two young boys, Silas and Jonah, who both continue to hone their imp dances. He can be reached at email@example.com