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Jun 04
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Practicing with a Newborn

By Rebekka Henriksen

Surrendering to things as they are is one of our central aspirations as meditators on the path of awakening. Yet we often insist on clinging to our many agendas, resisting what is and creating suffering for ourselves and others.

The birth of a child brings such an intense level of daily chaos and unpredictability that, inevitably, our many agendas must be dropped in favor of simply being in the present moment if we want to survive the first few months. As Shambhalians of course, rather than simply surviving the experience of parenthood, we aspire to fully experience this fleeting period with joy, sanity and compassion, holding the view of our own basic goodness and the basic goodness of our beautiful baby.

Yet, in the groundlessness of the first few months, it is easy to try and flee our experience, mentally removing ourselves from our child. And of course, formal meditation practice is extremely difficult if not impossible during the first months of infancy as baby adjusts to being in the world and in his body, an adjustment that requires constant attention and care from the parents.

As long as we can cultivate our awareness, bringing ourselves back to the present moment again and again without judgment, our baby minding practice becomes powerful meditation in action. We bring our minds back to our baby’s face as he gazes at us, back to her bottom as we change her diaper, back to the physical sensation of body as baby nurses at the breast or bottle feeds from our hands. We notice when we are trying to escape, caught up in a worry, a dream, a should do or should have done.

We notice when we are thinking about the groceries and not present with baby. We notice when we feel resistance to picking baby up when he is crying, to getting up to nurse or feed when she wakes in the night, to changing the diaper we just changed a moment ago. We may notice how these thoughts deplete our windhorse and leave us even more exhausted. We notice, and then we are in action, letting go of storyline and our agenda, fully surrendering to things as they are.

Our object of meditation becomes these simple, repetitive tasks – the chopping wood and carrying water of babyhood.

Our windhorse rises as our practice meets our life and the life of this sentient being we are caring for… in all its messiness and demands. This is what we have been training for – the complete giving over of ourselves to another being, noticing where we hold back, where we want to keep some kind of ground for ourselves, and then opening further. Or not opening further, but choosing to retreat. We notice that as well, and that provides further space for us to be in action.

As in mediation, it’s important to remember to not judge our experience or thoughts as good or bad. Everything is just arising and ceasing, arising and ceasing in the constant flow of being. We hold ourselves with loving-kindness, just as we hold our beautiful baby. I call this baby-holding practice: as I rock my children in my arms, I open myself to gentleness and care as well, reminding myself of my own basic goodness.

As we relax into our parenting, we can begin to expand out to other beings beyond our child, bringing to mind all suffering beings when our baby cries with colic and wishing them relief from pain and discomfort. Or we can wish that all beings experience the joy we feel when we see baby’s smile. Simple practices like the Four Immeasurables can be used at any time as we care for our children, and are wonderful practices to keep us connected to the view and our vows.

Parenting brings our habitual patterns into sharp focus. We cannot help but see our automatic responses to demands and stress and groundlessness – our automatic responses to other beings. A new baby is a rich opportunity for deep practice, for awareness of body, speech and mind in every moment.

I have found it helpful to begin the day by bringing awareness to my body when I wake up in the morning by doing a body scan, even if I must wait to do this until I am nursing my son. Holding him, I scan from head to toe. Once I feel fully present in the space with him, I bring my attention to the physical sensation of him nursing, noticing when my mind wanders or I feel impatient to get up or do something else.

Baby mindfulness continues throughout the day, as baby will invariably bring me back to mindfulness of body if I get too heady. As a mama who also practices baby-wearing, my babies remind me whenever I am moving too fast, too disjointedly or clumsily. I notice if I am weaving a storyline onto what I am doing, being aware of any internal dialogue that is judging what is happening. I drop it.

That is very helpful in these early months – noticing and dropping the storyline, just as we do in meditation practice. When we are able to do this consistently, our windhorse gets stronger, and our days with baby become easier. We are able to enjoy this incredible adventure and appreciate this precious human birth we helped create and nurture.

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1 response to “ Practicing with a Newborn ”
  1. Thank you, dear Rebekka. I will hopefully be mindful enough to re-read this wonderful article in a couple of months when our little bodhisattva is born. Thanks again for sharing with the sangha.

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