By Cicely Andree Conway
Time is a healer. So is distance, space. We recently took our first long trip away from home since her birth three months ago. Time and distance from our house, from our life, were gifts. I noticed how stressed and anxious I have been these past months.
Motherhood is hard in every way. It pushes, it exhausts, it pulls on my body and soul. It’s the hardest exam I will ever take.
Being in it for the first time has felt like being pulled into a strong current. I am caught in it. Every day, every hour, every minute is occupied with trying to stay afloat—to stay sane, to stay healthy, to stay balanced—to stay present with myself, my partner, my daughter.
I find this ironic because I have pursued a profession that is focused on presence. Yoga, acupuncture, massage, qigong are all centered around the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness is practicing being in the moment, becoming present. Presence is the state where body, mind, and spirit converge in a place of incredible stillness and expansion. It feels soft and wide. It feels like the best homecoming one could imagine.
When sitting in meditation, practicing yoga or inserting a needle into a patient, I strive for presence. I use mindfulness as a path toward presence.
True presence is profound and powerful. It is bigger than anything the human race can build, buy or control. True presence is Holy. It brings people to their knees, to tears, to their hearts. It is what I strive for with myself, my students, my patients, and in my life.
In a way, it was easier to model this presence pre-child. It was easier to look put together in an outfit that matched and was clean, to arrive at a yoga class early enough to stretch and appear meditative. It was easier to model presence with a friend as we sat over coffee for an hour or more, making eye contact, listening, sharing, connecting. It was easier to model presence with my partner when we had dates and drinks and hikes together. But until motherhood, I am not really sure I was modeling presence. Instead, I think I was touching it lightly here and there, claiming I lived in it when really I was an occasional visitor.
Before motherhood, I was absorbed in acting or modeling what I thought I should model. It was easy to sit in front of a yoga class or converse with a patient about the importance of slowing down for their health. I had such a massive amount of time to do all of the things that I wanted to do; time and slowing down were easy. I could dip in and out of presence; I could shop, I could sit, I could practice yoga, I could call my great aunt in California. All the while, mindfulness and presence were waiting in the background like an old friend—all I had to do was call.
Now I have to be selective. What will really nourish me? Is it more important that I take a shower, or get to a yoga class? I crave opportunities to practice mindfulness. I don’t have the energy nor time to act perfectly all the time—and in that there is a new kind of presence.
It is a presence of authenticity; a bareness.
There is no sitting perfectly in a meditative posture while listening to a friend’s life updates. There is, “Can I be truly present with my friend for three minutes while I hold my child in my arms?”
There is also no epic date night with my partner, with enough time to catch up on small talk, laugh, address the “heavy hitter topics” and wrap up with a nice candle lit evening in bed. There is, “Can I stand in the kitchen in my pajamas at 10pm, exhausted, bring my whole being into the room, and really listen to him share his struggles? Can I ignore my desire to achieve something tangible and follow the intangible, follow what I know to be true, which is the value of emotionally showing up for my partner when he needs me?” These are examples of my new mindfulness practice.
My new mindfulness practice looks disheveled on the outside but is deep and rich on the inside. It is awkward at times. My new mindfulness practice won’t make it on the cover of Yoga Journal, or into a beautiful picture on Facebook, but it will anchor me when life gets really hard, or when I see that patient who is going through something so big I can’t even conceive of how to help them. Practicing true presence when it is inconvenient and unplanned will carry me then. In that there will be beauty.
So I need to remember to show up for myself when I need it most; when my heart is racing and my stomach is churning and my breath feels choppy and fragmented instead of moving through my body like a river.
I need to remember that mindfulness is a choice; a hard one. I can choose it at any time. It is always there for me, waiting. If I choose it, the sweet gift of presence will be there, and it will feel like a wide open sky, lifting my mind, soothing my heart and reconnecting my breath with my body, leaving me in awe of this life I live.