“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” – Seneca
Why is it human nature to withdraw when times are difficult? When to do the opposite, to jump into the middle of the herd when things are difficult to manage, is far more productive than wandering off into the wilderness. Yet, for so many, myself included, isolation is very inviting when the burdens of life weigh us down.
There is an illusion I wrestle with that if I just had some time to myself for reflection, meditation, and quiet thought, I would be able to better manage the trials of life. This illusion brings with it the consequence of withdrawal from life should I choose to pursue it.
The smartphone is probably the best modern-day example of this illusion. I’ll set the scene: The kids are partaking in one of their favorite activities; a scream competition. They forgo taking turns and simply both screams as loud as they can and whoever is the last one screaming, wins. It’s 7 am and I’ve moved the kids to the car sitting in our driveway in a vain attempt to not wake their father. I reason that any nosy neighbors who think my kid’s screams are genuine would be able to plainly see that they are kids just being kids.
As I stand in front of my car with a feeling of satisfaction that for the moment anyway, I’ve won parenting, I pull out my smartphone. I quickly scroll through several pages that always make the cut when I pick up my phone: google news, Facebook, and email. I see an email that warrants further investigation. I need to read this. Just then the screaming stops. The kids are done. It’s out of their system and it’s time to go inside.
Now inside, I pick back up my phone. That email needs to be read. But I’m quickly interrupted by my son that requires water as his throat is dry from the screaming. I put down the phone and get him water. I sit back down and pick back up my phone. Now, what was I doing?
My daughter needs a diaper. I pretend for a moment that I don’t plainly smell the evidence; I’m almost done reading the email. My daughter decides to show me that she needs a diaper by proudly producing the evidence in her hand. I put the phone down. I’m now annoyed. I’m annoyed at my daughter, my son, and myself. This is not the parent I want to be.
With my attention focused squarely on my kids, we’re able to navigate the rest of the morning in a relatively calm state. The kids go off to school and I find myself alone. Finally. I return to my email and realize it was not important after all. I read a meditation and sit with my uneasy self for long enough to realize that I could have found my center at any point throughout the morning, but I chose not to.
Instead, I chose to withdraw and go inward. To focus on “getting through” something instead of being present. I subconsciously decided that the burden of caring for my children was too great, so I had to split my attention away from the present. The result? We were all impacted negatively.
How can I bear a burden with grace? How can I be present with my kids and in my life when it seems like it is too much? I’m not sure what the answer is but I have a sneaking suspicious that my smartphone may be the catalyst to my flight from the present moment so I can start by putting it away.
Next, I can work on the discipline of quieting my mind. I can be attentive without expectation, focused but agile, and perhaps most importantly, I can let feelings pass through me without acting on them. I do not need anything to happen for me to find my peace, it is always inside me, I just need to remember that I can access it at any time.