To a Mama the bell of mindfulness comes as the sound of her child's cry or the call of her name. Sometimes it's a crash or sound of the pantry door. Maybe it's a little one acting fussy reminding you to stop doing what you're doing and pay attention!
These days, I never have time for a formal meditation practice or visit to the Zendo. I rarely get a chance to sit on the cushion. Sure, sometimes I steal five to fifteen minutes when everyone is asleep or just sit and feel my breath for a minute, but that's rare with a newborn and toddler. I have accepted it will be a while before I get back into my groove here. But this doesn't mean that I'm not practicing or paying attention.
Every moment there is one reminder after another to "pay attention" and remember that "my life is my practice". I also have to remember that with love and attention all things will grow and flourish. I'd like to thank Karen Maezen Miller (and Maezumi Roshi, whom I never met) for these beautiful words and these ideas. In Momma Zen she writes, "Take care of what is in front of you, when it is in front of you, and the confusion will pass. This is called the effort of no effort. No effort is what powers the universe."
Sometimes when I feel that I have to focus on one single thing at a time or just finish what I'm doing I reflect upon what Kosho, the teacher at the Austin Zen Center told me, "Awareness is a floodlight." Awareness is not a spotlight that excludes certain things out of convenience. It is possible to pay attention to more than one thing at a time without being totally overwhelmed. It's what all mothers do! I wouldn't call it multitasking, but total awareness. No, it's not easy. Yes, I get frustrated.
Sometimes when I'm in the middle of some "important" task then Z or Bodhi calls me to attention, I think "Geez, I need to finish this. Don't you get it? You need to eat/clean clothes/the milk cleaned so you won't slip..." But in that moment he needs his Mama to pay attention! Last year I heard a lovely dharma talk by Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky where he talked about his practice with his children. He talks about my exact predicament described above. He speaks of the importance of "carefully attending to things" and "giving full attention when the request comes". Don't "Make the pancakes more important than the immediate request." Compassion, attention and understanding is including that/those which are right in front of you, not excluding something just because you have an idea that something else in that moment is more important. That is your reality -what is right in front of you!
It brings everyone peace to know that no matter where I am, or what I am doing, the act of simply paying attention is taking care of others and what is in front of me. That's what this Mama and her children need. And no, it's not always as easy as it sounds.