To be honest, I’m balancing a 24lb child on my lap, sitting on a bar stool at my breakfast nook.  There are boxes half full and boxes completely empty strewn about my house.  We’re packing up our belongings, selling our house, and all around us is the feeling of uncertainty and chaos.  A wine glass sits empty, beckoning a refill.  I’m waiting on a pizza to be delivered at 8:30PM, though we’ve cut dining out out of our budget until we find our next home.  The dishes in the sink will sit there, at least for another day, probably more, if I am being honest.

The 24lb girl is asleep, but if I move her, she won’t be.  And so begins the balancing act.  One arm firmly pressed against the rising of breathing chest keeping her from falling, and two hands hovering over her at the keyboard, I write.

On Wednesdays, M (almost nine months) attends with me.  It’s a luxury and a difficulty wrapped into one and I thank my coworkers on behalf of working moms everywhere for their acceptance of her at “staff meetings.”  At 7:45AM we head out the door with diaper bag, purse, lunch, toys to keep her as occupied as I try to answer a few days worth of overdue emails, my planner, a laptop, and whatever else I can manage carry in my arms to make our time in the office moderately successful.

The past few Wednesday we’ve been participating in Otto Scharmer’s online course on Theory U.  Part of the course includes reminders and practice in mindfulness.

Mindfulness last year with John Orr was a practice. A practice in this-is-what-mindfulness-is-like.  Being quiet, stopping negative thoughts, centering oneself.  Last year, it was a silent building with people sitting quietly, perfectly placed in their chairs, eyes closed, feet planted on the floor.  Occasionally, someone would whisper about a ride arriving, or a meeting taking place, and they’d slip back out of the room tiptoeing.  The silence would overwhelm us, and make us sleepy after a long, hard day of talking.  It felt good last year, to sit still, to try not to doze off at 4PM, and try not to judge the thoughts in one’s head.

As we sat in the board room two Wednesdays ago M began screeching.  A babababdaada chatter of nonsense and of import demanding me to listen.  She bites my shirt, indicating her insistence on nursing.  She lunges backwards, then sits up, looks up and smiles.  In the room, twenty or so people practice mindfulness, quietly sitting with eyes closed, hands sitting on their laps, motionless.  My hands are moving all the while.  My knees bouncing, my chair rolling from one spot to the next.  I place my hand on her tiny back to keep her from moving.  She coos with the attention I’ve given her and the starts to pout “hmmm” “hmmm” the noise a prelude to actually crying.  I am running out of time, occupying her and entertaining her and know that we need to leave the silent room of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an active awareness of what’s happening around you.  It isn’t, not actually, the sitting quietly and tuning out.  Walking out of the room, with my girl in my arms, we head to my desk.  She climbs into my lap, settles down and I type while she nods off.  In the other room twenty or so people continue to sit silently.  I continue my practice, too.  Being aware that this situation is what it is.  This is life and this is life while working with a nine month old in arm.

The past two Wednesday’s, I’ve walked back and forth from my seat to assorted spaces on the floor where she crawls, always, towards electrical cords and cups filled with hot coffee.  We’ve taken breaks at my desk and returned trying to catch up on what I’ve missed.  I listen to Otto talk about what our past selves would think, and I smile inwardly.  My past self would have thought mindfulness to be hippie shit.  The type of practice one might have done if one didn’t have something better to do.  I know now, my past self was ignorant, and that mindfulness is most needed during the times of chaos,  not in times of silence.

The moments when I most need to be mindful are not when the building is quiet and we’re all sitting still.  It is not in moment of “practice” when it is most helpful, but in moments of action.  I most need to be mindful when I am being bitten, when I am balancing a sleeping child on my lap while paying bills and answering emails and writing and drinking wine and waiting hungrily for pizza in a house filled with boxes.  I most need to be mindful when I am arguing with myself in my head, or arguing with my husband out loud.  Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, and not judging it as awful or wonderful, and most helpfully as John told us, not believing everything you think to be true.  I need it not in moments of silence and eyes closed sitting comfortably, but in times when I am made uncomfortable, when things are loud, when the house and life is messy and when my feet are unsteady and my heart unsure, and when she-won’t-just-hold-still-for-one-second.

Candice Jones Peelman