“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Five Mindfulness Trainings
“I’m a person / Just like you / But I’ve got better things to do…”
Minor Threat, “Straight Edge”
Being a parent is hard.
Being a working parent is hard.
Being a working parent with sleep apnea is hard.
Being a working parent with sleep apnea and bipolar disorder is hard.
And here we are. Being.
My son just turned one year old.
All I want in the world for him and for my wife is for them to be healthy and happy.
“May you be happy. May you be well. May you be of benefit,” I repeat mentally in my still-intermittent meditation practice.
What I’m learning over and over, frequently through painful moments of unpleasant self discovery, is that if he doesn’t see me doing that first, all that good intention might not take root.
And I need to. My sleep is frequently terrible. I drink too much caffeine as a counterattack. In retaliation, I’m jittery and sleepwalking some of the time. This plays havoc with my mood, which affects my relationships, which affects everything.
We have to take care of ourselves.
And yet parenthood is a sacrifice – and almost exclusively for the first part of your child’s life.. You sacrifice your own sleep, your own nourishment, your own fleeting enjoyment to meet their needs, to give them a hand up, to send them sailing off like a flagship on a rising tide.
That’s the deal. That’s what you signed up for, that’s the price of admission, that’s what it says on the label.
And yet if we don’t find some semblance of balance, the whole jenga tower gets shaky.
Thich Nhat Hanh relays the story of an acrobat father-and-daughter team, which comes from the canon of collected Buddhist stories:
“A father and daughter used to perform in the circus. The father would place a very long bamboo stick on his forehead, and his daughter would climb to the top of the stick. When they did this, people gave them some money to buy rice and curry to eat.
One day the father told the daughter, ‘My dear daughter, we have to take care of each other. You have to take care of your father, and I have to take care of you, so that we will be safe. Our performance is very dangerous.’ Because if she fell, both would not be able to earn their living. If she fell, then broke her leg, they wouldn’t have anything to eat. ‘My daughter, we have to take care of each other so we can continue to earn our living.’
The daughter was wise. She said, ‘Father, you should say it this way:” Each of us has to take care of himself or herself, so that we can continue to earn our living.” Because during the performance, you take care of yourself, you take care of yourself only. You stay very stable, very alert. That will help me. And if when I climb I take care of myself, I climb very carefully, I do not let anything wrong happen to me. That is the way you should say it, Father. You take good care of yourself, and I take good care of myself. In that way we can continue to earn our living.’
The Buddha agreed that the daughter was right.”
My son wants to use a fork because his parents do. My son wants to ride a bicycle because he’s seen me goof off on my Trek, riding in a circle and sticking my tongue out while I wag my legs above the pedals. And my son will – hopefully – be able to check in with himself, regulate his breathing, tend to his frustrations, and take delight in everyday miracles because we help show him the way. The way that always exists, and is always available. The gateless gate of happiness, wellness, and benefit that silently invites us to come on in.
One thing he will not see is daddy drunk. Daddy high. Daddy smoking a cigarette.
This month marks 40 months since I had a beer or any kind of alcoholic beverage. I haven’t taken a drug that wasn’t approved for psych reasons by a doctor in much, much longer than that. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in way longer than that. I occasionally make strides cutting down on sugar and the aforementioned caffeine, but I still encounter stumbling blocks with those two, and that’s ok. It’s not always linear, and progress is great while “perfection” can become a form of self-abuse. Little by little, actions become drops of water, we learn to go as a river.
I turn 45 this year. We don’t live forever. But we can live well. For ourselves. For our parents. For our partners. For our siblings. For our friends.
For my son.
The funny thing about taking good care of ourselves is that it also takes good care of others in the process, Thich Nhat Hanh said. And in taking good care of the present moment, I too believe we can take good care of the future, so that a future can be possible.
We don’t get to sit in the shade of every tree we plant. But we can plant anyhow. And someone else, in some distant future, may benefit.
This post is simply a humble bit of accountability to myself to try to plant and water some wholesome seeds. May we have good soil, may we have good conditions, and may we enjoy a good harvest.
May we be happy gardeners.
May we take good care.
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