Recently I was talking with my sister while my mom listened on speakerphone. At 92 years young, my mother has had a series of micro-strokes which makes it difficult for her to remember things or respond quickly – but she does pay attention, and she does contribute to the conversation when she can, albeit perhaps a beat or two behind the rest of us, and only after we enjoin her to do so.
I joked with her that she and I didn’t really get to talk much that day, and she responded that she doesn’t mind. It frustrates her to not be able to get the words out quickly, so she just likes to listen to us chatter away. She may not be able to participate in the way she used to do, but rather than let that get her down, she enjoys participating in the way she is able to now.
“I hear everything you say;” she said to me; “but I like not having to contribute. I can relax and listen.”
And in that moment I saw the deeper lessons my mother was giving me.
A lesson in allowing life to be what it is. A lesson in receiving what is being given around you without feeling you must add to it. A lesson in relaxing and enjoying the energy of those around you without feeling the need to change or guide any of it. A lesson in finding happiness in the simple state of being.
How many of us do this? How many of us allow ourselves to simply listen without feeling the need to contribute? I’m guessing that in this day and age it’s mostly the Dalai Lama, Zen Buddhist monks, and possibly Deepak Chopra and Oprah who may have mastered this state of calm.
Who knew my mother was secretly a Zen Buddhist Monk? Or possibly Oprah?
But this doesn’t surprise me. She’s always been this way. That conversation brought up a memory.
I was maybe five years old and my mother was making pies at the kitchen table while she and a friend of hers visited. I am the youngest of seven, and our home was filled with the high energy of children in various ages and stages running about teasing one another, arguing, chasing each other, chasing the dog, chasing the cat, being chased by the cat, and basically just being kids.
It was a whirlwind of activity and noise and chaos literally swirling around the kitchen table while my mother rolled the crust out for her pie and conversed with her friend. My mother’s friend was trying to talk, but I saw she kept getting distracted by the chaos literally churning around her. My mom, however, kept the conversation and her pie on track, not missing a beat.
Finally her friend couldn’t take it anymore and burst out to my mom;
“How can you possibly pay attention to your pie or to me with all of THIS going on?” and her arm swept out in a grand gesture to all of us.
My mom just smiled, looked her friend in the eye and replied;
“The chaos is just around the kitchen table. My mind is calm inside.”
My mother was literally making herself the eye of the storm. And in the eye of the storm, it is calm.
I know my mom is not unique in this regard. As I related this story to my friends Alison and Jean, both of them moms, both nodded and smiled knowingly. Every mom has gone through this scene. Every mom knows what it means to have to find that calm in the midst of the kitchen table chaos. Every mom has had to be the eye of the storm at some point.
…Who knew that every mom is really a Zen Buddhist Monk? Or possibly Oprah?
I’ve thought a lot about this lesson in the past few weeks as I’ve struggled to meet a deadline, working days and nights on about four hours of sleep, while also trying to balance the rest of my life and obligations. I’ve thought about my mom being able to stay calm while the chaos swirled around her, and how she still does it to this day.
I’ve thought about something one of the people we’ve featured here on insidewink.com said in an interview I edited, Michel Pascal. He was talking about his schedule and Alison noted how busy he was. Laughing, he said;
“My schedule is busy, but I am not. I choose not to be busy, I choose to be calm, no matter how busy my schedule may be.”
My schedule is busy. But I am not.
In them all I see a pattern – of how, when we make that choice to sit back, breath deeply and relax even in the midst of the storm, we end up not only being able to handle all that is happening around us, we also find joy and even laughter in it. We find ourselves listening more and having to contribute less. We find ourselves just enjoying life.
And so, my latest life lesson, via my mom, and all of the moms out there:
It is time for me to choose to know the difference between myself, and my schedule. It is time for me to choose to be the calm in the midst of the chaos dancing around me.
It is time for me to choose to be my own Zen Buddhist Monk. Or possibly Oprah.
Jeanette Elaine Dubois
Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks. She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends. She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.
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