Lately I’ve been taking special notice of some new changes occurring in my stepson Jaden, who’s 16-years-old and a sophomore in high school. I’m grateful for having a mindfulness practice because it teaches me how to engage in life’s ever changing ways with more ease and flow, as opposed to railing against it trying desperately to hold onto how I want or think things should be. So, for much of the time since he was around 3-years-old (which is when I started regularly practicing mindfulness and meditation with a sangha), I’ve been observant of the changes inherent through all the years of watching a small being grow up and mature into a young adult.
The presence and benefit of mindfulness, in regards to witnessing the changes associated with his growing up, was revealed to me through the interplay with other parents. Many moms and dads are shocked, overwhelmed, and/or anxious about their kids’ getting older, as though they’re having a hard time letting go of the little boy or girl they thought would somehow last forever. Whereas, the changes I was seeing in Jaden made perfect sense to me – ah, the power of mindfulness at work again! Of course he was getting taller, getting involved in different interests, gaining more confidence, learning to drive, growing facial hair – these are all things that tend to happen when you start growing up. But still, friends and family members will point these things out to me like it was some sort of incredible, hard-to-fathom breaking news: “Can you believe how TALL Jaden’s getting?!” and I would think, internally to myself so as not to offend them, “Why yes, of course he’s growing taller, that’s pretty much what kids do.”
In my experience the act of mindful observation (without judging or reacting) is the entryway into the process of accepting and embracing. And really, when it comes down to it, the quality of one’s life can be boiled down to this: Are we fighting or are we embracing? In any given moment, in any and all situations, the answer to this question is a crucial factor in how things are playing out for us.
Of course, since we ‘re, ya know, human and all, sometimes mindfully observing how things are changing is also accompanied by feelings of sorrow and a sense of loss. This is normal and to be expected. Being mindful isn’t the equivalent of never having a strong or difficult emotion ever again, it’s about being fully aware and present with whatever is happening and learning to move through our experience in the direction of embracing, rather than remaining stuck-tied in fighting against what’s happening, whatever it is. So along with the changes I’m seeing in my stepson are changes in our relationship, which is manifesting feelings of sorrow. Gone are the days when he’d trail closely behind me like a little duckling and predominantly gravitate more towards me than his dad when he was with us (for some background: we’ve had the same consistent split residential schedule with him since he was 7 1/2-years-old, equating to him living with us 1/3 of the time and with his mom the other 2/3 of the time – we lived in different states before that time and Jaden would be driven back and forth to be with us for a few weeks or months at a time). The time has come when the natural inclination of a boy needing his father is taking shape more and more. Jaden is an incredibly good kid, very thoughtful, caring, respectful and engaged in our family. So it’s not that he and I are becoming a bit separated for reasons of teenage angst, or my turning into a fairy tale version of the evil stepmother – it’s because that’s what needs to happen as part of his process of growing up. And while I mourn this separation I also sit in mindful observation, sure in the knowledge that this too is part of life. In fact, gaining at least some sense of separation is an extremely important part of independence in preparing to be out on one’s own, especially from our motherly type figures who typically serve as the main care givers.
With mindfulness I can embrace my sorrow as part of this whole experience and not let it hold me back from accepting what is. And thank goodness for that, I say.
We all need to change in order to grow and keep growing, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. This is the nature of life, of being human. Trying to hold onto an image of how someone or something should remain fixed in time won’t serve to manifest our vision, it will only keep us entrenched in fighting against what’s unfolding in the present moment.