Lessons from a crying baby
I'm helping with a month old little baby. Sometimes Baby is crying for no apparent reason — she isn't hungry, isn't wet, isn't sleepy. When this is happening, how do you stop the crying?
If she stops, you feel exultant. Something magical has happened; you've hit the right combination. Then she starts crying again and your achievement is brushed away like a house of cards.
You can't force a baby to stop crying, you can't overpower her. You can't shush her with the expulsive sound of a steam locomotive or rock her like a pendulum. If you get angry with her in her distress because of your own ineptitude, you're only digging both of you deeper into a hole.
One night this week, I was carrying Baby as she wailed, and to compound matters, stepped on the dog, who sprang up, yelping. We were occupied with the dog for a minute, and then I realized, Baby had fallen fast asleep.
When I wasn't anxious about the baby, wasn't trying to do something, wasn't trying to relax, wasn't even thinking about her, wasn't doing anything at all — only then the work was done.
Finally, I sat down comfortably with Baby in my arms sleeping placidly, loose as a rag doll. Baby was a center of quietness, and a silence filled the whole room. The silence had an uplifting, peaceful, unimposing and very present sound to it, a kind of musicality, like you sometimes hear in the seconds right after a choir has finished singing.
The quietness didn't flip on with a switch. Sitting in its midst, it is clear and evident that this quietude and serenity are here in this room the whole time, and just as much here while Baby is scrunching up her suddenly red face and bawling away. Now she's slipped away into this other world as if she knows it very well, she still remembers it.
Hours pass, our bellies breathing in rhythm, until Baby wakes up. Now Baby is feeling happy and safe, gazing out upon this wide and astonishing new world. She's learning to grab things and put them in her mouth. She expresses her moods; each reaction ripples across her face. She cries out when she needs something, without blame, confident that she is in the center of a living and loving world, and indeed people rush to surround her.
She's not weighed down with the heavy assumptions that we adults are lugging around. She doesn't have to deserve to be cared for, she doesn't worry that she isn't good enough or worthy to receive. Everyone's delighted when she drinks more of her mother's milk. She complacently accepts her dependence as we change her.
Baby is so wondrously beautiful and sensitive. She is understanding things directly, without words going through her mind. She is the future. She's a seedling, cleanly minted. We all know she could grow into anything she works at — an artist, a teacher, a kind person. She gives us hope.
So, sitting with this baby, I realize that we all were once this perfect baby, and we cannot be ruined. Beneath the anguish of all our tears, there is always this redemption awaiting us like the stillness here in the room, surrounding the scampering dog and people snacking. We are free to return, without any of the resistance we fear. We can find the same utter satisfaction that this crying baby did.
Baby knows that help is available, at the ready. She hasn't forgotten or unlearned this. When the effort and anxiety are left out, she simply makes her re-entry, and we can do well by seeing what she does.
Meditation classes with Moshe Ross meet Monday nights through March, 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. at the Ashland library. His "Really Being With You" programs are archived at kskq.org.
The Ashland Daily Tidings invites residents of the Rogue Valley to submit articles on inner peace. Send 600- to 700-word articles to Sally McKirgan, email@example.com.