Father Time is a weekly column dedicated to the concept of time in a parent’s life, particularly a father’s life. The point of view comes from a father of two young sons, both under three-years-old, and how time really is just that: a concept.
There’s a palpable interconnectedness when you live in a dense urban region. In Southern California, where I live, you can go in any direction for 90 miles and feel like you’re in one big city. The latest shootings were about that far from where I live, which sounds distant, but the rampage was—as the old saying goes—too close for comfort. Not to mention it occurred at the same agency where my wife used to work, but in a different city.
I start, unfortunately with this tragedy, because it’s top of mind, but also because it represents one major symptom of an array of dysfunctions we all share as a society. As families, as parents. We’re simply not making time to take care of ourselves, and that means not making time for ourselves. For our individual person. We’re rushing about, and then things like this happen and we remember to slow down, be kind, and not hurt others. We shouldn’t—though it’s the world we live in—have to be reminded of the importance of being calm via horrific incidents like mass shootings.
A woman I work with named Dinah is a meditation and relaxation specialist who teaches people to breathe. She teaches you to tap into your mind so that you can balance your body and spirit. New agey, yes, but so beneficial. She puts it this way: If the airplane is going down and the oxygen masks have been deployed, who do you have to put the mask on first before you assist others? Yourself. It’s a truly selfish premise, yet perhaps the only logical means by which we as human beings might further evolve on this planet. If we’re not taking care of our heads, we’ll lose them.
True story: a couple months back I was in a little rut. It could have been caused by a little of everything: day-to-day work stress, family/toddler/baby chaos, lack of sleep, etc. Whatever the root, it grew into a blue feeling I couldn’t shake. I drive a lot for work and listen to radio talk shows, many of which discuss physical and mental health, and so before too long, I was diagnosing myself with some kind dad post-partum depression complete with disruptive thoughts.
Going down this little path wasn’t helping anything. Not my wife, my kids, or work. As men, we’re taught to just power through things and not seek help. In forgetting how to swallow down the hiccups, I realized I needed to take care of this.
I went back to what my work colleague Dinah had taught me about breathing, and looked up a mobile application I had heard about from another workshop about stress management. I downloaded the Calm.com app and signed up for the free service called “The Seven Days of Calm.” It’s a series of guided meditation and breathing exercises about five to ten minutes in length. The soothing voice gently instructs you how to get into a state of relaxation, providing tips on how to breathe, count, and clear your mind. The app tracks your progress over the course of seven days, how long you’ve meditated and what techniques you’ve picked up.
Those short episodes of sitting quietly alone, breathing, listening to this voice and the soothing sounds through my earbuds truly worked wonders. The sessions reminded me how crucial it is to carve out a little time for yourself, even if it’s just a slice. And that time, I was reminded, had nothing to do with watching a show, reading a book, going for a walk, or other things you might think might relax you. It was about sitting silently, breathing, and simply being. The entire point of mediation is to clear the clutter in your head, or as the soothing voice on the app says: make space in your life.
I’m not feeling blue as I was, and I’ve found that I can lead myself back to stillness with more ease than before. I don’t mediate every single day, but I know I should, and I’m sure some counseling wouldn’t hurt either. Bottom line: mental health is key. If our heads get filled up with too much junk, it will spill out into our daily lives and affect others around us. If we don’t check in with ourselves, we check out and start to wander into the danger zone. We already know what the worst, most extreme cases look like. We’re accustomed now to these events as a way of life.
There are so many ways to take care of ourselves. Meditation is only one. Why not make it a habit? If we can learn to make more space in our own lives, we just might save ourselves, and others.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.