As I sit here in bed during my recovery from foot surgery, I can’t help but wax a bit philosophical, even over something as simple as braiding hair.
I woke from a nap just a few minutes ago, quickly braided my hair Katniss-style, so the tail hangs over one shoulder, and thought of the mindful nature of braiding.
The rhythmic, almost hypnotic, over and under movement, the focus on keeping the three parts even and smooth, and the quick tie at the bottom to finish it off.
It made me think of high school, where are the girls would sit during recess, braiding each other’s hair, and thinking of different ways to braid. I know it’s hard to imagine the time B.I. (Before Internet) but as kids we had to just think it up, figure out how to do it. Sure, there were books, but we didn’t go out and buy a book on every little thing we thought we might like to learn. We had to be inventive, use our imagination, and then use trial-and-error to get it to look the way we imagined.
No matter what, I always had to be “different,” you know? It wasn’t even necessarily on purpose, but growing up, I was always oustanding in one way or another — either exceptionally good, or just totally unique.
I remember, I could French braid someone else’s hair all day long, but I could never do my own. When I reached up to weave my own hair into a braid, it would always come out as (what others told me was called) a Spanish braid. Very similar to a French braid, but the braid sits on top. Here’s an example.
Took me a lot of practice to figure out how to reverse the step on my own hair, so that I could French braid or Spanish braid, depending on which I felt like at the time.
But whichever one I chose, it was easy to zone out and become lost in the hypnotic pattern of over and under.
Which is suprising, considering that as an adult, I would run for the hills at the mention of “meditation.” That, unlike braiding, seemed so hard to me, impossible, really.
To sit still, to do nothing, to release each thought, or better yet, not have any thoughts at all, well, you might as well have asked me to win a staring contest with a dog — in other words, I had no chance.
It wasn’t until years later — just a few years ago, in fact — that I was able to understand meditation in a whole different light. How almost any activity can be practiced consciously and mindfully and act as a form of meditation. I think of this as “alternative meditation,” though I believe Deepak Chopra refers to it as “conscious meditation.” Washing dishes, fully present in each moment of the feel of the hot water, the scent and the slipperiness of the soap, the squeak of the clean dish, the satisfaction of taking something dirty and making it clean, the mindfulness of the entire process — what a beautiful (and highly effective) form of meditation.
As a teen, I would become lost in music, lying down in the dark with my headphones at high volume and my cassette player Walkman (oops, dating myself here 🙂 ) repeating my favorite tapes until I wore them out. Allowing my mind to drift and sail with each beat, each lyric.
Daydreaming in class, on the bus, in my room. Journaling. So many ways to meditate! Why do we get so hung up on the lotus position, a single flame, and total silence? There is so much more to meditation, so many options that a willing person would be very hard pressed to find a method that didn’t suit them personally.
And now my six-year-old is asking me to teach her how to braid. In fact, that’s what we’re doing today. I’ll teach her to braid and perhaps she too, will learn to consciously drift in the delightful over and under patterning of braiding. Will I call it “meditation” when I show her? I don’t know, maybe. Probably not. But then again, maybe I will. No point in her inheriting my old hangups around that word.
In many ways, I expect that meditation for kids is easier than it is for adults. They have far less baggage than we do, and they’re so much more open to trying new things, without so much fear of doing it wrong or failing.
OK, time to go teach her how to braid. Which do you think we should start with, French or Spanish? Or maybe we’ll just hang out and listen to music and pretend it’s not meditation…