By Annie Millar Desmond
Six years ago my husband Tim and I left our jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area to help establish MorningSun Mindfulness Center, a budding Plum Village retreat center and community nestled within the woods, lakes, and college towns of New Hampshire. We hoped to become parents soon and knew that it would be a joyful but challenging path. I cherished my quiet, uninterrupted sitting meditations each morning, which had been a foundational rhythm in my life for over a decade. Thankfully, Fern Dorresteyn and Michael Ciborski—former monastics and Dharma teachers—had already trod this path with their young children and had invited us to help create a practice community for laypeople, especially brothers and sisters on the parenting-while-practicing path.
When Finn was in my belly, I took walks in the woods and ducked into the meditation hall to escape rain or bugs. Sitting in the quiet hall alone with this unseen developing human in my belly, I loved to sing the beautiful Plum Village chants Michael had composed during his time as a monk. When I felt the baby in my belly jump at the sound of a blender in the kitchen, I shared my practice aloud with this little one by telling him that feeling sad doesn’t mean something is wrong; it means you are feeling sad, which is part of life.
As I told Finn this, I felt calmer. I knew that his developing nervous system would do best with as little cortisol as possible and that it was impossible to prevent feeling stress for an entire nine months. All I could do was embrace painful emotions when they arose and allow them to be whatever they were.
Finn is now a highly energetic four-year-old who has grown up surrounded by child and adult practitioners. After we watched the movie Kung Fu Panda last summer, Finn told his granny that he wanted inner peace. One afternoon, after a boisterous game of Kung Fu martial arts practice amongst his toys, he turned to me and said, “When you meditate, you sit crisscross apple sauce like this.” He sat down cross-legged on the rug in our living room, closed his eyes, and became still for half a minute.
At bedtime, we say a prayer of gratitude, and send our love to those close to us and to all beings. We ask for good dreams and another wonderful day tomorrow; we trust that the most beautiful path for us is not necessarily the one we would have picked, and that we are always safe and loved.
Since last September, Finn has started sitting up in bed after the prayer and saying that he is going to meditate. I join him, and we then sit together for up to three minutes before he lies down. I never initiate it; I love that it is an impulse and a practice that comes from him (fed by the Sangha body, in which he is growing up). Occasionally, he will do it in the morning too, and I will meditate with him.
One night at bedtime, after finishing the last drops from his water bottle, he told me, “When a water bottle is empty, it’s called a bottle.” A couple seconds later he asked, “Now, do you want to meditate with me?”
“I would love to,” I said. We sat side by side on his bed, crisscross apple sauce, and meditated together for a minute or two. When I sensed him stirring, I opened my eyes and whispered, “Thank you so much for meditating with me.” He shined a big smile at me and lay down on his pillow.
Annie Millar Desmond (mother of Finn Desmond), Joyful Concentration of the Heart, began meditating with her parents as a young child. The former director of programs for a farm-based environmental education center outside San Francisco, she now helps run MorningSun Mindfulness Center, where she lives and practices with her husband, their son, and the Sangha.