My two boys and I are exploring The Rubin Museum of Art, absorbing the various paintings, sculptures and architecture. We are tasked by mindfulness expert, Archimedes Bibiano, to move through the space, sans electronics, and take mental snapshots of whatever inspires us in the moment. There are no rules — only a time limit — and everything from the chairs in the cafe to the color of the walls is worthy of consideration.
My six-year-old wants to discover the sixth floor, so we ride the elevator up, anticipating what exciting treasures me might find. We walk out on the floor, and we catch a glimpse of the floor below, which is visible from the top of the spiral staircase, which climbs up the center of the museum. From this perspective, my son notices a pool of water with wooden cut outs floating inside. He sees some visitors stepping from piece to piece and is eager to try this himself.
We make our way down to the fifth floor, and, after some practice, my son and I take our turn. He breezes through happily, while I cautiously try to keep up. He is delighted by the experience. An experience, which might not have happened if he hadn’t looked down from the sixth floor.
In one of my favorite films, Robin Williams, as unconventional English teacher, John Keating, climbs on top of his desk to show his students the importance of finding new perspectives.
“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way,” he tells his somewhat bewildered class, and then encourages each one to do the same.
Many parents, myself included, struggle with understanding the world from our children’s perspective. We want to be empathetic and supportive of their feelings, but this is not always easy. We have little trouble comprehending why our three-year-old cries after scraping their knee on the sidewalk, but are flabbergasted when that same child is inconsolable over their food being cut the “wrong” way. Indeed, from our perspective those two incidents are of unequal importance, but for a child, they are both devastating.
From infancy to young adulthood, our children will challenge our perspectives, and offer us infinite opportunities to view things from their points of view. The more we set aside our own expectations, and truly take the time to embrace their feelings, the better we can meet their unique needs.
Ironically, a great way to better understand others’ perspectives is to become more aware of our own. Practicing mindfulness, focusing our attention, with purpose, on the present moment, heightens our knowledge of our own thoughts and feelings, and thus enables us to then shift that focus to our children.
My own mindfulness needs a lot more work, because, indeed mindfulness requires conscious effort on the part of the individual. Even during the exercise of walking through the museum, I became frustrated with my eldest’s insistence on following what he deemed were the “rules” of the game, despite the instructor encouraging the participants to deviate as we saw fit. I tried to reason with him, until I realized this was not a battle worth fighting and let him take the lead.
By letting go of my own judgments, and giving my son permission to embrace his desires, I allowed for an experience to unfold, which might not have happened if I insisted on a different outcome. I opened myself to a different perspective, and was rewarded with a wonderful memory of my son proudly discovering his favorite part of the museum.
On our way back down to the theater, where the rest of the families are gathering to continue the mindfulness workshop, we run into Archimedes, who asks my six-year-old what he has found on his journey through the building. My son is excited to share his discovery of the water, and how he moved from one floating piece of wood to the next. He demonstrated how he stepped from one to the next, taking one step to the side than bringing his legs together before repeating the move again. Back in the theater, he happily shared the move he called. “step and repeating,” with the other participants who then copied his movement in order to better understand his experience.
Other children shared their moves, each embodying the unique worldview of a child. This physical act of mindfulness was one I had never considered, and I am grateful to Mr. Bibiano and The Rubin Museum for giving me that experience.
Lest you think mindful parenting is all about your children, Archimedes reminded the adults in the room to take a moment for ourselves. As I lay on my mat, my eyes stopped darting around the room after my children and came to a close. I stopped worrying about how my kids were behaving, accepting the permission I had to let go, and just be. Sure enough, when I opened my eyes, everything was fine. We can take time for ourselves, and our kids will be OK.
This post originally appeared on Maybe I'll Shower Today. The author's visit was compensated by The Rubin Museum.