By Kelly MacLean
As a child, I considered having to sit still the highest form of torture. At times my dad would just scoop me up and lock his arms around me for 60 seconds. But like a wind-up toy held in the air, the second he put me down I would start going again at the very same speed.
One of the main memories from my childhood is people telling me I was obnoxious and feeling simultaneously insulted and proud. My parents referred to me as a "highly energetic" child, which is really a nice way of saying "textbook case of ADHD." I remember the term "bouncing off the walls" being thrown around a lot, and I'm told that my tag line as a young child was "stop waffing at me" (no, I couldn't say my Ls), which was counter-productive. I also remember having a frequently itchy head, but that is neither here nor there.
I remember one particular incident in my fifth year of life, where my mother, two sisters and I were all at the drive-up teller in the bank and I was bouncing around from back seat to front seat. (WTF, Mom! Carseat? I guess we won't be writing a mother/daughter blog about child safety.) I joyfully leaped from lap to lap, trying to make everyone laugh.
By the time the teller finally forked over the cash (which felt like an eternity and a half to me, by the way. One of the hardest parts of being a "highly-energetic" child is having to wait for everything all the time. Every moment spent waiting feels as unbearable as watching the clock while a pregnancy test develops. Excruciating.) I was bouncing around in the car when my mom opened the canister from the banker.
Now, it's important at this point in the story to inform you that I had two very pretty and equally bouncy blond pigtails on the top of my head and that I was a petite, extremely cute little girl. Well the extremely cute part isn't paramount, but it's good for you to know that I had some redeeming qualities.
Anticipation overwhelmed me as the canister opened, for inside there surely lay tasty lollypops! Wrong. Inside were two lollypops and one dog bone. We did not have a dog. I was confused to say the least, but as the teller informed my mother, the dog bone was for "your cute puppy jumping around the car!"
I still didn't get it. Between uncontrollable sobs of laughter, my mother and sisters informed me that the banker thought I was a dog! Horror dawned. In that moment I decided that I needed to get a handle on my wildness so as to avoid becoming completely feral. What if people started making this mistake on a regular basis?! Was I doomed to become a dog-girl roaming from bank to bank in search of treats? Shortly after this incident I became a lifelong student of meditation.
I had already been sitting with my family for a couple of years at that point. However, as a 3- to 5-year-old I did little more than fidget profusely, giggle and generally disrupt the peaceful environment. After the dog bone incident, I started to take more interest in this practice, which had previously been labeled "boring in the extreme" and tossed into the same mental bin as waiting at the doctor's office and Time Out.
But meditation began to fascinate me. How could my family members sit completely still and look as if they were enjoying themselves? The more I observed, the more I noticed that their behavior changed markedly when they meditated. Everyone just got along better and fewer stupid fights broke out.
Before family meditation commenced, my dad would make me run around the house 10 to 20 times before sitting. Having burnt out some of the electricity in my body, with a good runner's high going, I could sit relatively still for a few minutes and feel my breath, the cushion, and cheesy as it sounds, I could feel my heart. The best of my heart just sitting there. That was the most wonderful part of meditation, when you felt one with your own heart.
As a child, it didn't take hours of meditation to get to that place, it took mere moments of stillness, of allowing myself to just be. I grew to really love meditation -- like a secret garden within myself, I retired there when feeling anxious, sad, overwhelmed or even joyful. I came to crave this place of quiet, this welcome break from the fast-paced excitement that I ensured was every moment of my life.
As a teen and young adult, I learned to bring the two sides of myself together, peaceful and excited, still and wild. Instead of trying to block, put a lid on or drug this wild energy, as our society often instructs us to do, I found a way to channel it into its highest form -- theater improv, sketch and stand up comedy. Which is what I now do full time.
I have accepted that everyone is always going to be "waffing" at me, and now I'm making a profit off of it!
To be completely honest, I still find meditation difficult at times. And my attention is still easily stolen away by -- hey, look! A penny. I still enjoy the process of irritating people, and I still have an itchy head. Meditation hasn't helped that at all. But now I have the tools to slow down the river of my thoughts and relax whenever I need to, to sit still for weeks at a time on meditation retreats (okay, I fidget more than most, just ask the guy on the cushion behind me). But for me, this is probably as still as it's ever going to get, and it is enough.
I am so very grateful that my parents didn't put me on Ritalin or Adderall but instead knew that between exercise, meditation, creativity and love, this energy could be transformed into joy. They trusted that what I needed to become a sane, healthy, happy adult, I'd had all along -- a peaceful place inside.
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