"Whatever shows me peace or satisfaction is a valid meditation."
Yesterday I was out running errands on Broadway when a friend, a mother of two young children, rushed by me in a frantic hurry. She was alone. No stroller or kids in tow. "Can't talk!" she hollered over her shoulder, "I've only got 20 minutes to myself!".
"Say no more! I totally understand!", I thought. And I wondered what she was going to do with this little bit of time she had for herself. Would she pick up dry cleaning? Was she heading for the new massage place around the corner where you can get a 15 minute massage for $10 bucks? Or would she slip into the park with a coffee and gaze up at the leaves?
The quality of experience that your free time evokes in you matters. It matters a lot. If you need justification, ask yourself: "What kind of energy am I bringing back to my family? Does this time leave me feeling cleansed and revitalized? Or do I return feeling resentful, like there's never enough time in the day?"
Okay, now here's the tough question: Are you even actually giving yourself time for yourself? Are you, really? For many of us, truly taking time for ourselves is never comfortable. In the words of one father I know, "I always feel that I'm carrying a heavy burden. And when I set down that burden even for a minute, I'm painfully aware that someone else -- my wife or a caregiver -- now has to carry that burden."
Guilt. It's a valid feeling. Guilt can serve us and our loved ones, holding us responsible for our actions and keeping us on task. But if you sense that guilt is running your life or worse, draining you, then for the sake of experimentation, try this practice: Feel the guilt and take the time for yourself anyway. Don't just run an errand on behalf of your family but do something that deeply nurtures YOU. Then notice what happens. Be scientific about it. Are you and your family better or worse off for your having taken the time?