Years ago, I spent a morning babysitting my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Walker. His mother had suggested plenty of possible activities. We could use play-dough. We could read books or draw. We could go outside.
I opted to let Walker decide. I would have no plan. I would go with what he chose, and then stay with it as long as he wanted. I established two rules; safety and kindness, both important to his parents and me.
As soon as my daughter walked out, I asked Walker, “What shall we do?”
With a self-determined nod of his head, he said, “Play boomerang. I show you.”
I smiled at his growing autonomy and self-direction. As we walked downstairs, I offered him my hand. He said, “No.”
“No, thank you,” I reminded him, to reinforce kindness.
“No, thank you,” he repeated, “I do it myself. I be careful.” I wanted, within our parameters, to grant him that independence. I stepped beside him. He seemed safe.
In the playroom he marched straight to the yellow rubber 4-pronged boomerang. He picked it up and pitched it across the room.
Then I asked, “My turn?”
He said, “No. Susu, Watch. I throw again.”
He pranced around the carpet, tucked the boomerang in close to his belly then snapped his wrist to release it. “Ready?” he’d say as he let it fly. If it landed near me, I’d fetch it and pitch it. We chased it for an hour or so. He never tired.
I felt the urge to take the reins and say, “How about we sit now and build with these cool blocks?”
But I remembered my vow to make room for him to find his own way. He rolled on the carpet in laughter when the boomerang landed in the Venetian shades, under the sofa, or on the stair landing. Skip, jump, toss. Over and over. I watched this monkey of a toddler with my own monkey mind now restless, yearning to try another game, any other game. I tried to settle my impatience in the midst of the repetitive throw-fetch-sprint-throw, trying to keep my mind right here. Another half hour.
Again and again, he’d toss “way up high” and each time say, “Ready?”
I asked, “how ‘bout lunch?”
“Nope.” He whipped off zigzags and slants, high and low shots. He paid attention to just this flick of the wrist, just this moment-to-moment action.
As much as I ached to, I didn’t pull him away from his passionate play because at some level I understood that only from my being kind toward his wishes would he learn kindness. Letting him be required brain aerobics, my mind swinging from branch to branch, with more energy than the physical gymnastics of boomeranging. After two hours of his outer athleticism and my inner calisthenics, he said, “I hungry. All done boomerang.”
I became aware of how quickly the mind jumps to run the show, organize self and others. So, these days, ten years later, I try “let it be” practice now and then. As if I frolic with young Walker, I make what feels like Herculean effort to go with the flow in conversation or life, to drop my brilliant ideas and clever agendas, not to change the subject. Tough stuff, excruciatingly hard. My mind ricochets more than any boomerang.
What is letting-be practice? First, choose a block of time. Remove any ideas of how to orchestrate anything or anyone. Let life zigzag and slant. Keep going with the flow and see what happens. Ready?