I could not sit still, nor keep my mouth shut or my hands to myself for any sustained length of time. I fought naps. Someone recommended medication.
In 1968, pharmaceutical protocols for ADHD were new, and my mom did not want to medicate me. Instead, she sent me to a special-needs summer camp, but she didn’t tell me that’s what it was. It was there, at six years old, that I learned the rudiments of managing my energy.
The camp was a southern Ohio farm whose stewards were a brother and sister in their 40s. They wore identical faded denim overalls. The brother had a long brown beard, and his sister braided her thick hair in brown pigtails streaked with gray. Their hands lived on their hips, and they threw their heads back when they laughed.
I spent each day with 30 children just like me. We played games and sang rhythmic songs. We ran in open fields and climbed trees. We petted calves and milked their mamas. We made our own butter by shaking mason jars half-filled with the cream we skimmed off the top of the milk in the pail. When we finally had something we could spread on a Saltine cracker, we ate together. I still remember the taste of that group effort.
There was one rule. We had to pause between activities.
“Time to change gears!” brother or sister would call out in a clarion voice.
We stopped wherever we were. We lay in grass, our heads went down on a picnic table, or we sat with our backs against a tree, and we rested.
For a hyperactive kid, this was a job.
We started with one minute, and then it became a game.
“I bet you can’t go two minutes!”
“No way you could do three.”
“Yes we can!” we shrieked.
By the end of two weeks, we could rest for eight minutes.
I remember the sound of our breathing.
I remember knowing this time was for me.
I remember my mother watching our “final presentation,” which ended with 30 high-energy kids resting together in perfect, golden silence, and smiling through her tears. We got Dairy Queen on the way home, and I felt like the President of the United States.
“Resting” became the foundation of a meditation practice that appeared, just when I needed it, when I became a hyperactive, workaholic adult. I thought the world had something for me, and I was afraid I’d miss it. Once again, I fought rest, terrified I’d fall behind.
A seed, planted years before, began to sprout. All I needed was me, if only eight minutes at a time.
I wish I could thank that brother and sister for their priceless legacy, but I imagine they’re resting by now.
So I honor them with my practice.
*Photo credit: Michael Sendbuehler