Wednesday, June 13, 2018

mothering through depression, mindfully or not

“My dog doesn’t worry about the meaning of life.”
― Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen: Love and Work

Trigger Warning: Suicide/Self-Harm

My nine year old, who is often quite sassy, and often quite rejecting of me as he tests his wings (oh, testing, testing) spent much of the winter with me and his brothers sledding. We would go almost every day after school, as long as there was some powder, or at least a lovely layer of ice. His favorite thing to do was to fly down the hill, deliberately turn his sled over, and then cry for me to come down and help him. "Mommy!" he would call. "Mommy, help! I need your help!" I admit I found this annoying, as I knew he wasn't actually hurt, but nevertheless, I would tramp down the hill, lean over, and help him up. "Are you ok?" I would ask each time. "Yes" he would respond, and smile. Sometimes he would hug me. He did this again and again, but I kept going down. I did it, even though I didn't really want to. I did it, even though I was cold and tired of walking up and down a snowy hill. I did it because I could tell he needed me to. Despite his sass and his pushing me away, he needed to make sure I would really come if he called. That I would be there, with love and hand extended, even though he is a big boy of 9. So I came.

"How can I work with depression?" This was the question I asked teacher after teacher, no matter what their lineage, no matter if they were a Rinpoche or a secular instructor. I asked this question at every teaching I attended during my early years on the path. "What can I do?" The teachers often paused, looking at me thoughtfully, and then answer - all with compassion, some with more skill than others. To be perfectly honest, I do not recall what they said. I suppose that is because I was depressed, and the question was less a query than a supplication. What I was really asking was, "How do I stop this pain? Help me. Can you help?" This pain, this shadow, had been with me for my entire life. It first arrived, almost like a physical entity, in my childhood. Some of it was probably biochemical - depression and anxiety run through my family tree, permeating both my paternal and maternal lineages. Some of it was situational. By the time I was 12, various traumas had occurred, including the suicide of my paternal grandfather, with whom I was very close. I was also parented by a mother who was quite critical, and I internalized her criticism, as children will do. There was no felt sense of being basically good, of the world being a basically whole place. Instead, there was a sense of being bad, of being flawed, of the constant probability that the world would in turn recognize that and respond accordingly, with judgment and rejection. In fact, in the incidences when disappointments, failures or rejections occurred, it was hailed as evidence of just this.

But my parents did the best that they could to help me. I began therapy at a young age. I was prescribed pharmaceuticals. And these things did help to some extent. But the depression never lifted. I was self-destructive. I engaged in self-harming behaviors. I was hospitalized, more than once.

I survived. Not always very prettily. Often quite messily. Depression will do that. Anxiety will do that. I floundered. Pursuing an acting career, one predicated on consistent rejection, didn't help that much. Living in an isolating and anxiety producing city like New York didn't help. But I continued. I found solace in medicine and therapy yes, but also, eventually, in the Buddhist teachings and meditation. They felt like very strong medicine - not substitutions for conventional therapies, but powerful supports. Looking at my thoughts as just that, not reality, but fleeting ideas and responses, was extremely helpful for me, someone constantly drowning in thoughts and feelings.

For me, the strongest medicine was this idea of basic goodness, of Buddha nature. That our essence is essentially good, whole, well. That all the other stuff, the thoughts and actions caused by ignorance, greed, aggression (depression and anxiety would seem to arise from ignorance of our true nature and the true nature of reality), are temporary obfuscations, a forgetting of who we really are. This was a revelatory idea to me. I wondered what I might be like if I had been fed this as a child. Would I be different now?

Of course, even that thought is misunderstanding. Charlotte Joko Beck also says, "There is a foundation for our lives, a place in which our life rests. That place is nothing but the present moment, as we see, hear, experience what is. If we do not return to that place, we live our lives out of our heads. We blame others; we complain; we feel sorry for ourselves. All of these symptoms show that we're stuck in our thoughts. We're out of touch with the open space that is always right here.” Accessing that open space is why I continued to meditate, although it wasn't easy. In my early years of meditation, my anxiety and depression threatened to overwhelm me on the cushion. I spent a 30 day silent retreat crying over old trauma and wounds that I had buried down deep deep deep. My meditation instructor reassured me it was ok. He told me that once I was able to see even those things as just movements of mind, I would know I had progressed past them. At least I think that is what he said. In any case, it bore fruit. I survived. I felt free.

What has this all to do with mothering? In my deepest, darkest depressions of my twenties, I swore I would never have children. I did not want to condemn a future generation to the absolutely unbearable mental pain I suffered. But, after meeting my now husband and progressing on the spiritual path of dharma, I felt differently. I felt I could beat this, and raising children in our community would give them a leg up on any genetic predisposition.

Well, mothering did not change my habitual pattern of depression or anxiety. Parenting has the uncanny ability to bring out both the best and the worst in us. I have written before that we cannot look to our children to make us happy. Our children cannot save us from ourselves. As our most intimate teachers in fact, they will reveal everything about ourselves that we attempt to hide or would like to pretend isn't there. My children have shaken to the core any idea I had of myself in terms of patience, generosity or gentleness. They have expertly revealed all the places I hold back, all the tricks I use to escape, to hide, to reject. How deep my aggression is. So why would I think that my depression could escape the ferocity of parenting? It didn't. It is always there. But I see it, know it. This seeing isn't always pretty. I see how my depression makes me absent with my children, even when I really want to be completely present. I see how my depression makes me impatient with them, even when I really want to be generous and kind. I see how absolutely un-mindful I can be with them. Most terrifying, I see how they have inherited some of my depressive patterns. I worry that even raising them with the fundamental belief in their own goodness will not save them from the brain chemistry they have inherited.

But my practice does allow me to see the ways I succeed with them. It gives me hope that in the end, they will be ok. I have no way of knowing if that is true - I have lived long enough and studied enough dharma to know any sense of control over the future is purely illusory. But I have to keep trying. There are days when my depression and anxiety are so strong, so familiar, that I believe the lies they tell me. I believe how terrible I am. How unlovable. What a failure. Friendless. Doomed. They are expert liars. They are seductive, their darkness magnetizing. My mindfulness practice gives me the insight to see the lies. To say "no." To open to the space always available in the present moment. To continue. To take my boys sledding on a cold and darkening winter afternoon when I would rather just get into bed and not get back out. To laugh with them as they fly down. To recognize the need in my 9 year old's voice, and trudge down down down the hill, lift him up out of the drift, wipe the snow off his hat, and ask, kindly, "are you ok?" And maybe that is the good news about depression, the crazy gift of it. That I really want to know if he is ok, because so often, I have not been. And how I suppose I really wanted at least one of those teachers to respond to me, "Are you ok?" and wait to hear the answer.

Meditation is not a substitute for medicines or for therapy. But it is a support. It can help us recognize our minds and hearts as more resilient and free than what our illness leads us to believe. Through experiencing small moments of open space, we begin to trust that reality a bit more, every time. We can see through the lies depression and anxiety tell us. Seeing through them, we experience that another, more profound reality exists beneath. One that is sustaining, nurturing, and strong. One that allows us to get up another day to help our children experience their own strength and good hearts. One that allows us to admit to them when we have messed up, but to keep going anyway. It isn't perfect. Nothing is. Or everything is. In fact, that was the piece of wisdom I came away with, from all those teachers. The depression and anxiety are perfect in their own ways. Basically good. Not bad. And that if I can bring myself back to the present moment, even just my breath, even just a sound, or the feeling of my feet on the floor, that it begins to break through the heaviness, the feeling of solidity and permanence that depression can give me. So I keep doing that. Imperfectly. Perfectly. "Are you ok?" "Yes, mommy. Yes."

If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, please ask for help. 1-800-273-8255 CHAT for trained professionals at the suicide hotline. Help also available en espanol

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

true practice

"You think that you can only establish true practice after you attain enlightenment, but it is not so. True practice is established in delusion, in frustration. If you make some mistake, that is where to establish your practice. There is no other place for you to establish your practice." - Suzuki Roshi

I've always been a good student. One of those pupils who listens attentively, studies assiduously, tries very hard to "get it right". When entering into my sangha, I paid close attention to the forms the practice took, the proper way to open a shrine, light the candles, sit on one's cushion, ring the gong and so on. These forms exist for a reason - they help to create a strong container for the mind to practice in. Strong forms are conducive to deeper meditation. Strong forms create a wide corral for our minds to roam in and then settle. Strong forms can also rub away at the ego like fine sand paper, smoothing out all the quirky ways we like to exert our "selves" into any situation. When related to with an attitude of openness and curiosity, they can really show us where we get stuck, where our hang ups are, what triggers us - in other words, they can be a wonderful antidote to ego.

We have been taking our boys to a famous zendo the last couple of months. They run a very established and wonderful dharma program for children and teens, and after years of wanting to attend, we have succeeded finally in showing up, dragging reluctant, sleepy, children out of bed at a very early hour on a Sunday in order to travel an hour and half into the mountains to participate. The boys enjoy it. Except when they don't. This past weekend was the Buddha's Birthday, and they participated in a wonderful puppet show relating the story of "Sticky Hair" and (in this case) "Princess Five Weapons". The children performed it for the sangha, after first participating in the beginning portion of the celebratory practice, where they offered flowers and water to the Buddha with the full sangha present.

I would like to report that the boys all behaved appropriately in the zendo, that they "followed the forms": standing still behind their cushions, being respectful of the space, joyfully making their offerings, excitedly performing the play. That would have been easy, right? What actually happened was, yes, my eldest behaved appropriately while in the zendo. My younger two sat on the meditation cushions at various times, rolled around on them a bit, poked eachother, pulled some sibling hair, reluctantly offered flowers, and proclaimed at various moments in a loud whisper, that they were BORED. Towards the end of what was a genuinely beautiful ceremony, my youngest pulled me out of the shrine room on the verge of tears, cranky and hungry.

Prior to the play performance, there were several run throughs. All three of my boys at one point or another during the next two hours of run throughs (yes, that is a LOT for small kids), QUIT THE SHOW. As a former actress, I had to fight my urge to admonish them that one DOES NOT SIMPLY QUIT THE SHOW DURING THE FINAL DRESS. My three year old demanded rice crackers for going onstage. My eldest broke down because his 7 year old brother had gum and he did not. My 7 year old was upset when one of the puppets he had been rehearsing with was given to another boy without a role. Much frustration was experienced by all.

They weren't the only children having a roller coaster of a day. When it was finally time for the puppet show to be performed, all my boys rallied, although my three year old insisted I move his puppet for him, rice crackers or no. Not all of the other children did, though. A couple sat out, their individual disappointments not salved. The show went on. The sangha was delighted. The children all smiles (I think). It was all perfectly imperfect.

Isn't that all it ever is, though? Perfectly imperfect? We might have illusions of perfection before having children. We certainly have an easier time performing a task for instance, cleaning a room, completing a thought, sitting in the proper way on our meditation cushion and respecting the forms of a zendo. Children quickly show us how it's all been a bit of a charade though. When have things truly gone completely to plan? We clean the floor and discover the scratch in the veneer. Empty the sink of dishes and catch sight of the chipped plate. Paint the room and see where water has made a small, corrosive pocket. Get the job and discover our manager is unkind, the tasks unreasonable, the coworker a bit weird. Sit silently in zendo and accidentally allow a loud fart to escape. Trip over our feet during walking meditation. Children, because of their energy, authenticity, chaos, show us immediately how silly the entire enterprise of "getting things right" is.

So how do we react to the inevitable mistake? Do we find ourselves getting really uptight? Letting the frustration build and control us? Do we feel shame? Do we rebel? Do we laugh and move on? Do we make it into our practice, as Suzuki Roshi admonishes us to? The zendo is a kind place. The forms are very very strong there. Which is why the chaotic energy of children can be welcomed into it on the Buddha's birthday and allowed to play. Which is why we can notice when our back stiffens and our fingers wag at a child poking his brother. Which is why we can notice tears coming to our eyes when our three year old pulls us out, and sit, and breathe and open to what lies beneath those tears - a longing. A longing not for perfection, but for touching space. That is the irony of tight forms - they create a vast space. But only if we relax within them. Only if we can let go and accept things as they are. Sitting on a hard wooden bench, a wiggly, nursing toddler in my lap, watching the sangha complete their prostrations and chants, I let go. There was the space. There was the practice. There was the perfectly imperfect. All of it. The wiggling kids, the yawning parents, the contained sangha, the wooden Buddhas, bathed in water spooned gently over them by small, sticky hands. All of it. All of it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

no escape

I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the Stern Fact, the Sad Self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Don't sing!" my three year old warns me. Unlike his older brothers, my youngest seemingly detests my singing. He began to express his dislike around 14 months old - putting his hand over my mouth when I began the nightly lullabies. So, after more than five years of this nightly ritual, I stopped singing my little ones to sleep. My older boys sometimes still request me to sing our favorite - "Edelweiss" - and I acquiesce - but I have to do so hurriedly, almost sotto voce, in order not to provoke the ire of the preschooler in the house.

"I hate you! You're the meanest mother in the WORLD!" shouts my newly 7 year old. I have offended him by not allowing a second piece of chocolate cake before bedtime. This child, who would sometimes break down into tears over the thought of me dying, now informs me at least once a week of his antipathy towards me. When this happens, I take a breath, tell him that I recognize he is really angry, that it is hard to accept limits/disappointments/changes in plans, and that although he may despise me, I love him and I like him. The rages pass. We reconcile with hugs. "I love you so much, mommy" he whispers to me as I tuck him in.

"I don't want to be a Buddhist." This is said sternly, resentfully, by my 8.5 year old. We have just finished volunteering at a local food bank, sorting through boxes and boxes of donated toiletries. After several hours hard work, even by the three year old, we clamber into our van. I ask the boys to pause and recite the "Dedication of Merit" with me. This is a traditional Buddhist prayer to dedicate any good gained from an activity to all other beings, rather than keeping it just for ourselves. My eldest shakes his head. Refuses. "I don't want to be a Buddhist." Glares at me. "Ok" I say. "You don't have to be. But your family is Buddhist. Maybe you will change your mind. Maybe not." I finish reciting the brief prayer. Make sure everyone is buckled in. Drive back home.

I think of these episodes as the "slings and arrows" of daily parenting. Also big, challenging opportunities to truly let go of how I think things should be. When I am able to be present with my children when these occur, I am able to stay curious - about their sentiments, about my reaction to them. Curiosity invariably leads to greater perspective, understanding, compassion, patience. I have been thinking alot lately of my own childish critiques of my mother. She also loved to sing. I also would ask her to stop. I think of that now and feel a pain in my heart. This pain leads me to more memories of times when my childish ego got in the way of accepting my parents for who they were, not just as my mother and father, but as people going through life. I think of being embarrassed about my mother's toe nails. I felt she kept them too long. I hated that she insisted on painting them and wearing sandals in the summer, rather than hiding them under socks and closed toe shoes. This memory comes to me as my youngest repeatedly pulls off the knit hats I like to wear three seasons of the year.

This is a little taste of what we Buddhists call karma, in its more simplistic sense. The causes and conditions that come together through habitual mind and actions, leading to flowering, or echoes of past actions. When we notice such an echo, it is a good reminder to stop and look deeper. To laugh, if we can. This flowering of karma keeps us stuck in samsara, the endlessly turning wheel of birth, old age, sickness and death. We often fool ourselves into thinking that we can somehow escape this wheel, thinking a change of scene, a different path choice, a different partner, job etc will stop us from experiencing the flowering of old karma, take us off the wheel of suffering, but then we wake up once more, like Emerson in Naples, and see our same "Sad Self" there, still with us, as inescapable as our shadow.

I have written before about not looking to our children to make us happy. If I wasn't so rusty at this blogging thing, I would be able to link that entry properly. Ahem. In any case, looking to our children to save us, or in fact anything to save us, is futile. Our children will throw these slings and arrows at us. All children do this, to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes, these arrows will hit their target with some force. The work then is to stay aware, stay curious, and not get sucked into resentment or retaliation. Yesterday, my eldest, very angry that I had taken away his screen time privilege as a consequence for bad behavior, told me I was "failing as a mother". This arrow really hit me hard, and of course I knew why. I often feel I am failing as a mother. Every single day, to be honest. I began to engage in an argument with him, and then, feeling a familiar ache in my belly and heart, I was able to stop. This feeling of failure, of feeling like a helpless, unsuccessful dilettante, is a very very old feeling for me, much older than my children. Older, too, is the feeling of being judged and rejected by others. Our children are so skillful at uncovering our old, unhealed wounds. I am not going to tell you I was immediately able to switch gears. No, in fact, I went into a bit of a wallow in self-pity and self-loathing. Fortunately though, I was able to notice that as well, take a breath and just sit with that old, old pain. The longer I sat with it, the better I was able to see it for what it was - old story, old patterns, nothing more. My urge to argue with him was an urge to somehow escape those old feelings, my old shadow. "No escape", I thought. I left the room. I made dinner. My son came up to me as I was setting the table, hugged me, and told me he loved me.

Surrendering to the reality that we cannot escape our "selves" allows us to actually get off the wheel of suffering, to stop creating the karma that keeps us trapped. Being present with our children when they let fly those arrows, being present to our reactions, helps us break the chains of karma, weaken the patterns that hold us fast. The more we can do this, the smoother this path will be.

Monday, January 30, 2017

working with aggression

"not setting up the target for the arrow,
connecting with the heart,
seeing obstacles as teachers, and
regarding all that occurs as a dream."

During times of widespread aggression, you may begin to notice how your own aggression becomes amplified. Perhaps you find you are more impatient with your children or partner. That you are more liable to use shaming language, or to yell. Authoritarian parenting becomes more atttractive, or you begin to stray regularly into unkindness. Your children will in turn begin to behave more aggressively, modeling what their grown ups do. The good news is that in the path of parenting, to notice when you begin to behave aggressively within your family, whether through thought, word, or deed, is the first step to being able to transform that aggression.

Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala Buddhism, taught that contemporary times are a "dark age" where the forces of materialism and dehumanization are prevalent, and we are often cut off from the experience of our own basic, fundamental goodness and that of others. Current events in the United States seem to give evidence of this, as aggression and prejudice, fear, and ignorance are on the rise. The challenge for a practitioner of a spiritual path, for a parent, during difficult times is to maintain clear seeing and continue to cultivate compassion and patience, gentleness and dignity in daily life. This can be difficult, but to cultivate within our own families and homes the seeds of goodness, can actually be a powerful action for the greater good.

So, first off, let's breathe. Just feel your feet on the ground, solid, really there. Breathe in slowly, for four counts, then out for four counts. Repeat a few more times. The more you can do this throughout your day, the steadier you will feel. Times of chaos remind us of the truth that life is inherently groundless and always changing, which adds to our feelings of fear and anxiety. So ground yourself in the breath, whenever possible. Our breath is always with us, and we can always touch it and let it anchor us to the present moment. This kind of deliberate slowing down of the breath is a useful tool to use even with young children when they are also anxious or upset. When very small, I use the "Three Little Pigs" technique - I have them blow down first the straw house, then the wood house, then the brick house. Just that can help calm and anchor.

The quote at the top of this post is from an excellent Pema Chodron piece on working with anger/difficulties. These teachings are pulled from the lojong, or mahayana mind training slogans of the great teacher Atisha. These four pithy reminders can help us in our daily lives with our children as we transform our own aggression. "Don't set up the target for the arrow" - in other words, if we don't keep strengthening our anger habit, when our children misbehave or disappoint, those actions will cease to solicit our push button response - we will no longer have a button that can be pushed in that way. Have you noticed that when our children begin to irritate us, that irritation often builds and builds, and however hard we try to ignore or push that anger away, however hard we really wish we did not respond with anger, we eventually blow up? Just this morning, my middle son, who gets very anxious if he is late to school, began to send out arrows my way that all hit their target. First he didn't want to get out of bed for school. Then he insisted I come back upstairs and choose out his clothes for him. Then he didn't like the clothes I chose. Then he wouldn't eat his breakfast quickly. Then he ignored my warnings that we would be late for school and instead chose to play with his Legos, without responding to my reminder that we needed to leave. When he finally got in our car with his brothers, when we were at this point 5 minutes late, he chose to fiddle with something in the seat rather than sit down and get buckled in. I finally blew up at him. Each time I saw him actively work against both his own and my own goal of getting him and his brother to school on time, rather than feeling that discomfort of anxiety and anger, and then choosing something different, I chose to feel exasperated, anxious, and mad. Which built to the point of blowing up.

Here is where I need to pause and add that like all afflictive emotions, anger has a seed of wisdom or enlightened energy it. In this case, clear seeing. I could clearly see that the choices my son were making would make him and his brother late to school, which would upset all of us. Where I ran into trouble was then trying to push the anxiety around that away - rather than just acknowledging it. I find when I am able to really touch my fear (which is often what lies beneath anger), and really acknowledge it, then it releases its hold on me and I can be resourceful and playful in what I do next. So, rather than pausing, and getting present to my son and to my own emotions, I just carried on with the busyness of the morning routine, allowing myself to get annoyed and frustrated at each impasse, until it all fell apart. I allowed my view of my son to change - I viewed him as an obstacle, rather than as a small human who was struggling with waking up and going to school after a weekend at home. That is another way we set up the target. We view other beings and phenomena as for us or against us. What better way to prime ourselves for aggression?

This leads us to the second little slogan above - "connect with your heart". By connecting to our own discomfort which lies beneath our aggression, and with the discomfort that is often being experienced by the person giving us trouble, we can begin to feel some compassion for our shared predicament. Just as we can welcome into our arms the toddler who stumbles and hurts himself, we can begin to welcome our own stumbles with some love. Holding our anger in loving arms encourages us in turn to look on the aggression of others with compassion, and even curiosity. Millions of other humans are tripped up many times each day by anger. We can hold that truth in our heart-minds and create a kind space around all that misery, rather than continue to respond with aggression, feeding into an endless loop of mutual lashing out.

The last two reminders are encouraging us to cultivate gratitude and equanimity around the things and people that provoke us. By seeing all "obstacles as our teachers", we are reminded that until we have transformed our own aggression, things will keep showing up in our lives to help us to do so. One of the many profound ways in which our children teach us is by ripping off any mask we may have. My children have shown me repeatedly how much aggression lives in me, how deeply it is rooted, and how much of a habit it is. These small people, who I love more completely than any other being, are also those who provoke me the most. When I am able to be grateful to them, to view them as teachers intent on awakening my heart to a more boundless compassion, a more genuine patience, any anger or irritation becomes workable. If I instead lose mindfulness and just become resentful, then our day (or evening) together is lost. Our last reminder, "regarding all that occurs as a dream"- I think Pema does the best job explaining this:

"Rather than making it so important, we can reflect on the essencelessness of our current situation. We can slow down and ask ourselves: “Who is this monolithic me that has been so offended? And who is this other person who can trigger me like this? What is this praise and blame that hooks me like a fish, that catches me like a mouse in a trap? How is it that these circumstances have the power to propel me like a ping-pong ball from hope to fear, from happiness to misery?”

When we believe the story our ego has written around us and our lives, thinking it solid and true, we suffer. If we can view every situation and being (including ourselves), as like a dream - a passing memory, constantly changing and shifting - those stories lose their grip on us. It becomes a bit harder to get so angry, to feel so at war with what we think opposes "us". So, try some or all of these today, during this difficult time. The more we can use these reminders, and unseat our habitmind of aggression, the more manageable the aggression of the larger world will become.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Reboot - or accepting that things fall apart

So. It's been two years since I announced "hey, I'm back to writing this little blog again." And then, nothing else emerged. A bit ridiculous, and funny, and well, if truth be told, a bit like the practice of waking up itself. If you practice any spiritual path really deeply for long enough, you have more than one moment of walking to the edge of a big "something" - call it the abyss, the big aha, the edge of really, finally starting - peering down, feeling perhaps a fresh breeze push ever so slightly against your skin, and then walking yourself right on back. This path of parenting is challenging. Add to that challenge the death of one's mother, the main source of those lineages of enlightenment and neurosis I have written about in the past, and at times many things begin to seem rather insurmountable and overwhelming. Writing about parenting when my mind was constantly shadowed with the loss of my own mom was an obstacle I didn't quite know how to overcome.

Pema Chodron writes in one of her more recent books, "When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing is just not working and we don’t know what to do, this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered, just waiting to be embraced. This is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone. This is our chance to finally understand that wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us. Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world." I am not sure how well I have done with this teaching, but I am trying. My mother's passing, while casting darkness over my world, has indeed made me softer. In other ways, I think it has made me harder, as I struggle with a tendency to solidify around the grief, rather than allowing it to continue to work on my heart. Not dissimilar at all to the path of parenting, or waking up in general. So many times in our daily life, with our children or without, we are given profound opportunities to open or to close, to gather our ego tighter around ourselves, or slowly unwind its grasping fingers.

Since my mother died, I have come back, again and again, to a memory I have of her. It is one of my earliest. I am snuggled against her chest, her arm around me, as she reads a book to me on the old, threadbare couch of my childhood home. A shaft of sunlight warms us. I smell her perfume, and hear her voice reverberating slightly through her rib cage, my ear pressed against it. This memory often comes to me at the end of hard days with my boys, days when I have not walked this path skillfully, but have been impatient, unkind, ungenerous with them. I think of the hard days my mom had with her own children, and the many ways she failed. But my ultimate memory of her is this - warmth, sweet scent, love, cloth, sun and breathing bone. This gives me confidence that the many times I fail on this path will hopefully be transformed into those moments of compassion, love, generosity and space that my children deserve from me.

I think if we hope our children to be generous in their memories of us, we also need to be generous not only to them, but to ourselves. This takes bravery. So I am back, trying to be brave, inching up again to the edge of becoming, or as this is a Buddhist blog, to the edge of unbecoming. Here is the first step.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I'm back

Wow. That was quite a hiatus,wasn't it? I am looking at the little "last blogged" date stamp and suddenly, realize it has been almost two years since I wrote anything substantive for this blog. In those almost two years, quite a bit occurred. My husband and I bought our first home. I got pregnant again and had another miscarriage, only this time at 15 weeks, after having heard the heartbeat. Then a few months later, my mother died. She passed away shortly after I found out I was newly pregnant. That pregnancy came to fruition, and I now have a third beautiful boy, almost 6 months old, born almost exactly a year from the date I learned I had lost the previous pregnancy. I hope you will forgive my absence, but the highs and lows of joy and grief kept me from sitting down to write. I have been meditating, and contemplating. And I hope to be able to begin sharing some of my thoughts again with you all. Wishing you all peace.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

giving up our stories is hard to do

Can you notice when you are acting due to a thought or story you made up about your child, rather than acting in response to what is actually occurring? Particularly when we are at our limit, we can begin to believe the storyline over things as they really are. The more you can notice when you do this, then take a breath and reconnect to what is happening, actually happening, the easier things become. Even when they are hard.

My children were sick all weekend. My husband was working. He has been working every weekend the last month, as well as late nights. I am at my limit. And I was at my limit tonight when they both repeatedly asked me for comforting, at the breast and with snuggles. I just wanted to get dinner in the oven. I didn't have much to do, I hadn't been able to attend to anything else all day outside of playing with them and snuggling/nursing them, changing them, caring for them in the many ways we do when they are ill. I just needed five minutes to get one thing done. They needed me. They felt bad. They needed mama's touch, mama's milk, mama's lap. I didn't want to give it to them anymore. Their cries that they felt sick, that their tummies hurt, that they wanted me - it all felt like way too much. Instead of taking a breath, and acknowledging that indeed, this felt like too much, and working with the energy of that, I began to go off on a storyline, voicing my frustration and resentment. I began to exaggerate in my mind, project my own fears and sadnesses onto them. And I began to speak to them out of that muddled dream. Luckily, I noticed. I heard my words and saw my little ones' faces. But it took a few minutes.

It took a few minutes. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it takes a few days. With some storylines and emotions, it can take a few years, or more. The important thing is that at some point, you notice. You stop. You take a moment to look, and you see that what you thought was true, well, it really isn't. "Life is always kinder than the story we tell about it." I know I am always mentioning that Byron Katie quote, but my goodness, it is apt.

It is only when we can let the whole thing go, watch the shadow unravel, that we can actually stop perpetuating suffering, both our own and others'. The important thing is to notice. Then you can open back up to things as they are, really are. I always say to my meditation students that even if they just notice one time during a meditation session that their attention is not on the breath, and then bring their attention back to the breath, even just once, well - they have meditated. It just takes one time. Over and over and over again.

So. Tonight was one of those times. Noticing that I had allowed myself to be carried, once more, on the wave of story - carried away from the present moment, and into my projections. And behaving badly because of it. I noticed. I came back. I picked up my two crying boys, and I apologized to them. I got warm cloths, and laid them on their tummies. I held them. I nursed them. I hugged them. I asked my husband for help when he got home, even though I knew he was stressed and tired as well. I realized I couldn't attend a meeting I had been planning on going to this evening. That commitment, nagging at the back of mind, had also fed my little tirade. I let go of what I had planned and embraced what needed to occur.

The boys are sleeping now, as is my husband, who is also sick. My kitchen, no, my whole house, is a mess. The cats need to be fed. I need to wrap a birthday present for my youngest and finish a felt crown for him, as it's his second birthday tomorrow. I feel that I am about to come down with this illness too. But still so much to do here. It's ok. And it's hard. I can just acknowledge that, and not add any of the other stuff to it. I don't need to write a whole story of how it should or could be, or why it is hard or whatever. Just breathe. Just be here. Then it isn't hard, or at least, not so hard, anymore.