Wednesday, October 27, 2010

sangha part 2

"Finally, we take refuge in the sangha, the people who are on the path with us. Those who are in the sangha are warriors, because they are trying to overcome samsara. Members of the sangha support one another and care for one another. They are not perfect, but they inspire us because they are people who want to deepen their practice of mindfulness, awareness and compassion...We realize that there are other people around who are going through the same thing. That gives us a feeling of encouragement."- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

It was lovely to read the comments that some of you left when I asked for some companionship a couple of weeks ago. It was so encouraging. So often on the path of parenting and of awakening one can feel a bit lonely. Lonesome. Alone. A bit like, "does anyone else go through this???" Which is why it is so important to connect to other parents who are also walking, running, stumbling, dancing, wailing along this crooked path. Particularly in this age and culture when we often do not have the proximity or support of blood relations in raising our children up. It becomes absolutely necessary once you have a child to seek others out, even if previously you were the last person to do so. Having a child forces one to exit any self-imposed seclusion - you have to begin to extend outward into the world, because that is what your child naturally needs and wants to do. In order for our children to thrive, their world needs to expand ever outwards, and that necessitates that our world expands as well.

I have always found it wonderful how children of a certain age and temperament will say "hello" to almost anyone and anything. They do not make distinctions. I have exchanged beautiful smiles and laughter with many a baby only to look up at a scowling mama or daddy - lol! Chogyam Trungpa once said that the dharmic person says "Hello" in a crowded elevator, even if he or she is the only person to do so and gets no reply. Babies are true buddhas, aren't they? They don't need anyone to tell them to connect!

However, in terms of who we surround ourselves and our families with on an intimate level, I think we can make some necessary distinctions. The Buddha taught extensively on the importance of good companions on the spiritual path - going so far as to say that having admirable companions was "the whole of the spiritual path". I think we often become aware with our children that who they are close friends with is very important. It is also important for us as mindful parents to be conscious of the people we gather with, to make sure that their friendship is nourishing to us and our families, that it encourages us rather than depletes us or discourages us.

This doesn't mean we close our hearts to other beings, or don't befriend people who are suffering, or don't say "hello" to everyone. I think it means that we are mindful of who we choose to invite into our private spaces, who we choose to share our struggles with, who we ask for advice, who we hire to nurture our children. I think it can also help us begin to discern when we need to set a compassionate boundary with our families when they question or undermine our parenting choices.

What I look for in a parenting friend is kindness, gentleness towards their children and others, some sense of integrity to their word, open hearts - if they demonstrate basic sanity in how they manifest in the world. Or if they are trying to be sane in how they manifest in the world.

Ultimately, we can view the entire world of beings as our sangha, and relate to them all as our teachers, treating them with friendliness and compassion. But on the relative level, the more I surround myself with friends who are working with some sense of awareness, some sense of mindfulness in the world and in their parenting, the more encouraged I feel on my own path. The world we live in is often dedicated to eradicating mindfulness and compassion. Let us build and strengthen our community of family and friends so that basic goodness and the magic born from awareness are what our children are surrounded by.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

excellence of bodhichitta

There is a lovely article in the latest issue of the "Shambhala Times" by Ani Pema Chodron about bodhichitta. Worth a read if you have the time!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

what to accept and what to reject

"Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. No one else can really sort out for you what to accept - what opens up your world - and what to reject - what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery." - Pema Chodron

We got our computer room painted. Or I should say, the back bedroom where our computer resides had paint dropping off the ceiling, so after many entreaties, our landlord finally came in one cold Saturday and painted it an institutional green color, then closed the windows tight and left. So we have been airing out the room for the past week, exhausting out the chemical gasses with fans and open windows in chilly fall temperatures. Which means that I have been unable to blog and unable to go online at all, which, in a way, has been great.

While blogging is something that I would like to cultivate as it helps keep me on the path of mindfulness and compassion, being online in general is something I really really need to cut down on, or reject, to use dharma terms. We don't have a television, so I use the computer as my source of mindless (as in makes me lose all mindfulness/awareness) entertainment. This kind of indulgence or cultivation of mindlessness in turn makes me feel sluggish, resentful, unmotivated and just squashes my lungta, or chi. Even worse, when I am online, my children want to go online also. My infant wants to know what is magnetizing me in the middle of a playtime and my toddler really wants to watch a Thomas the Train video on the web. And how can I say no to them when I am there, glued to the screen, scrolling through my email? I may only spend five minutes doing that, but that is enough for my children to become distracted. So the mindlessness spreads, as do its attendant symptoms.

As a practitioner of mindfulness, I have often been admonished by my teachers to be aware of what I am cultivating in my heartmind. Am I watering the seeds of compassion and wisdom or am I watering those of ignorance and aggression? This awareness of what we are cultivating internally can extend out into our external lives as well. What are we putting our attention on, what are choosing to bring into our day to day lives with our children? Is what we are bringing in encouraging sanity, clarity, compassion, and joy in their lives? Or is it watering the seeds of distraction, dissatisfaction, anxiety? Are we encouraging their nourishment or their ill health? What I have found is that if something in our daily lives is nourishing us, it gives us energy, connection and contentment. And if it is not nourishing us, it leaves us cranky, drained and checked out.

When I was pregnant with my children I was very conscious of what I was eating, as whatever I ingested would enter into their growing brains and bodies as they waited within me, readying for their births. Now that they are in this realm, I sometimes am not so conscious of what I am feeding them in terms of daily nurturing. With small children, a habit can be acquired extremely quickly, as they cling to routine and sameness. Hence, my toddler now expects a cookie from the corner Italian deli every Tuesday after library storytime- all due to the fact I had to buy lunch there two weeks in a row and the deli man kindly offered him a cookie when he saw my son was impatient. And if he sees me on the computer, he expects to be able to watch a video.

These aren't big, terrible habits. But within them I see the seeds of habitual tendencies that can lead to closing up rather than opening. And I see as one of my main jobs as a mama to be the tender encouragement of opening to the world and other beings. So this week I am beginning to focus on what I can accept into our world that will assist us in this opening, and what I need to reject. What leaves us energized and what leaves us checked out? I made this list of things to accept and cultivate. I think it really helps to look at these kinds of lists as things that nourish us and help us in our sanity, rather than things we should be doing:

1) daily meditation and contemplation: for me with two under 2, this means having my toddler ring my meditation gong in the morning, doing a short morning chant and letting him and my infant play in my lap while I sit quietly for a few minutes. If they are not having it, then just the gong and the chant is enough.

2) keeping the radio, music and videos off until after naps in the afternoon, when we can use them for a transition time of about 30 minutes. This is a hard one for us, as my toddler is really habituated now to waking up and watching a video as I check my email. This means mama is no longer online until the children are asleep at night.

3) saving treats like cookies, cake etc. for special occasions or at the most once per week. This is also hard as I am a former professional baker and chocolatier. Which means I still bake, a lot. Ahem.

4) continuing to cultivate mindful speech around my children and with others. This also means speaking with gentleness. This too has been hard lately, as my toddler has been entering the defiant stage known as the terrible twos.

5) going to bed at a decent hour. This means mama as well. Being offline this week really helped me with that as my old tendency was to stay up to all hours surfing the net while my children dozed.

It is interesting to note the pull towards those habits which do not nourish, but keep us distracted and closed down. I have noticed it all week - the pull to the computer in the poisoned paint room! Look at what it took to keep me out - noxious fumes! What are your lists? What do you want to cultivate in your daily life with your children, and what to you want to reject? As with all things on the path, just remember to relax with it all, to be gentle with yourselves, and keep walking along.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Hello fellow travelers along the path of waking up through our parenting,

This is a crazy week here in our household, with my husband working many late nights and I am feeling rather tired and overwhelmed. I have a couple of topics I have been contemplating and that will be sharing with you all soon, but in the meantime, if you are in the mood, it would be so lovely to hear from you in my comments section. The importance of sangha, or community, on the path is crucial. To know that there are other people stumbling along besides us, sharing in the same challenges and the same victories - it is just such a precious thing, and so heartening. If you are feeling a bit brave, or maybe a bit shy, (but ready to be brave), then please share in this space a bit about yourself and your path of parenting. It would mean so much to me. I am sure it will help give me some of the energy I need to sit back down at the keyboard and share with you all!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

appreciating ourselves

"A great deal of the chaos in the world occurs because people don't appreciate themselves."
— Chögyam Trungpa (Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)

I was watching my toddler today play with a group of slightly older children at a local indoor play space. As mentioned before in this space, he is cautious by nature and can become slightly overwhelmed in groups of children. This sometimes translates into him being bulldozed by other little ones - they take his toys right out of his hands or push him aside, and instead of taking the toys back or protesting, he shrinks a bit, steps away or clings to me. I don't want him to be aggressive towards other children, and I want him to share willingly, but I also really want him to appreciate himself and his own right to be there, to be here, on this good earth. I believe that if this is cultivated in him, he will be able to feel confident and gentle towards others at the same time, without the need to shrink. How can I help nurture that in him and his brother?

It is so hard at times to appreciate our own good hearts and minds. Probably because we don't often view our hearts and minds as being particularly good. Instead, we tend to view ourselves as being terribly flawed, or unlovable, or a mess, or maybe unkind, or ... you fill in the blank. It can depend on the day, who we are with, how much external circumstances live up to our expectations of how our lives should look. It can be very hard to see ourselves as basically good, sane beings if we have just yelled at our child or put our foot in our mouth, or made some kind of normal, human mistake. This isn't a new topic for me, but I think it can be useful to return to it, as I know in my own daily life, I am so often lacking in loving kindness for myself. And when I am lacking in loving kindness towards myself, it becomes very difficult to feel it towards others. That's the funny thing we begin to see more and more as we practice mindfulness and awareness in our daily lives. It is very difficult to open from a place of aggression towards oneself. It is very difficult to consider the basic goodness of others if we don't think it is in ourselves. So if we really want to appreciate our children in all their uniqueness, quirkiness, crankiness, brilliance, beauty and energy, and really want our children to appreciate all of that in themselves, then we need to appreciate our own messy humanness.

What does appreciating oneself mean? How do we begin to truly trust in our own basic wakefulness and compassion? For me, meditation has been the space where I have been able to see my own naked heart and rest with it, no matter what. The more I have been able to rest with it in all its moods and thoughts about the past and future, its little and big desires, its little and big mistakes- the more I am able to feel kindness towards myself. By seeing how truly human I am, I am somehow able to see how human everybody else is too, and slowly, slowly, begin to love and appreciate myself and others more and more. It is so tender, this being human. It is such a precious experience, even in the chaos and the suffering. We can begin to appreciate all of that, the more we work with not judging what arises within ourselves or outside of ourselves. Just staying with what is happening, and letting go of what arises again and again.

Another potent practice has been loving kindness or metta contemplation practice. This is a practice where you send loving kindness to yourself. Once you have worked with sending loving kindness to yourself, then you begin to send it to other beings. First you send loving kindness to someone who has helped you, who you respect. Then you work with sending loving kindness to someone you love, then to a person you feel neutral about (like the mailman or a grocery clerk) and then to a person you actively dislike. Eventually, you extend this loving kindness aspiration out to all beings throughout time and space.

There are many traditional phrases you can use during metta practice, but I like to use the following, as adapted from Sharon Salzberg's book, "Loving Kindness":

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be free from danger.
May I live a happy life.

Again, always begin with yourself. After a few minutes of wishing yourself genuine happiness, you can bring someone who has helped you to mind who you respect. Then it is lovely to bring your children to mind and wish that they be happy, healthy, free from danger and so on. And then the neutral party, and then the person you struggle with. If you are pressed for time, it can be as simple as when you wake up or are going to sleep to just say to yourself "May I be happy. May so and so be happy. May my children be happy." etc. Or just start with "May I be happy." You can work with that throughout your day. You are strapping yourself into your seatbelt in the car: "May I be happy". You reach for a snack from the fridge: "May I be healthy". You are changing a diaper: "May I be free from danger." Just bring it to mind whenever you notice where your mind is. Whenever you notice where your mind is, space occurs. You can choose what to put into that opening.

This is a simple but very powerful practice. The more you work with it, the more you can notice. Is it hard to wish yourself happiness? Is there a tightness around it? Irritation? Sadness? Just keep noticing and come back to "May I be happy".

We deserve to be here, on this beautiful earth. Basic goodness is our birthright, our inheritance when we come into being. Being human is a precious experience. The more we cultivate appreciation for ourselves in all of our humanness, mistakes and all, the more our children will see their own goodness, and appreciate their right to be here too.