Thursday, December 30, 2010

mindful resolutions

Blogging is lighter than usual due to the winter festivities. As the new year of 2011 is almost upon us, I found this article today worth reading. Many of us torment ourselves in true samsaric fashion this time of year with making resolutions to do things better in some way. I guess I just want to chime in with the gentle reminder that things as they are, including you, are already basically good. I think to hold in your mindstream certain aspirations can be helpful, but only when embraced with gentleness and confidence in your own buddha nature. Even when we haven't showered in a week, haven't cleaned up the detritus from the holiday presents, are eating sugar cookies for breakfast and our children are still naked at noon, we are still basically OK, and so are they. Mindfulness is a process, a series of many steps, backwards and forwards and this way and that. It isn't anything we can wrap up in a shiny bow and point out to others. It is a slow, gentle wearing away of habitual patterns and learning how to open again and again and then again.

In other words, no quick fix. And it is perfectly perfect in that way. So when writing a list of resolutions, be easy on yourselves. Aspiring for more mindfulness, more compassion, more gentleness - very useful. And you are already perfect buddha mama and perfect buddha daddy. And it goes without saying of course, that your little or big ones are perfect buddhas as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

the gift of presence

Just a nice link to a little article on giving our children what they most desire - ourselves, present and authentic. Authentic because we are really just right here, right now with them. I would only add that by practicing mindfulness with our families, we are more able to be fully available to them. The more we can notice when we are not truly present with our children, and then bring ourselves back, the more this gift will be part of our daily lives with our families.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

true gifts

"The point is to look properly. See the colors: white, black, blue, yellow, red, green, purple. Look. This is your world! You can't not look. There is no other world. This is your world; it is your feast. You inherited this; you inherited these eyeballs; you inherited this world of color. Look at the greatness of the whole thing. Look! Don't hesitate - look!" - Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

We had our local Children's Day celebration, and it was a lovely time. The King and Queen dolls seem to approve, no? And my toddler was happy with our "Pin the Tail on the Dragon" game.

It was a very simple celebration, and small, and just right. There was great richness and vividness to it, in the colors, the songs, the jokes, the food shared in community. It was a wonderful little opportunity to share our basic goodness with one another, through the celebration of our children.

This has been a hard month for me, with lots of illness, doctor visits, emergency room forays (everyone is ok, although my toddler now has a dermabonded laceration on his forehead), lack of sleep, and so on. I have had some rough moments when I have felt I can't possibly give anything further. What has helped me is to pay attention, just continue to pay attention to what I am feeling, and who I am being. I have been allowing myself to touch my exhaustion, and my overwhelm. When I touch it, and don't judge it, but just look at it and allow myself to feel it without indulging in lots of thoughts around it, I can see that it is already changing, dissolving, turning into something else. That allows me to move forward, through it, and carry on with what needs to be done. It's been hard at times, but I am still here to tell the tale, so it has been working. Sense of humor has been helping as well. And the support of my sangha, both the sangha of practitioners and that of other parents who give me their warm encouragement and are generous enough to laugh with me and share their own challenges.

What has helped me most of all though, is gentleness. The gentleness that arises from dropping any judging of my experience. This gentleness has allowed me to open further to myself, my partner and my children, when my first instinct has been to get harder, withdraw and lash out. Not that I don't slip sometimes, but that is all part of our practice too. We stumble along, but we keep coming back - back to our breath, to our bodies, to our hearts, to our gentleness. This is why our teachers call this practice warriorship.

Basic goodness is always here, available to us in every moment. It just needs the gift of our attention for it to shine out. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche exhorted, all we need to do is simply look. Look! This great feast awaits us. The phenomenal world is so full of simple magic. Our children are attuned to it, as they are better at paying attention, better at simply being in the moment and allowing it to present itself to them in all its richness.

I wish us all a feast this solstice. It is a feast of our neurosis and of our clarity, of our aggression and of our compassion. Spicy and sweet. Happy and sad. Full of beauty. Completely real and ever changing. Spacious and open, like our minds.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Children's Day or preparing for the solstice

"Children's Day provides a special opportunity to express appreciation for and with our children."

Rather than celebrate Christmas or Chanukah in our household, we celebrate the joy and goodness to be found, even in the darkest times, with the Shambhala holiday of Children's Day. This link provides information if you are interested in finding out more about it. It is a holiday that connects us to the winter solstice while celebrating the joy and magic of our children.

We decorate our meditation center's shrine and our home shrines with pine boughs, twinkling lights, candy and toys, all offered to the King and Queen dolls, representing the masculine and feminine principles of skillful means and compassion, energy and space, father and mother. These dolls sit in the place of honor on the shrine. Some people purchase beautiful Japanese King and Queen dolls, while others make their own out of gingerbread, or paper, or felt, or perhaps pine cones - whatever is at hand and that is inspiring.

I love filling our home during this darkest time of year with light, warmth and the gifts of food, connection and kindness. My toddler can't ignore the omnipresent Santa Claus and the festive decorations in our USian city, and I, personally, really enjoy the example of generosity, community and celebration that is at the heart of these winter holidays. So, we are teaching our boys that Santa is a bodhisattva of generosity, that this is the time of year when we celebrate light amidst the darkness, and enjoying the pleasure they take in the various decorations, carols and lights. There is much magic to be found in these outer forms, and I don't want to deny them the joy found within.

I do however, wish to cultivate in them a mindfulness of consumption - to not mistake materialism for happiness. They are very young, so the concept of asking for gifts has not entered their mindstreams yet. They have very generous grandparents, who we have gently asked to give only simple gifts of natural toys, or to contribute to music lessons in lieu of a physical item. This works for now, although it is hard to contain their generosity. I am sure once the children are in school, influenced by peers and popular culture, we will have new challenges. I am hopeful that by nurturing a sense of contentment and appreciation for the richness inherent in every thing, they will be better able to discern between fleeting wants and actual needs when they are older, as well as able to use this time of year to connect to generosity. This Children's Day we will be collecting food items to donate to a food pantry, and when they are old enough, we would like to spend time around the solstice volunteering together as a family to help those less fortunate than we. We have also made it a tradition to put out food for the little creatures that inhabit our neighborhood - birds, squirrels, rabbits and so on, reminding ourselves that all beings want to be happy and free of discomfort.

However you choose to celebrate this season, there are so many ways to practice opening to others, by giving without the expectation of reciprocation or even appreciation, by practicing generosity with the pure aspiration of simply making other beings happy. We can use the season to cultivate friendliness towards ourselves and others, connecting to our gentleness and soft hearts rather than getting lost in the busyness of what we think we must do. We can be aware of own needs, keep things a bit simpler, and continue to let go of expectations and rest when we need to amidst all the "things to do". I have been trying to find time every day as we approach the solstice to just pause and connect to the present moment. When I can't meditate formally, I do this in the form of a short walk outside, or just sitting while my children play or nurse and taking some deep breaths, raising my gaze up and noticing, then gently letting go of whatever is arising in my mind. This helps create some space during a time when our lives can become quite claustrophobic with all the running around.

How do you work with mindfulness during this season? How will you be celebrating the solstice? Wishing you all peace during these shortening days, and that basic goodness, which "shines like the sun" as our teachers remind us, illuminates the dark.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

protect them from fear, expose them to cold

This is what a wise dharma friend who works in Chinese medicine once told me when I was worrying about bringing my then newborn son outside on a snowy day. As a November baby, I had lots of opportunities to expose him to the cold of an upstate New York winter while still at a tender age. And I have had countless opportunities to expose him to my own fears.

The path of parenthood is littered with fear and neurosis at times. New fears spring up daily, as the world can seem a very threatening place when caring for such vulnerable beings. And then there are the old fears, some buried very deep indeed, resurrected from our own childhoods and adolescence by seeing our children experience phenomena and other beings, with everything that can entail.

We can't protect our children from the world. What we can do is nurture in them both confidence in and curiosity about themselves and other beings and the world they live in. When we voice our fears to them or in front of them, that can cloud their own seeing. I don't mean we refrain from warning them not to touch a hot stove or not run into the street or not to drink and drive. But we can keep those warnings direct and pithy, and take action around them, rather than projecting the possibility of catastrophes or unnecessarily elaborating on imaginary dangers. Mindfulness of speech is our skillful means in this practice. We need to start with our own inner dialogues as parents, noticing when we are engaged in fearful or anxious thinking and gently letting it go.

We can encourage our children to explore the world and the people in it while holding them in our awareness. "Give the cow a wide meadow" is a common teaching for beginning meditators - it is a reminder to not be too tight with our meditation practice, which can lead to claustrophobia and difficulty in sitting. The same can happen with our parenting; when we notice things are too tight and we all are feeling overly anxious, we can give our children a wide meadow to explore in, while making sure the boundaries that surround it are secure. Protecting our children from our discursive, fearful thought patterns is a powerful way to secure those boundaries for them, so they experience the world with greater sanity and clarity.

Chogyam Trungpa taught that the world is basically good, and fundamentally trustworthy. This can be hard to have faith in at times, when so many dangers seem to surround us. But the more we can perceive things with clarity, unclouded by our projections, we can discern what will harm and what will nurture. We can bring the well wrapped baby out for a winter walk, or teach our teenager how to drive safely. We can do these things simply, without internal or external fretting and doubts. I think the more we do this, the more the goodness of the world will be revealed and our trust in it will increase. And perhaps we will learn to trust ourselves more as well.