Friday, December 30, 2011

new year aspirations

Bodhichitta is essentially a quality of warmth, an experience of our connection with all beings and with all things. It's said traditionally that it's expressed as a wish or an aspiration, initially expressed as a strong longing or wish that nobody suffer, and that we could in some way in the course of our lifetime, as much as possible, help to alleviate suffering in the world. - Pema Chodron

One more day left in 2011, and to be honest, I am happy to see the back of this year and ready to greet the new one. In these last days of the dying year, my mind turns to aspirations. Not resolutions - I've written about that trap before. When we make resolutions, we are often setting ourselves up to fail, to repeat the constant cycle of aggression and suffering rather than cultivating seeds of gentleness and compassion. Aspirations are powerful because they are more open ended - we are not so much attached to a particularly specific result, but to a slower, more encompassing transformation in our lives or patterns. Our personal patterns and the patterns of our family.

What are your aspirations for yourself and your family in the coming year? For your parenting path? The fundamental aspiration of bodhichitta, as Pema Chodron describes above, is to cultivate our fundamental warmth and connection with all things, and prevent and alleviate suffering. This aspiration seems a powerful one to continue to return to on the parenting path, so that even at our most stuck, our most habitual, our most overwhelmed, we can breathe, touch our hearts, and return to some kind of gentleness. The gentleness has to begin with ourselves. We cannot be consistently gentle and compassionate with our children, our partners, our friends, strangers, unless we can be so with our own basically good selves.

My own aspirations for the new year are gentleness, compassion, understanding, and mind of no complaint. The last one has to do with continued mindfulness of speech, whether spoken or written, and refraining from complaint and negativity. On a more subtle level, I have the aspiration to continue to work with my thoughts, noticing when they are complaining or negative thoughts, and holding those thoughts with gentleness and compassion, rather than pushing them away or justifying them. I feel that by continuing to return to these aspirations, I will be nurturing the seeds of basic goodness in my family.

What are your aspirations? Whatever they may be, I wish you all a beautiful year to come, full of joy and sweetness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

gentleness during this season

During this time of year, it can be easy to put our children into situations where they are set up to fail. Where there is too much stimulation, too much going on, too much forced affection, too many expectations. Because of our own hope and fear in family and friendly gatherings, we can meet our children with a lack of understanding and compassion when they act out or do not conform with how we or others think they should be behaving during these times.

An important part of mindfulness during this season is to continue to cultivate gentleness and understanding towards our children. We can look at our schedule and see where things need to be dropped in favor of providing some quiet time for our family. We can provide some extra nurturing to ourselves and our children to bolster everyone for interactions with groups of family and friends. We can stay aware of our own expectations - are we projecting lots of hope and fear onto a situation? Are we being influenced by how others may be viewing our children, rather than viewing them from a place of basic goodness, compassion, and awareness of what their experience of the gathering, the gift, the person actually is?

Rather than reacting with disappointment and aggression when our children do not act as we think they should during this time, can we continue to cultivate gentleness, by acknowledging our own fear or sadness around what has occurred and out of that soft spot, helping our children by reassuring them, cuddling them, acknowledging their difficulty, their discomfort, and letting them know it is ok to feel what they are feeling?

My own family will be attending a Christmas gathering where I know my children will be overstimulated and will most likely, not be at their best. I am laying the ground this week by continuing to find spaces for us to pause and reconnect with the ground of goodness, to join our bodies and minds in the same place, to be gentle, gentle and again, gentle. There are lots of opportunities during the holiday times to really work skillfully with what is, to be aware of the story line we are creating around situations, and to cultivate our appreciation and compassion. This may actually be the greatest gift of this time!
Wishing everyone a mindful and peaceful season.

Monday, December 5, 2011

mindful holiday

This is the time of year when many families around the world are preparing for winter holiday celebrations. It is a time when speediness, busy-ness and materialism can overwhelm us and fill what we expect to be a happy time with aggression, depression and stress. It can be easy to have our minds stolen away by anxiety, desire, poverty mentality, and disappointment during these days. We can put so much pressure on ourselves to create the perfect holiday, to give our children everything they want, to reciprocate with family and friends. Our to-do lists seem endless, and our mind and body are often in two different places.

In the United States, it can often seem that a kind of never ending, naked materialism has taken over what has traditionally been a time when we cultivate and honor a radiance that cannot be dampened even by the darkest days of winter. Whether celebrating the inextinguishable lights of the Temple, the brilliant love of the Christ child, or the liberation of the Buddha - or simply the light of the returning sun on the shortest day of the year - this time has traditionally not been about buying X-boxes and knick knacks that will soon be discarded. In my own sangha, we celebrate Children's Day, a day when we honor our children for their constant reminder of goodness, even during dark times. Whatever we celebrate, these holidays all reflect the unchanging luminosity of our own basic goodness that shines in every moment, no matter what the weather or mood.

How can we honor our goodness and that of our children during these days, rather than giving into our confusion? How do we stay mindful and aware, when things are swirling and we have so much to do? How do we continue to cultivate appreciation, rather than create more wanting?
Following is a list that is helping me and my family to stay mindful and connected to appreciation during this time.

First, of course, is practice. What has helped me is to find a time each day, morning or night, where I can practice some sitting meditation, no matter how briefly. This clears away my discursiveness and joins my mind back to my body. Throughout my days, when I notice my mind is somewhere totally separate from the present moment, without judgement, I bring it back again. I take a breath.

Secondly, I continue to let go of "the perfect holiday", whatever that may mean. There is no such thing, and everything is perfect anyway! There can be the impulse to try to attend every holiday event, do every holiday craft, bake every cookie and so on! If our tree isn't like this, the holiday is ruined. If we don't see those lights, the holiday is ruined. Whatever - it is different for all of us. But to let go of externals, to let go of how the holiday "should" look, creates space for the true magic of this time to occur and be noticed. It is different for every family, but I encourage you to look at your "must do" lists this season, and see what is really doable and enjoyable. Young children in particular do better with spaciousness, so to clutter each day with an outing can be overwhelming for them as well as for you. Sometimes we discover that even cherished traditions or events are either too much right now, or no longer really resonate with our family. Be brave and let them go! The space created will have its own gifts.

During this time, I continue to contemplate what nurtures goodness and appreciation, and attempt to focus on creating traditions that align with that. For instance, although I am buddhist, I find Advent calendars to be a lovely way for young children to connect to the magic of this time as well as a helpful channel for their anticipation - an energy that can quickly turn to grasping if left to its own devices or fed in the wrong ways. I made our own calendar and filled it with pictures of birds, elves, stars and other animals. They are enjoying opening a picture each day, though it can be hard to open just one. It is an interesting dance of patience and impatience! I have found this to be a lovely, grounding ritual to begin our mornings with, and each day we are also doing a small craft or baking session that produces a present to give to friends or family. Again, it is different for every family, but what traditions, either from your own lineage or another, resonate with you and your children, and remind you of goodness and appreciation? What traditions encourage generosity and reflection? I recommend focusing on those - just be careful what you choose, as young children will expect them to be repeated the following year!

In terms of gifts, our full undivided presence and attention are the greatest ones that we can give to our children. Notice if you have the impulse to overwhelm with material items. Is there another way you can share your love? Can you spend an afternoon sledding with them, baking cookies to enjoy together and give away, looking at the seasonal light displays? How much do our children really need? How can we celebrate these days without encouraging materialism and grasping? I leave this to you to contemplate for your own family. For us, we give only a couple of toys, and try to focus on spending time together doing special activities, most connected with crafting or being in nature as a family. For me, buying gifts can actually be an awareness practice - before buying something, we can look at 1) what is motivating me to get this? 2) what will the impact be on our family? 3) what is the impact on the earth? 4) is there something else, simpler, more connected, that I can give instead? 5) will this gift create more wanting in the recipient, or does it satisfy a more profound need?

There are many opportunities during this time to encourage the seeds of generosity in our children. Baking cookies to give to others, making cards together to mail, letting a little one put some money into a Salvation Army can. On Children's Day at our center, we will be bringing food to bless and give to a local food pantry. Just as there are countless beings suffering, there are countless ways to ease them, and children often have an intuitive grasp of how that can be done, although our own modeling will be a great influence.

Ultimately, we can use this time of year to create deeper connection and appreciation in our family rather than stress and discord. We can use this time to nurture our goodness rather than simply feed our fleeting desires. I wish everyone a beautiful season, one of compassion, peace, love and unshakeable confidence in basic goodness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

help for a sangha family

I learned last week that a new mother in my Shambhala Buddhist sangha had lost her life after giving birth to her much desired twin babies. Here is a link where, if you are inspired to, you can donate an amount, however small, to her husband and new babies, who are healthy and peaceful, but in need of assistance. If you can hold this family in your heart minds this week, and send them love and peace, I am certain it would be felt and appreciated. The preciousness of human birth, and the reality of death. Good contemplations to turn our minds to appreciation. May Michal be reborn in a completely pure realm, and may her family know peace and goodness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Repost: be grateful to everyone

This was a popular post last year, so thought I would share it again.

"If we were to come up with one word about each of the troublemakers in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities, which we project onto the outside world. In traditional teachings on lojong it is put another way: other people trigger the karma that we haven't worked out. They mirror us and give us the chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff that we carry around like a backpack full of granite boulders." -Pema Chodron
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library)

We are celebrating Thanksgiving this week in the United States, and so I have been contemplating this particular lojong slogan. It is a tough one. It is so tough that I often feel that if I was truly successful in following its teaching, I might actually wake up. Can I really be grateful to everyone? Not only that, but can I really be grateful to every circumstance that arises, no matter how challenging?

It is easy to appreciate the good things in our lives, the people and circumstances that make us happier. But to appreciate the other stuff - the people and situations that only cause us trouble and agita - well, that seems to take some practice. "Be grateful to everyone" is a radical way to live. It requires you to open up and let go when you would really prefer to close down, lash out, be right, hold onto a preference or opinion, and maybe just crawl into bed and stay there all day. It requires me to thank those circumstances and those sentient beings that I find difficult, distasteful or distressing. Because without them, I would have no opportunity to see where I still get stuck, caught up in this illusion/delusion of "me" and "mine". I would ultimately have no path to walk, nothing to transform. The difficult people and circumstances are the friendly reminders to me to wake up. They are the constant feedback telling me which way to go on the path, what I still need to make friends with. They show me where I still create suffering for myself and others.

In his teaching on this slogan, Chogyam Trungpa says some truly radical, ego shattering things. He also says a very small thing that always sticks with me: "if there is no noise outside during our sitting meditation, we cannot develop mindfulness". Our usual modus operandi is to try and protect ourselves from the noise, to shut it out. We want to try and wrap the world in bubble wrap rather than relate to the phenomena that arise constantly to disturb our peace of mind. But if we are really committed to manifesting our basic goodness and to getting unstuck, we need that noise, and we need those people - you know - those people that make us want to run away and wrap ourselves in bubble wrap. As I gather with family this week during the holiday, I will be holding this slogan sharply in focus. Our families are often so hard to be grateful to, especially when all gathered together with the expectation of having a celebratory day. So many buttons can be pushed during this time together. It is a good time to practice our mindfulness, especially with our children watching. A good time to practice gratitude for the troublemakers we know in our own inner circle - who hook us into our habitual pattern, into our old karma.

This is ultimately a friendly practice. It doesn't mean that we allow people to abuse us or walk all over us. If we need to set a boundary, then we do so. We can do that out of compassion for ourselves and our troublemakers, and not out of aggression. We do it out of gratitude. They are teaching us how to take care of ourselves, and by extension, others. This slogan can be contemplated on a daily basis, and I have found it invaluable in my own life with small children. There are times when I don't feel particularly grateful to my children even, and it is in those times that I bring this slogan to mind. It helps. I see where I am stuck. I see where I am not very friendly to myself and others. Slowly, I let go. Gentleness grows. Appreciation dawns.

So this Thanksgiving, try this slogan out for size when you feel like grabbing the turkey leg and running out the door. Or when the children are screaming in the car, when the person behind you in traffic cuts you off, when your mother-in-law makes her passive aggressive comment about your parenting, or whatever. Happy Thanksgiving, and as always, be gentle.

Monday, November 21, 2011

cultivating appreciation

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving here in the United States, I find it useful to consciously take on the daily practice of cultivating appreciation. Appreciation, while it encompasses and encourages gratitude, is a bit deeper than just being thankful. It includes deep respect and sacredness. Appreciation nurtures trust in the basic goodness and brilliance of the world and its beings. To water the seeds of appreciation in our daily life brings great joy to our time with children. When we are able to model appreciation and reverence for our tasks, our environment, our family, our neighbors, even our burdens - our children witness basic goodness and dignity in action.

The teacher Gaylon Ferguson writes in his book Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With

"The atmosphere surrounding meditation is warm and welcoming. We are cultivating appreciation, friendliness, a sense of gratitude for what we already have and are. This undercuts the speed and restlessness of materialism of all sorts."

To begin cultivating appreciation in our daily life with children, we can work with mindfulness to create a similar atmosphere of warmth, welcoming and understanding. We can work with our habitual pattern of judging our experience and things as "good" or "bad", "for us" or "against us". Using mindfulness, we can notice when we are engaged in negative speech (whether internal or external), and then make the choice to change our speech. We can treat ourselves with gentleness and acceptance, which will naturally extend out to others. Rather than looking in the mirror and greeting ourselves with a negative commentary of our flaws, we can smile and appreciate that we have a human body. Even if we are ill or disabled, there is something that our body does well, that works within it - our minds, our hearts, the blood flowing, our hair growing - something.

It can be easy this time of year to focus on what we don't have, on what we want to have, instead of taking a breath and the time to acknowledge everything we do possess. We can notice throughout our days when we are focusing on what is wrong - what is broken, who is misbehaving, when the weather isn't cooperating, the heat won't go on - we can always find a lot! Try to notice if you are dwelling on these obstacles, telling yourself or others stories about them, instead of just relating to them, cleanly. Then try to consciously notice what is working in your world! If we can pause and drop our projections and labeling, we will actually find, no matter how dire our circumstances are, that there is at least a little bit of magic and beauty and flow in our days, if we can only make ourselves available to it. Can we drop our resentment about the weather enough to notice the delight our children take in the rain falling down? Can we drop our scolding of a recalcitrant child long enough to see the fear or discomfort that caused the misbehavior? Can we notice the hawk circling overhead as we wait for the tow truck next to our broken down car? You get the idea.

So, in these days leading up to United States Thanksgiving, I am trying to pause each day, many times a day, and just honor my children, my physical space, animals, trees, my body, the food I am eating, the people I am passing - and just open to their wonder and sacredness. Sometimes, appreciation is as simple as bowing and acknowledging that this is how things are right now, and that this will also change. As simple as tasting our tears as they fall and savoring their salty warmth, another indication that yes, we are still alive, and that being alive is an extraordinary fluke, a gift, no matter how painful at times. We can appreciate how no matter how bad our day or week or year may be, the good earth is holding us up, the good sky is encompassing us, the sun is shining or the rain or snow are falling, nourishing many beings. The air is flowing through our lungs, in and out, in and out. All these little, interconnected, incredibly vast things that actively sustain us as we move through our days. And in every acknowledgement, we can bow to our children for being their brilliant, shining selves, whether smiling or screaming. Wishing you many days of appreciation and joy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

what is your story?

“The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.”
-Sharon Salzberg

If you can pay attention to your mind during the day, to where you are placing it, to the thoughts running in and out, you will discover something. You will discover your story. It is the thought you turn to again and again when you are feeling hassled by things, when your back is up against the wall. You probably turn to it even when you are feeling pretty good about everything, happy even. In those cases, it is usually a kind of nagging little fear that will raise its head. When you are really stressed out, or trying to get something done, your children out the door, the dinner ready, whatever - going forward with your agenda - and it is not happening easily - the eggs fall out of the fridge and break on the floor, your youngest poops his pants as you are getting him in the car seat, you get the phone call saying you haven't gotten the job- your story might even slip right out of your mouth, verbalized for all to hear. What do you say to them, to yourself?

With the last months being so stressful for us, full of so much heartbreak, I have found my story slipping out. It came out this morning in the seemingly simple task of getting my three year old and my 20 month old out the door to the library. I can't even remember the series of events that made this outing seem akin to climbing the Himalayas barefooted, but after yet another delay caused by some act of typical toddler behavior or potty learning adventure I said, aloud, "I just can't catch a break."

It is the same sentence I said aloud to my husband in the days after learning about my miscarriage, as I tried to prepare for my three year old's party, and a dozen eggs slid from their perch in the fridge and broke all over the newly mopped floor minutes before guests began arriving. "I just can't catch a break."

It is a sentence I have been repeating to myself for what seems like all of my life. "I can't catch a break, I can't catch a break, I just can't catch a break!" With meditation practice, I finally noticed it, finally really heard what I have been spending years telling myself. When I was home with my parents last month briefly, I heard the same sentence and its variations uttered many times by my father. I doubt he has ever really, truly noticed this story flying from his lips with such regularity.

We all have our particular story. Often, it is a story we first heard from our own parents, or perhaps it was given to us by another authority figure or maybe we came up with it all by ourselves. In any case, it doesn't serve us. It isn't true. It is a story, just that, and since we have been writing it, we can also rewrite it.

It depends, as Ms. Salzberg says, on where we place our attention. When we hear ourselves telling our particular story to ourselves or to others, we can stop. We can notice what is going on with our bodies, our breath. What are we feeling? Where are we? What is actually happening in this particular moment? Things as they are do not conspire against us, although that may be how we feel. Things just are, true, variable, moving, changing, vivid. If we drop the story, we may actually really see, really perceive what is actually happening in any given situation, what the phenomena is truly communicating to us. The world is not for or against us. Things and beings are all dancing, shifting, arising and ceasing in an enormous interconnected dance. What are we choosing to tell ourselves about it? It is important where we put our minds and what words we choose - the story we tell. Can we recognize it as a story? Or do we call it the truth?

When we sit in meditation practice, we notice the tricks we play on ourselves, the wild tales we tell that keep us hooked, deceived, yo-yoing up and down. The more we sit and just let those stories go, not feeding them, not pushing them away, just letting them flow through and continually dropping them, dropping them, dropping them, the more space we create and the more we can laugh. Laugh at what we have been telling ourselves for so long.

Byron Katie has a powerful book of her work entitled "What Would You Be Without Your Story?" It is full of dialogues between her and different students, all with a powerful story that they have spent many years placing their minds on, again and again, with great emotion and intent. In the simple conversations with her, these stories fall apart, get flipped on their heads, and the people become so much freer. They no longer believe them.

This is what I am working on this week. Noticing my story. Catching when I am telling it to myself or others. Dropping it. Touching it. Asking myself, "Is this really true?" And placing my mind again on the present moment. I don't want to give this story to my children. I would rather they tell themselves the vivid truth of basic goodness, again and again, rather than this lie of "I can't catch a break."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

wonderful reminders

I often find myself returning to the amazing dharma book "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach. Ms. Brach is a compassionate, insightful and wonderful teacher - I really can't recommend the book enough. I was looking at some old interviews with her the other day about her book, and came across this wonderful teaching, which I am reprinting in full, because it is just so good :). This is her response to a question about working with depression and anxiety, or other painful emotions. These gateways she discusses are powerful tools to use in our daily life and practice, and gifts we could give with great love to our children. Enjoy:
We suffer because we have forgotten who we are and our identity has become confined to the sense of a separate, usually deficient self. All difficult emotions-fear and anger, shame and depression-arise out of this trance of what I call false self.

I’ve found that whenever I am really suffering, on some level I am believing and feeling that “something is wrong with me.” Over the years I’ve been drawn to three primary gateways for awakening from this trance. In the Buddhist tradition they are referred to as the three refuges:

One (called “sangha”) is loving relationship-both live contact with loved ones and also meditation on the love that’s in my life. In the moments of remembering love, there is an opening out of the sense of separate self. For me, reflecting on love has included prayer to the beloved, to what I experience as the loving awareness that is my source. When I feel separate and stuck, that loving presence might seem like it’s apart from me and “out there.” But by reaching out in longing and prayer, I’m carried home to the loving presence that is intrinsic to my Being.

A second gateway (“dharma” or truth) is taking refuge in the present moment. The training of meditation is a gift as it has helped me to pause, wake up out of thoughts and contact my moment to moment experience. When I am no longer running away or resisting what is happening inside me, I reconnect with the space and compassion that has room for whatever is going on.

A third gateway (“buddha” or “buddha nature”) is turning towards awareness itself. Most of the time we are paying attention to the foreground of experience-to our thoughts, feelings and sensations. What we are missing out on is the background of experience, the formless dimension of Being itself. By asking questions like “What is aware right now?” or “What is knowing these sounds?” or “Who am I?” we begin to intuit our own presence or Beingness. The signs of this presence are space, stillness and silence.

For myself and so many I’ve worked with, becoming familiar with this formless dimension of who we are makes it possible to open with love to the changing expressions of life within and around us. It allows us to make peace with living and dying, and to live our moments fully.

Wishing everyone connection with your own Beingness today and every day. Much love to you all - you are all Buddhas!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

this is what we practice for

I have been waiting for my body to miscarry. I learned last Thursday that the baby didn't have a heartbeat, but my body wasn't ready yet to let go. Finally, yesterday, the process began, accelerating this morning, until the little being passed out of my body.

The waiting was an experience of consciously bringing myself back to the present moment, over and over. And when the process finally began, it was the conscious letting go, the noticing when I was resisting the process, and opening back up, just like in birth. This is what we practice for, with the little stuff. With letting go of our agenda of getting something done, or being right in an argument, or wanting our living room to be clean, or a person to like us, or our child to behave a certain way. With the letting go of our little hopes and fears in daily life with our children and in the world - so that when we are faced with the big stuff, with the letting go of a child, a loved one, a big dream, our own life itself - we can do it without suffering. Or if we do suffer, we can work with that, rather than being totally overwhelmed and stuck in our grief. We can face the moment, we can notice what we are feeling, and we can accept it. All of it.

It doesn't mean we don't grieve. It doesn't mean we aren't angry or sad or afraid. It means we accept all of that, fully. Once we do that, we can also accept that those emotions change, just as this moment is constantly changing, changing, ending, beginning. Never static, never still. That is the flow of life and death. It is in constant movement. This is what we are practicing for. To let that movement flow through us, and not resist it. If we resist it, we will get knocked down and pulled under.

So today I am trying to put all my years of practice to the big test of letting go of this brief little life. Of being present to my other children, who need me very much to be with them, and not distant or distracted. Practicing diving into the flow of life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

when you are sad, be sad

I haven't written here in several weeks. As I have mentioned in this space previously, the last couple of months have seen my family facing a series of obstacles that have arisen around our living situation, our livelihood, and our health. Things at times have been quite difficult, seemingly very immovable and unworkable, but somehow, we have found our way through. A bright spot in all of this was that after many months of trying, we discovered I was pregnant with a much wanted third baby. Because of all of the challenges we were experiencing, this third pregnancy felt like much more of a leap into groundlessness than our previous ones. But leap we did, as we all do when we open our hearts to life.
This past week, at almost 10 weeks along, I went in for an ultrasound my OB wanted in order to determine gestational age. During the exam, the technician told me that she couldn't find any fetal heartbeat.

We often think that enlightenment experiences are blissful, beautiful, gold tinged occasions that occur in a flowery meadow or on a mountain top or in a sacred meditation hall. We don't often think of them as occurring in a cold, clinical examination room with an ultrasound machine and an uncomfortable technician holding a latex gloved wand in her hand. But when we are faced with the stark fact of impermanence, of the reality of death and loss, we often experience an opening. Our usual torrent of habitual thought can be stopped, at least for a moment, and we can experience a kind of clarity and calm, when things as they are reveal themselves, naked, and completely vast. That is what happened when I heard "I can't find a heartbeat". It only lasted for a moment.

Immediately after that brief opening, the pain came. The sadness of losing a baby. The heartbreak of it, of watching all the aspirations, all the dreams pinned to the new life I carried so briefly. It is always so painful to have to let go of such hopes. To accept loss and the reality of the first noble truth - that life is full of suffering, and we suffer because of our constant desire to make permanent that which is inherently not.

Any loss we experience has been and will be experienced by countless other sentient beings. The nurse who took my vitals that morning told me of her own miscarriage when she was 17 weeks along with her first pregnancy. So many other women I know have had miscarriages, many more than one. I have friends who have lost children shortly after their birth, or years later. My own loss seemed so small when compared to all of those others. My heart is opening, breaking for so many other women and children.

"When Marpa's young son died, he cried so sadly that his disciples flocked around him and asked, "Master, didn't you say that the world is only an illusion? Why are you crying so brokenheartedly just because your son has died?"
Marpa answered them, "Yes, everything is illusionary, but the death of a child is the greatest illusion of them all."

At times like this one, it can seem important to find a reason, an answer to why this happened in order to prevent it from happening again, I suppose. But like all blossoming of karma, there are so many causes and conditions that lead to this, that it is impossible to tease out the what and why of it. We can surmise, guess, and so on, but to try and pinpoint, try and build some ground from what is inherently groundless, only causes further pain and is illusory at best. All my husband and I can do that is really useful is to keep touching our sadness, to just be sad when it arises. To not avoid it or cover it up, or elaborate upon it. To just be sad.

And to be happy when that comes as well. My eldest son turned three the day after we got the news of our loss, and we went forward with a nice birthday party for him, with guests and cake and balloons, all as he requested. And we allowed ourselves to be present to his joy and the joy of his brother during the festivities. We are exerting ourselves in cultivating appreciation - appreciation of what we have, of our two little boys and the goodness they weave each day into our lives. And when reminded of the vastness of loss, the knowledge that all beings lose those they love, both born and unborn, we are touching our tender, broken hearts, and sending our love out to everyone.

Monday, October 10, 2011

this takes practice

"For the warrior, rather than getting away from the constraints of ordinary life, letting go is going further into your life. You understand that your life, as it is, contains the means to unconditionally cheer you up."
- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Letting go continues to be the theme of my practice. Letting go of my grasping to things as I wish them to be, and all the suffering that story entails. Practicing mindfulness means letting go again and again of our dream of the past and fantasy of the future, coming back to the present moment. Practicing mindfulness means letting go of our agenda to protect and enhance our own little self. It means being aware when we are holding on tight. When we are pushing our own projections onto things as they are. When we are closing up, rather than opening, just a little bit.

This takes practice. We can't just wake up one morning and say, "today, I am going to let go of this false sense of self and all the busy projects it has, and just be present." I mean, we have to start somewhere. Usually, we start by noticing how not letting go creates vast suffering for ourselves and others. How much harder it makes our lives. How much more hassled we feel by ordinary existence. And so yes, at some level, we do decide that we at least need to let go, that we would like to begin to let go, just a little bit. Dip our toes into the waters of things as they really are. But if we don't view letting go as a practice, as a daily, sometimes moment to moment work, then we are setting ourselves up to fail.

So, we need to hold the view that letting go is part of our fundamental practice of mindfulness. We have to set the intention to be aware of what we are up to in our daily lives. And we need to be gentle with ourselves, and hold ourselves in loving kindness when we notice we are hanging on tight. We can have compassion for that very human need to not let go. And if we can, it is helpful to have some form of meditation practice, no matter how brief it is, where we can just sit quietly, even for a few minutes, and work with our minds. Focus on our breath, notice when our mind is not on the breath, and gently bring it back. That is all. Really. The more we do that, the more we can let go of the thoughts that our minds wander off on, and bring it with deliberateness and gentleness back to the breath, the more we can let go in our daily lives when we have everything else going on.

So when, for instance, my18 month old and his three year old brother decide to pull all the new groceries out of their bags, even after being told many times not to, and pour their contents all over my apartment building's hallway, perhaps I won't totally lose my mind. Perhaps, instead of freaking out and feeling totally pissed off, I will be able to let go of being right, let go of my anger, my tiredness, and with firmness, pick them each up, bring them up the stairs to the apartment, sit them down at some crayons, and then go clean up the mess, without engaging in an internal or external tirade. I may, ahem, lose it for a moment, and raise my voice just a touch, or express some frustration, but I won't make an enormous deal over it, or scream or use it as evidence of how hard our daily life is or whatever. The letting go will allow the space for me to cheer up, as Chogyam Trungpa writes, and perhaps, just perhaps, laughter might occur, or at least some softening around what is, after all, just another bit of mess in a rather messy world.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the daily chaos of raising children. Any tools to help liberate ourselves from this sense of hassle and overwhelm are precious indeed. Letting go can feel like surrendering to groundlessness. And yes, ultimately, that is what we are doing. Letting go isn't sloppy though - it is occurring within enormous discipline and good heart. We can have confidence that each time we open and let go, we are building our courage, our resilience, our flexibility, and our good hearts. Wishing you all good luck this week in letting go with loving kindness and courage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

painful reminders

We can stop looking for some idealized moment when everything is simple and secure. This second of experience, which could be painful or pleasurable, is our working basis. What makes all the difference is how we relate to it.
- Pema Chodron

I had the painful reminder today that when I lose my temper with my little ones, it is so very, very rarely about what they are or are not doing. Instead, it is most often the result of me carrying the past and/or the future into the present moment. My worries, my story lines, my fears, my hopes. I am caught up in all that when suddenly, one of my children acts out or does something that is upsetting. Or like today, when my eldest got a pricker in his finger and refused to let me help him in any way, but instead screamed in pain, complaining that it hurt him, for five entire blocks, then in front of our apartment house, then up the stairs as I carried him to our apartment, both fighting me from touching him, but refusing to go up the stairs himself.

I shouted. I told him "to walk up those stairs." I told him, "no, we are not going to just stand outside here and scream." I said, "I am very frustrated right now, because I want to help you and you won't let me." I suppose I could have said all of the above gently, but I did not. I was angry. I was angry because I have been having one of the worst months I have had in years and years, a month full of obstacles and threats. Challenges and setbacks. I was angry because I was looking forward to going to the library storytime with my little ones, which we have not been able to do for quite some time due to several of the aforementioned obstacles and setbacks. I was angry because on the last three outings I have taken my children on, they have either gotten hurt or had a huge tantrum that forced us to leave said outing often almost as soon as we had gotten there. I was angry because I am worried about where we are going to live. I was angry because I am worried about getting food on our table. I was angry because my mother is dying. And so on. It had nothing to do with my poor little boy and his very uncomfortable finger.

And it is at times like these, when I totally lose it, that I just can fall so easily into despair. It is so easy to use an outburst like this as evidence of what a failure I am as a mother. But instead, I can use a time like this to be more gentle, kinder to myself. Pema Chodron says:
Openness actually starts to emerge when you see how you close down. You see how you close down, how you yell at someone, and you begin to have some compassion.
If we can see how we shut down and yell, then we can begin to understand how others can yell too, or how they can hurt us or others. It comes from their own suffering, just as those moments when we do it comes from our suffering. So again, we are presented with the choice - close or open? Touch that tender, broken heart of our's or pretend it isn't tender at all, and wrap ourselves in duality and aggression? In being right?

So, I began again. I apologized to my son for shouting. I got a bowl of warm water, and had his little brother splash in it. This helped my eldest relax enough to try putting his hand in it. We were home again, stuck inside on a beautiful day, story time a lost event, but he was calm again, and the pricker floated out, as I knew it would. His younger brother, who had been very upset at having to leave the library, played happily with some blocks. I got some support online from caring friends, who have been there, in that same kind of painful, raw moment. Things changed. I had to let go. Let go of my worries. Of my story line. Of my hopes for the day. Of my little one letting me help him, even. The letting go was the opening up.

I haven't been writing here often because of all the obstacles my family is facing currently, but you are all in my thoughts. I hope you and your little ones are able to relax into whatever moment is arising, and let go again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

cultivating joy

The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. - Pema Chodron

I have been working the last couple of weeks to cultivate joy, in these last dying days of summer. This is a choice I have to make on a daily basis - what to cultivate and what to reject. It can be so much easier to cultivate resentment, dissatisfaction, inattention, mindless indulgence in entertainment and so on. Whatever we put our attention on each moment is the seed we are watering in our hearts and minds. What do we choose to grow? Especially while raising up our children?

At those times when we feel most stuck in our habitual patterns, our environments, our relationships - we can choose to open our hearts to our basic goodness. When we are feeling most stuck, we can remember that who we are is awake and sane. Even when we are feeling totally crazy and overwhelmed. We can turn our minds outward, to the open sky above, a sunbeam in the dusty corner, a smile on our child's face, a beautiful dandelion struggling up through the concrete. What nurtures your goodness? What reminds you of your true nature? For me, in these last few days, it has meant turning my back on the chaos in my apartment and driving with my little ones out to a local farm to celebrate the fall harvest, pick apples, and enjoy the sheep and chickens. It has meant baking my mother's apple pie, even though it makes my heart ache knowing she can no longer bake it herself. It has meant staying in and cleaning my kitchen from top to bottom because the chaos was dampening my spirits and making me cranky with my children. It has meant bringing some straw home from the farm for the neighbor's bunny, left each day in a hard metal cage with no soft floor. It made the children feel better to see him snuggled in the hay.

What can you do today to remind you of your true, joyous nature? To remind your children of their own? To water the seeds of goodness?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

being who we are

[The] complete teaching of Buddhism is how to re-discover who we are. That is a straightforward principle, but we are continuously distracted from coming to our natural state, our natural being. Throughout our day everything pulls us away from natural mindfulness, from being on the spot. We're either too scared or too embarrassed or too proud, or just too crazy, to be who we are. - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

I am trying to write here more often, but I was at my parents' house over the long weekend, and there is just so much going on there with my mother's illness and the family dynamics that it is impossible to even go online for a moment, let alone be at all eloquent or useful. So, here I am, back in my own little chaotic nest, getting us unpacked and trying to keep my little ones happy on a day when it is pouring rain. These three things saved us this morning from tantrums: 1) the construction of a small city out of all available cardboard boxes; 2) the making of ribbon sticks; and 3) a wet, wet walk in the rain, where we got completely soaked from jumping in every available puddle. We also made the happy discovery that the apples from the sadly neglected apple trees on the street behind us are actually tasty, and so, pockets brimming with ones gleaned from the wet ground, we made our way home and into nap time.

There were still tears, as my little ones didn't sleep well at my folks and the long car ride yesterday put them in a bit of cranky mood. But, I was able to go with the flow, even with the detritus of our journey all over the house and some unhappy felines making demands after our absence. I'm tired, certainly. My toddlers are both nursing much more than I would prefer. The house is a mess. Loads of laundry to get done. Our bedroom ceiling is leaking from all the rain, and I have no idea when the landlord will relate to it. There is still the emotional residue of my visit back to my family. is all ok. I have been able to keep coming back to the present moment today. I have been able to keep letting go of my various agendum without any fuss. I have been able to surrender to the fact that my 18 month old has fallen down, once again, and is crying, once again. I have been able to pick him up, hug him, comfort him until he feels alright, put him back down, and keep making that cardboard garage my 2 year old is asking me to make. I have been able to just be myself today, and to just let my children be themselves. Funny how often I don't allow either to happen.

The quote above from Sakyong Mipham is from a longer talk, here. It is a fabulous talk about how to meditate, and I reread it every year, sometimes several times a year. Different things jump out at me each time I read it, and this time, it was the following line:

When we're talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice of spontaneity.

Spontaneity for me has been the key to being happy with my children, and keeping them connected to their own goodness. And it is really, really hard to be spontaneous when I am obsessing over the past or thinking about the future. There is no space for spontaneity to emerge because I am so entirely disconnected from what is actually happening, right in front of my very eyes. It's funny how resentful we can get when other beings, our children included, pull us out of our dreams of the past and the future with their very real needs happening in the now. But if we let go of those imaginings, how much richer and happier we become. The world is so much more alive when we are actually fully there to experience it.

This is what I am working on today. It is what I am always working on. Being who I am, right here, right now. It can be so difficult, can't it? Wishing us all luck in being ourselves today, fully, completely, lovingly.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

a helpful post

Read this post today when a friend linked to it on Facebook. What a wonderful blog and what a thoughtful teacher and father.

Lately, I have been struggling with using gentle, respectful language with my two boys when they are engaged in behavior that frightens or embarrasses me, like hitting, pushing, biting, throwing toys etc. My buttons get pushed and I tend to react with aggression rather than making it into a teaching moment. Today, we had a friend over for a play date, and my eldest greeted him and me (I was ushering him in through our door) with a barrage of thrown, heavy metal trains. I kind of freaked out, readers. I raised my voice (a polite way of saying I shouted) and told him I was angry. He shrank.

I ended up being able to catch myself and hug him close, while explaining that he had hurt me with the trains and almost hurt his friend, and that it had scared me. I am not always able to come down so quickly though from the anger high. In any case, this is a helpful post. Teacher Tom: "Spoiled Brats"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

giving yourself space to be

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space. - Pema Chodron

So, I have just been terribly lax at blogging this summer. Something about the warm, open ended days has made me want to just do anything but write in any depth about any thing. My apologies about that. If given my choice, I would probably spend every day in the summer either lying on my back in the middle of a country meadow or just being at the beach, my feet submerged in water, while my husband fed me watermelon and my children played happily by themselves with the local flora and fauna. And I have actually had a couple of days this summer when such a scenario materialized, more or less. How lucky!

I have been contemplating my difficulty in giving myself and my family the space to just be, whether in the summer, fall, winter or spring. As a society and world, we seem hell bent on keeping ourselves as busy and productive as possible. It is one of the very disorienting things about being a new mother in fact - the sudden surrender of activity, or at least activity that outwardly manifests as such. Nursing or feeding your baby, changing diapers, comforting, bonding - it is actually incredibly demanding work, but much of it looks sedentary, still, and monotonous. Even amongst all this work, there is a lot of just sitting, just being there with your baby as he or she rests or feeds. And of course, with a newborn, you are usually confined to your home for the first few weeks, depending on different circumstances. A new baby forces us to take a long, deep in breath, perhaps for the first time in many years. As in sitting meditation, we can react with a hot, itchy boredom to this, or we can begin to relax, surrender to the present moment, and breathe in deeper, allowing ourselves to just be. In this space, our heart can be touched, deeper perhaps than it has ever been touched before. We can begin to really get to know that bottomless gentleness and love that it contains, as Ani Pema mentions above.

We can do this no matter how old our children are, no matter if we work outside our home or in it. We can find periods each day to breathe in, deeply, and ground ourselves fully in the now, before breathing back out into our busy lives. This can be an internal breath. A letting go of our constant inner activity, our planning, story telling, criticism, gossip, complaining and so on. We can notice our thoughts and let them go, leave ourselves alone for a bit. It can manifest as an external letting go as well. Letting go of a project, an agenda, an activity, even for a moment or two. It can be getting outside, as I often advise - just getting outside, even for a short time, no matter what the weather. You don't have to do anything in particular outdoors. Just open. If you have young children, let them guide you. They will lead you to many important discoveries - a large slug, inching its way along the wet grass. A collection of choke cherries lying on the sidewalk. An interesting crack in the sidewalk. A broken street lamp. A new stray cat on the street, who is so friendly she allows them to rub her tummy and follows us to the old church yard where we like to play. Try not to hurry them along. Linger with them. Allow yourselves the space to be open, curious, attentive to the magic of the world.

We experienced a forced in breath just the other day, because of Hurricane Irene. We lost power for about 24 hours, and were unable to do the laundry, or use the computer, or stay up late doing chores. Instead, we lit our candles, gave the boys each a flashlight, and spent hours playing together in a large tent made up of sheets on our bed, exploring the play of light and shadow. It was a lovely pause, a gift. We could have chosen to be hassled by it, and there was some anxiety about the food warming up in the fridge, but what was there to do other than put it all (along with our ice trays) in the cooler and then let the anxiety go, so we could be with our littles? Hassle was replaced with warmth and laughter. Space.

Give yourself some space to be today. Engage in some aimless wandering outside with your children, or by yourself. Leave yourself alone. You don't always need to be so busy. We are always so afraid of things falling apart without our constant interference. I will let you in on a secret - they fall apart anyway, no matter what we do. So relax. Let go. Let your heart be touched. In that soft, tender spot of stillness, great power exists.

[NOTE: blogger is giving me lots of trouble in terms of formatting, so I apologize for the appearance of the blog, and if this posts appears as one big block of text. I will eventually figure it out when I don't have two nursing toddlers on my lap as I type.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

you deserve love

"Treat yourself as your own beloved child." - Pema Chodron

I wrote a letter the other day to my mother, who is slowly, slowly dying.  She has a very hard time speaking now, so we can't really talk on the phone.  I have been wanting to write her a letter for quite awhile, before it is too late to tell her that I love her, that I am grateful for the nurturing she gave me, which now runs like a thread to my own little ones.

There is also a thread of neurosis that runs through to them, from my own mother and father, and their parents, and their parents, and on and on down the line to the very beginning, wherever that may be.  It's up to me to continue weaving the thread of compassion and nurture, and cut that of neurosis, again and again as my children grow.  It's very hard some days.  Other days, it is easier.  I am calmer.  Clearer. More present.  I can see when the  taut thread of aggression, shame or resentment begins to peak out.  And on the hard days, the thread seems to slip from my mouth, and there I am, centuries of habitual patterns pouring out onto my wee ones' heads.

Then I need to regroup, think "fresh start" and begin again.  Come back onto the path.  Regret, remediate and renew my aspiration to transform.  Notice I don't say "to do better". I think this whole "doing better" business just hurts us.  It seems to reaffirm our doubts about ourselves - that we are somehow messed up, flawed, damaged, need improvement.  It's not that we need to improve - we need to uncover.  We need to stop believing the stories we tell ourselves.  We need to see through our confused thoughts and rest in the basic goodness, sanity, joy and wisdom of our true natures.  We need to believe, really believe that basic goodness is who we are.  All that's temporary confusion.  Like the clouds in front of the sun on a rainy day.  The fresh wind of insight or compassion blows - and there is the sun again, brilliant and strong.

When I really get stuck in "needing to do better" or too tangled in that thread of neurosis, I need to rock myself in the cradle of loving kindness.  I need to treat myself, as Ani Pema says above, as my "own beloved child". It is so hard to be patient, kind, loving when we are unable to be any of that with our own, dear selves.  One of things I wrote in the letter to my mother was that I have always had a very hard time loving myself.  And I thanked her for loving me, despite the many challenges I presented her with, despite the many times I must have been really, truly hard to love without reservations.  We all deserve that kind of love.  Most of the time, we look to others to give us that all encompassing, compassionate, non-judging love.  We look to lovers, to parents, to teachers, to friends, even, sadly, to our own children.  No one else can give it to us.  We need to give it to ourselves.

I am still learning how to do that.  It starts, I have found, with gentleness.  With compassion.  With forgiveness.  With knowing that falling off of the path is as much a part of it as walking it straight and strong.  The important part is getting back on.  The important part is knowing that every other human being has felt and thought and probably done all those things you think only you are bad enough to have felt, thought or done.  The important part is knowing that there is no such thing as a perfect mother or father.  That we all do the best we can in every moment.  That children are resilient.  That to aspire to transform that thread of neurosis is the first step to transforming it into nurture.  That just to notice that thread of neurosis is the first step to liberation.  That your basic birth right as a human being is goodness, joy and sanity.

My mother is unable to hold me in her own arms - not because I am too big, but because her's are too weak.  She is unable to tell me she loves me, because her mouth and throat muscles don't work anymore, or at least not very well.  So, I working on holding myself, rocking myself in kindness, whispering sweet words of love.  It seems that after I do that, it is even easier to do the same for my own children.  The thread of nurture seems to grow so much stronger, truer, lasting.  I can see it spool out, into their hearts, carrying centuries of compassion and gentleness.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

easing back into things as they are

"Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it."
 - Byron Katie

Well, I made it through two weeks by myself with the wee ones.  I sadly neglected the blog during that time, but I had to let a lot of things go, in order to really be in accordance with things as they are, rather than in constant conflict with reality.  Which meant that while my little ones got lots of adventures, and kisses and hugs, and stories and games and yummy food, they also got lots of ice cream, some late bedtimes, some videos and a very, very messy home base.  At two different points during my husband's absence, my entire living room was covered with clean laundry that the boys had taken from the laundry bag and strewn everywhere.  Laundry covered every inch of floor and every piece of furniture.  A few times I forgot to feed the cats.  I think a colony of ants may have taken up residence under the living room sofa.   In the meantime, we were at the playground or the firetruck museum or at a friend's house, playing in their pool.  

I had to surrender to a certain level of chaos in order to keep us all rested enough to be joyful in our days together.  I had to let go of my agenda again and again.  It was often funny and a little bit painful to notice how much I wanted to hold onto it, creating so much unnecessary stress and aggression.  Why exactly was I trying to rush my two toddlers out the door just now?  Where did we need to be so urgently?  Oh, at the firetruck museum?  Where we were meeting, um, nobody?  Which is open for the whole day?  Why now was I getting so very frustrated with them, and starting to get more and more tense, on the verge of shouting or tears?  How interesting.  Let's just let that go, shall we?  Breathe in and breathe out.  Connect to my feet on the ground, to my little ones' faces.  They are laughing getting their sandals on together.  Can I open to that sweet moment?  Nothing else has to actually happen right now.  Just this.

A wise teacher once told me that wanting things to be different than they are is inherently aggressive.  I have chewed that one over in my mind often over the intervening years.  It arises again and again with my children.  Noticing when I want things to be different.  It is a daily occurrence.  Noticing, and letting go.  Touching the emotion underneath - the sadness, the exhaustion maybe, maybe even some anger?  And always underneath it all, the fear.  The fear of space.  That is why I rush them out the door.  I somehow cannot rest with this space in the day, the lack of a place I must be, a thing I must accomplish, other than simply being with my children.  Being fully present with them.  All this open ended space, while they explore and grow and learn.  I have difficulty trusting it.  So I have to come back.  Come back to my breath.  Come back to them.  Back to gentleness and compassion for myself, for the children, for my partner.  Noticing the story I have been telling myself and believing in, instead of what actually is.  "Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it."

Yes, it is.  Always so much kinder, gentler, nuanced and open than the tight little tale we weave and weave again.  So this is the path for me right now.  Noticing the story.  Dropping it.  Holding myself with gentleness so I can hold my little ones with loving kindness.  Welcoming my husband back from retreat.  Laughing at the clean laundry on the floor.  Admitting to my two year old that I am tired, and so I am going to just sit in my rocker for a bit and read a book if he really doesn't want to nap.  Not forcing him to, but just letting him know, gently, that I need to rest even if he doesn't, so I am going to, while still staying with him.  And the very next day, shouting at my little ones after a sleepless night when they knock over all the shrine bowls full of water onto my favorite baby pictures of them.  Then taking a breath, touching my tiredness fully, not making myself wrong for feeling it, or even for getting angry, but coming out and apologizing to them for expressing it so unskillfully, hugging them, and asking them not to do it again.  Up and down.  Back and forth.  On the path and off.  But still, always kinder, gentler than the story I tell about it.

Wishing you all gentleness and a full embrace of reality instead of the story this week.  It can be hard, even painful to let it go.  But I promise you, it really is so much kinder.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Repost: mindful birth

[While my husband is gone I am reposting some of my posts that people have found useful.  Hope you enjoy!]

The power and intensity of labor pull us right into each moment. Each labor is unique. Like life, you never know how things will unfold. - Myla Kabat-Zinn

Giving birth is one of the most intense experiences that mind can go through- so intense in fact, that the buddhist teachings tell us birth can be an opportunity to experience the true nature of mind fully, just as at death. As with all experiences, we can open to birthing or we can close and attempt to stave off the physical and emotional challenges that it presents us with. By opening to each moment of labor and allowing ourselves to be pulled into the present as Myla Kabat-Zinn describes, rather than being dragged into it kicking and screaming, we will be able to relax and let go. The more we can relax and let go, the more we can experience our mind fully and welcome the arrival of our precious baby.

Relaxing and letting go can look many different ways. It can look peaceful, quiet, and calm as we ride the waves of surges. It can also look chaotic, intense, loud, or even scary. Whatever the birth, we can come back to the breath. We can place our mind on the in-breath, staying with the intensity of physical sensation, and relax and let go with the out breath as it dissolves into space. We can keep opening into space as we breathe out, letting go of any tension or tightening. We can allow ourselves to laugh or to cry. We can trust that each breath is bringing our precious baby closer to us. We can trust our bodies, their ability to grow and nourish this baby and bring him or her into the world. By opening and letting go, we can listen to our bodies during birth and let our body wisdom lead us where we need to go in the process. We can rest between surges, rebuild our windhorse, and get back to the work of bringing our baby out.

Birth can be a powerful opportunity to let go of our preconceived ideas of who we are and how we should behave. With my second birth, I literally growled and grunted like a bear during the final stages of labor- which was a full embrace of the present moment and what I needed to do to meet my baby. I let my body and mind guide me, rather than second guessing myself. I fully opened to the intensity that was arising and went with it, rather than fighting it and feeling any storyline of embarrassment or shame. We can try and watch our minds during labor and birth, noticing when we are resisting what is happening or adding hope and fear to the situation, and then choosing to let go of it all and open again. Whatever kind of birth we are having, we can do this. Whether you are having a vaginal birth or a c-section, natural birth or otherwise, you can continue to practice opening to what is unfolding, watch your mind, and relax into the experience moment by moment by using the breath as a guide.

Birth is unpredictable. We can't plan on how it is going to go. It is an adventure that asks us to open wider than we may have ever been asked to open before. By trusting in the present moment and in our basically good mind and body, we can bring our baby into being with confidence and power. Wishing you all a beautiful birth!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Repost: transforming our family karma

[While I am on my own with my children for these two weeks, I will be rerunning some of my posts that readers have told me were most helpful to them - hope you enjoy]

One way of understanding "lineage" is "linkage" – that which links each of us to our true nature, to each other, to the teachings, to the succession of teachers and to primordial wisdom itself. – Richard Reoch

I recently read a paper by a psychologist named Lloyd deMause in which he talks about the neurotic and destructive tendency in abusive parents to use their children as “poison containers”, in other words, as vessels into which all of the unresolved psychic pain and neuroses of their childhoods are injected. The more I contemplate this, the stronger I feel that all parents are destined to do this to some extent or another, not just those who are abusive towards their children. We all have the tendency to respond to our children with the same neurosis that we learned from our families – and we will do so until we see this clearly, and are able to transform it. Not that our family neuroses are equivalent to abuse, but they certainly create suffering for others and ourselves. Why not stop the lineage of neuroses, and transform it into the lineage of wisdom and sanity?

Our parents are often the main, if not the only, parenting role models we have. They have the most success in continuing a lineage, or linkage as Richard Reoch defines it, of either neurosis or nurture that can be traced back for many generations. If we are not mindful in our parenting, we will find that those same habitual patterns will be inherited by our own children, and be carried on into future generations. How do we cultivate those karmic seeds in our own lineages that hold awakening and compassion rather than aggression and fear? I think this is one of our central tasks as parents. It all depends on what seeds we choose to water!

To have some choice over what family karma our children inherit from us, we must continue to create enough space in our own minds to be able to distinguish when we are acting out of the accumulated karma of our families of origin, and when we are actually making a choice and acting out of our basic goodness or wisdom. We often see this choice arise when we are under pressure, when our children manage to provoke us, or when we are not taking good enough care of ourselves and so get overtaken by exhaustion or resentment. In all of these scenarios, our automatic responses often get the better of us. And in my own experience, our automatic responses are often those inherited from our parents. 

The more we are able to slow down our automatic responses, the more possibility we create for behaving in a different way. The more mindfulness we can cultivate through meditation, whether it is formal sitting practice or acting with intention throughout our day, the more space will occur for us, so that we will be able to see when we are about to react to something or someone else in a habitual way. At first, we won’t really notice until after the fact, in which case we can use theregret, remediate and refrain tool I blogged about before. But at least we notice. We can go through our entire lives without noticing when we have created suffering, although we won’t escape the residual pain it leaves in its wake. So just noticing when we have behaved automatically is a big, important first step.

The more mindfulness we create, the more we will be able to notice the habitual response while or even before it occurs. Once this begins to happen, we can begin to pause. We can just pause when we feel the energy arise in us that usually leads to harming ourselves or others. That pause begins to literally stop the momentum of karma, the flow of habitual poison cultivated for so many generations. Once that momentum is interrupted, we can touch in with our bodies. Where do we feel this energy of anger, of fear, of resentment, frustration, whatever? Is my chest tightening? Is my stomach cramping? Can I breathe? Touching into what is going on physically for us is a way to ground that energy, begin to work with it rather than being carried away by it. We can begin to notice what thoughts we are engaging in. Are these thoughts that reflect our basic goodness and that of our children? Or do these thoughts focus on what is “wrong” with ourselves, our children, the situation, etc? If it is the latter, we can choose to let go of those thoughts. We can choose not to believe them. We can stop writing the story that has been written for so many centuries in our families. 

How then do we choose to react, to behave towards our children? The possibilities are endless. Maybe we can use a gentle but firm tone rather than shouting. Maybe we can leave the room until we feel calmer. Or we can choose to offer a consequence to our children for their behavior that we actually feel comfortable following through with, that is in proportion to what has occurred. We might even discover the most appropriate response is laughter, or a change of scene. We can begin to create enough space in our interactions for our children to see their own basic goodness, and be encouraged that, because it is who they truly are, they can act out of wisdom rather than out of their own fear or anger. This can create a dialogue of compassion between parent and child that will transform any poison into joy. 

This is challenging work and it can feel uncomfortable at times. You are turning over ground that may not have been cultivated at all during many generations! I once went to a teaching by Pema Chodron where she said that when you feel that discomfort while doing this work, stopping that momentum of habitual pattern energy, it is the burning of karma. So, welcome the fire!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yes, but...

[The essence of the path is saying] Hai! (Yes!) The difficulty is learning to say Hai! without adding “But, but...”
 - Eido Shimano Roshi
I was reading an old issue of Buddhadharma magazine the other day, and came across a wonderful teaching by Eido Shimano Roshi, as summarized above.  The entire essay is beautiful and to the point, but I found myself using the pith part, the "learning to say Hai! (Yes!) without adding "But, but...", turning it over and over in my mind, like a koan.  It was a potent little reminder to me, of how often I pretend to say yes to what is.  I so often add a little or big "but" to my acceptance of things as they are, to other people, to life.

So often when I say "yes" to my children, I add those "but"s.  Sometimes those "but"s are necessary.  "Yes, you may have ice cream, but first we eat our dinner."  "Yes, we may cross the street, but first you must hold my hand."  Sometimes though, it is about not fully giving myself over to them and to the present moment.  "Yes, mama will play with you, but..."  But, first I must do this, or only for a little bit, or this game, not that game, or ... just a thousand little addendum, rather than a clean, open, unequivocal "yes!"  How unfair to them.  How unfair to myself.  This putting of conditions on being with them fully, in the way they ask of me.

My husband is about to go away on retreat halfway across the country for two weeks.  I said "Yes!" to his going, and now I realize I also added some "but"s.  Not voiced, but deeply felt.  "But what about me and the children?" was definitely in there, somewhere.  It's like offering out my hand and then pulling it back, just a little - a small gesture, but definitely apparent and felt by others.

So I am practicing just saying "Yes".  "Yes" to how I am feeling in a particular moment (no internal adding on of "but I really don't want to feel this way".  "Yes" to a request from my children (no adding on of conditions or an internal "but I really would prefer to be sitting down resting right now") and a big "yes" to everything, everything, everything.  Noticing all the little ways I retreat, resent, hold back and won't let go.  Sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much.  It feels good to loosen the tight grasp of ego just a little bit, let go the hard hand that can clutch around the heart.

Just like trusting in basic goodness.  "Yes" we say, "but..."  Let's gently let go of the "but" and just say "yes" to all of it, every bit.  So much more space that way.

Roshi continues:
As you know, we all carry various kinds of emotional, psychological, and intellectual pride, which feeds our resistance, preventing us from simply saying “Hai” from the bottom of our hearts. Your practice may be accompanied by pain, drowsiness, scattered thoughts...and it is difficult maybe for you to simply say “Hai.” But as long as you came here for Zen practice, to improve your state of mind, and to be made less fearful, less irritated, more openhearted, less anxious, and to ultimately become better human beings, why don’t you start by saying, “Hai!”
Just a note:  with my husband away, posting will be light, so I will be reposting some of my older entries that people seem to find useful over the next couple of weeks.  Sending you all huge hugs and peace.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I found this article today and it helped me after several challenging days of trying to relate skillfully to transitions with my little ones, and falling flat on my face a few times.   Yes, that was me losing my mind over there with my two year old who was refusing to nap after tandem  nursing with his 16 month old brother for an hour.  Sigh.  Anyway, it was a good reminder to lighten up and let go, rather than bring things to a painful point.  Wishing you all playfulness!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I am here for you

That is the title of this beautiful talk by Thicht Nhat Hanh, given yesterday to children and families of his sangha at Plum Village in France.  I love hearing all the babies and young ones crying and babbling as he gives his lovely teaching.  Watch it with your own little ones.