Wednesday, January 26, 2011


"...even if we think that we're doing our best in life, we still feel that we haven't fully lived up to what we should be. We feel that we're not quite doing things right. We feel that our parents or others don't approve of us. There is that fundamental doubt, or fundamental fear, as to whether or not we can actually accomplish something."
- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Doubt. I just spent a weekend contemplating doubt - it was the subject of the retreat I participated in. Actually, windhorse was the subject of the retreat, but doubt was discussed as an obstacle to windhorse. Contemplating doubt is not new to me. I have always been haunted by it. After many years of practice, I have realized that all this doubt has ultimately been my lack of confidence in my basic goodness. Raising children has given this habitual doubt new texture and power. So many fears. Am I doing this right? Do others think I am doing this right? What am I doing? How could I have done that? How could they have done that!? And so on. Doubt can become such a trap that we almost dare not move for fear of making a mistake or embarrassing ourselves. There is no freedom to act, and we become completely disconnected from our basic goodness and that of others.

Again and again in my daily life with my little ones, doubt arises. At the end of the retreat, a little party was held to celebrate a milestone in my local meditation center's history. We brought our children to this party. They were the only children present, and they did what a two year old and a 10 month old do - they made noise, they were audibly frustrated with having to wait to have a piece of the delicious looking cake present, they were antsy and wanted to run and move about, wanted to explore in baby and toddler ways - i.e., throwing plastic forks on the floor, ringing the meditation gong, crawling over meditation cushions. Really, not a big deal. But, oh, the looks! And oh, the doubt that arose in this mama - doubts about my parenting, about my choice to bring the children, and doubts about them - feeling embarrassed about them and wanting to make them wrong for being, well, young children.

I began to doubt the entire situation. I felt stressed and anxious - very claustrophobic. And then at one point, I overheard an elderly woman say to another person present about my toddler: "He has such a loud voice for such a little boy" and it pierced me. I wasn't sure if she was irritated or just noting it neutrally, but it stopped my mind, which had been racing along in a similar observation. As so often happens in these moments, I began to laugh. Indeed, he does have a big voice for such a little boy. He is two years old. He is excited. He has a lot of pent up energy. He loves the gong and the pictures of the Buddha and the cushions. He loves running around on a carpeted floor. He was expressing his windhorse, his sheer delight in exploring the phenomenal world and his body moving through space. How marvelous. How absolutely appropriate for him. And how not a big deal. We weren't attending a silent meditation. We were at a celebratory party. He was celebrating something bigger. The life force, flowing through him, through us, through the space.

And I saw how I had felt ashamed about that. My heart broke open. I had been doubting his goodness. I had been doubting the fundamental sanity of the situation. There was nothing to be ashamed about. If necessary, I could redirect the children, move them into a different space, cut some frosting off the back of the cake to give to my eldest (which is what I did, ahem). But ultimately, there was no problem. There was no "not doing this right". What I realized again about doubt is that it is based in the fear of not getting confirmed by others. Or not confirmed in the way I would hope to be. This illusory, ever changing "I" wants to believe it is some "thing". Something real and solid and admired by others. Children have a way of disassembling this project we have of building ourselves up again and again.

I guess what I realized (once again) was that my children have a right to be here. And I have a right to be here. This doesn't mean we have the right to create chaos and confusion. There is a time and a place for the throwing down of plastic forks and the indiscriminate ringing of huge meditation gongs. But we can relate to all of it without doubt. With fundamental confidence in our sanity and the sanity of our children. And in the sanity of the others observing us as we relate to one another. Sometimes we have to wake up their sanity as well (the sanity of those around us)- we have to remind them that children are sentient beings, the same sentient beings they come to the meditation cushion to assist. We have to remind them that children are buddha. That the phenomenal world is messy and a bit chaotic and noisy, and ultimately, extremely workable. That phenomena can wake us up to the present moment, rather than shut us down further.

At one point during the weekend retreat I was asked to timekeep for the meditation session. This means sitting at the front of the room, next to the big meditation gong, watching the clock, ringing the gong to mark off the periods of sitting and walking meditation, and just "holding the space" as they say. As I sat up front, meditating, I could hear people crunching in the snow outside. I could hear the stomachs of people meditating growling. People sneezed and sniffed. Someone farted. I found it all tremendously moving. Every sound brought me back to right now. Every sound pulled me out of any self obsessive thoughts into the thought of others. Our children demand this of us on a daily basis. Let them pull you out of self-doubt. Let them remind you of your goodness and the goodness of the world.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

pay attention

I have been on blogging light setting all week due to some very cranky babes. I had the good fortune this weekend of a whole day of practice and teachings, thanks to my lovely in-laws who came up from the city to babysit while my husband and I did this short retreat. So, I have some contemplations to share in the coming days. In the meantime, while things percolate a bit, here is a link to a nice short piece on the gift of our attention. This gift of our attention is so simple, yet so potent for us and for our children. Why do we find it so hard to do sometimes?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

sometimes you just get angry

"Whenever we’re challenged, there is opportunity to open to the difficulty and let the difficulty make us more compassionate, more wise. Or the opposite, which is that when things are difficult, the chances instead of it making us more afraid and therefore more vulnerable or more subject to being able to catch the anxiety in the atmosphere and spin off...and the tendency for aggression to escalate and violence to escalate under challenge is much greater."
- Pema Chodron

I get angry sometimes. I get angry because I get hooked by someone or something. I get hooked because I am human. The problem isn't necessarily in the getting hooked, although I am working on that as well (ha!). It is what I do once the hook is in - do I bite on and keep going, or do I relax, feel it, and then let it go?

I always thought of myself as the mama who never yelled. Or at least, that was my aspiration. My mother screamed constantly throughout my childhood. And it was awful. I vowed at a very early age to never do this with my own children. Ahem. But last week, I yelled not once, not twice, but a few times at my two year old. Now, my first instinct is to want to explain. Explain that we are all operating on very little sleep, with my toddler and often my 10 month old unwilling to nap and not going down to sleep at night very easily. And constantly waking up. Anyway, we are all very tired, and at times, extremely cranky with one another. My husband has been working late each day and on weekends, trying to finish some mandated reports he must do in his job as a social worker. So, it has been on my shoulders to care for the little ones all day and often all night, with no help until perhaps the rare Sunday. I am good and truly tired.

My toddler can be quite aggressive with his younger brother. This is what has been eliciting yells and, at times, shrieks from me - his constant harming of his little brother. When I am more rested, I can respond with gentleness and firmness, get resourceful, distract him, and so on. But when I am tired, and it is the hundredth time that day that he has made his little baby brother cry, and given him yet another welt, well, I have been losing it. And once I have lost it, I find I then become triggered by lesser things as well, like normal two year old mess making and mayhem. Because when I am tired, I begin to get caught by the content of my thoughts, by the stories I find I am whispering to myself, and have a harder time just dropping them. I have a harder time pausing when I see I am getting hooked, and just feeling the anger. So, I find myself yelling, and then instantly regretting it.

What I have had to do, in addition to the usual regret, remediate and refrain tool, is try and really, really accept my anger. I wrote before about bowing to our pain, to our lineage of dysfunction - but we also have to bow to our own anger. Anger is, ultimately, just energy. If we can work with it as such, it begins to lose its power over us. Anger becomes a problem when instead of simply feeling its energy and letting it flow through and dissolve, we either suppress it or act it out - therefore harming others. In both cases, we are solidifying the energy, rather than just letting it arise and cease. The first step to working with it as energy is to acknowledge it. To not suppress it and to not reject it. But to just admit that it is there, working in us. Again, it helps to use our awareness to notice we are angry, and to feel where that anger lives, physically.

Once we have noticed it and acknowledged it, we can bow to it. Bowing to me in this sense means accepting it, "I see you anger. I am angry." Keeping it to "I am angry" is potent. I think it is more helpful to keep it to that, and not spin out into "he made me angry" or "this makes me angry", which solidifies it. Then, bow. What does that mean? You could really, truly bow. Or you could close your eyes, and just breathe. Respect your anger. For me, when I bow to my anger, I often find something else underneath it, hiding under the anger. In addition to my physical tiredness this past week, I was sad about the death of a close friend. And I had been worrying about several other matters. I find so often with my children that although their action is the trigger, there are so many causes and conditions leading up to that incident that have so very little to do with what just happened in the moment. When we are caught by our anger, our world gets so tight and narrowed, and we lose all sense of vastness. Just feeling our anger, accepting it, can create the gap where we can touch back into the spaciousness of basic goodness.

Sometimes bowing to our anger is not enough. Sometimes we need to leave the room. Sometimes we need to take our little ones outside. Sometimes we need to call a friend on the phone and cry. Sometimes we need to have ice cream for dinner and go to bed with our baby at 5:00 in the afternoon. But that is, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, "taking care of our anger". Sometimes we need to do that. It is a practice of compassion, taking care of our anger.

What changed the pattern last week for me was bowing to it, and taking care of it. And taking better care of me - going to bed earlier, eating better, making sure we got out of the house every day. Talking to another mother who had been in the trenches a few years earlier also helped. And accepting that I get angry sometimes. And sometimes, even though I really don't want to, I am going to yell. And then I will move forward from there. I will keep working on coming back to the present moment, working skillfully as I can with the energy of anger. Touching into my basic goodness and the basic goodness of my children. As Suzuki Roshi said,
"Everything is perfect, but there is a lot of room for improvement."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

just nowness

"The way to experience nowness is to realize that this very moment, this very point in your life, is always the occasion...That is one reason that your family situation, your domestic everyday life, is so important. You should regard your home as sacred, as a golden opportunity to experience nowness."
- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

With a new year upon us, it can be easy to find oneself dwelling on the past and on the future, getting lost in the fantasy of what was and what could be. We seem to do this on a daily basis, new year or no, and in this constant flitting from dream to dream, from memory of what was to hopes and fears around what might be, we completely lose the present moment. And in losing the present moment, we lose the magic and power of what is right here, right now.

Because that is all there is - just nowness. Everything else isn't real. The past is a fleeting memory, the future ungraspable and unknowable. It is only just this, just now. It seems we are always forgetting this simple, liberating truth. Caught up in the daily tasks and trials of parenting, it can be easy to lose sight of the present moment, because the present moment seems so completely ordinary, so completely whatever, so completely, at times, hard. Especially when we are experiencing challenges.

My children don't sleep. They don't go to sleep easily and they certainly don't stay asleep. The nighttime is an endless chain of waking and soothing and changing beds. Mama and daddy don't get much rest. This has been very challenging for us. Added to this challenge for me is that my two year old is still nursing, and still nursing as much as his ten month old brother. These obstacles - the lack of sleep, and the frequent toddler nursing - have threatened at times to undo me in the sense of me losing my equanimity and patience with my children. So I have been contemplating how I can transform this sense of challenge.

What I have realized is it gets challenging for me when I cease to live in the present moment, but instead dwell on what has been and what I fear will be. When I begin to think of how little sleep I have been getting, or that I was just up an hour ago, and that it is 2:00 a.m., and that I just wish they would sleep, well, this is when I begin to become undone. But if I can ignore the clock (even turn it to the wall), bring my mind back from counting how many times I have been woken up already, bring my mind back from the hope that they just stay asleep, back to the present moment, well, then I can deal with things. I can nurse the baby right now, bring my toddler back into bed with me right now, stroke both their heads until they fall asleep, right now. Then I fall asleep as well. I end up feeling much better about things and more rested in the morning when I can do this.

The same with the toddler nursing. When I can stop counting how many times he has nursed that day, and drop my fear that he will want to nurse a few more times before the day is through, I am better able to just be with him in the present moment, as he is, and then set compassionate boundaries with him - agreeing to just a short nurse, or finding something that he will accept in its place. I become more resourceful because my world stops being so small, so narrowed by the past and future crushing it in. More possibilities arise in just nowness. When I instead react with the weight of the past - and its attendant resentment and suffering - nobody is satisfied.

One of my most profound experiences while meditating occurred on a retreat I did in Seattle. I had been a very serious practitioner at that point for the prior couple of years, and had done several long, silent retreats, including a 30 day retreat. So I guess things had been percolating for awhile. But on that rainy day, after about a day of silent meditation, I was penetrated by the realization that this is it. This. Just this moment. This is my life. Right here, right now. Nothing else. Just this moment, and then this moment, and then this moment. Nothing fancy. Completely ordinary, simple, unastonishing. Different than how it was. Different than how it will be, possibly. But overflowing with richness, with aliveness. I almost shouted out with relief. Yes, I think it was relief I felt! For a few moments, the past fell away, and I was able to let go of the dream of the future, and just rest with what is.

Now, I obviously don't rest in this awareness all the time. Or even most of the time. But the more I bring myself back to nowness, the more familiar I become with it, the more I trust it, the more I am able to stay with it. This is why I trust the path of parenting. Because this is it. This is my life, right now. Moment by moment by moment. And this is freedom. Chogyam Trungpa continues in his teaching:

"Appreciating sacredness begins very simply by taking an interest in all the details of your life. Interest is simply applying awareness to what goes on in your everyday life—awareness while you're cooking, awareness while you're driving, awareness while you're changing diapers, even awareness while you're arguing. Such awareness can help to free you from speed, chaos, neurosis, and resentment of all kinds. It can free you from the obstacles to nowness, so that you can cheer up on the spot, all the time."