Sunday, March 27, 2011

showing our children goodness

This is a nice Waldorf perspective on how to impart the goodness of the world to our children, even in difficult times such as these.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

another birthday, another lesson

I know, two posts in one day - whoa!

But I would be remiss not to post about my littlest love's first birthday. This year has flown so quickly, that my heart has been well pierced by the truth of impermanence.

From the first day, he has been such a precious gift. Only 16 months younger than his elder brother, he has been a patient, unfailingly cheerful little fellow from the very first moment. He is always smiling, always happy, even after a rather rough push (ahem) from his brother. He is always interested, always exploring, always wanting to connect with others. Such a little love. Walking and talking and climbing and laughing and in general a whirlwind, until suddenly, he will become happily engrossed in looking through his many picture books, intently focused, turning the pages, murmuring to himself, until his brother (ahem) grabs the book away - ha!

So, to my little J. You teach me everyday about being present, being curious, reaching out to others, being patient, compassionate and joyful. Joy is one of the lessons I really need to learn this lifetime, and you are glowing with it. May it always be so, my little buddha.

if you can practice when distracted, you are well trained

This is another very powerful lojong slogan. It has been coming to mind often lately, as I have been, well, distracted. There have been a multitude of stresses and phenomena that have been pulling at my mind - trying to take it away from the present moment, often successfully.

I have said this many times before here, but it is all in the noticing. As soon as we notice we are distracted, as soon as we notice our mind has been pulled into the past or strayed into the future, we are back. We can only notice in the present moment. We notice, and we are right here, right now, once again. And then we notice if we are judging ourselves for having been lost in the fantasy of past or future. And we are back once again, and gentle once more.

We went to my parents' house for my youngest son's first birthday. We really went up to see my mother, who is slowly dying from multi-symptomatic Parkinson's disease. She has gotten much worse, and we hadn't been in awhile, so it was necessary to go as soon as we could, which coincided with my little love's turning one.

It was a long, hard car ride. My littlest screamed for the last two hours. We were exhausted when we arrived, but felt rejuvenated when we noticed (in the berry bush by my parents' back door), seven (yes, seven!) red cardinals. Their feathers were so vivid against the bare branches covered in snow. It brought us immediately into the now, and perked up our drooping spirits.

I have written before about the chaos in my mother's house due to her illness and the karma of the situation, and it is only getting worse as she gets sicker. So, it was hard. Then, our first night there, I became very ill with a stomach bug. The next day was my son's birthday, but we were unable to celebrate it as I spent the entire day in bed. My husband was left to care for our two little ones, my mother and my father. I was better the next day, but then he was struck with the bug. Then my father became ill, both our boys, and my mother, who ended up having to go to the ER to be rehydrated by IV. It was just a crazy, crazy visit. I had to really generate a lot of energy in order to care for everyone while still sick myself and arrange for more professional care for my mother - new aides to come at night (as we were too sick to feed her and get her to bed), calling doctors, getting the ok to bring her to the ER, arranging for aftercare. Calling social workers, health care agencies and siblings. Dealing with the family neurosis, heightened in these stressful circumstances. Working with my own guilt for getting everyone sick, especially my mother. Feeling disappointed and sad that my little one's first birthday was getting lost and forgotten in all of this life stuff happening. And feeling angry that my mom is dying. Talk about distraction.

Phenomena kept arising, and I kept being presented with the choice to really abide with it and let go of my desires or fight it, push it away, deflect it or try like hell to change it. Every time I chose the latter, the suffering level in the house increased tenfold. When I was able to let go and just be with the constantly changing reality, things were workable. They weren't easy, but they were workable and I could create some sanity. There was some breathing room.

When I resisted things as they are, I felt absolutely crazy and miserable. And what helped me keep coming back to the present moment and working with the circumstances with some level of equanimity and clarity were those beautiful cardinals. My parents' house is surrounded by bushes and bird feeders, which my father fills daily. The house has many windows as well. And there were so many moments each day when I was truly on the verge of losing my mind entirely when I would look out a window and there would be a flaming red cardinal looking back at me from his branch. Each time, it called me back to the now.

The great teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has a beautiful practice at his retreat centers. There is a large meditation gong, really huge, that can be heard, when rung, throughout the grounds and buildings. Throughout the day, every day, this gong is rung once, at various random times. Everyone who hears this gong stops for a moment, no matter what they are doing, and just reconnects to their breath and body. To the present moment. And then they proceed on. We don't need a giant gong to do this in our own lives. We can use whatever we have in our immediate environments to bring us back, no matter what is going on. Perhaps we live on a busy street and car horns often sound. What a wonderful mindfulness bell! Or perhaps crows haunt the parking lot of your workplace - when you notice one of their raucous cries - come back. Your baby crying. Your neighbor's telephone ringing. Your teen's Wii game. The glow of a neon sign. The flicker of a room light. Let these ordinary things bring you back. They are beautiful reminders, always available to us.

Having a well trained mind doesn't mean we don't get crazy or carried away. But it does mean we come back.

When reading about this slogan, I found a teaching by Judy Lief, who presented the following daily practice:

In your practice and during your daily activities, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your mindfulness. In terms of bodhichitta practice, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your openness or kindness. Notice the process of losing it and coming back.

This seemed useful for my daily life with children. This is why working with the raw, vivid, messy material of our daily life is so powerful. This is the richest mud for the lotus blossom of awakened heart to blossom in. Wishing you gentleness and good luck with your practice today and always.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan and its children

There are many beings currently suffering in Japan due to the major earthquake and tsunami. Save the Children is a wonderful organization that is on the ground there, and focuses its attention on helping child victims of disasters.

If you are interested in some meditation practices you can do to help, tonglen is a powerful one. It is the practice of exchanging self for others, of breathing in suffering and breathing out relief, and the link I posted contains clear and pith instructions on how to do it. The important thing to remember when using tonglen is that everything is dissolving into space - you aren't holding onto anything.

If you would like, you can also recite the Heart Sutra, repeating the central mantra that it contains anywhere from 7 to 108 times. This sutra transforms suffering.

May all those beings affected by these events be free from suffering and the roots of suffering. May they know happiness and the roots of happiness. May the constantly dwell in the great joy devoid of all suffering. May they dwell in equanimity, free from passion, aggression and ignorance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

raising mindful children

"People often ask me how children, even infants of four months, can be brought up in a buddhist way. But at this point there doesn’t seem to be a buddhist way to bring up children. It’s more a question of bringing the parents up to a more buddhist approach. That is, the infants bring the parents up to some kind of attitude of responsibility." - Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

How do we raise compassionate children, confident in their own basic goodness? Children who cultivate mindfulness in their lives as youngsters and adults? Who reject the false promises of a materialistic, consumer, "me" focused culture?

As with all things on this crooked, precious path - it must begin with us. A flower cannot grow in rocky soil, or at least not flourish there. It is we who provide the foundational soil for our children, and who are responsible for cultivating and tending it. Our children learn from watching us. How do we talk to them? How do we talk to others in front of them? To ourselves? What do we spend our time on when they are with us? Are we present with them, allowing ourselves to be pulled into their games and projects, (or at least holding them in our awareness), or are we constantly moving away from them, checking email, making phone calls, turning on the tv, keeping ourselves busy with our own projects? Keeping ourselves distant from the present moment and things as they are?

Do we speak kindly to our partners? Do we apologize when we have made a mistake? Are we resentful with them when they ask us for more than we feel capable of in the moment? When we wake up in the morning, are we on the "me" plan, as my teacher Sakyong Mipham asks? Or do we make a conscious effort to turn our minds outward, to others?

And finally, do we practice at all? Do we make the time in our busy days, no matter how brief, to meditate, pray, practice formal contemplation? I often am asked about teaching young children meditation. In my own buddhist tradition, our teachers recommend waiting until a child is 8 years old before teaching formal meditation to them. Prior to that, the most important teaching is for them to witness their parents practicing. And even more important, I think, is that this practice occurs not just on the cushion, but in our lives as well. If we aren't becoming kinder, then something isn't working, no matter how long we find to sit on the cushion each day. Practice softens us, opens our hearts and stabilizes our minds. That softening and opening translates into our everyday life, as long as we remember to continue practicing off the cushion as well - to continually bring our minds back to the present moment whenever we catch ourselves not here, not now. To consciously let go and open when all we want to do is defend ourselves and retreat.

In my own daily life, I make a very brief time each morning to sit and practice. Sometimes this means just having my children ring the meditation gong, getting settled in my physical body and taking a few brief breaths, then getting up and going on with the day. Sometimes my little ones are settled enough that I can do some morning chants in my tradition and sit perhaps 10 minutes or so.

At breakfast and at dinner, we all hold hands as a family and take a few breaths together, looking into each other's eyes. Even my littlest, at just one, loves to imitate taking big breaths and smiling at us all. This is a very simple way to get us all grounded together in the same place, in our bodies. It is a quick way to synchronize body and mind.

We also have many images around our house of our teachers and the Buddha. We read stories from the Jataka Tales and some other buddhist books aimed at young children. But mostly, we just try to remember to keep practicing. To keep being present with our children and each other. To be mindful of our speech. To be mindful of where we are placing our attention, particularly in front of our children. To continue to cultivate loving kindness towards ourselves and other beings.

We don't always succeed. We are human. We make mistakes. We lose our mindfulness. We get angry. Our minds get stolen away by entertainment and technology, and by neurotic thoughts. And it is ok. We come back. Fresh start. And we keep coming back, walking the path. It is the most powerful thing to do, and eventually, it becomes the only thing to do. Choiceless. The path of parenting is a very rich, very powerful path to waking up if we let it do its work. If we let our lives, in all their mess and uncomfortableness, wake up our hearts instead of shutting them down, there will be no stopping us. No stopping us from having complete confidence in our basic goodness and the basic goodness of our children and the world. And then our children in turn will have that same unshakeable confidence and blossom outward instead of shrinking inward. It is a wonderful gift, to allow for our very ordinary human lives to be as magical as they really are. It is a wonderful gift, to turn our minds outward, ever outward to others, and in some way, wake all beings up to this same magic and joy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

mired in obstacle

hello friends - just a note that my whole family has been laid low by a tenacious stomach bug, and we are just back from a trip to my parents' house where it all began, so no post until later this week when I have regained a bit of strength. So much to write about!! So much to tell!! In the meantime, may all beings be free of sickness, may all beings be at ease, may all beings be happy. Sending love in these last days of winter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

parenting is practice

Here is a nice interview with Karen Maezen Miller about parenting and our practice. Our parenting as practice. She is a wonderful teacher. I have found her at times to be a bit black and white about practice, so I was glad to see in this interview that she seems to have a wider view of it all. As she says, this path of parenting is very powerful, and can lead us very quickly to awakening to who we truly are - open, compassionate, joyful, wise, ALIVE. Why not?