Friday, April 29, 2011

sad or cheerful

"Lack of genuine cheerfulness is a result of claustrophobia in our mind and heart. There is simply too much going on; we feel overwhelmed and speedy. We were somehow under the impression that life was meant to be happy, and now we are getting the short end of the stick. The harder we try to contort reality into our fantasy of happiness, the less happy we are, and the more chaotic our mind seems."
- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

I don't have that much to say this week, as I have been feeling rather sad, for various reasons. I have been contemplating the above quote by the Sakyong, as a kind of salve for my heart as well as reminder of sanity when my mind threatens to teeter into chaotic thinking that well, just makes me feel sadder.

When I am able to pull myself from the dream of the past and the fantasy of the future, things seem to rather spontaneously cheer up, or the primordial joy inherent to being alive is able to peek through, even in the darkest moments. This joy is inextricably linked to the tender sadness of compassion, which is a much different sadness than that brought on from a claustrophobic heart and mind. The former is full of space, tenderness, love, energy. The latter is often just painful and hard to work with. Here is the rest of this wonderful teaching by the Sakyong on cheerfulness. I hope you find it helpful. I think it would be such a fantastic gift to our children to help them have confidence in this inherent cheerfulness they possess, and help them touch into it on a daily basis, especially if they are feeling sad.

Monday, April 25, 2011

how did screen-free week go?

So, here we are at the other end of Screen Free week. I would love to hear from you - how did it go for you and your family?

I know for us, it was a bit challenging. I also found it very helpful - I was really able to see and lean into the feelings that lead me to want to be online and spaced out, to disconnect. Feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, boredom, loneliness. It was so helpful to touch those and just lean into them, letting them dissipate, rather than covering them up or pushing them away with a screen. So much more space seemed to open up.

It was hard for my toddler to not watch his daily video. And it was hard for me to be with how hard it was for him. I felt guilty for having allowed him to develop this habit of tuning out. And I also noticed just how hard it is for me to just be with my children when they are unhappy, rather than trying to make it all better. That was very sparky and rich for me to notice. Why can't I just be with him when he is screaming for a video? Why can't I open to that? Why do I just want to either run away from that or somehow, anyhow make it go away?

And on Saturday, during our big buddhist easter party, I actually let him watch some Maisy Mouse. We were supposed to have an easter egg hunt outside, but the weather was rainy and very cold, so we were all indoors instead. He was stressed out from all the children and grown ups in our apartment and needed his space. I would usually never allow him to watch a video while others were here, and I did remember we were still supposed to be screen free, but in this case, it actually felt like the right, nurturing thing to do. He needed to sit in his little chair and get some distance from the proceedings in order to feel ok. He ended up ultimately going into our bedroom with me and nursing and sleeping for the rest of the party, after repeating to me that he only wants "two friends" over from now on. Ahem. Mama overdid it in the party planning. Good to notice that, as well.

Like with most things, we can use our screens mindfully, in conscious ways. The challenge is in the insidious creep of it all, the magnetizing energy that keeps us attached to our videos, status updates, 4square locations, youtube, etc. and threatens to completely draw us and our children in. It was amazing to me to notice just how many times a day I really felt drawn to the computer, really wanting to just pop online to check my email...or the weather...or that recipe I could use...or to see how that blog I read is doing ...I held back, but sometimes, it was really, really hard! So similar to our thoughts in sitting meditation, and how fascinated we can get by them, completely forgetting the present moment. Our unwillingness to just be here, right now, is so interesting, so exhausting, and so sad sometimes. It causes us so much sorrow.

It helped when I noticed how much more energized I felt during the day and night, having not spent those countless little moments tuning in and tuning out. I never spend huge blocks of time online, but those little moments really add up! My aspiration now is to continue to use media more mindfully, more consciously, and not just go with the impulse to go online. It's like an itch that I don't necessarily need to scratch right away, or at all.

So, how did it go for you?

Friday, April 15, 2011

screen-free week

The week of April 18-24 this year is "Screen-Free Week", sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. This is an opportunity for parents and children alike to unplug from the computer, television, hand-held devices, and video games that capture our attention and our minds.

I have written before, here, about my own habitual tendency to turn to the computer for entertainment. To be honest, the internet definitely captures my mind, and draws me away from the present moment both more than I would like, and more than is really healthy for me. The more time I spend seeking entertainment from my computer, the more my children are pulled into its seductive glare, and the more disconnected we get from one another. As I wrote in that post, it is hard to say no to my toddler's request to watch a video when he sees his main model of behavior constantly pulled to the screen to check email or read the latest Facebook status update.

As with all things, the fact that I use my computer, go on the internet, write a blog, and so on, is not problematic in itself. The problem is when I use it all to try and escape things as they are. When we habitually use entertainment to disconnect from reality in order to avoid relating to ourselves, others and the larger world - well, then it becomes an obstacle. An obstacle to experiencing the magic of being human, of living in the phenomenal world interconnected to all these other fantastic beings. An obstacle to experiencing and manifesting our basic goodness.

Our society is one in which entertainment is prioritized, and therefore, we have created about a thousand different ways to entertain ourselves - many of which are almost unescapable, and which can negatively impact the minds and hearts of our little ones (and not so little ones). Just as in meditation, where we practice just doing nothing, unplugging in our daily life can create a bit more space. It might be a little bit scary, this space. We might feel the urge to fill it all back up. So, work with that. Touch that uncomfortable, perhaps anxious feeling. See if it changes. Look underneath it. What might that be about?

So, this week we will be unplugging. I have some online deadlines due, so I will have to go onto the computer and email briefly to meet my obligations. But I plan on doing just that, not straying away into the magical interwebz as I so often do, searching for entertainment. I hope to be able to do this when my children are sleeping, and I hope to be able to spend the majority of the week truly unplugged. We will see how I do. Ahem. I will definitely have a lot to work with in terms of my thoughts around it all!

Contemplate participating in this week with your children. It might not be possible to completely unplug. But it might be useful to cut down a bit, discern when you really need to go to the screen, and where you are using it to escape or not deal. As a mama of two little ones 16 months apart, I truly understand that sometimes, you really need to just put in that DVD and let your children watch it. Truly! But this is a nice opportunity to look beyond those times, and see what else your environment might offer your family.

Complete info can be found here. Wishing you all a beautiful week.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

trying to control things as they are

This is a great little teaching, by the wonderful teacher Sharon Salzberg, about fear and anger. Fear and anger share the same root: aversion to things as they are, aversion to space and losing our ground. Often under anger, we can find our fear, and under that, our good, tender hearts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

riding the rollercoaster

"As warriors, we try to rejoice whenever there is an obstacle, and we try to regard that as something that makes us smile. Each particular setback creates a further smile. We keep on going in that way, and we never give up or give in to any obstacles...It is like riding a rollercoaster: the more you go down and the more you go up, the more you smile each time." - Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I have been riding the rollercoaster that is parenting the past couple of weeks. I have been so tired out by six weeks of almost continuous illness that my neurosis has been, shall we say, a bit heightened. The usual ups and downs have been more exaggerated as my defenses have fallen away, or maybe, it's that the defenses have gotten stronger. Working with my mind while my two year old and one year old go about their business of exploring the vividness of phenomena and their emotions has been challenging work.

My previously very gentle eldest has turned into the toddler that hits, pushes and kicks other children, usually without any obvious provocation. If I look deeper of course, I see that there is provocation- as in, the other child is in his immediate space, or looking at a toy he is interested in, or beginning to interact with him in some completely innocuous way. Babies and older children alike are targets. It has been quite the ride for me, indeed. On the other hand, he has also taken off in his speech, which for me is a real joy. He was a very late talker, so much so that we were beginning to get concerned and had him evaluated. Hearing him express himself in words, and describing his world is incredibly poignant and wonderful.

Meanwhile, his brother is in that 13 month old "newly walking, must climb onto everything, creep into everything, run and fall everywhere" mode, marked by ouches and bruises. So, I have been alternating between loving appreciation of their growth and fear, chagrin, and horror at the acting out and getting hurt - all perfectly normal developmentally, and all perfectly challenging for this mama.

Using my mindfulness to create some space around my reactions to them has given me some insight. One thing that keeps coming up for me is my own fear of looking bad, or being bad. When my eldest pushes another toddler down, or deliberately bounces a ball off the head of a young baby - along with the almost primal reaction of needing to intervene and protect, comes a deep feeling of shame and embarrassment. These are very old feelings for me, and are present often in many of my interactions with others. Now, there is nothing wrong with me having these emotions. What becomes problematic is that if I am not mindful, these strong, old emotions lead me to behave unskillfully or aggressively with my toddler.

The same is true with my youngest when he is exploring and/or getting hurt. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, of somehow being wrong or bad arise, whether or not others are around to witness. Again, not wrong, but problematic if I am not mindful in how I respond. In both situations, if there is enough space, if I can pause for a brief second and touch in to what I am adding to what has occurred, what I am projecting onto it, I can usually respond appropriately- redirecting, comforting, distracting, having a gentle teaching moment, etc. When I can't pause, and am just carried by the energy of these hot emotions, I tend to overreact - I get a little aggressive in how I respond to my little ones. I become unskillful. I get more punitive or more exasperated or freaked out. I get shrill. I get nervous. Edgy. Things escalate. The space narrows. Everyone is miserable.

So, I am working on smiling, as Chogyam Trungpa taught. Learning to ride the rollercoaster with my arms up, constantly touching into the fear, shame, anger, frustration, tiredness, whatever, and letting go and opening up - smiling. Pulling myself and them out of the situation, sometimes physically, sometimes just to the other side of the room. Smiling.

It's been hard. Today was a challenging day. Painful. Trungpa continues:

"the experience of our day-to-day living situation consists of dissatisfaction, questioning, pain, depression, aggression, passion. All these are real, and we have to relate to them. Having a relationship with this may be extremely difficult. It's an organic operation without any anesthetics."

Today was like that. Raw. But I have found rawness to be more workable than just stuckness. Rawness has so much possibility and tenderness. Stuckness is so solid seeming and choking. So, I have had to keep touching that rawness, and just holding it.

"The present is worth looking at...Faith is that it's okay in the present situation, and we have some sense of trust in that."

Friday, April 1, 2011

opening our eyes

Becoming a bodhisattva is a matter of opening our hearts, and that can be as simple as opening our eyes.
-Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

I have been practicing opening my eyes lately. It is so easy to keep them closed, or at least downcast. Even when with our children and closest loved ones. So easy to close our hearts up and just hide. It can seem easier, because other people, especially those who make the most demands on us, can seem so draining, so threatening even. So we close our eyes. And we suffer, and the world around us suffers too.

I have been sick again, and my children too. The temptation to just shut everyone out has been strong. When my children wake up again and again, demanding to be nursed when I am still sick- let's just say gentle surrender is not always my first response. And the daytime has been challenging as well, because I have lacked the energy to relate to them, so we have fallen into some not so great habits, like video watching, just to keep everyone relatively contained and allow mama to rest a bit. The challenge with these habits for me is once I am better, like today, the children still want to cling to them, no matter what distractions I offer or what boundaries I try and set. As always, I am finding gentleness to be the best tool, but sometimes it takes me a few attempts at manipulation or frustrated struggle to finally turn to it. Aggression is such a challenging habitual pattern to transform. Its roots are so deep, and have been cultivated so long. So I have to acknowledge that it is there, and cradle that anger, or just that frustration with things as they are, with great loving kindness. I continue to find that I need to be gentle with myself if I wish to be consistently gentle with my children and others.

My eldest was so frustrated today. He has been cooped up inside a bit too much due to illness, and the house is in chaos. He had several epic meltdowns. Finally, when it was dinner time, he insisted that he wanted to go outside, right that minute ("right now!" is currently his favorite phrase), to splash in the puddles in the rain. I was exhausted, trying to get dinner on the table, dealing with my younger son who has been feverish, and just at my limit. I noticed I was getting upset, getting impatient with him. I noticed that what I was saying to him and the way I was saying it was not working. It wasn't helping. And I noticed that I had my eyes closed. Literally. When I was responding to him, I was closing my eyes in frustration, placing plates on the table. So I stopped. I stopped what I was doing, and I opened my eyes. I looked at him.

He was standing at the door, crying, trying to open it. My heart opened. I remembered that he is small. I remembered that he has had a tough week. That he hasn't felt very well. That he has so many limitations due to his age and size, so many things he can't do, can't express, can't control. I didn't need to be so rigid. I told him that once he ate his dinner, quickly, we would go out in the rain before the sun went down, to splash in the puddles.

And we did. We ate dinner very quickly, and while daddy took my youngest, my eldest and I went for a fairly long walk in the rain, with much puddle splashing. It was cold and sleety as well as rainy out. But it was lovely. It made him so happy. We got to see the street lights go on - he pointed the first one out to me with great excitement, and together we made some wishes. He wished to meet Thomas the Tank Engine, and I wished for a baby sister for him and his brother (a mama can dream, no?!). We were able to rescue a worm from a deep puddle, and we splashed for blocks. We got to pass the firehouse and say goodnight to the engines, to the dark library, to the elderly man who we always see walking his dog in the morning. We were both quiet during the last part of our walk, just holding hands, walking and splashing together. Ordinary magic. All because I just opened my eyes, for a moment.

If we can open our eyes and our hearts to our children, our family and friends, then we can begin to practice opening them to the larger world as well. We can see where we don't have to be so rigid, that perhaps what we think we have to protect ourselves from isn't really threatening, and that maybe our "selves" don't exist in quite the way we think they do - so there isn't really anything to protect anyway. We don't need to be so afraid. We can help. We can help our children, and we can help others as well, outside of our family, our neighborhood, our community, our country. We can open our eyes, and really look at beings. What do they need? Why do they suffer? How can we help?