Monday, June 27, 2011

judging or joy?

"When we feel squeezed, there's a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Yet believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. Instead of taking what's occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else's power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others. We could be there, feeling off guard, not knowing what to do, just hanging out there with the raw and tender energy of the moment. This is the place where we begin to learn the meaning behind the concepts and the words." - Pema Chodron

So, here I am, feeling off guard a lot lately.  Having children will do that to a person.  Particularly when said children are not behaving in a way that makes you feel or look very good.  Toddlers are not invested in making their parents comfortable or relaxed - they are made to explore, adventure, test boundaries, test their bodies, test the WORLD.  I have been facing my edge again and again lately, as the boys rampage through a play date or down the store aisle - being faced with the choice of reacting habitually (which can mean in my case, overreacting and freaking out) or to rest with my discomfort, my embarrassment, my bewilderment, my feeling stupid or like a bad mama.  Very rich stuff.  

When I can touch the latter and stay with it, I can usually react in a way that helps my children and the situation.  When I can't stay with those uncomfortable feelings, then I tend to shout or apologize unnecessarily to those around me or simply flee the whole situation with them.  Now, sometimes, fleeing with them is truly the sanest thing to do.  But even then, why can't I rest with what has just occurred?  Why do I instead engage in discursiveness with my little ones, lecturing them or myself aloud, when they really can't understand?  Why do I continue to water these little judging seeds, again and again?  I can feel myself retracing the groove of suffering, and yet, I somehow cannot refrain at times from digging it deeper.

It's been a bit since I've written here, because I have been very busy with the littles and with the early summer jam making and the daily chaos of living.  And I have been contemplating this habitual judging I do, that we all do, and how it hurts us.  It's tricky.  Judging ourselves, judging others - it's so habitual, that it can be hard to notice.  Being around other parents can be raw.  It is hard not to compare ourselves, especially if we are newer parents - are they doing it better?  Doing it worse?  I wouldn't do that - oh, I wish I had thought of that - oh, I wish I could do that!  Which leads to - I wish my children were like that - I wish my children weren't like that!  Insidious and harmful.

This parenting thing - well, there is no real "getting it right".  When we notice that we are judging ourselves, our children, or other parents, we can try and pause.  What is the judgment about, really?  For me, it is really about fear, fear that I am not really good.  It is about doubting my basic sanity.  Being basically good doesn't mean you don't mess up.  But it does mean not identifying with the mess - but instead moving through it, cleaning it up and coming back to your fundamental nature of awake compassion.  Easier said than done.  But we can do it, coming back again and again to fresh start, to the present moment that is full of possibilities and space.  Then our innate joy can peek out its head.  We can laugh at ourselves, at the situation. We can touch into some compassion for ourselves, for our children - for the other parents or children we are judging.

One thing I have definitely learned in parenting is that almost anything I judge another parent or child for doing, I will find myself or my own children doing at a future time, unexpectedly or even by design!  I have found the path of meditation to be similar - anything I have judged as wrong in a fellow practitioner - well, I have later discovered that I am guilty of the same thing, as my insight grows clearer!  These moments of finding ourselves out, catching ourselves, can be poignant and very fruitful.  They tenderize our hearts, helping us to open to others, leading us perhaps to lend the harried mother in the grocery store a helping hand rather than shooting her a dirty look.  They can lead us to sit down and give ourselves a break, rather than pushing ourselves through an overly difficult morning with our children while making ourselves wrong for getting mad.  We can have some kindness towards each other and this whole messy business of being human.  And the kindness can lead us to joy.

When I lived in NYC, I used to like to take the Staten Island Ferry out when I got really stressed and claustrophobic.  I would get on the ferry and ride it out into the water, watching Manhattan recede bit by bit, the harbor stretching out between us.  It created physical space for me, allowed me some breathing room and perspective.  When we find ourselves judging, just being willing to notice and touch our hearts by connecting to our breath can do the same thing.  It can create some much needed space, some clear water between our goodness and the shore of our discursive thoughts.  We can do this throughout our days.  And when all else fails - get outdoors if you can.  No matter what the weather.  I took my two littles into a pouring rainstorm last week because we were all going a bit mad indoors together.  The rain brought us laughter and ventilated our irritation.  I was able to stop judging my little ones for their exuberant energy indoors.  I was able to stop judging myself for somehow being a "bad" mama, not being able to get my toddlers to "behave".  I was able to laugh at the very idea of that.

Wishing you all joy this week and always.  Wishing you great love on this parenting path as you feel off guard, and approach your edge, again and again.

Friday, June 10, 2011


This is my contemplation for today after a too busy week and a derailed morning routine that we need to get back on track with:

"When we wake up in the morning, we need to come back to simplicity."

This is from my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.  Simplicity in all things is something I continue to aspire to, with varying degrees of success.  I have a messy personality, reflected in my messy house and my recent inability to stick with a schedule for my little ones.  So I am meditating on this, and continuing to try to just be present, and proceed from there.

Love to you all this weekend, and wishing you simplicity.

Monday, June 6, 2011

everybody's in trouble

"Everybody's in trouble. Everybody, every minute, is tortured, suffering a lot. We shouldn't just ignore them and save ourselves alone. That would be a tremendous crime. In fact, we can't just save ourselves, because our neighbors are moaning and groaning all over the place... We can't just try and go to sleep. The rest of the world is going to wake us up with their pain." -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

This is a useful quote to contemplate when you are feeling stuck. Stuck in your own stuff, your own obstacles, unable to access a wider view. When we can raise our gaze from our own claustrophobic ruminations, it can be amazing what we see, heart breaking, shaking. It can definitely ventilate our own little situation. This quote came to my mind today when reading a terrible and terribly important article in the New York Times over the debacle of "care" in New York state's institutions for disabled children. I won't link to it, as it is a very triggering piece, containing descriptions of abuse and worse. But it is there if you would like to read it, on their front page. I read it this morning, and wept aloud, as my two little boys played at my feet.

There is so much suffering in the world. How do we not turn away? How do we not turn away when we can't even stay with our own suffering, or that of our children? How do we turn towards it, and stay with it? Because if we can do that, we can maybe, possibly, help someone else. Help our children. Help our family. Our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. Help those who we secretly might believe can't ever be helped. This is our task.

We can learn by helping our children. We can learn by staying with their suffering, holding them when they cry, acknowledge their hurts, large and small, instead of covering them up with the quick "you're ok, you're ok" as we shush and shush. What's that about? That "you're ok?" Is that what we want to hear when we are crying? Someone telling us that we are really alright, that it isn't a big deal?

I had a friend who very tragically lost her husband at a young age, in a very sudden, abrupt way. People tried to make her feel better. They tried to cheer her up, to distract her, to tell her it would be ok. But she wouldn't do it. She wasn't ok. She wasn't going to be ok for awhile. And even then, it would be a different sort of ok, not the kind people mean when they say it. She needed to grieve. She needed to really feel her hurt, her deep, wrenching pain, and to cry. Some friends could not abide it. Some friends dropped her, feeling she was indulging in it. I would go and visit and just sit with her while she cried and cried and cried. I didn't say very much. There wasn't much to say. I just sat, and tried to stay open, until the tears stopped. It wasn't easy. It was scary. Her grief reminded me that everything is impermanent. That none of us can escape pain.

We can breathe with our children, being present with them, noticing when we want to shush them or brush over their hurts, so that we can "get on" with our day. We can instead acknowledge that what is happening, right now, is our day. We can open to our own discomfort with their tears. Acknowledge our own fear, anxiety and old hurts that can be opened when witnessing their pain. We can practice tonglen, or maitri.

This willingness to stay with suffering takes bravery. And we can take this brave heart out into the larger world, and by doing so, our children will in turn trust their own bravery. Everybody is suffering. Everybody, everybody. We can't ignore their pain. As Chogyam Trungpa writes, their pain will wake us up. Once we are able to find the courage to peek out from our own stuckness, our own unwillingness to open, and begin to breathe in some fresh air and relief, we can somehow find a way to bring that same relief to others, in any way we can. It might be a very small way. That's ok. In fact, that is stupendous. Just finding the bravery to hold our children when we would prefer to stifle their tears - that is enormous. Or the bravery to smile at our neighbor. That is huge. Who knows where that step will lead? We are watering the seeds of bravery, compassion, opening. A smile can lead to total transformation.

These little, small seeds we water can grow into mighty trees. Trees that extend the shade of compassion and liberation to many, many beings. Let us practice not turning away. Let us work to stay, just stay, and open, to everybody. To their pain. That can be enough. To just sit there, open, and let their pain in.