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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

just a reminder

Maybe more to myself than to anyone - this parenting business is challenging. It's hard.  It can be very lonely, especially in a culture that is anti-child and unsupportive of nurturing.  In a culture where many of us live far from family and close supports.  So be kind.  Be kind to yourself.  Hold yourself in the cradle of loving kindness.  Hold your children in it.  Hold your friends, your family, strangers.  But start with yourself.  You are basically good, sane, wise and compassionate.  It is your true nature, even if you doubt it.  Your good heart and mind are always there, underneath all the other stuff that makes you feel sad, lonely, resentful, angry, jealous and so on.  All that stuff is passing, changing, impermanent.  

Your good, brave heart is underneath it, beating, strong, calling, calling to you all the time.  Hold it in your hands and rock it, as gently as a newborn baby.  Be gentle to yourself.  Give yourself something you need, some space, some kindness, some love. Sending you all a huge hug.

Monday, July 11, 2011

when others criticize our parenting - no ground

The attempt to confirm our solidity is very painful. Constantly we find ourselves suddenly slipping off the edge of a floor which had appeared to extend endlessly. Then we must attempt to save ourselves from death by immediately building an extension to the floor in order to make it appear endless again. We think we are safe on our seemingly solid floor, but then we slip off again and have to build another extension. We do not realize that the whole process is unnecessary, that we do not need a floor to stand on, that we have been building all these floors on the ground level. There was never any danger of falling or need for support. In fact, our occupation of extending the floor to secure our ground is a big joke, the biggest joke of all, a cosmic joke. -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I got back recently from a week with my in-laws.  It was interesting to spend an extended amount of time with them, in a rather uncomfortable situation physically speaking (a small camp house up in Maine), after my previous post about judging or joy.  There was much to work with internally speaking - lots of discomfort and anxiety.  My mother-in-law is a lovely person.  She is very generous.  She is funny and warm.  And she strongly disagrees with almost everything her son and I do as parents.  Since she is very close to her son (my husband) and really idolizes him, she directs much of her criticism to me.  

And I found it really hard to work with her criticism skillfully.  I had a really hard time not taking her criticism personally.  I felt the need to make her words mean something, something about me, about me being a mama, about my children, about my relationship with my husband and his family and on and on.  During her various critiques, often expressed on her part with some energy and anger, I managed to just sit and listen and breathe.  Which was progress for me, because in the past, I have taken the bait and argued.  Tried to convince.  Defended.  Which only exacerbated the situation and left everyone feeling more pissed off.

So I sat there and breathed.  And when my husband's sister-in-law came over with her children, I complained about it to her, as she is also a recipient of these critiques.  I am not proud of doing that, because it was just creating more karma around the whole thing.  Really, all I wanted to do was just cry.

I have been thinking about that.  Wanting to cry.  Taking it personally.  Why?  When people judge us, whether in our parenting or another area of our lives, why do we shut down and lash out, whether at them or ourselves? Why does it engender so much doubt?  For me, the answer is in the quote above from Chogyam Trungpa.  We are constantly looking to others to confirm that we exist, that we truly are who we think we are and when people criticize, we don't get confirmed - instead, we get a glimpse of no-ground.  When the illusory self we are always trying to maintain and shore up is rejected in that way, an opening occurs where we see, however briefly, that we don't really exist in the way we think we do.  We aren't solid.  We aren't independent.  We aren't unchanging.  Scary stuff.

When others judge our parenting aloud to our faces, it triggers in us so much doubt about the fundamental ground of our being.  We can acknowledge that doubt and the pain around it.  Parenting is a path that is constantly reasserting the truth of our situation as human beings in the world - everything is impermanent and we have control over very little.  The Buddha taught that we suffer because we try to make that which is inherently impermanent, permanent.  Raising children is a deep lesson in that truth, and one of the reasons why I think it is a profound path to waking up.  When what we are doing with our children is judged as wrong, or unhelpful or bad, it is an incredibly vulnerable, shaky spot to find ourselves in.  

What I am trying to cultivate is an appreciation of that vulnerability.  An appreciation of that shaky spot and of the person who has nudged me into it, revealed to me the truth of groundlessness.  I may not like it, but if I can open to it, I might find some compassion there.  Some sense of, "we are all so uncertain, and so scared of getting it wrong".  Some feeling of, "this person cares for these children too, and wants what is best for them".  Some insight that, ultimately, all that matters is the ground of basic goodness.  No matter how I raise them, or what people think, or what happens, their basically good, sane natures will be there. That is the one ground that doesn't change.  Buddha nature, awake, joyous and shining.  And no matter what I do, or what others think, it is in me too.  It is my true nature.  My true self.  I can let go of being the mama, wife, friend, teacher, baker - and just embrace my basic goodness.  That seems the wisest, and kindest thing to do.  Then I can laugh at the big, cosmic joke, as Trungpa describes.  It's a joke I've been playing on myself for many lifetimes, after all.

Friday, July 1, 2011

what are you encouraging?

"Pay attention to your life. What environmental influences are you encouraging?" - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Sakyong Mipham is my teacher.  As with all great teachers, whenever I read a teaching by him or hear him speak, it is like what he is saying is meant just for me.  It always seems to be exactly what I need to hear, or something that has been crawling around in my brain trying to articulate itself into being, a vague unease scratching around, and then POW - he puts it into words for me to hear.

So it was when the above quote appeared on his Facebook page the other day (yes, all the Rinpoches seem to have their own Facebook pages, and to be honest, it is awesome.  I LOVE seeing the profound, true dharma mixed up with all the status updates about children and partners and parties and so on.  Very vajrayana, very tantric - the dharma is about this daily living stuff, not to be sequestered away in some untouchable place).  Anyway,  I saw this and it connected right to my heart.  I have been vaguely anxious about the day to day environment I am providing for my family.  About the influences that have crept in, or that I have been, perhaps, unable to discard from my previous life.  Mental influences, physical influences.  What we are spending time each day doing, what I am bringing into our physical space, or neglecting to take out of it.  I had been forgetting to ask myself "is this helpful?" and even worse, I had forgotten to stop and listen to the answer.  Ahem.

Screen-free week was a wonderful opportunity to step back and begin to unwind the tangled web of media that can, at times, dominate our home life to the detriment of our children.  But it is useful to go deeper.  To pay attention, as Rinpoche says.  What are we encouraging in our home?  What habits of mind, of speech, of relating?  We have to look at ourselves.  What seeds are we watering in our own minds and hearts, our own daily habits, that our children see and learn from?

What can we do to sow seeds of nurturing and goodness in our home?  Seeds that when they blossom, will help our children have confidence in their basic goodness?  What books?  What food?  What speech?  What kind of play?  What daily habits, both individual and familial?  These are useful questions to ask ourselves.  I have been trying to pause throughout the day when a particular habit makes itself known - is this working?  Does this encourage sanity or does it create anxiety?  Does this create compassion or aggression?  Togetherness or separateness?  Dignity or chaos?

I have some changes I need to make to our physical home and to our daily habits, some little, and some pretty big.  This is not an excuse to beat myself up or make myself wrong about my parenting - it is an opportunity to rediscover the basic ground again, the ground of goodness, and look for ways to keep connecting to that.  Always with gentleness.  It can actually be a relief to say out loud "this isn't working!".  That is a big, important first step.  Then we can take the necessary, gentle steps to bring things back into alignment.

That is the work that lies before me right now.  Weeding out the things that do not serve our wholeness, and creating fertile ground for sanity.  What environmental influences are you encouraging?  Pay attention to your life.  That's all there is to do, really.