Tuesday, August 30, 2011

giving yourself space to be

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space. - Pema Chodron

So, I have just been terribly lax at blogging this summer. Something about the warm, open ended days has made me want to just do anything but write in any depth about any thing. My apologies about that. If given my choice, I would probably spend every day in the summer either lying on my back in the middle of a country meadow or just being at the beach, my feet submerged in water, while my husband fed me watermelon and my children played happily by themselves with the local flora and fauna. And I have actually had a couple of days this summer when such a scenario materialized, more or less. How lucky!

I have been contemplating my difficulty in giving myself and my family the space to just be, whether in the summer, fall, winter or spring. As a society and world, we seem hell bent on keeping ourselves as busy and productive as possible. It is one of the very disorienting things about being a new mother in fact - the sudden surrender of activity, or at least activity that outwardly manifests as such. Nursing or feeding your baby, changing diapers, comforting, bonding - it is actually incredibly demanding work, but much of it looks sedentary, still, and monotonous. Even amongst all this work, there is a lot of just sitting, just being there with your baby as he or she rests or feeds. And of course, with a newborn, you are usually confined to your home for the first few weeks, depending on different circumstances. A new baby forces us to take a long, deep in breath, perhaps for the first time in many years. As in sitting meditation, we can react with a hot, itchy boredom to this, or we can begin to relax, surrender to the present moment, and breathe in deeper, allowing ourselves to just be. In this space, our heart can be touched, deeper perhaps than it has ever been touched before. We can begin to really get to know that bottomless gentleness and love that it contains, as Ani Pema mentions above.

We can do this no matter how old our children are, no matter if we work outside our home or in it. We can find periods each day to breathe in, deeply, and ground ourselves fully in the now, before breathing back out into our busy lives. This can be an internal breath. A letting go of our constant inner activity, our planning, story telling, criticism, gossip, complaining and so on. We can notice our thoughts and let them go, leave ourselves alone for a bit. It can manifest as an external letting go as well. Letting go of a project, an agenda, an activity, even for a moment or two. It can be getting outside, as I often advise - just getting outside, even for a short time, no matter what the weather. You don't have to do anything in particular outdoors. Just open. If you have young children, let them guide you. They will lead you to many important discoveries - a large slug, inching its way along the wet grass. A collection of choke cherries lying on the sidewalk. An interesting crack in the sidewalk. A broken street lamp. A new stray cat on the street, who is so friendly she allows them to rub her tummy and follows us to the old church yard where we like to play. Try not to hurry them along. Linger with them. Allow yourselves the space to be open, curious, attentive to the magic of the world.

We experienced a forced in breath just the other day, because of Hurricane Irene. We lost power for about 24 hours, and were unable to do the laundry, or use the computer, or stay up late doing chores. Instead, we lit our candles, gave the boys each a flashlight, and spent hours playing together in a large tent made up of sheets on our bed, exploring the play of light and shadow. It was a lovely pause, a gift. We could have chosen to be hassled by it, and there was some anxiety about the food warming up in the fridge, but what was there to do other than put it all (along with our ice trays) in the cooler and then let the anxiety go, so we could be with our littles? Hassle was replaced with warmth and laughter. Space.

Give yourself some space to be today. Engage in some aimless wandering outside with your children, or by yourself. Leave yourself alone. You don't always need to be so busy. We are always so afraid of things falling apart without our constant interference. I will let you in on a secret - they fall apart anyway, no matter what we do. So relax. Let go. Let your heart be touched. In that soft, tender spot of stillness, great power exists.

[NOTE: blogger is giving me lots of trouble in terms of formatting, so I apologize for the appearance of the blog, and if this posts appears as one big block of text. I will eventually figure it out when I don't have two nursing toddlers on my lap as I type.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

you deserve love

"Treat yourself as your own beloved child." - Pema Chodron

I wrote a letter the other day to my mother, who is slowly, slowly dying.  She has a very hard time speaking now, so we can't really talk on the phone.  I have been wanting to write her a letter for quite awhile, before it is too late to tell her that I love her, that I am grateful for the nurturing she gave me, which now runs like a thread to my own little ones.

There is also a thread of neurosis that runs through to them, from my own mother and father, and their parents, and their parents, and on and on down the line to the very beginning, wherever that may be.  It's up to me to continue weaving the thread of compassion and nurture, and cut that of neurosis, again and again as my children grow.  It's very hard some days.  Other days, it is easier.  I am calmer.  Clearer. More present.  I can see when the  taut thread of aggression, shame or resentment begins to peak out.  And on the hard days, the thread seems to slip from my mouth, and there I am, centuries of habitual patterns pouring out onto my wee ones' heads.

Then I need to regroup, think "fresh start" and begin again.  Come back onto the path.  Regret, remediate and renew my aspiration to transform.  Notice I don't say "to do better". I think this whole "doing better" business just hurts us.  It seems to reaffirm our doubts about ourselves - that we are somehow messed up, flawed, damaged, need improvement.  It's not that we need to improve - we need to uncover.  We need to stop believing the stories we tell ourselves.  We need to see through our confused thoughts and rest in the basic goodness, sanity, joy and wisdom of our true natures.  We need to believe, really believe that basic goodness is who we are.  All that other...stuff...it's temporary confusion.  Like the clouds in front of the sun on a rainy day.  The fresh wind of insight or compassion blows - and there is the sun again, brilliant and strong.

When I really get stuck in "needing to do better" or too tangled in that thread of neurosis, I need to rock myself in the cradle of loving kindness.  I need to treat myself, as Ani Pema says above, as my "own beloved child". It is so hard to be patient, kind, loving when we are unable to be any of that with our own, dear selves.  One of things I wrote in the letter to my mother was that I have always had a very hard time loving myself.  And I thanked her for loving me, despite the many challenges I presented her with, despite the many times I must have been really, truly hard to love without reservations.  We all deserve that kind of love.  Most of the time, we look to others to give us that all encompassing, compassionate, non-judging love.  We look to lovers, to parents, to teachers, to friends, even, sadly, to our own children.  No one else can give it to us.  We need to give it to ourselves.

I am still learning how to do that.  It starts, I have found, with gentleness.  With compassion.  With forgiveness.  With knowing that falling off of the path is as much a part of it as walking it straight and strong.  The important part is getting back on.  The important part is knowing that every other human being has felt and thought and probably done all those things you think only you are bad enough to have felt, thought or done.  The important part is knowing that there is no such thing as a perfect mother or father.  That we all do the best we can in every moment.  That children are resilient.  That to aspire to transform that thread of neurosis is the first step to transforming it into nurture.  That just to notice that thread of neurosis is the first step to liberation.  That your basic birth right as a human being is goodness, joy and sanity.

My mother is unable to hold me in her own arms - not because I am too big, but because her's are too weak.  She is unable to tell me she loves me, because her mouth and throat muscles don't work anymore, or at least not very well.  So, I working on holding myself, rocking myself in kindness, whispering sweet words of love.  It seems that after I do that, it is even easier to do the same for my own children.  The thread of nurture seems to grow so much stronger, truer, lasting.  I can see it spool out, into their hearts, carrying centuries of compassion and gentleness.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

easing back into things as they are

"Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it."
 - Byron Katie

Well, I made it through two weeks by myself with the wee ones.  I sadly neglected the blog during that time, but I had to let a lot of things go, in order to really be in accordance with things as they are, rather than in constant conflict with reality.  Which meant that while my little ones got lots of adventures, and kisses and hugs, and stories and games and yummy food, they also got lots of ice cream, some late bedtimes, some videos and a very, very messy home base.  At two different points during my husband's absence, my entire living room was covered with clean laundry that the boys had taken from the laundry bag and strewn everywhere.  Laundry covered every inch of floor and every piece of furniture.  A few times I forgot to feed the cats.  I think a colony of ants may have taken up residence under the living room sofa.   In the meantime, we were at the playground or the firetruck museum or at a friend's house, playing in their pool.  

I had to surrender to a certain level of chaos in order to keep us all rested enough to be joyful in our days together.  I had to let go of my agenda again and again.  It was often funny and a little bit painful to notice how much I wanted to hold onto it, creating so much unnecessary stress and aggression.  Why exactly was I trying to rush my two toddlers out the door just now?  Where did we need to be so urgently?  Oh, at the firetruck museum?  Where we were meeting, um, nobody?  Which is open for the whole day?  Why now was I getting so very frustrated with them, and starting to get more and more tense, on the verge of shouting or tears?  How interesting.  Let's just let that go, shall we?  Breathe in and breathe out.  Connect to my feet on the ground, to my little ones' faces.  They are laughing getting their sandals on together.  Can I open to that sweet moment?  Nothing else has to actually happen right now.  Just this.

A wise teacher once told me that wanting things to be different than they are is inherently aggressive.  I have chewed that one over in my mind often over the intervening years.  It arises again and again with my children.  Noticing when I want things to be different.  It is a daily occurrence.  Noticing, and letting go.  Touching the emotion underneath - the sadness, the exhaustion maybe, maybe even some anger?  And always underneath it all, the fear.  The fear of space.  That is why I rush them out the door.  I somehow cannot rest with this space in the day, the lack of a place I must be, a thing I must accomplish, other than simply being with my children.  Being fully present with them.  All this open ended space, while they explore and grow and learn.  I have difficulty trusting it.  So I have to come back.  Come back to my breath.  Come back to them.  Back to gentleness and compassion for myself, for the children, for my partner.  Noticing the story I have been telling myself and believing in, instead of what actually is.  "Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it."

Yes, it is.  Always so much kinder, gentler, nuanced and open than the tight little tale we weave and weave again.  So this is the path for me right now.  Noticing the story.  Dropping it.  Holding myself with gentleness so I can hold my little ones with loving kindness.  Welcoming my husband back from retreat.  Laughing at the clean laundry on the floor.  Admitting to my two year old that I am tired, and so I am going to just sit in my rocker for a bit and read a book if he really doesn't want to nap.  Not forcing him to, but just letting him know, gently, that I need to rest even if he doesn't, so I am going to, while still staying with him.  And the very next day, shouting at my little ones after a sleepless night when they knock over all the shrine bowls full of water onto my favorite baby pictures of them.  Then taking a breath, touching my tiredness fully, not making myself wrong for feeling it, or even for getting angry, but coming out and apologizing to them for expressing it so unskillfully, hugging them, and asking them not to do it again.  Up and down.  Back and forth.  On the path and off.  But still, always kinder, gentler than the story I tell about it.

Wishing you all gentleness and a full embrace of reality instead of the story this week.  It can be hard, even painful to let it go.  But I promise you, it really is so much kinder.