Tuesday, September 27, 2011

painful reminders

We can stop looking for some idealized moment when everything is simple and secure. This second of experience, which could be painful or pleasurable, is our working basis. What makes all the difference is how we relate to it.
- Pema Chodron

I had the painful reminder today that when I lose my temper with my little ones, it is so very, very rarely about what they are or are not doing. Instead, it is most often the result of me carrying the past and/or the future into the present moment. My worries, my story lines, my fears, my hopes. I am caught up in all that when suddenly, one of my children acts out or does something that is upsetting. Or like today, when my eldest got a pricker in his finger and refused to let me help him in any way, but instead screamed in pain, complaining that it hurt him, for five entire blocks, then in front of our apartment house, then up the stairs as I carried him to our apartment, both fighting me from touching him, but refusing to go up the stairs himself.

I shouted. I told him "to walk up those stairs." I told him, "no, we are not going to just stand outside here and scream." I said, "I am very frustrated right now, because I want to help you and you won't let me." I suppose I could have said all of the above gently, but I did not. I was angry. I was angry because I have been having one of the worst months I have had in years and years, a month full of obstacles and threats. Challenges and setbacks. I was angry because I was looking forward to going to the library storytime with my little ones, which we have not been able to do for quite some time due to several of the aforementioned obstacles and setbacks. I was angry because on the last three outings I have taken my children on, they have either gotten hurt or had a huge tantrum that forced us to leave said outing often almost as soon as we had gotten there. I was angry because I am worried about where we are going to live. I was angry because I am worried about getting food on our table. I was angry because my mother is dying. And so on. It had nothing to do with my poor little boy and his very uncomfortable finger.

And it is at times like these, when I totally lose it, that I just can fall so easily into despair. It is so easy to use an outburst like this as evidence of what a failure I am as a mother. But instead, I can use a time like this to be more gentle, kinder to myself. Pema Chodron says:
Openness actually starts to emerge when you see how you close down. You see how you close down, how you yell at someone, and you begin to have some compassion.
If we can see how we shut down and yell, then we can begin to understand how others can yell too, or how they can hurt us or others. It comes from their own suffering, just as those moments when we do it comes from our suffering. So again, we are presented with the choice - close or open? Touch that tender, broken heart of our's or pretend it isn't tender at all, and wrap ourselves in duality and aggression? In being right?

So, I began again. I apologized to my son for shouting. I got a bowl of warm water, and had his little brother splash in it. This helped my eldest relax enough to try putting his hand in it. We were home again, stuck inside on a beautiful day, story time a lost event, but he was calm again, and the pricker floated out, as I knew it would. His younger brother, who had been very upset at having to leave the library, played happily with some blocks. I got some support online from caring friends, who have been there, in that same kind of painful, raw moment. Things changed. I had to let go. Let go of my worries. Of my story line. Of my hopes for the day. Of my little one letting me help him, even. The letting go was the opening up.

I haven't been writing here often because of all the obstacles my family is facing currently, but you are all in my thoughts. I hope you and your little ones are able to relax into whatever moment is arising, and let go again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

cultivating joy

The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. - Pema Chodron

I have been working the last couple of weeks to cultivate joy, in these last dying days of summer. This is a choice I have to make on a daily basis - what to cultivate and what to reject. It can be so much easier to cultivate resentment, dissatisfaction, inattention, mindless indulgence in entertainment and so on. Whatever we put our attention on each moment is the seed we are watering in our hearts and minds. What do we choose to grow? Especially while raising up our children?

At those times when we feel most stuck in our habitual patterns, our environments, our relationships - we can choose to open our hearts to our basic goodness. When we are feeling most stuck, we can remember that who we are is awake and sane. Even when we are feeling totally crazy and overwhelmed. We can turn our minds outward, to the open sky above, a sunbeam in the dusty corner, a smile on our child's face, a beautiful dandelion struggling up through the concrete. What nurtures your goodness? What reminds you of your true nature? For me, in these last few days, it has meant turning my back on the chaos in my apartment and driving with my little ones out to a local farm to celebrate the fall harvest, pick apples, and enjoy the sheep and chickens. It has meant baking my mother's apple pie, even though it makes my heart ache knowing she can no longer bake it herself. It has meant staying in and cleaning my kitchen from top to bottom because the chaos was dampening my spirits and making me cranky with my children. It has meant bringing some straw home from the farm for the neighbor's bunny, left each day in a hard metal cage with no soft floor. It made the children feel better to see him snuggled in the hay.

What can you do today to remind you of your true, joyous nature? To remind your children of their own? To water the seeds of goodness?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

being who we are

[The] complete teaching of Buddhism is how to re-discover who we are. That is a straightforward principle, but we are continuously distracted from coming to our natural state, our natural being. Throughout our day everything pulls us away from natural mindfulness, from being on the spot. We're either too scared or too embarrassed or too proud, or just too crazy, to be who we are. - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

I am trying to write here more often, but I was at my parents' house over the long weekend, and there is just so much going on there with my mother's illness and the family dynamics that it is impossible to even go online for a moment, let alone be at all eloquent or useful. So, here I am, back in my own little chaotic nest, getting us unpacked and trying to keep my little ones happy on a day when it is pouring rain. These three things saved us this morning from tantrums: 1) the construction of a small city out of all available cardboard boxes; 2) the making of ribbon sticks; and 3) a wet, wet walk in the rain, where we got completely soaked from jumping in every available puddle. We also made the happy discovery that the apples from the sadly neglected apple trees on the street behind us are actually tasty, and so, pockets brimming with ones gleaned from the wet ground, we made our way home and into nap time.

There were still tears, as my little ones didn't sleep well at my folks and the long car ride yesterday put them in a bit of cranky mood. But, I was able to go with the flow, even with the detritus of our journey all over the house and some unhappy felines making demands after our absence. I'm tired, certainly. My toddlers are both nursing much more than I would prefer. The house is a mess. Loads of laundry to get done. Our bedroom ceiling is leaking from all the rain, and I have no idea when the landlord will relate to it. There is still the emotional residue of my visit back to my family. But...it is all ok. I have been able to keep coming back to the present moment today. I have been able to keep letting go of my various agendum without any fuss. I have been able to surrender to the fact that my 18 month old has fallen down, once again, and is crying, once again. I have been able to pick him up, hug him, comfort him until he feels alright, put him back down, and keep making that cardboard garage my 2 year old is asking me to make. I have been able to just be myself today, and to just let my children be themselves. Funny how often I don't allow either to happen.

The quote above from Sakyong Mipham is from a longer talk, here. It is a fabulous talk about how to meditate, and I reread it every year, sometimes several times a year. Different things jump out at me each time I read it, and this time, it was the following line:

When we're talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice of spontaneity.

Spontaneity for me has been the key to being happy with my children, and keeping them connected to their own goodness. And it is really, really hard to be spontaneous when I am obsessing over the past or thinking about the future. There is no space for spontaneity to emerge because I am so entirely disconnected from what is actually happening, right in front of my very eyes. It's funny how resentful we can get when other beings, our children included, pull us out of our dreams of the past and the future with their very real needs happening in the now. But if we let go of those imaginings, how much richer and happier we become. The world is so much more alive when we are actually fully there to experience it.

This is what I am working on today. It is what I am always working on. Being who I am, right here, right now. It can be so difficult, can't it? Wishing us all luck in being ourselves today, fully, completely, lovingly.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

a helpful post

Read this post today when a friend linked to it on Facebook. What a wonderful blog and what a thoughtful teacher and father.

Lately, I have been struggling with using gentle, respectful language with my two boys when they are engaged in behavior that frightens or embarrasses me, like hitting, pushing, biting, throwing toys etc. My buttons get pushed and I tend to react with aggression rather than making it into a teaching moment. Today, we had a friend over for a play date, and my eldest greeted him and me (I was ushering him in through our door) with a barrage of thrown, heavy metal trains. I kind of freaked out, readers. I raised my voice (a polite way of saying I shouted) and told him I was angry. He shrank.

I ended up being able to catch myself and hug him close, while explaining that he had hurt me with the trains and almost hurt his friend, and that it had scared me. I am not always able to come down so quickly though from the anger high. In any case, this is a helpful post. Teacher Tom: "Spoiled Brats"