Category Archives: Buddhism

Three Minutes of Meditation- WOOT!

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Emily had gone to sleep under her pile of brightly colored blankets, and I crept out of the room.  Out to the living room I plodded, down on the couch I curled, and a-channel-surfing-I-did-go.

This is my nightly routine.  I crash on the couch and flick on the TV or work on my blog until my hubs comes out from putting down the boy, and we watch something together on Netflix.

I found an episode of Will and Grace in syndication and settled in.  But I felt agitated and bored.

Why am I watching this?  I wondered.

I picked up my phone.

Put it back down.  Picked it up again.  I notice the app I purchased called Insight Timer.  I had yet to open it.

Well, I could sit up and meditate for a bit, I thought.

I turned the TV off and sat up with my legs crossed in front of me.  I fired up the Insight Timer app.  It prompted me to chose a timer duration for my meditation session.

I set it for three minutes.

Let’s start small.  I don’t want to set it for like ten minutes and fail at sitting because I couldn’t sit for that long, I thought.

Here’s the thing–  while I know I should be meditating, it is really, really, freaking, super, stupid hard for me to do.  I don’t like it and I’m not great at it, not to mention I almost never have the proper time to devote to a meditation practice.  But since I’ve started this blog, and have been more focused on mindfulness, and have been reading Pema Chodron, and have been learning about other people’s successes with meditation, well, I figure I should try.

Here we go, I thought, pressing the “start” button.  A beautiful bell rang out and reverberated for 20 or so seconds.  I tuned into my breath, followed it in and out.

This isn’t so bad!  Maybe I’ll write something about it for my blog. . .  oops, you’re thinking.  That’s what Pema Chodron says to do when you get distracted during meditation.  Label it as “thinking” and go back to your breath.

In-breath.  Out-breath.  In-breath.  Out-breath.

Why was I watching Will and Grace anyway?  It’s not like I really care about that show.  Now if it had been a re-run of Grey’s Anatomy. . .  

Thinking.

Breath.

TV is so addictive. . .  toys on the floor. . .  maybe I’ll heat up the herb pack for my lower back; it’s kind of sore. . .  when was the last time I wiped the microwave?  Is it weird I would rather throw away a major appliance than sponge it down?  I could go for some tea.  

Thinking.  Breath.

Ooooh, look!  There’s Mt. Everest.  It is so blue and frozen.  It makes me feel so remote to look at, kind of like I’m drifting.  Speaking of drifting, I feel so far apart from my family.  Holidays are like that, I guess, bringing out the difficult stuff.  Feelings. . .  Oh, yeah, I don’t have to think about feelings right now.  I’m meditating.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Go back to the breath.  Breath. . .  

In. . .  breath. . .  Out. . .  breath. . .  soft and focused, searching for that little gap after the out breath when there is nothing at all to do.

And the bell rang again.  My three minutes were up.

What I liked about the experience was the quieting of my mind.  I often use TV or Candy Crush to “zone out,” or numb myself.  I am aware those are not entirely helpful and rather than being with myself, I am trying to avoid myself by engaging in those activities.  Not all the time; sometimes I play Candy Crush because it is fun.  And sometimes it helps to distract my anxious mind into some sort of focused mind.  But I think meditation is a more gently way of creating that down time without relying on technology.

It wasn’t an all together awful experience.  Actually, it wasn’t awful at all.  It was sort of pleasant.  I’ll try it again, and maybe set the timer for five minutes.

What does your meditation practice look like?  Is it regular and ritualized?  What stands in the way of your being consistent with meditation?  

My Week In Haiku

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Monday afternoon:

home with sick child.
morning light slips into
long evening shadows.

20131128-114427.jpgTuesday evening:

day drifts on the bay,
white water birds hunker down
as winter draws near.

Wednesday morning:

my son’s daily brawl
over socks and being rushed
sours my commute.

Thursday noon:

for an hour I sit
worrying my cuticles.
I hope no one sees.

Friday night:

certain songs float out
of the radio and I
long for other times.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/challenge-haiku/comment-page-6/#comment-272446

The Fight Club In My Head

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There are a few nights a month where I lie awake, fighting in my head.  Sometimes I argue with myself over something I did which I perceive as stupid, silly or embarrassing.  Other times I argue with my husband about chores, child care, and cash flow.

Once in a while, I mentally flail, bite, and scratch at some issue that brings fantasies of blood and gore and violence into my mind.

It is the last conflict on that list which draws the most energy and creates the most anxiety.  As you might imagine, the first rule of that fight club is that I never talk about it.

Because if I did talk about it, the ground on which I stand would shiver and shake until it opened beneath my feet into a pit of snakes and scorpions who’s venom would scorch my sanity.

So, usually I don’t talk about it.  Whatever IT is.

I freeze, become irritable and hyper focused on housework and the children’s behavior, skip meals, drink too much coffee, and tend poorly to myself and those around me in general.  On one level I look passive, like I am giving up, or accepting, but on another level, deeper inside, I am being churned like the sea in a tropical storm.

As a clinical social worker, I am supposed to be an expert in communication skills and conflict resolution.  Why then, am I unable to make peace with this screaming banshee in my brain?

My professional side understands there are probably deep rooted issues related to my desire to please people, juxtaposed against my strong sense of righteous indignation, adjacent to a few primitive ego defenses, and criss crossed with my need for peace and quiet.

On a personal level, I can tell you that because I DO sit in my professional chair helping people work through anger, aggression, and miscommunication all day, this work is what I DON’T want to do in my private life.  I fantasize that I can come home- whether to my actual house, or to my own head- and things will just fall in place, where they need to be.

But real life doesn’t work that way, does it?

Chocolate helps.  Walking helps.  Pema Chodron helps.  Breathing helps.  Blogging helps.  Watching TV or reading helps.

Silly as it may sound, I have special jewelry, imbued with meaning and memory, that helps.

Holding my children helps.

Chanting through the long, midnight hours helps.  Om shanti, shanti, shanti.  Om shanti, shanti, om.  

Still, my mind bounces back into the ring, boxing madly at the adrenaline, cortisol, and testosterone plaguing my gray matter, which in turn shouts slurs and insults the likes of which I will not dignify in text.

Or maybe I should write down all the things raging in me in the middle of the night.  What would it be like to see them in black and white?  Would it help to expunge these demons, or would it serve only to add accelerant to  the  blaze?

Invariably, after a few days, I go back to my normal, non-violent-minded self and wonder what the fuss was all about, so it begs the question, “If a rage goes on in my own mind and no one hears it, did it really matter?”

What gets you heated?  How do you handle conflict, whether constructively or explosively?  

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/daily-prompt-conflict/

I’m Still a Good Person Even Though I Don’t Believe in (Your) God

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Dear Friend,

If you thought you could sneak away quietly, well you didn’t.

I noticed you stopped following my blog and I’m confused and a little hurt.  I’m wondering if I did something to offend you, or if you just stopped being interested in my writing.

I’m sad to see you go.

You were one of the first people to “like” and befriend me out here in blog-land.  You were one of my first “followers,” and one of the first blogs that I followed.  It didn’t matter to me how different we are from one another.

I started my blog as a place where I could practice acceptance and compassion towards others sharing in the struggle of parenthood.  So, despite the fact that your beliefs were not my cup-o-tea, I welcomed your presence in my life and even allowed myself to learn from you.

Our biggest difference was probably that of religion.  Since I have no other clue, I am wondering if you walked away because of our different belief systems.

I’ve tried to keep my blog far enough away from controversy.  Generally, I do not post about religion or politics, but you don’t have to read between the lines to realize I am not a Christian.  Quite simply, I don’t believe in God the Father, or that Jesus has anything to offer me.

There.  I said it.  But hear me out:  Why is it okay for people to write and speak openly about their love of their religion, but it is somehow offensive and controversial if I speak of my lack of religion?

I am not without faith, morals, or values.  I believe in love above all else, and in treating the world with respect and decency.  I have faith in myself and my abilities, and faith in the goodness of humanity.  I work hard to serve human-kind in my practice as a social worker, and try to be vigilant in mindfulness.

I even believe in the power of prayer, but not because I think someone up above is going to stand and deliver if I pray.  I believe in the power of prayer because the more good intentions you put out, the more good intentions will abound in my life and in yours.

From birth, I was baptized and raised Christian.  I attended church for the better part of my life and know all about the holy mysteries, sacraments, and scripture.  Somewhere along the line, I just stopped believing.  It was not a scary, sad crisis.  Christianity slipped away from me in a way that was natural, liberating, and okay.

Since then, I have been exploring Buddhism and mindfulness.  Spiritually, I have grown more exponentially in the past decade as a non-believer than I did in the first 30 years of my life as a patron of the cross.  I am a much better person as a non-Christian, than I ever was as the most dutiful church-goer.

I’m not knocking or insulting God or Jesus.  I respect all religions and believe they have something to offer people- structure, faith, community, support.  It does not offend or anger me that you believe in your higher power.  Why should it offend you if I tip my cap to Buddha, Vishnu, Tara, or a tree if I am a better person for it?  People can believe in different things and still get along.  We can still learn from one another.

Maybe our religious differences aren’t the reason you left.  Either way, it is okay.  I’ve wanted to explain this to you for some time, because  I’m tired of feeling sneaky about the fact that I just don’t believe in God.  It shouldn’t be any more taboo for me to talk about my belief system than it is for you to talk about yours.

In closing, I will say Namaste.  The god in me bows to the god in you.

Thank you for the time you spent in my life,

Me.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/daily-prompt-sneaky-2/

dys-Happiness

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“Happiness is not ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.”  —  the Dalai Lama

I’m not a naturally happy person.

Maybe I was at one point in my life.  I look back on days before marriage and children as seemingly carefree–  there was lots of dancing, partying, and revelry.  But I don’t think I was really free.  Or happy.

If I am honest, I don’t ever remember feeling pure, uninhibited happiness for more than a few moments or days at a time. Even on my honeymoon in Hawaii (on which I reflect as perfection) I was anxious, impatient, and had trouble being there.

Over the past week, as I planned my son’s sixth birthday party, I reflected on my dys-happiness (yup I just coined another word).  I felt like a crappy person and mom because I didn’t really want to have a birthday party for him.  I was anxious about spending the money, being around all those people for an afternoon, and measuring up to the other moms’ ideas of what a party should be.

I was working so freaking hard on trying to be freaking happy about it all that it made me really anxious and depressed. 

When I get anxious and depressed it isn’t cute.  I get prickly, grumpy, and short-tempered, even with the people I love the most.  I want to go climb into a hole and hide.  It is almost physically painful to make eye contact with other humans. 

I don’t necessarily see myself as an unhappy, anxious, or depressed person.  I guess that is why I am using the term dys-happiness.  Dys-happiness seems more like “sadness-light” to me. 

The birthday party went off without a hitch (with a ton of support from my family), and all the kids had fun.  With some minor blips of anxiety and irritation, I enjoyed myself.  Alls well, yadda yadda.

My mind churned this over and over as I nursed the baby tonight.  I looked into her eyes and thought, I’m happy when I am snuggling and nursing the baby.  That thought was quickly followed by the thought that every moment of happiness is merely an illusion.  Emily will grow and no longer need my breast, and that connectivity will not be available to comfort or soothe either of us.

Strangely, the acknowledgment that this was all smoke and mirrors was oddly palliative.20130808-104755.jpg

I had picked up an issue of Shambala Sun from 2007 which my husband had cleaned off his desk.  There was an article featured on the cover entitled, “What makes you a Buddhist?”  It was an article by a Buddhist monk and teacher named Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.

I flipped to it.

I used to be an avid and fast reader, but these days it is hard for me to make sense of two sentences strung together.  I chalk it up to a moderate brain loss incurred by a few years’ sleep debt.  But I followed along with most of this article, tuning in especially to a passage where he spoke about dualities.

“. . .  fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral.  One’s inflexible self-righteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others.  Sanity is lost. . .  ”

Maybe the discomfort of anxiety and depression comes not so much from my actual feelings, as it does from my judgement that those feelings are wrong and flawed.

Click! 

The goal is not to be happy, but to accept myself for who and where I am at this moment. 

It sounds so simple, why didn’t I get it before? 

There is a set of skills I use with my clients for emotional regulation called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).  One of the first things we learn in DBT is to not judge our feelings as right/wrong or good/bad, but to accept our feelings, and to accept how intense they are. 

While I have been using the skills both professionally and personally for a decade, it only truly clicked what that acceptance actually means, as I reflected on my emotions over the past week. 

Being a mom is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced.  My children are my life.  But being a mom is also impossibly hard, at times.  I find myself getting caught in this web of duality on a regular basis.  And the spider of self doubt eats away at my confidence, and further impedes my ability to feel well. 

It also makes it difficult to relate with others, to find the energy for compassion and consideration.  My hope is that through practicing more mindfulness and acceptance I will be more comfortable in my own skin, thus more tolerant and compassionate with others. 

So, I can be, just be, dys-happy.  It doesn’t make me a better person, nor am I worse for it.

Who the Hell am I?

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If I wrote half of the things I thought about my kid yesterday, you wouldn’t like me anymore.

You might wonder who the hell is this crazy lady, and where did the mindful author of I Have It All go?

Yesterday, moments after I wrote and posted about love mantras, my day took a dark turn.

I don’t mean to bitch about the heat, really I don’t.  But it has been making monsters out of me and my entire family.  Without air conditioning in the main parts of the house, it is really freaking hard to even move around in my 95 degree oven  house.  The sun and heat are so strong that I am nervous to even take the kids outside to play in the sprinkler or baby pool for fear of them getting overheated running around.

Also, I have an infection in my eye and had an allergic reaction to the medication I was given and I woke with a totally swollen, red, weeping eye that was crusted shut and still wouldn’t open all the way even after cold and warm compresses.

Not that any of this excuses my crappiness.  I’m just saying.

So, I wrote that glowing and exuberant post and then Jack started to escalate with his behavior.  Stupid stuff that just spiraled out of control to the point where he was kicking, screaming, and throwing things.  We put him into his air conditioned room to cool off and he continued to scream and throw things at the door.

Logically I know this is just a tantrum and it will end.  Rationally I know that he is just pissy from the heat and this is his way of showing us.  Cognitively I understand all of his bluster will eventually peter out and he will be back to his good old self.

But emotionally?

Emotionally the banging on his door makes my heart race and I want to cry.  The noise and aggression scare the shit out of me.  I feel like a total failure as a mom.  I feel like my kid hates me and does not respect me or any of my entirely reasonable demands.

My initial response is anger, frustration, and fear.  Then I kind of go numb.  It is like I dissociate and the happy, warm, loving mama gets locked up while irritable, chilly mama takes over.

Chilly mama hates her life.  She had a tendency to bitch non-stop about how small the apartment is, and how it is dubious we will ever get anywhere in life.  She goes on and on about the mess, the surplus of toys, and how she is going to throw everything away and cancel Christmas.  She snaps at everyone, even the baby.  She hates her car and resents the fact that she is the only person who knows how to walk a can to the recycle bin, or wipe up the pee around the toilet.

Sometimes she even wishes that she never got married or had kids. . .

Chilly mama is a huge, effin bee.

Before you go calling your publisher thinking you have a book deal telling my story as the next Sybil, put down the phone.  I do not have multiple personalities.

I’m a mom who is beyond stressed and so scared that she is not good enough, but I’m not psychotic.

Days like yesterday, I don’t feel any of the bounty and empathy that allow me to write posts about having everything I could ever dream of in life.

We had to go to my mom’s.  It was her birthday.  I was so caught up in my stress I could barely muster a smile.  When she took me aside to ask what was wrong, I told her that every ounce of my psychic space was taken up with Jack’s behavior and that I almost wished he had never been born.

Who the hell am I?  That is just such assholic, awful behavior towards everyone!  What kind of a mom would ever say such a thing about their child?

Am I a fraud?  I don’t know.

I hope not.  I mean, when I write those sally sunshine posts, I really feel and mean them.

But it is so easy for the balance to get tipped to the hopeless.  And here I am blogging about what a crappy mom, wife, and person I am really deep down, so that should count for something, right?

Warm mama came back a little while after dinner because, believe it or not she remembered the love mantras about which she was spouting off earlier.

I put some drops in my demonic-looking eye and went to bed in my air conditioned room pretty early.  Getting some sleep helped a bit, and I am feeling myself today.

This confession is written, I fear, at the risk of creating a mass exodus of my blog followers.  But I want to be real, and I think being mindful of my neurosis and foibles is the first step towards successful integration of both warm and chilly mamas.

I’m going to sit with it for a while.

If you are still around tomorrow, I will let you know what I come up with.

Mama’s Here

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This morning I read a really sweet post over at SmileCalm called 5 powerful mantras of love.  This post lists some of the mantras of Buddhist poet and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Although I’ve not read a ton of his work, I find the words of Thich Nhat Hanh to be so gentle, soothing, and universally true.  Check out SmileCalm’s full post (link above) for all five mantras and a little explanation of each.

The mantra which resonated for me the most today was the first:  “I’m here for you.”

When I read these words this morning, I felt instantly grounded and comforted.

I thought back to a time when Jack was newborn.  Adjusting to life with a baby was a surprising and humbling challenge for me.  My pregnancy with Jack had been a dream, and we were so excited to welcome him into our home.  I was enthralled with the idea of having a son, a beautiful boy-baby, since all the other babies born to siblings on both sides of our families had been female.

When Jack came home to live with us as a part of our family, my dream became a nightmare.  I had postpartum anxiety and depression and rapidly became dangerously sleep-deprived.

Jack was tongue-tied, and we had a lot of trouble initiating breast feeding which devastated me since my expectation was that nursing would be the most natural thing in the world.

The roller coaster of hormones had me in a state where I was convinced I’d ruined my life by having a baby.

Fortunately, I got help and very quickly started to recover.  My baby and I bonded.  I relaxed enough so we could start getting to know one another.

One night, in the very late or very early hours, I heard Jack crying and got up to retrieve him for a feeding.  As I walked up to his crib, I instinctively started to coo at him, as only a mother can, to ease his crying.

“Mama’s here,” I said.

Uttering those two words were so empowering to me.  I scooped him up, held him close and said again, “Mama’s here.”

It was almost like those two words were a magic spell which transformed me.

Since then, I have said those two words hundreds of times to both my son and my daughter.  After they wake from a nightmare.  When they are sick or injured.  When I walk in the door after a long day apart from them.  Sometimes they are said with love and tenderness, sometimes with fatigue, and sometimes with frustration.

They are words I feel blessed and fortunate to be able to say, words that bring grounding and comfort not just to my children, but to me as well.  When frustration threatens to drive me right out of my own skin, those words remind me to be present and powerful.

I was grateful to SmileCalm for this reminder today.  It might have been just what I needed to read.

Strawberries

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20130709-195447.jpgIt has been three weeks since we went strawberry picking, but the scent of the fields lingers.

It has been two weeks since we ate all the berries from that sunny morning’s picking, but I can still feel the sticky juice dripping down Emily’s face as she stuffed berry after berry into her mouth.

Almost a month later I hear Jack’s joyful shouts as he finds the “perfect” strawberry for our collection.

I froze a bunch of them.

The rest we ate atop shortcake biscuits, covered in fresh whipped cream, or plain out of bowls at lunchtime.

All these weeks later I still muse over how marvelously different their shape, texture, and taste was from the store-bought berries we had eaten all winter and spring.

Three years ago, I took little Jack berry picking, just the two of us.  We filled a modest box of strawberries, and I remember enjoying them, but I do not remember them to be anything like the berries we picked this year.

This year, there was something extra-special about that excursion, about the momentary alignment of four beings’ happiness.

Inhaling those fields, intoxicated by the glowing strawberry scent, it seemed unreal.  I briefly imagined I was someplace like Disney, where they pump artificial aromas out of grates to please visitors and tempt them to buy cotton candy or popcorn.  Then I remembered I was someplace real and natural.

The essence of all those berries ripening in the early summer sun became all the more enchanting.

When I was very small, my grandfather used to pick a hearty wagon-full of strawberries.  He made his own jam from his pickings, but not before he allowed me to sit at his kitchen table and eat my fill.  This all-I-could-eat strawberry buffet is probably how they became one of my favorite foods.

But over the years, eating the watery, hard, and tart berries grown so far away from me, I’ve forgotten how strawberries are supposed to taste.

Watching Emily and Jack gorge themselves in the field, I realized they never truly tasted a strawberry before.

This collection of thoughts jar me.  How far we have come from being connected and mindful about the food that we eat, where it comes from, and how it is grown.

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Later, I stood at the sink, washing off the still warm fruit with cool water.

I held a few strawberries in my hand and mused on their perfect shape, texture, taste.

Part of me wanted to save them forever, stems still attached.

Part of me wished we had picked more, wished that I knew how to make jam, or that I had the motivation to bake pies, slumps, crumbles, buckles, or muffins.

But you can’t stuff bliss in a bottle or muffin tin.

So smiling, I sliced them up, and they were consumed and enjoyed.

Thursday Truth– Put That Woman Down

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It has been a couple of weeks since I wrote a Thursday Truth piece for my blog. I’ve been stressed, and you probably all know that stress is the stuff of which Bloggers’ Block is made.

I did post last Thursday about my rampant anxiety.

After I wrote that post, my husband and I watched a couple episodes of Fringe on Netflix. We are obsessed with this show, and despite its dark and twisty themes, it is a nice way for us to sit and decompress after the day.

The show ended and I told him about the exchange between my acquaintances where the best they had to say about someone was, “she wasn’t really that much of an asshole.” I wondered aloud to my husband if that was the way that people talked about me behind my back.

“Well, if that is the way they talk about people, then that is their problem,” he stated, in his typical concise manner.

“Yeah, but I don’t understand why people have to be so judgey and mean,” I replied.

“You need to put that woman down,” he said.

“Huh?”

“I was just telling Jack the story about the two monks who have a fight. A few hours later, one of the monks is still angry at the other monk. The other monk says, ‘Oh, you’re still carrying around that woman? I put her down an hour ago.'”20130704-074107.jpg

It seemed awfully simple. I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. I laid there chanting Om Shanti, and doing some Reiki on myself. My solar plexus and heart were particularly hot as I moved my hands over my torso. I still couldn’t sleep, so I got up.

My husband was folding a basket of laundry in the living room. Squinting in the sudden light, I asked if I could have a hug. He gave me one and then I went back to bed. I slept, although not that well. My weird, anxious funk persisted for another 36 hours, and then it stopped.

During those 36 hours, I chanted, forced myself to smile, and did my affirmations.  I am a good person. I am a nice friend. I am loving and kind and thoughtful. I am smart and dedicated. I am worthy of respect and compassion.

Through my affirmations I was able to put that woman down. Carrying that burden was tiring and uncomfortable, but putting it down seemed a Herculean task.

It makes me wonder, why is it so hard to put the woman down?  What makes us hold on to despair and difficulty and drama with such force?

Meh…  I’m in a decent space right now, so I don’t want to think into it too deep.  If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment on it!

I am feeling heaps lighter this week, and I hope you are all doing well too.

Happy Fourth of July, and Momaste ya’all!