Tag Archives: buddhism

Climbing Mt. Motherhood– My Hillary Step

Standard
20140118-083649.jpg

A view of Mt. Everest, taken without permission from the inter webs…  didn’t look copywriten and there was no artist name…  so if this is your photo, please don’t sue.  xo!

The Hillary Step is a 40-foot wall of rock and ice at the top of Mt. Everest.  It lies in the “death zone,” the altitude above which there is not enough oxygen to sustain human life for more than a day or two.  By the time most climbers get to this point on Earth’s tallest mountain, their brains and bodies are starved for oxygen, making every step a burden.  Hypoxia can cause climbers to hallucinate, opening the door to danger, disaster, and death.

Or so I have read.

For the record, I have never been to Everest.  Nor do I climb mountains.  Ice, snow, and heights are so not my thing.  But over the past decade, I have become obsessed with stories of mountaineering, and read a dozen books on Himalayan expeditions.

What strength and hubris do climbers possess to scale a 29,000 foot mountain?  How do men and women leave their cozy homes and beloved families to put their lives into risk of dismemberment and death?  The tales of survival and rescue are grizzly, but also spellbinding and suspenseful.

I am also fascinated by the Sherpa.  This Buddhist folk has a rich and mystical culture. Without their hearty endurance for high altitude while carrying huge loads of gear and supplies, ascent of Everest would be impossible.

These stories take me out of my element to an exotic locale where I will most likely never travel.

At least not physically.

Mentally and emotionally, I think of Thursdays as my Hillary Step- my last big push before the summit of Friday, and the descent into the base camp of the weekend, where I can breathe a little easier.

Thursdays are my long day.  I kiss the kids good bye and do not see them for 11 hours.  By the time I get home, around 7:30 pm, the children are exhausted.  Both they and my husband are grumpy.  I am hungry and tired myself, but set that aside to help finish homework, nurse, read stories, and kiss good night.

I wonder what David Breashears, acclaimed mountaineer, film maker, and author of some my favorite Everest books, would say about me comparing my life as a working mom to scaling an 8,000 meter mountain?  No doubt, he would call me an “Armchair Alpinist,” or something of the like, with a haughty snort.  (Mr. Breashears, by the way, if you have googled yourself and hit on my blog, I think you are sexy as all hell and would love to shake your hand, even if you are snorting haughtily at me!)

This much I understand:  There is monumental mindfulness in mountaineering.

Climbers are totally in the present moment.  A climber puts his or her life, and the lives of anyone else on the mountain, at risk if they are not completely aware of their breath, body, and surrounding at every moment.  A misstep could trigger an avalanche or send them plummeting thousands of feet to their death.

My office is plastered with calendar pictures of Hawaii.  I have trained my brain to respond to a quick glance of these pictures of surf and palm trees with a little endorphin boost, to help me through stressful times.  Hawaii is my “happy place,” without a doubt.

But sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine myself clinging to a blue wall of ice and snow.  There is peace, silence but for the sound of my breath, raspy in my oxygen mask.  I hold on and calculate where next to plunge my axe, place my crampon.  I do so, with great deliberation, and then slide my carabiner up the fixed-rope, open my eyes, and move on to my next task.  (Yes, Mr. Breashears, in my imagination, I do climb with bottled oxygen and fixed-ropes. Mock away.)

So, no, people do not die if I happen to screw up at my job or in my home.  The only avalanche in social work is of paperwork, and at home the only thing I have resembling a crevasse is my never-ending pile of laundry.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t equally important for me to be mindful of each and every step.

From what I understand, there is euphoria at the top of the mountain, and joy in the art of climbing.  But this is not to say that every moment on the mountain is a joy. I’ve never read any climber write that they relished a bivouac at 27,000 feet with 100 mile per hour winds whipping around their tent, sleepless in minus 30 degree temps.

If that isn’t analogous to my journey as a parent, then I don’t know what is.

Originally posted on Momaste 1/21/13.  Sharing again at this time as a Throwback Thursday post because it just seems particularly applicable.  Thanks for reading, and I always love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!  xoxo.

Advertisements

Musing on Aching Ovaries, Weaning, and the End of the School Year

Standard

It helped more than you can imagine that you took the time to read my incredibly neurotic last post about wacky mid-life hormones.  And to those of you who commented to let me know you are in a similar boat–  well, you just rock.  Sometimes I guess bemoaning my aching ovaries has its place.

So thanks for that love and support.

I had another thought that made me wonder. . .

. . .  as my journey towards weaning continues with Emily, how is that affecting my hormones, and how is that affect on my hormones affecting my emotional/physical state?  My three and a half year old daughter continues to nurse one or two times per day, usually.  Sometimes she goes a couple days without nursing, and I’ve been practicing the whole “don’t ask, don’t refuse” thing.

Breastfeeding is all about hormones.  I’ve noticed that there are times when the oxytocin rush from breastfeeding is more effective than a dose of Zoloft.  But then there are other times when it makes me want to claw off my skin.  So, I wonder if my hormones could be additionally out of whack, not so much because I am going into perimenopause (which I don’t really think I am yet), but because my body is just confused from this whole march towards weaning?

Do any of you know anything about that?

Today was also Jack’s last day of second grade.  He’s had a great year, mainly because he had a phenomenal teacher who really supported and inspired him.  We have had no tantrums about school or homework, and more importantly none of the somatic complaints that he was voicing last year.  I’ve felt so blessed that he’s had this safe space to be in during the day, and I really think it has allowed him to grow and learn emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally.

That said, I sort of dread the summer.

Jack and I both have a hard time with change.  It really rocks our boat in a big way and can lead to anxiety and anger.  I totally understand where he is coming from in this regard because I am really right there with him.  This year, he is doing some summer day camp about which none of us are particularly thrilled.  I’m praying there will be nice kids there, attentive staff, and that Jack will not be miserable all summer because of it.

This morning I sort of broke down and cried.  I was just so overwhelmed and sad about not being there for my kids as much as I want to be, as much as they NEED me to be.  It is really, really hard.

My husband took this job in February with the expectation I would be able to cut my hours at work.  This has not come to pass as I cannot leave my program in the lurch with no staff, and financially we are still digging out of a pretty deep hole.  So, we are both at our limits and have not really been available to each other.

So, this morning when my daughter wanted to look at books instead of put on her shoes, everything just crashed around me and out came the tears.  I pulled it together pretty quickly, and Emily’s hug was like magic.  I got the kids out the door and felt a surge of pride watching my little-big-boy march into the playground for his last day of school.

So, it’s not all bad.

And you all are still here.

So, it’s not all bad.

One random final thought:

When Jack was a newborn and I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, my husband would take our colicky little son and walk him around the house.  The Spouse would sing this chant that I believe is from Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

It went, “I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.  I am solid, I am free.  In the infinite I dwell.”

This little chant came to me today and gave me comfort.

So, yeah, I am home with my achey, breaky ovaries, my mommy guilt, and my anticipatory anxiety about the summer.

In the infinite we dwell.

Momaste.  xoxoxo.

Throw Back Thursday. . . Remembering the “IT” Moments

Standard

There’s this app called Timehop.  Have you used it?  You install it on your device, then authorize it to cull through your photos, Tweets, status updates, Instagrams, etc.

While staying mindfully present in the present usually helps me stay sane, sometimes it is a fun diversion to take a trip back in time.  We live in an era where we capture every good meal, each wacky moment, and any new make up trick or hair-do on digital devices, so there is no shortage of memories at our finger tips.  My Timehops take me back over the past six or so years I’ve been on social media, and treat me to photos and status updates regarding my children and family–  usually the highs and lows of parenting, but sometimes the perfectly mundane.

This morning, Emily and I are hanging out at home, waiting to leave for her well-child physical which for reasons I can’t recall, I scheduled in the middle of the morning on a work/school day.  Whatever.  It is nice to be able to take a few moments off from “life” to cuddle and play with my bubbly three year old doll.

My phone prompted me to check out my Timehop, and so I did, while Em watched Curious George operate a subway train.

Modern technology treated me to two of my all time favorite family photos and memories this morning, and they were of a couple of those perfectly mundane moments that are the exact stuff a good life is made of.

They were both “selfies”.  The first was one of my children, my husband, and me from a snow day last year.  We were all rolling around and playing on the floor, and I happened to hold up my phone at just the right moment.  I captured us all looking a bit wild and messy, smiling so hard we were all almost squinting at the camera.  It was just a perfect moment.  We were all so happy, cooped up in the house on a stormy day, but at that exact moment, getting along with one another.

For what it’s worth, life as a working mom in our society is far from perfect or ideal.  We do our best, but there are still so many moments of struggle, confusion, and a deep sense of inadequacy.  I never feel like I am doing anything right or “good enough,” or like my kids are growing up happy or well-adjusted.  I’m not around enough for them, and when I am, I am usually exhausted, overwhelmed, and frazzled.  But this. . .  this was such a sweet moment I caught with my stupid, distracting phone.

It only lasted a couple moments, and was most likely chased by moments of frustration with the children fighting, and me losing my cool.  Yeah, that happens often enough that I could break the internet if I posted about every single one of those moments.  I’m so glad I captured this moment because it was just pure love.  And in the end, that is the important stuff.

The other Timehop offering that delighted me this morning, was a picture from three years ago today that I snapped of me and Emily.  We had found a cozy moment after nursing and were taking a nap together.  I happened to hold up my phone and got a photo of our profiles, nuzzled together in repose.  It is actually a photo I keep on my desk at work, so I see it every day, but it never fails to make me smile and sigh.  It was one of the most peaceful and lovely moments of my life with my darling little daughter, snuggled safely in my arms, her tiny tummy warm and full with mama milk.

In the end, Timehop is really “the highlight reel.”  You know, the photos that reflect all of the great stuff and make our Facebook timelines look like we all have our shit together?  I have a weird resentment for highlight reels that tend to taunt us into thinking everyone else’s life is going so much better than ours, like everyone else is eating better sushi, enjoying bigger cocktails, getting better presents, and riding in nicer cars.  It is interesting to me how we chose to present ourselves on social media, and how we measure ourselves by the presentations of others. . .  but according to Timehop, I do it too.

And my highlights are pretty freaking sweet.

So, it kind of makes me feel like, hmmm, I guess I have it pretty good and should be happy with what I have, rather than envying the good stuff of others.  In a weird way, it brings me back to the present, and helps me to feel grounded and thankful with where I am.

It also makes me realize, shit, this time goes FAST!

I’m sure our obsession with our phones and snapping photos every two seconds will come back to bite us all on the ass.  I have a lot of photos that I wish I hadn’t taken because I wish I had just been more present in that moment, and actually LIVED it as opposed to merely RECORDING it.  You know what I mean?

But these two moments are ones I am glad I got physical proof of.

Do you use Timehop?  How do you feel it affects your sense of your life, and being mindful in the present?  

End Of The World– Getting Cozy With Dukkha

Standard

The world is ending right now because there are dirty dishes in the sink and a bunch of moldering, half-eaten yogurt cups and tubes strewn throughout the house.

I just got home from the Urgent Care Center.  It is 8 p.m., and any mom who got up as early as I did this morning knows that 8 p.m. is the middle of the fucking night.

My husband is engaged in a power struggle with our seven year old son, Jack, over universe knows what.  My three year old, Emily, is wandering around like a lost lamb because she wants mama milk and cuddles before bed.

But first things first.

Since a huge vat of Purell or rubbing alcohol isn’t available, I hop in the shower.  It serves the dual purpose of warming my chilled, aching body, and cleansing off the filth of the walk in treatment place.  I had anxiety upon anxiety the entire time I was there as people coughed, hacked, wheezed, and made all sorts of moaning cacophony.  In the curtained area next to me, there was a woman chanting, “Germs, germs, germs, germs, germs,” over and over in a haunted whisper.  True story.  I can’t make this shit up.

The chest X-ray confirmed bronchitis and the doctor wrote me a script for antibiotic and a cough medicine, but then changed his mind when I told him I still breast feed twice a day.  He forgot to call the pharmacy and change the prescription, which resulted in an hour-long wait in the parking lot of the pharmacy, where I sat in my car, heat on full blast, shivering and crying.

Wait!  Before you stop reading because you hate me for bitching about First World Problems, please know it was pretty much the worst week of my life, followed by an exhausting weekend of poorly behaved children, and ending in body aches that rate waaaaayyyy at the grumpy and sad end of that smiley to grimace chart.

A client killed himself last week, and it left me reeling in confusion, guilt, panic, and fear.  While I have forced myself to accept there was nothing I could have done to prevent this tragedy, my heart has not caught up with my head on the matter, and being sick wears down the professional buffer I might have for such matters.

After spending the entire week in the aftermath of suicide, another employee of my program gave me her notice along with a few dozen clients to reassign.  Since my other clinician quit my program before the holidays, I have no one to reassign these clients to.  When I went, shaking and sobbing, to my supervisor for support, I was basically told to figure it out.

I came home looking for some solace, only to find my husband intended to work all weekend.  This is good news, in one way, because we need the money and he is freelance.  But it is bad news in terms of having the children, house duties, etc. ,and so on all to myself for the entire weekend.

So, contracting bronchitis was just the frosting on the crap cake I felt had been baked for me this week.  I feel like a jerk even writing that, while knowing I have access to better medical care and pharmaceuticals than 87% of the world.  (Note:  that is not a real statistic.  I’m making shit up because like I said, the world is fucking ending and who cares anyway.)

Sometimes I just need to vent.  Then I get sick of myself and get on with my life.

Some people have real problems.  I know this.  People like the family who lost their child in the most confounding, shocking, and traumatizing way last week.

After my shower, I hustle to put on PJ’s.  I ignore Jack’s tantrum and go straight to Emily, who is sleepy and sweet. She puts her hand on my heart as she snuggles into my breast, and touches my chin as light as a butterfly.

I’ve been contemplating the Buddhist concept of dukkha lately.  Dukkha roughly translates as “suffering,” and it is an important concept in Buddhism.  There has been ample dukkha in my life over the past few months. . .  the dukkha of motherhood; the dukkha of clinging to things during the process of our move last November; the dukkha of family issues at the holidays; the dukkha of yearning for things to be a certain way at work; the dukkha of physical illness; the dukkha of my anxiety and depression which has been rearing its ugly head over the past few weeks like a powerful and frightening dragon.

The dukkha of wanting to change the unchangeable, and to understand the incomprehensible.

And tonight, the dukkha of dishes left undone at the end of the night when I am sick and tired, and have already done dishes 17 times over the course of the weekend.

Basically, Buddha teaches that life is dukkha—  not that everything sucks, but that by its nature, our existence is flawed, impermanent, and difficult.  We can struggle against it and fight with it as something bad, or we can accept it for what it is and go from there.

What does that mean?

I don’t know.  And at the moment, I don’t really care.

I started writing a post last weekend about trying to sit with the grief and anxiety I felt in the light of my client’s death.  It was hard–  both to sit with and to write about–  because it made me fiercely restless.  I didn’t end up posting it.

Kuan Yin sat with the dragons and made friends with them.  What would it be like to do that?

I guess I could do the dishes.

Or I could not.

Maybe dukkha and I will cuddle up in bed with some Ceftin and Mucinex and try to get to know each other.  And maybe the world will keep ending, and I will lie in bed and hear things screeching and banging and popping outside my window.

Taken Aback Looking Back

Standard

Hi.  I’m Charlotte.  

I always joke that I am going to do an interpretive dance when I have to get up and speak in front of people, because that’s where I started out.  Dancing.    

Don’t worry, I won’t really start dancing and make you all uncomfortable, but it’s true; I was a dance and creative writing major in college.  So, you can imagine how highly marketable I was upon graduation.  

I didn’t actually “get the joke” about college being meant for learning some sort of skill with which to support myself.  In fact, while I was in college, I was with a man twice my age.  He was an Afro-Cuban percussionist, and he owned a hippie shop, and I kind of figured I could just ride on his coattails.  So, when we broke up, I was forced to find some way to support myself.  

For a year after college, I worked as a receptionist for a church.  I even led a pilgrimage to Italy at the request of the Bishop, which was a pretty rad thing, me being like, sort of a non-practicing Buddhist, atheist Jew and all.  

I knew that wasn’t the job I wanted to do forever because it was kind of stuffy and conservative, and I just needed to be a bit more, well, you know.  Free?  

So I quit.  

I got a job doing home based therapy with children with autism, and I loved it, but it was not a viable option for the long run because you make peanuts.  

So, I went back to school.  I got my MSW.  I spent a year working in the foster care system and I hated it.  I interviewed here, and I got a job.  That was ten and a half years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.  I started out working in the homes, and eventually after getting my license, I was able to do more office-based therapy.  About two years ago, I was promoted to manager of my department, such as it is.  

I’m excited by my work.  I’m passionate about it.  I believe in it.  

Many of you don’t know this about me, but I was a welfare kid.  My parents divorced when I was three, and for some years, we lived in poverty.  I remember not knowing where our food was coming from.  I remember the humiliation in my mom’s eyes while she stood in the welfare line.  When I was quite small, I had very poor vision and had what we called “welfare glasses.”  They were ugly but they were all we could afford.  

So, I feel like there are parts of me that get where the families we work with are coming from.  

Another huge part of my life is that I’m a mom.  If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I was little, I would have told you I wanted to be a mom.  I’m the oldest in my family, and my first job at 15 was working at a Montessori school.  I had all this experience with kids, so when I had my own I thought, I’ve got this.  This will be easy because I made them and stuff.  

That could not have been farther from the truth.  

Being a mom is the hardest thing I have ever done.  It can be so redonkulously impossible sometimes, so I feel like I connect with my clients on that level too.  Like, I get how challenging kids can be.  

In my spare time, I write.  It keeps me sane.  I’m incredibly passionate about educating, normalizing, and advocating for breastfeeding and in my next life I want to be a La Leche League consultant.  Ummm. . .  I make jewelry?  

Yeah, so anyway, I’m excited to be here.  Thanks.

And I curtsied.

It was an all day managers’ “retreat” that was mandatory for my job.  I hadn’t wanted to go.  My last words to a colleague as I groused out of my office was that I was not going to “share.”

But that was the first thing we had to do.  There were about 25 of us there and we all had to take 5-8 minutes to tell our story, share about our lives and give the narrative of what got us “into the field.”  I waited to go pretty squarely in the middle.  I didn’t want to follow the first lady who spoke about being a former junkie, or the guy who had an amazing story about being in the middle of a civil war.  My story didn’t have that much luster I figured, so I waited until a few less fancy stories.

I was nervous as all hell standing up.  I was shaking, so I stuffed my hands in my pockets.  But I got through it and a couple of my colleagues commented after about things they learned about me.

The rest of the day passed quickly enough, and then I was on my way home.

I thought about the random assortment of factoids I chose to share about myself.

Then I thought about the things I had forgotten.  Or purposely left out.

Like my schizophrenic brother.

Or the four year affair I had with that married guy who was an autism expert and really the only reason I was interested in the field in the first place.

Or the decades of eating disorder that came part and parcel with dancing.

What about the years following hippie jam bands or my time doing yoga on the ashram?

Or my almost compulsive need for order and control which I am sure came as a result of early life anxiety from living the way I did.

Or how I would like to loudly and publicly apologize for anyone who knew me when I was in my twenties because I was such a horrendous train-wreck of a human.

Or that I have an almost unhealthy obsession with James Spader, Himalayan mountain disasters, and Hawaii.

Then of course there is the feeling of being totally ineffective, frustrated, burnt out, and miserable as a social worker.  The feeling of pain and drama everyday when I leave my own children to go and provide solace for someone else’s.

Yeah, I left that shit out of that edition of my life story.  They, of course, were some rather key details, but I’m certain there were similar details committed all over the room, or maybe stuff we forgot due to nerves and apprehension.

It feels I’ve lived a dozen different lives in my forty years on the planet.

My life doesn’t have a linear narrative, which is likely the case for most, but sometimes it makes me especially uncomfortable.

The many chunks of my story run counter to my need for order and symmetry.  There is a raw vulnerability when I take them out and spread them before me like a collection of glass and pebbles picked up on a beach walk.

My solution to this discomfort is to try to stay focused on the present moment, be mindfully nonjudgmental of what is happening, be here now, yadda, yadda.  I don’t think too much (or at least try not to) about what exactly got me to this space in time, so when I do, it sometimes takes me aback.

Someone once described me as a cobb salad–  a mixture of all this stuff, and you’re never quite sure what you are going to get in one bite, but it all blends together into something good and tasty.  I didn’t really understand it at the time, but thinking on it now, it is a pretty apt description of me.

Mindfulness has helped me mind my anxiety and depression.  It has helped me be more aware and accepting of myself, but it has also made me more aware and accepting of others, and has heightened my awareness of how others might perceive me.  Sometimes this has the adverse effect of increasing my anxiety because it is like all my channels of reception are open, and I can feel flooded.  It is a constant cycle of feeling and acceptance.

At the end of the day, I could not go back and revise, edit, add, or delete any of the stuff I shared at that retreat, any more than I could reroute a cosmic GPS for the journey that got me there.  And that’s fine, but it gave me pause.

Then I opened up the little, velvet pouch of memory, put all the bits and pieces back inside, and pulled the strings around it.

“All That I Know Is I’m Breathing”

Standard

“All that I know is I’m breathing.  Nothing can stop me from breathing.”  —  Ingrid Michaelson, from her song, Breathing.

 

I curled up on my bed, sulking because Emily flat out refused to allow me to slather her in sunblock.  She ran around the living room like a banshee, screeching, “No Mommy do!  No Mommy do!”

All of a sudden, she is in an impossible phase.  Every moment with her is a struggle–  she refuses to nurse on a certain side, she screams when I try to dress her, she tear-asses around the house when I attempt to change her diaper or coax her onto the potty.  She pushes me away and yells for daddy when I try to hug her.

She’s been my “easy” child, so this phase is super disheartening.  And while I know it is “just a phase,” and it is a normal part of her development as a little, two year old human, it is hard not to take it personally, like I am doing something wrong because my toddler howls and smacks at me when I try to protect her delicate, creamy skin from the harsh rays of the sun.

So, I walked away from her and flopped down on my bed.

Breathing in, I feel how frustrated I am.

Breathing out, I accept how tired I feel.

Breathing in, I acknowledge how much I love my daughter.

Breathing out, I give thanks for her independent and strong spirit.

Breathing in, I feel my anxiety about getting sunblock on my kid.

Breathing out, I let go of my doubts of myself as a parent.

In his book Planting Seeds with Music and Songs:  Practicing Mindfulness With Children, Thich Nhat Hanh describes short mindfulness poems called Gathas as a tool we can use to “bring more awakening into our daily life.”  He calls them “breathing poems.”

My husband recently bought this book for my Kindle, and I’ve been reading bits of it here and there when I get a few moments.  It’s a good book.  It’s simple, straightforward, and sweet.  A lot of Buddhism seems really complex and difficult for me to attain, but Hanh has this gorgeous ability to make it really practical and applicable.

As you can see from the above examples, I’ve been trying to use Gathas during the more difficult moments of my days.

Breathing in, I feel helpless and inept.

Breathing out, I give myself permission to be human and fallible.  

I stayed on my bed, doing this for a while.  When I came back into the living room, my daughter was on the floor watching Caillou.

Breathing in, I feel like a crappy mom for having the TV on all morning.  

Breathing out, I pick my battles and feel okay about it.  

In the end, my husband came out and performed the slathering on of Emily’s sunscreen.  I didn’t lose my cool with the kids, and we all got on with our day, one breath at a time.