Tag Archives: Pema Chodron

The Fight Club In My Head



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?  



Revelations From A Renegade Parent


Today at the playground with my kids, I decided I don’t really care if they walk, run, or crawl up the slide instead of sliding down it.  I’m tired of enforcing that “you only slide DOWN the slide” rule. 

Both my kids are extremely agile, and regardless, they could injure themselves just as easily climbing up the stairs, ladders, or rock walls to get to the top of the slide.

I’m not going to waste my time or energy even pretending to care.  Who made up that stupid rule anyway?  When dozens of kids are going buck wild climbing on every possible surface, racing, swinging, and screaming with abandon, how is limiting them to only sliding down the ding dong slide going to improve anyone’s life?

As soon as I made this decision, I felt liberated, free from some old timey rule I no longer needed to enforce.  

I felt inspired.  

I’ve decided I feel fine allowing my kids to watch TV and snack while I make dinner.  By the time we actually make it to dinner-prep, we are all exhausted, hungry, and surly.  Jack has sat in a classroom for six hours, done homework, then run out all his remaining energy on the playground.  Emily has had a day full of enrichment, either home with me or at her daycare, so how is it harming them to watch a half hour of TV while I bustle around the kitchen?

I’ve always beat myself up for using the TV as the “electronic babysitter,” but I’ve chosen not to feel bad about it any longer. My exhausted little boy does not want to do play doh, color, or build with legos after his long day.  He wants to watch a show.  I’ve decided I’m fine with that.

My guilt is simply a waste of energy.

Furthermore, if they want to snack while they watch TV, I’m cool with that too.   While we try to eat dinner together at least three or four times per week (our busy schedules don’t allow for much more), I simply no longer believe in the notion that all nutrition has to take place at the dining room table.  They can munch on grapes, cheese and crackers, apple slices, or carrot sticks and I can add those bites into their overall dietary intake for the day.  If they eat a little less at the table, so what?

Look.  I’m not living in the world my husband and I grew up in.  Times have changed radically.  Kids are treated and behave differently.  Both the roles of women and men have evolved.  As a working mom there is no way I am going to be able to accomplish the white picket American Dream of yesteryear.  It would be nice, but it’s not going to happen. 

My life is in a constant state of falling apart-ness.  And that’s fine.  That’s just our life “as it is” to quote Pema Chodron.  Accepting where we are, and our limits is far more productive, in my humble opinion, than constantly exerting the energy it takes to swim upstream.

I don’t think any of these conscious choices to make my life easier make me a crappy parent.  Maybe they make me a little bit of a renegade.  Picking my battles doesn’t make me bad; it makes me badass.  At the end of the day, I can live with that.

What renegade choices do you make?  How are you badass at parenting? 

I Choose You



I ran into a friend from work in the parking lot after a staff meeting.  We work in different departments, so we don’t see each other often, but we have a tradition of hugging each other after these monthly meetings, then going about our business until the next time with the occasional email in between.  It is a little ray of sunshine.

She asked how I had been and without thinking, or editing myself, I offered that I had been stressed lately.  Jack has been going through a particularly persnickety phase, having to do mostly with his adjustment to the rigors of first grade.  We only had a moment to chat before bustling back to our respective buildings and work days.

I felt like a jerk pouring out my heart in a parking lot.  Sometimes I wish I could just smile and say everything is great, but if ya’ ask me how I’m doing, more than likely, I’m going to tell ya’.

The next day, I came into work and found a lovely email from her.  She told me she had worried about me, so she checked out my blog (I mean how else do we find anything out about each other these days, right?) and read a few of my recent posts about my struggles in mommy-land.  She shared with me that when she was a young mom (her children are now grown adults, and she is a grandmother herself) she struggled with many themes similar to mine.

She resonated with the post about Jack’s potential past life, and shared her belief that our children chose us, that somehow their little soul comes to grow in and with us for a reason.  She wrote of her grand daughter who died from a rare and vicious cancer at five months old.  The baby, she said, was an old soul, and while everyone wondered why this sadness fell on the family, my friend remained convinced that the baby picked her parents for a reason.

“I’ve told my mother, ‘I chose you,’ and I could tell that it gave her joy to think it,” she wrote to me.  “I like to think that my children chose me.  Somehow, it makes all those years when I didn’t live up to the ideal Mom okay, because they chose me regardless.”

I mused on these thoughts, rolling them over in my head like a pebble in the ocean, until they became my own.  When that pebble came to rest, I was filled with a warmth as though on a sundrenched shore.

Here is what I came up with:

1.  Sometimes honest sharing is good (even in a parking lot), and increases the potential of getting a need met.

2.  Perspective is everything.  It is  a blessing to have friends of all ages, in all phases of life to lend me their views.

3.  In mindfulness, part of the work is recognizing our thoughts and being aware of how they influence our emotions.  As a mom, I have many thoughts that work against me.  When Jack has a tantrum and I think to myself, “This is hopeless!  I don’t know what to do.  I can’t do anything to help and so nothing will ever change,” I feel despair course though every cell of my being.  When I think, “I am a child therapist for goodness sake, and even with all my experience, I am clueless!” I become possessed with deep insecurity and a sense of failure as both a mom and a therapist.

I looked at a picture of Jack on my desk and thought, “You chose me.  There must be some reason that I am your mom.  I can hold you and all your feelings.  I can do this.  We will figure it out and get through it together because you chose me to be your mom.”

The feeling was remarkable.  I felt strong and confident, infinite and open.

Whether or not I can tap these thoughts when I am in the middle of a five-alarm Jack attack remains to be seen.  But I guess if I tell myself that I can use it and do it and be it, then I have a better chance of being successful with it, and keeping my cool in the middle of the chaos (which is the NUMBER ONE rule when dealing with a strong-willed chicklet, by the way).

4.  Accepting my thoughts, feelings, and urges for what they are, as they are is an important step towards self acceptance.  It reminded me of how Pema Chodron speaks about compassion towards the self as being crucial to compassion for the rest of the world.

5.  It is pretty and comforting to think my children chose me, that there is some kind of ripening of karma in the fact that we are together making our way through life as a family.  But I also chose my children when I decided to become a mom.  True, our children come hard wired with some interesting temperaments over which we have less control than we might have thought before bearing children, but when we decide to become parents, we decide to love and nurture whatever karma throws our way.

I have bucked karma on this point many a time.  I’ve questioned why I got Jack– the ornery, intense, picky eater as opposed to a peaceful, kale and quinoa eating yogi.  But at the end of the day, he is the child I am kissing goodnight, see ya’ in the morning light, love ya’, sweet dreams.

We chose each other.

We chose our thoughts.

We chose our happiness.

They are powerful thoughts and I think they will serve me well, thanks to the caring kindness of my friend.

What thoughts do you have that help you get through the day with your child?  Are there any thoughts you have that don’t serve you well?  


The Post Behind The Post

In full bloom

In full bloom

Originally, I planned a post for this week called “Screw You Peaceful-Attachment Parenting, I Just Want My Kid To Do What I Freaking Say.”  It was about exactly what the title suggests- my frustration with being all empathetic when I really want to pull out every hair on my head over my children’s behavior or what-not.

I was still in the process of editing and re-editing, trying to explain myself in a humorous way without sounding like an evil harpy.  I went to bed feeling somewhat satisfied with it.

Then Emily woke my up before the actual crack of dawn.  It was still completely dark in our room, and yet I knew she was not going back to sleep.  The first words I uttered to my husband were, “I hate everything and I want to tie your nuts up in a knot for making me have babies.”

He laughed and hugged me.  I felt somewhat better.20130827-093636.jpg

That was when I decided not to publish my original post, mentioned above.

Often, the cure for my constant-low-level-but-functional depression is talking it out to the point where I am sick of listening to myself talk anymore.  And that’s where I was at six a.m., all bitched out.  I mean, really, how many posts can one blogger write about being annoyed, frustrated, overwhelmed and exhausted?

I decided to do some cognitive restructuring on myself, by looking at the sunflowers that my son planted three months ago.  They have grown to be about ten feet tall, so tall in fact that it is hard to get a decent picture of them because the blooms are so high up.  We have been watching them grow all summer and waiting for them to blossom, which they started to do in the past week.


It can’t be all bad, right?  I thought to myself as I got dressed and ready for the day.

The day was okay.  It was my day to be home with the children, as Mondays always are.  I was very tired and on a short fuse with the kids, but things were decent.  Emily was exceptionally fussy and also refused to nap, which is totally unlike her, so I think she might be teething.  Jack was very kind and helpful all day with her, which surprised me and provided balance for her grouchies.

Jack and I both had cleanings at the dentist, so I dropped Emily off at my mom’s and Jack and I got to go play mini-golf before our appointment. We had a fun and relaxing time together, which was a nice treat on the day before he returned to school.  I remembered that last year, I took him mini-golfing after his first day of kindergarten.  Maybe we will make this a new tradition, like the sunflowers.

Then, I made myself smile at the dentist.  Lying prone in the exam chair, I heaved a huge sigh and thought, Oh this is so relaxing!  As the hygienist scraped away at my teeth, I thought, You know you are stressed and overwhelmed when lying down at the dentist seems like luxurious “me” time.  Ha!

We all ate dinner together and the evening passed peacefully into bedtime.

Sometimes you just have to do what Pema Chodron calls “dropping the storyline” of life, take three deep breaths and create a little gap for something else to enter and shift some energy.  Sometimes it helps to just admire the sunflowers.



“We are always in a struggle with other people, with situations, even with our own being. That’s what we call stress. That’s what we experience as continual, on-going stress. Even in the most healthy, unneurotic of us, there’s some kind of slight or very profound anxiety of some kind, some kind of uneasiness or dissatisfaction.” —  Pema Chodron 

I want to talk about my feelings.

In the beginning of our relationship- before we had kids, work woes, or trouble with finances- the biggest stress that my husband and I had was deciding where we were going to eat.

We had a joke between one another where we would ask, “Do you want to talk about your feelings?”  when something stressful would arise.  It was kind of funny, since I am a child and family counselor and spend the bulk of my days talking to other people about their feelings.

I have since gotten bogged down by almost constant stress–  at home, at work, in the world.  I worry almost non stop–  about little things like budgeting so I can afford a tank of gas AND toilet paper, about bigger things like my son’s behavioral issues, about random things like what people at work think about me, and existential things like what will I do if my mom ever dies.

I don’t talk about my feelings because there really isn’t any time.  By the time we get the kids to bed, it seems best just to sit in our spots in the living room and watch a show, “veg out,” and let go of any residual stress.

But today, I am feeling like I want to talk about my feelings.

Today, I feel sad and anxious and weird.  Today I feel like I am walking around without any skin, and all of my raw nerves are exposed.  Today I can’t shake the feeling of just wanting to curl up and cry.

An acquaintance mentioned seeing another person that we used to hang out with.  “They didn’t seem like such an asshole,” my friend mentioned.  I laughed uncomfortably for a second, then stated I hoped that someday if I ever run into someone I haven’t seen for a while, that “she wasn’t such an asshole” wouldn’t be the best thing that someone had to say about me.

It shook my confidence for some reason, made me start wondering if people had mean, uncharitable things to say about me when my back was turned.  Are my confidences betrayed?  Are my flaws pointed out and mocked?

Normally, I am not a paranoid person.  I don’t consider myself to be any more insecure than any other.  I am decent at my job, and I try to get along with everyone.  I try my best to be a loving mom and respectful wife.  Sure, I have my days when I get frazzled, but who doesn’t?

For some reason, I am feeling more vulnerable than usual and find myself dwelling in this place of weird anxiety.

On my way to work every car I pass is a potential death sentence.

When I lie in bed at night trying to chant myself to sleep, I visualize my children running out into traffic and me being too slow or paralyzed to stop them.

Everyone I pass in the hallway has something mean to say about me.

I’ve done a million and three things to screw up my kids beyond repair.

And so on and so forth.

I have confidence that I will be fine.  There is nothing wrong with me.  I am strong and healthy, and in general I believe the world is a safe place.  I am well liked and have amazing friends.  I am blessed with a beautiful family.  I am remembering to do my “I Ams.”   

But today, I am here in this puddle of sad anxiety, sitting and wondering what will happen next. It is really hard to focus on my breath.  My mind jumps from one thought to the next never finding peace, or what Pema Chodron calls “the gap” in between breaths.

I spoke with someone today about intense emotions, how it is okay to feel them, how they will not kill us and how they have the potential to teach us.

So, anxiety and I are sitting.  Maybe we will have something to teach one another.  Until then, I just wanted to talk about my feelings.

Thanks for being there.  Momaste.

Thursday Truth- Self Acceptance


“Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”

–Pema Chodron

Kwan-Yin, the bodisattva of compassion

Kwan-Yin, the bodisattva of compassion

It seems like every other Facebook status I read is about someone’s fad diet or insane exercise regimen.  Paleo diets where all you eat is bacon fried bacon.  Crossfit exercise sessions where you do sit ups until you vomit.  So many people seem desperate to shed pounds and are willing to do anything to meet their weight loss goal.

I can’t help but wonder, why?  Are we giving too much weight to weight-loss?  Is it really about health and fitness or some bizarre obsessive compulsion?

I realize I am over-simplifying both Paleo and Crossfit, and if you are participants in either of these and take offense to my scrutiny, I apologize.  If you are happy, I am happy.  But, damn!  I am sick of hearing about  shake diets, juice fasts, cleanses, epic bowel movements, and the like.

Since I gave birth to Emily, I have been working away quietly on my weight loss.

I am proud to say I lost 15 pounds in the past five months doing nothing other than eating mindfully and trying to stay moderately active.

Dairy, carbs, and the occasional greasy fry are still things I enjoy in moderation.

Sure, I am still probably 30 pounds overweight by conventional standards, but I am strong, healthy, and my vitals are beyond reproach.  More importantly, I am more at peace with myself where I am right now in this  moment than I ever have been in my life.

I could easily slip into berating myself for not being “swim-suit ready” or having a six pack.  But when I really think about it, these are not even close to being my goals or priorities right now.

It is not something about which I talk frequently, but when I was in my teens and twenties, I struggled with highly disordered eating.  I would starve myself for months and drop down on the scale to the point where my hip bones were jabbing anyone who dared to hug me.  I never binged, but was no stranger to purging.  I was emaciated, but I felt fat.  And because I felt fat (for some supposedly deep-seated-subconscious reason) I was not happy.

Diet and dance consumed my life.  I did not talk about it.  I lived quietly on a handful of animal crackers or half an apple.  Then one day, I just got bored of being that way, and I changed.  I got married and I had kids.  I gained weight.

Those last two paragraphs are the story of two decades of eating disorder in a nutshell.  There is a lot more to the story, with which I will not bore you (weird body fur anyone?).

I did not shed my food/body image neurosis easily.  I am sad to say for a while, I actually regretted giving birth to my son because of the havock it caused my body, and the profound sense of loss I experienced of my pre-pregnancy shape.  That was a painful time.

Pregnancy and parenthood made me work harder on myself than anything else in my life.  When I say working on myself, I mean my whole self– body, mind, spirit.  I have worked to become more calm and centered.  I have prayed to become more sane so that I might help others become more sane in this troubled world of ours.  Not that I was ever insane.  But there was a horrible unhappiness that came with my inability to accept myself.

I am not a perfect wife, mom, or person.   That is okay.

Pema Chodron talks often about accepting our own neuroses, being mindful and accepting of our own flaws and foibles so that we can be accepting of others.

In her book, Start Where You Are:  A Guide to Compassionate Living, Chodron says, “Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself.  It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways that you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways.  You can know all of that with some sense of humor and kindness. . .  Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”

Kwan Yin with a baby

Kwan Yin with a baby

It makes me really sad that it took me so long to love myself for who and what I am in this moment, rather than who or what I would like to be in some future moment.  My mom used to tell me I should enjoy my body while it was young and lean, but I never did.  Now, I am aging.  It is much harder to lose weight.  My back hurts if I wear any shoe other than a clog.  My memory is impaired from lack of sleep.  My plate is so full that I get stressed and I  lose my temper with my husband and children in ugly ways that mortify me from time to time.

But it’s all good, and getting better and better all the time through the practice of mindful awareness and self acceptance.

All I can do is be here now, with myself.  The fact that my self is 15 pounds lighter is nice, but it is not everything.

The fact that I can be here with my self and not compulsively need to starve, eat bacon, do Crossfit, Zumba, Shakeology, or be the Biggest Loser-  THAT is everything.

Advice Please- Meditation Hesitation


Yesterday I meditated.

At least I think I did.

I went out on the deck while Emily was napping and Jack was with his grandparents.  It was nice and quiet. The hot mid-day sun instantly relaxed every muscle in my body. I sat on our glider, looking at the clouds, the trees, the butterfly exploring our messy garden area.

My mind went all soft and I closed my eyes, tucked my feet up under me, let my hands rest on my lap. I focused on my breath, which was slow and natural. Although my mind wasn’t totally quiet, it was very peaceful.

Hey, look at me! I thought. I’m like meditating! And it doesn’t totally suck!

Among other reasons, I began this blog as an attempt to become more mindful as a mom, wife, social worker, and general human on the planet. Since becoming a mom, I noticed how painfully fast life moves and passes, and I wanted to really tune in and soak it up.

I am getting pretty good at being in the moment, generating a full spectrum of awareness about what is going on and about how I feel.


Be here now.

I’ve met a bunch of other amazing humans through this experiment of blogging, some of whom are Buddhist. They devote time each day to the practice of meditation- sitting still in quiet, turning down the volume of their internal dialogue to become more relaxed, present, compassionate, and eventually, enlightened.

Or at least that is my understanding of it.

Meditation has never come easily for me, probably because I have a busy and anxious mind. It also seems so rigid to me- sit this way, hold your hands that way, breathe this way, use this pillow, wear this shirt, yadda yadda yadda- and that rigidity is a total turn off to me.

I also resent the fact that I feel like I SHOULD be meditating.

I do practice what Pema Chodron calls Pause Practice, where at random moments in the day you “drop the storyline” of whatever you are doing to take three mindful breaths. And I do practice tuning in to my body, breath, and energy when I am doing everyday things like taking a walk, changing a diaper, or doing the dishes. I also have several chants that I use to help ground myself.

I strive to live a mindful and centered life, but I feel like there is something wrong with me because I don’t formally “sit” on a daily basis.

There is no religion to which I ascribe (except possibly Mister Rogers), but I’ve always resonated with the theories and images associated with Buddhism. However, I so easily become overwhelmed with all the different instructions for how to BE Buddhist. At its core, I guess I don’t really understand what it is, or what meditation is for that matter.

Yesterday when I sat, I felt nice. I sat there for ten minutes and for once did not want to leap up to get on to the next damn thing. My soft mind was punctuated at several moments by a neighbor’s voice and a lawnmower, and then again by a sudden urge to go infuse water with cucumber. But I did what Pema Chodron says and labeled those distractions as just “thinking,” and then returned to focus on my breath.

  • Was what I did meditation?
  • Is meditation still meaningful if it isn’t a daily routine?
  • Are there benefits to doing it once in a while?  
  • Instead of meditating for a half hour all at once, can I gather the random moments of mindfulness throughout the day and consolidate them to make up a “session?”
  • Am I a crappy person because I don’t normally enjoy sitting?  

All these questions are on fire in my head space today- totally contrary to my blissful little moment of whatever on my porch yesterday.  Doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose of meditation if I am going to spend all this time and energy pondering and analyzing it?

If any of you out there in the blogosphere have any answers to these questions, or advice for me, it would be greatly and graciously appreciated!  And now, to go drink some of that cucumber water that I made AFTER meditating!