Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting

Can we ballpark it?

photo (16)I love routines.  I can happily eat the same breakfast for months, run the same route for years, and in so far as it is possible make each week similar to the one before it.  When I first met Colin I was fascinated by his disregard for routines.  He actively avoided creating them.  He would wake up at different times and some days eat breakfast and some days skip it.  He might exercise once a week or not at all.  The thought of living without routine exhausted me.  How do you know you can fit everything in? The reason Colin was able to live happily without routine was that he wasn’t especially concerned about fitting everything in.  He knew that each day would contain some meals, some work and some sleep and beyond that things could happen or not happen and the world could continue to turn.

This summer we have been in constant motion and maintaining my routines has been impossible.  We have driven across the country twice, the first time in two and a half days, and definitely a situation that does not lend itself to long runs, healthy breakfasts or quiet meditation. In the whirlwind of moving and traveling I have had to let go a little bit of my regular approach to life.  I remember once reading an article about a guy who ran two miles every day no matter what.  This meant that he had done laps in Newark airport, and would sometimes wake at two in the morning to fit his run in.  Clearly for him this had enormous value but I can’t imagine how tightly gripped he would have to be around the daily run to make it happen regardless of circumstance.

We are starting to settle in our new house, the kids will go back to school in the next few weeks and I will be able to return to some of my regular patterns.  There is certainly a part of me that is craving a return to an organized day — to know before it starts that there will be a time for play, rest and work.  On the other hand, I have learned a lot this summer about just going with the flow of each day.  I have taken some of the Colin approach: some days there is time for exercise, some days there isn’t.  If you don’t make it to the grocery store on Saturday morning, or wash the sheets on Sunday, it’s OK; the world will continue to turn.

Families need structure, Colin’s more free form approach was perfect for him before we had kids, but after kids it led to enough “tardies” that we got a note home from the school district.  When it comes to structure we have to meet in the middle.  Were it not for him I would probably be unabashedly running in Newark Airport or doing down dog on the train platform.  He has learned that when it comes to our kids the schedule can’t really be ballparked.  If school starts at 8:20 that doesn’t mean any time before 9….

In Buddhism we talk about the middle path, “not too tight, not too loose.” I think this is the perfect approach to the rhythms of our new life.  We can fit everything in, but we can also fit in some space.  Somewhere in the middle of my highly structured tendencies and Colin’s free form is the middle path. The middle path means that there is time for work, time for play and time for rest.   It just doesn’t have to be the same time every day — except for the 8:20 part.  They aren’t kidding about that. If you are too tightly gripped around your routine it becomes a crutch, you may be fitting everything in but to some degree you are just checking boxes.  If you are too loose, threads get dropped, kids are late, dogs go un-walked, and you can actually lose time scrambling to fit in the basics. So we are hoping to steer our family on the middle path, not too tight, not too loose.

Family, Meditation, Parenting, Yoga

What are you packing?

photo (15)The house is practically empty as of today.  Which means that when we speak our voices seem unusually loud.  The tone of voice that worked when the house was filled with furniture and art work now sounds like yelling as it bounces off blank walls.  The floors are scratched and the walls all have tons of holes from where the photographs and paintings hung.  The whole house kind of looks like a crumpled party dress.  I keep waiting for the empty rooms to inspire some kind of emotion in me, but so far I just walk from room to room and register what’s left in them and don’t really feel anything.  Mae loves it, every room has plenty of space for jumping and the house is one long runway, she can go from room to room on her fast little feet with no need to steer.


With any move there is a chance to curate your possessions to get rid of things you don’t need or have outgrown.  For the last few weeks I have been giving end tables and lamps as parting gifts to practically anyone who drops by.  The large pieces of furniture we used to store the kids toys in when they were little won’t make the cut for this move, nor will the fire truck shaped bunk bed that was a super big kid thing when it first appeared.  If we weren’t moving we would have been giving away some of these things anyway, I can’t imagine a 16-year-old version of Ben climbing into the bunk beds. The toy storage, though, would have just faded into the background, along with the rocking horse, and 6 old computer monitors in the attic. I keep promising myself that I will never, ever purchase anything ever again, because I cannot believe how much stuff we have acquired.  This is of course ridiculous.  When you are moving you are quite literally going through everything you own, and evaluating whether or not you need it. What you realize is that you have things you don’t use anymore and moving presents an opportunity to get rid of it.


I think that this is true not just for our things, but also for ourselves.  I know that no matter where you go, you are who you are.  I do not expect to wake up that first morning in the new house and be taller, thinner, speak Spanish and have straight teeth.  I will wake up in the new house my regular self, but a move is a chance to leave behind old habits and cultivate new ones.  I would like to have more time to write, cook, garden and do yoga, I would like to learn how to use my sewing machine, and maybe even pick up some Spanish.  While the list of skills that I would like to acquire is long, the list of habits I would like to break is longer: snacking, procrastinating sleep, not leaving clean folded clothes in piles anywhere but drawers, feeling busy when I am not, never listening to voicemail, amazon.  Those things are all habits. There are many more but none of them serve me and I hope to break them in our new house. Just like the bunk bed they don’t serve a purpose anymore.


One of my favorite things to say to students in class, is “let go of what doesn’t serve you” this can mean gritting your teeth because you think it will help you balance, or thinking about lunch while you are on your mat.  I like the idea that if we pay attention to what we actually have, and how we behave, that we can let go of what we don’t need.  Habits, like anything ever purchased from Ikea may have served a purpose when you got them, but if you don’t pay attention to them they may become permanent fixtures long after you don’t need them.  That is my practice for this move, paying attention to what I am bringing with me into the new house not just on the back of the truck but in my head and heart as well, and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve me.


Family, Meditation, Yoga

Every morning I pretend to lose my shoes……

ShoesI can procrastinate a run like nobody’s business.  This entire blog may exist as a tool to procrastinate leaving for a run.  I am never as productive as I am when I have on a sports bra and shorts but have yet to commit to the socks and shirt.  It is in those moments that I am seized by the need to empty the dishwasher, fold the laundry, return week old emails, maybe even prep dinner.  Eventually I will run out of the kind of five minute chores that are perfect for putting off exercise.  I will move as if through molasses to find socks and a shirt.  This will kick off a new round of procrastinating, I may pay a bill or linger an extra minute or two in the living room wondering if this is the right moment to make sure that all the board games have the correct pieces. Finally, I will find my running shoes, not looking in the obvious places like by the back door or my closet, but I will start with someplace I never go like the upstairs bathroom.  When I have checked under every bed and the linen closet I will run out of reasons not to grab my sneakers from the back door.  I will tie them with the attention of someone who has only just learned to tie shoes.  Sometimes I will even hear in my head, “the bunny goes around the tree.”  When the shoes are tied I will pee for the 6th time in the half hour since I said I am going to get ready to go for a run.  When I am out of excuses, when I have done every chore, when I am dressed and shoes tied, I will briefly consider calling a friend or making the kids dentist appointments for the next five years. But instead I will force myself out the door. The first few steps, from the door to the road are the hardest and most victorious.  My body hurts a little bit; it takes a few minutes for it to catch on to the activity.  But once I am out the door I will run, and as soon as I get past that initial tin man phase I will move into a space that feels like my favorite jeans.  I am not especially fast, nor do I have good form, but when I go for a run I connect with my teenage self, my twenty year old self, my self before motherhood, and partnership.  I connect with a part of myself that doesn’t really engage the world.  Sometimes I daydream, and sometimes I just listen to the sound of my feet and my breath.  Sometimes I think about things on purpose. I have made every major decision of my life on a run. There is the moment at the end of the run, where I kick my shoes off by the door (so that tomorrow I can pretend to look for them) and I know that no matter what else I come up against in the day, for a brief period of time I existed only for myself.  For some small part of every day we all need to engage in an activity, walking, running, sitting, swimming, anything at all where we just enjoy being with ourselves in our bodies with no agenda. Running helps to center me in my day and my life.  No matter how outrageous the procrastination rituals may be I know that without that time every day I would start to feel unmoored. Every day root yourself somehow, even if it is hard to fit it in, even if you feel lazy, even if you have to make deals with God to get out the door.  No one goes to bed at night wishing they had just hit “refresh” one more time, but plenty of nights I have wished I had carved out a little more time in the day for myself.  Whatever it is, make the time, you won’t regret it, and besides, your chores might get done.

Family, Meditation

The company you keep…

We are in the new house this week doing errands and scheduling estimates for shockingly expensive home improvements.  I keep walking around this town and looking at people and wondering if I will be friends with them.  It is a very funny thing to do, to look at a stranger and wonder if you would like them.  Essentially, what you are doing is weighing how familiar they look.  The more familiar they appear the more likely it is to imagine that you could have something in common.  It is probably a hangover from some animal part of our brain that prevents slugs from going out and trying to make friends with eagles.  But in human beings it can easily turn into a kind of judgment that doesn’t really benefit anyone.

I have no idea what kinds of people I will make friends with, I walk around the grocery store and find the anonymity both thrilling and terrifying.  I would like to approach building our new community here with an open mind.  I would like to break the pattern of just gravitating towards the familiar and come more from a place of genuine curiosity about who people are.  It is sort of an embarrassing thing to realize that at almost 40 some part of me is still wondering who the cool girls are.

Building a community will take time and I don’t know yet who the new faces are that will one day be old friends.  It is an interesting time to observe my mind and see how quickly when faced with a situation I am drawn to the safety of the familiar.  When we first moved to our last house, I had no children.  Many of the friends I made in those early years are people who have watched our family grow and change.  Those relationships are very dear and those connections so important.  Our new friends won’t ever meet my children as babies, or know that there was a time when we were not special needs parents. In some ways it feels like we are bringing a life in progress to a new place, I am not sure I have ever had that experience before.  It used to be that new beginnings coincided with milestones, the beginning of high school, college or married life.  Our peer group was clearly defined by circumstance which in some ways made creating a life easier.

New experiences are the best way to study our habits. When we take ourselves out of our comfort zone we can see the ways in which we protect ourselves.  I am excited about the prospect of building a community, I hope it is filled with all sorts of different kinds of people and their stories. Every new relationship, be it friend, teacher, or student is kind of an adventure in being human. Seeking out ways to surprise ourselves is one of the best ways to stay awake to all that our lives have to offer.  We don’t have to shake things up in huge ways to experience this, it can be as simple as changing your morning coffee shop. Any time we allow ourselves to experience things in a new way we are waking up a little bit more to all that our life has to offer.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting

Grateful for champagne problems

photo (11)My new favorite phrase is “champagne problems.”  A friend of mine used it recently to describe the intense angst that people she knew were experiencing about their bright, healthy, normal kids not getting into competitive private schools.  We both have special needs kids and would like very much to have our greatest fear about our children be that they won’t get into a top tier college.

Yesterday, in the middle of a beautiful day, I found myself with a free hour.  I decided to sit outside and read my brother’s book.  First the Fed Ex guy came, then a garden crew showed up at the house next door, the the propane guy came to fill the tank.  Each interruption made me more irritated.  I was feeling cheated out of my quiet hour in the sun.  As my blood pressure started to rise I began to feel sorry for myself that my one quiet hour of the day was being ruined, I heard the phrase champagne problems in my head and had to laugh.

Sometimes it’s important to have champagne problems.  I can’t walk around all the time thinking about world hunger, climate change, or what will happen in my own future and that of those I love.  I am not sure how much fun I would be having if I walked around all the time intensely focused on all my fears.  We should be mindful of the realities of our life, and of the greater world.  We should live in a way that aligns with our values: recycle, be kind to others, do your best, but also give yourself a break.

Trouble arises when we can’t tell the difference between champagne problems and genuine heartbreak.  We all struggle with real problems and real insecurities, but it’s easy to distract ourselves with superficial ones.  Perspective is being able to separate an irritation from a crisis. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference because our bodies respond to them similarly.

The gritting of teeth, the tightness of shoulders and the elevated heart rate are the body’s way of sensing and dealing with danger.  The trouble is that a driver in front of you going slowly, or a quiet afternoon being ruined by noise are not danger.  They are irritations or champagne problems.

I am learning that I need to spend some time each week on a walk or a run reflecting on how I am responding to the unexpected ups and downs in my life.  If we aren’t careful we can form habits that turn everything into a calamity when really very few things are. A champagne problem is one that I can catch and release quickly, I can be disappointed or irritated for a few minutes and then let it go.  I know I need to conserve my emotional resources for the moments that matter both good and bad, because life is certainly filled with both.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting

Why is cynical cool?

I really, really have tried to love the show Girls.  I think Lena Dunham is smart and funny.  She has written things in the New Yorker that have caused me to laugh out loud.  The movie she made right out of college; Tiny Furniture was clever and witty.  The other night, Colin and the kids were gone and I decided that I would watch Girls.  I downloaded a bunch of episodes really wanting to find myself in one of those glassy eyed, zoned out states that occasionally feels really good.  I applaud the use of regular bodies, and I do remember feeling and creating situations that were dramatic during that stage of my life.  I think it attempts to be honest and accurately portrays that strange in-between stage that well educated women in their twenties can have.  They are smart and motivated, but not totally sure what they should want.

The thing that makes it almost un-watchable for me despite my best efforts is the cynicism and the sarcasm.  Being cynical means that you fundamentally believe that people are completely motivated by self interest.  It means that you live in a perpetual state of distrust.  It is the combination of distrust and lethargy that weaves through every episode that makes the show unsatisfying to me.

Distrust and lethargy are the antithesis of an awake and calm mind. Part of being able to really see and accept what is around us is trusting that the ordinary is extraordinary.  When we approach things with cynicism we start with a closed door and don’t believe it can be opened. When you are in your twenties, the world is filled with possibility.  If you approach it with cynicism you miss it.  Girls does not seem like a coming of age show to me because the girls all seem so world weary already.

There is one character, Shoshana who rather than approaching things with the Eeyore like attitude of her peers is made into a cartoon.  Her optimism and sweetness seems to make her a punch line, an innocent fool who somehow managed to sneak into the cool crowd.  Edgy and cool seem to only exist at the expense of generosity and kindness. I can’t think of anything edgier and more dangerous than living life wholeheartedly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable.  Instead, nudity and tattoos is passed off as groundbreaking.

I have learned that the more difficult life becomes the more important it is to greet it with an open mind.  Things can get very hard: children get sick, parents get older, financial situations change.  If we greet these changes as if we expected them, then we don’t really learn from them.  Instead we are bulldozed by them. Periods of calm and good health in life are a gift if we respond to them with anything but appreciation we are cheating ourselves. The expectation should never be that the good times will always roll.  They most definitely will not.  In every disappointment there is a chance to grow and learn and change but only if we don’t live life protecting ourselves with cynicism and lethargy.

Being cynical does not protect you from life’s disasters big or small, but it does prevent you from seeing and delighting in the ordinary.  When we stop connecting with the happiness of an ordinary day then a kind of spiritual paralysis sets in. Girls is the kind of show that perpetuates the notion that to be smart, cool and urban you have to be totally self interested. I refuse to believe that’s true, I believe that you can be intelligent and funny without being cynical and mean.  I think that waking up every morning and expecting that people are doing their best is a much better outlook than deciding that everyone I meet is lame and a liar.

These days I think that life’s challenges are best handled with optimism and humor. It is both more effective and more fun than the alternative…It just may not make for good television.

Family, Meditation, Parenting, Yoga

It’s not the marquee moments…

photo (11)It seems that I learn more from the truly mundane, vaguely boring but necessary parts of my life than I do from the big marquee moments.  The big marquee moments, weddings, births, even deaths, certainly teach us enormous amounts.  I have never appreciated life more than when I watched my grandmother take her last breath. However, I learn more about marriage on a sleepy, itchy, Monday morning than I would in a month of weddings and celebrations.

We have high expectations for the marquee moments.  We have planned them. We have thought about what it will feel like when we are actually in them.  Most of these milestone moments for me have been like out of body experiences.  I have been so busy having them and wanting not to miss a moment of them that the experience becomes one that is a memory as it unfolds.

Moving is a marquee moment, you remember the dates of various decisions, the day you left one place and arrived in another.  I have always loved saying my new address over and over in my head. Eventually the new address isn’t new anymore and the habit of repeating it falls away.  The day we drive away from our current house is one I will remember, I will be cataloging what it feels like to drive away from our sweet house filled with so many memories. I can picture this experience, it’s a marquee moment.

What I didn’t picture or understand would be how much I am learning as I pack us up.  The literal packing unearths all sorts of treasures. Those kitchen scissors that disappeared years ago had apparently staked out new real estate at the back of the tool closet.  Then there is the figurative packing up, the winding down of my job and volunteer commitments, returning the various rented instruments and sports equipment.  I am saying lots of good-byes in my head to people who I see fairly often but don’t really know.  The nice girl at the UPS store, the people that work at the grocery store.  Every time I see them, I wonder if this will be the last time.  The result is that I smile at them more and make better eye contact.

I am having this sensation at the yoga studio as well.  Each class I teach brings me closer to the very last one.  I am finding myself more awake to the details of the room and the experience, knowing that it is finite; my sense that it is something to cherish has increased.  I am finding myself less likely to see the flaws in things and more likely to accept them as they are.  Knowing that some of these relationships and experiences are ending seems to allow me to just accept them.

I like how it feels to take a little more time to appreciate the details of my life.  I like how it feels to not get super wound up about the outcome of various relationships and projects.  I like how it feels to be aware that I should pay attention and notice because none of this is going to last forever.

The truth is, that even if we never move again, none of this would last forever.  I am hoping that when we arrive in our new house and new life that I am able to maintain this greater appreciation for the smaller moments where life actually lives.  I am hoping that when my new address stops being thrilling that I can maintain wonder and appreciation for the ordinary moments.

Family, Meditation, Yoga

You don’t need incense and a cushion….

Meditation is not a “break glass in case of emergency” kind of practice.  Very often people decide to develop a meditation practice when they are under extreme stress. The impulse is commendable; they are recognizing that they need tools to manage their situation in a healthy way.  The timing is off though.  Deciding to sit for meditation at the height of anxiety or depression when you haven’t cultivated a meditation practice is like being bedridden and deciding to climb Everest.  It is certainly possible to build a practice at any time, but it will be much harder if you are starting from a stressed and strained mind.

Sky is the limitWhen we talk about about meditation it’s important to define what we mean.  The way I define meditation is much less about the posture one assumes when you practice and more about the effort to become familiar with your own mind.  There are many activities that can be meditative: running, walking, swimming, biking, gardening — really any activity when we are not engaged in any kind of external pageantry.

If you are someone for whom walking is a form of meditation, then build on that practice.  As you head out for your daily walk, see if you can use that as a platform to cultivate mindfulness and awareness.  This doesn’t mean that you clear your mind of all thought. It simply means that as you walk or bike, or swim that you keep your attention in the activity, recognizing the sounds and the sensations both inside and outside of your body.  When I run, my thoughts are just as busy as they are at any other time of my day, but I don’t engage them in quite the same way.  I feel like my mind is a giant train station and each thought is a train, but rather than jump on every passing train I keep my attention rooted in the act of the run itself.

Seated meditation is an important practice, but it isn’t the only practice.  If you have the sense that you need a meditation practice in your life start with something that already works for you.  If washing the dishes is an experience that grounds you, start there.  The work is to keep your attention with your breath and body and not get carried off in a million different fantastic directions by your mind.  That work can happen on a meditation cushion, a familiar hiking path or as you rake leaves.

Don’t wait until your heart is racing and your hands are sweating to practice mindfulness.  Pick a familiar activity and bring to it new curiosity. From there, see if you can keep returning your attention to where your body and mind actually are.  I encourage people to start by just watching their thoughts; don’t judge them, don’t categorize them, just watch them.  What we start to recognize is that our thoughts are very often completely separate from where our body happens to be. By working to engage your mind and body together in an activity you are predisposed to enjoy, you are more likely to find that sense of being grounded that can be an antidote to stress.

Stress is the experience of constantly living in an adversarial relationship.  Meditation is not a magic bullet, it is a process by which we turn that imaginary adversary into an old friend. Meditation is developing an intimate awareness and appreciation for reality, not about crossed knees and incense so start with your reality and work from there.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting

Sacred space at a Maryland truck stop

Today I watched a man turn a truck stop parking lot into a sacred space. He took out his prayer mat, he carefully washed his hands and feet, he positioned his mat towards the east and proceeded to pray. He bowed towards his god, humbling himself in service as he must do several times a day. When he was done he rolled up his mat, popped his cell phone ear bud back in his ear and drove off. The space underneath his mat became a parking lot again.

A sacred space doesn’t need a giant altar, an impressive entry or even an entry at all. A sacred space is about ritual. Sometimes a cup of coffee at my kitchen table in a house that is still sleeping can feel sacred. In the morning when I sit for meditation on my living room floor that is a ritual. It is not public, it is in fact very private. When I am finished I slide the worn purple cushion back under the couch, and get ready for the rest of my day.

We fill our lives with rituals.  Some are familiar acts of worship that have gone on for centuries, generations of people repeating the same vows or prayers to define their lives and their milestones. We have personal rituals, the little moments that define the culture of our families and lives. They change as our families change. At this stage of my life, my day begins before the sun and ends with the dishwasher triumphantly signaling the end of another day, long after the sun has closed up shop.

There are moments that feel sacred to me within our days, the sound of my kids sleepily making their way downstairs in the morning, or the sigh of the bus stop doors. From the outside of our life they are completely unremarkable; from the inside they are the moments that make up the sacred landscape of this stage of our lives. Every family has it’s own little culture and set of rituals.  Our days are held together by ordinary moments that may not resonate with anyone else.  Small things, a dish filled with brightly colored sunglasses will always remind me of my grandmother, or a Sunday brunch menu at my mothers house that has never changed.  These details or habits of our lives can be done automatically or with an awareness that a day, a week, a month is all just a series of moments.  If we choose to see the richness that exists within the ordinary we won’t look for it other places, but instead will see it in everything we do.

The man on his knees in the Maryland truck stop was connecting with his past, his present and praying to the future. He was totally focused. His surroundings were irrelevant. All over the world people engage in rituals defined by religion every day. For many people though, their lives have different kinds of rituals and routines. A ritual does not have to be shared with a cast of thousands to be meaningful. It can be as small as weeding your garden in spring or walking your dog. It is the attention that we bring to it that can make it feel sacred.



Meditation, Yoga

If I let you off the hook, where does that leave me?

photo (1)A few months ago I was in Colorado and took a yoga class with a teacher who had enormous fake boobs.  I have nothing against breast implants, and genuinely believe that everyone has the right to feel great about their body. Making people feel good about their bodies is part of my life’s work.

The teacher was thin and attractive and had the toned physique that comes from a blend of constant dedicated movement and genetics.  But the breasts were huge; cartoonish in fact.  I found myself spending much of this very hot, sweaty class wondering about her and her boobs.  Not wondering actually. Judging.  I was sneering internally and wondering, “Can she do chatuaranga? Can she ride a bike? Don’t her shoulders hurt? Why would she do that to herself?”  Eventually, I realized that I was spending an entire class obsessing about this woman’s body, so I stopped myself, and almost immediately started judging my own body. “Why  are my hips so damn tight? Is that a roll of fat at the top of my pants? Why do my hands look so old?”….Clearly, it was her or me and one of us was going down.

Almost always when we rush to judgment about someone it’s because it’s easier than facing a fear or reality of our own.  Some days, I have that itchy, judge-y nasty energy that I can’t shake.  Intellectually I understand that this feeling of judgment doesn’t serve me in any way, whether I aim my criticisms at myself or silently at a yoga teacher in the Rockies. She, mercifully, couldn’t hear me and I was hardly present in the class at all.  The steady stream of subconscious gossip was drowning out any chance I had of actually enjoying the experience.

Judging and criticism are often so habitual that we don’t even notice they are happening.  We constantly move through our days cataloging everything we see and putting them in three categories.  We either like them, don’t like them or don’t care.  One of the reasons to develop a meditation practice is to become familiar with this habit of mind which rarely serves us. If you categorize something or someone on sight, you actually don’t see them at all.  That is why I can have an experience like taking a yoga class and remember nothing about the class itself but my own internal monologue.

We judge each other’s choices all the time.  How often have you leaned in to a friend when she started a sentence, “She’s a nice girl but….”  The thing about these kinds of judgments is that they are like junk food.  It feels good in the beginning but always leaves you feeling unsatisfied and kind of icky when it’s over.  I hope that teacher in Colorado is happy with her boobs.  I hope that she looks at herself in the mirror and thinks she looks awesome.  I hope that the next time I get caught up in judging another woman’s body or lifestyle choices I remember that I am only doing it so I don’t do it to myself.  And then maybe I can let us both off the hook.