Buddhism, Family, Marriage, Parenting, Yoga

It’s all relative

photo (11)When a house is filled with young children it vibrates with movement.  Even when they are absent their clothes swirl in the dryer, their dog snores on the couch, their toys wait patiently on every available surface.  I have found that it is easy to get caught up in the movement, particularly if both parents are working.  There is always something to do:  a meeting to attend, a room that needs picking up, an appointment that needs scheduling, cupcakes that need to be made…..The days seem to gain speed until all of a sudden they are years.  I remember holding Benny once when he was small, it was two in the morning and he was on an elaborate sleep strike.  It felt personal, as if his 8 or 9 week old self was deeply committed to disrupting my sleep, potentially forever.  I was giving an internal finger to all those well meaning people who had looked at my newborn and said “enjoy it, it goes so fast…” Not at 2 in the morning it doesn’t…..

Of course, now I look at his long arms and legs, his eleven-year-old self, and it does seem to have gone by in a flash.  Those two a.m. meetings of ours feel like yesterday, and another life all at the same time.  A very wise friend said to me once after we had finished talking about how exhausted we were by our toddlers, “But this is the good stuff, when we put our children in bed at least we know where they are…” I hear that phrase so often in my head, “this is the good stuff.” she was right, this busy-ness, this intensity, this constant change, this is what a life is.  The catch is, that we have learn to pay attention to it, we have to learn to slow down within the movement and the busy-ness to be able to really appreciate it.

In Buddhism it is an accepted principle that there are two realities or two truths.  There is relative truth, which is what we think we see, the whirlwind of the every day, and there is absolute truth which is what exists underneath all of that.   it is the reality that we and everyone we love are just temporary, existing for a short time in the same place.  For me parenting was the first time I really thought about absolute truth.  My own mortality and that of my children weighed on me.  The thought of something bad happening to them makes me close my eyes and hold up my hands, just the thought of it inspires deep physical reactions.  As the mother of a child who will probably never be able to live independently, my own mortality became even more of an obstacle.  On more than one occasion I have thought to myself, I have to figure out how to live as long as she does so I can take care of her, she is 8 and I am 40….it’s unlikely I will live to 120.

The relative truth of parenting, the small successes and failures, “he sleeps through the night, and eats green vegetables,” give way to “he reads, and has friends.”  He complains mercilessly about homework, doesn’t make a team, has his heart broken, each moment feels enormous and real, and defining while it’s happening. They should.  This is the good stuff.  The absolute truth as I experience it is within the relative truth: it is allowing each of those moments to really sink in. It is not trying either to hold on to them or to ignore them, but to be fully present with them.  The absolute truth of my life exists in all of the relative details, in the way I make my bed, or the dinners we eat.   The amount of attention and care that we bring to the ordinary is what makes it come alive. 

Family, Meditation, Parenting, Yoga

Making peace with quiet……

When I first started teaching Yoga, I would drown my classes in detail.  I had learned so much and I wanted to share it. I was also using mountains of words to hide my insecurities about being a new teacher.  The more comfortable I became holding the space for my students the less  instruction I gave.  It took time to get comfortable with leaving gaps, moments of quiet to allow  people to create their own experience. I had to learn to trust the silence.
It’s the same in relationships.  When we meet new people it is harder to leave open space in conversation. At least for me, I fill the space with tsunamis of words and questions.  There is no greater compliment that I can give someone than to allow for silence and space.  I have tried as I get older to lean into that quiet space in relationships more.  It is a funny twist of personality to  think I always need to take center stage…I don’t.
We have so many ways to fill silence, often in my house music is playing while I read emails and carry on a conversation.  That is the opposite of silence and of leaving space.  I am trying to make a practice out of not filling the space.  Applying the lessons I learned teaching to other aspects of my life, will I be able to leave space in conversation?
I notice that when I leave more space for quiet in my life, I am also less busy.  I don’t feel the urge to be moving constantly, I actually am able to do less. It seems that when my mind and
mouth are moving quickly my body follows, I busily move from task to task with little awareness. When my mind and mouth are a little more quiet and spacious my body feels more at ease.  As with almost everything it is about balance.  Sometimes I need to be fiery and animated and busy, and sometimes I don’t. For me my natural state is one of action, it simply takes a little loving awareness to know when to just be still…..and quiet.
Uncategorized

I am 1 in 34

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, every day is Autism Awareness day in my house. I am re-posting this, please tweet it, Facebook it, raising awareness increases sensitivity.. And that’s better for everyone.

Katherine Osnos Sanford

katherinemae1 in 5 Americans has a tattoo
1 in 6 has light eyes
1 in 13 has food allergies
1 in 30 has red hair and freckles
1 in 50 has an artificial limb
1 in 68 has Autism

My daughter is 1 in 68. The CDC recently released numbers saying that 1 in 68 children are Autistic. Each one of those children has two parents who also carry that diagnosis with them, always. Does that make me 1 in 34? I think it does.

In every house, in every child, in every family, Autism looks different. But if you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, no matter where they fall, there is some common ground. I know you when I see you; we walk the same path lined with eggshells, and potholes, but it’s ours.

Below is a list that anyone in the 1 in…

View original post 507 more words

Family, Marriage, Parenting, Yoga

A lot to learn….

Recently, we have had a few teachable moments with the boys.  We have been faced with situations where they have broken a rule or abused a privilege, but rather than punish them, we have given them the opportunity to repair the damage or remediate other consequences of their behavior.  In both instances, once their relief at not being in trouble subsided, they rose to the occasion and demonstrated maturity that impressed us and, more importantly, themselves.

The whole experience got me thinking about teachable moments.  The writer Annie Lamott describes how she had to retrain her inner voice from one that would order her to sit down and write, using phrases like “sit your lazy ass in this chair” to one more like a gentle maternal coaxing “just try and write one paragraph you clever girl.”  Clearly, one is more pleasant and arguably more effective.  When we manage ourselves and our relationships skillfully we are better able to identify teachable moments.

Even our bodies have teachable moments.  When someone is training for an Ironman or marathon, that is not the time to start an aggressive new yoga regime. We will not be teaching our body anything; we will just be stressing it even more.  When training for an event, most bodies need days of rest and long slow stretches, extended hip openers and chest openers with lots of support.  Learning to listen to the cues our body is giving us is one of the most important steps to lasting wellness.

Often teachable moments rise out of unpleasant experiences, but that isn’t always the case.  Remembering how much better we feel after enough sleep can mean that when we are tempted to stay up a little too late, we remind ourselves of that good feeling. A friend and I were joking recently after a huge dinner that our diets would start Monday.  Later when thinking about our conversation I realized that even that sort of habitual thinking isn’t healthy.  Even though we were both kidding around it is that “I will start tomorrow” mentality that prevents us from doing so many things.  Maybe the teachable moment there is just noticing the habit.  Every day there are opportunities to be accountable for our behavior, to wonder whether we could have handled interactions more skillfully, with more insight or compassion for ourselves or others.  I am so completely convinced that we learn more when the methods are loving and patient than swift and punitive.  I am going to start paying more attention to the teachable moments in my every day. I know they are there and there is an awful lot to learn.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting

Listen, this is important…

photo (11)As anyone who has been in a relationship for any length of time knows, there is a big difference between hearing and listening. In the early days of any relationship, romantic or otherwise, we listen very carefully to the other person when they speak.  As we become more familiar with people we may hear them but not with the same attention.  I can recall with incredible clarity what Colin and I talked about on our first date, despite the eagle-sized butterflies in my stomach. I was as present and aware of every detail of the day as I have ever been.  If you asked me the details of a conversation from this past weekend I would have a harder time.  It is not for lack of interest.  I still think that at any given moment Colin is the most interesting person in the room, it’s just that familiarity makes it easy to confuse hearing and listening.

 

Hearing is what happens when I ask my children to empty the dishwasher and they don’t move.  They have heard me…but they aren’t listening.  Listening is what happens when you calmly tell them several hours later that ignoring my requests makes me feel rotten, and emptying the dishwasher and making beds is just being a part of the team.  Listening makes change, but in our family for people to listen to each other, voices can’t be raised and eye contact is necessary.  Yelling, snipping, or coming from a place of exasperation pretty much assures that no one in my house will listen to you.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh, a well known contemporary Buddhist scholar, talks about “listening deeply” or “listening skillfully.”  These are practices that one develops through meditation.  By learning to listen to the rhythms of our own mind we are better able to listen to other people.  We learn how to listen by being quiet and practicing non-judgmental awareness of what comes up in our own minds.  It is the same when we are talking to a friend, a stranger, a family member, we have to see that person as they are, not as we wish they were, not rush them through to express our opinion, or in the case of loved ones, without the layers of history between us.


Skillful listening is something we can all develop.  At one time or another it has come naturally to us: a friend in crisis, a new love, a child’s first words, but then we relax back into hearing rather than listening.  These days I am working on really listening deeply, giving those around me my total attention.  When I listen with my whole heart I am a better wife, mother, or friend. Like any practice it starts by noticing when you aren’t doing it, and gently drawing yourself back into the present moment.  Eventually it becomes easier, replacing the old habit of hearing, with a new habit of listening.

Family, Meditation, Parenting, Yoga

Start somewhere……

The conventional wisdom is that it takes 21 days to change or create a habit, although new research suggests that it can take much longer.  I have always been really interested in the relationship between routines and habits.  Routines are based on habitual behaviors while habits themselves can exist outside of routine.  For example, I have a habit of biting my lip. I do this regardless of the time of day or whether or not I am driving or watching tv; it’s just something I do. It is a habit that is not influenced by the rhythm of my day.

One of the things about moving to a new house and a new place is that so many of our routines were changed.  I have written extensively over the last few months about how moving or transition can be an opportunity to integrate new habits or cut out things that don’t serve you.  Lately, I have been thinking about reward systems for new habits.  An example of this would be a meditation practice. Students always want to know how they will be able to tell that this habit of meditation is “working.”  In any workshop or class this is always a tricky question. How do we encourage a habit or create a routine when there is no clear timeline or obvious payoff?

I used to tell students that the reward would be that they would be more available to the present moment, more awake to the nuances and habits of their own minds.  I still believe that this is true, but it is the kind of answer that implies that without a formal meditation practice you are sleepwalking through life. This is not at all true.  Meditation, yoga or a routine quiet activity or period of reflection is an important habit to introduce into every day simply because time moves extremely fast.  I find that my days are a blur of activity, much of it shaped by routine.  Every morning our house bustles until the last door has slammed and then it is completely quiet.  Then every afternoon it again swells with movement and noise until everyone has eaten, fulfilled their last commitments of the day, brushed their teeth and then fallen asleep — only to do it all again the next day.

If we don’t build time into every day to reflect or slow down we are simply riding a wave of routine, which will happily carry us day after day, week after week.  By taking time each day to stop moving, or to walk, run, swim, with total attention to the present moment, we are actually stepping outside of the rhythm of routine for just a moment.  Taking that time is the closest thing that I have ever found to a reset button, taking a chance to step back and make sure that we are really experiencing things rather than just orchestrating them.  A routine is an orchestrated set of habits that keeps your life running smoothly, but if you don’t examine it you can very easily lose touch with the fulfilling and exciting parts of an ordinary day.

I encourage everyone to add in something new for 21 days, some new challenge that shakes things up a little.  It can be a meditation practice, or a change to your exercise routine. It can be learning a new skill that requires concentration, just something out of the ordinary.  Twenty one days may not be the magic number but it is certainly a start. If our routines are running the show, it’s only because we let them.  Introducing new habits, challenging ourselves to shake things up a little bit will bring a freshness and a vitality to everything we do.

Family, Parenting, Special Needs

Sometimes all you can say is Adios!

I have written many times about disastrous grocery store experiences with Mae. Recently, we 
had one that was not at all terrible, it was funny and sweet and reminded me that almost nothing 
looks the same to two sets of eyes. 
 
Last week Mae and I headed to our local giant Safeway. It is the kind with endless aisles of 
colorful boxes.  Giant stuffed animals sit on top of the freezers in the frozen food section. 
Everywhere you turn there is a something: batteries, bubblegum, pyramids of cereal, and to top 
it all off, music pipes out of invisible speakers and there are pretend thunderstorms in the 
produce aisle.  I do not think that the pretend thunderstorm makes the produce more enticing 
and question it as a marketing strategy. 
 
Because the store is an intense sensory experience no matter who you are, when I am with Mae 
and all of her sensory issues I try and get in and out as fast as possible.  Which is why we found 
ourselves essentially alone in the checkout line at 7:45 in the morning. The two women who 
were checking us out were deep in conversation about how they had both worked at Safeway 
company for years and were senior with the union.  They were commiserating about training 
new hires and how any day they expected to be bought out of their union contracts. They asked 
me what I thought of service at Safeway on a typical day, so that eventually the three of us were 
engaged in an evaluation of Safeway’s hiring practices. 
 
After we ran out of things to say they tried to engage Mae in conversation about her furry pink 
boots, Mae ignored them.  They tried to catch her attention with a balloon.  Mae ignored them. 
Ordinarily, I would have hurriedly explained that she was Autistic and pre-verbal and shut the 
whole thing down, but we were almost finished with the transaction and I just didn’t feel like it. 
 
I don’t have a Safeway Rewards card. Instead I use my mother-in-law’s cell phone number to 
access the various discounts. The number actually isn’t registered in her name either.  For some 
reason it appears on the receipt as “Miguel Hernandez”. When a checker is good at their job, 
they will hand me the receipt and say “Thank you Mrs. Hernandez,” at which point I smile and 
leave.  On this particular day, as our giant receipt appeared and the checker looked down, you 
could practically see the light bulb go off over her head.  She looked at my beautiful Chinese 
daughter and said “Hola! Como esta?” at which point I bit my lip so as not to laugh, took my 
receipt and said, “Adios!” as I pushed toward the automatic doors.