bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

it’s okay to argue in front of kids

My husband and I got into an argument yesterday in front of the kids. It started spontaneously with a little snippiness over a pair of smelly sneakers (of all things) then quickly escalated into something more complicated. We sat down and hashed it out while the kids circled, then after five minutes or so we moved on with our day.

People fight. That’s life. A family brawl is a great opportunity to model mindful communication and to teach by example. Our young audience reminds us to keep the argument clean – taking turns listening to each other, acknowledging our partner’s frustration, expressing compassion for our partner’s pain. (Thich Nhat Hanh writes about this extensively and I recommend any of his books to learn more about mindful communication!)

It’s okay to fight in front of kids, so long as we make up in front of them, too. When our kids see us argue mindfully, they learn how to argue mindfully. And when they see us apologize and forgive, they learn how to apologize and forgive.

So back to yesterday. After we fought, my oldest wrapped her arms around my waist and buried her head in my chest, “Are you and Daddy going to get a divorce?” I actually thought this question was funny because our verbal scuffle was pretty tame in comparison to some others we’ve had, but I reminded her that it’s okay to disagree, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to argue… it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to forgive, and it’s okay to move on.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

tips for teaching mindfulness to middle schoolers

I just finished teaching a six-week meditation and mindfulness course at a local middle school. I’ve got to admit, middle schoolers are a tough crowd! But I wanted to share a little insight with parents trying to initiate a meditation practice with a 6-8th grader.

The breakdown:
Don’t sell it.
Take it slow.
Curb your expectations.
Practice more, teach less.
Know when to give it a rest.

Though we may hear people preach otherwise, meditation is not “the answer,” so it’s important that we don’t sell it that way to our budding teenagers. They’re too smart to be fooled and too skeptical to be convinced that sitting still for 20 minutes a day will make all their troubles melt away. Meditation is simply a tool to help kids slow down, diminish stress, and strengthen their connection with higher thinking.

Meditation isn’t a magic pill, it’s an open door – as imperfect and unreliable as anything else. When we teach an illusion of perfection and reliability, kids have no soft place to land when, not if, they screw up. So while we teach our kids how to meditate, let’s be sure they know that meditation is a way to soften those hairpin turns along life’s amazing journey, not straighten them out completely.

A lot of shifts can take place when a person (of any age) begins meditating. We can prepare our children by letting them know that Self-discovery can be hard work. Incredibly rewarding, but hard just the same. They should talk with parents or counselors about emotional or physical pain that arises during meditation. It’s all part of the healing process, and nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed by.

Each week of my middle school course, I’d begin by asking eagerly, “Who meditated this week?” and a hand or two (or none) would pop up in the circle. One boy practiced daily with his family. One girl practiced because she was bored while waiting for her sister to take a shower in the morning. One boy practiced because he was bored on the school bus. (Boredom is by far the most common form of inspiration amongst all my students. So if you’d like your children to be more mindful, bore them.)

While some of my middle schoolers warmed up easily to a sitting meditation practice, others were stone cold from giddy-up. Just because we, as parents and teachers, believe in this stuff, doesn’t mean the kids will jump on board, even with modern science giving its two thumbs way up. But with the right stimulation, we can encourage interest. We can try different approaches until we meet our children where they are.

Example. One day, do an eating meditation, the next a sensory game, the next a mantra-based meditation or maybe something guided, the next share space with a pre-teen without saying a word and see what happens. Reading the child’s non-verbals while teaching is instrumental in maintaining connection. And we must be prepared that some lessons will float belly-up. Just counteract it with a sure-fire winner the next time, be it a sitting meditation or mindful activity.

Several of my students did not like the feeling of stillness. The first few times we meditated, I kept my eyes cast down to the floor and observed at least four pairs of legs pumping non-stop for the duration of the sittings. When the closing bell chimed, children reported feeling peaceful, anxious, antsy, happy, sleepy, or calm. Some reported physical discomfort. These are all totally normal responses to meditation. When we meditate, we slow down enough so that we can become acutely aware of what’s *really* happening in our bodies.

So for those students who jittered incessantly, we just took note of that, and I explained to them that our bodies aren’t used to being consciously still and rarely get our minds’ full attention. So when we meditate, our bodies enthusiastically jump on the opportunity to be heard, and it can make us feel uncomfortable. “She’s listening! Now’s our chance! Look at me! Pay attention to this! Houston, we have a problem!”

So while sitting, we might notice back pain that we’ve been ignoring, a tightness in the belly, or clogged sinuses. We might notice a buzzing in our ears, a dull headache, or just that we’re really tired. And most likely it will get worse before it gets better. But in the big picture, it can only get better, because once we hear our bodies communicate, we can work on relieving the discomfort by making choices that make our bodies happy.

But let’s get real. Meditation is not for everyone. One of my students was really bothered by the experience of meditating. She did not enjoy it at all. She bravely shared that she couldn’t stand sitting still and felt incredibly anxious every time we meditated and just wanted it to end. But she still came to the class every week, making me believe that even though she wasn’t keen for this particular practice at this particular time, there was something about the idea of self-soothing that appealed to her. The important thing is that she knows peace is a choice. The experience is hers now, and she can do with it what she wishes, be it now, in five years, or never. It’s all okay.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

***Visit http://www.vanessagobes.com to learn more about my services.***

no more worries

This an AWESOME exercise in mindfulness for kids – or anyone! 

Invite your child to write down her biggest worry. Teach her that worry is not real, it’s just a habit, and it can be broken. Give your child a special bracelet and instruct her to wear it daily (a rubber bracelet or bright hair elastic will do). Each time she notices herself worrying, she should switch the bracelet to the other wrist. Tell her not to condemn herself when she switches. There’s no need to tally the worries. Just notice they’re happening. 

Once she gets the hang of it, help her come up with an easy affirmation that can neutralize the worry. Each time she switches the bracelet, she can say the affirmation in her head.

So let’s say your child worries she’s going to fail math. Every time she stresses, she should switch the bracelet and think, “Learning comes easily for me.” 

This can also be used to break other habits, for example gossiping. Each time the child (or parent!) notices herself engaging in caddy conversation, switch that bracelet and think, “I am kind to others.”

Check out my little friend in the photo, using this simple bracelet trick to kick her worries to the curb. We should all be so adorable while we practice mindfulness!

Learn more about mindful parenting and meditation for families atwww.vanessagobes.com.

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“our children are our greatest teachers”

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I awoke this morning to the sound of my son vomiting on the floor next to my bed. My husband nursed him for an hour before I took over. I set him up on the couch with a pillow and blankie, Saltines, a cup of water, and a tupperware container. It’s just after noontime now, and he’s thrown up into that container about six more times. Poor baby.

I asked him if I could do a little Reiki (a Japanese practice of healing hands) on him, and he weakly nodded his head while he stretched his body long on the couch. I said my invocation aloud: “I invoke the divine light of the creative source within. I am a clear and perfect channel. I am light. I am love.” A few ritual steps later, I was laying my warm hands on his head, beginning the healing practice.

His dark eyes raised to mine and silently said, “Thank you for helping me, Momma.” I smiled and slowly moved my hands down his body, resting on his chest, his quickened heartbeat slowing under the weight of my palms. I watched his veins pulse to the rhythm of his heart and repeated my invocation, pausing on the phrase “creative light within.”

I’ve uttered those words during healings plenty of times, believing that I am the channel for something divine that lives outside of myself, imagining a gorgeous light funneling into my body through my crown chakra to strengthen my energy and inspire healing. As if divine energy comes to me because I call for it. As if I am inviting it for a boost of strength.

Feeling my son’s heart beat under my hands, I suddenly realized that I am the source. I am the divine. God is whole within me. I don’t invite energy into my body; the power is not outside of myself. I don’t invoke it from the great beyond. I release it through my own ego’s surrender. The creative source is within me and my chakras are the portals that connect my energy to the those in the universe who are available to me. Like my baby boy.

I set my ego aside so that the purest light and love within me (that exists within each of us), could shine and connect and heal. I touched my forehead to his and whispered, “You are sick for me today. To teach me this lesson. And I’m so grateful.” My throat felt tight and my ears pulsed as tears started to burn my eyes. “I’ve learned the lesson, buddy. You don’t have to be sick anymore. No more throwing up.”

I sat and reflected for a moment, thinking about all the lessons kids teach parents, thinking about the sacrifices they make for us so we can learn the power of love. I imagined my son and I as two souls long before our birth, planning our journey together, him saying, “I’ll feel this pain so you can learn, because I love you.”

Our children are our greatest teachers. Today I’m understanding this old saying in a whole new light.

From mine to yours,
Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

parenting advice from lama sonam

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Every Wednesday morning, I host a group of neighborhood moms in my living room, where we meditate and discuss mindful parenting.  Today we had a seasoned meditator as our special guest – my friend Lama Konchok Sonam, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who directs several spiritual centers around the United States. He shared a couple of terrific parenting tips with us this morning – too good not to share.
Tip #1
On a child’s birthday, take him to a pet store and buy him several small animals (fish, mice, birds) – one for every year of his life. Then invite friends over on his birthday and release the animals together. We are all going to die, it’s important to live freely while we’re here. I’m getting teary just thinking about it.
He also suggested that we not serve or eat meat at the birthday party. Good thinking.
(Note: Work with pet store employee to find animals that are safe to release in your region.)
Tip #2
A child between the ages of 8 and 13 can only focus for 14-16 minutes in a sitting, so get her moving at these intervals. A great way to do this is by assigning quick tasks. Write simple directives on index cards (one on each card). Some examples could be: sweep the porch steps, hug your sister for one whole minute, water the plants, meditate for five minutes, take the trash out, find a heart shaped rock, weed a garden, change a lightbulb, watch the clouds go by. Stack the cards and, at the 15 minute mark, let the child pick her assignment. Once the task is done, she can get back to homework and lessons with renewed energy.
Teachers, this is a great tool for the classroom, too!
From mine to yours,
Vanessa
Hey!  Do you like these ideas? Share them on Facebook or Twitter!
Are you local to Boston? Join me for “Introduction to Family Meditation” beginning next week – details online at http://www.vanessagobes.com.
Want to learn more about Lama Sonam? Find him at Drikung Meditation Center in Arlington, Massachusetts. Buddhist teachings are a wonderful layer for any peace practice.

 

hey moms and dads!

If you think your kid will never be able to sit still long enough to meditate, think again. Check out my first grade meditation students getting their zen on! The best way to encourage their home practice is by starting one yourself! Twenty minutes a day is all it takes!

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From mine to yours,

Vanessa

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dear mother’s day,

Dear Mother’s Day,

Thanks for coming around every year. That said, today it was really hard to welcome you with open arms.

You see, my husband has been traveling for the past eight days, and my single mothering skills this week leading up to you have been simultaneously heroic and tragic.

I spent most nights with several small people littering my bed, waking hourly to remove an elbowfrom my neck, to listen to the ramblings of a night mumbler, or to log roll sweaty bodies toward the opposite side of the mattress.

I spent too many wee hours alone in my family room watching Game of Thrones, Season 3, surely contributing to the 4-day string of nightmares about zombies, vaginas, and pooping in public.

I spent five long, but wonderful, days teaching meditation full-time at the neighborhood elementary school, returning home to empty cabinets, a sink full of breakfast dishes, and a growing stack of unopened mail.

I spent two late evenings out, one at a fundraiser in the city, and one at town meeting where I casted my vote on various issues, trying my best to listen attentively to debates while nearby town meeting members used the time to take much-needed naps, and others used the time to read magazines and pay bills.

I spent a sunny, warm, spring afternoon wandering aimlessly through town with my kids.

I spent two hours making my daughter’s favorite chowder then accidentally left its creamy, corny contents on the stovetop all night to sour. (Six days later it still sits in my fridge because I do not have the heart to flush an entire vat of chowder down the toilet. If any friends are reading, please come to my house tomorrow and help me with this gut-wrenching deed.)

I spent hours washing and folding loads of laundry.

I spent very little time breaking up fights, because by the grace of God, my children decided to love each other all week long – they must have had mercy on their PMSing, husbandless Mommy, knowing I couldn’t have handled even one melt down during balls-to-the-wall week.

But their mercy shriveled up abruptly on Saturday at 11am, when the three children living in my house decided to turn heathen. I won’t bore you with details, but my kids were so annoying and so irritable, and I was so exhausted and so spent, that the perfect storm materialized right here in my house. A rogue wave of dysfunction. “Turn around for Christ sake! Billy, can ya hear me? You’re headed right for the middle of the monster!” And down we went.

I was splayed on the mudroom floor, teeth clenched, cramming an uncooperative Converse All-Star onto an uncooperative 5 year old’s foot, when my smiling, sweet mother came to the back door to pick us all up for an outing. I offered her no smile in return, no “so happy to see you,” no warm embrace. My bloodshot eyes met hers from behind my unwashed greying bangs, and I announced my defeat: “This is the worst hour of my life.” And from there I just couldn’t turn my ship around.

By 5:00 that day, I was crying on my mother’s shoulder as she reminded me that tomorrow could only be better. Tomorrow. Tomorrow was you, Mother’s Day. Now you’re today. Coming to force me to feel grateful for homemade cards and quirky poems and burned pancakes in bed.

Oh, Mother’s Day, why did you have to come this weekend? Why? I would have so much preferred you to come another time. I hate feeling forced to be grateful. Of course there were a few savory highlights – a lingering hug from my son, a heartfelt message from my stepdaughter, a five minute nap outside on the patio – but for the most part it was just another day of scraped knees and dirty dishes layered upon a too-tired-to-think-straight-never-mind-feel-grateful-you’re-here Mom.

So. It’s 9:53 on Sunday night. And I am writing my annual Mother’s Day letter. I wish I could report a 180 to you, Mother’s Day, some sort of deeply inspired tale of perfect reconciliation, like the ones mommy bloggers conjure up for Huff Po. But what can I say? Some years, Mother’s Day, you suck. Some years, I want you to burn like my pancakes did this morning. Some years, I’m not in the mood to be honored, or to be grateful for being honored. And that’s okay. Mother’s Day, you can’t get a five-star rating every year. But I’m glad you always show up regardless. If only to give me an excuse to underperform on Father’s Day.

Your grateful (but sort of ungrateful) friend,
Vanessa

p.s.
Wishing all of my Mommy friends peace this Mother’s Day, and know that if yours was mediocre at best, you’re not alone.

I look out my window and am thrilled by the unveiling of spring. Each day, a new display of color illuminates my yard, and my heart. Yesterday, it was the pear tree that lit me up. Its white blossoms burst like popcorn, the space between sparse branches giving way to hundreds of pink pastel teacups perching on the magnolia tree just beyond it. I’m excited to see what makes the earth happy today.

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