Have you read this book yet? No? Well then, you must. While the target audience is Young Adult, the benefitting audience is ageless. Wonder is a story of inspiring compassion unfolding among the very unlikely ranks of middle school city kids.
Ten-year-old Auggie was born into a body that is, to put it diplomatically, atypical. He describes the way he looks in the first chapter: “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s worse.” His is a face that only a mother can love, though as it turns out, his is a heart that is loved by all.
Auggie’s is the collective voice of not only those with deformations or disabilities, but also of every person who has ever struggled with finding his place in the world. As a reader, I absorbed his perspective without judgment or pity – just deep compassion and lots of tears. My children responded similarly.
My 9 and 7 year old girls devoured this book. (My little one went cover to cover on a Sunday from noon to 5pm, forgoing a hike in the forest with her family to stay home and read.) They were completely invested in Auggie, his friends, and his family. And after they read the last sentence, they wiped their eyes and said, “Can we read another one like that?”
Our children crave inspiration and compassion. They want to know how to love without limits. This story makes acceptance acceptable, love lovable. Through Auggie’s vulnerability they were able to share their own soft spots with confidence.
This is a superb family read and is guaranteed to inspire even the most tight-lipped of children to share from the heart. We’ve been talking about Wonder all month, as there are countless ways to weave Auggie’s story into our own lives and experiences.
Wonder is wonderful.
From mine to yours,
If you are an M&M lover, you might not want to read this. I don’t want to ruin the candies for you. But if you’re on the edge or if you’re considering better eating habits, this could help you. So read on, my friend.
I’ve been learning more about MBSR through a publication titled “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” written by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein. It’s a terrific workbook and I recommend it to anyone interested in exploring or further committing to meditation. In this workbook, an eating meditation is outlined. Now, I’ve done eating meditations before. Thich Nhat Hanh offers beautiful versions in several of his books. But for some reason, this was the one that changed the way I looked at food forever.
I was buckling into my seat on a plane heading home from vacation with my family. Wedged in my seat back pocket was a big package of M&Ms. I know they’re bad for me and filled with artificial dyes, but I’m an advocate of moderation, so I settled in for the long trip home with my shiny brown bag full of 30% more candy and my MBSR workbook. I was reading intently while popping M&Ms two at a time (one for each side of my mouth – gotta keep it even) when I turned to the page about mindful eating.
The workbook suggested that I place three raisins in my hand and analyze them as if I was from outer space, never having set eyes on a raisin before. Well, I didn’t have raisins, so I used my M&Ms. I poured a few into my palm and contemplated. Then I glanced sideways at the markers on my daughter’s tray table. Then I looked back at the M&Ms. The candy didn’t look like food. The candy looked like a little pile of toys – the same colors as my daughter’s plastic markers. Why am I eating this? This isn’t food. I started to wonder.
The workbook then invited me to place the food in my mouth and allow my senses to continue their exploration. I shook them in my hand first, hearing the way they rattled against each other. Click! Click! Click! Then I tossed the load into my mouth. They struck my teeth. Clack! I let them sit on my tongue then slowly began to roll them around my mouth. The candy shells were not delicious. They tasted like chemicals. There was nothing delightfully crisp or irresistibly oozy about their texture. In fact, they were surprisingly gritty.
I started to chew. Crunch. Crackle. Texturally, the M&Ms sort of felt like eating grains of sand. When the chocolate broke open, the taste wasn’t satisfying. The flavor was actually sort of metallic. I swallowed the lot after about 30 chews and paid attention to the way they sunk into my belly. I was totally surprised. It didn’t feel good. I sucked the last bits of chocolate out of my teeth and worked my jaw a little bit, feeling the way even the muscles near my eyes participated in the chewing process. Particles separated like tiny shards of seashells and slid, with effort, down my throat.
I sat for a little while, thinking about M&Ms and wondering why I’d never before paid more attention. I’ve always been a candy lover. I mean, I wake up in the morning and crave chocolate. But these days I’ve been waking up in the morning and craving carrots. I think it’s because of my mindful eating experiment, but I can’t be sure.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you a mindful eater? If not, would you try it once and tell me what you think?
From mine to yours,
p.s. You know I am so grateful when you share, tweet, tumble and pin my stories. Many thanks!!!!!
A story from my blog Everything Old is New Age Again published last year on May 9, 2012:
I read about a mindfulness exercise in a book called Making a Change for Good by Zen master Cheri Huber. The idea is that you tie a string around your finger to remind you to be in the here and now.
Tying a string around my finger was too annoying, but I always wear my watch on my left wrist and decided switching it to my right would have a similar effect. And it did. (Holy awkward.) As it turns out, its effect has been undeniable. All day long I feel that out-of-place watch and all day long I remember to connect to breath.
Now, I’ve got to admit – I was already pretty mindful before this watch switching experiment. I am very aware of my intimate connection with source and think about the power of my energy every day – honestly, almost all day long. But nothing yanks me out of my awareness like my three young children… children who inundate me with challenges in patience and self-control.
So I wanted this week of meditative practice to help me maintain balance with my family. Beautifully, my watch has brought me back to breath during every single melt down (mine and the kids’). I’ve consciously applied things I’ve read and learned this week specifically to motherhood. and I realized something: I need to spend more time teaching my children and less time feeling exasperated or burdened by them.
My affirmation this week is: “MOMMY IS HERE FOR YOU.”
We have to teach them this and remind them of this every day. There are so many things that we skip over because we assume that our children understand the way the world works. We assume that they can connect the dots on their own. So when our kids make mistakes or participate in mindless, seemingly crazy behavior, we admonish them. We shame them. We tell them they’ve disappointed us. We make our own children feel like they are disappointments, like they’re stupid. And then we continue to assume that they know we love them and are there for them. [Note: I say “we” because I am guilty of this. And I have seen other people do this to their children as well. But I do not assume that ALL mothers do this. And kudos to those of you who intuitively know better while others of us learn by active awakening.]
My personal example. PG is coloring with Sharpie on a napkin on my new (white) granite countertop. I see what she is doing and my first inclination is to scream frantically, “ARE YOU NUTS? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN MY KITCHEN! YOU ARE 7 YEARS OLD! YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!” But guess what, mommy dearest? she doesn’t know better. She’s just being creative and is not thinking about the damage her creativity can cause. She means no harm. She is just not tuned in to the consequences of Sharpie meeting countertop.
So this time, instead of launching into my desperate victimized Joan Crawford routine, I feel my watch and take a breath. I explain to her that Sharpie bleeds through the thin paper of a napkin and can stain the surface underneath. I tell her that stains do not come out. I tell her that when she’s 15, she’ll be sitting here at the counter, looking at that old stain and thinking, “I can’t believe I did that.” Then I hide the Sharpie, give her a crayon and send her back to work on that napkin.
Instead of dehumanizing her and shaming her, something I have done to her before and have decided not to do ever again, I taught her about cause and effect and encouraged her to think next time she pulls the cap off of a marker. I taught her that sometimes thought-less behaviors can leave ugly stains (in this case literally). Through this teaching moment, my daughter knows that her Mommy RESPECTS HER LIFE and her Mommy is here for her. And I taught myself that I am capable of mothering my children with mindfulness and patience. (I’m bawling right now by the way. This is a very difficult truth to overshare.)
We expect that our children can understand the complexity of life, the pressures of adulthood. But they don’t. Period. They just aren’t ready for it. They don’t have the capacity for it. We parents think that because we drive them to soccer, because we buy them UGGS, because we kiss them goodnight, because we pack their lunches every day, that they should feel safe and loved and grateful. But that’s not how it works. The only way they know they are loved is by learning this lesson: “MOMMY IS HERE FOR YOU.”
I have a big chalkboard in my kitchen. I typically use it to remind my kids to do things like brush their teeth, be kind to others, finish their homework. But this week I am using it to remind myself of something…
Wait I’m not done yet! That was last year and this is now:
Flash forward one year to May 2013. Looking back at this post, I can see that mindfulness changes everything. Actively practicing awareness and mindful breathing allows us to think more clearly and create better present moments. And I learned an important lesson this year that change the way I think about mothering. One of the teachers at my children’s Montessori school retired last year. She came back in the fall to share some pearls of teaching wisdom at a parenting lecture. One thing she said really stuck with me. It went something like this:
“We teach skills deliberately, in a particular order. Before a child engages in water pouring work, he must first learn how to clean up water. Once he mastered the skill of cleaning up, he can learn to pour. So that when an accident happens, and an accident will certainly happen, the child will know exactly what he needs to do to make it right.”
This teaching provided me with such a deep feeling of clarity. It was like my skull broke open and rainbow poured into my head. Such a simple idea, yet so profound. This simply profound idea brought me back to the power of meditation. Each of us experiences accidents in life – turmoil, trouble, frustration, anger, disappointment, hurt. You name it. These things are not preventable, they are our life’s work. Before we engage in life’s work, we can help ourselves and those around us by mastering the skill of cleaning up our thoughts. Meditation does that for us. It provides us with clarity of mind, strength of spirit and acceptance of “what is”, so that when accidents happen, and they will certainly happen, we will know exactly what to do to make it right. Talk about making a change for good. 🙂
From mine to yours,
Lately in Buddha school, the idea of reincarnation has been popping up and I’ve been totally surprised to learn that there are a lot of western Buddhists who do not subscribe to this concept. Honestly, reincarnation is the draw that pulled me into Buddhism initially. I’d never felt so sure about anything before. In this jigsaw puzzle of life, I considered reincarnation my four corner pieces. everything else could be filled in from there.
I wrote this post 2 years and 5 days ago. It’s the second post I ever published on my first blog, before I found Buddhism, before I started to feel snippets of real peace in my heart, before I axed The Real Housewives from my life completely, before I regularly bore my deepest-darkests publicly, online. But it’s a pretty good description of one person’s discovery of life after death after life and I wanted to share it today. With a few small edits, this was originally titled “Here We Go”…
Spiritually I’m coming from a place of I-don’t-know-how-I-got-here-but-I-have-some- pretty-good-ideas. I believe in reincarnation – along with about 80% of the world’s population. And it’s OK to believe in reincarnation and think Jesus is the heaven-sent Mack Daddy. I think that, too. I believe in GOD. I also believe in MYSELF.
That said, my spiritual journey began a few years ago. [Channeling Sophia from the Golden Girls now.]
Picture it. The year is 2008. I’m knocked up with baby #3, sitting on the couch watching Hollylwood’s Top Ten Best Bodies on E! with my stepdaughter CG. For some reason I decide to share with her that I’m not connected to this lifetime. Like I’m not sure I’m supposed to be here. I’m feeling vacant while I say it. A bit lost maybe. It’s not an extraordinary moment in my life, but saying the words aloud causes a strangely physical effect. Sort of like the weight of truth squashing my skull but my head is full of air. Weird, I know. I’m sure it was equally weird for CG. Moving on. Later that week I turn on Oprah and see my future hero Brian Weiss. (Can you tell I watch too much TV? Don’t even get me started on the epiphanies that occur while watching Real Housewives on Bravo.) Dr. Weiss is an Ivy League educated, world renowned psychotherapist who, after years of practice, specializes in healing through past life regression. I pick up Dr. W.’s book Many Lives Many Masters the next day and love every page. Sigh relief. And so the journey begins.
I have a few years of material stored up in my noggin now and am eager to share. However, I will take it slow. I want to start off with something we are all familiar with. The feeling that we’ve known someone “before” or that we share a soul connection with another human being.
We experience life on earth time and time again so that we can learn lessons in love, compassion and acceptance. Each of us is part of a larger soul family or soul group made up of many souls with a common purpose. We travel through multiple lifetimes with the same souls so that we can learn and evolve together, and also so we can clear up any karmic debt that exists between us (more on that later). These souls could be your family, friends, co-workers, you name it.
You may already connect with someone in a special way and call that person a soul mate. S/he can be your wife, your son, a sibling, an old lady who lives on your street, the trash man. Doesn’t matter. Just don’t limit your idea of soul mate to your significant other because you are missing the big picture. Example. LM (hi LM) is my BFFFFFF. We’ve know each other since we were 7 years old and I love her so dearly and deeply that there is not a speck of doubt we are tied together in this three-legged race called life. The parallels in our lives are no coincidence. We were meant to meet each other in Mrs. McGrath’s 3rd grade class, experience our journeys together and help guide each other through this lifetime with compassion. She’s an easy soul mate to spot b/c our love is deep and obvious.
But our soul mates do not always spend 30 years by our sides. Sometimes they pop up only for a moment but leave an enduring mark. Another example. I was in Paris last June with my kids and we stopped in a patisserie for sweets. On the way out there was a gypsy boy begging on the sidewalk. I do have a soft spot for the homeless in general, but this boy truly captivated me. I gave him a raspberry yogurt and watched him gobbled it up with delight, my small gesture filling his belly for a few hours. I couldn’t shake that boy. I kept thinking about him – where he would sleep? Did he have family? Would he ever go to school?
His grubby little face haunted me while I walked back to our flat and 7 months later (2 years and 7 months now) I’m still thinking about him. I wonder is he a soul mate who agreed to make a guest appearance that summer day? Reaching out to teach me COMPASSION? Maybe he was my baby boy in another lifetime. Maybe my sister. How could I ignore him? How could I not help him? We are all connected.
When you understand that the beggar on the street or the thief outside your window was your mother in another lifetime, you will uncover a layer of compassion and acceptance that you didn’t know existed before. It’s really quite beautiful and powerful.
From mine to yours,
I can’t say enough about author Grace Lin. She is a spectacular story teller. My children and I have so enjoyed her books, and this latest addition to our home library, Starry River of the Sky published by Little, Brown & Co., is certainly no exception. A companion book to Newbery Medal winner Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Lin’s Starry River weaves familiar Chinese folklore into the story of a young boy named Rendi who is discovered by an small village innkeeper while stowing away in a merchant’s cart.
Rendi is a runaway – angry, skeptical, judgmental and rude. He finds himself stuck in a small, poor village that is not only sweltering hot and dry as a bone, but is also missing the moon. The strange absence of light in the night sky only frustrates him while he begrudgingly works as a chore boy in the village inn. And adding to Rendi’s list of disappointments in this pitstop along his escape from home, is how incredibly unimpressed he is with the townspeople – that is until a mysterious and breathtaking woman checks into the inn and entertains them with exciting stories and charming conversation.
This book, filled with laughter, frustration, mystery and suspense, is of Rendi’s transformation into a compassionate and courageous boy – getting there with a little help from his friends.
All of my children, ages 4, 6 and 8 loved this book. I recommend reading WTMMTM first, as the children will be excited when they recognize similar themes and myths that are woven into SROTS. Some themes to notice and questions to ask:
Appearances can be deceiving. Can you tell me when something or someone ended up being very different from the way it or s/he appeared? (There are countless answers, but a few suggestions are – Mr. Shan, Magistrate Tiger, Rendi, The White Tiger, Widow Yan’s tofu.)
What did you think about WangYi’s dream? What do you think is the hidden message in the dream? (Service.)
What did the white tiger have to do in order to turn back into a man? (Service.)
Is there power in forgiveness? How does it make you feel to forgive someone? How does it make the other person feel?
In Buddhism, we cultivate the practice of “The Four Immeasurables”, loving kindness (benevolence), compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity (composure). Engaging in these mental states has the power to cause the practitioner to be reborn into god or goddess. Can you think of an example in SROTS?
In the book “Buddha”, Deepak Chopra writes, “The fire of passion burns out eventually. Then you dig through the ashes and discover a gem. You pick it up; you look at it with disbelief. The gem was inside you all the time. It is yours to keep forever. It is buddha.” Can you think of how this could apply to Rendi? To the White Tiger? Do you think there is a gem hidden deep inside of Magistrate Tiger? Do you think there is a gem inside of you? What about inside of someone whom you think is mean or rude?
Enjoy the read… and the special time with your children!
From mine to yours,
I picked up The Great Gilly Hopkins last week at the library because it was recommended by Girl Scouts of America as a good read for Brownie scouts. I did not expect this fiction novel by Katherine Paterson to offer up a great lesson in compassion for my BUBs. (I also did not expect to be crying my eyes out over a book written for 10-year-olds, but that happened, too.)
Gilly is an angry 11-year-old who’s been shuffled from foster home to foster home since she was a baby. She is guarded, sassy, manipulative, proud, prejudiced and destructive. But under all of that difficulty is a little girl who desperately wants to belong and be loved. The characters are fantastic, the plot is simple yet powerful.
The language is a little mature for my kids – ages 4,6,8 – but I read aloud and substituted darn for damn and heck for hell. There was also a point when I had to stop reading the book altogether and offer an in-depth history lesson on racism in America. (Gilly’s racist mindset is challenged by two black characters, her neighbor and her teacher, who are likely the most well-educated characters she meets.)
I found that my youngest child slipped in and out of attention – and the room – occasionally asking me why Gilly doesn’t live with her mother. He was obviously disturbed by my description of the foster care system, hence the repetitive questioning. My middle daughter was also disengaged. She fell asleep twice while I was reading. Other nights she ignored Great Gilly altogether and buried her face in Pokemon comics or math workbooks. But Gilly provided an extraordinary lesson in compassion for my 8-year-old and me… tandem paradigm shifts.
If you are looking for a Buddhist or bu-curious lesson to teach your kids, ask them to point out moments when folks in the story practice compassion, forgiveness and/or acceptance. It is also a wonderful opportunity to talk about deeper Buddhist ideas, too – basic karmic law, or cause and effect, and Buddhahood, that beautiful shining gem that exists in each one of us, just waiting to be polished.
Here are some great times to stop the story and discuss the above mentioned ideas:
I’d also suggest stopping any time you see your child crying and asking him or her how they are feeling and what they are thinking. In retrospect, I wish I’d done this more, because PG and I spent a lot of time whimpering and blowing our noses through the last third of the book.
Here’s a list of questions that would be great to ask after reading the book:
Last thing to share, Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem, written by William Wordsworth, which sings to my spirit:
“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore: —
Turn wheresoever I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I know can see no more.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie to deep for tears.”
From mine to yours,
When we’re tied down to the train tracks, we cannot use our power to live our best lives.
I did so well striking out the “ummms” on the first half of this video… fell off the wagon on the latter portion. Working on it.
From mine to yours,
Buddhism is a lofty subject. Or at least it can be. Buddhist writing can be confusing, especially for someone who is new to the practice, like me. I prefer not to translate riddles or resort to look-ups on Wikipedia while I read, but to focus on practical lessons. For this reason, I’ve really enjoyed learning from teachers who write for the masses. There are some really great authors out there who have an extraordinary ability to make clear and simple sense out of ethereal concepts like inter-being, oneness, karma, the here and now, macrocosms in microcosms and equanimity. Here are a few:
If you are bu-curious and looking to learn more about the philosophy or if you are a new-bu like me, I encourage you to read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh (“Thay”). My friend introduced me to him just last spring and I don’t know how I lived so long without his wisdom. He reminds us that, while Buddhist texts and scriptures can be complicated, life is actually pretty darn simple. One of my favorite teachings of Thay’s is looking into the eyes of our loved ones and telling them, “I am here for you.” Simple yet profound, this sentence validates our loved ones’ needs while affirming our own loving commitment. And it doesn’t require years of Buddhist training to understand or master. It just takes the desire to love. Beautiful. He’s published numerous books (too many to list). A lot of them are pretty short but the content will surely provide readers with many tiny shifts along the way. The first shown above, Living Buddha Living Christ, might be his most famous. The second, Planting Seeds, is an awesome workbook for moms and dads who would like to introduce children to meditation.
Another book that I’ve really enjoyed is one my sister loaned me a couple of years ago – The Buddha in Your Mirror by Woody Hochswender, Gred Martin and Ted Morino. It’s an open door to Zen, the Japanese brand of Mahayana born in the 13th century. Zen was introduced by a monk named Nichiren who saw that Buddhism could have a profound effect on ordinary people and offered folks a path to awakening that was understandable, manageable and downright doable. In this book, the authors introduce bu-curious readers to the mantra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which, if my interpretation is correct, is the giving over of oneself to the laws of karma, allowing oneself the opportunity to see clearly and compassionately into life’s troubles. But of course the meaning runs much deeper than that, as does everything in Buddhism.
I’ve been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo quite a bit lately. You’re supposed to chant it out loud for at least 5 minutes at a time, and sometimes I do that, apologizing to my kids for the noise while they play nearby or inviting them to join me. In fact, I like chanting so much that I’ve been whispering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to myself in half-pigeon pose during sweaty yoga… or stepping to the beat of the chant when I’m out walking the dog. I like the idea of discovering the natural rhythm of the world, and me in it, through chanting. Although sometimes I’ve got to admit, I can’t help but think When did I become this person???
Another really terrific, easy-to-read book is Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali, another gift from a friend. (Damn, I’ve got some good friends.) I love this book for a lot of reasons. Sarah never delves into nuts-and-bolts Buddhism. Instead she sites practical examples of the ways she and other mommies use Buddhism to get through squeeze-y moments with their own BUBs. She shares her shortcomings and triumphs, reminding readers that just because she’s a practicing Buddhist, doesn’t mean she’s always Zen. But when she draws from her practice during tough times, she finds clarity, peace and patience with herself as a mother.
Okay, okay, last one. Making a Change for Good by Zen teacher Cheri Huber is a self-help workbook. My friend recommended this book to me because I wanted to break my lifelong habit of being a quitter. In Making a Change for Good, Cheri teaches readers that through compassionate self-discipline, we can tap into the best part of ourselves. And our nagging little voices that tell us we’re not good enough or that we don’t deserve success can be gently diverted away from the main stage of our minds. The end of the book lays out 30 days of assignments from meditation to journaling that help readers beat bad habits and create lasting positive change. I liked this book because I could DO something with it. It was a great tool for me and I highly recommend it to anyone else who’d like to implement a little Buddhism to help make a change for good.
Well that’s a start. My bookshelf is crammed with great reads that I’m excited to share, but we’ll start with these. If you have a title that you’d like to offer, please post it here with a short description. Hopefully it’s not one I’m planning to review! 😉
From mine to yours,