bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: happiness

mindfulness: don’t buy it, try it. if it doesn’t work, try something else.

Have you noticed the hard sell on mindfulness lately? “Step right up here! Step right up! Start meditating today and watch your troubles will melt away! Sit here, sir, sit on this cushion – have you ever felt so peaceful and healthy? Get your mindfulness today!”

Okay, okay, the traveling medicine man reference is a little dramatic, but you get what I mean. Mindfulness is being called the future of healthcare and I don’t disagree. I teach meditation and mindfulness because it has helped me personally and I have seen how it helps others. But buyers beware – Mindfulness is not a miracle cure and should not be “sold” as one.

A recent study out of the University of Exeter says that prescription drugs and mindfulness are about equally effective in longterm recovery from depressive episodes. The relapse rate over 2 years was 44% for mindfulness practitioners (weaning themselves off meds) and 47% for those taking antidepressants with no mindfulness support.

Between the lines of this report there is a thread of realism that I appreciate because it is often missing in articles and lectures touting the power of mindfulness: Mindfulness works for many, not all; and the practice does not guarantee a lifetime of sunshine and rainbows. Practicing mindfulness does not protect us from from the loneliness, from the fear, from the crazies, from the pain. After all, no one is exempt from the human experience. We all hurt. We all suffer.

The biggest hurdle to suffering is that we typically wrestle our problems on the surface of our lives – complaining about our jobs, arguing with family, hiding behind clutter, drinking too much, wishing for a different life, feeling tangled in the frustrating experiences we’ve woven for ourselves, which we mistakenly believe to be the reasons for our suffering. But these situations are superficial manifestations of something happening much deeper, generated from a shock of pain in the root ball of our lives. That pain pulses all the way up to our point of contact with the world, to the Now, and here the pain is triggered easily by people and circumstances surrounding us.

There are a lot of ways to expose that root source – clinical therapy, medication, prayer, time, experience, revelation… the list goes on and on. And of course mindfulness is included on that list.

If you’re like me and mindfulness is the healing practice you buy into, bringing our fullness of presence into thoughts, speech, and actions provides us with useful insight into the sources of our struggles and allows us opportunity to soften pain at its root.

Once healing begins below ground, it permeates the surface and those difficult, superficial experiences take on a new look. They aren’t so all-encompassing. They’re not so unmanageable. They’re not so friggin’ annoying.

This takes practice. Life can present us with a crisis at any time and establishing a solid mindfulness practice today can prepare us to manage chaos *when* it comes.

Crisis can be a tiny trip-up or a whopper shocker – from locking keys in the car to losing a job. Typically it creeps up on us when we’re not expecting it. And when we are entrenched in its immediate magnitude, peace of mind feels suddenly inaccessible because we default to survival mode. Panic, knee-jerk reactions, and the like.

Mindfulness helps us recover to composure so we can think clearly and make good decisions.

A major crisis – like we might experience during a depressive episode – is not an ideal time to begin a mindfulness practice for the first time. We could engage little bits of mindful awareness, for example, trying to maintain focus only on what we are doing at the present moment. But the mind has been hijacked by fear so emotional composure is most likely unavailable. Our thoughts are bouncing around wildly so that the stillness required for productive healing is absent. We feel so lonely and stuck that the last thing we want to do is examine the roots of our pain. Heck, we barely want to get out of bed.

There will eventually come a break in the pain, be that through antidepressants or psychotherapy, a natural lifting of the burden or a Moses-style burning bush. That break is the right time to engage in wholesome, compassionate self-awareness. It’s time to begin practicing mindfulness.

Begin practicing WHAT? What really IS mindfulness? You might ask. People talk about mindfulness all the time but how do you actually DO it??

Personally, I define mindfulness as spiritually-based mental health. Western medicine has watered down the Buddhist practice of mindfulness to make it acceptable in our secular society; but political correctness aside, mindfulness is a heart-opening practice, a spiritual practice, a practice that provides us the vigilance required to remember we are more than skin and bones – “we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

It’s also an incredibly practical practice. We start by watching our thoughts and trying not to judge them, remembering to breathe. Slowing down. Saying no to relationships and projects that don’t align with our goals. Saying yes to people and places that make us feel good. Meditating. Having honest conversations. Serving people who need help. Asking forgiveness of the people we’ve hurt. Forgiving people for hurting us. Forgiving ourselves for the million things we’ve screwed up. Doing what we can to make our lives easier. On purpose.

As we fill our lives with experiences that are happy and wholesome, forgiving and accepting, we find that there is less time for their opposites – negative and destructive, regretful and blaming.

Next, or maybe simultaneously, we remind ourselves to just notice. We form good habits like taking a deep breath before we speak. Like eating at least one healthy meal a day. Like making eye contact with with people on the sidewalk.

These little things draw us into presence and toward gratefulness but sometimes we forget to do these things so we can also surround ourselves with gentle reminders. Here are some fun, practical examples. Start with one:

Let the color yellow engage your practice.

When you see yellow, take a breath.

Draw a heart on the back of your hand with a Sharpie. Smile when you notice it.

Wear your watch on the wrong wrist. Feel it and make a good decision.

Put an neon collar on your dog. Remember to feel loved.

Paint your kitchen light switch turquoise. Flick it and turn on your inner light.

Once you get used to responding to this one thing, start adding more things. Within a few months, you’ll be breathing and smiling and loving at multiple triggers – or maybe you’ll be noticing that you’re not breathing or smiling or loving. And if that’s the case, you may find yourself ready to understand why you’re not, at which point you can try meditating on the roots of love and pain in your life.

It’s a beautiful and effective practice for many, but mindfulness is not a magic pill, it’s an open door – inviting us to be okay with the process of healing no matter what that looks like, to examine the wounded place at its source, to find a little sanity in this crazy world.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

god wants you to be happy. that’s all.

Sometimes I read something so darn pretty I just need to share it:

“God’s will for you is perfect happiness… Your joy must be complete to let His plan be understood by those to whom He sends you. They will see their function in your shining face, and hear God calling to them in your happy laugh…

For this you came. Let this one be the day that you succeed! Look deep within you, undismayed by all the little thoughts and foolish goals you pass as you ascend to meet the Christ in you.”

This is from Lesson #100 in a spiritual text called A Course In Miracles​, a modern day interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. To be honest, I never thought Jesus was for me. I was so turned off by Christians baptized in judgment and anger and righteousness, that I let the behavior of fear-minded strangers sever my innate curiosity surrounding Jesus. I thought Jesus was scary and separate and kind of mean.

The Buddha on the other hand, with his placid face and round belly, was much more inviting. His followers didn’t judge. They didn’t recruit. They didn’t stick swords in each other or picket abortion clinics or look my little boy in his sweet brown eyes and tell him he’s going to hell. (This actually happened to my son last week and it was shocking, especially because it was his great-grandfather who said it.) So for these reasons and many others, I turned my back to Jesus and invested years in Buddhist studies and New Age – and I began to find myself.

You can imagine my surprise when, one day while rummaging through the Eastern Philosophy stacks, I closed my eyes in contemplation and discovered Jesus rummaging with me. A few weeks later he sat with me while I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Then he hovered over me while I explored past lives under hypnosis. He held my hot hands in his during Reiki classes. I didn’t invite him to join me on those occasions, I only invited The Love. But Jesus came along with The Love because, as it turns out, Jesus IS The Love.

Jesus and I are only in the newlywed phase, but he seems to have my back *regardless,* which, again, surprises me because I can be such a beast of a person. During my weakest, most vulnerable moments, when I’m about as cuddly as a crocodile, I close my eyes and he’s waiting there behind my lashes, drenched in light, arms open wide, taking me in like a lonely baby bird, petting me and comforting me and loving me, all patience and forgiveness and humility and assuredness.

He must see something in me that’s precious and beautiful, something that’s worth his effort. I wonder how he recognizes that beauty so easily, when it’s so hard for me to see it in myself. I wonder why he has such faith in me, even when I’m not always so sure about him.

And then I read something like Lesson #100 in A Course in Miracles. And I understand a little more.

He’s rooting for me not because I’m special but because he’s rooting for all of us. Come on, kids! You can do this! I know all that suffering is hard to feel your way through, but trust me! Just TRUST ME! Happiness is yours today if you just open your heart! You are made to succeed and this is the day you can do it!

And with this I know that Jesus isn’t just a cameo who appears in the suffering. He is permanence itself. And permanence is happiness. Reliable and intimate. He is campfires and belly laughs, sunshine and dragonflies, cherry tomatoes and fists full of dirt, newborn babies and wrinkled old hands. He is there in it all, living it up in our joy, taking a little break from our burdens and woes.

I don’t know if Jesus is the *only* path to salvation. Who am I to make such a definitive statement? But I’m learning that he is *my* path because he’s the one who keeps showing up for me, without judgment or anger or righteousness.

There’s another line in A Course in Miracles: “It is God’s Will that He has but one Son. It is God’s Will that His one Son is you.” Me. You. My happiness. Your happiness. It’s not about recruiting or sermonizing or even being right. It’s just about us feeling the happy *regardless.*

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

Please share if you connect to the message.

http://www.vanessagobes.com

goodbye back pain

I’ve had constant lower back pain for several years. I’ve tried yoga and chiropractic and massages, but nothing really made it go away. I mean, all those things made me feel great, but the back pain still lingered.

Okay, switching gears for a minute – hold tight, this will come around.

I am typically messy and disorganized and forgetful and overcommitted. It’s a problem for me and it’s a problem for those around me. So I’ve made deliberate efforts to simplify all parts of my life and have been super disciplined and organized for about two months. I always strive to walk my talk, but these months I’ve been absolutely intentional about it. Will power and discipline are my #1 and #2 challenges in life so this effort has taken *extreme* concentration and commitment!

I’ve noticed, as I’ve become more disciplined, my back pain has dissipated, to the point that my lower back feels loose, flexible, and healthy. The pain is gone. And there’s no reason for it to be gone. But it’s gone nonetheless.

Physical pain is a manifestation of spirit’s last ditch effort to communicate with us. “There is something really wrong here! Please pay attention! I’m talking to you!!!” I’m totally convinced that God has rewarded my organizational efforts by alleviating my back pain. I can find no other explanation and I do not believe in coincidences.

So whether or not you buy into my healing hypothesis, consider this: What could your body be telling you? Do stress and challenges manifest for you physically? Have you ever equated your physical pain with emotional pain?

Here’s a fun exercise – write down something going on with your body that’s troubling you. (Headaches, allergies, back pain, tummy troubles, etc.) Now write down your biggest challenge or source of stress. (Be careful not to name another person as your source of stress – this has to be all about you!) Spend 3 weeks working deliberately and intentionally to ease that emotional challenge and see what happens to your physical pain.

Share your thoughts!

http://www.vanessagobes.com

purpose and parenting

Most of us Moms are straddling two worlds. The one that revolves around family, and the one that revolves around purpose. For some Moms, those two worlds settle cozily together. Born to flourish motherly love, these lucky ladies pack healthy lunch boxes with passion, organize closets with pleasure, and serve children with absolute presence of being. By fulfilling the needs of both Self (purpose) and family, no one leaves the planet disappointed. Life is streamlined. Neat. Lovely. But for many of us, the roads of purpose and family intersect very little – or not at all. There’s an unspoken struggle, a ubiquitous guilt, a ceaseless pressure, making us feel like we can’t give ourselves over completely to anything, always delivering our best, knowing it’s not *really* our best, rather the best version of ourselves available given our situations. I’ve been struggling with this balance for a few years. Taking courses, teaching meditation, and writing [unpublished 😦 ] children’s books are activities that propel my life’s purpose; but the time it takes to do these things is time away from my family. And to complicate matters, I’ve had trouble transitioning into fully-present Mommy mode when the kids tumble through the front door after school, keeping one eye on them and one eye on the day’s project, sneaking in emails while they eat snack, listening half way as they chatter about this or that. I didn’t realize how unfair I was being to my kids – through my hesitance (or conjured inability) to put away my work and *be* with them. It took a summer of disciplined motherhood to learn this huge lesson. In June, I decided my intention for this summer was to just be a Mom. I started by vanquishing a mother’s ultimate nemeses – unplanned interruptions. I turned off my YouTube account and logged off of Twitter, ignored my Gmail inbox and steered clear of my Facebook newsfeed. (Mostly. No one’s perfect.) I cleaned my house and folded laundry, planted gardens and provided three meals a day. I broke up fights and yelled at my kids, demanded submission and rewarded compliance. I played Ghost in the Graveyard after dusk and packed sandy bodies into my trusty Ford. I was 100% Mommy. Some good, some bad, but 100% nonetheless. While, admittedly, I went a little crazy in the land of board games, Top 40 radio, and sticky ice cream cones, I never once felt guilty; because during the vast majority of our time together, my little crew captured my full presence. Being a completely tuned-in, uninterrupt-able parent allowed me to release that chronic sense of incompletion (aaahhhhhh), and I’m so grateful for the lesson. We may spend a lot or a little time pursuing purpose, be it by working, hobbying, volunteering, or mothering, and we are left with a remainder of time to spend with our children. Regardless of its length, the time can be equal in quality if we are fully present with them. “I am here for you. I am here with you.” When we provide them with that assurance, we have nothing to feel guilty about. Duty calls, though, and purpose we must pursue, even if our children would rather us just be Moms. But our babies can still feel well-attended and well-loved by knowing that when we’re in the room with them physically, we’re also in the room with them mentally and emotionally. To do that, it’s important that we spend a few quiet minutes getting centered in the space between our two worlds. In that passage from purpose to parenting, when we’re arriving home from work, tasks, or projects, a few minutes of meditation helps us shift gears from afternoon to evening, logging out of the virtual world and stepping into the world of heartbeats and eye-contact, clearing space for our families’ needs. Chanting, breathing mindfully, gentle exercise, and listening to soothing music are also great ways to ease that transition into parenthood. (It’s important that this centering activity be inviting, comfortable, and easy or we’ll never do it!) Even five quiet minutes in a parked car before greeting our children can help us to release the passionate-person-with-dreams-and-to-do-lists and welcome in the wholly-present-parent-with-gobs-of-love-and-patience we know we can be. 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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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.

buddha stripped bare

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Relationships are incredibly challenging. Shards of complication stream toward us from multiple directions all day, every day. We are offended, we are wronged, we are neglected, we are stressed, we are overburdened, we are overlooked. Sometimes all we have to do is witness the toxicity, and just by watching, we take on its burden.

Other times, we create interpersonal drama where none need exist. We project our unassociated dis-ease onto neutral events and conversations, and we become tangled in a sticky web of thoughts. We obsess. We replay conversations that happened in the past, and imagine future conversations that might never happen at all. We assume what our counterpart is thinking and intending. We lose sleep and snap at loved ones. We talk about our drama with friends. We become distracted at work. And while our minds are very busy miscreating, we are not allowing space for that which is truly our natural state: JOY.

Joy is not found while beating another person over the head with their wrongness. In fact, sometimes the harder we fight to prove another’s wrongness, the more we realize we are the wrong ones, and are too proud to admit it.

Joy is humility. Joy is forgiveness. Joy is acceptance. Joy is surrender. Everything else is a life lesson.

Communicating with a joyful heart elevates all interactions. When we communicate with a fresh and open mind, we see the good in everyone and everything.

This makes good sense. Joy is a pretty simple concept. But when we’ve been trained over the course of our lifetimes that joy equals achievement, joy equals money, joy equals success, joy equals pride, suddenly joy seems a little more complicated.

Our challenge is to remember that joy isn’t complicated – ego is. When we clear our thoughts and allow space for higher thinking, we see clearly and love without reservation.

Joy is always accessible to us, but for most it takes some deprogramming – some Self work. I call this “Buddha stripped bare.” We’ve got to strip off the layers of pain we’ve been hiding behind all our lives, to dig deep and be vulnerable enough to admit that we project our pain onto everyone and everything. We have to open up to the fact that we are the ones who bring the toxicity to the table. We are not offended, wronged, neglected, stressed, overburdened, or overlooked by others. We invite those complicated, toxic situations into our lives because we are frantically searching for our joy in all the wrong places.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

Our joy is staring at us in the mirror. When we recognize it, we elevate.

Peace,
Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

fencing lesson

I try so hard to be a cool cucumber when dealing with confrontation, but this morning I was all hot pepper! I called Reliable Fence of Woburn to contest a $250 charge for a 5 minute quick-fix on a gate hinge in my front yard. The guy who answered the phone over-talked me, didn’t listen, acted evasive, and was downright insistent on proving me wrong. He offered no solutions, service, or understanding. I boldly let him know what I thought of his interpersonal and customer service skills and somehow instead of him apologizing for swindling me, I was apologizing to him for raising my voice.

I try to share positive posts on BUBs, so I was hesitant to write about this episode, but isn’t this the sort of crap we deal with every day? Often times when we interact with frustrating service issues, we feel powerless. We’re paying for something and we expect that our payment entitles us to a perfectly balanced transaction. “Here’s our hard-earned money, now you give us what we want.” When perfect balance is not achieved, sometimes we can let it go; other times we become infuriated.

We project our expectations onto people who aren’t capable of or have no interest in fulfilling them. Maybe it’s a professional interaction and we’re the disappointed customer. Or maybe it’s something more personal – we’re the offended friend, the betrayed lover, or the exasperated parent.

All of these contentious feelings are happening because we’ve exposed ourselves to them through human experience, through vulnerability. We voluntarily sign up for these relationships and we trust that we will be valued. When we feel undervalued, like we’ve been taken for granted or been taken advantage of, we can either harden or soften with the blow.

Every time we harden, we make it more difficult for higher thinking to fully express itself. Softness allows more flexibility, more space for consciousness to flow. This morning I hardened. But next time I’ll work on remaining soft. I will not engage. I will maintain composure. I will breathe when I’m ready to blow. I will be patient, and wait to speak to the person who better matches my energy vibration. Good advice for dealing with a bullish fence guy, or a challenging relationship.

There is nothing more frustrating than the feeling unheard or misunderstood. This morning’s tiff was a good lesson for me, and I’m grateful to the guy at Reliable for reminding me that I have no control over the way other people receive me. I have no control over the way other people behave. I have no power to change anyone’s mind. And it’s not his fault I got frustrated; it’s mine, because I allowed him to get under my skin.

Oh, and I can’t forget the most obvious lesson: When multiple online reviewers warn you that a company is sketchy and has sh*tty customer service, believe them.

From mine to yours,
Vanessa

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