bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: self help

mindful mothering

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,

Vanessa

engaged whatever

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It’s funny how some words pop spontaneously into your vocabulary and then you start saying those words all the time.  For months.  For years.  It could be a a saying – Gag me with a spoon, Cool beans, Shut UP!, Seriously?  Really?, That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, etc. For me, it was a word.  Last year I was using the adjective “engaged” a lot.  Random, I know.  It’s not a hip saying, but that word got stuck in my craw and I was inserting into sentences at least once a day for about 6 months.   And then one day I was reading something – an article, a book, I can’t remember – by Thich Nhat Hanh about “engaged Buddhism” and thought, “Oh my God!  That’s my word!”

Again, this is sort of silly, but since I’m always looking out for signs and omens, I took this as one of those synchronicities and read a little more closely.  Engaged Buddhism is living life with your Buddha light turned on.  It’s walking and talking and working, knowing that you are a sacred being and behaving in a way that reflects that.  It’s applying your practice practically.  It’s employing mindfulness and gratitude with every breath, with every action.  But you’ve got to engage your practice to make it work for you properly.

For example, your Mr. Coffee is just a kitchen appliance.  It has knobs and buttons and carafe that holds liquid.  But when you plug it in, your Mr. Coffee reaches its full potential, providing a beautiful service that tickles each of your senses.  We humans are sort of like that.  We are full of potential, but once we plug in, or tap in, to the source, we can do a wonder of the great things.

I subscribe to Buddhism, though I haven’t yet taken refuge vows because I want to be as sure as I can be that this is the right commitment for me.  Each time I listen to a sermon or attend a class, I’m amazed to discover how beautifully my heart lines up with the Dharma.  I think I’ve been a Buddhist my whole life but just didn’t know what to call it.  When I take in the lessons I think, Yes, this is what I think, too.  Yes, I do that.  Yes, these are my intentions, too.  Yes, yes, yes!  

Buddhism works for many, like me, but for countless others the answers to life’s mysteries are found elsewhere.  As passionate as folks are about their mindfulness practices, you will never find a Buddhist missionary out there converting people.

The important thing is, that no matter what your source, in order to live your best life you need to plug in.   Your source might be religion or philosophy or family or school – we’re all so different, there’s no defining what the source is for an entire race of earthlings.  For many, at least here in America, the source is Jesus Christ.  If Jesus is the guru that speaks to you, engage Him in your heart.

This does not mean knocking on doors and telling people they’re doomed to hell unless they commit their lives to Jesus.  This does not mean falling asleep in the pew on Sundays.  This does not mean volunteering to lead the church youth group retreat.  These are all important parts of a church community.  But engaging the Christ light means something deeper,  something that can serve humanity even better and create real peace in your life.  I’m talking about breathing in Jesus each time you inhale,  I use the word Jesus, but I could also use the word Holy Spirit or God, source, Universe, energy, Buddha, Allah, Krishna.

We’re not just human beings.  We are spiritual beings.  Hiding under those layers of skin and bone is divinely perfect energy.  Look down at yourself right now.  Spread your hands over your chest and your belly.  A little piece of heaven has broken off and lives right under your hands.  This energy wants to be acknowledged, to be useful, to shine.  And it can, if you engage it.

Use whatever awesomeness inspires you.  If you want to engage but find yourself forgetting during the day, wear something that reminds you.  We wear engagement rings to remind us of our commitment to a significant other.  Maybe you can wear a ring to remind you of your commitment to yourself.  I wear a special necklace.  Or sometimes I wear my mala beads.  They help to remind me to feel gratitude, stop gossiping, smile at strangers, meditate, clean my house, give my time, be a better mom.  They remind me to tell people, “I am here for you.”  They remind me to engage my spirit and let it pull me in the right direction.

I’m trying really hard not to sound cheesy or hippie right now, just honest.  While there’s nothing I know about this world for sure, tapping into my inner Buddha causes a shift in me that feels real.  I attended a retreat last weekend and at the end a Buddhist nun blessed me by gently wrapping a scarf around my neck while holding my forehead to hers.  A surge of loving kindness flooded my heart and I started to cry.  It was beautiful.  This energy is a vibrant gem in each of our hearts.  When treasured properly through wholesome behavior and daily engaged practice, it will become a magnet that attracts goodness and, in turn, spreads that goodness to others.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  As always, if you like this, please share it!  Many thanks and much love!

refocus and recharge

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I heard the news of Friday’s shooting while standing in my front yard, waiting for my kids to walk home from school.  I consciously decided not to turn on the TV or the radio that day or for the rest of the weekend.  This is why:

On September 11, 2001, I had just arrived at work, a small office in Back Bay, Boston.  The office was quiet and I was taking a few minutes to settle in when the buzz of a ringing phone cut through the room.  It was my step-dad.  “I don’t want to scare you, but have you heard from your sister today?”  “No, why?”  “I think you should turn on your TV and call your sister.”  I hung up with him, then did as he suggested.  Just as I flipped on the tiny black and white monitor, I saw the second plane plunge.  I frantically called my sister, only to hear, “I’m sorry, all circuits are busy.  Please try again later.”  I got this recording non-stop for I don’t know how long.  Eventually, my sister called and said she was fine, on a train home from Battery Park and surrounded by ash-covered New Yorkers.

I looked out my office window and saw the Prudential Tower standing tall over my Newbury Street office.  I picked up my keys and got the hell out of there.  Walking home, I saw a girl my age sitting on the stoop of her building, bawling, screaming into her cell phone, “No!  No!  No!”  It was awful.  I stared.  Witnessing someone experiencing tragedy is conflicting.  My humanness drew me into her.  I rubbernecked.  I thought,  Am I going to be screaming on my own stoop later today?  I picked up my pace and double-timed it home.  I called my (at the time) fiance and begged him to come home.

When he arrived we both sat on the couch and watched CNN for hours.  Watching the planes crash over and over and over and over…  I cried for weeks, continually watching those planes crash over and over and over and over…  I was insatiable.  The tears, the mourning, the sadness, the tragedy, the WHY? WHY? WHY?  It was sickly irresistible to me.  And it really fucked me up.  I think it fucked a lot of us up.  Depression spread across America like the plague.

I liken watching 24 hour news coverage to the incessant conversation that occupies our minds.  The practice of meditation provides us with opportunities to quiet our minds and hush the nagging, rambling voice that precipitates tangled emotions like worry, fear, anger, judgment, grief.  In order to do this, we need to quiet down, turn off the noise.  And once we discipline ourselves enough to turn off the noise, we can find some peace.  It’s the same with news.  We need to turn it off.  Give ourselves a chance to recover from experiencing the horrific, bizarre, disturbing events of Friday.

We do not need to watch the folks in Newtown, Connecticut mourn.  We know they’re mourning.  We do not need to attempt to bear their pain in order to understand that what happened to this community is terribly wrong.  We do not need to absorb every sound bite, be abreast of every development, stare into the face of every lost child, scrutinize the tortured shooter’s soul.  Nothing good will come of it.  It’ll only scare us, depress us, separate us from life and exploit those who are suffering intimately.

It is important for those not directly involved to return to normalcy and to start working on mindful solutions.

There are a few things that immediately strike me when my mind turns towards healing and solutions.

The obvious is strict gun control.  Not stricter.  Strict.  There have been about 4,000 articles written on this subject over the past two days so I won’t delve into the bullshit laws (or lack thereof) on gun control.  I don’t understand why young children are encouraged by parents to shoot, even at target ranges.  Guns are cool?  Guns are fun?  I don’t know about that.  Motown is cool.  Scrabble is fun.  Parents need to encourage their kids to engage in more wholesome activities.

Another thing that comes to mind is the fact that young boys spend hours with their faces in a computer playing graphic, violent video games.  Think about the way we feel after watching hours of horrific news coverage.   We become deeply, emotionally affected.  Children and teens, especially boys, wrap themselves in gaming for endless hours.  They are absolutely internalizing, or at the very least normalizing, the act of pumping bodies full of bullets in bloody battle scenes.  While playing, they are isolated from real people and focused intently on viciously blowing virtual people up for hours on end.  Desensitization.  Fine for military training, not fine for 15 year old boys.  Look what happens to our soldiers when they come back from war:  PTSD, suicide, alcoholism, abuse.  Real war is not fun.  Real battle is not cool.  Why attempt to make it fun or cool through children’s games?  These video games need to be banned.  Or at least monitored.  Until that happens (which it won’t), a viable option for parents to consider may be making kids earn gaming time through compassionate community service.  Volunteer in the community center for an hour, play your sick and twisted game for an hour.  At least it’s an attempt at balance.  Sorry, boys.

Some people will agree with this next one and some people will roll their eyes, but we need to actively teach our children compassion and mindfulness.  Formally.  In schools.  Every day there is more and more scientific evidence that a regular meditation practice helps children to make better choices, feel better about themselves and perform better in school, amongst other things.  Knowing how valuable meditation is for a human’s existence, why wouldn’t we want to incorporate this practice into the school day?  I’m not talking about infusing prayer or religious practice in school (though I honestly wouldn’t mind that).  There is real science that supports the benefits of meditation.  HHDL is pushing for this actively.  Being the righteous bomb that he is, I’m all too happy to lend my support.

But, while we’re on the subject, I can’t help but notice that Sunday mornings just ain’t what they used to be.  When I was a kid, Sundays were reserved for family and church.  My parents never took us to church, but I always remember Sunday mornings as feeling  inexplicably peaceful, which from my adult perspective makes sense.  There’s a natural and palpable energy that results when large groups of people pray simultaneously.  Now parents are forced to choose between church (or whatever) and organized sports.

I was interviewing a local priest last week for a story I’m working and he said that there used to be a gentlemen’s agreement in the community regarding Sunday mornings.  Somewhere along the way that agreement disappeared and play took precedent over prayer.  While this is not necessarily the reason for this modern youthful meltdown, it’s certainly notable.  There’s plenty of time for TV, competition, bickering, playdates, video games throughout the week…  could we reinstitute Sunday mornings?

Kids can’t do this on their own.  They need our help.  They need adults in their lives who can model wholesome behavior, who can engage with them, who can offer them guidance and hope, who can encourage laughter and joy, who can answer big questions about life with openness and love.

We need to ask ourselves, “What can I do?  How can I make this community a better place?  If not me, who?  If not here, where?  If not now, when?”

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

There are a hundred other factors that go into these recurring American tragedies – a major one being mental illness.  These are just a few that were in my head today.  If you’d like to offer solution-based thoughts, please do so in the comments below.

protecting kids from bad news

I wrote this article, which was printed in the Winchester Star on October 4, 2013:

An upcoming media frenzy is quietly building in Winchester.  While we get a kick out of having our town being featured in Boston Magazine’s “Best of” issues or spotlighted Chronicle for our gorgeous homes, an entirely different kind of attention will be focused on our charming little cityburb over the next months.  Satellite trucks will be rolling in, filled with reporters, cameramen and field producers, looking for 20 second sound bytes to fill their air.  This is the sort of attention we’d rather not have, but with jury selection for the Mortimer trial beginning on October 9th, the scenario is all too likely.

We don’t just live in this community.  We are this community.  The pain and the heartbreak experienced by those closest to the victims were absorbed on some level by all of us.  How do we armor ourselves and protect our neighbors against the flurry of sadness that is bound to return?  And more importantly, how do we shield our children?

Bill McAlduff, superintendent of schools in Winchester, has no special programming in place that would re-introduce the tragic loss of our neighbors to school children.  He does, however, have crisis teams in each building and says that teachers’ protocol is to, “end any discussion that is found to be inappropriate for the classroom and direct concerned students to the school psychologist.”

Robin Shapiro, director of LEAP School in Lexington where 4 year old Finn and 2 year old Charlotte attended, presents advice as one who has managed some tough conversations with little ones.  To protect the privacy of families and faculty, she did not comment directly on specific conversations, but offers this:

“My advice to parents of young children when facing any kind of tragic situation, loss or major life event is to first try and process the situation away from your child, before entering into any kind of conversation with your child(ren).  It is hard for most adults to understand these kind of traumatic situations and make sense of them, so it is natural that it would be very confusing and scary to young children to be part of the parent’s processing.

“I encouraged parents on the day of 9/11 to be very aware of the media in their home, the adult conversations in the presence of their young children, and to take time for themselves to work through their emotions first, before discussing events like 9/11 with their small children and make a plan of how, when and what you want to communicate to your child(ren).

“Some parents feel the need to talk with their children about many life events, others prefer to avoid these uncomfortable topics.  I find it is important to follow the child’s lead in determining how much information to provide that will satisfy the child’s curiosity, while not too much to create fear and insecurity.  Children need to know that they are safe, that their feelings are valid and have their questions answered in a concrete manner.  It is always helpful to listen carefully to what the children are asking before answering them.”

Deb reminds us to remember older children, too, as they have their own questions and are often in a position of mentoring a small child.  “[Older children] need an opportunity to process information, get their questions answered and receive support to express their thoughts and feelings.  Depending on the age and level of understanding of the older child, it is helpful to let the older children know how you are responding and supporting the younger sibling, and elicit help from the older child without burdening him/her.”

Most child experts would agree that honesty is the best policy, keeping in mind that honesty doesn’t mean full disclosure.  Parents and teachers can respond to children’s questions truthfully and tactfully, providing closure for their curious minds, meanwhile being careful not to scare them or draw them into more difficult questions.  Children do not want to know the whole truth.  They just want to be satisfied with answers provided.

For those interested in learning more about children and grief, Donna Smith Sharff, LMHC, Executive Director of The Children’s Room in Arlington, will be presenting a public program on the subject at the First Congregational Church in Winchester on Monday evening, October 29th.  For  more information visit childrensroom.org or call 617.641.4741.

Tips:

-Identify adult feelings first

-Turn off the news while children are in the room or in the car

-Prepare older children who interact with little ones regularly

-Listen to questions carefully

-Be honest but simple

suffering: oh, how we love a good train wreck

Last week I shared a traumatic experience with readers.  I was rewarded, in a weird way, with well over 300 hits on that post over 2 days.  Now, I’ve gotta say…  I have logged 200 plus posts in my 2 years of blogging: uplifting, funny, emotional, quirky, informational posts that I write with loving intent.  Never once have I received that many hits on a post in such a short amount of time.

What this tells me, is that people love a good train wreck.

We’re all just a bunch of rubberneckers.  None of us can resist the temptation of watching someone suffer.  We love to watch each other burn, don’t we?  Public hangings, courtroom dramas, war footage, animal attacks, car accidents, couples arguing on the sidewalk, school kids fighting after class, anything on Jerry Springer…  We gather around with curiosity to watch as others suffer.  Sick and twisty, right?  But we’ve all done it.

And this is nothing new.  When I read books or watch movies about King Henry’s England (one of my fave topics) I’m always amazed to see mothers and fathers bringing their kids to watch public executions.  There is one scene in the movie Elizabeth I, in which QEI is tricked into thinking her beloved Jewish doctor, Dr. Lopez, is poisoning her.  She feels she has no choice but to have him executed.  We are flashed forward to a grizzly torture scene where Dr. Lopez watches as his very own intestines are cut out of his body and burned.  Did I mention he is still alive watching this???  Oh, and there are families standing around cheering?  Horrid.  But we watch anyway.

We are voyeurs.

We are curious.

We are glad it’s not us.

We might even feel happy it’s them.

Suffering doesn’t always mean blood and guts.  Suffering can be much more benign.  And I’d bet that we can all relate to certain joys and reliefs found in observing others’ pain.  Watching that woman who always wins first place as she falls down during a race.  (Good, she won’t win this time.)  Finding out your son didn’t make the varsity soccer team, but your neighbor’s son didn’t make it either.  (Phew, he’s not the only one who was cut.)  Learning your co-worker has to cancel his vacation to Barbados b/c a storm damaged his hotel.  (Ha!  Now he’s stuck here like the rest of us.)

There’s nothing to feel bad about.  These are things we think b/c we are wired to think this way.  But.  (There’s always a But.)  We don’t have to think this way.  These thoughts are not creating a better world.  These thoughts are holding us back from standing in the spotlight that is meant to shine on us.  Instead of focusing attention on our own identities, our own stories, our own intentions, we are busy applauding someone else’s failures or feeling jealous of other people’s successful journeys.

Each of us has a path designed specifically for ourselves.  Once we set our intentions straight and start working towards our goals, there won’t be any time to watch others burn.  In fact, when we do come across others’ moments of suffering, we will discover a heightened sense of compassion.  Successful people help others succeed.  Michelle Obama said this beautifully at the DNC last month:

When we succeed in our own stories, we will no longer have the desire to poo poo other people’s efforts to live their best lives.  We can succeed by living mindfully, compassionately, purposefully…  and with intention.

One important addition to today’s story:  I know that spike wasn’t all about rubbernecking.  The high traffic last week tells me something else, something that especially warms my heart.  There are a lot of mommies, friends and readers who appreciated the peek inside a really horrible day in my house.  Through my embarrassing admission, others could see their own households reflected.  And through this reflection might spark the desire to actively heal.  I know that’s what it did for me.  And for that, I’m totally in love with you.  🙂  Well, then again, I was pretty much in love with you already anyway.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa