You are amazing, Mom.

Today at our weekly mom support group we made Mother’s Day cards for ourselves. I decorated mine but I could not think of what I wanted to write as I was sitting there.

It has been a tough couple of months. My son’s father and I have decided to split up. For the moment I am parenting predominantly alone and struggling with the implications of what it means to be a single parent and trying to mitigate the loss of what I believed to be a permanent family unit and who I am apart from the definition of this primary relationship.  But partnered or not, in my experience waiting around for someone else to acknowledge all of the great things that you are, that you do and are capable of at best breeds a annual sense of vague disappointment (come on, ONE DAY a year for moms? Guess what else happens one day each year? National Burrito Day. ) and at worst, deep abiding resentment toward every single family member in your household. It’s really time we stopped.

More important than if and how we and by whom are acknowledged by on Mother’s Day is how we choose to honor ourselves for the every day things we do… all the little things that make up the biggest most important things. Because let’s be real, every day is frickin’ Mother’s Day.

So I brought my card home to finish during nap. Here is how it turned out.

 

Happy Mother’s day to all the mamas. You are all truly amazing. But you already knew that. (And you deserve 100 burritos. And like, 1-3 margaritas if you want them.)

xo

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The education of a lifetime: Karen Maezen Miller on Motherhood, Meditation and Anger

Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest and author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, Hand Wash Cold and Paradise in Plain Sight. I have written before about her profound book, Momma Zen, and how it inspired me more than any other parenting text I have ever come across. momma zen

And this interview by Shawn Fink of the Abundant Mama project is no different. Brimming with deep wisdom, humor and humility, Karen Maezen Miller penetrates to the heart of parenting as a spiritual path and delivers in a way that is both digestible and wholly compassionate. Listen to the full episode: AMPlify Your Life, Episode 7: Karen Maezen Miller on Meditation, Motherhood and Anger

There is just so much in this interview, I note some highlights here.

Karen speaks about raising her now teen daughter, how much has changed since writing “Momma Zen” and the essential process of staying with what is. She compares her work in Momma Zen as “premature self-congratulation”.

I am in trouble if I start to think that I know what the heck I’m doing or where I am going. We are consistently set adrift, washed up shore and we need one another.

Karen and Shawn chat a bit about how in this digital age we are more connected in some ways and much more disconnected in other ways which speaks to me in a big way. While on the one hand, many moms find community in online forums, groups and on Facebook which are great ways to find and share information they can never be a replacement for real human contact. In some ways, not living as close to family or having good friends nearby can make finding your “tribe”, your support system as a new mother can be challenging. Often online images of motherhood or fear of judgement makes it harder to ask, reach out and receive help.

Karen Maezen Miller on the biggest surprise in parenthood: “The real shake up for me has been the degree to which I encumber my daughter with the job of feeding my ego or emotional needs… [realizing how] “emotionally dependent upon my daughter being happy, doing things that I liked, liking the things that I do”.

Aaaahh, this one was a zinger. As a mother to an outspoken three year old, who feels at least as entitled as any teen to delivering every opinion and performance review uncensored according to his changing mood, whim and unspoken preschooler expectations. Still, I with no other rubric to go by, I sometimes find myself relying heavily on the irrational grading system of a little person still learning how to manage his emotional weather patterns and express his needs in healthy ways. After getting frustrated with him for not wanting to put on his clothes, I walk away to take a break. He finds me a few moments later, the storm between us has passed. He climbs into my lap and I see that he has put on his shirt and socks.

“Mama, are you happy now? Do I make you happy?” he asks earnestly, his face searching mine for signs that my earlier frown has faded. I am aware of his constant gauging of me, of this dance we do of reacting to one another, pulling away and drawing together – and what I may or may not unconsciously make him responsible for.

He falls and bumps his elbow. I hold him while he cries. I offer ice, kisses, a drink of water. What would make you feel better? What do you need?  I ask, wanting to find the solution, the cure, the fix to end the discomfort. It catches me off-guard every time he answers me, annoyed with my well-meant but impertinent offerings , “No, I am cry-ing!” he says, as if it were obvious. He is already doing exactly what he needs to do. And I, in my discomfort with his discomfort, really seek to reassure my tender ego that I am the competent mother, the one who can comfort her child and ensure that moments of unhappiness are brief and remediable.

The common parental desire to control and make things easy for our kids, to keep them from struggle is something (even) Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller is not immune to. And as her daughter, at 16, begins pointing out often with alarming clarity: “It’s not always going to be easy for me, Mom.” Karen grapples with the implications of stumbling along indeed the crooked path of mothering a child-turning-adult, who without mincing words, continues to hold up a mirror for us to see even more places we have yet to let go. “If the only thing [your children] can share with you is the good news, the good times or the happy… well, that’s dishonest.”

KMM on dealing with anger as a parent:

Own your feelings. Approaching our immediate response with compassion instead of suppression (which perpetuates the feeling) or judgment is the way to extend first compassion to ourselves and all compassion begins with compassion toward ourselves. Identifying and stating our feelings out loud gives others a warning about our emotional state and gives us the chance to address what is happening in our physical/emotional body before we escalate to a place of reacting in self-defensive or aggressive ways. Taking the internal temperature without judgment, as if processing data, is how we take responsibility for our feelings without blame and recrimination for whatever we feel is the particular trigger. It gives us the chance to take space, acknowledge our unmet needs or expectations in tenderness and without attachment to a story around a particular emotional response (“If I was a more better mother, I would not feel so impatient/annoyed/angry.”)

Take what you need first in order to be able to respond in kindness. Take a breath, take time, take space. I often tell my son but less often myself: “You are allowed to have your feelings. You are not allowed to be mean or hurt yourself or other people.”

As much of motherhood goes, we don’t get accolades for those tiny moments of triumph when we chose to take three deep breaths instead of lose our temper. As KMM points out “no own is keeping score of the times I didn’t have an outburst.” Or in the words of Biz Ellis host of one of my favorite podcasts about parenting,  One Bad Mother“Parenting is hard and no one gives a shit.” Mostly, that’s true. Thankfully it also the most rewarding thing we ever do. Especially when we get to see our own growth alongside our child’s.

KMM’s offers a refreshing reminder to parents of tantruming toddlers: you’re in it too. Most parenting advice I read offers an imagine of the calm and unruffled parent patiently holding space for the outrageous emotional displays of a possibly foaming at the mouth, destructive and aggressive small child hell bent on getting you to react (my son went through a period of purposefully soiling himself in a desperate act of retaliation) but does not often acknowledge the very intense internal storm raging inside yourself. It would be great if tantrums happened only when we (the parents) were well-fed, showered, had recently slept 8 hours, didn’t have any pressing tasks or places to be or outside responsibilities, were not distracted by any other sort of physical discomfort or pain, had recently had great sex, a good workout or a fantastic date with a good friend or a good book — basically, if we felt our emotional tanks were always “full”. But we all know that toddlers and preschoolers are first are predatory creatures with a recently developed capacity for premeditated action. They have an uncanny sense of knowing when to flip their shit, bless them.

Another thing I love about Karen Maezen Miller is her lack of apology about needing space and alone time from her family. As someone who desperately needs alone time to recalibrate, I  relate to this so much. I am such a better mom when I get the chance to fill up, to take care of myself, to feed my soul and care for my spirit, body honor yourselfand mind. I’m a better mom when I get the chance to miss my kid.  KMM talks about getting away and finding retreat as a way of taking full responsibility for her own life and her own ongoing process of refinement. We simply cannot skip the part of parenting where we parent ourselves.

KMM on meditation practice as a parent:

Karen Maezen Miller’s work was one of my great catalysts to my recommitment to a daily sitting meditation after becoming a mom. KMM says, “If you say you don’t have time to meditate then the truth is you don’t.”

Here is her realistic advice on developing a meditation practice: “Don’t make it hard,” she says. “Don’t make it another thing that you can’t do, you don’t have time to do or you aren’t good at. Because that is the way you [probably] talk to yourself about a lot of things and it is self-fulfilling.”

“You have 5 minutes at the beginning of the day and you have 5 minutes at the end of the day to practice being present and aware. If you can’t sit for 5 minutes, sit for 4, if you can’t sit for 4, sit for 3.

 …You can’t be attached to somehow doing it the “right” way, or getting the maximum benefit or being “good” at it or trying to turn yourself into a saint or even a better mom. Do it because you have to do it for own wellbeing and so that you will hurt people less.”

self care

(For more about self-care practice, watch: 5 Steps for Better Self Care for Moms). You can learn more about Karen Maezen Miller’s work, online teachings and upcoming retreats and events at karenmaezenmiller.comAlso check out all the podcast episodes from AMPlify Your Life: Podcast for Busy Moms.

And then suddenly, he was a boy.

I have been pretty unsentimental, I guess, about  a lot of the milestones so far in my son’s almost-three years of life.  I don’t necessarily feel the pang of being needed less as time goes on, certainly not in the way that maybe the mother of three does watching her last baby graduate from infancy to the front steps of her kindergarten classroom –  in what feels like the space of overnight. I’m three years in. I basically still don’t really have a clear reference for time. I know that there was life before my son, but it’s kind of hard to believe that it actually existed – since what could I have possibly done with all of that free time ?? I am fairly certain I wouldn’t recognize that 31 year old girl if she showed up on my doorstep much less relate to her (what does she DO with all of that free time?) I’ll be honest, its all a little fuzzy and not totally unlike the feeling of having been on a bender for the last three years of my life. Except that, unlike the consequences of unrestrained drinking, some really great things have happened.

The bittersweetness of common landmarks have bypassed me: walking, talking, sleeping in his own bed, going to daycare, potty training, etc.  Babyhood was hard for us, this stage feels lighter – maybe that is a big part of it. Or maybe that he is my first and only kid. I know its a precious and fleeting time. And if ever I forget,  there is someone to remind me everywhere I go and at every chance, how fast it all goes and how much I will miss it when its gone. Thank you, stranger in the check-out line, for letting me know essentially, that I am guaranteed to feel shitty later thinking about how I should be happier right now in this moment which will invariably get gold-plated in my memory…… that I will um, revisit when I am older and sipping my tea in my quiet house with piles of books around and art supplies and projects that I don’t ever have to clean up because no one’s going to touch my stuff and I have the whole weekend ahead of me to putter and dally and not cook for anyone and stay up as late as I want??? Just kidding. Sort of. I know my kid is going to grow up and we always feel wistful for what is behind. The past is like an Instagram account with flattering filters to highlight all of the high moments and none of the bad days. Oh wait, no that is actual Instagram.

At every stage of his increasing autonomy I cheer him on, marvel unflinchingly at the passage of months gone, feeling  a sense of satisfaction that he is finding his footing in this world, as they do kind of with, without, or in spite of me at all.  Often my partner and I will look at each other with some variation of, “Can you believe …?” But I’m still the one without a lot of nostalgia about it. I guess kindergarten will be a big one, we’ll see though.

Anyway, we decided it was time to cut his hair. It’s wild, unruly, a battle to wash and comb through and people have been mistaking him for a girl, (which he’s always gotten to some extent, but now he is starting to notice). We’d been getting comments for awhile from his grandpa and others (seriously, what the hell makes you SO uncomfortable with my kid’s hair?) which was frankly really irritating mostly because it starting making my son self-conscious about it. I was a little scared though, because I had also been told his curls won’t last. The ringlets he inherited from neither his father or myself, I had been warned, would disappear with the first cut. Literally, EVERYBODY has told me that. But he was excited. His first haircut! We promised ice cream afterward.

She didn’t even take off that much. Just a trim. He looked so big sitting up in the chair.

And as soon as I watched those first strands fall to the floor, I wanted to cry.

He sat very still and when she was finished he saw himself in the mirror and smiled with pride. We went to ice cream.

And I just could not look at him without tears spilling over. Just like that, everything had changed. The baby had disappeared. He was a boy.

My heart was gripped with the realization that we’d crossed over a threshold. There was no going back. I tried hard not to let my son pick up on my feelings. “It will grow again,” my partner reassures me when we are alone.

“No,” I say, “everything’s different.”

I was unprepared for the level of emotional reaction. Of course I know, it’s just hair. It will grow. It will be whatever it will be, curls or not. But is these such landmarks, the ones that don’t just naturally happen on their own but require the diligent, careful eye; the sense to know when it’s time to gently remove the scaffolding, the lovey, the comfort habit that has outgrown its service, the training wheels that have lingered past their usefulness. And no matter how much you might want to hold on to it for what it represents –  it is these moments of stepping in to move forward the hand of time when only you can and must, that cause the heart to waver. It is these pivotal moments, some without as much fanfare as a haircut, that come and go in the most ordinary way and yet leave behind a profound imprint of what parenthood is again and again, the letting go. It is the thoughts that buzz around like a mosquito in your darkened bedroom as you lie awake and  throw up a prayer for the twenty-seventh time that you did the right thing . Because even though you might know it was, it still pangs.

Like knowing it was the last time I would breastfeed my son.  The moment I decided I was through pumping. Breastfeeding was complicated, arduous and emotionally wrought for us. Weening was something I had to accept long before I had wanted to. Though it was clear it was best choice for both of us, I still remember that quiet moment, in the dark, with my baby beside me, when I decided to let my body be done. It’s the Instagram reel without the filters, full of the raw emotion of what it really means to be a mother.  In yogic philosophy there is a name for this letting go again and again: aparigraha, the principle of non attachment.  Over and over again, we watch for the signs for when its time to let go a little bit more, when its time to release our attachment to the current story and let the next chapter begin.

“Motherhood is at once an exercise in unwavering fortitude and complete surrender.”  (Read: Suspended in a State of Mommyhood. I’m serious, if you are  a mother or a young parent, you’ve really got to read it. Go, right now.)

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Ritual for New Beginnings

“Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

The modern Gregorian calendar recognizes today, Jan. 1, as the beginning of a new 12-month cycle or the “New Year.” It is my favorite holiday (even when I go to bed at 8:30pm which I may or may not have done last night.) But not before I took the time to reflect upon the year and my aspirations for 2016 with a ritual I like to use instead of the overplayed and notoriously ineffective New Year’s resolutions people commonly make, not unlike tossing coins into a fountain with fingers crossed for well-intended wishes.

Photo credit: awildpath.com

Ritual is arguably a universal feature of human social existence. Though our life’s are full of daily ritual, we wake at a certain time, we ready for the workday in the same way perhaps, there is a certain order to our activities. But typical American culture is bereft of much of the intentional, meaningful ritual that have been integral to societies in the past and plenty of other cultures around the world today. Ritual is an important part of who we are. It is how we mark the passage of time, honor our history, our roots, big transitions and the sacred cycle of life. Maybe you were lucky and grew up with a cultural or religious heritage that offered special customs and if you are really lucky religion didn’t totally ruin it for you. Recently I have been seeking to bring more ritual into my life. I loved the rituals of my family growing up and have always been drawn to ceremony, magic, rites and sacrament as a way of honoring The Mystery. God. Gaia. Spirit. The Divine. The Great Mother. What Moves in You that Moves in Me. What Connects us All. 

circle2resizedI want to be clear about why I think ritual is important and why I believe it works. (Here is some data by some behavior scientists, by the way.) This is very different than the religious attitude of persuading God to act or our behalf or assuaging guilt for our sins by engaging ritual as a formula for accessing the Divine. The Divine is here all the time, in every moment and laughs at our contrived idea of sanctity and holiness. The Holy Spirit is not finally convinced to grace us transcendent experience or forgiveness upon the 108th recitation of a holy mantra or the final Hail Mary. And there are plenty of examples throughout history that the Divine does not require a perfect vessel for transmission of profound truth!

No, ritual is for our own hearts. Ritual “brings life to intention” (Nancy Napier, Sacred Practices for Conscious Living.) It engages the imagination which is what animates the soul. Ritual is a way of tending the soil of our hearts, of calling forth what is already there, reminding us that we are connected to something greater, something sacred. We may perform ritual before meditation practice or prayer in order to create a feeling of sanctuary. Simple symbolic action, burning incense, lighting a candle, or a pilgrimage to a special sitting spot may help us find a way into the inner temple. Rituals can punctuate birth and death, honor loss, help with healing,  express gratitude and celebration and demarcate transitions in our lives. They can involve any natural or material object, substance, food, art, music, water, fire or any other natural element. It isn’t the action or the ingredients but the meaning and intention we bring to ritual that make them sacred.  

There is something really powerful that happens when we ritualize our intentions. It is translating our ephemeral soul desires into something our brain can comprehend. Essentially integrating the mammalian brain (emotion and learning) with our reptilian brain (the action-oriented) and the neo-cortex (logical or “thinking” brain.) 

“Ritual returns you to what matters. The very act of beginning a ritual puts us in a state of mind where we can break with the routine patterns of the mundane and remember the sacred.” (Katie Silcox, The Importance of Ritual.) In 2015 I began creating rituals around the New and Full Moon, around my monthly bleeding cycle and the Solstices and Equinoxes. For the Winter Solstice, we filled the house full of candles and my partner, my son and I read through our jar full of gratitudes for 2015. Then we ate soup by candle light and watched the fire in the wood stove. Aside from all the technical and scientific stuff, ritual just makes life more special and fun. Do we really need a more spiritual or intellectual reason than that?  I don’t.

Here is my ritual for new beginnings. Of course, it doesn’t much matter what the date is. Whenever you feel like ritualizing the passing of an era and the dawn of a new season or ushering in a new chapter in your life, you can use this visioning technique or something similar. These are the things you will need:

A chunk of quiet, alone time where you can get still and present

4 sheets of journal or notebook paper and a writing instrument

A place to safely play with fire (a fireplace or fire pit is the easiest, but an abalone shell, metal kitchen sink or fire-safe bowl will do.)

  1. Get your body grounded and bring your mind to stillness. Begin to envision what you want to create in this next season of your life. What projects, ideas, endeavors you want to bring forth in your personal life and into the greater world. How do you want to feel? What roles do you see yourself playing? Write all of this down on one of the pieces of paper. Take as much time as you need.
  2. On the second piece of paper, write all of the ways you might sabotage yourself from your current vision.  Habits, self-talk, limiting beliefs, etc.
  3. On the next piece of paper list the things you need in order to cultivate and support your vision. Include other people, relationships, new habits, practical, financial and emotional resources.
  4. Lastly, on the final piece of paper list what needs to go in order to make space for this new vision. This may be commitments that no longer serve you, time and energy zappers, relationships with someone or a job that is not moving you toward your goals, or with ideas (letting go of body-obsession or seeking the perfect mate or house.)

Once you have your four lists you will prepare for the burning part of the ritual. The first list you are going to bring to flame is your list of self-sabotage. Find your own words but be clear. “I release now these means of sabotaging my vision for this coming year. I am grateful for the lessons they have offered me and the ways they have protected me in the past. I know release them from their service in my life.” You can read aloud some of the specific things you wrote down if it feels right. Then, watch it burn! Make your commitment to not return for these things but receive the support from the Universe (God, Spirit, your name for Her) to move forward in a new pattern.

Next, the list of what needs to go in order to create space. Surrender it to the fire. Speak what feels true: “I release these holds on my time, energy, attention and resources. I any lingering attachment to things things that no longer support the highest vision for my life.” Deep breath in, deep breath out. Feeling lighter?

So now you are left with two lists: The one that holds the vision you want to manifest and the list of what you need to cultivate it. The first list you made – the inspired, passionate vision of your future – you will bury in the earth. Go on a walk or a hike and find a special place beneath the roots of a tree or just in your yard somewhere. Like a seed, surrendering it to the dark, to the alchemy of germination. 

The last list you will keep close by – in a journal, tacked to a bulletin board, tucked in your journal. These are your instructions. This list is your reminder of the things to seek out on a daily basis that align with the greater vision of what you want, who you want to be and how you want to feel.

I encourage you to find a variation that feels authentic. Get creative and playful with your way to honor your intentions. The most important part is that is feels organic, heartfelt and true to you. No recitation or formulaic process is going to serve the work of the soul anymore than tossing a penny in a pond. The key is to find what feel meaningful to you.

So! here is to new beginnings.

More resources on how to incorporate ritual in your life:

Transform Your Life with the Power of Ritual – Deepak Chopra

The (6-minute) Miracle Morning Ritual

Burning the Past – A Ritual for Cleansing Pain

Honoring the Dark.

wintersolstice

Altar to honor the Winter Solstice and return of the light.

December fell over me like a heavy blanket. All at once it seemed, I felt the energy drain out of me. I worried I was slipping into depression, as I have in the past struggled against that gravitational pull, down into darkness, silence, deep introspection, isolation. I spent most of my adulthood watching for the signs that the dark was creeping in to grab hold again and drag me under. When I hear the first notes of that ghostly refrain I usually launch into my list of preventive action steps: I push myself to go running, to get out and socialize, to eat something nutritious even when I don’t feel hungry. I talked to my therapist: “I don’t know,” she said, “This doesn’t sound like depression to me. Could your body just be telling you that you need to slow down and rest?”

The next day I reread a text message I sent to a good friend: “I wish I could just curl up in my room for three days and see no one and do nothing. Then I could re-enter the world and be ok again and do Christmas.” Suddenly I flashed back to a year ago almost to the day, telling another friend right before a week long trip to see family: “I wish I could just check out from everything for two days and then come back and do the whole holiday thing.”

My life is as full as always: work, and school, a preschooler, household stuff and new projects on the horizon that I am excited about giving my time and energy to. But everything feels overwhelming. Not uninteresting just…too much.  And the more I push my body the greater the urge to retreat. And it’s no wonder, as we are linked to the earth’s cycles along with every other living thing. Since the Summer Solstice, we have been incrementally losing light here in the northern hemisphere. The longer nights and lower temperatures signal the trees to drop their leaves and the animals to start preparing for winter. When winter arrives, the trees are almost all bare, many of the plants that once flourished in the sun have let go their leaves and blossoms. If you didn’t know better, many of the plants and trees might appear as if dead. There is no movement, thus begins a period of conserving energy through the coldest months. Though life force is just as present, activity becomes dormant.

winter-solstice-wayne-devon

And why should we be any different? (Read: BODY RHYTHM, PLANETARY RHYTHM). 

Alan Fogel, author of Body Sense, writes in Psychology Today:  “I’ve always thought it odd that in the late Fall — when my body just wants to withdraw into cozy, warm rest in response to the longer nights and cooler temperatures – urban culture becomes more active, more complex, and more demanding. The trees are shutting down all but the most basic functions and mammals are retreating to their dens and burrows for some form of hibernation. I want to go with them but I can’t because school is in session, there are performances and shows and social events, business deals are being made, and then the winter holidays come with all their pulls and obligations.

All this social pressure coming at a time when our bodies want to slow down is a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. Could it be that SAD and other seasonal dismays are not the result of darkness at all but rather a psychological splitting as we are torn between social demands for increased activity and the planet pulling our body sense in the opposite direction? Perhaps it is not our dark moods that are problematic so much as our sense of their cultural unacceptability?

Let’s imagine that we could just accept and embrace our body sense as it follows the lows and highs of seasonal cycles…Let’s imagine letting ourselves feel tired, I mean really feel like we are going to collapse if we don’t crawl under a blanket. Probably, you could find that feeling inside right now if you let yourself. Let’s imagine that we could give in completely to our sadness, that tears might come because we really let our feeling fill up the present moment; we become sadness and there is nothing else in the world but sadness. What would happen if we could do that?”

Well, what would happen?

There is  another pattern I have started to notice over the past four years of noting my natural cycles of highs and lows throughout the year is the near inevitability of a melancholy February and March, where exhaustion is often accompanied by sadness and loss of passion and interest in normal things. While this could be in part a natural reaction to the lack of sunlight (I plan to invest in a magic desk lamp this year) could this also be a result of pushing through the holidays, work, family gatherings and social events instead of honoring my own need to retreat, rest and conserve energy during the darkest months? Why is it so often our habit when feeling out of balance to add more instead of doing less?

Maybe there isn’t anything “wrong” with me at all but this natural inclination to check out from the world for awhile, even to be sad, to let the soul mourn it needs to could actually serve my highest good? Can I make space for honoring the dark? 

Perhaps I can’t take a week off my job or check out of parenting and run away to a hotel for three days by myself but can I bring the feeling of nurturing and self care into my life in small ways? What if, I could prepare for December the way people start their Christmas shopping early or string their lights up after Halloween? What if I could start creating space in July by working a few more hours to set aside for the December days when I need to work a bit less? Or be more deliberate in advance about keeping my schedule light during the holiday season?

Just by beginning to entertain these things, my heart begins to feel lighter. I don’t have to fight this, I don’t have to resist. I can make tea. I can change into my pajamas early. I can “check out” in the evenings with  something good to read, with a movie or a good show. I can decorate my altar to honor the Winter Solstice. I can let the house stay messier than usual, I can honor my body with a restorative practice instead of power vinyasa.  I can make a big pot of bone broth, I can clear my calendar of unessential items and I can curl up under this blanket for awhile and just rest… that is, until my kid calls me to come wipe his bum.

So yeah. That’s where you’ll find me. Don’t be offended if I don’t answer the phone. I’ll be back just as sure as the light returns.

Look at me all honoring myself and shit. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Winter’s Cloak

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.

Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

~ Joyce Rupp

The in between place: Sometimes things are just shitty.

I’m in the hard holding space.

The painful, restless, unknowing place of trying to hold more than a human heart is capable of holding without knowing how anything is going to turn out.

The in between space, waiting for each next breath, each next step, having faith that healing can happen, that peace is possible. The world feels so heavy and full of darkness right now. I grieve over the war and violence in the world, I grieve with my fellow countrymen over the unfathomable corruption and devastating policy-makings of our government, over the unthinkable and compounding acts of violence and what it means for the future of our children and our planet.

Violence. Oppression. Suffering. Helplessness. Rage. Grief.

My partnership has been in its own stage of painful metamorphosis. Kind of like how the caterpillar in the cocoon has to completely dissolve before it can change form… you really want to believe its going to be reborn into a beautiful butterfly, but for awhile its such indistinguishable mush. Sometimes your faith can’t help but waver somewhat. I mean, it just looks like mush. It feels like a mess. From your limited human perspective, it doesn’t look promising. From the outside, things look impossible. Except that something tells you “Hold on. You don’t have all the information.” And you have lived long enough now and seen enough miracles to know that they are always happening.

It’s been a hard waiting. It’s been a good while now. Breathing, believing. Praying. And waiting.

There should be a meme out there that just says “Sometimes things are just shitty for awhile.” Because ain’t that the truth of life? It isn’t being negative. Actually it feels quite liberating when you remember that its normal for things to suck for awhile. But then they get better. Then suck again. And then its wonderful. And not everything hard is necessarily something that has to be (or can be) fixed at the moment. Like the world right now.

You know, I’m going to make that meme.

Speaking with a few different friends this past week, it seems a lot of us are cycling through a pattern of feeling totally overwhelmed and checking out. I know that’s been true for me. Because it’s just. too. much.

Last week, I had to log off social media and the news feed for several days. When I came back on, I read first about Colorado and then about San Bernadino. What is happening? And what, oh what, are we to do about it?

To be awake, to be alive is to feel the darkness of the world, the heaviness when it comes, but to be of service to the world is not let ourselves be swallowed up by it. So I teeter back and forth, trying to find my balance when one after another these blows keep coming. We can choose gratitude – and can I tell you how my heart is swelled in gratitude these past weeks?? – We can focus on the positive, we can seek beauty for I have learned that there is always, always something beautiful happening

But we can also learn to sit with sorrow when sorrow is warranted, rage when rage is due, grief where heartbreak it s demanded of the human heart. This is what it means to be fully awake, we can’t choose to be selectively conscious. It is the juxtaposition of feeling these simultaneous polarities. We don’t turn our backs on one or the other, we don’t go back to sleep. It is the seemingly impossible task of learning to hold them both, the light and the dark. To find stillness in the churning sea. In the face of a tidal wave that threatens to wash away everything we know and to still believe that whatever the storm takes or leaves in it’s wake we will go on. We will still look for love.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist (I know, that’s a thing!), author and stroke survivor (listen to her TED talk here) has said that it actually takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered within the body, peak, dissipate and disappear. So anything more than 90 seconds it caused by our thoughts about the emotion. We feel fear, we instantly create a story about why we are afraid and what ifs and how the world is unsafe and we feel out of control, which creates more fearful emotions.

Feelings create thoughts, thoughts create feelings. These become the constructs of our reality.

This simple concept feel especially empowering to me right now. I can breathe through 90 seconds. Hell, I breathed through 22 hours of labor contractions. (Don’t waste that sweet spot in between, take that tiny respite!)

Breath by breath.

space between

Glennon Melton, of Momastery (whom I adore and if by any possible circumstance you are not familiar with her, her blog or her work, please give yourself the huge gift of introducing yourself) gives these instructions on how to respond to global trauma:

“1. BE STILL. Feel it. Listen. Pray. There is a word in my holy text: Selah. Selah means holy pause. The Selah is the space between what happens to us and how we respond to what happens to us. When we don’t take a Selah—we tend to respond from fear. Fear is never a powerful or transformational launching pad.

2. HERE I AM. This is the action after the stillness. This is when we feel centered enough in love to be fairly certain that our reaction will bring light instead of more darkness. We are ready. Love is our launching pad.

Stillness without action is not compassion. It’s more like pity. Compassion means your pain into my heart and back out through my hands.  Action without stillness can’t be trusted. It has no wisdom, no steadiness, no plan. It’s reckless. It’s oil on a fire.”

Let’s look for beauty.  Let’s find a little patch of the natural world and sit in it; by a rock or a stream, beneath a tree or prostate on the Earth. She is very absorbent, She can hold all of it.

Let’s tune out when we need to. Let’s do the things we love with people we love. Let’s do the things we love by ourselves. Let’s look around for someone who needs help and offer what we can for service to others is a great healing balm for the human heart. Let’s stay awake.

And let’s pray, pray, pray. (Or dance, or sing, make art or do what you do.)

Ask ourselves, “what is the next right thing?” and do it.

xo

(Here ya go:)

shitty final

(For more good stuff read here: “What would happen if we let people be broken sometimes?” by renegademama.)

Carry on soldier.

The only true thing.

A couple months ago I got this message from the Universe (I know, one of those). The message was that I needed to get start getting up earlier.

Now, let me tell you what the big deal is about getting up early.

I have this kid, you see. This sweet, wily, hilarious and over-the-top crazy little human who controls my life. And this little human from day one pretty much wakes up at the butt-ass-crack…no, before the butt-ass-crack of dawn because it’s like he has to get a front row seat or something. (If you are wondering when the “butt-ass-crack of dawn” exactly is, it is 4:45am. Or at least it was between 4:30 and 5am for almost a solid year. And before you start assuming anything: YES, I TRIED THAT. NO, IT DID NOT WORK. )

What I learned over that year was acceptance, sometimes through tears. But all of my resistances (which included strategies to “fix” the problem) only in the end caused suffering whereas accepting what was happening just meant that

1) I was tired.

2) It is hard being tired.

Tired is one thing, suffering is another. Tired can miserable, but suffering is what I was causing myself by trying to fight the truth of what was going on: I had a kid who woke up early no matter what we did.

But here is the truth we all know: things change. This is the one truth you can tell a new parent that is actually helpful: It will change. It always changes. Don’t try and tell them when! “Oh, when he gets to 3 months….when he gets to 6 months…a year…18 months… 2 years…” No one knows when because they don’t know your kid, they only know their own experience or worse, what they heard.  People want to help and say something positive but it is really just a set up for bitterness and despair when the promised milestone is reached and you are…. still in a shit-hole. So lets just stop doing that to parents who are having a hard time.  Let’s not even say “it will get better” (because you don’t know and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it gets worse. Or whatever is hard is replaced by something even shittier and harder.)  Eventually, it probably will get better. But no one knows when and I have never found the idea that “better” is somewhere out in the distance floating around very comforting. It’s like telling someone who is dying of thirst, “Don’t worry, someday it will rain. Try not to die until then.”

Things change. Another way to say it is right now is the only true thing

Holding on to this has made the hard moments softer to bear and the high moments ever more sweet because I know: it may change tomorrow, in an hour, next month or in five minutes. Cultivating continuous presence is the key that unlocks the ability to see what is true right now, what needs to shift and what I know I can breathe through, and what I better slow down and soak up.

So about six months ago things shifted and the little Acorn Scout started sleeping until six … SIX!! SIX AM!!!! A fucking miracle and nothing less, let me tell you. It is life-changing. I am reborn. Out of the darkness and wretched despair of night wakings, I rise victorious and the world is a beautiful place again and I am full of love for all people. Overall, things have fallen into a comfortable routine around here these days; no major struggles with bedtime, naptime, meal time. Always on the go, always talking, the little monster is generally content and increasingly independent. My work and school schedule, as well as my partner’s schedule have settled into predictability which is really nice. I feel like we are officially out of the “baby haze” and the survival mode of the first couple years. Life has lent us a bit of reprieve from any major crisis for the moment and of course, most of all, we are all sleeping. 

So when I hear this little tug I try to swat it away. For two and a half years I have been fitting in my meditation and yoga practice where I can. A few moments here and there, and at naptime or in the evening.  Juggling work and childcare and an opposite schedule from my partner meant constantly shifting things around, like an endless puzzle where there’s the inevitable jamming together of pieces that don’t fit just right and then left over pieces with no place to go. But for awhile there’s been the feeling that I want to take my meditation practice deeper and I was still struggling to make space in the day for myself.

So this inner voice pipes up (as it will do) and tells me to start waking up at 5:15. And I immediately answer with “You are f***ing kidding me.”  

Let me skip to the end of this argument (which I lost, or won, however you look at it.) When the Universe asks something of you and you say yes, all the support you need is in full supply. I go to bed early. I am usually asleep by 9pm these days. And 5:15 is quiet. It’s sacred. It’s all mine.

By the time I hear my son stirring (6am on the dot, that kid is never late) I am in a completely different space, heart, mind and body. I am able to give from a place of fullness instead of scraping the bottom and feeling the prickly irritation of having to give more than I have. And THEN this other miracle happened: My partner and I had been trading off mornings and since I have committed to every morning he has agreed to do bedtime every night which means I suddenly have a 30 whole other minutes in the evenings to do something for myself. Holy crap! What?!

Here is my challenge to you: What is your truth right now? Not the story you are telling yourself about what things “should” be like but what is true? What is being asked of you?

Remember: the Universe never asks you to do anything without being ready to rush in with full support. 

And unexpected blessings and gifts await you. It never fails.

samputa

Samputa mudra  – For cultivating truth (Satya)

The left hand is slightly cupped, the right hand rests on top with the fingers along the left thumb, created a space as if you held a precious treasure within your hands. Your truth. The voice of your true inner being.

Mudras are gestures of the hands, face or body that are used to evoke certain spiritual, physical or psychological qualities and have been used for over 2,000 years but they can also be found in various religious,  cultural and ritual practice around the world dating back thousands of years. The hands and fingers contain more sensory and nerve-endings than almost anywhere else in the body. This makes them a powerful tool for communicating directly to our brains and the rest of the body.  The subtle position of our hands and bodies have the capacity to alter the geometry and circuitry of the body, shifting vital energies. They are a powerful tool for any mediation practice.

When using mudras in meditation we hold the core quality of the gesture in our minds lightly and simply watch the effects on our breath, body, energy, thoughts and emotions that arise. We don’t try to change the breath or battle the thoughts or feelings that come. We just notice and gently steers our awareness back to the gesture and what we are awakening within ourselves. Because there is truly nothing we need that is not already there, waiting to be called forth.

For more an amazing resource on Mudras check out: Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page