Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Driving in the car today, my daughter piped up from the back, "It's a beautiful day today, isn't it?" And I wasn't quite sure if she was serious. She hasn't yet mastered the art or subtlety of sarcasm, hyperbole, or facetiousness; thus, she tends to be a pretty sincere communicator. So I sort of already knew the answer but still asked, "You really think it's pretty today?"

"Yes," she said emphatically. "There are so many colors and trees. I like the houses and all the flowers. They look so pretty." And, for the umpteenth time since her birth my very own little Buddha offered a new nugget of wisdom in her usual disarming way.

All I had seen was the rain; all I had felt was the rush of squeezing in yet another chore before naptime and worrying about the lack of water or juice for the longish ride home. My worldview consisted of the cold, the grey, the damp, the rush, the stressed out, the mud and wet and messysplatteredsplashyhurrying.

It was not until she described her view that I saw the bright yellow buds lining the road and the multicolored tulips standing at attention to eagerly drink up the day's light spring shower. I noticed how all the grass had turned bright green and how beautiful the stately red brick of neighborhood historic homes looked when contrasted against the slate blue sky.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how much control I have over my experience. How one small adjustment in my thinking or perception can significantly alter my entire worldview... rippling through emotions, physical sensations, and all manner of head-locked living to create a new space from which to see the world.

Unfortunately, as soon as I put her down for her nap, I went right back into my stressed-out, travel-readying, pre-worrying mindset. And just as I began typing this entry, I noted a choking weight of tension across my shoulders and neck... and a nasty little twinge in the center of my back.

Lost as easily as it was gained. There's a lesson right there.

Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Buddhists, said: "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle."

Tension is the result of ignoring those miracles. It's akin to burying our heads in the dirt and letting elements of beauty, hope, comfort, or inspiration - abundant and ever-present in multiple areas of our lives - remain consciously unnoticed. And it is a miracle to remember to be present and open to such amazement and awe... to see the yellow buds of trees instead of the oppressive cold of rain.

Possessing that sort of mindset - the one that finds happiness and refuses to cultivate worry - is a form of enlightenment. When we see it in young children, I think we are more apt to call it innocence. But it's no less miraculous stamped with a different label; it's still Buddha-nature just the same.

May you notice something beautiful today. May your tension leave as easily as it entered.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


There's nothing like becoming a parent to smack you out of your status quo mindset bordering on reverie and force a state of attention as everything you knew becomes something else and your worldview must, of necessity, shift.

Or at least, that's how it has felt to me. Some days, it's a great thing to be reckoned with in this manner. It's wonderful and humbling and challenging to peel away layers I thought set in stone and find I am capable of becoming a new person. Capable of initiating and mastering intense levels of adaptation and reinvention.

Of course, some days it feels raw and naked and painful too. Like undergoing interrogation with a halogen bulb millimeters from your skin, searching every inch of your inner and outer being for telltale spots of decay.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the balance between self as individual and self as parent. Of course, in the process of separating and naming them, I am displaying my attachments and therein lies part of the difficulty. But that's where I am...

I find the things I want to do or don't want to do as an individual sometimes conflict with the things I feel I ought to do or ought not to do as a parent. What is best for my daughter sometimes requires a certain level of transformation or letting go in terms of who I am or what I choose to do.

And I have realized lately this is the conundrum of all parents. It's one of the core cruxes of choosing to build a family and enter a lifestyle different from whatever was prior. Everyone hits this wall (perhaps repeatedly), and everyone makes some form of decision somewhere along the spectrum of change nothing to change everything.

Change nothing and you create as situation wherein your child becomes the parent, or has to raise-love-nuture him/herself, or misses out on the shaky but formidable lessons inherent in "responsibility," "obligation," "duty," and "sacrifice."

Change everything and you create a situation wherein the parent is a martyr... refusing moments of joy or self-focus in lieu of a mountain of shoulds. The child senses regret, remorse, or - perhaps worst - resentment and lives with a sense of guilt in the wake of their caregiver's inner and outer dissonance.

Oddly enough, all of this musing comes in the wake of noticing my recent reluctance to "be better" about making friends with other parents so my daughter can have playdates and get-togethers with kids her age. It also comes on the heels of a decision about this year's birthday and whether or not to throw any kind of party, who to invite, what to do, and when to do it. And, at the forefront this week, what kind of treat to bring in to preschool. Cookies? Cupcakes? Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes?

I am an introvert by nature, and this new level of engagement with a world that is both my own and not my own feels foreign and overwhelming at times. I struggle to find an anchor of authenticity in the role of mother I am forever in the process of defining. Meanwhile, I step forward and try on new aspects of self in an effort to engage in right action connected to the life of myself, my daughter, and my family.

What is truthful? What is compassionate? What is comfortable? What is acceptable? What is needed? What is loving? What is good parenting? What is enough, good enough, or not enough?

It's stupid and important at the same time - this sense of seeking in the unfamiliar territory of mommyhood - simultaneously frivolous and ripe with opportunity. Not just for my own evolution, but also for the work that becomes the backbone of my daughter's life... the choices that help to shape her childhood, young adulthood, and potential eventual mothering.

Buddha said, "He is able who thinks he is able." Buddha didn't talk about mothers very often, but maybe he should have. This quote could just as easily speak to a mountain of mothers poised on the edge of expectation and guilt and all manner of striving:

She is able who thinks she is able.

And then, Buddha might have added something about patience and forgiveness and throw in a reminder about compassion and how it starts with oneself. Maybe something about how cultivation of compassion is anchored in the core of the self... and then spreads outward like dancing seeds of milkweed onto an open ocean of waiting earth.

Maybe. Hard to say and thankfully there are some modern female Buddhists who fill in that area quite wonderfully and help the rough or lost or naked days feel much, much better.

So... I'm off to make cupcakes. I think they'll have sprinkles. And chocolate frosting. That's something my daughter and I wholeheartedly agree on.

May you find balance within the many roles of your life. May you always remember you are able.

Friday, April 2, 2010


I figured out the source of the intense cravings of the last few weeks relatively quickly. Shortly after writing about it, I had a little ah ha moment, sat with it for several days, and then conceded the truth of it, clear and unavoidable because it carried with it a familiar feeling of inescapable pressure in my chest. Truth sometimes sits on me - very heavily - until I acknowledge it.

My hesitance in writing about it stemmed from a sense of shame, or maybe embarrassment (which, let's face it, is shame with a different tilt of the head)... so then I sat with that for several more days. Why the fear? Why the assignation of negative names/thoughts/feelings? What exists between thinking and saying (in this case writing) to generate such distress?

I'm still not sure of the why, but I'm tired of carrying the what around like an elephant - because my guess is, for those who really know me, it's not like any grand sort of epiphany. More like, "Yeah... I kind of already knew that about you."

Intimacy. The craving is intimacy. More specifically... my willingness to be vulnerable, to be open and completely present in an undefended way with those around me. Because, as I came to see in my chewing and mulling and waiting, I hold myself back from everyone. I stay separate on a fundamental level - more observer than participant in the shared human interactions of my life.

This is especially true of my relationships with those closest to me: my husband, my daughter, my family, my friends. I am there but not there. Present but not available. With them but apart. Loving but not risking. Not really.

I am a brave person in a lot of ways. There are areas of my life within which I am fearless, empowered, and willful. But when it comes to letting people in, I fail - over and over.

I act like a wallflower and then blame everyone else for leaving me isolated and alone... and in the grandest moments of my self-deception, I scan my life for escape hatches and new routes of promise - knowingly pinning my discontent upon external sources to avoid looking at the only one who really has control over my experience: me.

Today I sat in the park and watched my beautiful little girl play with a boy she had just met in the sandbox. She of princess pink and tomboy strength - of shy charm and trumpeting love. She clearly liked him, and kept glancing at me to be sure I saw her courage and friendliness and open, whole-hearted being.

I felt such love for her. She is my hero and my teacher and a constant reminder of how to choose joy. Her humor surprises me, her tenderness delights me, and her tenacious bravery inspires me. She and my husband are the two most important people in my world, and neither of them knows how much I love them because I fail to make it clear - and I choose to pull away when I should move toward.

This is a big one - this act of hiding. It shows up in career, motherhood, marriage, family, friendship, creative freedom... all manner of places. My experience of life, I have come to notice this week, can be defined largely by processes of retreat and avoidance. This is not a legacy I wish to pass along to my daughter, nor has it been a particularly positive fact in a space of mindful attention and intentional practice.

Buddha said, "Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." Which is sort of a nice way of saying, "Stop your whining and do something about it." Either way, the message is the same.

May you love and be loved without fear. May you embrace the opportunity of the present moment.