zen mom life | dirt + dharma

skate. bike. dig. 

small but sure hands, inviting the bell. mismatched socks tiptoe-ing around beetle skeletons through the labyrinth. 

pausing for hugs. bowing to friends. 

finding his own rhythm in breath + stride. sitting, knee-to-knee beside me, cradling a jagged cluster of citrine.

more sunday gems: #zeninlansing

 

 

 

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loving day 2017

d4m.walkintherosegarden

Today is Loving Day! A celebration that honors the courage of Mildred and Richard Loving, who boldly fought their way to the U.S. Supreme Court with a legal case against the state of Virginia for its racist laws banning intermarriage between whites and non-whites. The Lovings may not have initially imagined that pursuing personal justice — the right to have their marriage acknowledged and validated in their homestate without the threat of jail — would result in a landmark civil rights victory of far-reaching proportions for generations to come. But the Supreme Court’s decision, on June 12, 1967, overturned anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states, decriminalized interracial marriages, and set a precedent for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015! 

On a personal level, June 12th is also an auspicious date for us — not only as an interracial couple, but for the chance encounter at a gas station one Saturday afternoon in 2004 that led to our reconnection after meeting briefly as teens more than 10 years prior.

Thirteen years later, we are parents to a child whom we are nurturing and teaching to understand and embrace himself as a black boy with multi-ethnic, multicultural, interfaith roots.

On the wall above his bed are a map of the world and of North America. I’ve finger-traced lines from all the places both our families have originated, across the many miles and borders traveled, to the city where the three of us were born. K tastes his Caribbean heritage in the meals I prepare and touches it during visits with my heavy-accented and dreadlocked Calypso-musician father and has learned of his German-Canadian ancestry from my maternal line and our visit to my late great-grandmother’s birthplace in Ontario. His connection to his dad’s maternal Czechoslovakian ancestry is less substantial because, for many reasons, we don’t encounter it those same embodied and sensate ways (especially since the death of my husband’s grandmother)…but there’s time to learn.

While the more complex discussions of affinity groups, intersectionality, and race as a social construct rather than a biological reality is a ways off, I’m curious to see how fluid or fixed his sense of ethnic/racial and cultural identity will ultimately become. We live in a town we jokingly call The Interracial Capitol* and are surrounded by bi- or multi-racial cousins (all on his dad’s side, by the way), friends, and neighbors, so his lens is very brown. And, his use of black, blackish, brown, brownish-white to describe himself (and to identify the similarity of our complexions while distinguishing the differences between ours and his dad’s) seems to be evolving from the basic capacity to articulate the concrete variations of skin tone toward a liminal and nuanced understanding of shared cultural experiences. Take this morning for example: As we learned about prefixes, K suddenly stopped to point out that seeing the word “multi-colored” reminded him of the books we read about segregation. Yup, those were the words that came out of his 7-year-old mouth. A total kiss-your-brain moment!

Despite all the interracial couples I know (of which, surprisingly, almost a dozen are black women married to white men), I’ve never heard nor seen any mention of this historical day being observed as a privately-hosted celebration or community event in our area. First steps: talking about the importance of Loving Day with my husband and son during dinner this evening; and adding our family’s story to the expansive legacy of love, hope, bravery and freedom that inspires us to keep fighting against injustice 50 years later.

*(To be very clear, having intimate, interpersonal relationships with an individual and a handful of their family and friends is not necessarily correlated with folks being “woke” and anti-racist. Receipts must be checked!)


bodhicitta bookshelf: The Case for Loving, co-created by husband + wife team Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, was among the books we read this winter as part of our exploration of social justice, civil rights, black cultural icons, and U.S. history.

touching the earth | a reflection on zenju earthlyn manuel’s “Way Seeking Mind of Martin Luther King Jr.”

reflection

As a Zen practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, my study of his teachings and personal history provided a surprising lesson about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This gleaming insight into their relationship renewed my appreciation and broadened my understanding of King’s legacy as it elucidated the global impact of his compassionate mission.

Several years ago, inspired by the “inter-being” between these two leaders as well as my own dharma as a Black American woman on this path of practice, I led my root sangha in the Touching the Earth prostrations to honor King and Thay as spiritual teachers.

Since then, my Monday evening Yin+Yang Yoga class has fallen on this national holiday. Each asana that brings our hearts closer to the earth (like these two favorites: Child’s Pose + Anahatasana) becomes a prostration, in which we fully embody the mindfulness practice of remembrance and reconciliation. We remember our origins and connections: to ancestors, by blood and spirit; to this Earth that sustains us and upon which our complex and interwoven histories have been built. We may began to penetrate the deep suffering emanating from our painful histories, which continue to manifest in new forms and to impact our experiences and abilities to relate to one another because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability and a whole slew of “differences” that seem to separate us. Breath by compassion-filled breath, we may began to reconcile these histories as we acknowledge, cradle, and heal our own suffering. We give it back to this wondrous Earth to absorb and transform it, as from the mud blooms a lotus.

In every class, I invite the practitioners to cultivate compassionate understanding of their bodies, minds and hearts through the alignment of breath and posture. Generating such mindfulness and loving awareness for ourselves teaches us how to skillfully extend compassion and loving-kindness to others.

When we abide in mindfulness, our senses become clear and fully attuned to the spectrum of beauty and suffering in the world. We acknowledge our own contribution to that stream–how our actions increase beauty or increase suffering. We make amends when we cause suffering and begin anew, watering seeds of compassion. Each heart-driven act–embodied on the mat, the cushion, among our beloveds and within our communities–commemorates the King’s legacy.

On this path, as teacher and practitioner, I know I am a continuation of Dr. King.

mudra 2.bw

[Originally posted 31 January 2013; Updated 20 January 2014]

Related:

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel |The Way-Seeking Mind of Martin Luther Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. | King’s Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Letter for Thich Nhat Hanh
Rev. Dr. Andrew C. Kennedy | Martin Luther King Jr. + Thich Nhat Hanh

[Broken links updated 16 January 2017]

mindfulness in a crisis

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Exploded and firefighters are two words you don’t want to hear from an unfamiliar caller, informing you that your mother needs you to come over to the house immediately.

Already in the car, heading in the opposite direction, with my husband thankfully behind the wheel. My first response was not to panic but to pause and assess. In reflection, I recognize: This is my brain on mindfulness.

And let me say right now that mindfulness is not a quick fix tool that I acquired after some 6-8 week stress reduction workshop. It is the result of 10-plus years as a dharma practitioner with feet grounded firmly on the Zen path and a lifetime of exploring contemplative spiritual and wellness practices that have helped recalibrate my fiery temperament “to be more able more often” to generate skillful responses.

I’ll be straight up: it doesn’t “work” all the time in all situations! There are certain conditions that are more likely to trigger my unskillfulness than others — lack of sleep, hormonal shifts, information overload, my enduring pet peeve with folks’ poor communication skills, a sudden pile-on of simultaneous requests for assistance or multiple “crises” (’cause, ya know, family) and, not for mere emphasis and effect but because it is my reality and truly can the training grounds for spiritual resilience, all manner of family habits/patterns/cycles.

It takes time, over a span of time and situations, to cultivate mindfulness as a spiritual faculty. With practice this faculty serves as a power, which becomes activated in a moment of crisis, where our innate flight-fight-freeze instinct is bypassed and instead calm and clarity prevail. So instead of having my husband immediately bust a U-turn, I took a fortifying breath and quietly cancelled the appointment I was heading to; notified other family members of the news — explaining that I didn’t have all the details but would provide an update soon; prayed that no one was harmed; and concentrated on seeing clearly and calmly a broad range of possibility.

En route I learned that my mother and grandmother were indeed safe, which made the drive from the opposite end of town less stressful. Still with only minimal information, I was mentally prepared to pull up to a busy scene with the driveway blocked by a firetruck, a crew assessing damage, and my mother and grandmother in a dither.

Much to my relief, there was no outward evidence of any hazard. Life, limb, and living quarters were in tact. There had, in fact, been an “explosion” and “smoke” in the form of a pipe to the water heater bursting, a release of some vapor/exhaust cloud through the smokestack, and a legitimate concern about the gas line being connected. But, thank God, all was well…albeit flooded. No elevated heart rate, nervous sweat, or belly-twisting fear to recover from. A sigh of relief and deep gratitude that nothing worse had happened. I later joked, Do y’all know how it sounds to hear “exploded” and “firefighters” in the same sentence?! There’s a certain picture that comes to mind

I won’t speculate further about worst-case scenarios. What’s more important was being reminded that, whether in the midst of uncertainty, tension, and crisis or in their aftermath, I can trust the fruits of my practice will continue to bloom — equipping, nourishing, sustaining, and restoring me.

homeschoolers be like

Life Skills 101: Tent, Nap + Snacks…Whew! What a rough week. So glad it’s over.

 

March Mindfulness 2015

As parents, partners and caregivers, we often feel stretched and compressed to balance our multiple responsibilities. So I am sharing my 3rd annual “call-to-action” that I launch each spring through my teaching practice, 3 Jewels Yoga.

#MarchMindfulness is a time to renew our commitment to cultivating skillfulness in thought, word + deed.

#PAUSE to #BREATHE.

#TUNEIN to your body (sensations) + mind (thoughts, perceptions, moods, emotions) + heart (intentions + aspirations).

#NOTICE without judgement what is present.

#TEND to yourself with #COMPASSIONATE actions — be it meaningful movement, words of affirmation, or spending time in the company of a #goodspiritualfriend!

♡ 3jewelsyoga.com

3 Jewels Yoga™

Today I kick off my annual ‪#‎MarchMindfulness‬ campaign to promote the practice of bringing skillful + compassionate awareness to how we engage, are impacted by, and then respond to the world around us.

The Satipatthana Sutta (Discourse on The Four Establishments of Mindfulness) is a foundational text and, ultimately, guiding practice in Buddhism. It is the inspiration and heart of my ‪#‎BodyAwarenessBootcamp‬ series, which ended this afternoon, and truly the ground in which my teaching practice is rooted.

How do we fully establish ourselves in mindfulness? We are diligent in developing a clear comprehension of the realities of our body and mind. It begins with the thread of the breath:

Breathing in,
be aware that [you] are breathing in.
Breathing out,
be aware that [you] are breathing out.

Breathing in,
be aware of [your] whole body.
Breathing out,
be aware of [your] whole body.

Throughout each day this…

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how we came to be: the legacy of mary roth + wesley rhodes

 

 All our ancestors are in us.  Who can feel himself alone?
~Richard Beer-Hofmann

Inspiration

In May 2003, my sisters and I returned to Lansing, Michigan to be with our grandmother Gene (Hayes) Merchant during her heart surgery and subsequent recovery. Facing the illness and major surgery of a beloved quickly puts the value of life, family, and knowing one’s roots into new perspective.

Over the next few weeks, Tamara, Atia, and I sifted through several boxes of photographs on a mission to label, organize, and preserve these aging, delicate treasures. We were fascinated by the stories Gramma told us, bringing hundreds of captured memories—smiling faces with familiar features who gathered to share joyous occasions, milestones, or simply everyday wonders—back to life. We had also come across birth certificates and other documents, which provided some vital information and offered us a clearer picture into the past. From that moment, I was inspired to renew the vow I had made when I was 12 years old to research and document our family legacy.

After attending my first Rhodes Family Reunion in Hamilton, Canada the summer of 1989, I was excited to explore our German heritage. But books on German genealogy indicated that most records had been destroyed in World War I. A little discouraged that I could not immediately begin my search, I remained determined to someday have the means to put together the story of how we came to be.

The opportunity finally arrived soon after I had returned to my home in Brooklyn, New York in July 2003. The journey began in the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy at the world-renowned New York Public Library (the one with the lion statues featured in dozens of movies) in Manhattan where I discovered that Wesley Rhodes had served in the Civil War. Along with viewing census records of my great-great parents, Sylvia (Rhodes) Hayes & James Hayes, I obtained a copy of Wesley’s file card from the Civil War Pension Index.

I immediately enlisted the help of Tamara, who lives in Maryland, to visit the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration in Washington, D.C. and copy Wesley’s file. I was amazed when she excitedly called some weeks later that August to tell me that there were actually two huge folders of documents. (It was the best birthday gift I could have asked for!) Neither of us expected there would be so much information! But, as you well know when the government is giving you money, war veteran or not, it doesn’t come easy: they want proof of the proof! As thrilling as it was to hear my sister read the documents to me, I was eager to touch this history myself and visited the N.A.R.A. in October 2003 to collect additional information.

Family, please know how blessed we are to have access to such valuable information. Many people cannot begin to piece together their genealogy, to verify stories that have been passed down orally for generations, or to come upon surprises such as Tamara and I did! Contained within those files are birth, marriage and death certificates, letters written by Mary (or perhaps her daughter Annie on her behalf) to the U.S. Pension Bureau, depositions and affidavits from friends corroborating Mary’s and Wesley’s history, and even a document of Wesley’s health examination, recording his height at 5 feet, 8 ½ inches, weight at 185 pounds and his various ailments.

This booklet is my first endeavor to encapsulate the remarkable legacy of Mary Roth and Wesley.  For me, it is one of love against odds, courage, determination and the quest for freedom.

Continue reading “how we came to be: the legacy of mary roth + wesley rhodes”

#madness + #motherhood: “Where are all the interracial children’s books?” – The Washington Post

This is my constant complaint as I search the shelves at the libraries and book stores. As a mother and aunt to brown children of multi-ethnic heritage, I snatch up any book that features children of diverse cultures — Asian, Latino, Black, Native — or, in lieu of being ethnic-specific, “characters of hue.” My default to balance out the predominance of white characters: animals, cars, and robots.

to tv or not to tv

In fact, just last week I explained to my not-quite-5-year-old that I had concerns about him watching a new show on nick jr. that does not have a character of color. He corrected me, pointing out that one purple-haired girl was brownish. Ha! True, she has some “tint.” But, factoring in “voice” and story context, and she skews far from an ethnic identity.

I’m an avid reader (who holds a graduate degree in media studies) who loves sharing good stories with great illustrations and age-appropriate lessons that I can build on with K. I certainly don’t avoid books without people of color; however, it is crucial that the children in my life get to see themselves reflected in a full range of stories, from the fantastic to historical. Their imaginations must be nurtured and celebrated so they may be inspired to live boldly, creatively and beautifully.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/01/20/where-are-all-the-interracial-childrens-books/

Zen(x)Mas: Our Very First Family Holiday Card

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No tree. No lights.
No wrapping paper or gifts (from mom or dad, at least).
No Santa.
And, this year, no snow…

Which is, as my 4 year-old son declared to his dad this morning, the sole factor dictating whether this “quintessential” winter holiday can happen (especially for us Michigan natives): “It’s not Christmas because it’s not snowing!”

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The Zen(x)Mas Way

“Buddha Blessings + Merry Christmas!” My sister, in all her silliness, affected a sacchrine, almost-pious, and breathy tone when I answered her call this morning. (I could tell she’d been cackling to herself while rehearsing this greeting in her twisted head.) We immediately burst into laughter!

Our families know that we are staunchily against the holiday madness that often prevails in the seemingly endless weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. We’ll watch the holiday-themed movies and generate some cheer over food and drinks in the company of loved ones but make no extra effort to aggrandize the occasion. We enjoy participating in the low-key Christmas Eve dinner with my mates’ family and then spending time with mine on Christmas Day. But in the years since our son’s birth (not to forget, the multiple back-to-back births of his cousins on both sides), the holiday festivities have thankfully and decidedly been downsized. Cause ain’t nobody got time or energy for all that!

Our inter-spiritual household of three lives by and cultivates the ethic of simplicity. While my dharma practice is a cornerstone in our foundation for being, the plain truth of it is, in heart and soul, we are just not traditional when it comes to many things.

So (since we live knee-deep in Legos and other construction sets year-round) this greeting card was a perfectly awesome way of letting our more “observant” loved ones know we were thinking of them as they celebrate!

Wishing you a happy, healthy and Lego-tastic holiday and a new year full of unimaginable adventures!

[Disclaimer: Ironhide is K’s newly-adopted imaginary pet. We DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have a dog, as several have wondered. We’re keeping life super simple that way!]

embodied practice: delighting in breath (cooling + calming)

My little guru happily demonstrates how to relax the mouth during the inhale + exhale for this yogic breathing practice! #dhammaWITHmama

3 Jewels Yoga™

I have found Kaki (Beak) breathing technique to be one of the simplest to teach, learn, and, most important, to make a regular part of my practice.  I use it to cool down my body when I’m running or practicing an energizing yoga sequence, to quiet and center my mind while meditating or when a task that requires my full attention, and to feel relaxed whenever I am feeling stressed.

You may practice this anywhere, at any time—sitting, standing, lying down or walking. With eyes opened or closed (as long as you’re not moving, that is!)

Begin by observing your natural breathing cycle for several moments.  Use each exhale to relax your muscles and to feel connected to the earth.  Use every inhale to create space in your body and to maintain a lengthened spine.

Relax your tongue and gently bring your lips together to form an “O” as if…

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#madness + #motherhood + #movement: transporting precious cargo

I cringe every time I see a parent or caregiver taking shortcuts when it comes to car seat safety: improperly installing and securing a car seat; putting a child into type/size of seat they are too big or too little to safely ride in; leaving straps twisted and/or unbuckled; allowing underaged kids to sit in the front seat without even knowing/understanding the impact of airbags on their little bodies.

Newsflash: These are milestones that are not to be rush.

7 out of 10 kids in child safety seats
are not properly buckled in – SeatCheck.org

Let’s get educated. Let’s stay aware and informed…and hold everyone who transports our children to the same standard of care.

Parents Central – Car Seat Recommendations

age size chart

Find a certified car seat inspector in your area: Seat Check

#MAGIC + #MINDFULNESS + #MOTHERHOOD: Celebrating Us

Happy Mamas-Run-The-World-Day to all WOMEN who mother, comfort, protect, educate, empower, advocate for, support + inspire/are inspired by children!

 magical moments with family during Mother’s Day week

kiss your brain: a compassionate life lesson from a preschool teacher

Last year, I worked as a substitute teaching assistant for a preschool program and had the opportunity to observe the dynamics between teachers, program assistants, and students in several classrooms.

One teacher quickly won my heart when I heard her say “Kiss Your Brain” in praise of the kids’ engagement in a group lesson. It wasn’t about having the “right” answer or being the best and smartest. It was a simple celebration of their ability and willingness to use their brain power—thinking, imagining, problem-solving, asking questions—and sharing it with others.

I’ve carried this practice into my home as well as into my yoga and meditation classes. With my son and the children that I teach, this phrase is a seed of self-compassion to nurture confidence and a sense of competency. It has the power to foster a love for learning without the pressure of performing to a certain standard of achievement. I also see its usefulness in cultivating a teaching-learning environment where equity, collaboration and cooperation (rather than competition and criticism) can bloom—equipping our children with a skillfulness that will serve them in all their relationships.

For myself and adult practitioners, it becomes a gentle reminder to honor these brilliantly-designed brains of ours. As we learn more about our neurobiological processes and their impact on mind (thoughts, words, feelings) and behavior (actions, habits), we can discover tools to work with rather than fight against our brain/mind to generate skillful behavior. Kiss your brain can be used as a mantra or affirmation to generate a new way of seeing and relating to ourselvesThrough this practice of self-understanding, self-compassion ripens beautifully.