It was 17° F on New Year’s Day, and my practice still beckoned me to honor my commitment to get sorted, settled and centered–body, heart, and mind–through my walking/running meditation.
There’s a special stillness in winter that I deeply appreciate. Fewer people venture out when the temperature dips below 30 °F, and only the bravest dare to “play” if the sun’s not offering some illusion of warmth. Slate grey sky. Stark white snow. A solid path along a river flowing beneath a thickening sheet of ice. Scraggly winter-stripped branches and a frizzled ridge of vegetation mark the border between shoreline and water.
I feel enveloped and penetrated by this rare moment of quietude. The sensation of refuge arises to warm my muscles–fueling each step or sprint.
I am reminded of the “witching hours” when I’m awakened by the moon. Fully alert and energized, I sit or lie down to meditate, abiding in breath, or write out my contemplations in my journal. Reprieve in a house that is typically buzzing with the energy of my 3-year old daredevil and the electricity of appliances and electronics in constant service. A murmur and sweet sigh from my son. I pause, instinctually ready to respond to his call. I relax once more. A startling chainsaw-like snore from my mate. I pause again, listening to the pattern. If it continues, I move to another room.
These sacred spaces–a park in winter, a house in slumber–magnify the wonder and magic of my mindfulness practice.
movement: we settled down for quiet time by getting out our wiggles, jiggles, and giggles. of course, there was lots of bouncing from end-to-end of the bed to catch bubbles.
mindfulness: but we also peered through our looking goggles to see the kaleidoscope of colors glistening in each sphere and pulled on our listening muffs to hear the static-y *pop* of bursting bubbles.
bubbles in bed
better than a nap
looking for the bubble shower
the kid captures the elusive bubble shot
after the fun, quiet did prevail…but no naps were had that day.
Wow! I’m so moved by all who “joined” this movement, invited others, shared their experiences, took a moment to consider how they perceive/speak to/treat themselves, and wholeheartedly committed acts of self-kindness!
The official event week may be over but let your practice continue:
Speak skillfully and gently to yourself! Suspend the inner critic. We can acknowledge mistakes or areas we wish to improve without judging or demeaning ourselves.
Honor your inner wisdom and be generous with giving yourself all that you need to support your well-being. Do not abandon yourself! Develop healthy boundaries and conserve your resources (emotional, physical, creative, etc.) so that you do not become depleted or resentful.
Acknowledge and honor your strengths, talents and contributions. Do not get caught up in the self-defeating cycles of comparison. We all have something to contribute to our relationships and communities. Though our circumstances may not allow us to share/contribute in equal measure as another, we can commit to the practice of giving wholeheartedly (without doubt, bitterness, frustration, etc.). Remember still that equal is not identical! Be free to share in a way that is authentic to you.
“Keep company with the wise.” Spend time with people who diligently nourish this grace, loving-kindness and compassion for themselves and others.
Bowing deeply with gratitude for the mindfulness that was nourished this week and to Carolyn W. of our meditation community (Lansing Area Mindfulness Community) for launching this inter-faith initiative.
I finally prepared my garden over the stretch of a week—turning the earth over (Shhh! I surprised my semi-bug-phobic self by apologizing to the displaced insect life and asking for their help in growing our garden), watering the plot, contemplating the layout and selection of plants, and interplanting flowers and herbs for the first time. All the while, my dirt-loving-Earth-Day-born 2-year-old was giddily digging right alongside me.
By the end of the day, K was a pro with the garden hose and everything was a fair target. Including me, of course! I even had to negotiate time with it. He’d reluctantly hand it over, whimpering “my hose” and half-heartedly picking up the hand shovel or cultivator until he could get the hose back in his grip.
So now he’s the official hose boy!
Days later, K waters the garden.
Tending the Earth
While at the park one afternoon, he played with two little girls who were trying to make an airplane out of candy wrappers strewn about the playground. I pointed out other scraps they could use, remarking how cool and clever it was that they were recycling garbage into art. Suddenly, K starts hunting down trash and throwing it away!
I have no doubt that our time together in the garden cleaning up debris, tilling, weeding, planting, watering and admiring our efforts have planted in him the seeds to be a steward of this earth.
First blooms of the Snapdragons
Yesterday, I was so excited to see the first of the snapdragons flowering!
The gift of the whole universe:
the earth, the sky, the rain, and the sun…*
…A hose, a toddler’s enthusiasm and wonder,
Our hands, our breath, our laughter, our smiles.
*Making Space (Thich Nhat Hanh) from The Six Contemplations for Young People
I was moved by this beautiful image circulating around Facebook last fall. These children, connected to the earth, connected to one another, through laughter and play, are radiant with the fullness of life and love. A love that is boundless— permeating and nourishing all it touches, and being fed in return by the breath and hope of all living things.
Seeing this instantly brought to mind these lines from the Metta Sutta (or Discourse on Love):
“Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life,
cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos.
Let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across.
Our love will know no obstacles. Our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and enmity.
Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying, as long as we are awake,
we should maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart.
Let me first state that I do not subscribe to the common expectation that a toddler’s transition to the age of two will be terrible!
Even at the height of my son’s spontaneous emotional swirl-nados, I steadfastly refuse to be trapped by what I see is a trite label and myopic view in child development that doesn’t foster deep, compassionate understanding. Yes, there will be tantrums! Frequent and at times seemingly relentless. But there are far too many magical moments (and, in general, enough madness) in parenthood to flat-out condemn this developmental phase as a requisite breath-holding, loin-girding battle of the wills.
What these natural growing pains require are deep breaths, gentle words, easy smiles, open arms, sympathetic hearts and creative minds. The magic is revealed when we greet the madness with such mindfulness and, whenever possible, humor.
“No” and its variants are running neck-and-neck with “Mommy” as the utterance we hear most frequently. Be it emphatic and loud, soft and sweet, plaintive or matter-of-fact, our growing list of the ways in which K expresses his resistance—er, preference—currently includes:
No, thank you.
Not doing/Not going…
And, once: No way, José! (for which I take total responsibility)
Not all of these “no” moments are cause for alarm. Many, I must admit, are hysterical to me—and I get so tickled that I can hardly suppress my laughter! In those laughable cases, my mate and I typically find it easy to redirect K’s attention and energy. If his persistence cannot be ignored, we are not above negotiating with Altoids (our newest useful tool) to allay potential meltdowns and encourage cooperation from our mint-crazed kid.
But I mindfully gauge my response to each situation (namely, turning away if I’m particularly giggly) so as not to invalidate K’s feelings. When I notice that he’s beginning to struggle with his emotions, I ask whether he needs help, a hug or both. Any of those are effective in the easiest scenarios.
Of course, we parents wouldn’t stretch and grow into our wise and skillful selves if we only had the easy. In the toughest moments K’s alter, The No-Bot, emerges to unequivocally and inconsolably refuse all aid!
Now comes the deep breathing…and, I give K the space to work it all out: He’ll clomp upstairs and fling himself onto the bed, hiding under the covers whenever I check in. Or, run off to pout in a corner or shut himself in a closet or the bathroom. Yes, all of these dramatic gestures from a child on the cusp of two years old!
Even in the midst of this I remain amused and amazed by how well this child of mine knows his own mind and fearlessly expresses it. Most important, I recognize and respect that K is a little person who doesn’t yet know what to do with all these big new feelings and ideas blooming inside. It’s not necessary, helpful or appropriate to exhaust myself by demanding his obedience. As a connected parent, I understand that when children don’t “feel right” they have difficulty demonstrating the behavior we deem “acting right” and learning to manage feelings is a slow and gradual practice (for kids and adults alike).
This wide open perspective serves us both: K learns that he can freely and safely experience a full range of natural emotion such as frustration (the most common because he can’t do or have something), anger, discomfort, fear or confusion without punishment. I not only foster trust and compassionate communication between us, but also exercise patience and conserve energy. I model the calm behavior and, slowly and gradually, nurture those seeds of calm in him.
So I wait nearby, quietly assuring him that I understand and am ready to help, to hold, to hug.
Then that moment of intensity passes. K settles into my arms. I rock him and sing the calm down song until his breath comes smooth and steady. (Ah, the magic of songs and education-based kids’ programming that can be used as empowerment tools for parents and their little ones. Another jewel for magic + mindfulness: Anh’s Anger.)
Now I know he’s ready to listen. I replay the scenario and translate his feelings into simple words: you wanted to do this, mommy said that, you felt mad…and so on. Sometimes, I take him to stand before the mirror so he can see how his feelings look. I tell him that it’s okay, that he’s growing and learning, and still needs help from mommy and daddy.
I look into K’s eyes and say, “Gimme your nose!” Giggling, we rub our noses together in an Eskimo kiss. Into this simple, loving gesture I breathe my willingness to receive all his no’s with mindfulness. K’s transient outburst is already forgotten. Centered and at ease once more, he zips off to the next new experience.