Grateful to my friend + self-care blogger who regularly shares gems of inspiration like this with those of us in her sister circle! Here’s to, as she declared, “living, loving and being” ourselves.
I ADORE this! It’s just the kind of sunshiny reminder we need from our little rascals.
“MOM upside down is WOW!”
Yes! Making it a practice to communicate effectively with those we love is a true art. In a recent musing, I shared what my child has taught (and continues to teach) me about mindfulness and appreciate this mother’s efforts to cultivate skillful speech and deep listening in her family.
Through therapy, we learned to ask each other better questions. We learned that if we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them — we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers. We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.” If we don’t want throwaway answers, we can’t ask throwaway questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.
“The Questions That Will Save Your Relationships” on Huff Post Parents
K is forever pulling out my yoga mat to “exercise” or spontaneously busting a yoga pose. We love Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani), especially when settling down for bed. So today I thought it be fun to enlist his help (and stave off cabin fever) to create a fun photo to include in an announcement about my class cancellation.
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.
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.
On a scrap of paper that had loosened itself from one of my many overstuffed journals, I re-discovered a treasured but unattributed book excerpt I had copied and tucked away years ago. The message was so “on time” for me, as my meditation group has been contemplating mindfulness of emotions and how we may cultivate skillful understanding and practice around difficult feelings and experiences. I shared it with my sangha on Sunday and today finally ran a search with one of the sentences (it wasn’t a line from the excerpt I had read to sangha but one I guessed might yield the most relevant results) in hopes of finding the source.
I glimpsed a title that evoked a dawning familiarity–The Emptiness of Our Hands: A Lent Lived on the Streets by Phyllis Cole-Dai and James Murray (and, yes, this was indeed the source!)–and then followed that thread to the author’s website where my eyes alighted on the link A Year of Being Here.
A gem! This blog/project hosts a collection of mindfulness poetry. Wonder of wonders, today’s poem is yet another thread woven seamlessly into the fabric of our study of emotions. Here are a few lines from Jane Hirshfield: “A Room” (click the link to read the full poem):
A room does not turn its back on grief.
Anger does not excite it.
Before desire, it neither responds
nor draws back in fear…
Whatever disquiet we sense in a room we have brought there.
Each day I rise, waking to a world of possibilities.
I breathe and smile, happy and ready to learn, grow and share.
I see the sky, sun, clouds above me.
I see the earth, plants, water below me.
I feel the air around me.
I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.
I choose to see beauty in myself, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers, my community, and all living creatures.
I choose to speak words from my heart that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.
I choose to act from my heart in ways that are helpful, healthy, inspiring, and kind.
Even when I do not feel or act my best (whether I am sad, scared, confused or angry), I remember to place my hands on my heart and breathe.
I smile, knowing I can begin anew.
I can ask for help and comfort from those I trust and love.
Each night, I rest, thankful for all that I learned and shared.
I see the sky, moon, stars above me.
I see the beauty all around me. I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.
[originally written Fall 2012]
- My experiences as an aunt, mother, and substitute teaching assistant for a preschool program;
- My experiences as a practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, which is rooted in my practice of Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh;
- My dear friend TaNesha Barnes, who asked me some time last year to create an affirmation for Beyond The Surface, the critical thinking and social justice academy she literally built in her own backyard! A 21st-century embodiment of Wonder Woman, TaNesha is a mother, entrepreneur (t. barnes beauty), educator and social justice advocate with a clear heart-driven mission to empower students to become “global thinkers for equitable living.” When she recently posted the draft version of this piece (typed one late-night and stored as a memo on my BlackBerry) on Facebook, I was not only honored that she announced it would be recited daily in her upcoming program, Breathing Beauty Rites of Passages for Black Girls, but also compelled to add some long-awaited finishing touches! I am so deeply grateful to have lived, learned and grown up with TaNesha over the last 19 years and, on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (#MOW50), am excited to continue collaborating with her on programs that merge spirituality and wellness with social justice.
Because my mate does not blog (or engage on any social media for that matter) and would totally agree that this represents his perspective, I have to share this bit of hilarity from Snoozing On the Sofa: Conversations with my wife: Interpreting motherhood!
Mudra of the Inner Self
With the hands held in prayer position,
the thumbs represent the Inner Self—
surrounded by a temple of your creation.
Touching the Heart,
Nurture the Self with Breath & Loving Awareness.
Acknowledge your Commitment to
Compassionate Self-Understanding & Well-Being.
Smile & Bow Deeply to your Self with Gratitude.
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.
[Updated 20 January 2014]
Did he think that he would grow up to be who was? Here is the link to the talk I did at the San Francisco Zen Center, Janauary 19, 2013. I hope you enjoy. http://www.sfzc.org/zc/display.asp?catid=1,10&pageid=3584
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
I was pissed!
Once again, despite my wholehearted intentions and efforts, another Wednesday evening had arrived and, instead of meditating with my root sangha (Buddhist meditation community), I was at home.
Feeling exhausted, out of sync, and in deep need of restoring myself in a place of uninterrupted quiet where I could relax my busy mind with the steady flow of my breath and invite the precious moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness that defines mindfulness.
So I was unduly pissed at myself for not being organized (or awake) enough to get there, my mate for not making it easier for me, and all those unforeseeable or unavoidable forces that arose in the course of a day and became “obstacles” to my practice. Adding to my irritation: knowing that I now lived a few minutes away from the temple yet was faced with detours and delays that made getting there seem like a trip to the other side of the state. What the hell?!
At the same time, I was completely aware of the absurdity of my frustration. How could I be stressed out about needing to meditate…so that I could be less stressed?
My life was completely different: Mothering my then-infant son, finding a rhythm with my mate in our new life together as parents, and maintaining some sense of order in our new home were my highest priorities. And, around these, I sought to balance my teaching commitments, time with loved ones, and the space to nurture myself through my practice.
Doing all of this mindfully was my deepest aspiration.
Which is precisely why I wanted to connect with my sangha—to enjoy walking and sitting meditation in the sacred space of the temple; to share our curiosities, contemplations, and challenges; and, in turn, to be supported in the practice of cultivating mindfulness!
Cycling through this loop of grasping-anxiety-frustration, I realized that in my striving to get to the temple, I was working myself out of alignment with the heart of the practice! There was, as the Zen wisdom beautifully teaches, “nowhere to go, nothing to do” but to rest mindfully in the present moment wherever I stood, sat, or lay.
INHALE. Being aware of frustration and unskillful, negative chatter.
EXHALE. Allowing it to be expressed and felt.
INHALE. Giving it space to soften and settle.
EXHALE. Releasing it.
Stopping to breathe, listen deeply, and see clearly into my discomfort with some of the changes I was adjusting to helped me accept that my new life could no longer accommodate a two-hour evening meditation. I cherished that time with my fellow practitioners at the temple, but it was no longer an option.
No cushion, no mala, no bell, no incense were required.
In the absence of all these, I needed only to take refuge in the here-and-now quality of the breath—my constant teacher—in order to cultivate that steady, quiet space where mindfulness blossoms. Bringing that gentle, expansive awareness to each moment I spent cradling my son, preparing dinner for my family, or talking to my mate was, in fact, the practice. It was how I could live the meditation.
Although the teachings of mindfulness are rooted in the traditions of Buddhism (my path to this practice), its universal principles transcend the temple or meditation hall. It is a commitment to self-study that teaches us to develop nonjudgmental awareness of our bodies, thoughts, emotions, experiences and all that arises in our lives. We learn to quiet our “inner critic” and suspend our knee-jerk reactions and give space for qualities such as compassion, equanimity, and non-attachment to grow. Indeed, we learn to nurture mindfulness by practicing meditation. We learn to sustain it through our diligent efforts off the meditation cushions and benches.
So parenting has truly been a re-education in mindfulness for me. All that I thought I understood and experienced in my five years of practice prior to my son’s arrival has been stretched in directions I hadn’t fully imagined! I renew my commitment to non-attachment on a daily basis when I’m not able to “accomplish” tasks as intended.
Sometimes I can easily shrug it off and relax in the present moment, knowing it will keep. At other times, I have to acknowledge and release the irritation or anxiety of feeling thwarted. These challenging moments become opportunities to deepen my understanding and to practice wholeheartedly this living, breathing meditation. And then I exhale, remembering that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to attain.
So whenever it is that a task gets completed or whenever I safely reach a destination, it will be at the right and perfect time.
[originally published 14 sept 2012 for just b yoga’s blog]
What is called for in the cultivation of mindfulness, and in mindful parenting, rather than judging, is discernment, the ability to look deeply into something and perceive distinctions keenly and with clarity.
Discernment is the ability to see this and that, as opposed to this or that, to see the whole picture, and its fine details, to see gradations. Being discerning is an inward sign of respect for reality because we are taking note of subtleties as well as the gross outline of things, aware of complexity and mystery. There is a fairness in it, a rightness in it, because it is truer to the whole of reality…
When we bring mindfulness and discernment to our parenting, we come to see how much we tend to judge our own children as well as ourselves as parents. We have opinions about them and who they are and how they should be, and hold them up against some standard that we have created in our minds. When we judge our children in this way, we cut ourselves off from them and us. We also cut ourselves off from ourselves by contracting and becoming rigid. By intentionally suspending judgment and cultivating discernment, we create the potential to reconnect with them.
Discernment includes seeing that even as we attempt to see our children for who they are, we cannot fully know who they are or where their lives will take them.
We can only love them, accept them, and honor the mystery of their being.
~ Myla + Jon Kabat-Zinn,
“Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting”
“A baby wasn’t an idea, as love was an idea. A baby was a fact.
It was a being with a mind and a nature, and you could feel about it any way you liked, but a baby wouldn’t care.
Just by existing, it demanded that you believe in a future: the future it would crawl in, walk in, live in.
A baby was a piece of time; it was a promise you made that the world made back to you.
A baby was the oldest deal there was, to go on living.”