mindfulness in a crisis

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Advertisements

madness: cabin fever + wacky winter weather

YESTERDAY: January’s nearly over and, due to the erratic weather, we hit our beloved sledding hill for the first time all winter.  The snow was sparse but slippery enough to get downhill!

image

image

image

image

image

image

TODAY: The kiddo wrestled his coat off through the seatbelt and went bare-armed (against Dad’s grumblings; meanwhile, I’m all “who needs the fight? g’head and test it for yourself”) for the short walk between the car and the building!

image

a reflection on the 5th year of motherhood

“Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed.
You have not hidden it.
That is your greatest gift to me.”

~Alice Walker
Possessing the Secret of Joy

#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

milestone madness: mommy + daddy are not my best friends

my on-the-brink-of-four-year-old child just told me (threatened, was it?) that i would not be his best friend if i didn’t let him have ice cream for breakfast!

he wasn’t mean about it. but he was as sincere as a little one who’s coming to understand the “suchness” of friendship could be. he really wanted that statement to mean something to me.

i held back the laughter. (the ridiculousness of it all: K is cute and funny when he pouts and rationalizes; he’s persistent in his requests for sweet snacks at inappropriate times; we have this debate several times a day!)

i then probed deeper, talking with K about feeling sad or mad or disappointed at not getting what he likes when he wants it. i asked him what it meant that i’m not his best friend. but he’d already changed his mind, climbing into my arms for a hug.

here begins another teaching moment for the family in patience, fairness, friendship, teamwork and kindness. always exhaling…to invite mindfulness to the madness.

#madness + #motherhood: where are my earmuffs?!

Not even halfway through our day together, I banned my three nieces from using my name!
On the flipside, my son hardly said Mommy at all.

#exhale #wolfpackprincesses #auntieproblems #othermother

#magic + #media + #motherhood: “tamara” | a short film by house boat animation

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.

eat, play, learn: stroganoff + the incredible human body

egg noodle intestines

K took one look at his plate and exclaimed that the noodles looked like the picture in the book where you puke! He was so excited to show me and dashed upstairs to grab How The Incredible Human Book Works so we could, he suggested, “compare.”

whuzzat?! why? and, what happens next, mommy?!: curious questions of a cool mind

The Incredible Magic of Ordinary Things

I was cuddling one autumn morning with my then 15 month-old son. Nestled in the crook of my arm, K suddenly pointed at me and asked, “Whuzzat?”

“My armpit,” I laughed.

“Cool.”

I was thoroughly tickled! For one, K was fascinated by this new discovery. He fearlessly inspected it, pinching at the sprouting hairs (um, yeah, I’m sharing this). I marveled that my child would find the ordinary, or otherwise maligned, armpit a source of wonder. Not to mention that he had used his word-of-the-moment in context!

See…See? What Is It?

My baby’s first uttering was “see.” A statement and a question.

He’d gaze intently out of our front window, repeatedly pointing at the scene before him. His dad or I would hold him close and name everything that was in view–elaborating on each detail or making up little stories or rhyming songs.

Together we’d soak in the sounds and sights with bright curious eyes.

It was easy to make the connection between this act of observing the world with my son and what I had learned through years of meditation: to look deeply, with every sense engaged and opened to the wonder arising in the moment. 

What is this? The fair-witnessing mind gently asks.

Look. See truly. A reminder to strip it bare. Peel away the layers. Get to the core. Reveal the heart: Simple. Rich. Vibrant. Suchness.

And Then What Happens?

With every ensuing question K began to ask, my mind and senses were bathed in mindfulness. I had to pause and consider how to answer in ways that could be understood by a toddler.

An exercise in skillful effort, indeed.

This meant each arising thought and spoken word was filtered through the four gates of speech (attributed to the Sufi tradition and referenced frequently in Buddhism): Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it kind?

Parenting books would translate such ancient spiritual wisdom as “keeping it simple and sweet.” But there’s so much more to this lesson.

We can cultivate our own skillful understanding as we break things down for the little ones in our lives. We refresh our perspective, search for new meaning (I mean this literally, too. Hello0ooo, Google!), and recognize, in truth, just how much we don’t know about this world.

My son has truly helped me unlearn, relearn, synthesize, and renew my practice of looking and listening. By nourishing his inherent joyful curiosity about life, I am learning alongside him how to penetrate the surface of all that we encounter:

For example, while playing at a park last summer, we noticed an enormous bee-like insect zipping around.  Another mother warned her kids away, understandably concerned by the prominent stinger.  We too avoided colliding with it, but our curiosity was definitely piqued. I even mentioned to my mate that I’d spotted something I’d never seen before! A few days later, upon leaving the children’s science museum, K and I spotted a sign in one of its gardens that identified this strange creature as a cicada killer wasp. He was excited to know all about it, so when we got home I read through articles and found a video on the internet to watch together (see previous link). For weeks afterward, he was talking about it–impressing his grandfather with the story of the cicada killer. Had I offhandedly dismissed it as a scary bug, we might have overlooked the sign and missed this opportunity to understand the nature of this creature.

With senses sharpened, we see the minute details and puzzle them together into an experience that reshapes us. This capacity to see clearly may expand into a capacity to speak truthfully and skillfully about what troubles, intrigues or excites us in life. For my son, Whuzzat became Why morphed into And Then What Happens? and begat the twin wonders What Does That Mean? and Tell Me About This, Mommy. Our questions bloom into explorations, discoveries, reflections, imaginings, stories and memories.

As Rilke once assured a young poet, we learn to live the questions now. Living the questions may often test our faith, compassion, and understanding. We may get stretched out completely. But our willingness to be present to them helps us develop the resilience to survive even the most difficult questions. So we listen and look closely and grow to love the questions and the journeys they lead us on.

This much I have learned from really hearing the wisdom in my son’s question and looking deeply into the coolness of an ordinary armpit.

things to do when snowbound

adventures in snow + ice

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I knew I’d have to make peace with winter when I decided to move back to Michigan 10 years ago (from NYC, which in my 9-year stint as a resident, had milder weather. Hands down. The true test: my nose hairs never once sprouted icicles!) As a kid, I loved everything about it. But my intolerance for snow, bitter chill, and grey skies–sometimes from October to April–grew with each year of adulthood. Maybe it’s genetic–my Caribbean roots or my anemia!

So I chose to embrace it rather than to suffer or grumble through the inevitable teeth-chattering and shoulder-scrunching. Warmed by my childhood memories of gliding, stumbling, and laughing with family and friends as we looped around our now-defunct outdoor ice rink for hours on end, I bought ice skates and made weekly visits during the mid-day open skate. I learned to breathe and relax my arms instead of tensing all my muscles in a futile attempt to fold deeper into my goose-prickled skin. I was slowly becoming weather-resilient!

By the time I became a parent, I was committed to making sure my son would be an all-seasons kid. So as long as the temperatures don’t veer toward the danger zone, we bundle up for regular walks and romps in the snow.

Notable winter moments so far:

K got his very own shovel as a gift from his Papa! It was as much a gift for Daddy too since he no longer had to trade turns with K while clearing the walkway.

My Caribbean father, who has lived in Michigan for all but two of the nearly 40 years he’s been residing in the States, went sledding for the very first time in his life! It was a joy to watch K and his Papi make such memories…and a trip to see my dad spend hours editing the video he shot of our sledding adventure that day! #BucketList

Snowmaggedon: Moving Mindfully + Class Cancellation

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.