prelude to a nap: blowing bubbles in bed

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.

after the fun, quiet did prevail…but no naps were had that day.

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snow don’t stop the show

remembrance + reconciliation: prayers for thanksgiving

Today, may we appreciate this food
and remember those who are hungry.
May we appreciate our family and friends
and remember those who are alone.
May we appreciate our health
and remember those who are sick.
May we appreciate the freedoms we have
and remember those who suffer injustice and tyranny.1

I spent Wednesday morning in our tiny kitchen blanching, boiling, carmelizing, chiffonading, chopping, cubing, dicing, sautéing, seasoning, smelling, stirring, and tasting.

As I breathed in the swirl of pungent and sweet aromas from the herbs, vegetables and meat, I breathed out loving awareness and prayers of gratitude for the gift of being able to prepare and share a Thanksgiving meal with my family. My mate and I openly acknowledged that our blessings outweighed any minor irritations that come with hosting a holiday gathering: our good health, solid relationships, comfortable home, and modest but sufficient financial resources.

I quietly returned to the prep work, thinking of those among my circle of friends and family who were ill/injured or had recently died and those who were caring for a dying relative or a coping with the loss of a loved one. In fact, within a short stretch of days leading up to Thanksgiving I counted a death, a discovery of a debilitating condition, several surgeries, and two terminal cancer diagnoses. Knowing how close and inevitable these life events are, I shook my head and breathed a prayer that all be nourished and sustained during times of difficulty.

But suffering is not easy to shake. So the complexities surrounding this day of “celebration” continued to emerge:

the sanitized and commercialized myths of this holiday’s origins;

the brutalities inflicted upon Native peoples at the hands of explorers whose own quests for freedom stripped away theirs;

the continued suffering of Native peoples by the oppressive systems that arose from the corrupt values of those nation builders;

the  legacy of this nation still so divided by racial, social, and economic injustices that repeatedly threaten our very rights as humans to freely be who we are, choose whom we love as well as how we care for ourselves and our families;

the suffering within families who may—just for this single day—cast aside hurts and differences to endure each other’s presence over a special dinner but will be unable to truly heal and reconcile;

the suffering of those who will not spend this day in a safe space, full of love and laughter.

Recalling my own family’s internal struggles, I have frequently questioned why anyone would go through the rigmarole and pretense for a few hours of family time, if the days before and after would be fraught with conflict.

How can any single (and so-called holy) day, burdened with such history and memory, also restore our hope and inspire reconciliation? 

It may be a beginning. But wholehearted and diligent effort is what sustains. As dharma practitioners, we learn and take refuge in numerous mindfulness practices to nourish compassionate understanding for our deep and boundless connections to all beings and to heal our past and present wounds.

Around cultural events such as Thanksgiving or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my root sangha has practiced Touching the Earth wherein we recite the six contemplations and, following each one, bow deeply to the earth in full prostration. It is an act of remembrance and homage for blood ancestors; spiritual ancestors; the land, Native Americans, and those who work to reverse the violence and injustices that have harmed us all; and those whom we love. As well, it supports us to reconcile, in our hearts and spirits, the suffering caused by people who have hurt us; and, lastly, to make peace with the religion of our origins, from which we have become estranged or disconnected.2

Honoring and acknowledging our gifts and blessings, may the love, understanding and laughter we share with friends and family nourish and sustain us in times of suffering and celebration. May our memories be purified and our hearts restored–full, strong, open and clear–turning toward reconciliation.

______________

1I first encountered this blessing, “May We Appreciate & Remember,” in Angeles Arrien’s book Living in Gratitude. It is also featured among this collection of blessings from other traditions: http://www.ctyankee.org/fs/page/001728/gracesfrommanytraditions.pdf
2 See also Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings on Love.

a family affair: father’s day practice

the family that prays together stays together ~ al scalpone

so the slogan-turned-Christian-proverb goes…and came to mind as i prepared to share my Sunday meditation practice with my father and youngest brother, who were coming into town to spend Father’s Day with me. although my dad has attended one of my yoga classes before, i was excited that, for the first time, he and my brother would experience mindfulness meditation as i lead it during my Sit+Study practice at Just B Yoga.

inspired by the practice i shared with my root sangha (which studies Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh), i gently guide my yoga-sangha through an hour of walking and sitting meditations and a dharma discussion.

i invite the bell and bow deeply throughout; occasionally recite a gatha and share Buddhist suttas or readings; and encourage mindfulness, compassion, and the calm-abiding of body, heart, mind and breath to prevail.

but what makes this so different and special?!  just as the bell and breath can help us return to our “true home” in the heart, Just B Yoga has become a sacred space where many have found their second home in the embrace of a heart-centered community.

it has become a place of refuge and respite: inviting, attracting, and nurturing diversity in age, race, ethnicity, nationality, size, shape, color, gender, physical ability, religious affiliation, sexuality, education, and socio-economic status.

it is a donation-based, community-driven, family-and-pet friendly, LGBTQ ally, urban garden-growing, NO JUDGEMENT ZONE...yoga studio in the ‘hood! in fact, it’s not far from the hood where i grew up.

the doors are open. the practice is accessible. it is found in the form of yoga, tai chi, meditation, and friend-family-and-community-building! it thrives and blossoms. it spreads.

here, i’ve been awestruck at the frequent sight of more than a half-dozen black women gathered in movement, mindfulness + meditation with me! now, this here is worthy of acknowledgment and celebration! it’s a rare occurrence in the yoga and meditation circles…except, perhaps, when a special “people of color” retreat is organized.

here, we contemplate and muse about reconciliation, letting go, working through fear, doubt, and difficulty. here, we learn to stay present to what is arising and get real about the obstacles and struggles we may encounter when we’re off the cushion. here, we cultivate trust, diligence, understanding, and skillfulness. we nurture lovingkindness, respect, gratitude, and equanimity. we learn to listen deeply, see clearly, and respond skillfully.

at the end of Sunday’s practice, i bowed deeply to my father for all that he has gifted me: love, support, understanding, acceptance, insight, wisdom and, most important, the seeds of the dharma.

when he graced me with the name of a bodhisattva, he illuminated the path that would unfold within me.

here, now. this is my prayer: may the merits of our practice continue to strengthen all our relationships.

may the family that meditates together, cultivate together mindfulness, compassion, and understanding…

On Mindful Parenting: “Discernment Versus Judging” – M. + J. Kabat-Zinn

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…

Cover of "Everyday Blessings: The Inner W...

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”

tits + titillation II: the magic of mammaries + the madness of media hype over breastfeeding

I’m recycling my commentary to the Q&A with Jamie Lynne Grumet that I reblogged a few days ago along with related articles addressing the issue, including Dr. Sears’ respond to the hype.

As a mother who has instinctively practiced “natural”, “attachment,” or “connected” parenting, I applaud Jamie Lynne Grumet’s courage to appear on the cover of Time.

The image is undeniably and deliberately provocative.  And, in some ways, problematic.

Though not for the reasons that most folks will immediately think.

Along with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” this cover adds fuel to thetyranny of comparison (to borrow the phrase that continues to resonate with me long after hearing it in Buddhist teacher Martin Aylward’s dharma talk Work, Sex, Money, Dharma.) between working and at-home mothers.

As well, it excludes from the picture the vital presence of fathers who are equally committed to this way of parenting.

Understandably, Time’s editorial choice was guided by sales as much as shining the light on the legacy of Dr. William Sears and attachment parenting.

I appreciate Jamie’s awareness of the unfortunate negativity (guilt, resentment, judgement, etc.) this will spark and can only hope that the full article will present a more complete and balanced view than its cover.

May all parents be released from suffering
the tyranny of comparison.
May all parents be inspired to be
the best nurturers, educators, and providers 
they can be
and make skillful choices that serve the well-being of their families.

Related articles:

On “Guerrilla Learning” ~ Grace Llewellyn & Amy Silver

Guerrilla Learning is coloring outside the lines, finding the shortest direction between two points, moving directly toward goals, doing the best you can with what you’ve got to work with now, making what you want for your kids and what they want for themselves as real as you can, asking people for specific kinds of help, getting out of theory land and into the trenches, realizing that schools could take centuries to significantly improve (or to get out of the way altogether) and that meanwhile your children are barreling through childhood…

Cover of "Guerrilla Learning: How to Give...In a nutshell, Guerrilla Learning means taking responsibility for your own education.And Guerrilla Learning is relaxing—knowing that you’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent (and an educator) and that you’ll make a lot more, and that that’s okay—your kids are resilient; it’s not all up to you, and life will provide.

For young people, that includes thinking clearly and seriously about one’s own goals, interests, and values—then acting accordingly.

For parents, it means supporting your child in doing so.

It might mean giving your child a kind of freedom that may seem risky or even crazy at first.

And it also means continuing your own involvement in the world of ideas and culture, continuing to read, to think, to discuss, and to create–and being a walking, talking invitation to your kids to do the same.

Of Related Interest:

Raising Smart Girls Blog

An Unschooling Life

holy mood swings: my toddler the teenager!

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.

Hiding out!
No, I not doing that, Mommy!

“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.
      • Nope.
      • Not doing/Not going…
      • Not yet.
      • Uh-uh.
      • 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. 

eat, play, learn: a montage of the magic of food + fun

this food is the gift of the whole universe:
the earth, the sky, the rain, and the sun.
–from “the six contemplations for young people”

in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Making Space

Contemplations for Practice: Living Buddha, Living Christ ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

This afternoon I will step out of the family Easter dinner to enjoy walking and sitting meditation with my yoga-sangha.

When I realized that my regular Sunday practice fell squarely in the center of the high holy days of Passover and Easter, and at the end of the Religious Awareness Week our local university organized (and at which my dharma sister shared and led a Zen meditation practice), I was inspired to re-read Thich Nhat Hanh’s contemplations in Living Buddha, Living Christ.

Here, I share some of the passages that resonate with my personal experiences of the interbeingness of Buddhism (the practice that began to organically blossom in my life before I even knew it formally as “Buddhism”), Christianity (the practice in which I was raised and often felt at-odds with) and Judaism (the practice of my maternal great-great grandmother that I came to touch through my Jewish dharma sisters who have invited me to celebrate holy days such as Passover and Yom Kippur).  In my practice today, I will touch the earth in honor of my spiritual ancestors and teachers.

“RELIGIOUS LIFE IS LIFE”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To me, religious life is life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit.  We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions.

Professor Hans Kung has said, “Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world.”  People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies.  When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result.  The second precept of the Order of Interbeing, founded within the Zen Buddhist tradition during the war in Vietnam, is about letting go of views: “Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to receive others’ viewpoints.” To me, this is the most essential practice of peace.

“TOUCHING JESUS”

But my path to discovering Jesus as one of my spiritual ancestors was not easy. The colonization of my country by the French was deeply connected with the efforts of the Christian missionaries…In such an atmosphere of discrimination and injustice against non-Christians, it was difficult for me to discover the beauty of Jesus’ teachings.

It was only later, through friendships with Christian men and women who truly embody the spirit of understanding and compassion of Jesus, that I have been able to touch the depths of Christianity. The moment I met Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew I was in the presence of a holy person. Not just his good work but his very being was a source of great inspiration for me. And others, less well known, have made me feel that Lord Jesus is still here with us…Through men and women like these, I feel I have been able to touch Jesus Christ and His Tradition.

“LIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD”

In the Jewish tradition, the sacredness of mealtimes is very much emphasized. You cook, set the table, and eat in the presence of God. “Piety” is an important word in Judaism, because all of life is a reflection of God, the infinite source of holiness. The entire world, all the good things in life, belong to God, so when you enjoy something, you think of God and enjoy it in His presence. It is very close to the Buddhist appreciation of interbeing and interpenetration…

Piety is the recognition that everything is linked to the presence of God in every moment. The Passover Seder, for example, is a ritual meal to celebrate the freedom of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and their journey home. During the meal, certain vegetables and herbs, salt, and other condiments help us touch what happened in the past—what was our suffering and what was our hope. This is a practice of mindfulness.

“ENJOY BEING ALIVE”

To breathe and know you are alive is wonderful. Because you are alive, everything is possible.  The Sangha, the community of practice, can continue. The church can continue. Please don’t waste a single moment. Every moment is an opportunity to breathe life into the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Every moment is an opportunity to manifest the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit…

You need only to walk in mindfulness, making peaceful, happy steps on our planet. Breathe deeply, and enjoy your breathing. Be aware that the sky is blue and the birds’ songs are beautiful. Enjoy being alive and you will help the living Christ and the living Buddha continue for a long, long time.

a million hoodies, a million hearts: metta behind the movement for trayvon martin

Easily seen is the outrage, despair and fear, the ignorance and insensitivity, the failures of the police, lawmakers and politicians, the complex, provocative and polarizing rhetoric and debate, the uncertainty of justice and the swelling distrust in the systems that are meant to ensure our safety.

Hard indeed to see and to carry hope for the possibility of deep and lasting change.

Not only to the controversial and dangerous law that gave a misguided vigilante license to act upon his fear and racism with unnecessary and deadly force.

But also to individual and systemic institutional practices that reinforce our prejudices, feeding and fueling them to become rampant antis-, –isms and -phobias.

Easily seen are the differences between us: skin, hair, race, gender, age, sexuality, religion, education, politics, economics…

Hard indeed to see are the threads that tie us together:
blood, breathe, heart, soul, histories, joy, suffering…

But for my practice of the buddha-dharma,
I might sit heavy with visceral rage, terror, disgust and disappointment.

Stomach-churning, heart-racing, tear-choking, breath-stealing anguish

For Trayvon,
my son,
my mate,
my father,
my brothers,
my nephews,
my cousins,
my friends,
my neighbors,
and others known or unknown to me who could be snatched from their loved ones
so brutally, so easily.

And not just sons, not only males.

Our daughters, mothers, sisters, and aunts are always vulnerable too. 

This cruelty, this pain, this suffering does not discriminate.
It leaves no one untouched.

So with my practice I sit.
Breath-, Love- and Hope-filled.

In full trust of the ever-evolving nature of all things.
In full remembrance that there are causes of and an end of suffering.
In full awareness of the victory of each sweet breath.

I sit to cradle my simmering feelings—
giving them space to stretch out, unfold, take new shape in their own time.

They are natural, they are human, they are mine.

Yet they are not me.

Touching the dharma and continuously taking refuge in the Five Mindfulness Trainings,             I am determined that my feelings will not feed or fuel choices that are unskillful, harmful or deadly.

I grow steady with each breath.
My anger and fear cool, soften and slowly transform into
the compassionate vigilance of mindfulness.

I listen deeply, see more clearly what is the true, necessary and wise course of action for me in this moment.

I touch the Metta Suttasending compassion and lovingkindness
in all directions with every breath
so that any habitual inclination toward anger, numbness, despair or avoidance will be released.

I step back—filtering out the discord, limiting what I consume from the media.
Tuning in—to my breath, my intentions, my dharma, my heart.

From this space, I listen deeply for:
facts, resolution, and the aspirations I hear beneath the pleas for justice.

From this space, I see clearly the faces:
brown as my own,
also darker, lighter—matching the full spectrum of hues and tones of people I know and love—reflecting my sadness, my questions, my aspirations.

From this space, I see clearly the hearts beneath the hoodies.

I feel them beating, bleeding, bursting wide and tender with compassion
for Trayvon Martin, his heartbroken parents and loved ones,
and all others who are suffering from such tragic and profound losses.

Hearing, seeing, feeling completely, I touch those aspirations that connect us all.

I chant them silently, I chant them aloud to my son each night, I chant them for us all.

With each nourishing, energizing, life-sustaining breath:

May we and all beings be happy,

May we and all beings be safe,

May we and all beings be well,

May we and all beings have peace.

My path and practice are affirmed.  I know this is the only way for me.

 Trayvon‑Martin‑009_540x405.jpg

  • My son: My ray of light, my bell of mindfulness, my clear intention for practice.
  • My mate: A miraculous odds-smashing survivor of a random act of road rage, he was shot in the head at 19. He happens to be white. The shooter, who served the minimum sentence on a plea, is black. His parents–my loving “in-laws”—and family members who are models and practitioners of faith and forgiveness.
  • The Dhammapada (Verses 252 – 3) as quoted in Come See For Yourself  ~ Ayya Khema         We read and discussed the chapter “The Faults of Others” in my root sangha (lamc.info) several years ago, and it continues to resonate.
  • The Places That Scare You: A Guide To Fearlessness in Difficult Times ~ Pema Chodron    I’m currently re-reading this book (slowly digesting the practices), and my bookmark was resting in the middle of her chapter on Compassion.
  • Metta for Children ~ InvitingtheBell.com                                                                                         Matt wrote about introducing this “magical” practice to his daughter (exactly one month ago today) and, auspiciously, I read it shortly after putting my own child to bed with thoughts about how to incorporate age-appropriate bedtime blessings into our evening ritual. Every night since, I sing my simple metta chant to him.
  • ‘Million Hoodie’ March  ~ Newsone.com

poetry in motion: [in Just-] by e.e. cummings

These two gorgeous lines (tweeted by someone in my cipher) sprang to life in the shape of my puddle-hunting, snow-munching, nature-loving son!  In them I see a beautiful meditation celebrating the transition from winter to spring.

in Just–

spring when the world is mudlicious…

…when the world is puddle-wonderful…

And, on the brink of spring in Michigan…when the world is snowlightful!

Read here in its entirety: [in Just-] by e. e. cummings: The Poetry Foundation.

when lessons rebound: floss-o-philia

This is what happens when I forget to hide the floss:

open with teeth
floss-o-philia: chew
chew
floss-o-philia: stretch & saw
stretch & saw