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.

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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…

out on a walk: a convergence of edge states

ice kisses sand.

frozen. solid. slick. supple. permeable. gritty.

convergence of edge states: the fine detail

Earth touching Water touching Air touching Earth:

convergence of edge states: the big picture

the alchemy of transition: the promise of continuation:

the endless being and becoming:

solid. fluid. free.

inviting mindfulness: the heart at rest ~ mudra of the inner self

Mudra of the Inner Self[1]

With the hands held in prayer position,

the thumbs represent the Inner Self—

surrounded by a temple of your creation.

 

mudra 1.bw

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.

mudra 2.bw


[1] Adapted from Mudras: Yoga in Your Hand by Getrud Hirsch. The description is my own. Photo credit: Belinda Thurston. Included in my meditation workshop materials, Inviting Mindfulness: The Heart at Rest.

facts in fiction: novel wisdom from “the passage” by justin cronin

“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.”

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:

all is full of love: the magic of circles

Osani Circle Game

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.

This is the noblest way of living.”

[20 october 2011, dya]

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

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.