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.
#magic + #media + #motherhood: “an open letter to moms from kid president” via soulpancake
I ADORE this! It’s just the kind of sunshiny reminder we need from our little rascals.
“MOM upside down is WOW!”
eat, play, learn: stroganoff + the incredible human body
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.”
“A Mother’s Journey” | Doodles + Illustrations from Yes Lionness on tumblr
“A Mother’s Journey” | Doodles + Illustrations from Yes Lionness on tumblr
“A mother has two lives, the one she lives herself and the one she is reincarnated into as her own child.”
caption for “a mother’s journey”
whuzzat?! why? and, what happens next, mommy?!: curious questions of a cool mind
What my son taught me about armpits refined my mindfulness practice. Listening deeply and seeing clearly into the suchness of all things.
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.
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.
adventures in snow + ice
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.
musings + meditation: on the first day of a new year
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.
eat, play, learn: must have ketchup
I thought it might be a passing mood. K nibbled the bun around his burger, flipped it over to peel away the bottom bun, devoured it, flipped it back and polished off the top layer of his ketchup-soaked bun.
“Sometimes I don’t like the meat when it’s big like that,” he explained.
THAT was nearly a week and three ketchup sandwiches ago! And he’s asking to make more–“with ketchup and nothing beneath it.”
breathing beauty into the world: a mindfulness practice for children (who are learning to see with eyes of compassion)
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.
a real live boy: leaping + bounding from two to three
inviting mindfulness in a moment of madness: how I learned to live the meditation when sitting was not an option
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]
out on a walk: morning meditation
Ah, the magic of enjoying a few moments alone, nurturing myself in nature, after a run at a local park!
I walk barefoot through the gardens still soaked with last night’s rain, alternately massaging my soles on lush grass and gravelly cement.
Breathing in the fragrances of the earth, I imagine new flowers blooming beneath each footstep and bow with deepest gratitude to the four directions.
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…
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”