Home » Mindful Parenting in a Messy World

 Our trip started this way. Bus trip to airport with thrilled child in luggage rack.  Our trip started this way. Bus trip to airport with thrilled child in luggage rack.

Our trip started this way. Bus trip to airport with thrilled child in luggage rack.

I’ve had this blog post swirling around in my mind for over a year now. Although I’m writing it while on vacation with my husband and two son’s, it is actually the hum of my life. Pretty much each and EVERY day.

Why don’t I walk you through a typical twenty four hours of this family vacation and tell me if anything seems familiar. It could be just me.

I wake up early and do my meditation. My youngest son joins me before the “totally realistic” Tibetian bell rings on my iPhone app. We snuggle.

All is well with the world.

Mom, can I have breakfast? And can you bring me icy cold water? And get my book out of my room? Can you turn this light on?

Here is where I do my best to connect to my desire to live a life of service.

Just breathe.

Teenage son wakes up and shares what seems like a friendly grunt. So far so good. Boys are now sitting on the couch reading together.

This is a lovely moment. Soak it in.

The bickering begins. No need to analyze what is causing the commotion. It’s awful. I raise my voice. My youngest tells me I shouldn’t be allowed to teach mindfulness because I can’t always stay calm.

Mental stories abound as to how we have failed as parents and human beings.

Morning continues in this fashion. Up. Down. Up. Down

Parents, the only solution to this madness is to pack up and GO OUTSIDE! I have no idea why siblings are kinder to each other the moment you step out of the house but this is a well know fact. It likely won’t last, but you will get a reprieve. Go. Save yourself and your sanity.

No, it doesn’t matter where you go. Just leave.

Off we go. Fingers crossed.

We choose to drive an hour to a deserted beach. 90’s hip hop songs are sung in unison in the back seat.

See, we can be a nice normal loving family.

Let’s stop for lunch mid way there. No one can agree on what to eat. Husband storms off. Food supplies are purchased from three different cafe’s due to food allergies and simple obnoxiousness.

Why is my life so complicated? It’s just LUNCH.

Secluded beach is everything we hoped for. Views are breathtaking. Boys are playing at the water’s edge. We snap a family photo.

Family on the beach .jpgFamily on the beach .jpg

I’m the luckiest person on the planet. Feeling grateful.

Taking mental note of how blessed I am.

We stop for dinner on the way home. Someone can’t stand how someone else runs his tongue on his braces to clean them while he is eating. This is apparently a major insult and something so gross and wrong that it requires a loud voice to make clear how horrible this behavior is.

Heads turn. I turn red. Will this ever end? Can I please not be in this moment.

I’ll take any other moment.

Back in the car. We play a family favorite car ride game. Laughter ensues.

I’m appreciating humor, smiles, and this point in time. Also grinning at how much I prefer the pleasant moments over the unpleasant ones.

Back to our condo and everyone is getting ready for bed. Showers, comfy pj’s, and a family movie. I’m noticing the sun kissed cheeks of my kiddos. Everyone is tired.

Conscious of the up and down rhythm of the day.

Desiring to embrace all that is. As it is.

Grateful for the power of awareness.

Seeing myself and life as a work in progress. Moment by precious moment.

Time for bed. Surrendering to sleep. Thankful for a full life.

Everything is fine until it isn’t. Then it is again.

secluded beach kauai.jpgsecluded beach kauai.jpg

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Thanksgiving Day is upon us, and for many that means the start of the holiday season. Here we go! The stress, worry, relationship struggles, shopping, hurt feelings, awkward moments with your drunk uncle sharing his political views….. you know the drill.

This year….come home yourself for the holiday’s. What do I mean? Have I lost it? Well, I probably have, but let me share the only solution to all of this mayhem that has worked for me over the years (aside from crawling under a rock and avoiding the holiday’s all together).

Pause. Breathe. Practice Compassion.

Do this ever so quietly in your own mind…over and over again (should others catch on they may think you drank too much of the punch). And start with compassion for yourself before offering it to others. This is how we come home to ourselves. When we find ourselves getting irritated about something “out there” we immediately take a u-turn back to our own hearts and minds.

Each time one of those “inconvenient irritations” appear just pause…take that breath…and offer yourself a little compassion. Once that compassion has sunk in offer it up to others. We can’t love up on others until we love up on ourselves.

Here’s the deal…everyone is doing their best with their current situation and state of mind. And during the holiday’s many folks tend to lose their minds. It’s just the way of it. We can’t and shouldn’t expect anyone else to change. We are the one’s we have been waiting for.

Compassion is this beautiful space awaiting us under the big emotions that often get triggered during the holiday season. It’s so generous in that it does not ask us not to feel what we are feeling, but instead to see any given situation with reality. It asks us to take off the veil and be with what is….just as it is. Compassion reminds us to stay open to the truth of any moment, even when that moment hurts us in some way. It walks us straight into presence and into the arms of love.

Let’s spend more time together in the arms of love this holiday season. I plan to start in my own loving arms and move out from there…

Now off you go to practice presence during this holiday season. One moment at a time…

Xo

Michelle

My cell phone rang recently and I saw my poppa’s name pop up. Poppa is in his eighties and lives in the southeast of Florida, which at the time, was in the direct path of hurricane Irma. I live in California and was in the middle of a busy work day. It was strange to see him calling, because I generally check in with him. We had just spoken the day before.

It didn’t take long to hear the worry in his voice…he didn’t have to say anything specific, but I could hear it.

Worry…. there it was. His and mine….meeting through the phone line.

I had multiple calls scheduled over the next hour, I thought about calling him back. But then there is was. LOVE…. The love I felt for my worried Poppa in that moment and all the love he had given me so fully…so generously. Always.

I felt this love permeate my entire being and because of this came the PAUSE….

As I listened to him share his plans for the hurricane and what was on the local news I quickly emailed those I was scheduled to speak with and told them I would need to re-schedule. Then I just listened…affirmed…asked questions….stayed present. For close to an hour, much longer than we are usually on the phone, I paused and soaked in as much of my Poppa’s essence as I could.

It seems we are living in a constant twenty four hour news cycle which has the sole purpose of keeping us on edge…worried. But with this call from my grandfather I welcomed the worry that brought me to love… and I rested in the pause.  

Pausing is not always an option…but I’m going to try and remember to allow my worry to bring me to love…to humanity…when it really matters….as often as I can.

May you meet this moment fully…May you meet this moment with kindness towards yourself and others.

Xo Michelle

One of the most common requests I receive from corporate clients and stay at home/working parents alike is to help them manage their response to stress. Personally, particularly on school day mornings, as I’m trying to get my kids out the door and myself to work, having the ability to bring it down a notch is absolutely critical. No one can find their shoes, the dogs are barking, the waffles just burned, and I’m running late to see a client. The best parts of me can be pretty hard to find in those moments.  

It’s perfectly normal for us to experience stress, and some measure of stress is actually good! It can motivate us and spark us into action. However, when the level of stress we experience passes our ability to skillfully deal with it, then it’s important to have some skills to help in that moment.

A useful skill to self sooth on the spot is to label our emotions. A study done back in 2007 by Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues looked at functional MRI images of people who were emotionally triggered. They found that if you labeled your emotion by simply saying sadness, fr
ustration, anger, or any other emotion, this had a direct effect on calming the amygdala which is the alarm center of our brain that goes crazy when we are stressed. Labeling the emotion decreased the activation of that alarm center. When we identify our emotions we miraculously stop being identified with them! Self soothing 101.

To help my clients (and myself) practice this technique I like to use the acronym STOP.

S- Stop. Pause. Don’t do or say anything else! Seriously. Don’t.

T- Take a breath while focusing on a long exhale.

O- Observe the emotion present. Label it.

P- Proceed, with lower emotional reactivity and a more sane response.

Now go do life and keep this little mindfulness hack in your back pocket….. What we practice grows stronger! 

Wisdom Teachings for Young People in the Technology Age

It was just a matter of time that parents, who are already often riddled with guilt for one reason or another, would find a way to feel bad about their mindfulness practice. And when I talk about “parents” what I really mean is “me”. Although I do have some serious data I’m not alone in this dilemma, having worked with and spoken with parents from all around the country who share one thing in common…..mindfulness.

No one can argue at this point that meditation and living a mindful life is good for us. Study after study is proving this to be true and for those of us who practice regularly we simply know that we are happier, more pleasant human beings who thrive when we put the effort into our practices. My family can surely tell you when I’ve been missing my daily dose because I will be much more cranky and impatient.

Here’s the problem…even when I’m doing all the things I know are good for me such as waking up early and getting my meditation out of the way, practicing presence when around my children, taking a pause when I’m triggered, and weaving mindfulness practices into most of my day I still manage to do things you would not imagine a “mindful parent” would do.

Just recently…

I bribed my ten-year-old with the promise of two action figures if he cooperated during his visit day at a new school.

When my son was doing a ton of whining I raised my voice and said “that’s enough”! (He promptly reminded me that he has a right to his sadness)

I ate half a bag of BBQ potato chips when I was stressed (screw the green juice right now man) and I did not eat them mindfully. In fact, I barely remember what they tasted like.

I went on to Facebook for a VERY SPECIFIC reason and realized 20 minutes later I was lost in social media land with no map.

I drove across town having no memory of how I got there.

And I you know what? This all just means I’m a human being.

So, what’s a parent who cares so much about their inner awakening to do? Lighten up for one. And next, weave some self-compassion practices into our day. My guess is that if you are still reading this you care a great deal (just as I do) about living a life where you meet each moment as fully as possible. It’s time for us to meet our cruddy behavior just as fully as our mindful behavior. Let’s lean in. Find some humor in our foibles. Give ourselves a break. Take that breathe we know we need. And begin again. Always just begin again.

All we ever have is “now” right?

A mindful parent is wise, calm, and always knows just what to do in any given parenting situation. Right? Right? Maybe not so much. 

I began focusing on parenting mindfully about eight years ago, and at that time one of my main goals was to stay calm and not get angry. How do you think that worked out for me? Well…I pretty much ended up feeling like a failure every time I didn’t feel calm and got angry. For the record, I don’t recommend stuffing anger in the name of mindful parenting.

As the years went on, I came to understand that mindful parenting is more about allowing the messy parts of our lives to wake us up moment by moment. It’s the anger and other uncomfortable feelings, emotions, and reactions that actually lead us to our mindfulness. 

The more awareness we bring to our struggles, the less of a vice grip they have on us.

Our children are masters of presenting these struggles to us in regular doses (for our own good as it turns out). They offer up a steady drip of where we have yet to grow. Can you see how our children are our master teachers? They trigger us in all the right ways to point us towards our greatest possibilities for personal growth, if only we can view our triggers through this lens. Easier said then done I know…but no one said it was going to be easy. Stay with me…

So what can we expect to see from the Good Enough Mindful Parent? Ready for the four things?

#1 The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent takes the time to practice mindfulness (the more the better but we are going for good enough here). We notice the water on our skin while in the shower, name the emotions we are feeling throughout the day, and sit in silence for a few moments (or hours) just noticing our breath. We don’t beat ourselves up when we loose our mindfulness and trust it will come back. In fact, simply noticing that we are not mindful IS mindfulness. You did it!

#2 The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent works to view difficult behaviors through the lenses of emotions and needs. We identify the emotion present in our children; such as they are angry, frustrated, exasperated or sad. We then identify which one of their basic needs is not being met, such as the need for connection, safety, play or freedom. From this perspective we can soften around our children’s (awful) behaviors and move right into deepening connection with them. Perhaps we hold out our arms for a hug or offer them a snack to counteract the blood sugar dip that had caused the awful behavior. On the days we are completely spent and barely have any patience we immediately forgive ourselves and move on to #3.

#3 The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent takes care of their body, mind, and spirit. You have heard of this idea yes? Self Care. The whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” thing. We simply can’t be aware, perfectly present, and unwaveringly patient when our tanks are on empty. Although a spa day would be lovely, we are going for good enough here remember. Wash your hair, take a walk, practice yoga, or call a good friend. Whatever fills up your tank do that.

#4- The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent expects to make mistakes. And I mean make mistakes daily! What our children need most is help from us to explore their own inner worlds. When we completely blow it is the perfect time to help our children grow (while subsequently crawling out from that pile of guilt we are hiding under). The trick here is to calm down before moving forward. After the amygdala hijack in your brain is over and your cortisol levels have lowered, talk through the blunder with your child. It might go something like this…”Wow, I really screwed up earlier. I should have noticed how angry I was getting and stepped away to take a few breaths. I wish I had caught the anger monster before it exploded. I’m sorry. Are you willing to tell me how my anger affected you?” On the days we are too spun around to admit to our mistakes we get a good nights sleep and start over tomorrow.

So there you go…let go of the idea of a perfectly mindful parent. They don’t exist. The Dali Lama doesn’t have children. Just saying.

 

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Life is our teacher every step of the way…even the messy unpleasant parts (especially the messy unpleasant parts). All of our experiences exist to open us up to what we have yet to learn.

 

I recently found myself walking in circles in my unorganized office. My head was spinning with all of the responsibilities and projects I currently had on my plate. The list seemed endless. I was homeschooling my youngest son for the first time this year, entering my second year of graduate school, working with a few new coaching clients, speaking to publishers about a book I had written, managing my household, and oh yes…parenting! My to-do list not only seemed endless, but it all appeared important!

With a feeling of overwhelm and anxiety creeping up on me I suddenly heard an answer to my question (yes, this voice came from inside of my head, don’t judge).

Nope. I can’t do it all.

Whew. Thank goodness. But what do I do now?

Just because I have a gift for juggling multiple projects at once, does that mean I should? In all honesty, I really like having several big things going on at once and not sure this part of my life is meant to change.

So… what has supported me all of these years? And what is it that I need to be focusing on right now? Luckily, my friend Christine Carter wrote a book titled “The Sweet Spot, How to Find your Groove at Home and Work“. I had been reading it again recently and recalled one of the chapters that really s
ang to me.

“Easing the Overwhelm”

I took a few genius points from Christine’s book and decided to do a few things right away:
– Choose my top five priorities and say no to everything else
– Stop Multitasking
– Eliminate Junk Stimulus
– Silence the Smartphone Siren Song

So there I was trimming my to-do list, focusing on one thing at a time, cleaning out my closets, and changing the settings on my phone so it would NOT beep at me unnecessarily. Do you ever notice how your whole family stops and looks at the phone every time that it beeps? Ick.

I’m going to admit that I became a little (ok, A lot) obsessed with the cleaning out my closets part one weekend, but man is this activity therapeutic. I highly recommend it and would not let your fear of a little OCD nature get in the way of this healing process. Just. Do. It.

I asked myself again what has sustained my somewhat nutty way of living all these years, and I received the second message (yes, I’m answering myself once again). You do all know that the answers are already inside of you right? Just stop and get quiet enough to hear them…they are there. I promise!

CONNECTION

The thing that nurtures me most is connecting deeply to myself and the ones that I love.

This time I took a few genius points from myself:
– Meditate and/or center myself each and every day, even if for only a few minutes/seconds at a time
– Slow down and look into my husband and children’s eyes
– Stop and be present with my dogs (they might have founded Zen in another lifetime)
– Start reading that big fat Harry Potter book aloud to my eldest son each day
– Leave my phone and computer in my office or purse most of the time
– Tell my people (aka: two boys and a husband) how I adore them at least once daily
– Tell me how much I adore me at least once daily

Living is simply a constant negotiation and these life lists are my most recent. I personally have an awful lot of delicious life juice to squeeze out of each and every day. For now, I’m going with organization, mindfulness, and connection to help me pave my oh so yummy path of existence. It’s also not lost on me how lucky I am to have this “problem” of figuring out how to do as much as I can in the course of the day while still feeling nurtured and alive. Not a bad puzzle to try and solve eh?

As Mary Oliver asks us…
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Today I found a perfect little ladybug crawling around on the bed and immediately set in motion my plan to save it! I encouraged it on my finger while admiring its beauty and then safely cupped it inside of my hands. When I arrived outside I walked around looking for the perfect place to set it free, eventually placing it on some lovely flowers. At that point I sat and watched it happily roam around on the leaves before bidding it goodbye with a warm heart and virtual pat on my back for being such a compassionate human being. Yay for me!

If it were just about any other kind of bug I would have been pretty grossed out and handled the whole thing very differently. More than likely, I would have run to the kitchen to find a cup and a dish rag to cover the cup just so I wouldn’t have to touch it before rushing downstairs and flinging it into any random bush I could find! How rude!

Isn’t it fascinating how drawn to beauty we human beings can be? The ladybug might have pretty marks on her, but she is still a bug after all and surely looks kinda creepy under a microscope. Yet, I slowed down and was completely drawn in just because of how beautiful I believe her to be. In fact, ladybugs are the only bug I willingly let crawl all over me with giddy enjoyment.

How often do we find ourselves rushing towards beauty, happiness, love, warmth, ease, and safety? This isn’t surprising, as the alternatives can be extremely unpleasant and much messier. This reality wouldn’t be quite so bad if we didn’t tend to lean so far away from anything that registers as unpleasant. Beauty, ease and happiness = good right?

OK, I don’ t actually think it’s bad to lean into what feels good and safe in my life. I’m writing this blog post while looking out over the water admiring incredible natural lands and feeling pretty blissful to tell you the truth. Where I get into trouble is when I’m so committed to being happy and comfortable that I forget how important and valuable the icky difficult parts of life can be. These are the parts that often serve us the most as they point us so clearly to where we have yet to grow.

Are we willing to lean into the moments and people in our lives that make our skin crawl? Can we stop ourselves from looking the other way when we are afraid, confused, or angry? Carl Jung teaches us that knowing our own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness in other people. If we are always looking for the beauty in others we miss the chance to know ourselves more completely. Our lives present us with endless opportunities to reflect with wonder on the darkness that lurks within others and us.

The next time a creepy bug crawls by on the bed I just might stop, pause, and question why I was about to jump back in disgust. Then I’ll try to save it with as much love as I gave that ladybug. Or at least unravel a bit of my precious psyche in the process. Let’s lean into our darkness skillfully and thoughtfully… imagine how much light we might find in the process…

The punch line here, as far as I’m concerned, is that at the core… it’s all the same darn thing anyway. The tales have been told in countless languages, countries, tribes, and under the roofs of all places of faith. I believe most faiths have something to teach me… even the ones I don’t know about yet. Especially the ones I don’t know about yet.

If being curious and open minded was a religion I’d sign up for that one for sure.

I’m certainly not an expert on religious faiths. Far from it. Some I connect with more than others, but in their purest sense I suspect they are all beautiful. I grew up a Catholic and spent years recovering from my lack of alignment with that dogma. However, I know this learning and recovery is all part of my growth as a human being and I have nothing but thanks for it. My eldest son is planning on attending a Catholic High School (due to the strength of their baseball team, of course) so I’m looking forward to hopping on board and re-learning this religion through his eyes. Plus, Pope Francis is pretty darn intriguing…I like a guy who is ok with pushing the boundaries.

I’ve been graced with learning about Buddhism at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. I love learning there because they make room for all faiths as you study the Dharma… no need to be a Buddhist (which I am not). Yet, I’m also currently incorporating a wonderful Hindu Goddess into my personal practice. I’m creating an altar for her just outside of my home where I can honor her but release her from my inner world. My husband and children are hoping she may save them from my dictatorial ways!

I’m grateful my youngest son has had the opportunity to join a shabbat dinner from time to time with a friend. He always comes home and shares what he enjoyed about the rituals he experiences. My wish is for my boys to be open and curious about all faiths and the people who follow them. Perhaps someday they will embrace one as their own, or perhaps not. I’ll never forget the story my in-laws shared about a comment one of my sons made as they drove by a church. My son let them know he was not a Christian. They asked him what he thought he was and after giving it a few moments of thought he responded that he is “Buddhistical”. A Mystic Buddhist perhaps? I found this answer just wonderful.

The Dali Lama says his religion is kindness. I can fully get on board with this.

Joseph Campbell, one of the great thinkers of our time and an expert in mythology, believed the world shares a common myth that shows up uniquely in each culture. It seems to me that all of our world religions come from this shared myth, yet each tells a different story depending on where you were born or to which family.

What I truly care about is having my boys slowly over time learn the landscape of their own inner world. I guess you could say our family’s religion is “self-awareness”. I’m going with this for now, while keeping myself and my boys open to the lessons and learnings that may bless us along the way from any faith. Or maybe I’ll just follow my sons lead and call us all “Buddhistical”. That works too.

I’m not sure any group of people walking the planet are harder on themselves than parents. Geez. We do not give ourselves a break.

Anyone else besides me ever think to themselves…
I’m totally screwing up my kids.
Oh man, I shouldn’t have said that. They are never going to forgive me.
I’m a terrible parent. Seriously. I suck at it.
Why did I raise my voice in anger again? I’m hopeless.
My children’s future spouse is going to hate me and deprive me of my grandchildren.

Not long ago I was getting ready to leave for a silent weekend retreat and one of my boys asked me why I was going. My answer was somewhere along the lines of “so that I can be more peaceful and loving”. Their immediate response was “but you already are peaceful and loving”.

Hearing those words took my breath away. The reality is that in the quiet depths of my mind I tend to be really hard on myself, particularly when I evaluate myself as a parent (which I do all too often). Although I know cognitively one of the principles of Buddhist practice is self-compassion, it was obvious I had some important work to do. After all, if I do not hold myself with compassion how can I expect my boys to hold themselves in this way?

I decided to practice loving-kindness during my morning mediation and add a ritual where I journaled about ways I had recently shown myself and my family compassion. I longed to see myself in the way my children see me. You can find simple instructions for practicing loving-kindness from one of my favorite teachers Jack Kornfield here.

Have I stopped screwing up with my kids? Not a chance! However, when I do… I simply repair the harm done and show them and myself some compassion out loud if at all possible. I find my children learn best when I share my inner chatter with them. It might sounds something like this: “I’m sorry for raising my voice earlier and worried I really upset you. I’m practicing taking a breath when I notice I’m getting upset, but sometimes I just don’t catch myself. I can be really hard on myself but want to remind myself that I’m a work in progress and practice makes progress… not perfect.”

Embrace your messiness dear parents… we probably aren’t as bad as we might lead ourselves to believe. My kids taught me that (as usual). Whew.

Blessings, Michelle

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Below is the beautiful piece that helped inspired this blog post. It was written by Thich Nhat Hanh from his book “Teachings on Love”.

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturb
ed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calm, and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna [compassion] is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, in “Teachings on Love”.

OK, so the title is a bit misleading here…I haven’t actually GONE on the retreat yet. That being said, I’m all signed up and preparing my husband and two young sons for five days without mommy. Yep. You heard it. Silence. Five whole days. Need to find your baseball glove? Want a glass of milk? Trouble with your homework? Find dad. He’s your guy.

A little background about my relationship to mindfulness practice and meditation will tell you that I have been at this stuff consistently for about six years. Prior to this time I hopped on and off my spiritual path, only slightly recognizing the signs that were gently nudging me to stay put. This journey started at the ripe old age of 36 when I had one son barely off to pre-school and the other barely out of the womb. My spiritual practices have always been cleverly snuck in between preparing meals, career, and “life as it presents itself” in general.

I took seriously my centering practice and practiced it over and over again until it began to “do me” rather than me “doing it”. My daily 10-40 minute meditations at home had to suffice in length just as they were, and the timing couldn’t possibly be “same time, same place” each day as the books and teachers suggested. I attended day longs and weekend retreats when I could, and spent countless “mommy” days exploring things like the enneagram, energy healing, and working to become an observer of my mind. I’ve done my practices and spiritual work in the best way I could being a working mother of two and have worn that badge honorably.

So here I am… six years later and getting ready for 5 days in silence. I’m finally going to join that elusive club of individuals who have taken the time and made space in their lives for deeper practice. Regardless of how dedicated I have been to my practice…a part of me believes I’m just not the real deal until I suffer in silence for longer periods of time (writing this statement makes it sound all the more ridiculous).

You might ask what is going through my mind right now. I’m wondering if my body will ache or if old emotions will take me over after coming to the surface. Will five days seem eternally long or will the time fly? How much will I miss my family? Please let my plants and flowers survive my absence. Will my husband feed the dogs?

All of these things and much more have gone through my mind in contemplating this time away…but nothing prepared me for how I would feel when I read these words…”This is a fragrance free retreat. Please do not bring any products with any sort of scent.” What? No products with scent? Do these people have any idea how I adore my day cream with cucumber? My ever so rich and luxurious night-cream? I have special shampoo and conditioner with no sulphates for crying out loud! Do I have to leave my rose cheek stain home as well? Where am I going to find the time to discover fragrance free products I like in the next 7 days?

Now, I know how terrible being concerned about this fragrance thing all sounds. I swear I’m a down to earth gal who is dedicated to her practices and committed to helping raise consciousness in myself and the world. I’m a self proclaimed spiritual person for God’s sake! Yet my attention just keeps going there…

When the part of me who observes my thinking finally caught up to my thoughts around this subject, I immediately felt embarrassed for myself and utterly horrified at my pathetic “first world problems.” After all of this practice… are these really the things that have me believing I’m suffering?

The truth is… I am suffering around these uncertainties and I’m working on finding kindness, compassion and curiosity around my thoughts rather than beating myself up about them. I’m hoping to own the fact that I appreciate the creature comforts in life….perhaps even more than I thought I did. The reality is, that the only thing worrying me more than the fragrance free dilemma, is wondering who my roommate might be. I’m a light sleeper… what if they snore? Oh dear.

I mentioned my dilemma to a dear friend and also to the teacher who will be leading the retreat. Their reactions close to mirrored one another. What I saw in their face or heard in their voice was pure fascination and interest in this part of me. Their reactions helped me see the humor in my worries…but more importantly, to be able to hold them lightly. I have a sweet knowing that this is all part of my conscious awakening. It sounds silly to say now, but I have greater clarity that the essence of who I truly am does not include any products…fragrance free or otherwise. But isn’t it curious this mind and sense of self I inhabit?

I can’t say I won’t spend at least a bit of time perusing the aisles of Whole Foods this week to uncover the fragrance free product gems, but I’ll also spend time reflecting on what it will be like to sit in silence long enough for a bit more of my ego to unwind…and to observe it lovingly and with less horror than I have in the past. And even though staying in the present is what we are after here…I just might think about my next retreat…the one where I have my own room and can bring most of my creature comforts with me.

My husband LOVES baseball. During entire seasons he follows the Giants online, on the radio, or on TV. Perpetually. At all times. Seriously. It always seemed like the season would never end. I considered starting a petition to lower the number of games played each year. I’m a sports fan, but for many years, I’ll admit, I was pretty irked at the mere mention of baseball simply because my husband was so obsessed.

This all began to change a few years back when my oldest son began to play little league. He was moving closer towards adolescence, leaning a bit farther into his dad (as many boys will), and putting much of his attention into that game you play with a stick and a ball. I’m blessed to have a close relationship with my son and, as you can imagine, began to spend quite a bit of time in the bleachers. I began to realize that this game could provide a new bridge to my son, who was naturally becoming more difficult to reach emotionally. He was growing up, becoming more independent, and needing his mother to learn new ways of connecting with him. A new world was emerging, and it was my role to navigate it differently for both of us.

My admiration started to grow on those special evenings listening to my son describe each part of his game, play by play. I had the opportunity to share in his love of each moment… in slow motion…re-living it again and again. Soon I discovered that each weekend, during games on television, he would let me cuddle with him on the couch, discuss the latest and greatest plays, and share in the pure emotion he felt for the game. The deal was sealed. I was hooked.

Since that time, we have moved on from not only little league, but to travel baseball. I’m grateful I gently positioned myself as someone my son can turn to when he is struggling with his coach, a teammate, the pain of missing the ball or losing the game… over and over again. What a gift this game of baseball has been for his unfolding into a compassionate, balanced, and wise human being. What a gift that he has welcomed me to walk this path with him. He’s opened himself to my teachings of using his breath to center himself while pitching and batting, my guidance in finding compassion for a coach who is behaving badly, and the offering of patience to support those players who are struggling…especially when that player is him.

Yes…it’s official. I’ve learned to love baseball. I may have learned to love the game for different reasons than my husband and son…but that bridge I get to walk over almost daily has been worth letting go of my old thoughts about the long and weary season. I’ve had a change of heart…and now the season can hardly go on long enough. Play Ball!

My family is blessed to live in a wonderful suburb just North of San Francisco. Our home is in close proximity to a quaint little town as well as hiking and biking trails leading into the forest just steps from our door. Although I try not to think about it, we also share our wonderful little corner of the world with plenty of rats who enjoy the ivy, fruit trees, and bleeding heart naturalists who wouldn’t even consider putting out rat poison in fear of hurting the ecosystem (I count myself in that camp by the way, and the rats apparently really appreciate the concern).

One evening recently, my eldest son spotted a dead rat laying in our backyard and reported this information to us in a rather dramatic fashion. He kinda screamed something like…Dead Rat, Dead Rat, Dead Rat!!! My immediate inner reaction was of seemingly grave concern. Rats carry diseases. The dogs might get close to it. Maybe it’s not actually dead. Does it have a large family living nearby?

My youngest son immediately pointed out how cute it was and started walking towards it. “Don’t get too close”, I shouted. But Mom…”Don’t you feel sad for the rat?” he asked me. I immediately knew I was over-reacting but just couldn’t quite let the fear welling up subside enough to join him in pure humanity. This little boy wasn’t carrying all of the adult knowledge and fears I was. To him, this was simply a cute little animal who had died…a perfect reason to be compassionate. I rushed into the garage and found an old towel to throw over the dead rat hoping to keep my dogs from inspecting it. “Is that how we are going to bury it?” he asked. Oh man, I wasn’t thinking about burying it at all…I was just buying time until my husband got home later in the evening and could handle the situation.

One glance over to that boys sad little face and I finally came to my senses, took a breath and became human again. “Let’s take a moment and send the rat some loving-kindness and blessings as its spirit makes its journey”.  My sons shoulders finally came down, his body relaxed, his face softened. His mother seemed to have joined him on his planet again. His compassion was big enough to make room for the both of us.

Upon reflection it all seems so simple now. Aren’t we lucky to have our children to show us the way?

A little league story…

Ten to nine score against the Pirates.

Two batters out and one left to go.

Bases Loaded.

Here comes the pitch….

And… Strike Out!

Next comes the shock… the sorrow… the tears… the loss…

My husband helps coach my sons little league team with two other incredible men who held these ten year old boys disappointment with utter compassion and love. They all agree that learning to lose and experience disappointment is one of the most important lessons they will gain playing the game. They let them have their emotions, sat with them as they cried, offered them a gentle pat on the back. They allowed their sadness to move through them without chasing it away.

This team worked hard all season and had their sites set on going far in the championship tournament… they could only lose one more game, and this loss took the wind out of them all.

A few days later the team was scheduled for practice before their next big championship game. Their coaches had something special for them planned. When the boys showed up at practice, instead of playing baseball they were having a water balloon toss and the opportunity to pelt their coaches with water-balloons just a little while later. They ran around, giggled, and just enjoyed the sunshine and outdoors. These incredibly wise coaches saw the need for play, community & connection as more important then skill building for the next game. What they taught these boys that day was that life was bigger than this next baseball game. They could choose to lighten up, laugh, and enjoy the journey, not taking too seriously was was to come next.

I’m admittedly just a tad bit biased regarding how special it was to see these emotionally intelligent men attend to these young boys. But I will say that my husband and his co-coaches brought just a little more hope into my world that our boys will grow into the kind of men this world needs. Wise. Tender. Brave. Purposeful.

Recently, I was pulling into my driveway with my youngest son Brody and one of his buddies for an after school play-date. I overheard his friend quietly saying “My mom is so mean. She yells at me everyday.” I assume they had a rough morning at home…something I have a bit of experience with myself. Before I knew it, Brody was chiming in…”My mom is so mean too!”.

My internal chatter begins: “Wait. What? Me? I’m so mean? Am I? Oh man…I do raise my voice sometimes…and I’m not always as patient as I want to be. Was Brody just saying that because his friend was? First grade peer pressure to fit in perhaps? Does he really think I’m a mean mommy? Ugh.

I’m falling fast people.

I am admittedly a bit attached to the idea that we are a happy family and regardless of how difficult life may be at times, we all love each other. At the end of the day I have a strong chip inside me that just needs to be liked. My practice seems to be to loosen these attachments and just be with each moment…each situation just as it is…pleasant or difficult. After all, our human condition and experience changes like the wind.

As Byron Katie would say…”Would You Argue With The Wind?”

That evening as I was getting Brody ready for bed, I noticed the story of me being a mean mommy rolling over in my mind. As I put him to bed and we snuggled, I told him I loved him. His last words to me were “You Are The Best Momma In The World”…

Yes. I’m that too.

This morning as my boys were leaving for school my youngest son did what he normally does before leaving the house… say goodbye to the dogs. He of course does this ever so slowly with a kiss and a story to them about how the school day isn’t that long…

It was past the time they needed to leave and I felt that pang of stress enter my body while that familiar thought “move along ” came to my mind. Thankfully, I was able to stay quiet and let him have his sweet goodbye kisses with the pooches. It wasn’t always this way.

I was graced with two boys who are in one way typically rambunctious and in another way slow as can be. One gets lost in creativity, art and love. The other is regularly the last in line
at school, in no rush to get his homework done, and unless he’s playing sports…. just slow as molasses.

Many the morning have I raised my voice in complete irritation that they were moving so slowly, only to have them show up to school frazzled while I was on my way to work or at home guilty and sad. I’ve come to terms that usually we have enough time… maybe just barely enough… but we get to where we need to go. It’s often only my impatience and desire for things to move more quickly that actually causes the drama of the morning rush.

I’ve spent many years practicing mindfulness and meditation while becoming more self aware of my rushing mind. A mind that wants a body to keep up with it… It’s been part of my practice to slow down in so many ways…my pace of speaking, walking, how quickly I make decisions.

My realization in the last year or so was that these two boys who do not share my “move along” kind of pace showed up in my life especially for me. They might as well hold up little signs that say “slow down mom, everything is fine at this pace.”  I’m grateful they give me the chance each day to practice presence, to listen…and to learn, from two of the wisest little souls I’ve ever encountered.