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Coming Home (To Ourselves) For The Holidays

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

A Lesson From The Beauty Of A Ladybug

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…

Compassion (For Ourselves!) as the Key to Parenting

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 disturbed 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”.

But Don’t You Feel Sad For The Rat Mom?

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?

Baseball, Sorrow, & Water Balloons

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.

Mean Mommy

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.

What's the Rush Mom? A Reminder From My Sons.

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.