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.
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.
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.
Last night as my son was leaving for basketball practice I noticed he was wearing a long sleeved shirt under his practice jersey. I let him know I thought he would be hot once he started running but he said he would be fine. When he came home he was covered in sweat and had his long sleeved shirt in his hand. My initial reaction was to mention that I had been right somehow… but with a moment of mindful awareness (and before opening my mouth) I realized that experiencing the natural consequences of his choice is more effective than anything I would tell him. In fact, I wish I wouldn’t have said anything to begin with prior to him leaving… I’ll save that finer parenting moment for next time (I’ll try my best anyway).
Many thanks to Dr. Shefali Tsabary for her new book “Out of Control, Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work, And What Will”.
The wisdom and lessons she offers in this book supported me in the shift I had last night.
Parenting in our exceedingly connected wired world can leave mothers, fathers, and caretakers alike wondering how to manage it all. The fast pace of life, combined with the use of multiple devices draws our attention away from our loved ones. At the same time, many of us notice our inner world beckoning us back for deeper connection. What actions do we take to find peace amidst it all?
We have all observed with sadness entire families with their heads down in a device…barely noticing one another other. What if we took those moments to take a breath and set an intention to let the human beings we love take precedent over electronic devices, as Rachel Stafford from “Hands Free Momma” suggests.
Our breath and presence alone is unlikely to unwind our own childhood patterns. As parents, we must get in touch with those parts of ourselves that we have forgotten, discover where we have been wounded, and commit to new ways of being and living in the world, as Dr. Shefali Tsabary so skillfully suggests. Easier said than done, but nonetheless an honorable commitment to make as a parent or caregiver.
Many in the Wisdom 2.0 Community share an inner compass pointing us to the need for a new paradigm in the way we navigate this journey called “parenting”. We will explore this topic and many more at this year’s conference starting February 13th in San Francisco, California.
Tickets are still available for the day-long intensive in Monday February 17th which will be hosted by yours truly and Megan Cowan of the Mindful Schools. We hope you can join us. Find more information at: http://wisdom2conference.com/Wisdom-and-Children.
I believe if we raise a conscious generation of youth, our world will be a better place for my children and their families.
I believe in the power of mindfulness and meditation to transform our inner and outer worlds.
I believe compassion should be taught to every child and in every school across the globe.
I believe my children and I were chosen specially for one another to guide each of our spiritual unfolding.
I believe it’s my work as a parent to become present enough to offer my children the space to grow into who they are truly meant to become.
I believe Byron Katie has it right when she claims there are no new stressful thoughts, they are all recycled. When we believe our stressful thoughts we suffer and when we challenge them we can hope to find peace.
I believe that our lives are already filled with abundance. Through stillness, inquiry and gratitude we can settle into this way of relating to the world.
I believe in the importance of self exploration in living a spiritual life… it’s a lifetime of dedication.. and I feel incredibly thankful for my teachers, community and family who continue to support my way.