Category Archives: Buddhism

gratitude

There are many times that I wake up, stumble to the bathroom for my contact case, and start the day with a low buzz of swirly, got-to-do thoughts. Sometimes I remember to stop myself. I take a breath, slow the head race, and remember these things for which I’m grateful:

for a healthy child

for a healthy child

must love dogs

for matt, who loves dogs (almost) as much as me.

big ellie

for the guardian of all small creatures.

for friends like this.

for friends like this.

 

and this.

and this.

 

dogs

for a house full of fur.

sleep.

for good sleep and a warm bed.

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Filed under Buddhism, Recovery

two questions

There are a few reflection exercises I like. This is a daily one, and I’ve mentioned it before on my company’s blog. It helps me stay mindful.

Every night I ask myself:

1. Are you proud of the choices you are making at home?
2. Are you proud of the choices you making at work?

The exercise struck me as inherently Buddhist in its focus on action (not results). It’s a self-check, innit?

It’s also closely related to NA/AA speak. Meetings, and those who attend them, are full of platitudes. Some are great, in that I find them amusing and accurate (Those who relapse are attending powerlessness graduate school) and some are real shit, in that I find them nauseating in their triteness (Directions to AA: Just go straight to hell and make a U-turn). Clearly, I have mixed feelings about the program. Forgive me that (or don’t).

One, though, has stayed with me for years: Do the next right thing.

Like the daily reflections I’m really digging, I can get behind this for the same reason: It’s action oriented and it pulls me into the present. Most days, I wish I had done better. I lose my temper at home or my focus at work. I regret wasted time. The exercise is, most days, uncomfortable for me. I think there’s something to be said, though, on living through that uncomfortableness. 

just that.

just that.

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Live like this

I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t give a fuck anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. – Miller, Tropic of Cancer

How very Buddhist of you, Mr. Miller.

The closing on our new house is in six days. We have boxes to pack and Goodwill loads to deliver and closets to dig through. I have utility companies to call and carpets to clean and a dreadfully sick fish to medicate. But for now, for a while, let’s sit and love each other.

Live in the now.

Favorite things.

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Filed under Buddhism, Mindful parenting

Wasp love

‘Round about late March, a little paper wasp found her way to the wooden stairs of our apartment. She began building herself a home. For days, Cole was terrified of the wasp. But we walked around her, up the left side of the stairway. Up and down, several times a day, and each time, Cole would mention her. On the colder evenings, she’d be gone, presumably to somewhere warmer (really, I have no idea, but this is a fairly reasonable explanation). We’d wait for her to return. We’d come home from school and work, crouch by the stairs, and say hello.

paper wasp

Hey, girl.

We liked her. We watched as she built her little paper-wasp nest, a tiny bit bigger by the week. She worked tirelessly. Cole and I looked up how these cool insects makes their homes and how that’s where they lay their eggs. We learned the difference between wasps, hornets, bees, and carpenter bees.

paper wasp nest

Bird by bird, she builds.

Last week, one of Cole’s friends killed the wasp. After an afternoon of playing, the boys walked up the stairs before me. I carried two scooters and a skateboard. Cole cried out, sat down on the stairs. I knew what had happened before I climbed up beside him. He didn’t understand. He couldn’t.

“It was going to sting me!” His friend exclaims, indignant.

“She would never sting you. I loved her.” Cole looks into her nest. “She has eggs.”

I ushered the boys inside. I was pissed. I was sad. I wanted to scream at the kid. I didn’t, but it hurt my heart. It was a shitty thing to do. It was a thoughtless thing to do. It’s also… what most little boys do.

That night Cole, Matt, and I went to dinner later at Atlanta Bread Company. On his menu, Cole drew the wasp. He wrote her a note. Later, after his dad picked him up, I took our friend from the stairs, her body a squashed mess, and I put her by a big oak tree. I said I was sorry. And all along, I wondered if I had completely lost my fucking mind.

love the wasp

“I love you wasp.” That purple bit that looks like, uh, Texas is the step, with her nest dangling from it.

I don’t think so, though. It was a life. I’ve taught Cole that we don’t kill — not on purpose, ever. We take bugs outside and release them. We help where we can. We respect all life. And this wasp, over the course of two months, had become part of our daily routine; she brought us joy. It was a little life, but it was a life. We watched her work hard, day after day, to do her waspy thing. She hurt no one.

And while the life of a common paper wasp is insignificant to most, I’d imagine, and worthless to more, I’m glad that we grieved. I’m glad that we care. I’m proud of the boy.

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Let’s just stop doing that

“When she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with. The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”

Parenting, for most of us, isn’t what we expect it to be. More days than not, it’s full of power struggles and complaining; tantrums and sullenness; irritation interrupted by moments of pure joy. It’s struggle. A beautiful struggle, I’d argue, but it’s not easy.

Today is National Spank Out Day. Before I begin (what? I haven’t even gotten started yet), let me be completely clear: I have spanked Cole. In his six years, I’ve probably spanked him four or five times. You’re not going to hear judgmental railing from me. I understand how it feels to have your back against a wall.

I have always hated spanking, but I believed, for a long time, that it was sometimes acceptable under certain circumstances. The last time it happened in our house, I gave Cole several warnings prior. He knew he was pushing me to the very edge. He pushed me over. I sent him to his room to await that dreaded spanking. I sat down and stared at the carpet. Because I’d told him that he was getting a spanking, I knew I had no choice. Either I followed through or I would look like I didn’t mean what I had said. I’d look weak. And so I steeled myself. I hardened my heart. And I popped him twice on his legs. He wailed. I left the room and wailed, too.

I read this, about how a child’s brain reacts to a spanking, over at hand-in-hand parenting:

When a child is spanked, his or her limbic system (the emotional center of the brain, and the part of the mind that mediates learning and understanding) goes into alarm mode. The child’s brain clearly perceives spanking as an occasion of danger, and responds accordingly.

For the child, it is an experience of being small and unable to control an overwhelming and unpredictable force. In this state, his mind can learn nothing. His prefrontal cortex, the center of reason and judgment, shuts down. Hence, a child’s behavior during and after a spanking is not thoughtful behavior. It’s reactive.

The “control” that the parent is striving for has everything to do with fear, and nothing to do with teaching, learning, or a child’s understanding of concepts of right and wrong. What the child “learns” is that, seemingly out of the blue, for reasons he can’t fathom, he has been hit or hurt by a person who loves him. This is a confusing lesson indeed.

Spankings are perceived by a child to be random acts of violence. Over time, they create a wedge of fear and resentment between child and parent. The more time a child spends with his mind shut down by the fear response that physical attack brings, the more reactive his behavior becomes. A vicious cycle results: a fearful child becomes aggressive or withdrawn, the parent spanks in response, the child becomes more frightened, and loses control of his own behavior more often.

So, though a spanking may result in a quieter, more cautious child for a few hours, that apparent peace has a high price. A child’s sense of safety, and with it, his ability to reason, to cooperate, to learn, and to trust are all eroded with every spanking—so is a child’s openness to love from his parent.

How do you feel about that? It tears me up. I think it should.

The more toward Buddhism (and Christianity – what the hell) I leaned, the less I spanked, until it became so distasteful to me that I knew I’d never do it again. It was a gradual awakening, but it came. It’s the same reason I yell a lot less and I generally lose my shit fairly infrequently.

Months ago, and before I determined that this sort of violence would never again happen in my home, I had told Cole that if he came home with another red card from school that he’d get a spanking. Well the red came. The spanking did not. He remembered though, and when he climbed into the car with me that afternoon, he asked me if he was going to get a spanking. I said no. And I let myself be weak. I let myself be honest.

“I made a mistake when I said that, Cole. We’re not going to spank anymore.”

“Never again?”

“Never again. I don’t think it’s ok. I don’t like it.”

I haven’t, and I won’t.

Spanking is violence. And worse than violence, it’s hitting a defenseless being – your defenseless being. When you reach out your hand with the intent to hurt, it’s violence. If I hit an adult for disappointing me or pissing me off, I’d be facing assault charges. Why are we not extending the same courtesy of “personhood” to our children? Spanking devalues a child. It also devalues a parent. If Cole obeys me because he fears me, well, that’s not really respect, is it?

They’re people. They’re little and they’re silly and they’re sometimes irrational (heeeeey, I’m little and I’m silly and I’m sometimes irrational). We teach our children not to hit. And we teach them that if a friend or a stranger hurts them, to find an adult and get help. And yet, we also teach them that being subject to parental violence is somehow a condition of childhood. That it’s alright if the violence is coming from mom or dad. That’s some bullshit, innit?

There are better ways. There are ways that aren’t dehumanizing for child and for parent, and ways that don’t breed distrust and fear. For me, it’s stopping to remember that a six-year old and a thirty-two-year old have disparate points of view. It’s also stopping to look at my child and say to myself, “I love this human being more than I’ve ever loved another. Why would I ever hurt him?”

Ten times outta ten, Cole isn’t making a concerted decision to annoy, disrespect, or harass me. He’s six. He wants things just like I do. He feels things just like I do. When he misbehaves, it’s typically born of a wish for significance, belonging, or autonomy.

And what do I do? I relax. I listen. We talk. Sometimes, we do a little quiet time. Sometimes, I walk away; I have a smoke. And sometimes I still raise my voice. But when he is man grown, maybe with children of his own, I’d like Cole to have those tools. I’d like him to remember what his mother used her hands for – to hold and hug and tickle and arm-wrestle and paint and guide – not to hit.

Resources:

http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/182/64/What-s-the-Problem-with-Spanking
http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/discipline-behavior/spanking/10-reasons-not-hit-your-child

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Radical Acceptance

“Let me think about the people who I care about the most… and how when they fail, or disappoint me, I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.”
zefrank, “An Invocation for Beginnings”

I do a lot of things wrong. I’ve been thinking about/trying to quit smoking for three years. Yes I have. I’m an ethical vegetarian but sometimes I eat chicken wings… because I like them. And ham. Ham. Also food related, I’ve gained about 15 pounds since last summer and can barely fit into any of my clothes. If we’re being completely honest, some of my pants won’t even slide over my thighs. Sometimes I yell at my kid and sometimes I would rather troll Facebook than tinker with Legos. Sometimes I gossip and sometimes I dislike people for no really good reason other than that they’re easy to dislike.

So there’s that.

I get stuck on the bad from time to time. It’s not conscious. I don’t recognize it, and I don’t feel particularly sadder or hateful, and I don’t wallow in self-loathing. It’s more that… I just forget. I neglect to be mindful and to stay right here, in this moment. This can go on for weeks, sometimes months. It’s insidious and it’s quiet, the way this beating-up myself starts to change my thinking and my actions. But every so often, as I’ve slipped into the vicious habit (or, more accurately, neglect) that eats into my contentment, I wake up. I shake it off. And I remember:

I also do a lot of shit right. I’m a good mother, and I go out of my way to treat my child and Matthew’s children with compassion and respect. I have an amazing relationship with one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. I am really good at a job I love more days than I don’t. I’d do just about anything to help and friend and I’m fiercely loyal. I am honest and I am sometimes funny. I’ve cultivated cool-ass, cooperative friendship with the Kaiser’s father, and it’s one that I’d not trade for anything. And I’m sober.

How much do I talk about compassion? All the damn time. And how often do I have to remind myself to cut myself a break? All the damn time. I’m not talking about self-esteem; this is a very different thing. Being kind to yourself has nothing at all to do with being (or feelin’) special or with being (or feelin’) above-average. Rather, I’m talking about looking at our experiences mindfully, without over-exaggerating our own pain. Self-compassion isn’t dependent on day-to-day experience.

Randy Taran wrote an article about this in the Huffington Post. She says, “On an airplane, you are asked to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, so that you can help other people. Self-compassion is like that too. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be fully equipped to help others.”

How can you give something to someone else that you refuse to offer to yourself? It’s not laziness. It’s not indulgent. It’s a necessity.

eleanor

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Face the Promised Land

A friend of mine from boarding school wrote this great blog post (you can read it here). She talks of the Easter service she went to, during which folks from the congregation walked to the front of the church with posters they’d made. On one side of the poster they had written a word describing who they once were or how they once lived, and on the other side was a word that conveyed who they are now or how they live now. One struck me as what I’d probably write. On the front of the poster, “Self-centered.” On the other side, “Compassionate.”

It doesn’t take a miraculous event to switch gears. I know. When I began my recovery, I remained self-centered. My sobriety was all I cared about, because I was afraid. I was scared that I would lose my child. I was scared that I would lose my job. I was scared that I would lose control. I was scared that I was going to die. Mostly I was terrified that this show I’d managed to put on over the past three years was going to shatter and everyone would know – they would know that I was an alcoholic and an addict and a selfish, shitty person. A bad mom. A liar. 

Well now they know, because I’ve told them. 

Somewhere along the way, maybe when I decided to get really honest with myself, my concern morphed into being less worried with the me, and more cognizant of the “other-than me.”

Clark Strand, a one-time Buddhist monk and a Christian, explains that the great war waged is not and has never been one between Good and Evil. Rather, the battle is one between self and Other Self. Is that Other Self what you call God? Sure, maybe. What you call it doesn’t much matter.

For a long time, for most of my life, what I called “God” was.. myself. I’d cry out to the universe and hear nothing. Do you do this? We make God in our image, not the reverse. I still can’t image God. I can’t begin to conceive of it. I wrestle with it still, but I’m a lot more comfortable in that uncertainty and with the back and forth. Belief and doubt, sometimes in the course of an hour. 

I don’t know. There are no answers here, never have been. But when I can get beyond my self, That Thing I Call God gets into the cracks. Only when my heart and my mind were broken, when every idea I had about God was shattered–that’s when God appeared. 

Here, have a goat. 

Image

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