When We Look Closely

Who sees all beings in his own Self and his Self in all beings, loses all fear.” – The Isa Upanishad

The other day my son was nose to nose with our cat then turned to me and said, “I see me in kitty’s eyes.“

It reminded me of a story from the Talmud that I read in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening:

A Rabbi asks his student, “How do you know the first moment of dawn has arrived? After a great silence, one pipes up, “When you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog.” The Rabbi shakes his head no. Another offers, “When you can tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree.” Again the Rabbi shakes his head no. There are no other answers. The Rabbi circles their silence and walks between them, “You know the first moment of dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself.”

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

I was talking with a friend the other day about Monsters, Inc. which is my son’s favorite movie these days. She asked the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if we as humans figured out how to harness laughter & love instead of screams & fear?”  

To me, it feels with almost 8 billion people on the planet like an almost overwhelming task for the dawn to break so that we can all see we are all different yet we share the same aches and pains of life. But then I breathe and remember, it happens one person at a time. It happens when I remember to be open and take the time to look into someone else’s eyes and gather the power of laughter and love.

And maybe when we exercise gentleness and closeness, it happens too between species like with my son and the cat. That is hopeful too.

Asset-Framing

A small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” – Stendal

My mom came over yesterday with a newspaper for me because she had an extra copy. It’s been a long time since I’ve beheld an entire printed newspaper. As much as I like the news, skimming the headlines about Ukranian refugees, discord in the state legislature, the approach of 6 million deaths worldwide from COVID reminded me of something I’d heard researcher Brené Brown say. She said her therapist once told her something like, “Brené, in the time we have together each week I can’t undo the damage you do to yourself listening to the news.”

It also reminded me of an On Being podcast I heard recently where Krista Tippett interviewed CEO and Visionary Trabien Shorters. Trabien has identified our need to redefine the way we look at the world. Instead of continuing our habit of seeing problems and defining people in need in terms of their problems, a worldview he calls deficit-framing, he calls us to practice asset-framing. As Krista said in the podcast, “it works with both cutting-edge understandings of the brain and an age-old understanding of the real-world power of the words we use, the stories we tell, the way we name things and people. “

And in Trabian’s own words, he says asset-framing is “It is defining people by their aspirations and contributions, before you get to their challenges. So whatever is going on in someone’s life, you don’t ignore it, but you don’t define them by the worst moment or the worst experience or the worst potential; none of that. You have to look past their faults, to see who they really are. 

And specific to the news, Trabian and Krista talked us through an example of how the news leads us to deficit frame, to see things and particularly marginalized communities by the problems. In the original lede of the story, there isn’t anything very hopeful:

“The Latinx community in the United States has always been, for the most part, on the bottom half on income, in the American society. The struggle to have access to health and mental care is part of the history; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has come to intensify the problems.”

But the revised lede that Trabian and his team helped write started like this:

“Since 2014, Latinx people have constituted the largest ethnic group in the nation’s largest state. They now represent 39 percent of the California population.” And then it goes on to talk about “in recent years Latinx residents have made advances in economic well-being measured by metrics like reduced poverty rates, growth in business ownership.” And then after a couple of sentences like that, people elected to school boards, local offices. “Despite this impressive social and economic progress, Latinx residents have lagged behind other Californians in achieving important goals like home ownership and income growth, and we can now add to that list the disproportionate harm visited on the community by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Listening to that example, I realize how much how the news is presented matters to our perception. It also makes me appreciate this Word Press Community even more because as the war in Ukraine has ramped up, I’ve seen so many posts that highlight the hope of how to get through it like Jane Fritz did with her post on Robby Robin’s journey yesterday.

A couple of weeks ago my 6-year-old daughter look at the news on the tv and said, “The Queen is dead.” And I had her read the banner again which said, “The Queen has tested positive for Covid-19.” The news is important, but a lot of it is how we read it!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Christmas Wish

The most effective medicine here on this Earth is unconditional love.” – unknown

I woke up this morning thinking of two types of people working on Christmas Eve. Healthcare workers and pastors. The former must be so discouraged to see the Omicron fears and anticipate the number of people who might overflow their beds.

And the latter must be so disappointed to see the Omicron fears, knowing that it’ll keep people away from services and reduce the number of people in their pews on Christmas Eve.

Growing up in a pastor’s house, Christmas Eve was a big deal. It was a chance to celebrate with the congregation and whoever else came along the hope, peace and magic of a story. It was a chance to hear silence because regardless of anyone’s particular beliefs, it is a day we close our stores and change our schedules.

It makes me wish on this day where our bodies might not be able to go where we want to be, that at least our hearts can be in the right place. May the spirit of Christmas with its hope, peace and generosity fill us wherever we are!

Nice to Meet You

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” – Stendahl

My kids and I have had a dog staying with us this past week. Kelty is a delightful, well-trained Springer Spaniel who at 12 ½ is old enough to pretty much know what to do without direction and deaf enough to have momentary lapses when she wants to look for food and pretend she can’t hear us. My kids have been so excited to take care of a dog so they’ve split up the responsibilities. My 6-year-old daughter scoops the food for her and gives the cup to my 2-year-old son so he can put it in the dish. Or my son goes around the yard looking for poop so that my daughter can pick it up. Hilarious!

The only creature that isn’t happy is our cat who refuses to even meet the dog. She has spent the week lying mostly on the front porch glider occasionally coming in for food or to run upstairs where the dog doesn’t go to have a nap. She’s young, strong and confident enough to roam the entire neighborhood, catch mice and take care of herself but none of that translates until a willingness to meet this nice older dog, She even follows us when we take the dog out walking like she wants to join but darts away if the dog looks at her.

Somehow this has reminded me of me. Specifically about my willingness to meet men. Not that I dart into bushes 😊 but more figuratively that if I am ever to find love again, I’m going to have to start with at least intending to meet men. I’ve had the confidence to walk this path of having kids on my own, I’ve managed to figure out how to juggle most everything – work, house maintenance, kids but the idea of falling in love again unsettles me.

I was playing a catching game with my kids the other day and my daughter said to me, “When we get a dad, we can play boys against girls.” Right! I know it’s the next part of the path I need to walk but like the cat, it’s never going to happen unless I need to try. Maybe at my age, I can find one a little like the dog – old enough to pretty much know what to do and selectively deaf enough to create some mischief from time to time. 😊

Sibling Supportiveness

There’s a sun in every person – the you we call companion.” – Rumi

My kids and I were sitting on my bed reading books before bed and my 6-year-old daughter leaned over and kissed my toddler on the head and said, “Love you, Baby.” He said, “No kiss, La-la.” And so I kissed him on the head and he said, “No kiss, Mama.” But he was smiling so we kept kissing him and he kept saying “no kiss” and laughing.

My kids have such a sweet relationship. When they are in the car and my toddler hears a siren or other noise that scares him, he’ll say, “cared”, my daughter will say, “Want to hold my hand?” and he does.

I work hard to make this happen. I sit with them as they work things out and act as interpreter. I also narrate why he mimics her so much because he thinks she’s the coolest thing ever. I do this because I grew up as the younger sibling of someone who hated me. She was four years older than me which is the same age difference as my two kids. When we’ve talked about it as adults she said, “I don’t know why I was so mean to you.”

My opinion is that my sister has always struggled with feeling like she didn’t belong in our family because she was the one “realist” amongst a pack of optimists. I came along and the easy, happy disposition I was born with challenged her fighter, questioning nature and it is her makeup to push back.

Whatever my sister’s reason was, I find it fascinating to think about the dynamic now. Having kids that are the same age difference has been fear-inducing and healing for me. I was terrified that the same pattern would repeat itself. And now I’m starting to trust that there isn’t any scary truth that four years difference makes siblings not like each other.

There isn’t a more influential factor on my parenting style than the wounds of my childhood. I was scared to live with my sister – scared that anything I professed to love she would destroy. If I had long hair, I was scared she’d cut it off at night, if I liked a particular stuffed animal, I was scared she’d take it or destroy it. To be fair, I don’t think she ever did – but she threatened a lot. And I think I’m still scared of admitting I love something in case that means it’s taken away.

My mom was tired of kid squabbles by the time I came along as the third child. She was ready to move on with her own professional and personal development and given how talented and smart she is, that was only natural. But it meant that telling her my fears or about the conflict was not a fruitful path. She’d call it tattling or say we both caused it, no matter what happened. There was no path to resolution for me as a child – no understanding, no naming it and no way out of fear.

So every day I work at building trust between my kids and making sure they are source of comfort, not anxiety for each other. It heals me alongside helping them. It’s another reminder to me that nothing is wasted in this life – every wound can become a source of knowledge and inspiration. I hope that long after I’m gone, when they are scared, they will still talk to each other about it and hold hands.

The Price of Anticipation

Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” – Les Brown

My mom invited my five-year-old daughter over for a sleep over at her apartment this weekend. Her place is air conditioned and she had a ton of fun plans like piano lessons and songs to wake up to. My daughter was so excited. Mostly because Nana’s apartment is a place full of treasures that she hasn’t been able to visit during this pandemic but also because her friend that is just a little bit older at 7-years-old is always talking about sleepovers. What a thrill! But then my mom had to cancel because she lives in a retirement community and they reinforced the message that no children under the age of 16-years-old are allowed, even if they don’t go into any common areas. My daughter was so disappointed! She said to me, “I’m just going to expect that good things get canceled.”

Of all the emotions, disappointment seems the easiest to avoid. As my daughter said, you can just expect good things won’t happen, right? It only means giving up anticipation. The feeling of waking up in the morning, remembering what you are going to do today and feeling, “yay!” because it’s something fun.

But what about love then? Is it tempting to decide not to love because the feeling of heartbreak is too crushing to endure? Or what about hope? Giving up the tug that we can, will and might just be lucky enough make our lives better just in case we fail?

All of my favorite emotions have their shadow side. I’ve struggled with trying not to feel any of those and come away worse for the wear. As the brilliant writer, Ashley C. Ford said in a podcast I heard a couple of months ago, “I tried to live a disappointing life so that I wouldn’t ever be disappointed.”

I’m finally understanding the idea of leaning in towards life instead. When getting a little off tilt, leaning forwards, not backwards. But my daughter’s disappointment this weekend made me realize that while I have been practicing that for myself, I’ve been doing the opposite with my kids. I often don’t tell them about things that might be canceled so that they don’t get disappointed. I hold myself as a back stop for all their possible shadow side feelings. As is so often the case, having kids has given me another level of practice. I can still lean forwards with my kids in my arms, ready for joy and also holding them in disappointment.

A Comedy of Errors

“We are here to live out loud.” – Balzac

Yesterday as I was loading the car for a special Palm Sunday drive-in show for kids at our church, I accidentally knocked my toddler down the two steps leading to the crawl space. We were going to the event with my mom and her friend, both over 80-years-old so I had gone in the crawl space to get camp chairs for them. I didn’t realize that my toddler had followed me up the little step stool and was just outside the door so that when I opened it to come out, it knocked him down. My five-year-old daughter went screaming into the house because she was sure he was dead, somehow the bike next to him also fell over (but I don’t think that was any significant source of pain) and fortunately when I went and gathered him in my arms, there was no obvious injury and he only cried for about 30 seconds.

But I still needed to get some pillows out of the crawl space so to make sure we didn’t repeat the same thing, I let the kids play in the car so that he wouldn’t follow me. After I got the pillows I got in the car with them, my daughter in the driver’s seat, son in passenger seat, me in the back. My son locked the doors and then pulled the door handle which set off the security alarm. I didn’t have my keys on me so I couldn’t turn it off and every time we tried to unlock the doors, it would automatically relock them. The horn was honking, the lights were blinking, the kids were crying – it was a fiasco! But I managed to get a door open, get them out of there and the horn stopped blaring.

It’s no wonder that I’m exhausted at the end of the day. I’m so busy taking care of everyone else’s moods that I don’t care of my own. Until after they go to bed and then I watch TV I don’t even care about, drink a glass of wine or spend too much time surfing the Internet. Those feelings – the horror that I knocked my child over, the frustration that I can’t do something as simple as getting things out of my crawl space without unleashing a whole chain reaction of undesired events, the relief that no one was hurt – they just sit in my gut and bubble all day long. Instead of being able to exercise, go for a walk or meditate, I just put them aside where they sap energy. And I know that I’m not alone. Everyone sitting at work with their boss and co-workers watching can’t exercise their emotions when they are frustrated. Any care giver or health care worker can’t show their emotions as they carry out their jobs. No one with any celebrity can make a parenting mistake without someone catching it on camera for everyone else to comment on.

But as someone who no one is watching, I wonder: Am I doing this right if I can’t take a moment to feel things through once I’ve taken care of making sure the kids are okay? Should I be parenting differently so that they see me take care of my mental and physical health? Because actually the most important audience of two is watching me after all.

I have a long history of being a caretaker, working very hard to be prepared so that things go smoothly and finding my inner sunshine and optimism. Which is to say that change will not come easily but I’m hoping awareness goes a long way to help get me started. Because I’m not sure that I knew how much I wasn’t expressing on the day before yesterday that wasn’t nearly as dramatic. That is the miracle of living out loud for me – that naming things has real power to shine light on doubt, wounds and habits and to start them healing. No doubt I will make plenty of other mistakes and the process will have to repeat but I hope to at least share the story along the way.

Postscript: We finally made it to the Palm Sunday event yesterday – it was cold and rainy. My daughter and my mom got out and danced while the rest of us huddled in the back of the car, enjoying both the warmth of being close and opportunity to be in a crowd, albeit a small, socially distanced, drive-in crowd. The chairs were not necessary because it was too cold and rainy to be sitting out in the open. But I had them just in case.