Celebrating the Messy Middle

Half the trouble in life comes from pretending there isn’t any.” – Edith Wharton

On Monday, I was practicing a short mindfulness break in the middle of the day to create more awareness of the middle of my life as I wrote in this post. What I noticed was that my day was kinda awful.

On the carpool to school, our neighbor and my daughter’s best friend broke the news that in three months they are moving 1200 miles away.

I’d just set aside all the gratitude and grief that arose as I thought of this big change in my daughter’s first real friendship so that I could work. Then the phone rang and it was my son’s daycare and they’d had an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and needed me to come pick him up right away and get a note from the doctor before he could return.

I canceled all the rest of my work appointments for the day while I was driving to school to retrieve him, scheduled a doctors appointment for him in the afternoon. Then I asked the neighbors if my daughter could stay with them after school until I returned from the doctor which brought another wistful realization of how much I’ll miss them when they move in three months.

In short, the day was reactive, unsettling and bumpy. As I mindfully checked in with this, I had to chuckle because it reminded me of something I learned from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. That meditation and mindfulness are not ways to always be feeling good – in fact, it often brings more irritation because we are aware.

Aware and irritated by it fit how I felt during that check-in perfectly. However, the awareness brought the ability to move through it instead of just locking it up in a box. And that is always a gift I appreciate because I learn that I can handle it. I’ve come to think of meditation as my way of irrigating the irritations so I can flow past.

Sitting with this, I could touch the powerfully poignant moment when my daughter’s first friendship changed. More than that, I was able to notice it before my optimism overwrote it with dreams of new neighbors, a new carpool and the next friend. And I suppose that’s exactly the point of focusing the spotlight of awareness.

It seems perfectly fitting to write about this in the middle of the week. 🙂

(featured photo from Pexels)

Emotions about Emotions

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” – Chinese Proverb

The other day I was in my car driving my toddler out of a park. We’d met some friends, played a while but had to leave because it was his naptime. His older sister was able to stay because our friends were bringing her home.

He was crying “go back” and “no, no, La-la (his name for his sister).” I totally sympathized with why he’d be frustrated, disappointed and feel it was unfair. I was glad he felt free to express himself. But after a couple minutes of this, I felt miserable listening to him.

I continued to feel so uncomfortable listening to him continue to cry for the entire winding road up and out of the park, probably five minutes. I kept thinking, “ I am so done with this emotion. I can’t wait until you grow up and can deal with disappointment quietly.”

I want my kids/friends/family to express themselves. I also feel miserable sometimes having to witness these messy emotions. How can both things be true?

I asked my meditation teacher. We talked through a history we both share of childhoods where “suck it up, buttercup” was the rule of the house. And we talked through the feeling of wanting to shut down and run away when someone wants to emote. I’d like to problem solve, move past, read it in a letter, whatever it takes not to just have to sit and bear witness for as long as they’d like to go on.

My teacher pointed out that this IS the practice of meditation. Observing what arises, not attaching, not resisting, not judging. Not piling on with feelings about feelings.

Damn, it’s hard.

I remember when my sister spent a month staying with my mom just after my dad died. She texted me something about my mom along the lines of “I can’t tell if she’s crying because she misses him or she feels sorry for herself.” It seemed so unfair to me to read that about my strong mother who is so put together and also allowed to grieve. But I’ve come to believe my sister was feeling that same need to escape someone else’s emotion.

The other day, I never mastered my emotion driving out of the park but did manage to sit in silence as my son worked it out. Once we drove through the park gates, he quieted down and shifted to observing trucks, pumpkins and being his usual affable self. Thank goodness. But next time, I aspire to not adding my emotions about other people’s emotions to create more misery.

Praying for Rain

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.” – Rabindranath Tagore

My friend, Mindy, told me this story about her son when he was about 6 or 7-years-old. It was the beginning of the school year and her son didn’t want to have to sit next to Henry in school. He came up with the idea to pray about it. The next day after her son came home from school, Mindy asked him whether or not he had to sit next to Henry. He replied, “Of course not, I prayed about it.”

I was reminded of this story the other day when my daughter was looking for her kinetic sand and said she’d prayed to God that she’d find it. I knew I’d thrown the kinetic sand out so no praying would help! I threw it out because I’d been praying not to have that stuff all over the floor and I knew how to make that happen. 😊 But it also made me think about my relationship to prayer.

The longer I live the less I know what to pray for. As our overall human and my individual scientific understanding of our world has grown, I’ve found it precludes praying for anything that I know how it works. And the more that I think I’m in control of my life, the less that I pray for things like money or even happiness.

So as I summon my centeredness and quiet as I meditate, I find myself instead praying more for a feeling and connection to the Divine. Praying for a voice that speaks kindness, a heart that serves from its depth and a mind that is childlike enough to search for mystery. I pray for an acceptance of things how they are and eyes to discovery the delight in it all. I pray for arms that are tender enough to hold everyone that I encounter during the day. I pray for ears that are open to listening and a patience to do it without judgment. I pray for a curious nose that can draw me to the sweet smelling things around me. I pray for a feeling of grace so that I face the day from my depths instead of my human fragility. I pray for feet that will guide me to my individual path that I should be walking and the courage to do it.

This weekend my daughter was praying for rain. I thought that one was likely to pan out given the forecast but it turned out that she was praying for rain right at that instant. So I shook the wet tree branch that she and my son were standing under and we laughed and laughed. Then when it really rained, we ran around, jumped in puddles, held our umbrellas upside down and sang. That turned out to be exactly what we all were praying for.

Pass On the Sugar Please

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart

When a friend recently complimented on pulling off two birthday parties for my daughter in one weekend (trying to keep numbers low), she said, “I don’t know how you do it.” And I thought to myself “I know how – a whole lot of sugar!”

I have a serious sugar addiction. When my meditation teacher did a really restrictive purge of sugar a few years back, I wondered why in the heck would a person want to do that. Because it’s just sugar. It doesn’t make me irresponsible, impair my ability to operate any machinery, or steal in order to afford it. Right? I was so proud that I’d gotten off the dangerous train of drinking too much wine that I thought there was no way I’d start limiting my sugar.

But I’m 52 years old, have had two c-sections in the last 6 years, my knees and my hips hurt and I want to live longer enough to see my kids have kids – unless they wait as long as I did to have kids and then I have no prayer of that!. And not only do I want to live that long, I want to do it being as active and comfortable as possible. I’m not likely to climb any big mountains soon but I’d like to rock climb, hike, bike and run around with my kids!

So for the past 2 weeks I’ve stopped eating foods with added sugar and also given up Diet Coke. Initially I had a persistent headache that wouldn’t stop until I drank enough water to make it through. But I’ve also slept better, had more consistent energy, and been less achy. I love candy and I feel like Diet Coke is the drink of gods. But when I crash after having either, I’m starting to recognize it’s not worth it.

There’s a little voice inside me that whispers, “You are going to give up something else?” It’s that self-indulgent, whiny presence that wants to frame change as if I am losing something and when I listen to it, I stay stuck. But when I listen to the centered voice that rings of Truth, I find the wisdom that with change comes the gift of freedom.

Now I’m finally understanding why my meditation teacher did the sugar purge. Because if I’m going to sit and listen deeply, I also need to pay attention to the signals my body is sending me. Sometimes I hate awareness but it always gets me somewhere worth going…

Negotiating Inner Peace

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” – unknown

Yesterday I was trying to read my meditation books to start the day. In one there was a poignant passage about all the past leading to now and the future proceeding from this here but all we have is the one golden moment of today. In another, it was about pausing to appreciate our accomplishments. And the third was about setting forth into the world with the intent to unify and belong instead of to conquer and thereby treading a gentler path through life.

All I could think was “I don’t have time for this sh!t! I’ve got to get stuff done!” It started this internal dialogue that went like this:

[Practical Me] Really beautifully written messages but sometimes I just don’t have time to consider anything at any depth.

[Philosophical Me] Ha – isn’t that the point? That we could spend all of our todays just getting stuff done and putting off any search for meaning and appreciation for beauty until long after it’s gone?

[Practical Me] Yes, but today I really have so much to do. It’s the first day of school, the first day of the month and I have so much work to get done.

Here’s where I negotiated peace between my selves. Yes, there are sometimes where I don’t have time to consider all the sides, the long-term implications and all the other things that can become in their own ways a buffer between me and the experience of life. Sometimes I just have to act.

But it’s the feeling of being in a rush that can be settled out before jumping in. That there is a tiny space for setting intention to be mindful in my efficiency. A moment to be purposeful, not panicked. A note to myself that yes, today is in fact sacred. I will pause to acknowledge accomplishments. And in doing all I need to do, I will try to unify and not to break any things in my haste.

Motorcycle Man

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” – Deepak Chopra

Let me paint the picture of my usual morning. I awaken early to do yoga, meditate and write. The house is quiet. Both kids are in bed sleeping and if the cat is inside, she’s curled up on the top of her tower resting. I do yoga silently in the family room and then I make a cup of tea and light candles to meditate by. I sit on my meditation bolster and start a breathing practice or two…and then at 6:37am a guy rides by my house on a motorcycle so loud that I can hear it for a block before and a block after.

This has been going on most weekdays for the last eight years. I remember meditating before I had kids with my beloved dog and the motorcycle would often set off a car alarm when it went by. I thought it was funny then – like a “wuhoo, now we are all raring to go!” But these days because it wakes up my toddler, I’m irritated.

I’ve tried accepting the irritation, appreciating it as a teacher, thanking it for drawing me away from my own monkey mind. None of it has made me feel more kindly towards the motorcycle man.

Until I made up this story about a child who grew up in a house that was too quiet. No one talked because if they did, all the feelings that they’d been holding right under the surface would blow apart the family. So they sat and stewed and this little boy dreamed of escaping to anywhere it was loud. When he grew up, he found himself in a marriage quite like his parents and couldn’t break the pattern by daring to speak until she finally did and what she said was “I want a divorce.” Alone, angry and confused he bought a motorcycle so loud that he could yell, scream and cry when he was on it and no one would hear. It was his freedom and even though he still had to work early mornings 5 days a week, he could feel unfettered on his way in. I hope the motorcycle man is growing freer to express himself in ways beyond the motorcycle every day. Now I’m rooting for him as he drives by.

Even though the story is utter BS, it helps me make friends with my experience. As I’m floating down the river of life, I’m trying to learn not to struggle with things I can’t control. Besides, this morning ritual is probably why “motorcycle” is one of my son’s favorite words and he can identify them by sound. Even as I’m working to find peace in to this daily occurrence, someone else in this house loves it showing me yet again, life is a subjective experience.

To Be Fair

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt

I grew up in a household that was very fair. My mom kept track of each birthday present down to the penny so that she could spend exactly the same amount on each child. The issue of fairness shaped so much of my upbringing that I was surprised when I had a second child how hard it is to be fair.

First there’s the problem that it isn’t possible for the second child to have the same experience as the first because the first child is there influencing the process. Second there’s the reality that every child is different. And then there’s the matter of perspective so that even if I believe something is fair, it doesn’t necessarily seem so to others. Finally, there is the problem that life isn’t fair!

But I still struggle with measuring myself against the belief of fairness. Like with preschool. My daughter went to a co-op preschool where I worked in the room with the teacher and other parents one day a week. I loved that experience, getting to see her play with other kids and being able to get to know the families of the other children. But because of the complicated logistics that come with two children, COVID and my work schedule, I have my son in daycare instead of co-op preschool. That doesn’t feel fair to me although who it is unfair to is unclear – me or him?

Then yesterday I realized that some of this effort to balance things is just a way to be defensive about parenting. To preload the excuse that I did my best because everything was fair. And to bypass having to be mindful about how to participate in each child’s life in the way that is best for them.

Again and again I keep finding vulnerability and showing up as the guideposts as my parenting. That there is no way to portion a parent’s love so that it can be measured equally. Maya Angelou said, “Your eyes should light up when your child enters the room.” And that is the parenting maxim that I want to live by. Fairly, for each child of course.

Low Battery Indicator

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom

The battery in the carbon monoxide detector ran low last night. At 11:21pm actually which is when I opened my eyes and realized that the high-frequency pip-pip-pips I was hearing weren’t actually a part of my dream but something else. Then I was thrust into comical action mode as I, being as quiet as I could, hunted down which safety device was emitting these sounds before it awoke the kids. When I got my hands on the thing I stood by the kitchen sink trying to slip out the battery and sleepily tried to reassure myself that it was just a low battery warning and not an alarm itself. On one hand, I wasn’t sure I even knew what it would sound like if it was trying to alert us but on the other hand, there was nothing on inside the house that I thought could be producing carbon monoxide.

I was pretty sure it was low batteries. But that isn’t a 100% and a lot of worries can slip through that crack between pretty sure and positive. And I’m quite sure I’m not alone with this, but when I’m worried, it’s hard to go to sleep.

Worrying for me is that need for certainty. To be certain that everyone is safe. To know what will happen in that meeting I’m thinking about. To have a response to any criticism that I could imagine might arise. To know the end of the story. Worry is the indicator that my faith is running on low batteries.

As I climbed back into bed, I suddenly felt exhausted by my monkey mind worrying through all the factors prompted by a device that is supposed to keep us safe. The only thing I think of was to count the things I was grateful for instead…

That the kids didn’t wake up

That I have other detectors that were silent

That my heart was beating slower now

That now I had an idea of what to blog about in the morning

That I managed to get a good night’s sleep after all.

The Other Side

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” – Buddha

Last weekend I took my kids to a swimming beach in a very wealthy suburb of Seattle. It was beautiful – the grounds perfectly maintained, a recently built dock of all the latest materials so no one would get a splinter, a cabin as beautiful as you would hope for a restful lakeshore vacation for the lifeguards to use when they were off rotation and a play structure with no graffiti. It felt like an idyllic break from the signs of homelessness, addiction and lawlessness that are so evident in Seattle these days.

Within 10 minutes of peeling off our top layers and getting into the water I heard a father chastise his son, who looked about 10-years-old, “You are just a dumb kid.” And because I’ve read so much about how shame doesn’t work, especially in parenting, I felt shocked because I can’t recall hearing someone shame their kids in the six years I’ve been a parent. I’m in no way claiming that it doesn’t happen in the big city but just that I haven’t heard it.

We moved on to the play structure which was almost deserted except for two other kids. My daughter breathlessly ran over to where I was standing told me that a little boy who was about a year older than my toddler was punching my son in the stomach. The child’s mom was about 50 feet away, completely uninterested, so I walked over and the child had taken a lap around the structure and was now pushing my son. As I carried my son away from the child, I thought again how odd that was both to have kids touching each other these days and to have parents totally tuned out. These little incidents reminded me of the adage that money doesn’t solve everything.

My dear dad spent fifteen years as a senior pastor in a Presbyterian church in a very wealthy community before he retired. I remember the gist of many sermons he delivered to the very generous and lovely congregation was that quite often the problem with money is that it makes us think we don’t need faith. Whew, that at least is one problem that I don’t have. 😊

As I drove back to my middle-class neighborhood, I was thinking about our universal humanity. That I with my kids, the homeless heroin addict on the street and the wealthy patrons at the park on the other side of the lake all have hearts that ache for love, lungs that long for clean air, and backs that get tired when they carry too much. Maybe we only differ in how far we think we are from suffering. It made me remember again that there is no way to drive away from suffering but instead I just have to meet it, in me and in others, with as much faith and empathy as I can muster.

The What If Game

The real happiness of life is…to enjoy the present, without any anxious dependence on the future.” – Seneca

I was dropping my daughter off for an outdoor class the other day and she was already a little nervous because her friend that is also signed up for the class wasn’t coming. Then we arrived and she saw that there was a substitute coach that she didn’t know as well and he had an Eastern European accent that made him a little difficult to understand. The perfect storm. Her anxiety was real and she started with the what if questions: What if he asks me to do something and I don’t understand? What if I say something and he can’t hear me because of my mask? For each question I answered, there were at least two more.

When I awoke this morning, my mind was filled with it’s own what if’s. Questions because it’s August and as I mentioned in this post listing the lessons I learned over 20 years of owning my own business, my work is always slower in August. Questions because the school year is about to start for my daughter. Questions because the Delta variant is surging.

All valid questions and the anxiety is real. But as my mind raced through all the troublesome scenarios that could happen, each of them scarier than the previous because they were building, my foot started to itch. As I reached down to scratch it, I realized that it was the only thing that was happening at that moment that I needed to attend to. From there, I just needed to find the next thing to do which was to make a cup of tea and meditate. As I write this, I still have all the questions about what the future will bring but the awareness that in this moment right now, life is actually just fine. In a few minutes I will wake up the kids and keep finding my way through the day by identifying the next thing to do.

When I was dropping my daughter off and the questions kept coming, I said to her, “I’m not going to play the what if game. You are resourceful and capable of handling this class and no matter what, it only lasts one hour.” It worked and she had a great time. I’m finding it works when I give myself that speech too.