By many counts i am a Difficult mother. With a tight jawed glare i scold without a word. Loving order and tidiness A chore is always available for you. i do not have stamina for Endless playing, Or the patience for Fantastical stories. i am adept at extracting fun from nearly any adventure. i repeat myself until i, too, become bored of my sage advice. With fears grooved into my brain, my power unseized and dreams unfulfilled, i pass these on as a blueprint for living. i cannot imagine how it would be to be my child. When you laugh unfettered and carefree, i may loosen into a smile, or Shudder and crave an underground cave. Your patterns are familiar, until they become unknowable. We build a routine, until it crumbles. Mothering, for me, encompasses all of these things, and that is why i find it difficult. But, i suppose, without the peaks and valleys of the EKG, we would be pronounced dead. But sometimes, i can’t bear to feel incompetent one single minute more, then i speak the right words, at an appropriate moment, with the right intonation, it is met with understanding, and i loosen into a smile, until ...
Feel the ground underneath your feet, keep your knees soft, says Maria. Hold, but don’t clench, the abdominal muscles. Then twist from the core, rotate shoulders, and strike with the heel of the right hand. Keep the left arm and hand close to the side body. And vocalize!
I strike with my right hand, and let out a satisfying grunt. Huh!
Next, breathe in, swivel the core, and strike with the left. Huh!
We march forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and strike: Right! Left! Right! Left!
March back, with feet stomping, and repeat Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! Four precise strikes, while a rock song with a heavy downbeat plays over the speaker.
I am in a Nia class, a style which draws upon jazz and modern dance, tai chi, yoga, as well as tae kwon doe, and regularly incorporates punches, blocks and kicks into dance routines set to inspiring music.
I sense my brow getting furrowed, and my focus zeroing in on the mental image of someone I am angry with – someone at work who had lied about me and was ruining my reputation. This is one of the worst things someone can do to me. I channel my heated energy at an image of their face, then strike: Right! Left! Huh! Huh! I imagine the strikes land on their stomach. It’s violent, I know, but I figure it is a safer way than most to channel my aggressions.
While we dance, Maria demonstrates a new pattern: She marches forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and does two strikes – Right! Left! Then she adds two freestyle moves – freeflowing arms with her hips jiving to the beat and legs loose.
March forward – 2 – 3 – 4. Huh! Huh! Then, I freeze. My body refuses to do freestyle moves. I stand with fists clenched and arms rigid.
March back – 2 – 3 – 4. Huh! Huh! I try again. I manage some herky jerky moves, probably resembling the ‘robot’. I get angry at what Maria is asking me to do – I was in the zone and wanted to stay aggressive.
I could not loosen up my core and arms, in order to pull off any moves other than the strikes.
Next time, I know it’s coming, so I try to prepare. I do my strikes, and then try to loosen up, but my body doesn’t acquiesce. My mind is almost dizzy at the attempt, and can’t find the rhythm in order to time my freestyle…
After one song, we move on from the martial arts movements to other dance steps, and I am relieved.
After class, I wondered, why was this so challenging? I tend to pick up dance moves pretty easily, but this one – firm attacks, interspersed with flowing, loose movements – was a struggle, for both my body, and my mind.
When I feel hurt, threatened or angry, it is difficult for me to come out of that to feel relaxed, joyful, or happy. Once I am physically tense, my body is not able to easily relax. And once I am angry, my mind tells me that if I let go of the emotion, I will be condoning whatever made me upset in the first place.
I reflected that this pattern has shown up over the course of my life in the form of holding grudges.
The most extreme example of this occurred many years ago. After college, my sister and I had moved back home. After a painful and dramatic incident, we did not speak to each other for several months. It started with screaming and crying, and evolved to sidestepping each other with tension and awkwardness. I soon escaped by moving into my own apartment.
This habit seemed to run in my family. My mother had a couple of years when she didn’t speak to her brother. My father didn’t speak to his sisters for a couple of decades.
Thankfully, all of those rifts had been resolved, but I felt there was more to discover.
At the time, I had also noticed that I had a very hard time cooling off after an argument with my then 7-year-old son. Even after he had moved on, and approached me lovingly, I couldn’t fully open to him, because I retained the tension of the interaction in my physical body. Once I was aware of the pattern, it seemed absurd. I made a cognitive resolution to change my behavior, my plan complete with self-flagellation and harsh critique.
Meanwhile, in dance class, I continued to follow Maria’s instruction. In every class, we had strikes, punches, blocks and other martial arts movements integrated into the dance. I would mimic to the best of my ability, focusing on the strike moves, and then releasing to allow organic dance movements. It remained the hardest part of the dance for me to follow.
At times, I found myself taking my strikes, huffing an inhale, and then moving into the flowing dance move. It was a jilted move, and I was behind the beat, but I kept trying. Other times, I was so determined on making the flowing move, that my last strike would be wimpy and unfocused.
After some amount of time (months, or maybe even a year?), one day I noticed that I moved from my strikes, focused and sharp, to my arms flowing, and core swaying gracefully. I couldn’t pinpoint how I had developed the ability, and it didn’t even require the hyperfocus or trying that I had put in before. The ease was just there. I was ecstatic!
Upon later reflection, I wondered whether this physical capability had any impact on my family or social interactions, so I made an intention to notice if there were any changes. One day, during an intense interaction with my kids, my emotions flared up and I yelled. I felt my body and jaw tense up. I told the kids I needed to take a timeout and went to my room and closed the door. After a few minutes, I emerged physically calmer, and emotionally cooler. When my son came to me, I was able to open to his embrace. We then discussed the situation, and I apologized for not communicating calmly.
I have since realized that my physical tension stems from the sympathetic nervous system. My mind and body believe I am in danger and trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. While I had known about this physiological response cognitively, it was only through my body’s practice that I was able to shift the pattern.
I continue to be amazed at how the lessons I learn from my body are improving the quality of my life. I am so very grateful for my body and all that it allows me to discover, endure, and experience. It is one of my most important teachers.
grey light drifts humbly through the window
my ears alert for early morning whispers,
breath quiet and steady
i hear the purposeful whoosh of
heated milk landing in the bottle
my palms blanketed by the warmth
i make my way towards the
bedroom where you sleep, and
hold out the doodh,
all ingredients melted into this
moment of reverent care,
i plucked the guitar string from my essence
the vibrations echoed through the air
finding their way towards your heart
know that it is an offer, only,
you may resonate or be discordant
still, i stand here,
arm stretched and heart open.
i offered simply because my deepest self wanted to.
We may think of choosing a career path like choosing a train to ride.
We arrive at the station when we graduate from college,
We study the train map and schedule, to decide which is the ‘right’ train to get on.
This decision is agonizing, we strive to absorb as much information as possible and figure out ‘where we want to go’.
We decide, then wait on the platform for the train – the one that is destined for greatness – to arrive.
When it arrives, we board it optimistically, feeling certain that the train and tracks will conspire to carry us to the exact destination we selected, at the time that was promised on the schedule.
Our responsibility is to evaluate the train, and then choose to stay on the this one, or to get off and board another.
But a career path is not a train we board to enjoy a ride. Imagine a career path like going hiking.
When we graduate from college, we carry with us a backpack full of book knowledge and street smarts, warm blankets and extra socks.
We approach the uncharted woods, and consider what direction to head in.
To the right is a patch of evergreen trees, to the left a rocky downhill with a rushing river at the base. In the center, is flat land, with a mountain in the distance.
We choose an initial direction, and then take a step, and another and another.
Within each path, there are opportunities to shape your journey.
After walking for a bit, perhaps we come upon a new clearing, a smaller hill, a field of flowers, or a lookout point.
I suggest we pause to reflect and adjust based on our learnings and new visions.
We walk not in straight lines, but in zig zags and pivots, climbing at times and descending at other times.
We walk, hopefully enjoying the path as much as where we’re headed, and preserving our health and energy for what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey.
Tings against the ceramic in
Cadence like a small church bell
Warmth emanates to my hands
Smells of roasted oat and cardboard permeate my nostrils
Ribbons of honey and chamomile bathe my taste buds
The mug is ordinary, green,
A cricket orchestra, a soundtrack to this
i committed to stay in silence,
And should not be writing, but my
Lips curled up in
Joy and i had to
Share it with you.
You do not need fixing, she said,
You are not broken
i believed her for that moment, my
Heart’s vision stretched to encompass every One
Opened towards Love
Compassionate threads in the
Wholeness of Life
A lump, gray, nondescript
But in my vision it is glorious
i lay my simple tool
On the gripping surface
Scrape away one sliver
And a third
The lump changes only imperceptibly
i aim the tool to remove the excesses
Bit by bit
To reveal the form
Enveloped within the clay
There is no short cut to its birth
Each bit removed
One by one
No use to celebrate after each
Or look forward to promised success
There is none
i can only
Be here now.
Then, a feature is unearthed
From what remains
i stop to admire what became clear
Only with the loss of what was unnecessary
i do not own its intricate glory
i am the instrument
i welcome the pause
And raise my tool again
In most areas of our life, we follow the American cultural norm that more is better. A vacation lasting 7 days is better than one lasting 3 days. Winning a $5 lottery ticket is not as good as winning the jackpot. Even in the realm of the arts, writing a haiku poem of 17 syllables does not garner as much social acclaim as publishing a novel. And in my discussions with people who are building a meditation practice, we believe that 1 hour of meditation is more beneficial than 1 minute.
However, this is not how things are valued in meditation. Meditation is about acceptance, and so if you meditate for one minute, that just is. If you meditate for one hour, that just is. There is no purpose in comparing the relative value of the two meditation sessions.
But in our culture, we are trained to evaluate nearly everything we do. We push ourselves to climb the imaginary ladder to receive the higher salary, to buy the larger home, and even to have a greater number of Instagram followers… Similarly, with meditation, many of us may push ourselves to ‘succeed’ in meditation, but there is no governing body of meditation to define success. Absent a set of defined criteria, many of us look to the duration of a session to be a concrete way to judge the value of our meditation.
The meditation app Insight Timer has a feature called “detailed charts and stats”. A user can click into it to review metrics including minutes per day, average session duration, longest session duration and several others. I believe they included these because statistics can be strong motivators for many of us to set and track towards a goal, and to challenge ourselves to do more.
However, what I found interesting is that on the main profile page, the most visible statistic displayed is number of consecutive days with at least one session of meditation. It seems that if we need a measurable statistic to keep us focused on building a practice, this would be one to pay attention to. Choosing to meditate each day of the month, even for a 1 minute session, will have greater benefit than doing a 30 day session on one day and doing nothing for the rest of the month. Returning to meditation day after day builds a habit, and that is the power of a meditation practice.
Periodically I relapse to judging the duration of my practice. When I notice that I am holding that judgment, I loosen my grip on it, and gently tell myself that at least I made the time to sit on my mat, despite the fullness of my work, family and community activities. When I consider this new thought, my jaw tends to relax, and I can take a smoother breath. My body loosens and settles to the here and now, even if just for a few moments until the next thought arrives in my mind.
So, the lesson for me has been this- whether my practice is 5 minutes or an hour, I am more present just by letting go of the thought that a longer meditation would be better. And being present is indeed the point.
The ribbons vibrant
Each a different color
Gripped with earnest fingers
Flowing around the others
Adding shapes to the mosaic
This moment a unique kaleidoscope pattern
Until they shift again
Circling the same sacred pole
Each of us, with our own expression
Attempt to embody the
Truth that each of us together make
Pierces my eyelids
My nose runs, then my eyes
I pause the rhythmic chop of onion
To avoid sliced finger tips
On to the celery
Thinly sliced so it will
meld into the soup, with its essence in tact
Smashing garlic fulfills an
Urgent need in me
Potatoes peeled, chopped,
½ inch cubes
Placed in warm broth
Simmering and softening
I have never prepared this dish before
I am aware I cannot know how it will turn out,
All I know - I need to create,
Put myself at the mercy of larger
Forces - thermodynamics, flavor, spirit and luck
I play my humble role
Greet each ingredient,
Recognize its uniqueness
Then invite it to be changed
By its environment and neighbors
Into a new form
Recognizable yet altered
Do I open to the reality of our
And allow myself to be changed
By my environment and neighbors?
I am infinite. I am worth more than the size of my home, my salary, or even the money in the bank account. I am more than the number of (facebook or IRL) friends I have, I am more than the number of activities that my children are in, I am more than their good behavior, and I am more than their bad behavior. I am more than the state of my relationship, I am more than the compliments from acquaintances. I am worth more than the number of people who ‘like’ this poem. I am more than the good deeds I have done, and more than the mistakes I haven’t learned from yet.
I am more than the sum of the value of each of these things.
That means I do not need to make things perfect or appear to be so. I am what I am at this moment and it is enough.
I do not need to do things to make myself skinnier, more popular, richer, busier, more fashionable, more powerful, more well-read, more cultured, more witty.
I only need to do what feels right at any given moment. When I take away those doubts about my worth, I uncover love, for myself, and for everyone around me.
Inhale and breathe.
That means everyone in the world, is infinite. Everyone is worth more than their home, salary or bank accounts. More than their Twitter followers, more than the car they drive or the gadgets they own. More than the clothes they wear, or neighborhood they live in. More than the language they speak, the color of their skin or their citizenship status. They do not need to make themselves more skinny, popular, rich, busy, fashionable, powerful, well-read, cultured, witty. For me or for anyone else.
What if each of us started out our day believing we are enough as we are in this moment?