Peace Begins with Me (and you too)

 

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When my son was three, in addition to being cute and funny, he was exhibiting some really annoying behavior. It helped at the time to know Will’s defiance was a normal stage of development, but still, I was exhausted. Something had to change.

During this time, it was increasingly challenging to get him to go to sleep. My husband, Josh, and I were trying really hard to not give in to Will’s desire to sleep on our floor or in our bed. We were afraid of starting a bad habit. So instead of that habit, we created another one. Strange as it may seem, he chose to sleep on the wood floor in the hallway outside our bedroom, and to get him to fall asleep, we made up songs. He would tell me what style to sing in. My favorite request which I heard often, was, “Bob Marley and Opera.” A particularly interesting request indeed!

Continuing to feel like I was losing my marbles, I decided that perhaps it was time to take a meditation class. I had attempted seated meditation in college as well as in various yoga classes. However, I had never had any specific instruction. In fact, in college, when I tried to meditate, I found it more anxiety inducing then relaxing. Years later, when I was sharing this with an older, wiser, and more meditative friend, he laughed and said something about people in their early twenties weren’t supposed to be meditating. He said we were supposed to be having fun. I recall him mentioning how our brains were too busy thinking about the opposite sex to meditate. Although I hate to admit it, I think he was right.

I’m not in my twenties anymore, and as luck would have it, a wonderful therapist in town was leading an eight week long Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. Right when Josh and I felt like we were reaching our breaking point, we signed up and arranged for his mom to come watch the kids every other Saturday. MBSR is a particularly effective and well researched program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is a great tool for learning how to sit in silence and also for bringing a steady and non-judgmental awareness to every day activities. It is very helpful for certain medical conditions as well as for anxiety and depression.

I promise I am not being dramatic when I say this class (and the subsequent practice of meditation) saved our lives! And still does to this day.

After our first class, instead of begrudgingly trying to get our son to sleep, we started meditating. Previously we would mindlessly flop on the couch and watch television or get on the internet, but we were committed to bringing about more peace in our house. This new practice consisted of us sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes in our little front room and breathing together in silence. Will could see us from his hallway “bed” and I think watching us in this silent way was reassuring for him. The peacefulness we practiced came straight out of us and right into him.

What happened over the course of the next couple of weeks felt nothing short of miraculous. Will never seemed to find our sitting in silence odd, and furthermore, he was now falling fast asleep without any fuss. This happened night after night, and the more we sat, the more our perspective seemed to change as the energy in the house shifted too.

Why it worked, I think, was because we needed to change. Not Will. Instead of trying so hard to get him to sleep, or reading blogs and books about what we should do, we just relaxed, listened to our own intuitions and let go of all of our expectations. We started to react less and enjoy our time with him more. I told myself he would most likely not want me to sing, let alone speak, in his teenage years so I kept up my operatic/Bob Marley inspired songs and did so with a smile.

Although, sitting regularly is something I still struggle with, it is also a practice I always come back to. When I haven’t had a seated practice and then start one again, I am always amazed at how wonderful it feels and wonder why it took me so long to bring it back.

As soon as I learned via MBSR that I didn’t have to clear my mind to meditate, I was able to relax and not worry about whether or not I was doing it right. I quickly felt the beautiful benefits of meditation while I was sitting and often throughout the day. A veil of clutter seemed to lift and I found a bit more space in my heart and head. I still had a million thoughts racing through my mind, but as Eckhart Tolle discusses in his best selling book (and one of my personal favorites,) The Power of Now, I started to notice the space between these thoughts was growing. This felt like an ocean of much needed and much appreciated bliss.

These days, our kids, ages six and three, will even sit with us and meditate on occasion. We don’t ask them to, but they just do. This morning while I was sitting, my daughter came and sat on my lap. When she asked me,  “Now what do I do?” I told her to just sit, listen and find her happy place. She said, “You mean my sun?”

I’m not sure if our kids will meditate as they get older, but I do think they have learned something about the importance of stillness, silence, and getting to know the internal and eternal suns residing in each one of us. I know I certainly have. As for Will, he now sleeps in his bed, in his room, every night.

what a blessing

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What a blessing!

Once when my son Will was a baby, my oldest sister, Heather, and I took him to a nice little restaurant for breakfast. We were in Nantucket, and it was a sunny and peaceful morning. That is, until we appeared. Will was fussy, and I felt really awkward and insecure still adjusting to my new role as a mother. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to keep him happy. I loved nursing but trying to do it discreetly in public was a different story. I always felt as if he was suffocating with a blanket over his face or like my breast was going to do something strange. As I tried to settle in, I looked around sensing that the expressions on the faces of the other diners were not ones of amusement.

There was one woman in particular who was really giving me the stink eye. She was sitting with her husband and would glance over at us periodically and then turn back to her husband and whisper. I couldn’t stop looking at her looking at me.

I had a tough time finding my composure. I didn’t know what else to do and since breaking into tears didn’t seem like the best option, I starting talking trash about this unassuming woman. I couldn’t get over how judgmental she was being! It’s hard controlling a squirmy fussy baby at a pretty restaurant especially on this island where everything feels so picturesque and perfect.

Eventually Will quieted a bit, and I started breathing again. I looked up and saw the woman with the stink eye walking over to our table on her way out the door. “Oh crap!” I thought to myself what is she possibly going to say to me? A million stories ran through my mind…was she going to tell me I was a terrible mom? Or that I should not have brought my baby to a restaurant as nice as this?

As she approached the table, she looked me right in the eye and said, “You are so fortunate to have such a beautiful child. My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for a long time. It is such a blessing.” She was right, and I had been too worried about what everyone was thinking to enjoy this amazing blessing right in front of me.

This story brings to mind two lessons. One is how crazy our drama-seeking minds can be. Often these assumptions we make of others are mere projections of our own insecurities. It’s much easier to make someone else responsible for our own discomfort.

The other is a conversation my sister, Kerry, and I had recently. She told me that when she’s in traffic and getting irritable, she reminds herself that no one knows where anyone else on the road is going. The car that just did something careless like speeding through a red traffic light could be rushing to the hospital.

In real life, whether its on the road, or just going about our daily business, none of us really know where we are going or where we have come from. One thing is certain, however, if we can be present and compassionate to one another, it certainly makes the journey a heck of a lot sweeter.

As I try to stay open to the magic inherit in every moment, I have that unsuspecting angel with the stink eye to thank for teaching me such an invaluable lesson.

All I Feel is Love

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My best friend said something to me recently over the phone that has stuck with me ever since she said it. Kristi and I talk often and have been friends since we met during the first grade in Scottsdale, Arizona. We have a lot in common. Mostly these are happy similarities. For instance, we married good friends, we now live in Tampa and are both busy raising a son and daughter.

Unfortunately, we share another event in common. We both lost our fathers suddenly. It’s been a long time since my dad died in a car accident on his way to work almost twenty years ago. Kristi’s father died of a heart attack three years ago. As I was weeks away from giving birth to my daughter, Phoebe, Kristi was getting on a plane by herself to go across the country to Arizona, hours after receiving the devastating call from her mom.

The roller coaster of grief is a painful ride. It was heart breaking witnessing Kristi go through the initial shock and rawness of losing someone she loved. She would ask me in the beginning if time really helped heal the pain, and I told her it would certainly assuage the rawness. However, as many of you know all too well, the pain sticks around. Sometimes something triggers us seemingly out of nowhere, and grief gets a hold. The ride starts all over again. I have learned the only way to deal with this is to give it the attention it demands and so rightly deserves.

So a few weeks ago as we were chatting, she brought up her father, so I took a deep breath and listened. She prefaced what she was about to say with, “Okay this might sound really weird.” She spoke of how happy she feels these days. She went on to say that at times she feels happier than she did years ago when her dad was still around. I knew exactly what she meant because I feel the same way.

Happiness lives side by side with sadness, and I think this is only possible because of gratitude. When life changes in an instant, it affords us the opportunity to look around at all there is to be thankful for. Now, more than ever, we both feel really fortunate to have had fathers who loved us so much and are still very much a part of our lives. I think perhaps we even appreciate and understand our fathers in a way we couldn’t have when they were here.

This kind of gratitude is so big and all encompassing. It causes tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. It is this kind of gratitude for knowing deep down inside that as awful as death can be, life is its constant companion. Something beautiful is not even right around the corner but is right here, right now sitting next to us.

It can be hard to let go and accept what is. However, maybe it helps to know that no matter what, there is always – even if it’s as small as a little blossom on a plant outside the window – something to smile about.  And for that I feel limitless joy and infinite gratitude.

As I miss my dad today, I think of something my son, Will, my Dad’s namesake, said when he was about four. I had accidentally shut the car door on one of his little fingers earlier in the day. When I asked him if it still hurt, he looked up at me with his big hazel eyes and said, “All I feel is Love.” And love never ends, it goes on and on and on.