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“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”—Henry Miller

I probably should have located my destination on a map before getting in the car. I vaguely remembered having seen an exit sign for the town on 295 so I believed the highway would be the fastest route.

I imagined I would be avoiding the steep and winding country roads I had once traversed to get there years ago—in the dark, in search of a theater, still new to Maine.

It was a grey and dreary morning—somewhat rare here.

To friends from away I often describe the luster of winter in this rocky, coastal place—the brilliance of the sun’s rays bouncing off of snow, our position on the edge of the continent seeming to limit the shadows cast by heaps of living going on across the country to one side of us.

With the way the light lands and our position on a map it seems as if we are perched up more propitiously for the absorption of sunlight than in other geographical locations— though this isn’t exactly true when considering actual altitudes.

When I contemplate the way the light falls here, I remember the time I traveled in college to the coast of Portugal from Spain where I was studying.

With three friends, I rented a tiny, maroon car— a Twingo—for a long and scorching holiday weekend.

We drove it to the furthest edge of the European continent and took a photograph pretending to push it over the steep drop.

In the town we stayed—with its cobblestone streets—I took another photograph of a dark-skinned, African man in a tapas bar wearing bright-yellow and smiling at me.

I appreciated the contrast of his black skin, white teeth and lemony shirt.

I couldn’t understand why my Spanish friend laughed when he came upon this photo in an album I later created.

And he just couldn’t comprehend why I would take that photo.

At dusk we saw another man painting, a palette in hand—standing at his easel on a rocky cliff—pantless.

I photographed him, too.

The quality of light there was like it is here—occupying a space in the experience of living—like when we say silence is a member of a meditative group.

Let me be a member anywhere where silence and the light show up.

I had programmed the address where I was heading into my GPS so as I entered the highway it began redirecting me back to the sinuous roads I was avoiding.

I kept driving—ignoring it—thinking it was going to eventually line-up with the route I thought I knew existed.

I noticed suddenly—according the machine’s arrival time—I was barely going to make it to the memoir workshop I was attending.

At the start of the trip I had twenty minutes to spare. My arrival time now suggested I would likely be entering a room full of participants—mid-icebreaker.

I finally succumbed to the imploring requests and endless recalculating to leave my misguided concept of a faster route for the more labyrinthine journey that I remembered.

The ashen day enhanced the quality and aura of the homes I drove past on my redirected route—many in significant disrepair with paint peeling and wood rotting.

The lawns were peppered with broken-down cars and other debris.

I wondered if it was cold inside with the biting chill in the air.

My mood mirrored the weary appearance of the long stretch of rolling road.

I don’t assume that the state of a home necessarily reflects the state of the heart of its inhabitants—I have witnessed meager homes with mighty occupants and the reverse.

And yet, on that stretch of road, I was reminded of the struggle and suffering holding an ample space among us.

When I arrived at my destination I drove through an area that reflected the more urban version of what I had seen en-route—boarded up windows on row houses, packs of kids traveling in too-thin clothing, shop-signs dangling, rusted-out railroad tracks.

Parking hurriedly, I gathered up my many layers of clothing and lunch, a backpack and a coffee to sharpen my thoughts.

The sign for the gathering reflected a start-time one-hour before I had arrived.

Holding off disappointment, I checked my confirmation to make certain I had the right time and asked the librarian for directions to the meeting room—twice.

The sign was misleading and it turned out I was in the right place at just-about the right time.

Finally I found the room where I was meant to be.

I listened at the double doors for a moment and caught a glimpse through the crack between them of a large, square table surrounded by people with notebooks and laptops and hot drinks.

Someone was speaking—making an introduction in a lively way.

Later I would think of her as seeming familiar to me.

“We do not make friends, we recognize them.”

I turned the handle on the door—it seemed to be locked at first.

I rotated it again quietly and pulled—a little harder—opening it and entering as unobtrusively as I could.

My hand shook slightly in my flowered, fingerless glove—shaken by the rush and the hit of caffeine—as I balanced my coffee and all of my things, taking in the welcoming words—faces filled with anticipation—and finding my place at the table.

I was as wrong about Spring’s fervent arrival with her her elbows nudging winter out as I was about my route to the workshop.

Snow came down doggedly last week weighting down the lowest pine branches until their tips touched the ground.

There is more of it—on its way.

The sun is uncovered and blazing this morning.

The crows are playing a game at the tops of the trees—calling out fiercely again and again.

 

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“Being must be felt. It can’t be thought.”—Eckhart Tolle

Upon our descent the airplane tilted the left wing sharply earthward—our bodies shifting off balance in our narrow seats. Across the aisle we caught a glimpse of the Maine landscape, the fields and forests splashed in white and russet brown. The stark-white sheets of snow had melted or been washed away, now only intermittently splattering the trees and rooftops and the rocky coastline like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Peering out the far window, I tucked my book partially under my leg so as not to forget it. Its orange cover was worn, the pages yellowing with many of the corners bent from years of re-reading. The topic—inner spaciousness—breathed through me emphatically as we as we surged to the ground.

Driving home—despite the single-digit temperature and our thin clothing—Jonah said it felt like fall and then he shouted-out, suddenly remembering his snow-fort in the front yard and fearing its demise. Once I realized his howling was not from injury, I assured him that it would take a long while for the snow in our yard to melt entirely—which turned out to be true, in the front at least.

In the back, a damp and grassy ground had become visible beneath the new, circular swing and all around it. It feels more like spring than fall to me with the sudden accessibility of tree roots and the coffee-colored puddles.

Just a few weeks ago, I tried the swing out myself, with a vigorous push from the boys and then a leap off into the snowy padding below.

I felt so alive in the clutches of the cold, rocketing toward the pink-streaked sky at dusk.

The fire pit is still covered in an icy mix. I’m tempted to clear it out and build a fire with the dry wood stacked in the garage. It takes time to feel grounded again. Building a fire allows a weight in me to be regained, stirring the embers steadies the stirrings within me. The heat melts away the high-vibration cells in motion.

By tomorrow, the ground will be covered again. All evidence of the raw verdancy witnessed today will be blanketed over with the return of winter’s firm habitation in these parts—a clean palette dropped down from the heavens like a curtain unfurled in a midnight meeting with the new moon.

In a café this morning, I looked around for where the light might be streaming in and ended up in a cozy spot in the back. I thought about all of the ways light shows up in various scenes of living—in my home, in the places I go—how it feels heating my hair, my skin, the way it can shine on a face or create shadows that only draws a greater—more powerful—emphasis on its presence.

Looking for the light made long days with babies and small children less lonely and forged a fruitful pathway to deeper seeing. Discovering the light again and again has had a way of establishing me into the present moment and vindicating my right to be there at my own slow—even glacial—pace.

While I was reading the café seemed to fill up and overflow with ebullient conversation. The space was mostly filled with university students and some of their parents. I gazed across the room and my eyes were drawn to a man who appeared to be a father with his son. For some reason—I don’t know why—the father captivated my attention.

I felt a spaciousness growing in me as I took him in, my thoughts falling away.

He was looking at his son as he ate—his eyes just slightly lit up. I noticed his attributes. I was far enough away that he had no idea I was looking so intently at him.

Finally, I looked away and my attention was drawn more near to a table of women and girls. One girl talked in a lively way. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Her hair was long, her face round and youthful. Everyone was listening.

I felt myself landing more deeply into my body as I sat observing all of the people in the room, none of them noticing me. I looked down at my book and read on.

In one of the airports there was a courtyard in which a pianist played. We settled into a couple of the rocking chairs beneath a row of trees. I asked Jonah if he thought the trees were real. We looked down and saw that they were planted right into a square space that had been carved out of the concrete and filled with real soil.

We agreed the trees were alive and envisioned a vehicle coming around watering each of them. It was hard to imagine that so many would be watered by hand.

As I sat rocking—as if on a front porch—people of every, single variety, in every shape and pigmentation, flooded by in a colorful stream of hearts beating, blood traveling, cells dividing.

It is compelling to look on and observe the way the brow reflects thought—denser thinking and worries tugging it inward, lighter contemplation or expanding awareness drawing it outward. I can feel it in myself.

I could almost hear some of their thoughts shouting out—like fireworks set-off from their skin. Others emanated a peaceful equanimity—a waterfall of goodwill pouring off in a gentle flow.

They talked and talked and talked, then waited for their turn to talk again. Others had learned to listen—to really listen to hear and to understand. I could see it in their eyes.

I contemplated the significance of each person in all of their consciousness and unconsciousness, in all of the intricacies of their very own, unique lives. Not one of them deserved less than the others.

I am so taken with humanity and the many ways that people go about living. We are here to learn from each other. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Tonight Jonah and Adrian—unusually—went to bed at the same time. I was lying with Adrian in his bed rubbing his back when Jonah said he heard something. I told him it was the music downstairs.

He got up and cracked the door open to listen. I heard more loudly the gentle beat of the kirtan.

He came over to Adrian’s bed and tried to squeeze in with us.

“I wish all three of us could fit.”

I rubbed his leg that had made it onto the edge of the mattress reassuringly and then he went back to his bed.

Adrian said that he was having a scary thought.

I expressed that he was safe and offered to help him find his way out of the thought.

I invited him to follow my breath with me.

My hand was on his back so I could feel his breathing pattern become elongated as I began to become more conscious in my own breath.

After a couple of moments I suggested that he take a pause at the top of his breath and then again on the exhale. I demonstrated with my own breathing.

Some time passed.

I noticed with my hand that his breathing had become very slow, almost imperceptible.

I experienced my own thoughts softening—the planning and imagining falling away.

I relaxed into being right there with him—my palm on his soft skin, my brow relaxed.

Adrian fast asleep.

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“Out of difficulties grow miracles.”—Jean de la Bruyere

The puzzle room is occupied by two women—huddled in the padded chairs, conversing. I’ve made my way to the backside of the library—lined with a row of floor-to-ceiling windows jutted up against a dense forest.

The sun is pitched high in the sky—unencumbered by clouds—painting more-white the few birch peppered among the ample pines. Among the coniferous species, these imposing hardwoods—known for their flaky bark that burns so vigorously in woodstoves—stand out like skeletons, bleached and wiry.

Thirty-six degrees feels balmy after the recent stretch of below zero temperatures—days so cold wool-covered fingers ached and children’s cheeks grew rosy dangerously fast as they played on the swing. Layers of clothing have been shed, the build up of winter’s accumulations rapidly turning to liquid.

Growing heavier in its altered state, the snow tumbles down clumsily from high above in the trees leaving the bottom branches flapping—like wings.

Birds—awakened by this January thaw—flit around praising the warmth. A chainsaw gnaws in the distance and I keep my head tilted upward—absorbing the blue sky through branches. The places behind my eyes soften—like tepid puddles.

I could cry for the beauty of just being.

In a world so entranced by production and acquisition, quiet sitting and reflecting feels like a weighty act of rebellion.

The relief from the fierce chill is like a heavy backpack stripped off and placed on the ground—mirroring the sensation of living when life’s trials have eased.

A slight breeze kicks up and all of the branches begin to flutter ever so slightly—the peaks of the trees sway almost imperceptibly from side to side in a gentle rhythm as if in response to a silent symphony playing out the story of the lifting freeze.

My friend dropped off a milk crate and three plastic bags filled with plants I offered to adopt when her mother moved to a nursing home. Many of the plants were wilted and in need of care. Five of them were orchids.

I had warned her of my troubled history with most houseplants even as I hoped voraciously to offer them a loving home. I don’t think she believed me.

I wondered if she thought my affinity for all things green translated into an innate ability to sustain life force deeply dependent on a precarious balance of light, water and nourishment.

“I know you have a green thumb,” she said when she dropped the plants at my house—like orphans in a basket on a doorstep—the weather still frigid then.

Jonah and I took the bags and crate from her in the doorway by the garage—brisk air blew into the toasty, warm kitchen. In our socks we stood on the floral rug and waved goodbye, thanking her, she thanking us.

There are a slew of orchids that have died within my care. Exquisitely beautiful and promising in the grocery stores and garden centers, they are short-lived in my home.

Placing an ice cube in their soil religiously on Fridays—like a celebration of the coming Sabbath—I imagine them thriving. I take in their beauty as long as I can, somehow knowing their eventual fate.

Inevitably—as if inscribed in their design—I watch as their petals drop off and their leaves wilt.

I frantically over-water them. They quickly perish.

In the early morning after Autumn died, I walked aimlessly through a fluorescent-lit grocery store. Two robust and flowering plants caught my eye. I bought them both—their white flowers seeming a felicitous memorial to the loss of my beloved, feline friend.

Around Christmas I found in a hardware store two marine-colored, glossy ceramic pots and bought those too. I placed the plants in the pots in the kitchen where I could nurture them in the way I had Autumn—attentively and throughout the day.

Recently I read that grief is the overwhelming sensation of love with nowhere to land. Each time I’ve walked past these two plants —a cyclamen and a hydrangea—I have placed love in their midst. I have allowed their presence to soothe me. I have fretted over them, too.

I removed the various plants from the bags and crate and began tending to them. I snipped off dying leaves and topped off the pots with a bag of potting soil I had on hand.

My kitchen sink became filled with verdant leaves and soil circling the drain.

Outside the snow was hardening, inside a burgeoning conservatory was coming to life.

I found a spot on a plant stand in the corner by the stairs for the leafy bonsai that was thriving more than most of the new arrivals. I wondered whether I would know how to care for it properly, or if it would freeze to death being so near our large, front picture window that emanates cold, Maine, winter winds.

I felt intermittently hopeful and apprehensive—like toad, in the Frog & Toad story, “The Garden,” in which toad wants to have a garden like frog and proceeds to hover over his recently planted seeds anxiously—trying to will them to grow.

I recommitted to the other plants in our home that in some ways I have neglected. I fed them all with fresh soil and plant food and water. I made little arrangements of similar species, grouped together.

One of the largest plants was drooping badly. It was the last that I tended to. I removed many long, yellowing and some drying leaves. It drank up the water I poured into it. I placed it among a group of plants at the top of our stairs.

In the morning, I was encouraged to see that it—along with my own Christmas cactus that I’ve somehow managed to keep alive for eight years—had risen upright in the night. Its leaves stood tall and expansive. It radiated, “I’m alive, I’m alive” into the space.

Our home is bright in many ways. In the winter months, though, direct sunlight and warmth on windowsills are hard to come by. This can be difficult for all living beings.

I can give the plants water and attention and artificial light. In this season, I cannot bring them to the sun.

My hope is that the light I carry within—the energy I have in me that is seeking a place to reside—can find a place to land in these forces of nature nourishing them until the earth tilts toward the sun once again—lengthening our days and fueling our souls.

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“Give light and people will find the way.” —Ella Baker

I’ve come to the front porch where the sun is concentrated and making my hair warm to the touch, my wool socks redundant. The unseasonable presence of heat these last weeks has continued to grow my flower garden despite October’s arrival. The grass remains a vibrant green and slightly damp from the night’s dew, a few leaves lay golden on the ground where they should be—at rest this time of year.

Bees and butterflies have flocked to our flowers—sedum and daisies and rose hips—like tourists to these parts arrive in the summertime drawn to our rocky coastline and plentiful trails to explore. My kitty, Autumn—born in and named for this season and usually kept indoors—is creeping around the yard, low to the grown as if in pursuit of some unsuspecting prey. A sizable bumblebee lands on my white shirt again and again, intent on abstracting the nectar from my sleeve. I twice use a nearby branch to remove her gently and send her on her way.

The Summer Solstice—the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere—is often celebrated as a time of transition, a moment for letting go. On the solstice this summer the sky glowed a vibrant, melon orange and soft, peony pink at sunset as I drove away from the scene of a poignant loss. Three children whose father had just died, for the moment within my care. Together we made the sunset our distraction, the miles passing by as we traveled to my home where my own two children would be waiting to meet us.

Their moods rapidly swung back and forth from despair to wonder to shock over and over again. I told them that the sky—that breathtakingly beautiful display of color—was their father speaking to them, that in a sense he was still present and would always be so. I said the sky was a reflection of his spirit casting off of a world where his body wouldn’t let him be. There is a can of Moxie sitting on the bookshelf of my dining room now. The children’s eyes brightened when they noticed it on their last visit. The orange design with its large white letters outlined in blue was a favorite of our friend and serves as a colorful reminder of the way in which he lived.

A few hours later—after getting the children to sleep and after midnight—my phone rang. It had to be my friend, the children’s mother. But it wasn’t. It was the news of yet another departure. Not one, but two lovers-of-life gone in a flash. My body took over—shaking and sobbing in a way that I had never before experienced. Life has a way of surprising us sometimes.

In my laundry room I’ve since placed a photo on the folding table of me as a bride—my face glowing with fewer lines and fuller with youth. My waist is so completely embraced in the image I can almost feel the warmth of my Aunt still surrounding me. She stole my thunder that day on the dance floor at my wedding reception. Having Down Syndrome only made her all the more appealing to most people. She took on the body she was given—or chose— with gusto and taught us to look deeper than the exterior. Job well done.

Throughout the summer and into this balmy fall, I have found myself cycling through various states of sadness and fear as I’ve born witness to the never ending news cycle of suffering caused by both natural and human destruction. It’s tempting to get lost in all of the sorrow. It would be easy to lose hope or to check-out. I find solace in the natural world. I find hope in circling back to what it is that I can do to contribute to a more loving and just world.

We are all called in different ways. It is in deep inner listening that we each have the opportunity to shift and come upon our own unique contribution. If we go slowly and with insight in the direction of these whispers, together we may be able to find a path of healing and create the prospect of safety and joy for all—each one of us—as one.

 

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“There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.” —Thomas Jefferson

It is so quiet in here. Quiet like when a house full of visitors have just gone. Quiet like sleep after a sandy day leaping over waves in the ocean. I could hear a pin drop, quiet. It is only the two little tadpoles who have gone, though. Off to squeal and inquire, climb and test boundaries under other roofs, beneath another part of the sky. September in Maine usually feels so yellow—sunshiny and glowing with warmth. But this first day of school is grey and damp. The evening temperatures seem be to be getting cooler more quickly than in years past. Noticing the entrance of a season has become a past time of mine. I could never have known this would interest me so. This morning the leaves on our sprawling oak out back are stirring—a very slight breeze bringing them to a subtle simmer that has gone on since dawn. I am sitting in the quiet and I am noticing the contrast of this day with those long and boisterous days of summer. I can almost hear the tug and click of the door shutting closed on this salty season.

I had not intended to grow so silent on the page as I did in these warm months. I hadn’t planned to put other things first. It just happened. It happened in the same way that I didn’t plan to be writing today—but I am. Our summer was full. Full like a basket overflowing with a garden’s harvest, full like a storm cloud ready to burst, full like a car en-route for a camping trip, full like a mother’s embrace. I made many scribbles in journals instead, a sketch of my cat and found a story to tell in the black-and-white photos I took of my boys going about their summer jobs of touching and smelling and tipping-over and digging and gobbling and climbing and hanging and balancing and talking and laughing and crying and wailing and caressing and saving and destroying and repairing and competing and loving and making mischief and making gifts. I took them in closely. I took them in from afar.

In August we had fewer plans—no camps and little travel. I was craving the lazy days of summer for boredom and the ingenuity that follows to kick in for Jonah and Adrian. On one of these such days, I agreed to play kickball in our front yard. It is not my favorite of activities, but my boys love anything that involves a ball and meeting them in this matters to me. They are remarkable in their ability to create a “ghost team” and keep track of who is where and mostly—although on opposite teams—remain in agreement about what has happened. I am just along for the ride. We were in the midst of a game such as this and I was running to try to tag Jonah on third base when suddenly his attention went beyond the yard and into our driveway. He stopped running and pointed to something he saw in the driveway and said, “a mouse!” I looked over and together the three of us began walking toward a smallish mouse lying down and moving its body from side to side—it was clearly struggling. It was white and soft-looking and quickly loosing life force. It was dying right before our eyes.

I have never particularly cared for mice and once even had to spend the night with a friend when I discovered that there was a mouse dwelling in my apartment in New York City. But living in Maine and raising children I have come to see these innocent creatures as just as valuable as any other I might come across. I knew this moment was important. Jonah and Adrian wanted to help the mouse and so did I. I wasn’t sure what to do. I am lucky that my 7 year old son did. Jonah suggested that I go and get my gardening gloves so that we could pick up the mouse who was still moving slightly and move him off of the hot pavement. I ran and got my gloves. Jonah took them from me and put them on. In this time it was clear that the mouse had died. I watched on as Jonah so gingerly moved the little, still creature back and forth so that he could get him into the palm of his hand. We decided to move him over to a wooded area. We acknowledged that he had died. Jonah placed him under some bushes and then moved him back a little, hiding him behind some branches and leaves. We wondered about what had happened to him and how he had just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Later we theorized that perhaps he had been dropped by a bird flying overhead—we have two bald eagles, osprey and many seagulls living in our midst. But just then we sat with this strange and seemingly important happening and all of our feelings about it on an end of summer day.

 

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“Beautify your breath—beautify your life” —Amit Ray

It is the morning after my five day immersion in a barn-studio in rural Maine, learning more about yoga—about becoming a teacher of this ancient tradition. It is the morning after a soul’s journey into deeper noticing of the ways in which the mind works, of observing more closely the manners in which our bodies compensate when faced with the stretching and tugging of life’s mighty grip upon our spines, our limbs, our hearts. It is the morning after sitting in the company of a community of souls—each one exquisitely themselves, each one unfolding their life’s path with courage—moment by moment by every single important moment. The wind is gusting outside fiercely—my home responding with creaking, the windows even are shuddering. The gusts are long and breathy and sumptuous seeming like they might never finish this deep and blustery exhale. The snow is like powdered sugar being danced across the landscape in thick, rapid sheets before me.

One of my teachers says she can see a mother coming from a mile away. She recognizes them in their too stretched shoulders, their forward tilt. I suspect she knows them energetically as well with their increased tendency to give, their ability to notice the untended needs of others. When describing this recognition, she talks about all that mothers give—their milk, their comfort, their everything—she says so aptly. She is not a mother, but knows the body well—dedicated to a study and understanding of anatomy and proper alignment. She called me to the front of our practice studio demonstrating to the group these characteristics living in me. I am the poster-child for these rounded shoulders and forward tilted hips. As she makes an adjustment to my body—drawing my shoulders up and then back—my neck is suddenly offered relief from its constant overwork.

I am remembering rocking in a pale blue chair in the corner of Adrian’s room when he was a baby still—the shades are drawn. A deeper noticing is coming alive in me with his silky skin so near—a sliver of light shining through a crack in the shade landing on his soft arms, illuminating him like an angel. I must have bended forward into Jonah’s crib one thousand times—gazing down at the blue whales with their red spouts on his sheets, rubbing his back into sleep. Leaning into both of my children is what I have done these last years and have every ounce been rewarded. Another mother in our group later shares that tears sprung forth in her when she witnessed this demonstration of my being brought back into my more optimal shape—relating not just as a mother, but as a woman as well. I too know that this pattern of curling forward runs deeper than motherhood alone. It is indeed the posture of profound giving, and it is also the posture of protecting the heart, the posture of shrinking, the posture of remaining unseen. Pulling my shoulders back into their proper alignment, I notice the way that a space is created in which my lungs might fully expand. I feel like I can breathe into all corners of my being like never before.

It’s evening now and I am sitting on the edge of Jonah’s bed, holding his hand as he begins to quiet into sleep. He’s seven now and independent in so many ways. He’s very physical and silly and loud at times. He can get wrapped up in a building or a book or some digging. And yet—so like when he was a baby—he struggles to ground himself at night for sleep and so I often still help him with my presence. Tonight he is afraid of what might be lurking behind his closest door. I remember feeling that way as a child and muster compassion for him. I sometimes still feel that way even now and make certain that my closet door is fully closed before sleep. Despite the desire to be finished, I stay with him and sit on the edge of his bed. He takes my hand and wraps his fingers in mine precisely—wanting to be held just so. I allow him to guide me and I am thinking about an exercise we experienced in our training in which we closed our eyes—palms pressed together with a partner—noticing the subtle push and pull between us. There is an energy that gathers between two bodies touching. I whisper to Jonah about his inner gaze offering that he might rest his attention on the space between his eyes. I suggest he follow his breath between his abdomen and this expansive place. I am sharing with him about how this is a special pathway to his contentment and how some spend a lifetime trying to discover it. I am sitting and my legs are crossed and I am hunched forward leaning toward him—my hand is wrapped in his, resting on his chest—observing him as his breath lengthens and he begins to fall peacefully into sleep. His chest is wide open, his lungs are filling up completely. I can feel his heart beating against my palm.

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5 Unexpected Opportunities for Beginning Your Meditation Practice Today

One might believe that a mother like me, the author of a blog titled, “Mindful Mothering,” must have a well-oiled meditation practice complete with a special pillow, a well-decorated alter and a neatly blocked out period of time in which to practice quieting her mind and noticing her breath each and every day. She must conduct this practice quietly and in her own space and with no interruptions. It must be that she begins her day this way and her family just knows that, “Mommy meditates in the morning!” It turns out that I don’t, at least not in the way that one might imagine. I do have a Buddha kitty statue sitting reverently beside my front door and I have looked up various satsangs and Buddhist temples and other mindfulness gathering opportunities on the internet more times than I would like to admit—never having attended any of them! No, formal meditation has not found its way into my life. Instead—as I’ve noted in previous posts—I discover an inner silence, in the space between filling sippy-cups and cleaning up crumbs. I focus on tiny fingers placing magnets on the refrigerator door and the varied expressions of my children’s faces, allowing my attention to come to my breath, allowing my mind to quiet. I absolutely have a meditation practice, it just isn’t formal and it would take a keen eye to even know that I am practicing. To an untrained eye, I may just appear very, very patient (in those moments in which I am meditating, that is).

I’ve been noticing recently when these moments occur and how they can be very powerful in thwarting blind reaction, in slowing things down so that I can think, in preventing me from being too harsh with word or action. I am not always capable of tempering things enough and sometimes I do react unconsciously. Some would argue that this is good for the children, that they need to learn the varied ways in which people may be. It is this (occasional) harshness that will prepare them for the world. I do not agree with this reasoning—perhaps it is just my perfectionistic nature! If I were to humor this idea, though, there is another—maybe even more powerful—realization that I would come to. It would become clear that even if my reacting harshly is “good for the children,” it is not good for me! I do practice mindfulness for my children. I want for them to experience me as peaceful, as someone they can trust, but I also practice mindfulness because of the tremendous beauty and peace it allows me to experience. No matter how many pictures we take of our children—and I have taken thousands—nothing compares to the breathtaking moment of truly taking in the depth of a child’s gaze and realizing the pure love that is in your midst. Nothing compares to truly experiencing a child’s words as they earnestly ask for your opinions, for your knowledge about the world around them. Nothing compares, even, to fully witnessing a child gripped with anguish and blaming you and still discovering enough space in your heart to know that they both need to make you wrong and to be comforted by you at the same time. I practice mindfulness because I’ve seen my children just melt before me because of that little extra heartbeat that I’ve allowed to beat between us.

With all of this in mind, I’ve created a list of a few unexpected moments, perfect for beginning your meditation practice today. All families, all humans, have their challenges, myself included. My hope is that these ideas might awaken in you the knowledge that there is time to breathe, there is always time for one more heartbeat to inform your next steps.

  1. You’ve been out with your children and they didn’t want to leave your previous location and now they are beyond hungry for a meal. You enter a restaurant and they begin acting out as soon as you are seated. You are temped to pick them back up and storm out of the restaurant, or worse. Instead, sit back into your chair and allow your feet to sink into the floor. Feel your attention come down into your abdomen and begin noticing your breath. Take a drink of the water before you and notice the water as you swallow. Rub your hands back and forth on your legs noticing the texture of your clothes. Connect with your child’s eyes and smile. You’ll know what to do next. Maybe you’ll leave. Maybe you won’t.
  2. It’s bath time and no one wants to take a bath. One child is running naked down the hall and the other is standing on top of the sink making faces in the mirror. You begin threatening that there will be, “no books tonight!” It doesn’t matter that you know this is an empty threat. Find a space where you can be near enough to the climber to keep them safe and release your expectations for bath time, for bedtime at least for the moment. Release the need to “get there” when you had planned to. Raise your arms up in the air stretching and clasping your hands, turning them inside out. Pull your elbows back opening your chest, opening your heart, noticing your breath. When you are able, walk over to the tub, turn the water on and dip your feet in truly experience the water washing over them. Notice your children as they surround you in all of their naked glory. Wash and repeat.
  3. It’s a cold and rainy day—your only day “off” away from your children. You have a doctor’s appointment and you are made to wait. This is your only free time! You don’t even need to be at this appointment anyway, you think. They aren’t going to help you. Notice this way of thinking. Notice the tightness in your chest. Make a choice and sit up in your chair finding your spine lining up with the back of the chair. Curl your lips into a smile even if you have to pretend to be tickled by the way your mind is working so hard to make you miserable. Allow a flush of gratitude to come forward within you. Find your breath and just unweight yourself of all of this. Let it go and just breath. Close your eyes and breath and relish this ability to be in life. Open your eyes and look around you at the other faces in the room. Notice the varied ways in which people occupy their time. Notice the lines on their faces. Are they smiling? Are you?
  4. You’re in the car and the decibel in the backseat is raising exponentially. You begin to whine, “can’t we just have a good day?” Then you start to threaten about pulling over the car or swinging your arm into the backseat like your Mom used to do. Meditate instead. First loosen your grip around the steering wheel. Slide your hands back and forth, noticing the texture. Roll down your window and breathe in a bit of fresh air. Feel a sense of spaciousness arriving inside of you and sink into your seat with your whole body. Look into the rear view mirror and smile. You might need to stop and let someone know that they are distracting the driver or maybe you won’t.
  5. You’ve had a very rough day at work and you just know that when you walk in the door at home the smiling faces of your children are going to make everything all better. Instead you walk in and all of the children are crying or screaming or throwing something. The house is a train wreck and your partner greets you with a scowl. You feel like you might scream or cry. Sit down immediately and drop all of your things. Let go of the idea of the house being a mess. One day it will be clean again. Maybe even sprawl out completely on the ground, notice how your children begin crawling all over you. Close your eyes and find your breath, noticing the miracle of living. Notice the many varied sounds around you. Wiggle your fingers and toes then tighten and loosen them. Feel your shoulders relax and settle into your being. Stay as long as you need to and then you will know what needs to be attended to first.

Accessing The Moment with your Children Through Your Senses

My favorite friends are those with whom I may skip the small talk. We almost never discuss shopping or our hair. We may not know where the other went to college or how our bills are getting paid. We may speak every few days or every few years but when we come together our conversations quickly launch into explorations of universal truths, the meaning of life and our reasons for being “here.” I have a special place in my heart for these friends (and family members). It was a friend like this who I was sitting with recently in my driveway while the three children between us created chalk art and squabbled over a big wheel. Our conversation quickly turned to the philosophical. A storm cloud rumbled in the distance and in between our shared thoughts I assured my older son Jonah that he was safe. Thunder is just a sound after all. It was the perfect segue into a question I had wanted to pose to my friend regarding coming to mindfulness through our senses. Are my methods of accessing mindfulness with my own children too simplistic to share with the public? After our discussion she assured me that they were not. We agreed that small tweaks to how we live and act as mothers can create momentous change.

I use many methods for coming back to the moment with my children when I find myself operating on autopilot. I am particularly susceptible at these times of unconsciousness to speaking carelessly, not meaning what I am saying, becoming frustrated, generalizing and generally not enjoying the moment. This is not who I want to be as a mother and so when I feel this way I know that I must quickly change my state. The approach I have found to be most powerful to bring me back to my self, my highest self, is to use my senses as a guide. As I described this to my friend I asked her to become engaged and truly experience our surroundings in that moment. With the storm coming more near now, on an increasingly blustery summer day in Maine, our eyes, ears, noses and mouths had more than enough stimulus to draw from. I asked my friend to truly see the giant puffy clouds before us, growing like mountains as we spoke. We listened with heightened attention to the many birds chirping near our rural home excited for the impending rain. Then we took deep breaths together, inhaling the crisp, clean air relaxing into and enjoying this process. We raised our hands up toward the sky, stretching and genuinely feeling the wind on our fingertips. We didn’t exercise our sense of taste in that moment but my friend was getting the idea and looked at me excitedly and said, “I already feel different.” “I can better see my daughter as a part of the Oneness just from having listened to the birds.” I do not move through this senses exercise myself without finally acknowledging my most important sense. My sixth sense. In times of stress or unsettledness I almost always tap into the energy that is all encompassing and that I know will support me through any situation big or small. I call to my angels. I call to my grandparents who have gone before me. I call to my highest self to come forward and assist me. All of these things combine with the new energy brought to me by my senses and bring me back to a newer, fresher, more brilliant perspective of the two little ones before me and I experience them with love anew.