Soulfulness

February 7, 2011 § 6 Comments

Scott and Oliver in Oregon with their Snow People

Last Sunday I woke up really early and decided to go for a run before the sun came up. (This is not typical). After I came home and showered, I still had about 20 minutes before the boys woke, and I crawled back into bed (the bliss of these 20 minutes tells me I need to do this every day). I lay there, warm and cozy again, and thought of a conversation I had with my dad recently about Thomas Moore’s book, Care of the Soul. It had been ages since I read the book, but its title always resonated with me.

Care of the soul. Watering the plants. Feeding the animals. Mucking the stalls. Bringing the snacks. Each of these is an act of love. Each is an act of soulfulness. Each requires attention and time. Patience. I have done these chores repeatedly though my life, and yet, I haven’t really thought of myself as having a soul. It wasn’t that I thought I had no soul or was a soullless person. It was more that I thought of my soul the way I thought of, say, my small intestine. I knew I had one, but I didn’t really think about it while I was washing the dishes or tending to a conflict between my boys. I viewed  my soul in an abstract sense, but not in an immediate sense. It was something I thought about but not something I felt. On some level, I believed that caring for the soul was for people with time on their hands. It seemed too indulgent for a middle-class person who had real work to do.

But lying there on Sunday morning, watching the grey sky lighten ever so slightly, it occurred to me that I too have a soul that needs care. I have a soul! It’s embarrassing to admit, but this was a revelation to me. I have a soul! I have a soul!

The idea that I too could care for my own soul filled me with joy for much of the day. It was a sort of ephiphany that I can only compare to the one I had when I was eight or nine and looked into the mirror at myself and realized that in the same way I wanted to know what other people were thinking, other people were wondering the same thing about me. I look back at that moment as the one when I first recognized myself as bona fide person making her way in the world and not just a child or a fourth-grader or a girl. There are no fireworks in those moments, no surges of adrenaline. Rather, there is an opening. There is a sense of belonging, an abolishing of boundaries. A small soaring. Minor moments, significant only to ourselves.

It occurred to me that for months, if not years, I have been trying to make my life feel like my yoga class and I have been failing, in no small part, because I did not really acknowledge my soul. This is kind of like trying to run without using your feet. There is the me who goes to yoga class, wearing soft clothes and drinking mint tea and connecting to something deeper for about 90 minutes. And then there is the me who is home with two boys, drinking coffee and sweeping the floor and trying to resolve conflicts over trucks and toys and sippy cups while listening to the voice in my head that keeps telling me I need a break, that this is hard, that someday, I will take a vacation on the beach where I can drink cocktails and watch as many episodes of The Good Wife as I want to.

It never occurred to me that the yoga-going me and the toilet-cleaning me were the same person. Maybe the reason I was having such a hard time getting what I wanted – a life as blissful as a yoga class – was that on some level, I wasn’t giving myself permission to have it. Here I was, trying to reconcile two worlds, when what I was really doing was splitting my own whole life into pieces.

A soul, I thought lying in bed. What would it be like if I made my whole life – not just my yoga classes – into a soulful experience? It sounded decadent. Like eating chocolate for dinner.

When the boys woke, they tumbled into my bed like puppies. I have always loved this part of the morning, when I am overcome by their physical love for me and for each other. Usually, they end up bickering about who gets which side of the bed, and we get up and move onto something else. But on the Sunday I discovered my soul, Oliver asked Gus if he wanted to play in his room. “Gus, let’s go read on my top bunk,” he said, and Gus lit up and climbed his two-year old body over me. “Okay Awlver,” he said. “yet’s go.”

Suddenly I was alone. I had already showered and brushed my teeth. I actually had time to make coffee (because as it turns out, my soul likes coffee). I went downstairs and turned on NPR (which I can only do now on Sundays as they give the daily death toll a rest) and it just so happened that Jon Kabat – Zinn was giving an interview on Mindfulness. I made my coffee and listened to the quiet sounds of the boys. I listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn. I listened to my soul happily humming. I wondered if I still wanted to take a long vacation on the beach, where I could drink cocktails and escape my own life. I decided that I didn’t. It turns out that my soul likes what it is doing. It likes the work of mothering, of resolving conflicts and making snacks. It likes the small tasks of sweeping and scrubbing and mopping. It likes cooking and caring and all of the jobs my brain thinks are monotonous. Here, I had thought I was listening to my heart, but really I had only been listening to my mind.

There are still so many things I want:  to do Pincha Mayarasana in the middle of the room and not crash over, to have more time to myself, to have the boys not grab things from each other and then yell about it, to look like one of those girls in the Title Nine catalog, to not live in Washington, DC. But it turns out that I have everything I need. My soul is happy.

Responsibility

January 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have never really been an Oprah fan in the sense that I watch her show. It has always seemed a bit tawdry to me. However, I love, love, LOVE her magazine, O. I think it’s a decade old now and I haven’t missed an issue. It combines everything I love: spirituality, great clothes, big glossy pages, Martha Beck.

In the last issue, Oprah wrote that she has a sign posted on her makeup door that says: “Be responsible for the energy that you bring into this room.” She went on to say that for her new network: OWN, she feels responsible for the energy she is sending out to TV screens everywhere. I loved that concept of owning your own energy. Just reading that unstuck something deep inside that for a long time had been inflexible. For my entire life, I have been told I am too sensitive in a way that implied I wanted to be that way. When I walk into a room, I can tell if someone has just had an argument, and the way the air shimmers with anger stays with me all day. I can tell what kind of mood someone is in by the way they walk, by the way they hold their head. I can tell how my husband’s day was just by the way he turns the doorknob to come into the house. I don’t view this as a positive. I think it makes life more difficult. It makes my skin hurt. It makes me worry about things I have no control over. Since I have moved to DC, I have felt the anger of the city constantly rubbing against me, like sandpaper. It wears me out. The hostility here is wearing me down.

Adding to this, I have been having a difficult time with my 5-year old. For one thing, this is nothing new, as he is a challenging kid. Or I should say he challenges me.  He’s pretty smart, he’s sensitive, and he’s strong willed. In many ways, he is much like me, and I react to him because at times, he outwardly exhibits all that I don’t like about myself. He can be too loud, too emotional, too attached to his ideas, too argumentative.  I can say all of this because he is a wonderful, wonderful little boy. He is kind and funny and he tries harder than anyone else I know. I adore him. And yet, for the last several weeks, I haven’t liked him very much and this bothered me greatly. What is wrong with me, I wondered. What kind of lousy mother am I anyway? What am I doing wrong?

Of course, this feeling of inadequacy in myself only made my interaction with Oliver more difficult. Each new encounter became a battle, a power struggle. One time I carried him to his room. Another time, I yelled. Stop yelling, I said through clenched teeth. And we all know how effective that is. Most nights during the last month, I felt hollowed out. Exhausted. Like a failure. I was analyzing everything. How I spoke to him, whether or not I raised my voice when I asked him for the fifth time to put on his coat, what exactly I was doing that was causing him to put his hands on his hips and yell at me or kick at me, or yell “blah blah blah,” and dance around the kitchen when I asked him to wash his hands.

When I read Oprah’s missive: Be responsible for the energy you bring into this room, I suddenly got it. It wasn’t that I was doing anything wrong.  It was the energy that I was bringing to the situation that was mucking our home life up. It was my own anger and frustration and feelings of inadequacy that were adding meaningless meaning to our interactions. If I thought about it sanely, all that was really happening was that Oliver was acting how he was acting and I just didn’t like it very much. There was nothing wrong. There was nothing to be fixed. There was just what was happening and there was my reaction. And only one of those things was within my control.

Since this revelation, things have changed a little bit. It has gotten easier, less fraught, and more gentle. I have been given a little bit of grace, each time I remember to be responsible for the energy I bring to the boys. Let me make it clear: it’s still not easy. It’s still far from perfect. Oliver sometimes runs around with his underwear on his head in the morning instead of getting dressed. “That’s enough!” I’ll call, but it’s different now. My jaw isn’t clenched. I am not really all that upset.  I am not quite there yet,  but I’m better. We’re better.  And all that it took to create this seachange was a slight shift in energetics, a barely perceptible willingness to be responsible for something that most of us don’t believe even exists.

A decade ago, if I had known I was going to write this post I would have laughed. Rolled my eyes. Energy. Jeesh. Whatevah’. Today I went to see a sports medicine/chiropractor guy about my hip. It’s the left one, where I carry Gus for much of the day, and it’s been so locked up, my left shoulder is a good inch higher than my right. Dr. Skopp is about as bare bones as you can get. His office has plaster walls, a single massage table in the center. On a shelf are his awards as the trainer for the US Triathalon Team, the US Cycling Team, and others. He has mustache. He is the opposite of New Age. But after he did his Active Release on my IT band (not fun) and did a quick adjustment, I stood up and felt a rush of energy through my stomach. I felt something like happiness flood through me from my navel to the top of my head. I felt two inches taller. “You’re going to think I’m some California crazy,” I said as he scribbled something in my chart. “But I just felt this energy swoop through me.”

Dr. Skopp frowned at me. “Not crazy,” he said. “That’s physiology. When you’re muscles are locked up, everything is locked up.”

Sometimes I think Washington DC needs a chiropractor. At the very least, it needs an adjustment. DC is an intense city. It hums. Most of the time, everyone seems just about this close to losing their shit. Sometimes it seems that the centrifugal energy here is so great, that the city might levitate. I think it has a lot to do with the state of our government, the fact that 10 miles from my house is the Capitol, where Congressmen and Senators are screaming at each other and turning off microphones in the middle of speeches. Vitriol. Power. Politics. That energy  spins out. Like poison, it reaches everyone in the city.

The other day I went for a run on Four-Mile Run Trail (which is made of asphalt) around Reagan National Airport and along the Potomac. On top of a little hill, I looked over at the city. To my right was the gentle, romantic dome of the Capitol. To my left was the white blade that is the Washington Monument (and I don’t have to remind you what that looks like, now do I?) Feminine, masculine. Rich, poor. Black, white. Republican, democrat. Government, non-profit.  This is a city of opposites. Of contrasts and conflicts. It is at the corner of Things Getting Done, and Look, They’re Doing It Wrong.

It’s tough to not get caught up in that energy, in the madness of it all. I have to work hard not to hate it here, to not become so disenchanted that I stop trying. To not become so worn down by the weather and the sharpness and the impatience that I too become cold and sharp and impatient.

It snowed on Wednesday night. The next day, the Pentagon had a two hour delay. Schools were closed. And it was my birthday. Scott gave the boys breakfast while I went for a run in a world gone white. I skirted ice patches and jumped over slush puddles. The piles of snow by the side of the road made the hills seem less steep. The sun came out and the trees were bejeweled with diamonds. I was having so much fun, that I had run for a couple of miles before I realized I had left my iPOD at home. I climbed up one hill and then ran down another into the town of Del Ray, a kind of hippie enclave that I love because it seems so different from the rest of Alexandria. It feels like an exhale. Down the hill I was running, a father was walking up, pulling two kids on a sled and the mother was close behind with a dog on a leash. I waved to her and she waved back. “Doesn’t it feel good?” she asked, and something in me melted. Yes, I thought. Yes. It is such a rarity to hear such a soulful battle cry in this city – like finding life on Mars.  I smiled and waved at her again and felt something shift, some basic goodness that snow and dogs and children seem to reveal. I ran down through Del Ray, past the Cheesetique and Wine Bar and the Homemade Pizza place and the Dairy Godmother, which is the frozen custard shop that President Obama sometimes takes his kids to.

For the first time in a long time, I felt real happiness. There wasn’t any reason for it. Nothing happened other than a birthday and a snowfall and a friendly greeting. Nothing in my life had changed except for the energy I received and brought to it.  I realized that it is pointless for me to practice Warrior I and II and III while wearing Lulumon gear if I can’t be a warrior in my own life. That it’s useless to sit cross-legged and chant the lion-faced dakini mantra to deflect negativity if I can’t deflect some of that negative energy in my own life. What the yoga teachers say is true: our natural state is one of bliss. What they don’t tell you is the work it takes to remove all the obstacles that stand in the way of bliss, the work it takes to be responsible.

Peace

December 29, 2010 § 4 Comments

We are staying at Scott’s parents for almost two weeks this holiday. They live in Oregon, up in the mountains. It’s such a welcome break from DC. There are wide, snow-covered fields where cattle and horses nonchalantly snuff at the ground, the air is dry and still, and some days, all I can hear is the wind in the pine trees and the snow as it falls from the branches. I have been running almost every day even though at almost 5000 feet, I am out of breath almost as soon as I start.

In some ways the trip has been stressful for me. I am much like my oldest son. I love routines and out of my own cozy nest, I feel a bit not myself. I realize how tied I am to place, how quick I am to put down roots, to fill my refrigerator with familiar food and hang pictures on the walls, to get to know the running routes. And yet, being away has been good too. If it has gotten me out of my comfort zone, it has also gotten me out of my own head and out of my own way.

The other day, a bird – a dove – was trapped behind the chicken wire that was protecting a young tree from deer in my father-in-law’s yard. My husband went out to rescue it, but none of us thought the bird would come to him. Three minutes later, he walked into the house with a dove in his hands. Oh jeez, I thought, as 23-m0nth old Gus rushed to Scott and the bird. “Dat a bird daddy?” Gus asked leaping up to see what Scott was holding. “Dat a bird?” That bird is going to have a heart attack, I thought. My husband is going to get his hand pecked off. “Don’t let that bird go in the house,” my father-in-law said, “Or we’re really going to be in trouble.”

To my surprise, my husband bent down and let Gus pet the bird. Five-year old Oliver lifted his head briefly and went back to his Legos. But Gus was mesmerized. He stroked the bird’s feathers and his eyes were wide with wonder. “Want to hold the bird daddy,” Gus said.

“We have to let him go Gus. He has to go home,” Scott told him.

I watched the bird who was so calm in my husband’s hands. I would have been freaking out if I was the dove, but there he was, the very symbol of peace, a spot of irridescent purple under his eye.

“Want to hold the bird daddy,” Gus kept saying and skipped next to my husband even as he walked out onto the snow-covered deck into the cold morning air. Gus doesn’t like the cold, but there he was, waiting for my husband to place the bird in his hands. Although a lot of things happened this Christmas, the memory of that morning is tops for me. Gus stood with his feet wide apart in his red footie pajamas, his eyes on the sky and the bird clutched close to his chest as if it had been just been within his own heart, inside his own cage of bone rather than trapped behind a fence of wire. And then, without warning, Gus opened his hands and stepped back as the dove beat its wings, scrambling for purchase on Gus’ fingers and creating momentum. There was a moment of furious wing beats and then silence. The bird took flight and we all watched it go.

Gus danced into the house, his own arms outflung like the dove’s. “I held the bird? I let it go? Bird go home! Bird fly!” He danced into the living room spinning. He saw a calendar hanging on a wall with a photo of a bald eagle. “Like that bird,” he said, pointing to the photo. “My bird fly like that bird.”

This metaphor was not lost on me, how tightly I hold onto my boys and how I need to let them go. Oliver is now five and craving independence. For the first time, he is in a school that does not welcome parents in the classroom. I feel powerless most days, not knowing what is happening for the three hours when he is out of my care. When I ask about school: about the golden walnuts or the crown of yarn or the games he plays, he tells me that it’s a secret. For a while I wanted to take him out of school. It seemed too unstructured, too rough sometimes. My son needed to feel safe. He needed to be with me for just one more year.But while I was struggling with what to do and with making a decision, Oliver figured things out for himself. He made friends. He made bread and was proud to help knead it. He learned to fold the pillowcases and later to stuff them with pillows for rest time. He told me that he liked his school. While I struggled and worried, Oliver got on with the business of living his own life.

Lately, I have been reading some great posts about parenting from Bruce at Privilege of Parenting and Kristen at Motherese. They both talk about true attachment parenting and about how “attachment” does not mean “clinging.” Bruce wrote a wonderful peace about how we must know our children and keep our own issues separate from theirs, how we need to raise them as they ask to be raised by teaching them what they need to know and by honoring their unique gifts. Kristen wrote about several books that are out now. One spoke about our common fantasy of creating perfect environments for our children. How our generation of mothers share a belief that if we eliminate impurities from our kids’ diets and close their eyes and ears off to violence and buy just the right toys, our children will be perfect. And we in turn will look like perfect parents.

That rang so true to me. I have read dozens of parenting books. I have the entire Dr. Sears library on my bookshelves. I want to create a bubble for my boys and prevent anyone hurtful from entering. I don’t want them to hear a mean word or be on the receiving end of a cruel act. This in itself is not bad of course. Of course it makes sense to keep media to a minimum and to shield children from as much evil as we can. But it’s a short distance from doing our best to trying to control our children. It’s a fine line between keeping our children safe while they are in the nest, to hindering their flight. It’s a very slippery slope from trying to be a good parent to trying to look like a good parent. I am a good candidate for a helicopter parent. I love to hover. I believe that if I worry about something enough, it won’t happen. I subscribe to a cheap religion of bargaining instead of praying, of tithing anxiety in exchange for best outcomes.

This of course does not lead to happy children or secure children or peaceful children. This dove today taught me that. Gus taught me that. He showed me that I need to hold my little birds close when they need me, to snuggle their softness and revel in the way their hearts beat like crazy to get out. But I need to let go too. I need to let them fly, in small doses now, but in increasingly longer intervals. After all, that is my job. I am only here to prepare them for their own journey home, for their own precarious flights.

Darkness

December 14, 2010 § 3 Comments

This year I have been big on the solstice. December 21st. I think the solstice for our generation is what Thanksgiving used to be before Martha Stewart infused it with the essence of perfection. (Brined turkeys! Roasted chestnut and dried cranberry stuffing! Pomegranate cocktails!) There is something about the light in the middle of all this darkness that offers a refuge of sorts, a comfort. Darkness has always frightened me, both in the literal and figurative sense. Emotionally, it feels like an abyss. Literally, I worry about raccoons jumping out at me, muggers with knives around the corner. I worry about tripping and falling.

A few days ago I wrote about how hard it is for me to stay present lately. In the past ten weeks I have taken three classes, planned three birthday parties, and prepared for three holidays. There were travel arrangements to make, cakes to bake, presents to buy. Right now I am staring down a stack of Christmas cards and I haven’t even finished thank-you notes from October yet … There have been articles to write and playdates to keep and parent meetings at school. There has been too much motion and too many to-dos. Yesterday, I went for a run just after four pm and was struck by the fact that I was running into the sunset. When did this happen? When did the days become so truncated? By the time I came home, my face numb and my breath steaming in front of me, night was falling hard and fast. Something inside me that has been circling for months was falling hard and fast too. Okay, I thought. I give up. I surrender. I was glad for the night, for the early dark. All I wanted to do was to stay inside our cozy house and eat the tortilla soup I made that afternoon. I wanted to sleep for a long, long time.

All of a sudden, the darkness seemed good. I welcomed it. There have been so many thoughts that I haven’t been able to address in these busy days, so many things that have come up that I have brushed off like raindrops. But instead of leaving, they have circled like a back of vultures, incessantly calling to me, waiting for me to finally slow down. As I walked up the hill to my house after my run, I realized that I was ready. I was ready to turn inward, to attend to what needed mending. Nothing bad has happened to me. Instead, I marvel at how lucky I am to have avoided tragedy so far in my life. I am so very lucky. But sometimes, even for the lucky ones,  a bit of healing needs to happen.

I thought of all  that happens in the darkness. The stars come out and the moon shines brightly. Bread rises. Our cells regenerate. We dream. Children grow. The planet completes its revolution. Bears hibernate. We whisper secrets we would never have the courage to share in the daylight. When I lived in San Diego, the light there was often too much for me. I felt overexposed like a photograph. Now, with these short days, I can hide and regenerate like a starfish. I can roast vegetables and sit by the warm oven, building Lego machines while roots soften and sweeten. There is time now to be still.

After my run I thought about how I crave the light. How I celebrate it. What if, I thought, I celebrate the darkness this year instead of the light. What if this year, I welcomed the night. After all, without it, the candles aren’t even visible. And then I pushed that thought back out. Nah. I feel about the darkness the way Lucy feels about Snoopy’s kisses. BLEEECCCHHH.

Today I saw a comment posted by Katrina Kenison. “And how lovely the darkness is,” she wrote, “when we surrender ourselves to it.” Surrender. The magic word. Sharon Gannon writes that “Magic is a change in perception.” My magic is a change from motion to stillness, from fear to love, from craving the light to embracing the darkness. I was just listening to George Winston’s December. It reminds me of college, of studying in the Willard Straight Music Library. It is beautiful because of its darkness, because of its minor notes. And what is darkness if not the minor notes, the transition between yoga poses, the stillness between the motion, the dreaming to the doing. I’m still looking forward to the solstice this year. Only this time, I’ll be looking behind the light. I’ll be giving thanks to what makes the candles shine so brightly.

Gratitude

November 9, 2010 § 6 Comments

On Friday, I locked myself out of the house. It was both a stupid and innocent thing to do. Gus and I were going to pick Oliver up from preschool and I made it out the door with our usual pile of stuff: diapers, wipes, water, snacks, books, a Thomas train or two. We were both buckled into the car, when I realized I left my keys in the house. And, yep, the door locked behind me on my way out. At first, I wasn’t worried. We had a spare hidden in a fake rock by the garage. But then I remembered that the week before, Gus was playing with it, lost the key, and I hadn’t yet replaced it.

Shit, I thought. Shit, shit, shit. How was I going to get Oliver from school? How was I going to get Gus down for a nap? How was I going to get into the house? I started to panic a little. Okay a lot. And then I saw my husband’s red key ring in the back seat. I had borrowed his spare car keys last week and they were still in my car. They were there for the same reason I forgot to put the spare house key back in the rock: laziness, a stupid mistake. But there they were, shining and waiting for me. In an instant, everything changed. I could get Oliver from school! We could meet my husband at work and get his house key! We were mobile!

Thank you, I thought. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Suddenly, this stupid mistake filled me with gratitude. Gus was strapped into his car seat and not locked inside the house. I had keys, a wallet, a mobile phone. Since we were going to have a picnic in the park after school I had snacks, bottles of water, warm sweaters. I could have been walking out barefoot to take out the trash, but instead. I had shoes on my feet!  In seconds I had gone from cursing to praying.

Everything didn’t work out as smoothly as I thought, of course. It turned out my husband didn’t have his house key at work, either, so I had to call a locksmith. The boys and I had to wait outside for almost an hour and Oliver had to go to the bathroom. The price to reenter our house was $236.44. And yet, through it all was a feeling of tremendous gratitude. The whole day had the vibration of a prayer to it. My boys were with me. We were safe. We had shoes. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Once we were inside our house again, the boys ran to the playroom as if it were brand new. I made a pot of coffee and took my time, appreciating my kitchen, the music playing, the sound of happy children, the smell of the coffee. Later, we went out and played in the leaves. The boys handed them to me as if they were offering me jewels and I accepted them, those gorgeous colors of flame and fire. Even in summer’s death, there is such beauty, such wonder.

The next day in yoga, Carolyn, the yoga teacher talked about the end of daylight savings time, how some people get depressed in the early darkness. She said we needed to stay positive, to see the light during this dark time of year. She mentioned that we could get up early and be greeted by the dawn now, that winter was a time to go within, to try something we had never dared to before. She said we shouldn’t be afraid.

I have always been one to get depressed with the lack of sun in the winter. In fact, that is one of the reasons I moved to California fifteen years ago. During my senior year at Cornell, I was so cold, I promised myself that winter would be my last. And now, I am facing my first winter in almost two decades. I am afraid of the cold dark days, the slush and sleet I will be trudging through. I am dreading the horrible flu I always manage to get around the winter solstice, the illnesses the boys will get, the way that tattered Christmas decorations hanging in January always break my heart a little bit. I am afraid of so much – of everything really, and all the time.

It’s no secret that I don’t want to live in Virginia, that I don’t like Washington, DC very much. I am tired of the endless aggression, of people blaring their car horns when I stop for someone in a crosswalk, of the way two parents pushing a single stroller can each be on a separate cell phone call, their baby staring straight ahead. Sometimes I think this whole city has absorbed the energy of a partisan government and there is so much tension, so much anger, so much unrest in everything. I don’t like the weather here or the landscape. I don’t like my son’s school and I feel like an outcast still. I am so homesick for California that there is always a place in my chest that is a little bit sore with the missing. And yet, by seeing only the darkness, I am missing out on all that there is here to be amazed by and grateful for: the kindness of our neighbors, the size of our house, the trees that soar into the sky, the autumn in its riot of color. And more importantly, it seems that there are lessons here for me that only this city can offer: how to slow down while all around me is moving so quickly, how to be alone, how to listen to the steady beat of my own human heart.

Locking myself out reminded me that there is always something to be thankful for, always enough, always abundance. I am trying to remember this, to learn the lessons as they come to me. The day before I asked for steadiness, and I was given a day to practice being steady. Now was a chance to practice gratitude, to realize that I had everything I needed, that enough is as good as a feast, that I am so very lucky. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Steady, steady

November 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

This morning, both boys started crying before eight o’clock. Gus, who has a cold,wanted to nurse, but since he had been nursing for over half an hour already, I called it quits. Oliver didn’t want to go to school. “I won’t get dressed!” he yelled at me, “I won’t do it!” Like I always do when I feel overwhelmed or without an answer, I panicked a bit on the inside. That what do I do now?? question always gives me a bit of a stomachache. I thought about trying to talk to Oliver, but I could tell he needed a moment to sulk – if I went in now he would just yell more loudly. There was nothing I could do about twenty-two month old Gus, who lately, has been making his opinions very loudly known. So I waited until he (mostly) stopped crying and hopped into the shower. Gus entertained himself by throwing shampoo bottles into the bathtub and Oliver came in a few minutes later wearing a tee shirt and underwear. “Mommy,” he said, “Can you help me get my pants? I can’t reach them.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. It had passed, those childhood storms that threaten to last forever. Today, it only took eight minutes. But it made me realize how upset I get about every minor disaster and how minor disasters are the very thread of early childhood. How else can children develop a moral compass other than immersing themselves in what is forbidden? How can they be sure of their limits unless they test them?

For me it goes even deeper than that. For the past three weeks, I let myself get caught up in deadlines and people visiting, parties and new classes I am taking. I found myself spun up in stress that left me sleepless and tired, and tied up in duties that I was fulfilling instead of enjoying. This morning I felt as if I had arrived back home. My face in the mirror looked normal, my eyes no longer puffy. I am back to cups of tea at night instead of wine and I started cutting back on the caffeine a bit. Last night I vowed not to get so caught up again. I knew that part of that key is to stay present, to live with my heart forward and open and my core strong and engaged. I think I need to learn how to be steady, how to be in the world and not of it. I need to learn how to listen to my soul instead of my endless to-do list.

I used to be worse. I used to always dwell in the place of deadlines and chaos. I worked in investor relations, where one wrong move could get me fired. Back then, I existed on adrenaline and fear, chardonnay and chocolate. For me, children were the door out of that crazy, crazy world. My first son, Oliver, cracked my tailbone when he was born, and has been steadily cracking open my heart ever since. He is not easy, that one. He pushes every button I have, but has also taught me everything I know about being a mother. He, more than anyone else ever, brings me to my knees, and has shown me that kneeling, that reverence and surrender and grace and humility are the way into the present moment. Gus, the baby, is like dessert. His love is easy and freely given. He reminds me of what is good in myself and in the world. But his challenges will come too, I am certain.

This morning, when the boys were eating cereal, I opened up my copy of “Meditations From the Mat,” written by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. (For those of you who haven’t read it, that book is like going to a concert where your favorite band opens for your other favorite band.) I was looking for something on Brahmacarya, or moderation and found this quote: “It is always 3 a.m., raining, and you are at the intersection of two maps, when your country needs you the most.” It is a U.S. military officers’ joke, but it summed up everything I know about motherhood.

For some reason, I think there will be a time in my life without trouble, hard work, or chaos. I have a parallel universe where I imagine I will live someday, in a house that will never need to be cleaned, with children who will never challenge me, and with deadlines that are always easy. Today, as I read this quote, I realized that the way it is now is the way it will always be. I will never have all the answers. There will always be a bit of loneliness and fear. There will always be things left undone. And then, as if on cue, Gus kicked a soccer ball into my full cup of tea, sending Nutcracker Sweet all over the counter, the cabinets, the cookbooks.

Someone up there was looking out for me, making sure I got the lesson.

I had asked for wisdom and for moderation and for peace. My answer was a tea-splattered kitchen. Practice, practice, practice, said Sri Pattabhi Jois, and all is coming. As I cleaned up the mess, as Oliver took the soccer ball into the other room and said, “Mommy, I told you this would happen,” I thought of the night Gus was born.  In the hospital, as he was making his way, I told the nurse I couldn’t do it. I said I had changed my mind about natural childbirth and wanted the drugs after all. She laughed at me.”The hard part’s over,” she said in her soothing Irish accent. “You’re doing it. You’ve already done it.” It was enough, what she told me. She steadied me. She gave me enough to keep going.

Really, what other choice do we have but to keep going? Karen Maezen Miller writes on her blog that when she is at the end of the rope, what she needs is more rope. “Change your perspective, and the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.”

I wish I could say that my steadiness lasted all day, that nothing fazed me and that I approached everything with a sense of calm equanimity. Instead, I made my usual pile of mistakes and at the library, paid my customary fine of seven dollars (big sigh). But Gus said his first sentence (“Need a new diaper”) and Oliver put together his new LEGO kit without (much) help from me. The rain fell all day, but even that was steady, another answer to my prayers.

My work is cut out for me this fall. As we head into the darkness, my goal is not to complete every class assignment I have or to be the most accomplished mother at my son’s preschool, or to lose those fifteen pounds. My goal is to be steady, to stand in the rain at the intersection of two maps and not freak out. Practice, practice, practice, and all is coming.

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