Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Taking Ourselves Off Automatic

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

[Dear Friends letter from our sister site Isabella Catalog.]

I’m having an issue with the trees and plants in my back yard. After over 10 years of everything thriving, something’s not right. Several of my favorite trees are starting to die, and the arborists I’ve consulted speculate that the trees are just getting so much water that the soil doesn’t have a chance to dry out enough to suit these particular trees.

The solution? Completely turn off the irrigation system and water by hand, selectively giving more or less water to appropriate parts of the yard. ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ was my first reaction. I’m used to my sprinklers coming on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For 5 minutes. In the dark of night. While I’m sleeping and not even aware that anything is going on out there. So convenient. So automatic. So clean and hassle-free.

But you know what? It turns out that the mandate to get outside and hand-water my yard is the best thing that could have happened to me (yard-wise, anyway). As I stand there with hose in hand, looking, really looking, at each and every plant and tree, I find myself infinitely more connected to my little corner of nature. I marvel at how abundant and big the succulents have gotten since I planted them 2 years ago. Time to divide them and give them more breathing room. I notice the Staghorn Fern isn’t doing so well in the spot I had it, and I search out a better place for it. The delicate spray of my hose finds and showcases a perfect and exquisite spider web I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. The Gardenia needs some fertilizer, and, whoa, there’s a bird’s nest I hadn’t noticed!

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X-treme Parenting Makeover – Ten Guidelines for Healthy Parenting in An Age of Self-Importance

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

1. YOUR KID IS NOT KING: You’re raising your kid to be a member of the human race, a society, a community, a family – not to be the center of attention.

2. REAL LIFE IS DISAPPOINTING: Learning early to handle disappointments well helps your kid become confident, self-governing and optimistic in a world full of limitations.

3. AUTONOMY IS THE GOAL: Effective self-governance and healthy self-esteem come from knowing our strengths and weaknesses in doing things in the real world and getting feedback, not from excessive encouragement or praise.

4. DON’T FEED YOUR KID JUNK PRAISE: Junk praise (for example, “Great job!” for ordinary activities), like junk food, is addictive and takes the place of developing inner wisdom that is necessary for skillful decision-making.

5. RESILIENCE COMES FROM BEING FLEXIBLE: Don’t protect your child from making mistakes, encountering failures or knowing the limitations (of self and other) that teach us how to be flexible in facing the expectable challenges of life.

6. HELP YOUR CHILD HAVE PATIENCE WITH TALENTS AND CREATIVITY: Diligence and patience are necessary for true creativity to develop; it takes about ten years to become truly creative in any field.

7. KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY BRING THE GREATEST HAPPINESS: Guide your child to be compassionate and helpful to others. Teach your kid to look around and see who needs help, assistance, or support in any moment (not just special occasions). There are countless opportunities to feel happy as a result of helping.

8. GOOD CHARACTER WINS: Good manners, good conscience and virtue are the requirements for good character that provides the best foundation for success.

9. BE AN EXAMPLE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS: Show respect, kindness and interest in your own parents, partner and elders. If you don’t, your child will not show a lasting interest in elders and other family members, including you.

10. TEACH YOUR KID HOW TO BECOME A MEMBER: Belonging to a family means more than being born into it. All kids should be taught to contribute to the welfare, celebration and cooperation of their families throughout the life span, becoming valuable members.

By Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD, author of The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance.

When the Student Is Ready…

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

My “to do” list is ridiculously long. Couple my written list with the “to-do’s” that pop into my head when I’m not near pen and paper, and it’s almost comical. The number of balls I’ve got in the air is crazy, and frequently the balls hit the ground and/or I don’t accomplish all of what’s on my list. A good part of the time, I’m running in several different (and inefficient) directions at once. I mean, I recently scalded my hand as I was steaming milk for my cappuccino while simultaneously pouring boiling water over green tea leaves!

So, when an opportunity came up last month to rescue a 15-year-old “throw away” dog at the shelter where I volunteer, I figured, why not?

Now, I already have an aging, blind dog who is nearly my constant companion. Being blind, he’s very cautious about all of his movements and thus walks slowly (very slowly!). Truly, walking Homer is about the only time that I walk the speed of a normal human being, and over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at taking a deep breath and simply moving at his pace. It’s part of the “Homer package,” and I wouldn’t give it up for the world, as challenging as that is for my Type-A personality.

My newly-rescued dog, the new “kid” on the block, Tobin, is a Dachshund, which means he has 2-inch-long legs. If anyone can walk even more slowly than Homer, it’s Tobin. (Well, he’s walking fast, but he covers so little ground with those legs that he makes Homer look like a Greyhound.) I can’t even walk the two old guys together because their gaits are so different. With Tobin on the scene, I “get” to slow down even more and do it twice as much because now I have two dogs. During these times, my “to do” list must go on “hold” and the balls I’m juggling are suspended mid-air while I tend to this new — and slow motion — addition to my life. Resistance is futile. I am finally learning the meaning of “saunter.”

There’s a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” These teachers can appear at any time, and they can simply be experiences or situations, rather than anyone/anything living and breathing. And as much as we may resist having these teachers in our lives, it helps us to learn the lesson more easily if we remember that, when class is over, we’ll be a better version of ourselves. It’s obvious to me that a teacher recently appeared in my life, and he most certainly didn’t take human form!

As another year draws to a close and a new one begins, here’s to our teachers, whoever and whatever they may be. And here’s to sauntering!

Hurry Up and Wait

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

I was at a party recently on the 10th floor of an old building in New York City. Right beside the elevator everyone had to take to get to the party was a big sign saying to limit the number riding the elevator to six people. Since there were only 3 of us in our group, this wasn’t a problem. We climbed in, and, I have to admit, became a little concerned at the creakiness of that old lift. Nervously making jokes about getting out alive, we were relieved when the ride was over and the doors opened, welcoming us to the party in progress.

We hadn’t been there too long when a big commotion in the hallway got everyone’s attention. Sure enough, the elevator was stuck between floors and nothing could get it to budge. In what seemed like the wink of an eye, New York City firemen, laden with their gear, were climbing up the 10 floors. They popped open the elevator and got everyone out within 5 minutes. Truly, it was a sight to behold! When the doors opened, out came seven people.

I have thought back to that scene many times since. Would I have gone along with cramming one more person into the elevator, thinking ‘it’s just one more, what can that hurt?’ in my haste to get to the party? Maybe. Probably. But I hope not.

How many times in life do we push the envelope because we’re in a hurry or because following the rules would be an inconvenience? And frankly, when we do it, we do usually get away with it and suffer no consequences. But this time it backfired on an elevator full of people. Because seven people chose to ignore that sign, they took two truckloads of firemen off the street and out of pocket for those who truly may have needed their remarkable expertise and courage in a crisis. And, with the elevator now broken, our having to walk down 10 flights of stairs at the end of the night sure didn’t endear the rule breakers to the rest of the party goers!

This summer, I hope we can all pay a little more attention when we’re hurrying about our day. If we can slow down, we may actually find that we truly settle into a flow, and we’ll know at our core when we are about to do some dumb, inconsiderate, or dangerous thing. Not only that, we’ll be savoring more precious moments than we ever do when we are in such a hurry to get where we’re going.

It’s Her Story

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Recently a friend was telling me about some “interesting” choices her grown daughter had made. Instead of a “WHAT was she thinking???!” judgment fest, our conversation took a 360-degree turn when this grace and wisdom came from my friend’s lips: “Oh, well; it’s her story!”

As a seasoned parent, this concept was not new to me, yet I felt a renewed sense of clarity when my friend worded it this way. I first experienced this revelation 18 years ago when my daughter Kathryn was born with profound disabilities. I wondered if I would ever get over the grief, but Kathryn’s father pointed out that I was not disabled. Without underestimating the role of parenthood, he reminded me that I still had my own life — separate from our daughter’s.

When our babies depend upon us for their very survival, the thought of them as separate entities is so difficult to grasp. We may even have visions of them growing up to be little extensions of ourselves. And who hasn’t at one time or another felt that ego-driven delight when our child appears to be a “chip off the old block”? The truth remains, however, that each child comes into the world the author of his or her own story, separate from us.

When my older daughter, Ann, who is now a mother herself, recently told me about one of her “interesting” choices, prefacing her announcement with, “Mom, tomorrow I’m doing something you’re not going to be happy with,” do you think I thought, “Oh well; it’s her story”? Ha! Within seconds, I was spewing out the “Mark my words, Ann . . .” spiel. Sigh.

I flash back to when I was a young mom, and we’d spend summer vacations with the girls’ great grandmother. This woman was a pediatric nurse in the 1920s, so you can imagine some of our conversations: “You’re going to SPOIL her if you’re always holding her!” “You’re only feeding her breast milk? Rice cereal is what she needs!”

Maybe George Orwell was right when he said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” But how does this benefit us really? As mothers, must we continue to pass on this torch of “My way or the highway”? Is being “right” worth the toll it takes on our relationships?

This summer, whether you’re a mother or a daughter, a father or a son (or combination thereof!), let’s not be so quick to point fingers of judgment at each other. The next time we feel ourselves bristling with those “How could she?!” feelings, let’s replace them with the realization that “It’s her story” as we do our best to live our own with grace, wisdom, and gratitude for family.

On Children
by Kahil Gibran

“They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.”

Words of Wisdom From Patricia Clifford

Friday, May 28th, 2010

“The work will wait while you show the child a rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.” - Patricia Clifford

I Think it’s Time

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

”I think it’s time,” my friend Kathleen said as she looked at the wilted tangle of vines hanging from the basket on my patio. Last summer, they were a lush tumble of bright blue morning glories. The thought of now chucking the whole shebang into the compost bin felt a little harsh to me. After all, I had known these vines from the time they were little seeds in a packet!

I know I’m not alone in sometimes hanging on to things that no longer add any value to my life. Some of us stay in relationships way past their shelf life, others stubbornly refuse to lose the spare tire ’round our middle, and others fiercely hold on to our big hair like it’s 1987. Instead of making way for the new, we rationalize our resistance with all kinds of excuses: ”If I lose weight, I won’t be able to wear all my beautiful clothes.” ”If I rip out these dead vines, I will admit defeat as a gardener. (Besides, it’s not like the whole plant is dead. Every morning, there’s one blossom that looks great.)” But for someone who has always followed William Morris’ words ”Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” since when is 99.9% dead a keeper for me?

Mother Nature’s got it down with spring. There are no stuck places in Nature. Everything runs its natural course, so there’s a beautiful flow that ultimately results in new life, new beauty. But what do we do? We hold on, even when what we have is 99% ugly. We hold on to our pain, anger, and resentment, and we wonder why we experience headaches, depression, and possibly even cancer?

We need to welcome spring into our beings. As Kathleen says, ”I think it’s time.” Let’s ask ourselves what it’s time to let go of. Spring is the perfect time to say goodbye to everything from that volunteer job that no longer brings joy to that 4-year-old jar of capers left over from the company picnic.

My hanging basket is once again an object of joy and beauty, this time with orange nasturtiums and blue and white allysum. I don’t miss the 1% of beauty my one lone morning glory blossom brought me. My basket reminds me of the importance of letting go and clearing space for the new. And if I feel this good after replanting a hanging basket, cleaning out my bedroom closet could very well catapult me into nirvana. Wishing you all a springtime of release and renewal!

Finding Gratitude Every Day

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

When I was a child, my father made a ritual of coming into my sister’s and my bedroom for our goodnight prayers. These weren’t the prayers recited by rote in school or church, but rather his own words to convey what he wanted to say at the end of the day. Even now, I can still remember at least part of this same-every-night prayer. As we lay there in a darkened room, he always started by saying ‘Thank you’ for a myriad of things: our health, shelter over our heads, food on our table, a good school…’ Then he’d segue into various appeals for continued good health, happiness for all of our friends and neighbors, peace in the world, etc. To my child-like sensibilities, it seemed that good health, shelter, and a good school were things that everyone had, and priority should be placed on the ‘request’ part of his spiel. But there came a night when my big sister piped in with her thanks for something, and before long, I was adding my own thanks to the line-up: for my rabbit, the fact that it was summer, or the fun hide-and-seek game with the neighborhood kids my parents had let us stay out past dusk to finish.

It seems that no matter our religious or spiritual inclination, it is part of the human condition to ask or say a prayer for something. Even if we don’t make a big, elaborate deal of it, we ask for you-name-it: good weather for the company picnic, a victory for our team, an improvement in the economic climate, the end of the drought in Africa, etc. But I think that giving thanks just doesn’t happen as often as making a request—at least it sure doesn’t with me. I find myself whispering a plea much more often than I acknowledge something for which I’m grateful. Yet I’ve committed myself to finding gratitude every single day, and that’s probably because my father made it part of our lives as kids. Having learned early on that I have countless things to be grateful for, I can almost always find a bright side to even the lousiest day. My bet is that we all have a myriad of things to appreciate. Whether it’s the roof over our heads, the rain on our thirsty garden, the luxury of being able to fill up the gas tank, or the fact that we still have our eyesight, the list is nearly endless.

And that’s why I think that Thanksgiving is one of our most meaningful and sweetest holidays. Hopefully, we take the opportunity to reflect on the good things in our lives. It gives us the chance to build a celebration around one single quality: gratitude. It gives us the chance to move beyond the ingrained sense of self-entitlement so many of us in our country have and look at life from a position of a grateful ‘I have’ rather than ‘I want’—a position that will not only enhance our own lives as well as our children’s, but will truly make the world a gentler and more caring place.

Teaching Children Through Our Actions

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As I was on my morning walk, I strolled right by a bank’s drive-up instant teller. A woman was using it, standing outside her SUV because it was too far to reach from inside her car. The sun was bright, and she was struggling to shade the screen with her hand because of the glare. Behind her SUV, a city maintenance truck and a third car were waiting, their engines idling.

What bothered me about this scene is that right around the corner of the building there are two instant tellers in the lobby. Using them would only have required parking (free!) and walking about 30 steps. Instead, the woman chose to get out of her car and fight the sun’s glare, and the other two people decided to sit in their cars, wasting time and gas. All this on a 70-degree day!

As I continued my walk, the sight of another woman made my day. When I saw that she had a plastic bag on each hand, I jokingly said, “I see the bags, but I don’t see the dog!” She laughed and told me the bags were for picking up trash. (She was using them as gloves.) While there are many popular “awareness” movements right now, from breast cancer to autism, is there any greater way to provide awareness than through real action and purposeful living like this? As great as pins and bumper stickers can be for getting the word out, this woman’s generous act speaks more than 100 anti-litter stickers.

If we want the next generation to be loving and reverent caretakers of the earth and each other, we parents have to step up to the plate with our actions. It’s not enough to use peace signs, bumper stickers, and tattoos to proclaim our love and values. We’ve got to demonstrate the very core beliefs we value. Do we buy our children a giant inflatable bouncer house for Christmas while proudly wearing a “Save the Earth!” t-shirt? Do we drive our Hummer 30 miles to pick up our organic, free-range Thanksgiving turkey?

Just as the two women I watched this morning told two very different stories, we tell our children stories every day through our actions. This holiday season, we’ll be singing songs with our children about peace and goodwill and sending cards about spreading joy, but my hope is that each one of us in our own unique ways will be living peace, goodwill, and joy through our actions-be it in volunteering in soup kitchens or in buying gifts that support artisans and sustainable living. Our children truly are watching.

Keeping an Open Heart in the Presence of Pain

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I can remember my father sitting at a restaurant table, years ago, quizzing my husband and me about current events and voting issues. We were young and absorbed in our new life together, and keeping up with the news was the last thing on our minds. More accurately, we’d made a somewhat conscious decision to not keep up with the news because it all seemed to be bad and what’s the use and how could our votes really count, anyway? Much to my poor father’s horror, we actually articulated this opinion to him, sending this very politically knowledgeable man into a tailspin of incredulity and, I would guess, disgust.

Since then, in fits and starts, I have become more politically aware and attentive to the news. I know enough of what’s going on to be conscious of the fact that there’s a lot more going on than what we’re being told. I don’ t think anyone would argue that unless a sensational spin can be applied to the latest current event, it’s generally not considered to be newsworthy. It ’s that ratings thing, you know. For some weird reason, the bad news, not the good, tends to get our attention and so we’re dished up even more and more of it. A twenty-minute dose of current events is sometimes enough to make you want to crawl into a hole and wait out whatever it is we, as humans, are collectively going through right now. Or would it be saner to just opt to remain ignorant of these happenings over which we have no direct influence?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that lately I don’t have to turn on the news to hear of sadness. It seems as if there are tragedies hitting closer to home and to loved ones than ever before. And I know that I’m not alone in my opinion. Friend after friend expresses the same sentiment. There is just a lot of grief not only “out there,” but “here” as well. It’s strange. And I often find myself struggling to stay balanced enough to keep on keeping on. If I allow myself to linger under whatever dark cloud is floating above me, I somehow find myself merged with that dark cloud, which then, I believe, in some way gets bigger because I am now part of it.

In the midst of what seems like a steady barrage of stories that could break my heart or make me angry, I have found that being active is so much more helpful than being passive. The bottom line is that I must make a conscious decision every day - sometimes every few minutes - to soften my heart and refuse to partake in judgment and hate. I’ve always known - but have to remind myself more often now, it seems - that I have a choice. I can just dwell on what is horrible. Or, I can be aware that there indeed are unspeakable tragedies going on even at the other end of the block (not to mention on the other side of the world) and keep my heart open and light and always ready to find joy, no matter how small that joy may seem.

I don’t know why I’ve changed. Maybe it’s because my children are older now and I have seen some of the ways life has challenged them, and I’ve seen how strong they are when they stand up to face these challenges. Or maybe it’s because life has changed me through trials of my own, honing me, polishing me, and gentling me in the process. It’s hard to tell. But what I do know now is that when all else falls away, one thing remains: the fundamental human need we all have to be connected to each other. And through consciously seeking this connection, I am learning to make space in my heart to hold the pain I meet in life and to embrace every ounce of joy that comes my way. My goal is now to enlarge my cup, so I can hold all that the world has to offer and greet each experience with compassion. The larger my heart gets, the more I can experience. It puts me at risk (for the world does hold tremendous pain), but without that risk my ability to seek and choose joy is severely limited. And without joy in my heart, how can I face the day?

A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

Peacejam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

Peacejam is an inspiring book/DVD about young people who teamed up with Nobel Laureates to create projects of real change and healing for the world.