Seeing her right now reminds me of my mother back then which reminds me to see her as she is right now.
String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.
This is a transcript of a talk on parenting wisdom that I gave at the local library. We all live at such a distance from one other I thought I’d just put it all up here. It’s geared to parents of children under age three, but the lessons are forever. Please share.
Often we approach our job as parents like this:
“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“I’m over my head!”
“I’m ruining my kid.”
So we seek more information, come to workshops, and pick up new tips. We want to give our children a solid advantage and even a head start. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I take a different approach. I like to help you find the wisdom you already possess, help you find your own way, and help you feel more secure in your everyday life so that you can say:
“We made it through. We did OK. It was a good day.”
String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a piece of art, a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.
They say that children don’t come with instructions, so I’m not going to give you any new instructions. I want to talk about two tools that you already have, but that you may not be using enough. read more
I’ve trained a bluejay, out of my own delight, to perch like a cat outside my door.
He doesn’t want me to sprout wings and fly. He can fly.
He doesn’t want a song and dance. He has a song.
He has a dance.
He wants a peanut. That, I can do.
For Jena Strong.
Whenever I see something I’ve written reflected back this way, I know the message is for me. That’s the case with this excerpt from Hand Wash Cold, which is being recirculated right about the time I’d rather hole up with my own precious self, doing what I want, when I want, how I want. So right now is a good time talk to strangers about the weather, especially since it’s 88 degrees on January 4.
Do you want to live in friendship or fear? Paradise or paranoia? We are each citizens of the place we make, so make it a better place.
At the grocery store, give your place in line to the person behind you.
Ask the checker how her day is going, and mean it.
On the way out, give your pocket money to the solicitor at the card table no matter what the cause.
Buy a cup of lemonade from the kids at the sidewalk stand.
Tell them to keep the change.
Roll down your car window when you see the homeless man on the corner with the sign. Give him money. Have no concern over what he will do with it.
Smile at him. It will be the first smile he has seen in a very long time.
Do not curse your neighbor’s tall grass, weeds, foul temperament, or house color. Given time, things change by themselves. Even your annoyance.
Thank the garbageman. Be patient with the postal worker. Leave the empty parking space for someone else to take. They will feel lucky.
Buy cookies from the Girl Scouts and a sack of oranges from the poor woman standing in the broiling heat at the intersection.
Talk to strangers about the weather.
Allow others to be themselves, with their own point of view.
If you judge them, you are in error.
Do not let difference make a difference.
Do not despair over the futility of your impact or question the outcome.
Do not pass while the lights are flashing.
Trusting life means trusting where you are, and trusting where you’ll go, and trusting the way in between, as on a bus trip, the driving left to someone else. It’s bumpy but remarkably reliable.
This morning I am sitting beside the Atlantic ocean, and it is windy.
The first time I came close to waking up out of my highly cultivated neuroses, I was at a weeklong meditation retreat in the high desert of California’s San Jacinto Mountains. It was December, and it was cold and dark. The facilities were rustically beautiful, which is to say, off the electrical grid and without flushing toilets. In that kind of an environment, a lot of things fall away: first, all the things you think you can’t live without, and then, all the things you think.
By midweek, my hair was matted and greasy, my back was achy, my legs were creaky, my clothes were stinky, and I could hardly lift a care about any of it. Once I’d worn out my complaints and objections, unspooled my stock of poor-me storylines, I was left with nothing to do but sit and listen.
What we’re usually listening for — and especially when we’re doing things the hard way — is for the damn thing to be over. Aren’t we itching for just about everything to be over? Whenever we’re uncomfortable, which is most of the time no matter what the circumstance, we’re anticipating the end. Fast-forwarding, channel-changing, boredom-breaking, leave-taking outta here!
What I’ve noticed about most of the things that are really good for us is that there’s no easy way out. Not without making a total fool of yourself. So you might as well relax, because you’re here.
When I relaxed on my meditation cushion I heard something outside the window. I heard it morning, noon, and night, unbroken and eternal, like Seinfeld reruns. The next time I saw my teacher face-to-face, I told him about it.
The wind! I said, as if I’d never heard it before. It’s the same wind my grandfather heard!
What is that wind? he asked.
Yikes, what is the wind? I detoured up into my head, which had equipped me for so long with the quick cleverness of intellect and retort. This time it was empty and out of service. Crickets chirped.
Everything, I finally answered, grasping for something. Some explanation, some answer to describe the very is-ness that transcends description. He patted my knee.
Now and then I wonder whether that was the right or wrong answer. Whether it was good or bad, enlightened or deluded, enough or not enough. Whether his pat was a correction or congratulation, a pass or a fail. Maybe you’re wondering too. As my practice matured, I wished I had said something different. When my practice matures further, I will stop wishing. I will stop rewriting the old or re-imagining the new, because when we do that, detouring into the wilderness in our heads, we have lost the wind, we have lost the crickets, we have lost the song, and we have lost our lives, again.
When my daughter was born prematurely, they said she might not breathe. Then they said she might be in a hospital for two months. They said she might need a year to catch up. Soon enough, she was at the top of the charts. Then they said she might be delayed. Then they said she was ahead. Then just last week someone said she might be slow, and need an extra year to catch up.
I no longer have faith in these pronouncements. My daughter has never been anything but completely herself, no matter what they called it.
All parents struggle with fear, hope, and expectations for their children, so I wanted to respond publicly to a mother who contacted me last week.
I’m totally unqualified to give guidance in her circumstance, so I’m only going on faith. That’s all any of us has to go on.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my mail. I feel a bit silly for writing to you, but I decided to get over that because my need for relief is so great.
The willingness to feel foolish is the first step on the path. It’s also the last step on the path. To be honest, it’s every step on the path.
I am mother to two children: a less ordinary boy of just 5 years with a mild disability; and a girl of 2 1/2. I have noticed that having a non-average child complicates matters in a way I never saw coming.
Give yourself credit for what you didn’t see coming. Most of us think we see much farther ahead than we really can. We anticipate outcomes and draw foregone conclusions. Then we leap to either a false sense of security or a false sense of insecurity. Anything we conclude about the future is false. All that we can ever see is what is right in front of our eyes, and so I encourage you to keep that focus. Then you can be sure that you are always seeing clearly, because you are seeing things as they are.
It takes strength to see things as they are without interpreting it to mean one thing or another.
I’m not one of those mothers who always knew that there was something wrong. It is rather the opposite. My son feels OK to me. I see his delayed development and the stress he experiences because of that, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I see a solid foundation in him and know that he will grow.
You’ve said two things here that are profound. First “my son feels OK to me.” This is the peace we seek: to be OK even when it is not OK. What makes it OK is the second thing you said, “it’s nothing we can’t handle.” This is the ground of faith. Not faith in a certain set of outcomes — the ones we want, wish, like, push, and prod for — but faith rooted in the reality of the present moment. The present is where we stand, and to stand upright where we are is the embodiment of strength. This is the strength we use to handle things as they occur, staying steady and aware without getting caught in the mind-spinning panic and paranoia of a future we cannot predict.
And let’s be clear: the future is unpredictable for everyone, no matter what. read more
The plane home was very late last night. The car battery, nearly dead. The house was dark. My mailbox was full. The violets on the kitchen table, wilted. To leave others at peace, I pulled a quilt from the hall closet and settled on the sofa, my mind still lit with the radiance of a weekend under the sun, the moon and the stars.
Sometimes you think you’re in the middle of nowhere. And then you look through the pitch blackness of the night and into the inconceivable shine of a mountain sky and know exactly where you are. You’re not in the middle of nowhere. You’re in the middle of forever.
If you can’t see the stars, see the moon. If not the moon, then the sun. And if you do not see the sun, watch your step and keep going.
Because this is what I found in my mailbox last night.
Where to learn how to watch your step:
On a weekend when we’re being called to have a reckoning with the memory of unspeakable ruin, I won’t say one word. I only offer this light to memorialize a friend who left last week. By this, may you see.
It was a shock, yes, the news. From nowhere, it was a wave, a blast, a shimmer. It was the sun, exploding.
It was Joan.
In the days that followed, that’s how I would recall her. That’s what I would say, “I never saw a shadow darken her face.” Joan was pure radiance, and I think she still is.
She made you think it was all about you: her pure delight at the sight of you. You might have thought you were special, even gifted. But any gift you had was what Joan had first given you. She gave you her presence and she gave you her joy. It wasn’t a pretense. She could not pretend. The fact is, you never once disappointed her.
Joan was full in the way the sun is always full. And I imagine she still is, her arms full of the whole of us, her heart wide open, her face beaming. There are so many who are sad in her absence and so she keeps shining, shining through the shadow that darkens us, the vacancy, the disbelief, until we look up and see the light, the light that is vast and uninterrupted.
It is Joan. I see her still.
The role of a parent in the life of a child: Patience
The role of a child in the life of a parent: Impatience
The role of a partner in the life of a relationship: Acceptance
The role of a relationship in the life of a partner: Irritation
The role of a teacher in the life of a student: Demonstration
The role of a student in the life of a teacher: Attention
The role of toil, trouble, disappointment and inconvenience: Service
The role of anger: Equanimity
The role of hatred: Love
The role of enemies: Harmony
The role of community: Solitude
The role of light, food, shelter and air: Generosity
The role of the self: None*
*Which means replace the empty roll while you’re at it.
Some of the most profound truths come from the simplest minds and mouths.
The movie character Forrest Gump immortalized his mother’s homespun wisdom in the line, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The saying is so pervasively repeated and unarguably true that my 11-year-old daughter, although she’s never seen the movie, quotes it to me regularly. Surrounded lately by the tasty snack buffets of holiday parties and bowl games, I arrived at my own recipe for sagacious living.
Life is like a five layer been dip. You always get out what you put in.
Everything you do well requires these five ingredients. Together, they deliver irresistible goodness and lasting satisfaction . . .
Taste and share the goodness! Continue reading this recipe for a tasty life and leave your comment at the Huffington Post.
When I was at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral this spring, I asked the audience what they thought turned the inside of the church into a sanctuary. Was it the concrete walls?
When I was leading walking meditation in the chapel at Seattle’s Bastyr University in June, I asked the people with me what turned the ground under their feet into a pathway. Was it the terrazzo tile?
When I was at a yoga studio in suburban Milwaukee last Saturday, I asked the group in front of me to notice the change that occurred in the room from the time we convened at 2 p.m. until the hour we dispersed at 4 p.m. What turned the mildly restless, self-conscious discomfort at the start of our time together into the vast, settled calm at the end? Into a still and quiet ease so deep that no one cared to move? So satisfying that no one rose to leave?
The answer is you. The secret is yours. The power of your own nonjudgmental attention is what transforms space into spaciousness. It turns your wandering into the way. It transforms your life into love.
And now we’ll do the same in Boston when we gather for the Mother’s Plunge on Saturday, Sept. 18. I’m so pleased that we’ll be meeting at the Seaport Academy, a therapeutic day school for adolescents who need extra attention to navigate the perils of growing up. The students will not be there the day we are, but your attention will, and your attention will transform our humble gathering into the spaciousness of infinite potential. Come see for yourself what the power of your love can do. We’ll leave some of it behind, and you can take the rest home with you.
And if you’re not on the East Coast on Sept. 18, come to the one-day meditation retreat I’m leading in LA on Sept. 12. We’ll turn our attention onto a bare white wall and unleash the wild blue yonder. You don’t have to believe it; you just have to see it.
On a week when I am at away at a practice retreat, I asked Lindsey Mead of A Design So Vast to write this guest post. She offers her own practice reminder and weather forecast. If you’re in Boston, it looks like you’ll just have to get wet!
I never understood the saying, Our kids are our teachers. Actually, I’d go further. I rolled my eyes whenever I heard it. I thought it was one of those trite adages like another one that I love to hate, It is what it is.
Then one day last fall, the universe hit me over the head with the truth of that statement. Grace, Whit and I were walking to the playground in Harvard Square. Grace was in the middle of a long-winded story when I glimpsed a friend standing by the gate of the playground. She waved at me and shouted hello. “Hi! So glad to see you!” I responded, waving enthusiastically. When I dropped my hand to recapture Grace’s I found that she had crossed her arms angrily across her chest. She’d planted her feet in a classic I am NOT happy stance, stubbornly remaining behind as Whit and I kept walking. I turned back to her. “Gracie, what’s up?” She shook her head, screwed up her eyes, and I saw tears rolling down her cheeks. I dropped Whit’s hand to hurry back to her, crouching down in front of her.
“Well, sometimes, when you see an adult and you are excited to see them you stop listening to me. Sometimes I feel like you are not paying attention to me. And you always tell me interrupting is wrong. But then…” she hesitated, “then you do it yourself sometimes?” Her voice wavered and I could tell she was not sure if what she was saying would get her in trouble. I wrapped her in a huge hug as I realized the wisdom of her words. I whispered that she was right, that I needed to be more careful, that she was a thousand times right and thank you for reminding me. read more