It’s all Relative

Mondays can be hard for me, particularly after especially great weekends. That was true this morning,  as I looked out the window at a bleak, grey sky. I found myself feeling negative.

I checked the weather forecast this morning to decide how much to bundle the kids for our walk to school, and felt a little disappointment. This morning was so dark and grey, and the week ahead was looking glum too, I thought.

When we arrived at school, I bumped into one of my sweetest friends, who is eternally positive. We chatted briefly, and she mentioned how she’s looking forward to walking to school this week. “I checked the weather and it’s not looking too bad!” she said.

For a brief moment I questioned whether we’d heard different reports.

Then it occurred to me, that of course, like everything else, it’s all about perspective. Obviously my chipper little friend was honestly just seeing the bright side of the forecast, while I was fixating on the grey clouds and snow.

It was a wake up call for me. Time to focus on the sunny side!

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Note to Self

For all the times I’ve ever felt like my happiness was contingent on my weight, here is evidence that it’s not true.

For all the times I’ve thought that I would finally be content if I were 20lbs lighter, 50lbs lighter, or more, here is proof that it’s about more than that.

Because today I’m not the heaviest I’ve ever been, but I’m far from my thinnest or fittest… but it was a perfect day.

Today I wasn’t at my ideal weight, and I was happy anyway.

(Note to self: my happiness is not related to my weight.)

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It’s all in my Head

A few years ago I was watching 19 Kids and Counting (or maybe they were only at 18 kids back then), when I heard one of the Duggar daughters say something that perplexed me. It went like this:

Jinger, Jill and Jessa are discussing their ideal mates, when it comes up that Jinger hopes to marry someone who will move away with her, out of their small, Arkansas town.
Of course, the Duggars are deeply religious, and sister Jill reminds Jinger that God has a plan for her.
“If you didn’t get somebody like that the Lord can be working and teaching you something in that area.”
Jinger agrees with her and says, “Yes that’s for sure; I need to work on my contentment!”

I nearly got whiplash.

Did she just say she needs to work on her contentment?! What the what?!

See, I had always operated with the understanding that we seek out, and work for, things that will make us happy. If we’re not absolutely in love – FULFILLED – with our situations, we should take immediate action. I believed, like I think many others do, that life is too short to waste feeling unsatisfied.

But what if we are setting ourselves up? Doomed to always feel like we want and deserve more. Questioning whether we are happy enough. Maybe there is fault in programming people to expect life to be one giant orgasm.

These days I’m trying on a different outlook – taking a page out of Jinger’s book, and working on my contentment, my happiness.

As Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard describes, our control over the outer world is limited, temporary and illusory; it is our mind that translates this outer world into happiness or suffering. Happiness, he says, should not be confused with pleasure. Pleasure is contingent on time, object, place… However, happiness is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment that pervades and underlies all emotional states.

So how do we nurture the inner conditions for happiness? According to Ricard, by training our mind.

I agree.

I could change jobs, have another baby, move to another city… but I’d take my same head and heart (and all the inner anxieties/sufferings) with me. I’m beginning to appreciate that my happiness is an effort, and a choice.

 

No Mud No Lotus

Earlier this week I was waist-deep in mud.

The truth is, I am not a naturally selfless caregiver. I was not born with a “servant’s heart” that I have heard others describe. I have to work hard to cultivate the seeds of selflessness, of letting go of ego, when it comes to mothering.

Don’t get me wrong, it is easy for me to be compassionate and loving when my kids are sick. But it doesn’t come without a small sigh, or “why me” in the back of my mind.

So this week was a real opportunity for me to practice.

I also noticed this week that when I myself become sick, I have a strong aversion to the discomfort of illness. It was hard even to think about searching for conditions for happiness around me, although of course there were many: my comfortable bed, my luxurious (and convenient) ensuite, my loving family. I felt very stuck in my illness. I became my illness, you could say.

As with most discomfort though, when you really practice, you can choose to surrender. I first touched this feeling previously in childbirth, but it is a lesson I have called on many times since in my meditation practice. We know that sensations – all sensations – arise and pass away, arise and pass away. If we can let go of our intense aversion for discomfort or craving for comfort, we can ride the tide of these sensations and experience the freedom of the feeling of surrender. Nowhere to go. All that we have is the present moment. This too shall pass.

And when we come out the other side, it is very beautiful. Our roots are stronger. We can better appreciate the happiness of everyday. Normally I don’t appreciate my absence of illness, but today I am grateful. And I am even more grateful for the health of my children.

Tonight as we were buckling the kids into our car while leaving a restaurant, I noticed our health (especially our absence of illness), our good fortune, the beautiful pink sunset in front of me, and I was deeply happy.

Snow Day

There is no better feeling than having my whole family at home when the weather is really bad.

They have been calling for a big storm, but this morning the skies were calm, so we enjoyed the walk to school. By the time the snow started flying I had already managed to get out and run a few errands, stock up on some groceries, etc. Baby boy is feeling much better today, so I had a chance to get dinner in the slowcooker while he played too.

Around midday the roads started to get pretty messy, and I was so relieved when hubby’s work dismissed everyone early. He got home in time to watch Arlo while I ran out to pick Violet up from school.

We came home to a warm house, the smell of dinner cooking, and the boys asleep together on the couch. Now I can smile at the snow and wind outside my window – we are all safe at home together.

There is so much to be thankful for.

Let it go

It was a difficult night, with an unsettled baby and a sleep-screaming 5 year old. Most of the sleep I got was a semi-conscious half-rest with my baby boy sprawled across my chest. Today I am tired.

Trying to let it go.

I’m eating my breakfast standing at the kitchen island with a crying baby in one arm.

Let it go.

Apparently Arlo has caught the bug Violet came home with last week, and can’t keep anything down. I’ve changed his clothes, and mine, 3 times already this morning. I had plans for today, but it looks like that has changed.

I have to let it go.

So, I bundle everyone up and we make the cold walk to school to drop Violet off. With my two munchkins snug in the stroller I can enjoy a few minutes of quiet, fresh air. I get to see a few friends along the way, and take pleasure in the light conversation.

We return home. I know it may be a challenging day ahead, but there are still many conditions for happiness around me. Right now I can find contentment in the sleeping baby in my arms.

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My Practice

I had been feeling unsatisfied with life, and feeling guilty for it. I knew how fortunate I was: I had a wonderful, supportive husband, two perfect children, a lovely home, and the luxury of staying at home to raise my kids. Yet somehow, it all added up to “not enough”.

I had been a student of buddhism for years, but all the reading, the hours I had logged meditating, none of it furnished me with enough compassion to give all of myself away. Being a full time mother and a wife had – to me – meant being everything to everyone but myself.

How do you laugh and play with your child when you have forgotten who you are? How do you smile at your baby when you only want to cry over the part of you that has died?

The answer did not come to me in an epiphany, but instead as a low, slow sound I heard in the background of my every day.

I discovered there is no way to be happy when you have put your own life aside. I had to begin to remember who I was, at a deep, human level. It meant letting go. It meant asking myself what I wanted from life. It meant trusting my husband to parent our children sometimes, while I gave myself some much-needed time to breathe. That oxygen began to nourish my body and my soul.

And I saw that I hadn’t been able to live in the present moment. I knew in my mind that there were many conditions for happiness available around me, but I wasn’t actively practicing seeing these things.

It is admirable to study what others teach about mindfulness. It is beneficial to meditate, and strengthen our ability to be present. But more than anything else, we must practice living in the here and now.