Stressing about stressing

The baby has been sick again. Yesterday he woke up early and refused any form of bottle/nourishment, and seemed to have an upset tummy. We weren’t surprised because Violet had been home with a stomach bug earlier in the week.

Immediately a feeling of panic set in. I knew the illness would pass. I knew he wasn’t in need of medical help. I realized that my fear wasn’t related to Arlo’s health. It was about how I would handle it. Would I be able to comfort a crying baby all day long? Would I manage to get him to sleep? Would I manage to feed him something so I could rest easy?

I went about my day, taking advantage of any quiet moments to accomplish my own tasks, and to breathe. It made the more difficult moments bearable to feel that I had cared for myself.

By afternoon I was able to observe the situation with less judgement. It was a tough day… but not nearly as bad as I had worried it would be. I recognized that the baby wasn’t as difficult to manage as I had feared, and I had still managed to accomplish most of my to-do list.

My own fear and anxiety about the situation – the emotions *surrounding* the issue itself – were the bigger discomfort. The sick baby hadn’t really been a problem at all. It was the feelings I had projected about that issue had made me feel stressed and made the day less enjoyable. And even if the day had been awful, my feeling of stress about it would have made me feel even worse.

It’s amazing how emotions compound other emotions. Our emotions compound problems.

It was a reminder for me about the importance of observing without judgement. Without trying to change the situation, I can choose not to react to it. With equanimity, I can accept what comes my way, whether I perceive it to be positive or negative, and just live in the reality of the moment without letting my emotions take up extra space.

On Death

I’ve been focusing so much on the feeling of love lately, and noticing how it makes me feel very “alive.” But the opposite is also true – the feeling of deep sadness also puts us in touch with the essence of life. If you really allow yourself to feel it, grief, in all its pain and difficulty, awakens the root of what it is to be human.

At my aunt’s funeral yesterday, my heart was heavy. I felt sad. But I also felt thoughtful and peaceful, and connected to my loved ones in our loss. Family was all around me, and that felt good. There were hugs, plans made for future visits, and words that aren’t spoken often enough: I love you. I miss you.

And in the heart of all that was my own deep questioning. Where is her spirit now? How long, or how little time, do we all have left on this earth? Have I made the most of my time so far? Have I appreciated my family as much as I can? What if I really knew that my time was limited?

We all know on some level that our time here is finite, but to really acknowledge that deadline is truly awakening.

It is a traditional buddhist practice to contemplate, even meditate on, death. In part, this is related to the doctrine of impermanence. It is only by recognizing how precious and how short life is that we are most likely to make it meaningful and to live it fully.

“We have to learn how to die in every moment in order to be fully alive.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“If we really understood and remembered that life was impermanent, we would do everything we could to make the other person happy right here and right now.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Metta to Me

When I was first introduced to metta meditation, the aspect I appreciated most was the idea of sending metta out into the universe. Especially when difficult events were happening in the world, when I felt hopeless about the state of the earth, sending my  lovingkindness outward was something tangible that I could do.

We are able – as individuals even! – to change the energy in the world. It feels very good to offer metta outward.

As I continue with the early stages of my metta practice, I notice how different it feels to focus this lovingkindness on myself. I don’t find it challenging, but certainly more intimate, less exciting. It’s ‘quieter’ to focus my metta inward.

As I go about my day, silently repeating my phrases to myself, the words feel like magic to my soul, the remedy for my standard guilt and expectations, forgiveness for my shortcomings. I concentrate on the words and try to feel them deeply.

May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be free from suffering.
May I know love.
May I be peaceful.

I am reminded of the teachings of the Venerable Dhammarakkhita:

“We can’t rely on metta from an external source, from another being. However, if you develop lovingkindness for yourself, then you can depend upon that, you can rely upon that. Your own lovingkindness is the only certain or sure and dependable lovingkindness in the universe.”

On Life

Today my aunt died. Only a few short weeks ago she learned that she had stage four pancreatic cancer. Her legacy will be her love, and her amazing spirit.

She was a beautiful example of how to give love fully and without reservation. My own metta practice is so that I would be as undiscriminating and open as this.

I believe that life is energy. Energy has no beginning and no ending, but it just transforms into a different state. Words and actions – the energy created by them – do not disappear. Their energy lives on in the hearts and minds of the people left behind who remember.

My aunt’s death makes me reflect on my own mortality.

Her life makes me reflect on my own life.

I will miss her.

And on That Note…

(Speaking of self-care…)

Today marks the start of a project I’m very excited about. I’m calling it, The Metta Project. It’s been in conception for sometime now, but I have finally undertaken to get started. (The details are here.)

Generally, kindness comes easily to me. I believe I’m a naturally loving person, and it feels genuine to offer this type of energy into the world, the energy of love and compassion. But strangely, I don’t do it (consciously) all that often.

It feels awfully good to offer up lovingkindness as I wander around the world. Although I’m just getting started on the “selfish” part of my intensive metta practice, I am taking the opportunity to silently wish this lovingkindness on any beings I encounter throughout my day. I feel a bit like I’m radiating metta as I run my errands, as I sit with my family, or as I walk down the street. And in turn, the world seems like a more beautiful place when I’m focusing on love.

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It comes naturally to me to wish others well. It makes me feel good to send this energy out.

As I type, I am aware that many other beings are using the internet at this moment. May all beings who are using the internet right now be well. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering. May they know love. May they be peaceful.

Me Time

I had to fight my mom guilt today. It was hard for me to kiss my family goodbye and leave the house. I’m grateful to have a supportive husband who recognizes my needs, but as usual, it is my own set of expectations that holds me back.

Eventually, I did pack up and head out though.

It’s taken me a long time to acknowledge and honour my own spirit. Not my mom-ness, not my wife-ness, but my individuality. I am more than a wife, a mother and a homemaker. I’m also a writer, a meditator, and a human with interests. But it is curious how easy it is for me to ‘sacrifice’ myself and give in to the needs and wishes of my family. (Or my perception of their needs and wishes.)

What is difficult is to treat myself – my own needs and wishes – with the same amount of love and respect.

In the wise words of Sharon Salzberg, “Authentic intimacy is not brought about by denying our own desire to be happy in unhappy deference to others, nor by denying others in narcissistic deference to ourselves…To truly walk the Middle Way of the Buddha, to avoid the extremes of addiction and self-hatred, we must walk in friendship with ourselves as well as with all beings.”

Or, as the ever-insightful Axl Rose teaches us:

“Sometimes I need some time…on my own.
Sometimes I need some time…all alone.
Everybody needs some time… on their own.
Don’t you know you need some time…all alone.”

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Who am I Hurting?

This morning I wasn’t mindful. My five year old was asserting her independence, and my baby was struggling with the morning routine. I was also dealing with emotions about a sick family member, and frustration over a volunteer project I’m working on. In short, my patience was thin, and I was in a generally negative mood.

I snapped at my daughter. I rushed around the house trying to get us out the door, telling myself if I was early enough to walk (as opposed to driving) I would be able to be more mindful then.

How crazy is that? I was making excuses for my anger, telling myself I’d be more mindful later in exchange. In fact, I couldn’t appreciate my walk anyway, because I was holding onto such negative emotions.

So, I’m making an effort to care for my negative feelings now. I don’t have time to sit and meditate when I’m chasing a little crawler around the house, but I will take a moment at my window altar to breathe, and notice the tension in my body.

Looking back at my morning, it didn’t feel good to be angry. And I’m still suffering the effects now!

It’s very true that the first victim of our anger is ourselves.

After that, the next people who suffer are our precious loved ones.

It’s not worth it.