Sweeping Practice

One of my least favourite tasks around the house is sweeping our foyer. Like Sisyphus with his boulder, it often feels that I’m prescribed to an eternity of never-ending floor-cleaning. Truly, each time I sweep our foyer clean, a new layer of sand and pebbles have returned by the time I’ve put my broom away.

But today I decided to approach the job with a different perspective. Instead of feeling frustrated by the futility of it, today I figured I might as well make friends with the situation.

First I considered why it is that I sweep the foyer.

It feels very unpleasant to step on stones when I enter or exit the house, so partly I sweep for my own benefit.

Then I thought about my loved ones: my husband, my daughter, and my baby. I sweep to care for their comfort as well.

I also thought about the guests who might enter. I recognized that I sweep the foyer to honour all of these dear people.

Then I felt grateful for the foyer, the entrance to our home. Like the breath, it acts as a bridge between the inner and outer world! How fortunate we are to have this space. I sweep the foyer also to respect, and show gratitude, for our home.

As I swept my way across each tile, I poured my energy into the task. Brushing away the pebbles and debris, I envisioned cleaning the air and energy in the space as well. I realized with my sweeping, I can transform our foyer into a space that feels calm and safe for all those who enter.

I noticed my body too – arms moving, body swaying – and steady breath. I felt very present in my body, in my sweeping.

And I felt grateful for the task, which had allowed me this chance to practice mindfulness.

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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

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.

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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Untangling Emotions

When I pay attention, I notice that it can be difficult to really identify what I’m feeling. I think most of us react quickly when we perceive the beginnings of an unpleasant emotion. We shift our focus away and look for a distraction to avoid experiencing the discomfort.

This morning as I was browsing the wonderful, complicated world of Facebook, I came across a post about singer Joey Feek. It was a photo with caption about how Joey said goodbye to her young daughter (before she dies). When I saw it my eyes instantly welled up and I felt nauseous.

Without thinking, I quickly grabbed my nearby cell phone and started to scroll. It was a desperate effort to focus on something else – to make myself feel better.

And that’s how it happens.

We abandon negative emotions without barely noticing them, or naming them, attempting to run from our suffering.

So this morning when I caught myself, I paused. I put down my phone. I sat quietly and paid attention to what my body was experiencing. I asked myself what emotions were underlying.

Without a lot of effort, I recognized that the unpleasant feeling within me was a mixture of sadness and anxiety. The Joey Feek story touched on a deep fear of my own: that tragedy would strike and I’d be forced to say goodbye to my own children. It fills me with such heartache to imagine being taken from my kids, for my own sake and for theirs. Having lost a father myself at a young age, I know about the pain and grief of missing a loved one.

But there is nothing to protect against this (hopefully distant) possibility. We can only give up our stress over it to the reality that it’s out of our control.

In that moment I decided to sit patiently with my emotions. I observed the tightness in my chest and abdomen, the stinging in my eyes, the pressure in my brain. I watched as the wave of emotions swelled, and then I followed it calmly as it passed across the field of my mind.

My heart aches for Joey Feek, and my heart aches for her precious daughter. So today I honour them both by choosing to be present with my own children, to really appreciate them as we play together, as we talk, and as we cuddle.

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.