Present with my Kids

Some of the best parts of my day are when I’m tucking Violet into bed, or rocking Arlo to sleep for naptime. I love the quiet one-on-one time together. It’s one of the times I find easiest to be fully present.

I can really appreciate my 5-year old daughter as lay next to her and stroke her blonde hair. She chatters away to me and sings me songs. I marvel over how fast she is growing, and also how tiny she still is.

It’s easy for me to be mindful when I am holding my sweet baby in my arms. His chubby hand on my chest. His soft, warm head snuggled against my cheek. My heart swells when I gaze at him there, as I rock us both back and forth.

In these moments I am not thinking about the frustrations of the day, or tomorrow’s to-do list. There is nowhere I want to go, nothing to change. In these moments I feel that I am really experiencing my life, as it happens. It feels like freedom.

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.

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.

 

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.