Mom writes a graduation speech

If I muck around long enough in your data universe, will I eventually find your heart?
What if I just sit there, information swirling by,  and listen. very. quietly.
Will I hear your calling?

I have always loved the way your mind works.
And even more, the end product of all those synapses firing.
The way your agenda gets so completely usurped by a good explanation
that contains a concept you don’t know, which causes you to go look that up,
and discover a whole new world, that means this assignment
is never going to get done on time, but in the meantime,
you’ve given yourself a far more compelling outcome
than what set you off in the first place.

I love the way you’ve convinced me that the technology and media
so many other people blindly assume is a “distraction” from life
actually IS the way your people find each other, engage in community,
create hope and sometimes even thrive.

And I love the connections you make, always dangling your head
over the edge of the current collective wisdom to see what is under there,
or ought to be added next, or what patch of intellectual property is just near enough,
and strong enough, for you to leap the gap and continue on your way.

But the internet literally has no end, and what one can learn and do is essentially infinite,
and when you think about that too hard, it starts to blow your mind.
This existential angst you’ve labelled “suffering” since you were way too little,
your concern over the futility of effort in such a vast place…

Well, it is my hope that you are starting to revise what must clearly be
your essential question, not as a problem to solve or avoid, but as the truth.
What ONE can do is infinite, but what YOU should do is to be discovered
by leaning into and loving this mystery as intimately as you can bear,
and sometimes by putting it down for a god-forsaken-minute
to go outside and see who else wants to play!

On this graduation day, I’m tickled to notice that I have no desire to congratulate you
on your academic accomplishments, or to appreciate that you are “wicked smart,”
any more than I want to gush all over you about how proud I am that you have ears.
THAT you are smart is a gift you were given, and we both know you use it skillfully;
What I am most proud of is that in spite of the fact that you have such a brilliant mind,
you also allow yourself to have a tender heart, and that you have begun to muck around
in that completely illogical universe soon enough to start to notice how that might matter,
if not just as much, maybe just a little more, than what you think about it.

Because what the world needs of you IS your big brain — I’m certain of that —
but FOR WHAT is up to you, and that is not a problem to be solved by said big brain.
How you move towards the truest, most happy, most “useful” version of yourself
comes from the struggle of listening quietly to the sometimes subtle,
sometimes excruciating, and sometimes utterly unknowable thump
of what stirs and calls your big giant heart.

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There is a vitality

The first time I heard this letter read aloud was in a Soundstrue podcast by Rick Jarrow that is no longer available. I hear these words, in his voice, echoing in my head regularly when I see a beloved struggling to let themselves out, to be seen. I would love to have a recording of this again in a beautiful voice. Any volunteers?

 

A Letter to Agnes De Mille from Martha Graham
There is a vitality,
a life force,
a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.

And If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine
how good it is
nor how valuable it is
nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.

Keep the channel open…
No artist is pleased…

There is no satisfaction whatever at anytime
There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes “us” MORE alive than the others.

Martha Graham
( – a letter to Agnes De Mille-

 

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Something happened. It’s called Undefended Love.

Something happened.

It was just a thought, really, when you look deeply enough. So some thought happened, and everyone involved had really big ideas about what that meant. Big ideas. Thoughts about a thought, as if that is what matters. But this time, we did something different – we tried letting this thing completely BE rather than trying to make something else happen.

We let the thing be and we paid attention, and that lead us to the thoughts and then the thoughts to unveil the feelings, and we let those into the light as well. And those all just turn out to be either desire or aversion, and we let that be, and under that, we could see the deeper truth, and I’ll tell it to you now:

It isn’t about the thing. It isn’t about the thought. It isn’t about the desire or the aversion, or about what happened or who you think you are. It’s about where this all comes from, and what is below that. That’s the lesson. The thing, the decision, the outcome of that decision, these are nearly irrelevant.

Letting myself be fully seen, to see with undefended love, has changed me. I think I just shed half a person and am now bare, light, released from a lifetime of story. That thought experiment brought so much into focus for me. Life is short. I want my time to matter. I want to live in love and nothing else matters. In love with art, in love with myself, in love with my people, in touch with whatever those people call God. I want each moment, the love making ones, the ones where I am a wretched puddle on the floor, the ones where I’m preparing a meal for myself and my family, to be fully experienced, unburdened by what I think should happen or how I feel about what happened before.

Today, the absurdity of e-mail and washing dishes and that there are practical things like bills to pay and train schedules is making me laugh. I used to think it was about these things. Sometimes, I used to even cry about these things. Ha!

So I say to myself: Give the people attached to these things a bare look. Such sweet small souls, each carrying these giant heaping piles of armor and baggage, making these Herculean and inherently flawed attempts to connect through all that. Look at yourself doing the same. Isn’t it amazing how much energy we have to keep trying this experiment in belonging, in knowing ourselves?

And then I say: I love you.

And that is all that matters.

http://undefendedlove.com/

Grandma Love

Who are the teachers who have most touched you, and what is the path that brought them into your life? Mother’s Day invites me to contemplate the teachers I’ve had who are grandmothers.

Saturday night, I received a name, a teaching and prasada (divine food) from Srimati Uma didi. One of the astounding aspects of these gifts is the idea that this sweet and devoted little old lady carried them all the way from sacred land in India to bring them to me, because I clearly needed them, but she had no idea when she boarded the plane that I exist, and probably will give little thought to me as she continues her journey to enliven devotees around the world. But I felt her faith and it was clear that she could see my struggle with faith. I’m embarrassed to admit that at first I hesitated to accept her offering of food, defaulting to this learned idea that I’m not worthy. Oh, the look she gave me! I did my best to humbly understand that I could offer her the gift of giving me a little push in the right direction.

Because that is the truth of unconditional love. Our gift is to receive it without hesitation. It is love. It is infinitely sourced and “taking” it does not deplete the stores. And when it is genuinely unconditional, it doesn’t even hold the obligation of taking it in, but not doing so (as she clearly showed) would be just plain needlessly stupid. Unconditional love is God. Who am I to reject that? But I’m new on the spiritual path, so a more earthly model for understanding this kind of love is a crutch I need, and the name that works for me right now is Grandma love.

What is Grandma love? It’s the love that becomes possible after you are done with the hardest work parts of this life, when you are finally free to sit down a bit and be with what is. I know mother love, and I know that it is deeply sourced, always on, and unblockable (not that I’ve ever wanted to block it), but I’m mindful of the truth that I haven’t loved my kids unconditionally. You see, I WANT them to come out okay so that I can get “credit.” I obsess too much about their suffering, seeing it as something to help them avoid rather than a great opportunity for them to find their selves, empathy, and skill set. I am attached to them like I’m attached to breathing. So for me, this is Mama love, but I can start to picture what it will be like to express Grandma Love, because I have seen it. I’d like now to explore those memories.

First, I remember being in the puddle of my Grandma’s love. She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, didn’t shower us with doting and gifts, had precious little investment in helping us make one decision vs. another, because what she did have was absolute and unconditional love for whatever it was we showed up as. There were times when I realized I could help with the dishes, or wanted to make comfort for her physical world, but I never questioned whether it was OK to bask in this love. I didn’t consider that it cost her too much, or whether it was deserving. Questioning it would be like denying the sun, the rain, the air. When my mom picked my dad, his mother came along as part of that package, and so, I’m grateful that she chose so wisely.

And I have watched as my parents have each crossed over into Grandma Love. Not just because grand children showed up, but towards me as their child as well. I remember the specific night when I watched my mom cross over.

I was in my late teens/early twenties and I drove to the Cape to spend the evening with “Mom and Joe.” I had some problem that felt urgent, and I needed her advice. We had a practice of sitting at the table after the dishes were cleared and talking about whatever was up. She often gave really pragmatic, no frills advice. She always has a clarity of what is relevant that I deeply admire. She indulges very little in the fantasy world that so many of us live in. When she was drinking, sometimes there would also be the delight of her getting a little exuberant and bawdy. As a young woman, it felt awesome to discover that my mom could swear, that she understood sexuality better than she’d ever let on, and that she had deeply negative opinions to express about assholes who just don’t get it.

So I don’t remember the problem, but I remember the drive down, the intention to speak, the waiting for the right time when all of the other distractions were passed. As I could assume she would, she listened attentively. I probably talked too long and with too much drama, but at some point, I finally paused. She replied:

“That sounds really hard, what do you think you are going to do about it?”

And that was all she would give me! What? It might have been her new sobriety, or that I’d been living on my own for long enough, or that the problem was trivial and she knew it. This was a change point for me, for her, in our relationship — this new addition of her demonstrating Grandma love.

It was unconditional love. She saw me. She heard me. She knew I had either the resources to solve this problem myself or the need for the lessons that would come from failure. I can’t say I felt gratitude at that time, but today, as I watch my own first born figure out prom, college lists, SAT strategies and his own budding spiritual path, I’m feeling like bowing to her for giving me this model. And wondering if it possible for a child, even a middle aged pre-menopausal child, to feel that same kind of unconditional love back toward her adult parent?

Because that is the second and more amazing part of this story.

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Advice to the New Parent

Wrote this a while back; just wanted to post it here as well.

I know this time is hard, but it is also critical. This ectoplasm they let you take home from the hospital gets one and only one mother and you must figure out how to get out of crisis mode and into the swing of things. I wish someone had stepped in and told me what to do when I was in crisis with my wee ones.
I didn’t need someone to save me or do it for me, just help me understand a few key things. Maybe they did and I wasn’t ready to hear? Nevertheless, I choose to share these with you now:

1 – You are not alone or frankly all that unique. There are universal truths about early parenting that can’t be avoided, that can’t be organized, that are difficult, but that pass. Networking with other skillful moms is a shortcut to making this time less traumatic. Join a meetup, subscribe to podcasts (http://longestshortesttime.com/) find on-line networks, reach out by phone (to people who have kids you like to spend time with) when you can’t get out of the house.

2 – There are universal truths about early parenting that should not be missed— moments of touch, eye contact, heart connection with this unfathomably precious little soul that no one else gets the priviledge to witness. I wish I’d gotten my (aching) head out of my (woeful) ass more often to drink in that love, to bathe them in it.

3 – Day care, day care, day care, day care, now and every weekday. There are humans well-suited to a day with an infant. (I expect I will be one when I’m a grandma.) Admitting I’m not one of them was one of the best gifts I could give to my child and myself. With kid number one, I struggled with the guilt of hiring help; nothing compared to the despair I felt with kid number two who got subjected to my lousy stay-at-home mom skills and resulting depression. I’m a great mother now, partly from the lessons I learned from outstandingly gifted caregivers (hi Tara Lupis!).

4 – Share. Don’t do it all alone. Babies and mamas and papas need a village. Start by envisioning the family energy you want to live in for the next 18 years and communicate that to your partner/husband/wife/co-parent. Every day, explore these sentence thoughts with your partner (and later with your child) even if for only 30 seconds each and even if it is just about what to do about breakfast: “Here is what I wish for us…” “This part isn’t working for me…” and “how does it feel from your side?”

5 – Study. Don’t let the parenting advice, whether from loved ones or written word drive you crazy, but consult the experts. Understand developmental psychology; consult summaries of actual evidence-based clinical research on what does and does not help children form secure attachments, develop healthy minds, and feel like worthy members of society; know what is going on in the baby mind/body so that you can put reasonable expectations on yourself and your child. Mostly do this so that you can quietly and knowingly make a conscious well informed choice to parent the way you want without having to defend your decisions to folks on either end of the spectrum (from the “don’t spoil the baby” to the “helicopter parent” wackos, we all know who we are!).

6 – Be gentle with yourself. These days are very very long, but the time is remarkably short. There is no redo, rewind, fast forward or pause. It just IS what it IS. But you don’t get extra credit for effort and frankly, you won’t get your report card for 25 years. So take each day carefully, joyfully, patiently, loving yourself and your opportunities with the same Mom love you magically inherited the moment they put that baby in your arms.

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Responsive vs. Reflexive Parenting

The Gottman Institute has been blogging a lot about parenting lately. In today’s blog:
http://www.gottmanblog.com/2013/03/the-research-still-face-experiment.html
they discuss The Stillface Experiment.

I remember watching these videos in a child psych class in college. One specific three minute example I remember was much more heart-wrenching than the example embedded in the blog post… in it the baby became dis-regulated and then completely shut down. When I was diagnosed with PPD as a new mom, seeking medical treatment was a really difficult decision. Taking medication felt like some form of giving up or failing. And then I recalled those videos. My therapist gave me the risk assessment – Yes, there is a slight unstudied and not well understood chance that a nursing baby could be affected by anti-depressants, which can be compared to well documented evidence of the harm a depressed parent can have on the developing infant. So I promptly decided to take the meds, do the counseling, read the books, and hoped that the damage wasn’t already done.

Now, I’m curious to see the video of what happens if you Stillface a teenager? Actually, just the opposite is tending to occur in my home. Mom is busting out, finding her heart, her spirituality, wanting to be all lovey and talk about feelings all the time. And this is happening at just the same moment when the teens are wishing for a little space, a little privacy, some sense of autonomy. I can’t help but rewind and play the tapes of what it was like for me as a teen. I craved emotional intimacy with my recently divorced and remarried parents, in fact, I still do. I wanted the details, to be included in decisions, to be seen, to be asked for an opinion, to feel like I mattered. I think I got a little too much Stillface at that time? So, here I am, 30 years later, 180 degrees on the same line, tending to want to “do better.”

The Gottman folks suggest tuning into your child’s emotions, validating and empathizing and helping them label them, and setting limits when you are helping them solve their problems. In short, they suggest you employ responsive parenting. Unfortunately, my attempts at responsive parenting sometimes come out as reflexive parenting – doing onto them what I wanted done onto me. To them, I imagine that comes out as over-parenting, over-sharing, meddling even, in their private thoughts and feelings. I know I can do better.

So I’m learning to love them lightly. To hang back a bit. To ask before entering. I’m suggesting and inviting better decision making on their part, rather than pretending like I’m some reform specialist who is in charge of “making” them into good men. Mostly, I’m trusting that they each already have a decent emotional vocabulary, and will use their “big boy” words when they need me, and that they know I’ll be here when they do.

Here are two grumpy boys who clearly do NOT want to spend their day with Mom.
Here are two grumpy boys who clearly do NOT want to spend their day with Mom.

This isn’t something to work on, it is a celebration of life

At Kirtan on Saturday, for the first time, I reached a stillness so deep, that I could feel the clarity and intensity of my own heart beat like I was being rocked by a wave. I found a deep slow breath, a gentle placement of my closed eyes slightly up and centered. I felt my heart open. I became presence.

From there, I could open my eyes, smile, and see. Not look around – See.

There were children dancing joyfully, some were rambunctious, some cooperative, some silly. There was a flow to their play, coming together, and pulling back into their individual trajectories. The young warrior fathers danced with the children, gently powerful and potent. The young mothers held hands and danced and spun, or sat strong and ready as their little ones flitted over for a pat before going back to the celebration of movement. This observation landed in me as a very simple statement. I could see these families choosing to spend their Saturday evening together in loving joyful tribal community.

I felt these words: They are doing this right.

My lover danced in the joy of feeling his body. He invited me to dance, and I knew my place in this moment was to witness. He danced a lyrical communication of the mystery of spirit and love which I don’t yet understand. I feel honored to be his student in this. And he danced the longings in his heart, longings I also know well, and I feel honored to be one of his teachers in this. I felt sadness at my recent struggles with seeing him as a gift for me, rather than for this truth.

Again, words arrived: Hold this one lightly.

The older people and the young seekers, the guides and the musicians, were the roots of the room. I could feel them each, and I could feel them all, and I could begin to understand the mystery that I’ve always had, and always will have, a place in this continuum. Even before this understanding, I have offered myself in service as the child, the seeker, the lover, the mother. With this awakening, I will now be able to offer myself as the guide and some day, as the elder. And always as the seeker and the lover and the mother, and as the student and the teacher.

Here more words: I belong.

I reached these words in the stillness.
In these words, the stillness reaches me.
My mind is not here to make these words, it is here to understand them. I felt tender and naked from this human awareness, electrified and alive from my loving relationships, and harmoniously connected to myself. And I could see with clarity. I could feel what matters, how what matters is always in abundance, and how little the rest matters.

This landed in me as this simple mantra:
This isn’t something to work on, it is a celebration of life.

Holding the stillness and this mantra together, I allowed it to become an exploration.

This relationship isn’t something to work on, it is a celebration of life.

This child isn’t something to work on, it is a celebration of life.

This role isn’t something to work on, it is a celebration of life.

My work isn’t even something to work on, it is a celebration of my life.

The tears that accompanied this truth poured gently from my eyes, and I felt no need to hide them or wipe them away, so they created a sweet stream that caressed my face, my chin, my neck, and pooled in my heart.

This was gift enough, more than I had expected would happen, and then I received even more. As the evening began to come to a close, the last mantra was an invitation for each of us to envision the way in which we can use a portion of our lives in service to one another, to our families, to our communities, to spirit, to the earth. It wasn’t a call, or an order, it was an offering of the gift of knowing. In this sacred space, I received a clarity.

First and foremost, my service is love, and absolutely nothing else matters. Any detail of location, destination, logistics, who is there, what shape it takes, is secondary, or even insignificant.

I explored this.

What of my adult loving relationships? The answer was Love. Who to love and what it means for my future, is secondary. Because there is always enough love, and if this one beautiful person has his or her own calling, my love gives only one choice: joyous celebration. This isn’t something to work on; it is a celebration of life.

What of my children? Love. This, so simple. Nothing to engineer, nothing to do right or wrong. Lovingly witnessing their becoming and joyously celebrating their choices and empathetically holding them in their struggles, even if their struggles include me, is all I’m required to do. Loving is doing it right. This isn’t something to work on; it is a celebration of life.

What of home? Also simple. My home has spaces for stillness and spaces for joyous celebration for me, for my children, for whomever feels drawn to join us here. My home will be a place of refuge and community. For love. This isn’t something to work on; it is a celebration of life.

What of work? This one particular ego struggle became the lightest and most insignificant of my mysteries to understand. My employment can be my work, or it can be the source to fund my work. If it is the source to fund my work, it can also be an opportunity to live lovingly in every one of those interactions. This isn’t something to work on; it is a celebration of life.

This isn’t something to work on; it is a celebration of life.

So I set an intention to reconnect to this stillness, this mantra, during the next day, to allow it to become familiar, a new form of muscle memory. I realize this will be a practice. The next day turned out to be a day, precisely like every day, in which I was invited to contemplate connection, commitment, the preciousness of time, and living with purpose. It was a day in which I was invited to ask how I will choose to live this one life. And I know. And this knowing isn’t something I needed to invent or create or work on. It was given to me.

So, during the day, I experienced sadness about the times when I believed there was not enough. I felt the pull to drop back into that familiar story of scarcity and grief. And also, I breathed, I found the stillness. And I felt gratitude for this moment when there is enough.

And I experienced regret for my past actions when I was disconnected from living love, when I was driven by neediness or ego or my unreliable thoughts. I felt the pull of self-pity. And also, I breathed, found the stillness, listened to this awakening heart, and found gratitude for having made my own discoveries of doing it wrong.

And I experienced a joyful noticing of how the abundance I receive when I stopped trying to collect, is a profoundly infinite abundance my egoic mind never could have imagined in that misguided desire to control and predict. I found surrender.

I experienced longing for home. And in my breath, in my stillness, gratitude for the chance to create.

And I lived this one day as true to my calling as I ever have.
I honored love. I honored the struggle. I honored the path –
For myself, for my family, for my community.

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