Wednesday, April 16

in time




These have been days of not knowing what to say. Spring blooming blue along the roadsides. Doors open, winding whipping the late leathery leaves of the live oaks to the ground. The itch, the stunning sneeze of allergies.

Babies coming too soon and dying, tiny and perfect, in the middle of the night.

And I think, He had his life and death in the time of bluebonnets. And I think, Who was he, who hardly was. And I think, What part her grief, what part her joy, to hold and behold and let go. And what of mine, for her.

It's been going on too long, this fully awake nightmare, this slow-motion loss. The story isn't mine--it is my darling girl's. Over a week now of waiting and wishing and giving up and relinquishing hope and starting all over again. A lifeline of thumb-typed texts, flurries of fucks and xo's, not nearly enough, but everything we've got. And, so, also, kind of enough. 

Last night--I feel I was awake in the sliver of time right before the final text came, the candle I lit for her, for them, keeping vigil by my bedside. His end for her beginning. I blew out the candle. Got up, threw back a shot of Jack Daniels, my own babes snug and sleeping. Why me, why her. All of the searching and not a damn bit of hope of finding the right answer.

What is there to say? I spoke of beauty, his, and sadness, all of ours'. And space. I left space. For what will grow out of this season of loss. For what will be shed, and then blow away. For what surely, in time, will bloom again.



 ~Written last week. For WNV, 4-10-14.~


Joining Amanda's April Prompts link-up.

Thursday, March 20

calm amidst chaos: a four-step practice




I've been feeling depleted of late. Both my boys are ratcheting up the intensity level and my inner resources aren't up to the challenge. Some days, I have access to my inner wisdom, and can lean into practices that have been helpful to me over the past three years of learning what it means to be a sane and grounded mama. Some days, I need reminding. Lots of reminding. I write this post today for me and for you, that we may both remember how to find a bit of the calm we long for amidst the chaos that is our lives with our littles.

What follows is a quick four-step practice for slowing down, connecting with the body, and letting go of unnecessary tension. It need not take more than a minute of your time. It helps me immensely, and I hope it helps you, too. I did not come up with any of these steps; rather, they are my own synthesis of the voices and practices I turn to most often in times of need. I am deeply indebted to the wisdom and kindness of Pema Chodron, Karen Maezen Miller, Susan Piver and my own teacher and mentor Jenn Wooten.


1. Pause

I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Stop. What. You. Are. Doing. When you feel yourself tensing up, your shoulders are hiking up to your ears and you feel the yells rising in your throat, stop. I wrote before about how powerful it is to stop, to put down the tension and irritation of one task before moving on to another. This might mean to pause in the hallway after closing the bedroom door where you've just put your baby down to sleep. Or to rest your hands on your thighs as you sit in the car before putting the key in the ignition. Interrupt the momentum that is carrying you from one angry task to the next. Make space.

2. Breathe

I don't know of anything more powerful or profoundly helpful as taking three deep breaths: inhaling long and deep through the nose, filling the lungs and letting the belly soften out, and exhaling out through the mouth with a soft sigh. Aaaaaaah. Recently I learned a new technique, which is very effective at diffusing tension and stemming the tide of a rising mama tantrum: to breathe out forcefully through pursed lips. This breath does a great job of activating the parasympathetic nervous system and ushering in a sense of calm. For extra groundedness and connection to your own deep wisdom, close your eyes and place a hand on your heart.


3. Check in

Stress and tension that we are unaware of in our own bodies are a silent drain on our resources. After your three deep exhales, take a moment to take an inventory of the sensations in the body. How does the belly feel? The throat, the jaw? Are parts of your body tight, clenched? Do you feel bound, constricted? What is the quality of your mind in this moment? What emotions are present in the heart center? Sometimes just bringing our awareness to these areas helps them to soften. Sometimes just knowing about what we're carrying is enough to defuse some of the tension. As Pema Chodron wrote, Never underestimate the power of compassionately acknowledging what's going on.


4. Move on

In the full knowledge and acceptance of what is true about your experience of your breath, your body, and your mind in the moment, take the next step into your day. Do the next thing that's in front of you. Wipe the nose, peel the apple, pack the bag, put the kettle on. As you do so, keep your mind on the movement of your hands, on your feet firmly planted onto the earth. Root your awareness in sensation. Remain present to the breath. Drop the storyline and the blame, and instead dive deep into the now without judgment.

 Freedom is instantaneous the moment we accept things the way they are.
-Karen Maezen Miller





Tuesday, March 4

return


It's March 4th. Do you know where your New Year's resolutions are?

One of the intentions I set for myself this year (I prefer the term "intention" rather than "resolution" as I find it holds gentler and deeper meaning) was to focus on my writing as craft, and to do so, I would devote 10 minutes a day to writing practice. This would most often be done longhand, and following one of Amanda's prompts. I started strong early in the year, with a new notebook (!) dedicated to this purpose. And, most nights, I made the time to write. And then February happened.

 Not. One. Page.

(Of course I do plenty of writing in my Moleskine journal but those pages have an entirely other purpose. Keeping me sane, for one. Keeping me clear.)

So last night, cuddled in bed against the biting bitter cold, with a hot rice bag tucked at my feet and a hot cup of tea at my elbow, I decided I would come back to writing practice. And the prompt? Return. Ha!

Isn't is such a beautiful word? There is a sound of comfort in it, an echo of home. Of the relief we feel when we come back to where we are meant to be.




To return is the basic meditation instruction. When we sit to begin our meditation practice, we place our attention on the breath, on the gentle, wavelike rising and falling of the breath. The idea is to keep our awareness on the breath throughout the whole allotted time, but the understanding is that our mind will inevitably get carried away from its object of attention. But the fact that the mind strays from its goal is not considered a problem. In fact, the hallmark of a successful meditation practice isn't whether or not the mind wanders, or how many times, but rather the gentleness and kindness with which we return our awareness to the breath. Meditation is the practice of starting over. And over. And over.

I feel that we very seldom allow gentleness and kindness to lead us when we set intentions to either start a new habit, or to release an old one that no longer serves. Instead, we muscle into it. We make brave and rigid promises about frequency and duration and give ourselves stern talking-tos about how we really mean it this time. And in doing so, we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment because (say it with me!) to err is human. Launching a new habit or practice takes dedication, yes, but also a lot of time and kindness towards ourselves.

What if we entered this business of resolutions and intentions as we do a meditation practice? By taking it as a given that we will stray from our path, and not viewing such wanderings as a problem. What if we measured our success not by a strict adherence to our prescribed course, but rather gauged the worth of our efforts by the spirit of kindness with which we bring ourselves back to the path? What if we gave ourselves the grace of fresh new beginnings, not just in January but all the time, every day, with each breath? What would you begin again if you hadn't already convinced yourself you had failed? How would you return home?

Tell me. I'd love to know.




Find excellent meditation instruction here.

Following Write ALM's March Prompt-A-Day.

Having waaaayy too much fun with the Diana Photo App.

Saturday, February 1

first things first



My eyes blink open in the dark mere seconds before the chorus starts from his bedroom. Did I hear him in my sleep? Or did my spidey-mommy-sense anticipate his waking? Before I can check the time--5:15am, 5:45am, past 6am if I'm lucky--I hear "Mama where ARE you?" echo across the hall. I pause. Plant my reluctant feet on the cold ground. Hand on my heart. There deep breaths. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I live with ease.

Where am I? Here, always. Rising from the warm, tousled bed where my love still snores. Padding across the black hallway and opening his door, greeting his full-on embrace of the new day. When he wakes from a nap he's groggy, cranky, slow to open to the world. In the morning he races out, all eagerness and messy bedhead. I trail after him, brushing the night from my face.

If I'm lucky I have a chance to put on the kettle, maybe even pour my cup of hot water and lemon before the baby begins to warble and coo. (I used to start straight with coffee. My nerves can't take it. I have to earn my caffeine with hydration and protein. It's a bum deal.) I scoop him up--all smiles--from his little crib, and we snuggle in the dark bedroom, in the pale celery-green chair, worn to threads, where I nursed both my babes. He takes the breast. Often these days I  haven't seen or heard him for twelve hours. Not yet nine months and he needs me less and less. Let this time stretch. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.

There will come a day when it will be reasonable to rise before they do. The early darkness and silence will be mine and I will share it with a warm cup and an empty page. That day isn't here yet. In fact, my mornings are a buzz and a blur. But if I can slow down a little to the pace of the breath, and notice the spaces between the breaths, I can find little pockets of peace in those first few minutes, and for the briefest moment make a home for myself there. It can be enough, if I choose for it to be.


Metta--or lovingkindness--meditation phrases adapted from Sylvia Boorstein, as written in Dani Shapiro's memoir, Devotion.


Playing along with WriteAlm's February Prompt-A-Day.

Tuesday, January 28

on solid ground: a mama three-years wise



Yesterday my firstborn turned three years old. We celebrated his birthday on Saturday with a construction-themed party, good friends and good cake. He was crazy excited and ran around the room, jumping up and down exclaiming "Birthday! Birthday! Woohoo!" each time someone new arrived. I had almost as good a time as he did.

In the days leading up to his birthday, I've often been overcome with emotion. Tears come easy. I wrote about his birth last year: it was a long road, with my water breaking early and labor never starting and ending up in a C-section 69 hours later. It was a far cry from the cozy homebirth I had imagined and was deeply invested in having. Having a C-section was my worst nightmare, and it was, in fact, the hardest, most traumatizing thing that ever happened to me.

But it's been three years, and in that time I've done a lot of internal work to process what happened and absorb the lessons of that experience. It was all that deep work that led me to have a much better experience giving birth to Cash last May. Though that birth, too, started at home and culminated in the OR, it was a much more positive, empowering experience. I feel I've pretty well integrated the events surrounding the birth of my first boy. It has become a meaningful story for me, and it deeply informs the work I do with expectant mamas in my prenatal yoga classes.

And, yet. Tears.




This was the day my water broke, I thought on the 24th. This was the day we went to the midwife's office and the day I took the castor oil I though the next day.This was the day we spent at home and I madly paced the backyard, listening to Madonna and Beyonce, trying to get labor started. The day we gave up and went to the hospital on the day after that.

There is gratitude. Gratitude for a healthy happy boy. Gratitude for being a mama three-years wise and having come so, so far from the pain and confusion of those early days and months. Gratitude that I never have to go back there again. Gratitude--yes, even for this--for that event that knocked me down and the story of getting back up again which I can, and do, share, over and over, so that other mamas can walk into their birth experiences with a bit more knowledge and fewer expectations.

But also sadness--so much sadness still, as though I'm uncovering deeper and deeper layers of feeling. All of this emotion, still, after three years?

Trauma lives in the body, the same vessel that carried both my boys. Seemingly random things will set off a land mine of tears. Sometimes, lying in savasana at the end of yoga practice, I'll flash on being back there, lying on the operating table, gazing up at the stark cold lights, my heart broken and my belly slashed. I'm--still--always ready to cry at the thought of the water birth I never had, will never have.




The deepest layers of sadness aren't for me, now, but for who I was then. For the tender mix of hope, despair, vulnerability and strength that characterized the days surrounding the birth and the first several months of my son's life. I want to reach out through time and hug her, and cry with and for her. But I also want to let her know that, though it isn't anything like what she envisioned, whatever she is experiencing is ok. That she will be ok. That she was a good mama from the start, though it would take her months and years to believe and affirm it. I would tell her that this is just part of the story, that there is so much good ahead. That she just needs to be patient, and kind with herself.

But there's space for these tears now. There is a safe container for them. They no longer threaten my equilibrium. Three years after the birth of my first son, eight and a half months after the birth of my second, I am more grounded, more resourced, happier than I've been at almost any point since. My feet are firmly planted on solid ground. I am connected to my strong center. And so I have the freedom to open my arms wide for these boys of mine, and the strength to hold them