I Love Lucy

Next month will be the five-year anniversary since moving into our current home.  Remembering back to the months of house hunting with our realtor John makes me laugh.  We might have been one of his more frustrating couples to work with since we had inquiries into multiple locations spread around the Kansas City metro area and fickle possibilities of what we were hoping for in our first home together.  Old versus new, split level versus ranch style, garages, fireplaces, walk in closets, full renovations versus freshly done renovations, acreage versus small plots…  We made it nearly impossible for him to narrow down the possibilities.  After one missed opportunity in Grandview, one unaccepted offer in Overland Park, and one day too late offer in Brookside, we were exhausted with the search and prepared to find somewhere to rent when we gave it one last shot.

We returned to a house we had stopped at before in South Kansas City, we called it “the refrigerator house” since the stainless steel feature in the home we clearly remembered and liked.  From the outside it looked really small, as most of the houses in the area were constructed in the 50’s with a two bedroom, one bathroom layout.  This home had an addition added later to create another living space and bedroom onto the back of the house and the basement was finished off with another living space and second bathroom.  There was nothing spectacular about the house, it didn’t fulfill everything we were looking for in a home and the colors were all wrong.  The location was great, we feared wasting money on rent over building equity in a home and knew our first home wouldn’t be our forever home so we made an offer.

Shortly after moving in walls began getting painted, window treatments were hung and the house became our home – even after we had to repair the refrigerator.  We became friendly with some neighbors and other neighbors we were seemingly invisible to with no acknowledgment at all.  The first autumn in the house rolled around and I noticed a homeless woman digging in our recycling on the curb Thursday mornings before I went to work.  Peering out the window I could see her torn skirt, old shoes, an over-sized coat and a scarf covering her hair.  One morning I sadly watched her digging in the blue box at the end of our driveway and pull out an empty detergent pail, she carried it across our lawn and out of my view.  I quickly moved to another window to catch her path from another angle, and watched as she passed across the street and added the pail to gardening tools in the yard across the street.

Eventually I met my neighbor, who I initially viewed as a homeless woman, her name is Lucy.  In the past five years I have grown to love the garden growing, garbage gathering, mismatched clothes wearing, widowed friend.  She explained to me how she collects pop tabs off of the cans people put in their recycling she gives to her church and the Box Top stamps she finds to bring to her granddaughter.  Fearing the woman’s frail condition and level of activity I began putting our pop tabs in an envelope for her.

A few years ago Lucy’s doctor told her she needed to stop taking on so much; cleaning her house, keeping up her garden and roaming the street for treasures in trash was too much at her age.  Her son’s have tried to convince her to move to a retirement community, and it seemed like during times when Lucy struggled with insomnia and confusion she considered it.  Then when spring would roll around and the flowers returned to life, so did Lucy.

lucy2Having raised her family in the home, which presently has orange shag carpeting I imagine was installed about 40 years ago, she knows the neighborhood and history of previous occupants.  She meets all of the neighbors, even the ones who haven’t acknowledged us in five years.  She delivers flowers from her garden, often in reusable gems from recycling bins like bottles and plastic cups.  During certain times of the year there are daily deliveries of flowers from Lucy, sometimes a sweet smelling surprise found on the front deck or a small bouquet in her empty milk carton from the Meals on Wheels lunch.

Five years ago I never would have guessed how I would feel about my house.  I like my house, the location is great,  it feels like our home, best of all I love Lucy.  It’s wonderful having a neighbor who is happy to give and receive hugs, I feel humbled to hear “Bless you” from an older woman in tattered clothing, and I don’t mind getting pulled into conversations with the neighborhood historian.  Plus it always puts a smile on my face to get a fresh bouquet of flowers.

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My Sister and My Friend

You know the old cliché about being born sisters and choosing to be friends? I am fortunate to have this be true in my relationship with my sister. She was born a little over two years after me and I cannot remember a time before she was in my life. In childhood we varied from the best playmates to typical sibling rivalry. There were times, being the older sibling, I used to get so irritated having a tag along sister invading my time with friends. And there were times I was overjoyed to have her to team up against our older brother, only to have it later being the two of them teaming up against me. As teenagers, it became more difficult to get along consistently. Both of us exercising independence and unique interests, it became easy to judge and criticize each other unfairly. As we matured and both moved past high school our relationship strengthened again. It became clear while each of us had our own great friends we are really best friends. Friends who laugh at nonsense, finish each others song lyrics, work to repair arguments, travel to see each other anywhere in the world the other may be, and friends who are honest, supportive and do their best to help each other. My sister and I are mirrors in so many ways and complete opposites at the same time.

My sister has been an inspiration to me for a long time and especially in the last year as it seems everything she touches turns to gold. She is emotional, yet passionate. She is impossible to wake up, yet never late. She loves people, though maybe animals more. And she is dedicated and hard-working even when it doesn’t come easy. My sister is talented, creative, popular and fun. She is exactly the kind of person I would choose as a friend.

In the last year she has had so many successes and reasons for celebration. Sometimes the success and celebration comes with heartache, well it does for me anyway. As I write, she is riding across the country to New York City where she and her fiance will make their home, or shoe box as it is in NYC. She left early this morning, on my birthday no less, for the start of the next chapter. And while I am thrilled for her adventure, living it big in the city, I can’t help but be sad. No more spontaneous meeting up for dinner, drinks or frozen yogurt and it will be a long time between hugs. She just left and I already miss her.

Cooperation At Two

I often write about my daughter.  About how funny, how brilliant, how inspirational and how fantastic it is to be her mom.  Even though all these things are true, our days aren’t always filled with cotton candy, rainbows and sunshine, lovey-dovey happiness.  Oh no, far from it.  Parker is a product of my husband and I and shows for it with all the independent stubbornness capable of being supported in her two and a half-year old frame.

Today was one of those days where every direction, limitation and plea for cooperation was met with equal or greater opposition.  If I said here, she went there.  If I said up, she went down.  And when I said no, she took it as a yes with a running head start.  Battle after battle, talking it out followed by Parker’s apologies and eventual follow-through with requests.  It seems on days like today I have to work twice as hard to maintain my patience and consistency to prove I’m not going to give in, hoping it will curb tomorrow’s behavior.

By the end of the day I was exhausted counting down the minutes until bed-time and still prepared for Parker’s next challenge.  She had dumped out a large bag of foam blocks to play with and after a short while abandoned the blocks for crayons and paper.  “Parker, you need to put the blocks away before coloring,” I instructed her.heycrazylady

She looked up at me with a Crazy Lady Leave Me Alone glare and said, “Mommy you not cooperating!”

Yes, exactly what I have been telling her all day.

Victims, Criminals and Floaters

Who would volunteer to go visit a prison?  Hardened criminals, manipulative and egotistical minded individuals locked away from society for good reason.  Those people behaved badly and did things they knew were wrong, they knew better and should be punished.  Why would anyone volunteer to go visit a prison?

I would, and I did go.  For me, I don’t carry the typical view of Americans incarcerated like the description above.  From years of working with youth, I have watched children learn from violence, addictions and unstable environments.  I have seen them removed from their homes and placed in worse conditions in some foster-homes and group homes.  I have noticed the pattern of getting in trouble with the law starting early in life when kids don’t have proper role models.  I have observed the discrepancies which take place in how youth are dealt with based on race and socioeconomic backgrounds.  I have been disappointed by the influence mental health has on effecting behaviors which get ignored in the judicial system.  I don’t judge youth as being bad seeds, I can see the good in them and understand who they have become is a reflection of what they have been through.  They way kids think, speak and behave couldn’t be any different.  They honestly don’t know ‘better’ it’s the only way they know how to be.

It’s easy for us to have pity on children and have sympathy for the situations they have been through.  Why does this stop with children?  We accept kids don’t know better, and somehow by the age of 18 magically people should now know right from wrong, how to handle anger or cope with stress, how to create a substantial income legally or who to trust not to lead you down the wrong path?  It’s hard for me to buy this, if their circumstances were different I know their actions would be different too.

In America we have established a system of ridiculing, harshly judging and locking up victims of unfair circumstances.  Victims of abuse, addiction, trauma, poverty, learning disabled and mentally ill.  Justifying the incarceration of hundreds of thousand non-violent offenders.  Encouraging wealthy investors to build prisons and profit off the contracts to incarcerate some of America’s most oppressed population.  This is occurring at such alarming rates we are leading the world in locking up our citizens.

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From a class I recently took, volunteers were invited to attend a prison and visit with the inmates as a celebration of Vesak, a Buddhist holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.  (For my first story on this click here.)  On the day of the prison visit I felt nervous, not in fear it would be dangerous, it was more related to how I would manage my own frustration with the prison system and maintain equanimity through the experience.  It wasn’t until I showed up for the ride to Leavenworth when I found out we would be going to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the Department of Defense’s maximum security military prison.  According to Wikipedia: Only enlisted prisoners with sentences over ten years, commissioned officers and prisoners convicted of offenses related to national security are confined to USDB.  As I would later hear from the inmates, this is the most dangerous prison in the United States since all of the inmates are trained to kill.

To me, this visit suddenly took on another level of social justice problems.  These inmates were more likely to be incarcerated for violent crimes, yet I still hang on to the notion they are also victims of their circumstances.  Being in the military trains them to be violent, asks them to go to war and causes them to witness unimaginable trauma.  It is impossible not to be effected by these circumstances, and many individuals are mentally unprepared to cope.  The military has seen a substantial increase in the rates of domestic violence, assault, murder and suicide in the last ten years – directly related to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Countless enlisted men and women joining the services to serve and protect their country end up with their lives ruined by war.

On the drive to Leavenworth I road with a fellow classmate and talked about gardening, TV shows and travel.  We shared our anxiety about what we were going to see and I confided I desperately wanted to know the circumstances of each of their crimes and what lead to them, even though I knew I wouldn’t ask.  We presented our id’s at the gates to Ft. USDB2002Leavenworth and caravaned with other vehicles through the base up to the prison.  It seemed to be the furthest possible location on the grounds passing officer’s homes, army barracks, a cemetary lined with identical and symmetrical tombstones, down long winding roads, dead-ends and finally approaching ‘The Castle.”

We entered into a quiet building about 7:15pm and climbed a staircase to a front desk manned by two guards in combat uniform.  The lobby felt like a high school with lockers, restrooms and a seating nook overlooking the dense wooded area beyond the parking lot.  We each had to be cleared with a background check ahead of time and present our identification to get a visitors badge.  Our group of 15 people were escorted by another guard, entering only a few at a time.  One giant glass door slamming locked behind us so the next giant locked door could open.  After the breeze way another guard with a baby pimpled face asked if the first guard would need assistance escorting us to our meeting room.  I was sure these two finished their varsity sports, attended senior prom and put in resignation at McDonald’s about 12 months ago before heading off to boot camp, completely unaware of the commitment they had made and how deeply it would impact their life.

We walked down a long corridor, passing metal doors with small glass windows to other wings of USDB, it reminded me of entrances to different sections of the state mental hospital where I used to work.  There were some inmates passing us in the hallway, none were handcuffed or escorted, and I got the impression I wasn’t in danger being there.  We entered a room, about the size of a classroom with two long tables set up for us to eat and visit.  The prisoners we would be visiting were already in the room and waiting spread out amongst the folding chairs.  I shuffled in shyly with the other guests, waiting for instructions which never came.  Eventually assuming the responsibility to find a spot to sit down and introduce myself to those around me.  My classmate and I sat down next to each other for some security and comfort.  We overly smiled and shook hands with the prisoners across and next to us and then felt the awkwardness sink in unsure of what to talk about.  I bit my tongue to prevent the question of “What did you do to get here?” from blurting out.

At the start I was painfully conscious of my body positioning and every word I uttered into conversation.  We shared how each of us started taking the Basics of Buddhism class, both those from the outside and those from within the prison. We related on why we started a meditation practice and how the practice was going.  The prisoners shared the need for meditation to help calm their minds down, cope with emotions and come to terms with being at USDB.  During dinner I felt by apprehension fading and my body relaxing.  Two of the prisoners I had met were born in other countries, one joining the Navy from his home in California and was last stationed in Hawaii, never imagining he would end up incarcerated in Kansas.

Another prisoner I spoke with told me about being from the East coast, stating he quit college half way through to join the Marines.  He had been enlisted for almost a decade, traveling the world and completing three tours to war.  We discussed the paths of life, influences which shape us and how everyone makes mistakes.  “It would be boring to be perfect,” he remarked, “No one is perfect.”

“Everything is perfect,”  I challenged his view.  I explained my perception, nothing could be the way it is now without everything else which fell before it.  Perfection is neither good nor bad, it is just as it should be.  We couldn’t have been at the table meeting each other in USDB had any circumstance in his or my life been different leading up to that day, not good or bad, just perfect.  The veteran agreed and said he has become keenly aware of situations in his life, choices he has made and what has lead him to where he is at right now.  He feels it is exactly what was supposed to happen and put him in touch with life again.  We talked about people who are aware of their past, intention and purpose.

“And then there are the floaters,” he said.  “Don’t get me wrong, I was a floater for a long time too.”  From the discussion I took that a floater refers to a person who is existing with indifference to themselves and the world around them.  Someone who is oblivious to their impact or lack of impact on others.  Individuals who don’t carry attachment to relationships and situations, rather busying themselves with getting by in life without thinking or place value too highly on material things.

There are victims of crimes and then there are the criminal victims of circumstance.  Their actions are not legal and are not to be condoned, yet our judicial system is not creating a healthier society.  The problem will continue to perpetuate as long as there are floaters unaffected by what is happening and stay disengaged from these conditions in society.  We need to help each other wake up to stop judging criminals, change the criminal system and correct the errors which lead individuals to do bad things.

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If this post peeked your interest and you want to learn more, here is some recommended reading:

The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?      From Global Research

Locked Away, Army Struggles with Wounded Soldiers     From The Gazzette

I’d also recommend checking out The House I Live In a documentary regarding the war on drugs:

Finally, out of curiosity: Have you ever been a floater and what helped to wake you up?

Big Girl Bed, Again.

sillinessA few months back the baby crib came down and was replaced with a toddler bed for my growing tiny tot.  Then a few weeks afterwards the realization set in, too many growing up changes happening too soon and Parker was not accepting them all.  A pack and play was assembled next to the toddler bed for sleeping and temporary reassurance.  The pack and play remained up for both naps and bedtime, while the fancy new toddler bed sat lonely, only getting an occasional hop, pretending to put Mommy down for a nap or movie time cuddles.

Despite the obvious lack of space in the confining pack and play, Parker chose to sleep there and didn’t try to climb out until this week.  She casually walked out of her room following a nap one afternoon, so I promptly set her back into the pack and play to demonstrate how she escaped.  Swinging her leg over the rail and onto her toddler bed as a step down, she proudly showed how she braved her long limbs into her escape plan.

Now, I have to say I have been ambiguous about the use of the pack and play.  In a sense it’s nice to restrict her movement when it’s time to slow down and fall asleep.  Although the structure became an obstacle in her room to manuever around and it was intended to be temporary in the transition.  I have been ready whenever she was and her climbing out seemed to be the obvious sign it was no longer necessary.

As much of an explanation can be comprehended by a two-year old, she heard it while I disassembled the pack and play.  “It’s time to use your big girl bed now,”  I told her.

“Why not?”  She asks, as this is the standard response for questioning even when the ‘not’ part doesn’t fit in.  She appeared bothered, as if the folding boards thinly covered in foam and synthetic material was the most comfortable sleeping arrangement possible.  After some convincing Parker was more excited about the impending night back in her new bed.

Bedtime loomed closer, I felt my nerves rising.  Would she stay in her bed, would she fall asleep and would she stay asleep through the night.  No matter how often I try to prepare, it’s impossible to predict the behavior to expect from a toddler.  Our nighttime routine stayed exactly the same and when it was time I laid her down just as smoothly as I had the previous night in the pack and play.  Momentary success as I closed the door and wished Parker sweet dreams.

I continued my evening downstairs until nearly an hour later I could hear her footsteps, then the door knob and then her chattering.  Back upstairs I went, preparing to set a strict tone of needing to stay in bed.

“I not sleepy Mommy,” she pleaded to me with her big brown eyes as I escorted her back to her door.  “I stinky Mommy,” she said with more urgency.  “I need to go potty, need to go potty,” she said rapidly as a final distraction before I silently steered her back into her room.  Climbing into bed she reiterated “I stinky Mommy.”  I knew she was using any tactic possible to delay going to bed, and I also figured while I was there I should check her claims to be sure.  Against my wishes I switched on her lamp and asked her to stand up to peek in the back of her pull-up.  Sure enough, she needed to be changed.

Parker was delighted to have a captive audience now, she released her delirious inner comedian while I laid her down to wipe her clean.  She sang The Wheels on the Bus using different tunes, voices and tempos with each line.  I did my best to contain laughter, knowing it would only encourage her more.  I couldn’t keep from smiling at her ridiculous state and was relieved to have my face in the shadow of the light so she couldn’t see my response.  Parker went back to bed easily and sang herself to sleep.

All this week we have been redirecting her back to bed, though each night seems less and less.  We also have been getting up several times during the night to bring her back to bed when she comes into our room after we have gone to sleep.  The second night in her big girl bed I woke up early in the morning to find her laying between us, oblivious to when shesleeping arrived or how she climbed up, although from her mummified sleep I knew she had been there a while.  Since I was exhausted from the frequent wake-ups the night before, I fell back asleep before having a conscious thought about needing to move her back.

The next few nights were more of the same.  Redirections to go back to her own bed, and carrying her back to her room after we had gone to sleep.  One early morning my husband awoke when he heard her door knob and from his position in bed he had a clear view of her charge from her room to my side of the bed.  My recollection of the event was a terrifying jolt from my peaceful slumber by an excited tot, exercising her new-found freedom from the confinement of a pack and play.           

Don’t Change Your Smile

smileSometimes the world can be overwhelming with tears, fears and frustrations.  War, controversy, politics, violence, injustice and natural disasters all happening simultaneously.

Consuming so much negativity is detrimental to our minds, bodies and relationships with each other.  The terror of all that is bad can be paralyzing, and yet in the time spent worrying we miss so many opportunities to smile, appreciate the positive and truly live.

It is a difficult balance to not be apathetic about problems, while not allowing the problems to consume us.  How can we work to improve the world without the circumstances of the world delivering us to a rotten place?

It starts with keeping a smile.

 

Options with Social Media

Social media has become an inspiring platform for communication.  Sharing ideas, news, opinions, supportive words and all the random humor you never knew you needed.  People who engage in social media whether it’s Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter or blogging are instantly empowered to persuade others.  The power in this is phenomenal, no more do we have to rely on mass media to report a story through their carefully prepared lens, when it’s being tweeted live or video footage streaming on YouTube.  Of course discretion is necessary too, the cliché yet true statement of “you can’t believe everything you read on the internet,” is valid.  People can use lies and deceit to influence others, we know this happens on and off the internet.

There are no limits to the tools social media can provide in advancing our society, improving awareness and protecting each other around the world.  There are no limits, except the ones we put on ourselves and each other.

In the last few weeks I have noticed an increasing number of friends and family who have voiced complaints about what others have shared on mass media.  “Oh my God, she posts so many baby pics it makes me sick.”  “I can’t stand all of the religious crap people share, if I wanted to hear it I would go to church.”  “I don’t get on Facebook for political arguments, I just want to catch up with family and friends.”  And the statements could go on and on…

You have choices when it comes to social media, what are you going to do?

Suffer

We are confronted with things we are irritated by on a daily basis, you can let yourself suffer by what you read from your crazy conservative college buddy, or what your boyfriend’s cousin thinks of animal welfare?  Suffering is always an option.  You can stew about it, let it put you in a foul mood and begin to question humanity wondering for hours about how someone could be so ignorant.  You might even try to influence their point of view by initiating an argument, which almost always reinforces the person’s initial perspective and puts them in a position to like you less.

Change It

If what someone says is bothersome to you, what you see is repulsive or the information conflicts with every ounce of your ethics maybe it’s time to take measures to spare your sanity. 

  • Cut ties.  Maybe it’s time to disassociate from some connections you have on social media.  It’s not necessary to continue to maintain online relationships with every individual you have ever met.  It’s acceptable to detach from your friend’s ex-girlfriend, the guy from high school you didn’t really like then either, or the co-worker who was laid off three years ago.
  • Block it.  If there are some people you want to maintain connection to online and can’t get over what they have to share, consider blocking their posts.  This can be especially helpful for the friend you are close to who is always negative about everything, over sharing their personal life or constantly reporting daily physical ailments you know is more related to them being a negative person than to real illness.
  • Influence opinions.  Instigating an argument is easy to do online, people can be openly vicious and cruel without fear of bodily harm.  However, no one is likely to respond positively and be persuaded to accept another view with “You’re wrong moron.”  If you really desire to change someone’s perspective and help them to grow to another point of view, the best means to influencing change is through validation.  Finding whatever may be true in their statement and letting them know you heard/saw/understand their perspective.  “It would be scary to have a three-headed monster living next door thinking they are cannibals.(validation)  Did you know 99% of three-headed monsters are vegetarian and the other 1% only eat glow worms.(influencing change)”

Acceptance

The final option you have when it comes to coping with social media posts is to accept you cannot control how other people think, what is important to them and how they want to share their opinions.  If you don’t like what someone has to say, keep scrolling. 

And if there are posts you are seeing which are upsetting to you, it could mean you need to do some self exploration.  Find out what is upsetting about it, why are you bothered and is there knowledge you need to gain to settle the discomfort.  In some instances, suffering leads to knowledge, activism and social change necessary to improve our world.  Would Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa be posting pictures of kittens if they were alive today?

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Going to Prison

“Can you watch my daughter when I go to prison?”

In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have phrased the question to my mom in this way.  As if any mom would plan on their offspring going to prison, a law-abiding, mid-western,  suburban mother of three adult children with no criminal history might have an immediate stroke at the image of their beloved going to lock-up.  So I quickly backtracked to explain, “Only for one dinner.”

Llama Chuck teaches my Basic of Buddhism class and facilitates Buddhism for prisoners too, once a year he gets to invite others to attend a dinner with the prison participants.  He mentioned this outing for several weeks at class and encouraged people to sign up to come.  I had considered it, thought it would be an interesting experience, though I wasn’t sure it would fit in my busy schedule of motherhood.

Class seven was about Equanimity and The Eight Worldly Concerns.  Equanimity is the power of the mind being able to experience change and remain unmoved.  As a mountain remains stable through snow, wind and lightning; equanimity can maintain the mind through trauma, accidents and emotional pain.  In the Buddhist perspective it means accepting things as they are and not how you want them to be.  In the moment of crisis it would be difficult to engage my Buddha mind even though I understand the concept.  What is more challenging for me to grasp is how you can accept circumstances of the world and avoid apathy, indifference or detachment.  How do you care, without caring to be truly identifying with equanimity?

The usual rhythm of the class discusses the chapter and then breaks into smaller groups to talk about discussion questions.  The question of the day related to situations where equanimity would be best utilized and asked “How do you feel about inviting pain into your life?”  No one in our group admitted to masochism and struggled with the term inviting pain.  Once we agreed to think in terms of accepting pain as a part of life our group shared different sides of the spectrum, one individual reporting she avoids pain by keeping people at a distance in her life and not maintaining relationships while another woman stated she has noticed being ultra sensitive and feels she is in pain more than necessary.  Our discussion turned to opportunities we do “invite pain” when we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations like helping struggling friends or volunteering.  Spending time working at a soup kitchen or with hospice patients could be a way to practice equanimity, accepting things as they are without being apathetic.

At the end of class Llama Chuck reiterated his invitation to prison stating it was the last day to sign up.  Going to prison prisonsounded like a practice of equanimity for me.  I am angered at the prison system in our country and the rate of incarceration for petty and nonviolent crimes, and because of my feelings towards the system I have detached myself in many ways.  After his closing people began gathering their belongings.  In that moment I knew it would be an opportunity to practice caring without caring.  I needed one final push to nudge me all the way in to my decision.  I looked forward to a classmate who I had socialized with for the last several weeks, a Spanish teacher at a local college.  “Do you want to go to prison with me?”  I nonchalantly inquired knowing if she denied I was not signing up alone.

“I don’t have to teach a class that night,”  she thought for a second, “Sure.”  And within seconds we were jotting our names on the sign-up sheet.  (Sorry Mom, I’m locked-in to attend the prison dinner but I am not going to lock-up.)

The prison dinner is later this month and I will try to multiply my meditation practice to prepare to be equanimitable in prison.  Afterall I am only going for a few hours as a guest, equanimity as a true prisoner would take much more strength of the mind.

Buddha Boots

In third grade I had the distinct realization my family was not like others.  Obviously a little slow in my childhood, or just too busy with Barbies and baby dolls to notice, I finally had the clarity to understand how different my family was from my friends’.  We did not go to church on Sundays and we ate a vegetarian diet.  In that devastated moment I questioned why my parents would be sabotaging my chances at leading a normal existence.  I can imagine my mom reassuring me in her usual calm and undisturbed manner, suggesting I can go to church if I choose and I can eat meat if I choose too. And so I did.  I tried tasting meat and I attended Sunday school with friends a few times before deciding I wasn’t really missing much with either.

Into adulthood the urge to eat meat never reappeared and the desire to find religion, well that never presented itself either, except I am at a firm disadvantage when biblical trivia comes up in games or television trivia. Despite my lack of time spent in places of worship, my life was not absent of spiritual teachings. And as I learned more about religions in general, I found ideas based in the Buddhist traditions paralleled my own thoughts the most.

Still not identifying with any specific religion I decided to take a Basics of Buddhism class to learn about Buddhism, practice meditation and give mommy some required weekly time out each week.

Part of week three’s lesson covered the Four Nobel Truths relating to dissatisfaction and suffering. The Nobel Truths recognize how all beings desire happiness and peace even though the nature of the world is impermanent. In other words, what makes us happy and secure in this moment could be very different in the next moment since life is ever-changing. The Nobel Truths explain if you can recognize your attachment, delusion or craving for what is not present in your life you can relieve yourself from the suffering associated with it.  Our thoughts revolving the attachment can perpetuate a negative emotion and the opposite is true by letting go of the attachment.

This principle can be applied to anything which causes suffering and it could be extremely useful if one could be effective at using it for major situations.  Imagine if you could just let go of the attachment to a home following a foreclosure, a spouse following a divorce, or a loved one following a death.  Imagine skipping out on the grief, despair and anger to move towards acceptance of what is present instead of what is missing.

Amazing, in concept, to have the power within my own mind to escape suffering. I’m not going to even pretend, after a few weeks of beginning to learn about Buddhism, that I could incarnate the patience and understanding of a Buddhist monk in the moment of crisis. I’m sure I would completely lose sight of these lessons and appear completely irrational should a tragedy occur in this moment, however, I have already had some real life application of this teaching.

Two days after my lesson on the Four Nobel Truths I was struck my the necessity to implement this strategy and acknowledge I was causing my own suffering. As so much of my learning is associated with my toddler these days she was also the target of this scenario. We had been shopping at a kids consignment sale, and with limited two-year old patience we managed to pick out a few toys and avoid the coveted riding toy area beforebuddhaboots1 we had to make it through the line to check out. The checkout line happened to be situated next to the long table of shoes. I’m usually not one to be interested in previously worn shoes and since my daughter’s Nana can’t leave a store without buying her a pair I hardly ever even browse.  Except these red leather cowgirl boots caught my eye and I immediately envisioned these being beloved shoes she would want to wear with every outfit. I could picture red boots over leggings or with a jean skirt and a white t-shirt. She would be stylish and ready to hop on a horse at any moment. Excited by my finding I showed them to Parker and even offered her the choice in colors, and was thrilled when she agreed with the red.

When we got home I couldn’t wait to try them on, to watch the magic and celebrate our consignment sale find. The boots slid on easily and about as quickly as they were on she shook her legs to kick them back off.  Without an explanation, she decided she would not wear them.  It seemed the harder I urged, the frequency I requested and the more creative I tried to trick her into the boots only made her increase the stubbornness against it. After much frustration and disappointment I remembered the ideas of the Four Nobel Truths and recognized I was creating my own suffering by holding onto my attachment of the red boots.

buddhaboots2We can spend a lot of energy being frustrated by things not going as planned, by failure or changes to our vision. And in some cases, if we really decide we don’t want to be unhappy, we can be mindful of what’s causing the suffering and let go of how we thought things should be.  I let go of the red boots, I acknowledged my ideas of how adorable they would be weren’t worth the misery I was feeling with my toddler creating her own vision.  I finally gave up on the boots and formulated the connection to the Buddhist teachings with this plan to write about it.  When I set up the boots to take a picture, Parker suddenly regained interest.  She pulled them from my picture set-up, sat down and pulled each onto their respective foot.  I snapped a few pictures while she stomped and wiggled, then within minutes they were kicked back off again.  After the little tease it was easier for me to remind myself to let go of the attachment – these little red boots were only meant to be a Buddha Boot lesson for me.

buddhabootsgirl

Napping or Not Napping

socksSome days she just won’t nap, not matter how tired, she just won’t close her eyes. Since I am insistent on a minimum of some quiet time to ourselves, she entertains herself with a book or sings songs. There are days when this gives way to three hours of shut eye, and there are days when her stubborn streak wins out. Then there are days like today when she is near slumber only to be disrupted by my anxiety dog barking at the sight of movement down the block.

During the nap times when it ends up being an hour of vocal practice she usually is content in her room by herself contained to her pack and play we still have yet to escape (click here for the explanation.)  One afternoon, following a sleepless nap, I entered her room to find she had emptied her sock drawer just within her reach, taken off her pants and pull-up, and pulled on some leg warmers.

Knowing she was caught, she immediately switched up her song and began singing “I’m so, I’m so sorry.”