Time Warp Tuesday: Comments Please!

I know it’s the last day of my week long blogging hiatus but when I heard what this Time Warp Tuesday’s theme was I felt I had to put up a little something. It just felt like too perfect an opportunity after my reposts this week.

You see, this week’s Time Warp Tuesday is called Comment’s Please! The idea is to revisit a post that you liked and that got very few comments. I felt compelled to participate in this week’s TWT because I basically reposted all these past Mindful Monday pieces this week because they got very few comments when they were first published. I was hoping that if I put them back out there again, maybe they would ring true with someone who wasn’t reading me over a year ago when they were first published and that person would let me know in the comment section.

The Buddhist teachings of mindfulness and loving kindess are important parts of my life. Buddhist teachings have been some of the only pieces of wisdom to provide me comfort during TTC, our loss and the uncertainty of parenthood. Buddhism helps the world make sense. It brings me immense comfort amidst the suffering of life. It seems like the perfect lens with which to experience infertility, loss and motherhood.

I have to admit, I genuinely don’t understand why my Mindful Monday posts got so few comments. I know that Buddhism as a religion or belief system might not be for everyone but its teachings seem to transcend organized religion. Even if one believes in G-d or any other deity, the power of mindfulness and staying in the present moment seem like valuable teachings.

Perhaps the relevance of these teachings is not as universal as I believe. Perhaps I don’t present them all that well. Perhaps people just aren’t interested in this kind of stuff when the hustle and bustle of every day life is tugging them elsewhere.

I hope people don’t read this as a plea for pity. I’m not personally hurt that these post didn’t get many comments. I’m merely curious that they don’t seem to inspire much reaction. (Approaching a situation with curiosity instead of judgement is another valuable lesson Buddhism taught me.)

So today, for Time Warp Tuesday, instead of linking to a specific post, I’ll just ask that you pick any of the reposts from the last week (scroll down on the main page) – whichever you find most compelling and comment on that (if you feel so inclined).

What kind of posts most inspire you to comment? What kind of posts do you rarely comment on? Is there anything specific a blogger can do to better ensure you’ll comment (like end the blog with prompts such as these)? How do you feel when a post you hoped would receive comments fails to do so?

Worry’s undue suffering

A big thanks to all who have commented on these re-posts. I have to admit, rereading them, and your comments, has been a salve on my currently troubled soul. This turned out to be a perfect week to return to these teachings. I will definitely bring Mindful Mondays back into the rotation once this week is over. 

I’m also happy to report that I’ve been doing good work on my book. I can’t wait for all of you to see some of what I’ve done at the end of the month! 

I am a worrier. Feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty of life was one of the reasons I started looking into Buddhism. I wanted to find a way to to accept that which seemed unacceptable – the inevitable pain and suffering of life.

I’ve slowly and thoughtfully been reading Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali. I really love the book and I don’t want to speed through, lest I rush past any of the thoughtful lessons that I know apply to me and my anxious, fear driven existence.

The night after I wrote my post about my Acceptance of Suffering I began the chapter in the book about worry. It seemed perfectly timed. Of course worry is a huge part of every parent’s life. We worry about the wellbeing of our children, if they are safe, healthy, happy and fulfilled. We worry that they are eating the right foods, being exposed to developmentally appropriate stimulation, thriving both mentally and physically. We fear they won’t be accepted for who they are or won’t be included by their peers. There are literally countless reasons we can worry for our children. The liberating thing is, while we will inevitably worry, we can choose when, how much and about what. We can also choose how to shoulder the burden of our worry.

As I read the chapter on worry, I came across the most amazing quote. I mentioned it in my 300th blog post as one of my top mantras of the year. This placement in the “Top Three” is telling, as I only came across it in the final days of 2010. But it seemed to speak to me on such a deep, personal level – it was like it was meant just for me. Thank you Mark Twain for saying this.

‘My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes . . . most of which never happened.’

This quote spoke to me because my life has also been filled with terrible misfortunes and the majority of them have been of the not-actually-having-happened variety. Reading this quote I was suddenly, violently, aware of the fact that I could chose whether or not my life was spent lamenting the tragedies that had not yet occurred or appreciating the present moment despite the great uncertainty of the future.

After having my daughter I realized that my twenties had been all but overrun by the tragedies I expected would befall me. I had been so worried about experiencing infertility and pregnancy/infant loss that somewhere, deep inside, I was wounded by those tragedies, even though they had never taken place. The weight of the anxiety surrounding whether or not I would become a mother had become so all consuming, so smothering, that I could hardly accept its fantastical foundation. I had created tragedy in my life where there was none. How tragic is that?

For some reason this quote told me something I already knew in a way that made me actually understand it. If you live your life always fearing future tragedy, it will be as if you’ve lived through the very tragedies you want so desperately to avoid. You are basically condemning yourself to the pain you’re so scared of. Only by accepting the possibility of it and letting it go can you truly be free.

I used to read blogs about loss and feel soul wrenching sorrow for the women whose lives had been devastated by terrible misfortune. I felt such sadness for them as I pondered how horrible it would be if those things happened to me. My compassion wasn’t completely selfish, as I believe we do have to imagine how a person’s loss would affect us if we can ever honestly consider their pain. But the lingering sadness and desolation, that was me reflecting their loss onto my own life. That was me nourishing my worry and fear. That was me creating tragedy where there was none, at least not for me. Then, after feeling that desperate pain, I began to writhe against the unfairness with bitter disgust. I would become so angry at the world for what it could do to some but not to others. I couldn’t stomach the arbitrariness of it all. I couldn’t stand that I’d never know my own fate before it befell me.

Now I feel I can hear about other’s suffering without possessing it. I can (and do) put myself in their place and feel their pain, if only for an instant, but now I do this out of love and compassion, and not out of fear. I read their stories so I can feel empathy towards them and send them loving kindness. I abide their pain so I can honor it.

Buddha taught that the mind is everything; what you think you become. In the same way, tragedies you imagine can all but become a reality, for if we suffer their possibility surely they can hurt us with the same strength as their realization would. There is enough suffering in life, we don’t need to create it unduly. And if we do succumb to the fear of uncertainty, we have no one to blame for our suffering but ourselves.

Mindful Mondays Return

I used to do an installment, every once in a while, called Mindful Mondays. In the beginning they were quite frequent but when I added Working Mama Mondays to the mix they kind of fell away.

Spirituality is something I long for in my life. In my quest for a deeper meaning I came across Buddhism and knew immediately that it was a good fit for me. When I was dealing with my ectopic pregnancy and my struggles trying to get pregnant I found a lot of comfort in the teachings of Buddhism, especially in the ideas of mindfulness and acceptance.

Turns out mindfulness can also help me combat the low grade depression I’ve been dealing with. Depression is a complicated disease, one that involves destructive negative thought processes – thought processes we feel we have no control over. By employing mindfulness, I can experience those thought processes for what they are, simple ideas and not nonnegotiable truths. This is the first step in breaking the cycle of negativity and depression.

It’s a simple step but not necessarily an easy one. It will require practice in mindfulness. The foundation for that practice is meditation. This is always where my search for spirituality has stalled. Meditation requires time and commitment in my busy life; it’s so very easy to set that practice aside for more urgent commitments like laundry and dishes.

It’s obvious that I can’t set it aside any longer. It’s obvious that I need to make this commitment a priority. I know that it might be hard but I also know the rewards could be great. Finding the time to go to yoga three times a week is no easy feat, but I’ve found that practice to be incredibly positive to both my mental and emotional health. I didn’t realize how positive it was until, in the past two weeks, I was barely able to go. Last night an hour and a half of yoga was able to sooth the extreme disappointment of the weekend and leave me feeling refreshed and energized. Yoga is an incredibly powerful practice for me, one that has it’s roots in mindfulness.

I have no doubt that mindfulness can help me move past this depression. I’m equally as sure that meditation is required to build my mindfulness muscles. I will no longer allow other priorities to crowd out a meditation practice. Just ten minutes a day can, and will, do me real good. I intend to explore this experience on the recently renewed Mindful Mondays.

I hope you’ll join me.

Gratitude and Regret

This is actually an apology note, but it’s also a thank you card of sorts. I want to apologize for yesterday’s post – for its dismissive, disrepectful tone and its divisive content. I also want to thank you for not only engaging in what I felt was a very interesting and constructive but dialogue, but also for calling me out on the inherent negativity of my post. I really, really appreciate the fact that instead of telling me off, as you had every right to do, you provided me with constructive criticism that allowed me to learn more myself and my thoughts and feelings.

In St. Louis I spent a week with my cousin and her baby. This is the cousin who got pregnant the first month she was “not trying but not not trying”. This is the cousin who just bought a house. This is the cousin who left her teaching job and is staying home indefinitely with her daughter. This is the cousin that I love dearly but that also awakens the green monster in me.

And I realize I feel a lot of jealousy towards other SAHMs too. I want to be a SAHM. I don’t think I realized, until this week, who worn down my WOHM schedule was making me. I don’t think I realized how little I was seeing my daughter until I started seeing her all the time. I don’t think I knew how great it would felt to be home with her again until I was home with her again.

I was so lucky to have almost six months off when Isa was born. I had my summer break and then my three months of FMLA leave. It was truly amazing to spend those months with her and I am forever grateful for them. And then I went back and it was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. But I sucked it up because I didn’t have a choice. I took comfort in the fact that my very capable and loving SIL was taking care of Isa and soldiered on. I even convinced myself I didn’t mind working so much, that it wasn’t that bad. I tried hard to adopt a Buddhist attitude of acceptance and mindfulness, getting through each day and being grateful for the good in those 24 hours. I cherished the time that I had with my daughter, but I was also, deep down, always wishing for more.

Lately the financial realities of our situation have become increasingly clear. We can barely afford the life we are living. Having another child, if we’re lucky enough to do so, will bring even more financial hardship. My big dream of staying at home for one year, with two children, looks less and less likely. Unless Mi.Vida finds a new job, I will never be able to stay home. I will have to say goodbye to what feels like a modest dream and I’m resentful of that.

Of course this is assuming we can get pregnant and have another healthy baby. I know I’m already asking for too much. I know I’m already asking for everything, and then I want even more.

But other people get to have it. Why not me? Why can’t I have two healthy children and my own year at home with them?

I think I’m mourning what I will probably never have. I’m mourning the chance to be a SAHM. My heart keeps saying that maybe we can make it happen, perhaps we can swing it, but my head sees that writing on the wall. We can’t afford it. We just can’t.

I’m trying to focus on what I do have, my healthy daughter, my loving husband, a FIL who is willing to watch Isa for us next year and a job that is allowing me a part time schedule… and of course the next six weeks of summer. I have so much. I am truly fortunate. I know this is in my head and in my heart and yet I still feel this emptiness, the place where “what I can’t have” lives.

It’s that empty place that drove me to write yesterday’s post. It’s “what I can’t have” that makes me feel those things. I love being home with Isa and I want it so much. Does it make it easier for me when I lash out at those that have what I want? No. In fact it makes me feel worse but I still seem to do it. Self-destructive behavior is so strange that way.

I apologize again to everyone who was rubbed the wrong way by Friday’s post, to all the SAHM and WOHM who don’t want to further fuel the war between two kinds of mothers that really aren’t all that different to be being with. I’m sorry for sinking to that level of antagonism and I thank you for helping me find my way back to the surface of understanding and acceptance.

I hope we can all remain friends.

Mindful Mondays: Touché Monday, Touché

When I first went back to work after my maternity leave I was living for the weekends. Every work day I counted down to the weekend, when I spend uninterrupted days with my daughter. Every weekend I felt the precious minutes with Isa slipping away, I could see Monday rushing towards me – inevitable, unstoppable. Eventually I realized I was miserable all the time, even when I was with her. Then I took a step back, revisiting some of the most basic Buddhist teachings.

Be present. Be mindful.

I decided that I would no longer spend my weekdays longing for the family time of Saturday and Sunday. And I would not spend those precious weekends dreading their eventual end. I decided that I would live in the present moment feeling acceptance and avoiding judgment. And since I knew I couldn’t actually live in the present moment, I vowed to at least live in the present day and not count down to circumstances I deemed necessary for the manifestation of happiness.

I did this for several months and I was content, genuinely so. The weeks at work were more pleasant and the weekends at home were wonderful. The Sunday blues stopped descending upon me and Mondays ceased to seem insurmountably awful.

Today I woke up with that feeling again; that feeling of, Curse you Monday, my old nemesis! And all day today I’ve been stumbling, crushed under the weight of the week looming ahead. Touché Monday, Touché.

Why is Monday getting the better of me again? Why am I struggling to stay in this day, this moment and not peer anxiously into an unknown future? It’s difficult to be present. I struggle to be mindful. It’s more challenging to do both when I’m tired and run down. I always feel tired on Mondays because it’s so hard to get to sleep on Sunday nights. And of course there’s the business of my impending summer vacation.

I only have five weeks until school is out. Five weeks. I’m trying so hard not to count down until the break. I’m attempting to live each of the next 33 days for itself and not solely as a stepping stone to summer. The next few weeks are precious. They are the last weeks of my daughter’s first year. Isa will turn one in less than a month and I don’t want to squander this time with her wishing it were another time. Just typing that out seems so ludicrous to me.

I know if I wait desperately for summer to come it will go by faster and be less satisfying when it’s finally here. If I live each day free of any preoccupation about summer break I will enjoy that vacation more. And I know I can accept each of these coming days for what it is. I know I this. I just need to do it.

Thank you Monday. Thank you for being a faithful teacher; one who always returns to review the lesson, lest my complacency allow me to forget.

Mindful Mondays: Wanting too much?

“Want little and know how to be satisfied.”

When I was first trying to curb my conspicuous consumption I made a bracelet with that line printed on it. I hoped the words encompassing my wrist would be a constant reminder, willing me to be satisfied with what I had. At the time I was thinking only of things, material possessions. Of course now, entrenched in motherhood, I’m realizing that there are so many other things I want… uninterrupted sleep, quiet personal time, someone to clean my house, to go out with friends or my husband, more quality time with my daughter. Sometimes I feel like all I do is want. And the land of wanting is not a satisfying world to inhabit.

Buddhism teaches that your expectation govern your sense of fulfillment. The greater your expectations, the greater the probability that they will not be met. When expectations are not realized, you are unhappy. This makes sense. If you want to experience certain things while on vacation (like warm, sunny weather or quiet, relaxing evenings), and they don’t materialize, you will be disappointed. You may be so upset that you don’t get appreciate the things you are enjoying, like good food or the company of friends or family.

As a mother who works out of the home, I’m constantly wanting things that I probably am not going to get. I can maintain these expectations and continue suffering, or I can change them. It’s as simple as that. I’ve noticed that a general theme of parenthood is feeling out of control. It’s easy to feel like your basic expectations are not being met. It can be overwhelming. Realizing that your own expectations are actually holding you hostage and creating your unhappy state can set you free.

Of course, we will always have wants and needs. No one would recommend attempting to abolishing all expectations without proper guidance and years of training (although if you were able to do this, genuinely, you would achieve enlightenment). The reality is, it wouldn’t be possible for 99.99% of people. And of course some expectations are necessary, like the expectation of being treated with respect for one’s emotional and physical well being. But most of our unmet expectations are more about what we want than what we physically need. Human beings have desires, and they always will. Luckily, just being aware of them can help us alleviate their grasp on us and our happiness.

I wrote recently about how hard parenthood has been on our relationship. Mi.Vida and I have really struggled recently. This week he is going to Austin for the SXSW music festival. I’m very excited for him to get this time with his friends doing his absolute favorite thing, listening to live music. When we discussed having children going to concerts was the one thing he was terrified to lose and I’m truly thankful that he gets this opportunity. I know it will make him genuinely happy.

I’m also a little jealous he gets five days away from responsibilities both at home and at work. It should also be noted that I’m going to miss the living shit out of him.

With all of this on my mind,  I suddenly found myself overwhelmed this weekend by the desire to go out on a date with my man. I wanted to reconnect with him away from home, sans the constant distractions.

I also really wanted to see a movie, in a theater, with popcorn and a huge well of Diet Coke. I wanted that really, really badly.

We went round and round trying to figure it out but it just wasn’t going to work. Seeing a movie takes too much time and would have us out too late for either set of parents to watch Isa. So I had to give up my expectations of a movie date. And I decided I’d only be willing to do that with much petulant fan fare and a general attitude of depravity. Let’s just say I was moping around the house being a right pouty little biotch.

Then I found my bracelet under the table (where Isa had casually discarded it during a meal) and I read those words for what felt like the first time.

Want little and know how to be satisfied.

Picking my sullen frown off the floor along with my bracelet, I stopped for a minute to figure out what I really wanted. Did I really want to go to the movies? Well yes, but that wasn’t a good idea for this date for a number of reasons. I could easily see a movie with a friend some other time, when Mi.Vida could watch Isa and I wouldn’t have to feel rushed (he doesn’t really like seeing movies anyway). What I wanted, what I really needed was to just be with Mi.Vida. And we could pull that off at home. We could put away our smart phones and computers and order in (or even cook) and clean off the table and light some candles and open a bottle of wine and have the experience I really wanted, while at home.

Of course Isa might wake up and we’d have to deal with that, but it wouldn’t be so bad. We could have what I felt like I needed without it being a big deal. And I certainly didn’t need to mourn not going to the movies of ruminate on how I never get to do what I want. Because that is not true, I get to do what I want all the time, and I’ll always get to do what I want if I have realistic expectations.

In the end, Mi.Vida and I did get to go out for dinner. My folks were able to come by and see Isa and stay for an extra hour and a half so we could go out. We had a lovely dinner and spend the entire time talking about non-parenthood related things (well almost the entire time) and we shared a bottle of wine and scooped tastes of each others meals into our mouths and had a really. nice. date.

The whole time I kept thinking, this is so nice, this is so much better than I expected. I simply reveled in it, savoring each and every minute.

And the next time I want to do something that motherhood seems to render impossible, I hope I can remember to want little and learn how to be satisfied, and make the best out of whatever presents itself.

In what area of your life do you feel your expectations are not being met? Do you think you could change your expectations in any way? If you did, do you think you’d be happier?

Mindful Mondays: Equanimity

I’m a dabbler but I dabble in a unique way. My dabbling does not look like tinkering with something here and there. I don’t dip my toes in, making little circles in the shallow end. Instead I usually dive into the deep end, submerging myself completely in my new passion, taking all the expensive accouterments with me. So when I say I’ve dabbled in rock climbing, surfing, photography, yoga, meditation, running, cycling and Buddhism, what I mean is I’ve dedicated huge parts of my life to these things, but for a limited amount of time. Some of these interests (surfing) have been more fleeting than others (rock climbing, cycling, yoga). And some are still a part of my life (running, photography, Buddhism) though I wish I could dedicate more time to them.

It might seem strange to dabble in one’s own spirituality, but my experiences with Buddhims seem best described that way. Not shockingly, I started exploring Buddhism after my ectopic, when I was trying to find meaning in a world suddenly defined by loss. I began reading books and attempting meditation. I started attending talks at the Zen Center near my house. I enrolled in a class there and took a weekend retreat on approaching depression and anxiety with mindfulness. I realized quickly that I did not know how to quiet my thoughts or experience the present moment and that if I could, I’d be a happier person. I also found a lot of wisdom in Buddha’s teachings and felt that incorporating them into my everyday life would bring me peace and fulfillment.

Now that much of the wound of my ectopic has scabbed over and the anxious turmoil of my pregnancy is past me, I’ve found less and less desperate need for spirituality in my daily life. I know that I would benefit from it, but it’s not necessary just to get me through the days.

I have managed to incorporate some Buddhist teachings into my daily life. And one has really been a very positive presence. That teaching is equanimity.

As I understand it, equanimity is the practice of approaching all things without judgment, accepting the present moment in any incarnation. This means accepting emotional or physical pain in the same way that we accept happiness and joy. It’s a very difficult idea to wrap one’s head around.

When I began working on equanimity I started small. At the time I was tutoring after work which meant I was hitting the end of my commute at the worst traffic time. Some days I could fly through and others I spent 30 minutes sitting in what resembled a parking lot. Rounding a certain curve I would hold my breath, bracing myself for my immediate future. If it were smooth sailing I’d be ecstatic, if it were a sea of illuminated tail lights I would be despondent. I decided that I wanted to approach this moment with equanimity. No matter the traffic situation, I would accept it without judgment.

After a week of my equanimity-towards-traffic-jams-practice I realized something interesting. While I was quite good at accepting the traffic without anger, it was difficult to accept the absence of traffic without elation. I found it harder to not be overly excited by positive things than upset by negative things.

You might think, why would you want to be less happy about something? Aren’t there few enough things to be happy about in this life? I would have said that two years ago. But now I feel differently.

I now realize that intense highs and lows do not cancel each other out. Intense highs can be as destructive as intense lows. If one can approach both the good and bad without judgment, over all they will be more content.

After I mastered the zen approach to my daily commute, I kind of forgot about equanimity. Until I went back to work and found that I was miserable during the week days and over joyed during the weekends. I spent all week counting down until Friday afternoon and spent Saturday and Sunday watching the precious weekend minutes slipping away. Every work day was just a stepping stone to the weekend. And every week was just a tally mark on the way to my next week off. It was a horrible way to live.

So I took what I knew about equanimity and applied it to my daily life. Now I approach every day with acceptance. I even find things to be thankful for in a given day. I’m thankful that I have a job that pays my bills. I’m thankful that I get to see my daughter when I get home. I’m thankful that my students make me laugh. I’m happy to see my colleagues during lunch. On the weekends I enjoy the time with Mi.Vida and with my daughter. I enjoy seeing friends and family. I enjoy spending the morning reading blogs while my daughter bangs toys into her sides.

This seems like a small thing, but it has fundamentally changed the way I live life. I’m no longer waiting for some distant day in the future when everything aligns to promote my happiness and well being. Now I feel content despite what day it is or what I have to do. It’s a new kind of freedom I’ve never felt before. And while I do sometimes miss the elation of a day off, I know I’m much more fulfilled by the quiet gratitude I now experience each and every day of my life.