Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Paradise within

In February, I had the good fortune of spending some time alone at a Hindu monastery, or ashram, on (ahem J) Paradise Island in the Bahamas:

A short 3-hr flight directly south from Pearson; a world apart. Breezy, mild Bahamian air awaits me, pastel colored architecture, turquoise sea. Impossibly large cruise ships dock nearby. Leaving the vacationing hoards, we take a short ride in a small motor boat to an oasis across the bay. Carefully getting onto the dock at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat, we step through into the hush of a community nestled within a woods of palm fronds. There are orchids growing from their trunks, unusual birds foraging below, people softly padding among them lost in thought or conversation, perhaps humming a tune. There are open spaces for yoga classes, meditation and chanting nestled into the trees or by the beach, smaller buildings and tents everywhere else. Most of us are a rainbow of color except for the swamis in orange and the novices and teachers in yellow and white. My senses are full of the wonder of the place. Beautiful sounds: bells, harmonium, cats meowing, laughter, songs, waves crashing. Beautiful sights: vivid paintings of the gods, an endless horizon, watching deep hugs happening, seeing twinkly lights through the trees. Beautiful tastes and touch: vegetarian wonder food, heaping piles of fresh fruit, bubbly foaming waves flowing through my toes, the textures of the ground and sand as I walk around barefoot.

Wake up time is 5:30, and the day is mapped out with meditation, prayers and chants, yoga asana practice and meals, all of which happen twice a day. Time in between for naps and communion with the ocean, for buying warm chocolate orange cookies in the shop, for catching swamis and teachers to ask pending questions and for philosophy with new and old friends. I am filled up by everything. I am here for a Krishna Das kirtan retreat (he is a Grammy-nominated Hindu chant leader) which includes two workshops and three 3-hr intense chanting sessions. I am a bit starry-eyed since I am a long-time fan. It was absolute bliss. I wept my eyes clean, sang my heart out and danced my feet off. He believes love to be the universal truth; that everything, everything we seek is already within our hearts. To be happy, we need to do our practice, whatever it is, to calm the mind and be present to each moment, to that universal source of love and to the love which connects us to every living thing.

I’ve left the ashram now, both deliriously happy and aching from the loss. Wistfully remembering the nourishing sunlight, the genuine, joyful smiles shared, my heartbeat pounding along to the tabla drums. Most of all I am missing that feeling of surrender to the ass-kicking, structured bliss of spiritual life in paradise. My work now is to integrate the practices into this “mundane” life, to breathe deeply and with awareness, to practice mindfulness and kindness, to live with an inner paradise and share it with those around me. Until next time…


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sensitive sounds

We’re taking a break on Ben’s violin lessons. “Forever?” he asked me hopefully. My musical boy, I am sad. After so much work and research into the right sized string instrument and beautiful learning philosophy (Suzuki), the kid just wants to rock. I showed him Ashley McIsaac and other violin rockers, but kid-level violin is just too boring I guess, too slow, too classical. He soaks up all the information at lessons, but it rarely goes past soaking to actual playing. He is a sponge in general though, especially when it comes to music of all kinds, picking out the different instruments in a song, identifying rhythms by name. I thought this was one of those essentials in his life, go to school, learn to swim, learn music. Life or death core stuff. [For the record, I am aware of how privileged we are to consider music lessons, how 1st world all this moaning is].

Well, we learned some things. Firstly, and it’s not shocking news, we are finding that Ben is a highly “sensitive” child. It’s not a diagnosis or anything and is often a strength. “Sensitive” applies to 20% of people apparently, and describes those who take in a lot more stimuli than others. They are generally more introverted, more reactive to social and noisy situations, have "strong feelings" and are more perfectionist… They are more likely to wait, assess before jumping in, and to need down time to process stimuli. Violin was just too much pressure, too many people, too much noise without enough motivation to move past those hurdles.

We also learned that his Maman (me) was taking it all way too personally.  I have been feeling disappointed. I really wanted violin to be our thing, something special and ours, a connection point, a project. Every time he wouldn’t stand with the other kids (always), or would refuse to hold his bow, or to practice with me (even with candy reward systems; he loves the occasional candy he gets!), it hurt me. I realized I felt embarrassed (my own issues of shame) and more importantly, I felt rejected by him. This made me angry, unfriendly and juvenile, further pushing him away from violin/me.

Our relationship is more important that any music lesson success rate. A solid family base is everything, the foundation we hope he’ll build his life on. I want him to feel that I support, rather than stifle who he is. Our agendas often differ, and I am trying to let go and let that be ok. To let him develop his wonderful self at his own pace.

I didn’t promise Ben that we were done forever. But instead of group class this week (which we’ve never missed), we spent the afternoon building a snow castle with steps and windows and reinforced walls, all lumpy and DIY and wonderful. He was really happy, we were really peaceful and we built something, together.

To be continued…


a little missing

I stayed home without you today. A self-care day just for me. I miss you already… Your little cheeks rosy from your osteopathy appointment this morning (a check-up from having worn a helmet as a baby), and your eyes bright from mischief and simple joy in the tiny cup of tea, the awesome building with the 100 year old painted safe and bright copper doors. I miss you in a deep way, a Mama who had you in her tummy kind of way. You bounce through life, getting hugs when you need them but most of the time off boldly finding your way, getting on your own socks, zipping your own coat. You amaze me with your approach to life, carpe diem! But with tenderness too, awareness. I love to just look at you, to try and convey the depth of how much you are appreciated, wanted, noticed, amidst the swirl of our hectic life. It’s hard to have an older brother sometimes, to just join into a party that was started long before you came through. He’ll always be a first-born, who loves to teach and tell and pull you along for the ride. Sometimes we’re so busy with your brother’s bigger-boy needs, thoughts, activities, you can get lost in the shuffle… Oh little one, nearly three, remember always that you are treasured, that you can be 100% who you are, happy, sad, playful, naughty, whatever you are and we will love you.  Always always. Always.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

I love you too much

With Ben, the words for love are always dramatic. Lately he is saying he loves Mummy (A) too much. It’s the first thing from him in the morning, the last at night. He holds her clothes or skin like they might vanish, like a little is never enough. He can hit too, in those moments. Of course A feels terrible, feels she should somehow make up for this with time or words or more focused presence. It would probably help but Ben also loves deeply and it may just be his way of expressing something we all find hard to put into words, that chest-crushing, all encompassing feeling we have for those we love with our whole being. Like our heart is walking out there in another’s body. Like it’s too much.

With me, even though I know Ben loves me very much, he will say he doesn’t love me. I think that what he is doing with both of us is testing his boundaries, and how much we love him back. Both the “positive” and negative expressions around love can hurt us sometimes. I try to stay cool and remember his age. The other day he and I were having a “time-in”, which is like a time-out but with a parent. It’s a time to chill out, take stock, with a loving coach alongside. He was super angry, trying to hit me, saying he doesn’t love me. I assured him that no matter what I would still love him. He started listing things he could do, seeing if I’d still love him, like if he bulldozed the house down or sent our stuff into space. After many questions came this one: “Would you still love me if I cut you in half and put you in jail?” To which I replied, “Well, I’d be angry and sad, and it would hurt. I’d probably die. But I’d still love you, even dead!” He scoffed at that, saying I’d be in the ground. I explained that my body would be but I’d still love him while floating out there becoming one with everything, and then would love him into the next life. He wasn’t sure, concerned I’d come back as an animal. I said I could be his dog or something. He was worried a dog couldn’t love him enough. I told him I was pretty sure I’d be a person again and I would find him and love him. He was satisfied, calmed down and started playing with me. 

Sweet Ben, for heaven’s sake, words cannot describe how much we love you. I hope that deep inside you, you know that.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Our traditional family

A funny thing happened a while back when Ben’s school VP identified us (US?!) as a “traditional family” for complaining about too much screen time in class. After I got over the shock of reading that email, I burst into a fit of giggles, calmed down and then started laughing again! I had imagined many hurdles sending our sensitive, vegetarian child to kindergarten with stories of his two mothers and their eccentric habits (naked family dance parties, delivering
instructions through song, having roommates, hosting Solstice soirées). I never imagined this.

It’s not totally out there, since we are part-time inhabitants of the organic, wear-your-baby world. But dude! I have a smart phone, share Google docs, blog… My partner A rocks social media, soaks in pop culture sites. We both use computers proficiently as part of our work and live for a movie night with take-out. We just think kids are smart enough to figure all that shit out later and should just be running around getting mud caked on their knees, paint under their nails, and fall laughing into a tired heap like puppies from dancing to live music or even CDs. Is that too much to ask?

And there you have it folks, you can be a big ol’ lesbo family but if you complain that the kids at school have too much screen time (it’s epic, a lot of people are upset) than you might as well camp out with the Amish.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Freedom from within

Written April 8, 2015

Wary, peering from behind shadows. The fur chewed off paws. Pacing, antsy, a deep growl echoing. There is a part of me, somewhere in my upper chest locked behind ribbed bars, which feels caged. My body tells me so: pain in the heart area sends me to ER (inflammation, Advil heals for a time); pneumonia keeps me home. Something is pushing, aching, something infected is trying to get out, something is trying not to drown.

How does one do marriage, a family, and remain intact? What does our "self" look like anyway, that we try so hard to protect its integrity? Perhaps we shouldn't remain "who we are", throwing everything up in the air to see how it falls into a new shape. Change is the only constant after all, it's just destabilizingParenting changes all of us, and it has brought to light wonderful and beastly parts of myself that I am slowly integrating. My wish upon seeing the first night star, ever since I was a teen, involves freedom and possibility. Since I chose a domestic life, I have to believe I can find those within it. Freedom is a pretty word… but does it mean escape to me? The ability to do whatever whenever however? There is no life in community without compromise, without construction on the roads, without restraint. I don’t want to be alone somewhere, nor to drop everything and travel. I don’t want a different spouse or children (or cats, as one purrs on my lap). I love our home.  

It’s up to me how I live this. I can play the victim, poor hapless, overburdened me. I can whine and wail, shaking the cage of the limitations I chose. To be fair, no one really knows how parenting is going to feel before it happens, before nothing is the same again. Or, I can chose to loosen up, calm down, creaking open those rusty gates, letting some lightness into those dark places. It’s about vulnerability, ultimately. Really feeling love comes with so much risk. Perhaps I cage myself FROM domestic life, never fully participating out of fear. Loss of control, the unknown, perceived loss of self. I think the only healthy way out is through courage to be fully in the moment. And faith in myself and my family. In my mind’s eye I see my naked self from the back, walking out through my ribs into an explosion of light.

It’s not freedom from my beloved wee boys or sweet gal I seek. I see that I am my own oppressor by telling myself things ought to be a certain, perfect way, or I that I ought to feel more, be more. What I want now, in fact, is release from my own fears and to live in joy. 


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Eat, Pray, Love, Fear…

Originally written Dec.2, 2012

when Ben was 10 months old, and Daniel was nothing but a wish in the wind...

I just watched Eat, Pray, Love. Julia is one of my faves. Not sure how I feel about the movie though. It was cheesy and predictable, a meditation on the privilege to take time for self-discovery. Yet I also ache for a similar journey to get free of myself, to forgive myself. And to travel to India, Bali, Italy would be so delicious. I felt watching it that I was looking into a mirror, a bit embarrassed by what kind of clichés I saw looking back. Has my interesting life, my many spiritual, travel and life moments just been a broken record? Too add insult to injury, I am reading Bright Sided at A’s request, a highly researched and scorching book about how the “positive thinking” movement is destroying America. The author, Barbara Ehrenreich, pokes holes in the positive psychology movement and in many of my cherished “wisdoms” like “possibility thinking”, “manifesting desires”, and the "law of attraction". She agrees that being positive does tend to make you more successful and make people like you more. That’s about the biggest concession she’s given. It doesn't necessarily make you happier, healthier, live longer or cure illness.  I can’t say I have changed my mind on these issues, but I have paused for sure when wondering if “things happen for a reason” or whether I will “jinx” things by thinking a certain way.

All this to say I feel like part of my rug is being pulled out from under me, and perhaps for the best. That my eyes are opening more and more to the present, to what makes up my core line of thinking (and the impact thereof). It is very uncomfortable for me to experience this kind of scrutiny, much as I claim to love “feedback”. I usually expect feedback to be good, so what’s to fear? I aim high, so if I can improve, please let me know! In Eat, Pray, Love Julia’s character says something about how if we can forgive ourselves for our "harder to love" qualities and actions, the truth of who we are will come through. No doubt easier said than done. And that relates to something else: I think my greatest fear is myself, my dark side, what I might miss or fail to prevent, especially as it relates to Ben. Coupled with that is fear of loss of Ben and A. Not so much in that daily way of worrying about their welfare and safety, although those are part of it. What is more truly a “fear”, the kind that paralyses with terror, is that it could somehow be my fault through some missed detail, some inattention, some lapse in judgement/ exhaustion/ etc. That my lifeline of holding onto what is positive negates the essential need to pay attention to life’s darker sides, and worse, my own. Admitting to her existence, to my fierce (but quickly fizzled) temper, my ugliness when exhausted, my resentment. That sometimes in the moment, I just don’t care. That I often judge others, especially A, and that I can act so superior. I am nowhere near enlightenment, nor “free of myself” such as is the aim of meditation, nor “smiling with my liver” like the guru in the movie. I am a flawed human like any other, un-peeling ever deeper layers of self-knowledge, some of them still quite raw.