Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Long December: Mindfulness in the "Busy" Season

I decided yesterday was going to be a very long day. On purpose.

What if I can create a Long December--and yes, that song has been in my head, too.

Advent and the cherished days of Hanukkah stretch before us. We can see them: 25 and 8 days we know are coming.

How quiet is our waiting?

It occurs to me that this "design" of Advent: the wonderful calendars with pop-out windows and unexpected treasures beyond, Elf on the Shelf and a menorah are tools for mindfulness. These tools call for presence, asking us to look and linger in a place we are not. Be, here, now in this moment.

If I want to, I can listen to these days in December differently. I can actually listen.

I thought about the day many times yesterday, and it did seem longer. I sat with what December the First meant to me: November over: a new existence in a season I love, a reason to sit and listen for the "where" that I want to be.

What will it take to make this month stretch out both before us but also all around us?

I think we have to be a contemplation nation: a community of gatherers taking time with us in a new way. As one scholar of religions said this week: we have to slow down if we want to go fast.

Slow down if we want to go fast? There's no question we need to go fast. But what if, in this haste of helping, loving and caring for the world around us, slowing down gets us to those suffering sooner? What if the Long December changes everything?

The Art of Attention:

Our lives are the Advent Calendar. Each morning a sky opens up to us with a promise to grow our food and help us flourish. This happens to us every day. But what we do in that flourishing is ours. We get to sit with this opening, with the Pocketsunrise that is just for us. We get to be "there". If we take just the sunrise every day (cloudy or not) and look, the possibility for what we might see is limitless. The art of attention and the joy of inquiry give us all we need to know.

Better Together:

If there is a month to practice togetherness it is easily December. I am going to re-frame the moments in these days that stretch before me and plan how I want to be in every encounter I have: from the elevator at work to the holiday parties I love every year. I am going to practice the joy of giving myself: interested, curious and deeply listening to those I see. Each morning during my reflection time I will write outcomes for these events with intention for stretching this time together into new places of love and connection.

Understanding the Why

Somewhere buried in the noise of our Christmas decorations is a tiny baby Jesus. It's about 1/2 of an inch long, likely the remnant of a dollhouse manger scene that I turned into an ornament for a dollhouse Christmas tree too many moons ago. I can't find the Elf on the Shelf but I did sit with this found-preciousness for a few minutes in the flurry of unpacking Christmas with a ten year-old. Advent was designed to help us stay present for this mystery. And it takes work well beyond the moment of an advent calendar: daily reflections, timers set on my phone and visits to the sacred spaces I love around the Dallas Arts District are just three ways I will stretch the day to be present to that baby. 

Knowing the outcome: what we want and up to in the world helps us understand the why. And helps us understand.

Which brings me to Silence.

Where will I find the silence in these twenty-five precious days? Or any of the precious days in your own spiritual tradition?

Everywhere. When you start to look for something: beauty, connection, meaning, it is everywhere.

This is true for silence, too.

In my house it happens at 5 am. But it also happens in moments in my car, walking to a meeting, breathing on an elevator. In a Long December every breath, every capsule of five or sixty-seconds is the window of an Advent Calendar, waiting to be opened up and felt more deeply than ever before.

I learned recently that when you begin a new practice of mindfulness, you feel everything more. I want this: more feeling in this moment and in the next moment, and the next. I want the long days that last forever: steeping in the mystery of what it means to be alive. If ever there is a time to slow down, to experience a wealth of time and a scarcity of busy, it is now.

And it's been a long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

Read more:  Counting Crows - A Long December Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

There is reason to believe. I believe that whatever you believe, new traditions for mindfulness can bring a human right to the place where they are: beautiful and present in the world. Awake and alive to the longest day ever. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Family Meeting and the Art of Being Together

The First Day in a New School

Five weeks ago school started for us and for so many families. For our family, we crossed the threshold to a new school: Lakewood Elementary in the Dallas Independent School District. After five wonderful years at the nearby Episcopal School, our family made a decision to "Go Public".

This transition was a hard one for me, and unknowingly I pulled my own experience from 1983 forward 34 years: my experience leaving a private school in the middle of the sixth grade and moving into the Highland Park School System. I realized--through Baker's fourth grade graduation ceremony (titled Rite of Passage), the last day of school and buying uniforms for the new school, that the rite of passage was mine. The heartbreak I was creating all around us was just my story. My story that I was bringing to the boys unnecessarily.

As the antidote to this sadness, I meditated and prayed. A lot. I wrote about it. And I called us to our first official Family Meeting of the academic year. It started with a bell. Now, five weeks into this new practice, I share this offering with you of five ways to create the meaningful, mindful Family Meeting:

1. Start with the Bell. The bell, whether one you have in the home or a bell from your smart phone, can herald attention, create silence and invite a centering space around it. This practice can become the literal, and figurative, mindfulness bell. Invite others to manage the bell: anytime you can create participation, do. This is the gift of the family meeting.

2. Enjoy the Silence. Offer the bell both as a start to the meeting but also the bookends to a period of silence. Start with 30 seconds or a minute. The Insight Meditation Timer is a wonderful app with easy-to-use settings for short (and longer) meditations). We usually sit for three minutes. I invite our boys to settle in, close their eyes and follow their breath.. It's that simple. If you are breathing you are meditating.

3. Write. At our first meeting we wrote for 3 minutes with hopes and wishes for the year. At our second, we wrote about how the second week could be better than the first. We followed that exercise with offers to each other around how that second week was going to be better. We've also written appreciations for each other. (We call it Watering the Flowers: a tradition I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's teachers at Plum Village). Once a family member reads aloud, the person to their right or left will "recall" a sentence or two from the other person's reading. This supports deeper listening and acknowledgement.

4. Talk. Ask a "more beautiful question" that everyone can respond to. Share moods and experiences. Say a prayer or meditation together. Invite others to lead this "circle time". Listen for loving speech and awareness. You will be amazed.

5. Close with a plan for being together again soon. Set the next meeting (and the intention for the next meeting) and close with the bell. Create the bookend to this sacred time together. We had a couple of meetings where we didn't have a closure and it really does make the difference. Invite one of your children to host the closing. You might ask them to bring a quote or a prayer to send the family off into the next space. Don't forget to breathe.

Our Family Meetings are usually 15-30 minutes. The length of time matters: stay present with what your family is up for taking into the context of this time: how awake or tired, interested or bored. I try to pull forward some of the work of the last meeting into the present one: little dotted lines of connection and attention. We usually have our family meetings just after dinner on Sundays.

The Mindful Practice is working because of the Mindful Family Meeting. This is our precious time in this wild and precious life (*Summer Day, Mary Oliver). Our meetings are creating more connection, awareness and love every time we ring the bell.

Gratitude to Nancy Dorrier for first teaching me about the beautiful, Mindful Meeting. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Mindful Family: Just Take Three

Three breaths can make any situation better. 

Today we accomplished something amazing as a mindful family. It wasn't the seventeen miles cycling down the Virginia Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia. This trail, once a train track pulling logs off the mountains is an active, easy and beautiful breezeway past old towns and rivers overlapping each other on the mountainside. 

It wasn't the easy way we worked together as a team of three families: one took the post of lead, one took the rear and a third, nearly an Eagle Scout, swept up and down if we lost our rhythms and found ourselves separated. In our line of nine, there was room for experiment (a wheelie or two), easy, loving conversations and varied paces. It was a natural, lovely union to experience. 

It wasn't the perfect canopy of tree and vine and rocks on both sides of the trail peppered with falls every so many miles. Five of our nine are boys under the age of sixteen, so the falls lured their dipped toes, brazen jumps and "accidental" splashes. This wilderness, part Appalachian Trail, part Mount Rogers National Park is pretty amazing: protected and preserved: a quiet thoroughfare for those choosing the path less traveled. 

Yes, pretty amazing but not as amazing as when an insect stung my child. 

I saw him stopped on the trail a few hundred feet ahead of me. He was still. When we pulled up, Baker, age 10 was holding back huge tears. He collapsed into Scott's arms. Stung. Maybe a bee, maybe a yellow jacket: likely an insect as surprised by Baker as Baker was by him. A whelp rose up quickly on the back of his neck and he was overwhelmed with pain. I looked at him and said: breathe with me: three times. He held it together with something new to focus on. 

We washed his neck and he kept breathing. I heard him counting, one...two...three. Within minutes he was back on the trail making up for lost time. Yellow jackets, beware. His amazing space for meditating through a bee sting, without a baking soda paste for miles was amazing to watch. Three cycles of three breaths and he was back on the bike. 

Once home, our nine year-old Edward complained of a splinter. First attempts with tweezers failed and the serious invasive needle technique was our only option. Ice pack, light and needle in hand, I went for it. And this time, without suggesting it, I watched this boy start breathing rhythmically instead of crying. He by round two he was calmer and much relieved to find the splinter gone. Three breaths and a whole new world. 

The boys weren't together when these two events happened, but somewhere along the way--maybe it was learning Flower Power with the Yoginos: Yoga for Youth Program, meditating at home or practicing mindful breath on the pitcher's mound--somewhere along the way they picked up this tool we all need: just three breaths. 

Sharon Salzburg says that if you are breathing you are meditating. Three breaths take you away from the place that you aren't to the place that you are: mindful, aware and ok. 

So the next time I get stung by a bee, or stung by anything: a friend's harsh comment, unexpected traffic or stress at work: I hope I can remember to just take three: three breaths into the present moment. If a nine year old can do it, so can I. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Mindful Family: How Hungry Are You?

I met him on Facebook. Samuel Chu. A few days before we left for this grand adventure, I asked for recommendations for hotels in Little Rock. Samuel wrote enthusiastically: "I will be there! with my truck. Come visit!!!".  

I didn't know Samuel had a truck--I didn't know very much about Samuel at all, except that two years ago I "liked" a post he'd made on a mutual friend's wall about his father, one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement. I admire people who take stands, and Samuel and his family are worthy of admiration, and prayers. 

After a quick check-in with my co-captain Scott I signed up for four free passes to this mysterious, immersive experience about hunger, held in an expanded 18-wheeler outside of the Clinton School of Public Service, next door to the Clinton Library. We found ourselves with 30 minutes to eat lunch in the Clinton Library before the program started at 1. All of us felt the uncomfortable tug of irony: with limited time we couldn't finish our meal. 

Outside we walked toward the This Is Hunger truck and I considered the potential of a museum on wheels. Is this a museum? I wondered to myself. We climbed up and in after being greeting warmly by two volunteers and the driver. 

Inside, cool air enveloped us and we were invited to sit at a long farmhouse-style table. There were about 20 other participants at the table with us: from age 70-something to 5 months. The room was quiet, each of us filled with the promise that something special was about to happen. Projections of light from the ceiling of the room created circles, like dinner plates at each person's spot at the table. 

Samuel gave us a brief orientation, connecting us to his journey with the truck across the country. Now we twenty humans are part of the This is Hunger initiative. We are part of the story. For the next 14 minutes we were surrounded by stories, some humbling, some hard to listen to. At each end of the table, a projected image of a real human with food insecurity made two rows of people a circle. We were sharing a common human experience, but the plates were empty. We could just as easily be the human in the photograph: no one believed hunger could or would ever happen to them. 

It was powerful. When the lights came up at the end of the presentation Edward our nine year-old sat with his head down on the table, the literal expression of the weight of the world on his shoulders. Samuel broke the silence with an invitation to work together to create a meal plan from the S.N.A.P. (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP (perhaps more familiar to you as the Food Stamp Program) allows $1.40 per meal: just sit with that for a moment. Edward and I calculated and re-calculated: being hungry in America in 2017 is hard. 42 million Americans know this. 1 in 4 Veterans: once noble servants to our country are now hungry. 

Phil Snyder, a Deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas, once taught me that evangelism is one hungry person telling another hungry person where the food is. When was the last time you or I told another hungry person where the food is? Created by Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger: the This is Hunger Experience is a classroom for the best, most necessary kind of evangelism. Samuel Chu has committed his life to telling people across the nation where the food is, and how we can tell others, too. This is compassion in action, and an intention for mindfulness led us here. 

Once we got in the car to head on to Nashville for the continuation of our Mindful Family Road Trip, Edward sat quietly in the back seat: big tears rolling down his face. His sweet compassionate heart broke a little in the This is Hunger truck. And I wonder, who will he tell when he grows up where to find the food? 

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Mindful Family: The Ten Agreements

Just before dinner we ventured to Riverside Park in Little Rock Arkansas. A hot summer storm gave way to what promised to be a spectacular sunset. We climbed to the upper level of the vertical lift bridge to take it all in: the Mindful Family meets Sunset. 

The sky play was something to behold. The bridge, dripping in fresh rain wash, sparkled around us. The sun in the west hit clouds in the east creating mirrored color and glow. A double rainbow dipped down just over downtown. If you listen to a rising or setting sun, there is a lot to hear. The boys were restless: they'd spotted a cave in the park below, but I asked them to linger a little longer. Color swelled all around us. I explained how special it all was: for someone who holds a space for the sunrise most mornings, this air show was a world apart. 

At dinner (The Flying Fish) I offered up a mood check: a chance to allow each person to share how they're feeling and how the world is occurring for them in the moment. This is a practice we've learned from our colleagues at Dorrier Underwood and one I use often at the Crow Collection with our teams. This practice invites loving speech and deep listening: two mindfulness trainings I studied at Plum Village earlier this summer. With some competition from the television in the restaurant we managed to carry the practice to all four of us. 

Next I asked them to help us create the standards we could expect for our time together in this Mindful Road Trip. I asked how we want to be with each other. Here are the ten things we came up with as we rotated to each person in the circle: 

1. Think about what we do before we do it and not hurt other people. 

2. Parents should have fun with us. Like play on the playground. 

3. Pray at every meal. 

4. Everyone shares in the work: everyone participates in the fun stuff and the hard stuff. 

5. Greet our friends when we see them with a hug or a handshake. 

6. Daddy goes on the morning walks. (if you know Scott this is very humorous) 

7. Love each other. 

8. Limited complaining (this was revised from "no complaining") 

9. You are 100% responsible. 

10. Don't argue. 

I tucked the list away and smiled to myself. From the mouths of babes. We moved onto to conversations about the trip, the dozens of Billy Bass on the wall and how quickly we'd found ourselves in a new world exploring Little Rock. Travel is amazing, Baker said. Suddenly baskets of fried oysters, hush puppies, shrimp po boys and french fries appeared on our table: a welcome sight after a long day of work and travel. The list, long forgotten, sat in my purse. I started to take a bite and glanced at Edward. He sat, patiently with his hands together. 

Mommy! It's time to pray! 

Yes, Edward it most certainly is. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Mindful Family: We're All in This Together

Waiting for Cobbler

Week one of The Mindful Family Practice has been all about togetherness: one of the goals of the practice and one of the things our family is starving for.

I've had the week off from my work at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, with this awkwardly placed holiday of July 4 on a Tuesday.  After a weekend pick-up at camp, a lazy day Sunday and pre and post fourth jubilees I found myself finally relaxing into my week off: on Thursday.

But I kept intention close: this was a week for long bike rides (32 miles logged) with the boys, baking experiments, reading, meditating and tree-house building (a work-in-progress).

But it was also a week of chores. As the boys grow, our bungalow shrinks. I found myself in a pattern of walking through the house, picking up clothes, the guitar, fidget spinners, towels and shoes. Sometimes I found myself picking up the same thing a fourth and fifth time.

This morning I stopped looking at this as a complaint: stopped looking at it as something "done to me" and stopped yelling into our shrinking house: Boys! Pick up your stuff!

I started looking at these leavings as my meditation practice: the motion of moving things through the house: floor to dirty clothes bin, dirty clothes bin to a sorting practice, filling the washer, moving to the dryer, folding, moving the clothes back into a drawer.  Just clothes in different places. Summer puts a different abundance in this work. It's hard not to hear the call to work.

It's also hard not to hear the call of the closets: the need to lean into less clutter more minimalism. On the latter I have a long way to go. This morning I invited Edward to clean our closets with me. I showed him how to sort: sorting the give-away from the keep; sorting the hangers to recycle, sorting the shirts from the dresses.

As we cleaned the closet, we wet a cleaning cloth and I showed him how to run his fingers with the cloth along the baseboard. We did this work slowly and intentionally. He surprised me with how long he stayed. I think it was because I was teaching him something new, and I was listening. I watched this nine year-old sweep, dive deeply under the bed and pull out any "oddlings", I watched him carry our bags out to the garage. I felt this work as a practice, not a chore, as a chance to be together accomplishing something important. I think he felt it, too.

I thanked him for his work, and he asked me to make waffles. An easy way to repay his effort, I thought. We sat together watching the waffle maker do it's magic. And at the end of "brunch" I sat in the mystery of watching him take his plate and silverware to the sink where he rinsed it off, independent of my prodding.

As much as this abundance is about togetherness, it's also about time. My week home has been simple, but I looked for the spaces where our time together could truly be together: accomplishing the things the house was calling for. And all I had to do was stop calling out Boys! and just listen to them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Mindful Family: Working it out on the Santa Fe Trail

"Quit cutting me off" Baker said to Edward the Younger as we sat, mid-ride at the All Good Cafe in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. Baker set his head down on the table, likely the result of riding six miles then drinking a tall chocolate milk.

"This is how we work things out" my dear husband spoke up. I looked up from my meal. We are in a different conversation, I thought to myself. I looked into this: a family talking about actions and impact at a meal in the middle of a 12 mile bike ride. Something is cracking open.

Baker went on to describe what it's like to be on the trail when he gets cut off from his brother. Edward described what it's like when Baker suddenly stops. We talked about not making each other wrong, but seeing the reasons for the actions and the impact to another. Baker sat up a little straighter. A few minutes later he asked if we can take another ride tomorrow.

On the trail back we sailed through East Dallas as most of it is downhill. I watched Edward, taking both hands off the handlebars and lapped up his joy thinking of my own first "free-ride" 35+ years ago.

At one point, with three ahead of me, they took a sudden and unexpected water break, surprisingly close to home. I groused--as a biker behind me had to deal with the road block slow down without much warning. "You can't stop in the middle of the trail without warning!" I exclaimed.

All three looked at me. Baker smiled, "No one's wrong, Mommy. We just have a communication problem. Next time all of the riders need to know when we're stopping."

I inhaled. It was happening again. The Mindful Family is becoming more mindful. I hope this writing place shares our accomplishments and our failures: we're far from knowing how to weave this life.

Like everyone else, I'm just trying to make this precious time we have left with these beautiful boys more meaningful. One day at a time.

This morning was an experiment in trying something hard, meeting the challenge with joy and taking care of each other. I'm grateful for the lessons of the cycling trail.