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 counted...one...two...three...and 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!!! https://thisishunger-littlerock.eventbrite.com".  

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.




Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Mindful Family: Berry to Pie

Today, July 1 is the first of 100 Days of The Mindful Family Practice.

100 Days working to have more attention, more silence, more togetherness and more understanding. The architecture for this plan was inspired by a talk given at a corporate mindfulness retreat I attended at Plum Village near Thenac, France. This idea came to me on one of those long delicious and rare train rides as I soaked in all of the goodness we learned from the sage monastics.

The Mindful Family would be a project: our project for my husband Scott and our two boys Baker (10) and Edward (9). After they picked me up at Terminal D in the Dallas/ Fort Worth Airport, we drove to dinner and invited them to participate. I asked them if, as the teacher shared with us, if they felt starved for attention, more togetherness and more understanding. They immediately agreed.

Following our discussion, a family vote made it real: we are all in. I asked them to come up with new commitments, promises for these 100 days:

Written June 8, 2017:

Mommy's Promise: iPhone goes away at home. 


Baker's Promise: When someone walks in the door he will stop and greet them. 


Edward will work on being calmer and go with the flow. 


Scott will be off the computer and available to the boys during the day. 


Wow. The power in the commitments was something Scott and I both felt: this is a new family. Now we have to do the hard work to study our attachments to technology and build new connections with our kids. We are all in this together.

Today it is real: Today, July 1 is the first of 100 Days of The Mindful Family Practice.

I found time in two spaces for new conversations about intention and awareness. The first was in the blackberry patch. An unexpected family outing following camp pick-up was the perfect launch to The Mindful Family Project. Wild Berry Farm offered row after row of blackberry, blueberry, squash and tomato for our mindful eyes to find. The boys, pail in hand loved it. For every berry they put in the bucket I'm pretty sure a second went in the mouth. Perfect. We walked slowly and I taught them how to look under the bramble. To leave the red ones for another day, and to check for any bugs stowing away on the berry as it went from vine to bucket. It was a lovely Texas afternoon. Scott wanted to sit out but I reminded him we were there for the boys and he made it to every last row. We are, after all, the Mindful Family.

The second Mindful moment happened as I taught Edward and Baker how to cut the lattice work for the blueberry pie. Edward made a simple weaving, but his choice to use the zig-zag crimper brought a  rustic craftsmen style to this work of art. We brushed an egg yolk across the pastry as a last touch. We slowed down: taking care not to stress the crust. We worked on breathing and enjoying the pleasure of baking a pie with berries we'd picked. It was altogether lovely.

At dinner we reviewed our promises for this chapter of our lives together. I sensed there was an urgency to eat dinner and get to the dessert course. We reminded ourselves to eat slowly. We talked about how these 100 Days will be different for us. Edward picked up my phone and took it to his side of the table. And so it begins.

The house is quiet now, two boys, exhausted from a week at camp, nestled in their beds. They're older than they were just 7 days ago: I am always awed by the growing up that happens at Camp. And if that can happen in just a week, imagine what we will experience in a 100 Day Practice. We will find 100 Days to love them, listen deeply to them, understand them and look for the spaces to be together and quiet. Today was the last day for the blackberry season, but most certainly the beginning of our season in joy.   

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Mindful Family: 100 Days in Joy

At the close of the Mindful Eating Practice (March 1-June 8, 2017) I attended a corporate mindfulness retreat at Plum Village in the South of France. After several days of beautiful Dharma talks, walking meditations and quiet reflection I returned to Dallas with three very special humans in my sight: Scott, Baker and Edward, also known as My Family.

In my notebook I wrote:

What is the Crow Collection of Asian Art doing for FAMILIES. 

What am I doing for my family?

These questions are the seedlings of this talk by Brother Phap Dung on June 6, 2017. He shared with 200+ executives and mindful journeyers the urgency of finding compassion for families in our communities: foremost our own. Brother Dung taught us that families are craving

attention

silence

understanding and

togetherness.

This is my experience, too. The struggle to connect in a world of schedules, work, school and technology pulls all of us away from each other.

There is potential, with intention and mindfulness for something different: a family that is in loving connection and a space of presence.

Beginning July 1, the Hoflands will launch the Mindful Family Project (July 1-October 8, 2017): a practice of new ways of being across 100 days. We will talk and be quiet. We will share and learn. We will explore and just sit. We will study ourselves and share our experiences in this blog.

This is a journey for our family to find each other and experience all we have to give each other in these few and fleeting years. As with the Mindful Eating Practice, I look forward to being in the family in that future: one that is more understanding and aware of this precious space we hold in the world. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Mindful Detox: Part III: Twenty Pearls

III

Twenty Pearls



In the world of elimination diets, I learned very quickly that you can’t focus on the “can’t” and you have to make it fun. What follows are the snacks, meals and practices that created joy out of elimination: “yes” out of the “no” and more fun in the journey.

Twenty Pearls for Detox Success:

I. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oatmeal, Hemp, Walnuts and a wee bit of local honey. Sweet and simple. Beautiful and Filling.

II. The Fake Margarita: After a challenging work trip to Mexico, this little gem stayed with me through the end of the detox: 3 parts mineral / sparkling water, one part fresh lime juice. The tartness helps you forget you’re missing tequila, and the refreshing texture of a little bubbly only makes the distraction more fun.

III. A Really Beautiful Vinagrette: Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Salt and Pepper: just as the French do it—nothing simpler, nothing better. (Dijon mustard is a nice addition, too)

IV. Almond Butter on Udi’s Gluten Free Bread

V. The Art of Tea: In the work of distraction, tea and tea service have a lot to offer. Tea, with all of its elegance makes drinking a mindful ritual: it offers tea cup, saucer, tea pot, tea, hot water and strainer. It offers time to wait and be grateful for this moment. Every part of this experience of tea brought me joy: a welcome distraction as other dinner guests mulled over the cocktail list.

VI. Small bits of organic dark chocolate. Yes, it’s allowed. Just make sure there’s no sugar added.

VII. Podcasts: Tara Brach’s series on Relaxing the Over-Controller was a welcome companion in this work of mindful practice. I also always enjoy Krista Tippett's On Being and Deepak Chopra’s Secret of Healing

VIII. Writing. Creative writing was a harbor for me in this work. It was and is a place to set intentions, joys, frustrations and challenges. Even as I write my learnings, the writing place is compassionate and ever-present. I found time to write as often as I could and this gave me grounding, perspective and awareness of my progress.

IX. Community: you. I set the plan, the intentions and the failures and the learnings all in a space of love and support via my blog, Facebook and Instagram. I put it out there and I never looked back.

X. Always have a drink in the hand. At a cocktail party? Perrier first, network second. Waiters are trained to put a glass of wine in your hand. Be warned! If you don’t see water: ask. Always have a drink in the hand, and never hesitate to ask a friend to help you with this. Which leads me to the next pearl:

XI. Ask for what you need: challenging menu? Ask. I was amazed at how accommodating restaurants are! Secret tip: chefs love to be asked to cook for vegetarians. It breaks up the kitchen menu-monotony I guess, but I have this intel from a very reliable source. One outcome of the he Mindful Eating Practice I never anticipated? Assertiveness. Ask for what you need.

XII. Ice is not nice. Ayurveda is a wonderland of practices for anyone wanting to design a new eating lifestyle. I learned so much from my explorations of ancient vedic wisdom. Ice is not nice and a glass of hot water upon rising are just two—but I recommend exploring Naivedhya as a start.

XIII. 1 Tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar diluted in water. Enough said.

XIV. Flower Child Foods and True Foods Kitchen made the Mindful Eating Practice FUN.

XV. Crunch Master Chips and Carrots with Hummus

XVI. Meso Maya’s Pozole Verde 


XVIII. Kris Carr

XIX. Cookie and Kate's Almond Quiche

XX. Tei An’s White Mushroom Salad. Pretty much anything at Tei An. Ask for Tamari Sauce (See #XI) as a substitute for Soy sauce.