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.