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?