Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Holidays When You’re High on Mindfulness

A few years ago I had to admit that I have a tough time with holidays. The difficulty is almost intangible; I’m excited for Thanksgiving, can’t wait to show off my gluten-free lemon meringue pie and my fetching vegetable side dish–but then I get terrified about a car crash on the way out of town. Or I just, all of a sudden, wish that it were a regular long weekend, with no obligation to be cheery, to drink wine, to participate.

I am pleased to say that this year, I weathered Thanksgiving with aplomb.

We visited Marc’s family–lovely folks with strong personalities. During holidays past, there has been some drama, arguments and the like. But this year, everyone was on their very best behavior. It helped that I was, too. It’s hard to explain what was different; I didn’t feel quite as pressured. A couple of times Marc was looking for me and there I was, reading a book in the guest room, letting someone else do the dishes and watch my kid. Maybe I embraced laziness? Not exactly. I just removed expectation. And I wonder if my lowered expectations affected those around me, because there was absolute harmony. Good food, many laughs, some alone time, some togetherness, a night out with the siblings while the grandparents put the kids to bed. And lots of love and gratitude being spread around. I was happy to come home late Saturday night, but also sad to have left.

I’m chalking this up to my newfound meditation practice, my morning yoga, my resolutions to enjoy my kid, embrace abundance, and give myself a break.

Four weeks to Christmas…

Thanksgiving harvest–probably the last big haul of the year!


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Mindful Resolution #5: Give Yourself a Break

I toyed with two other ideas for this last of the five mindful resolutions: “spend more time alone” and “say ‘no’ more.” I think all three get at the gist of the thing, which is that I tend to try to rise to unreasonable demands. Lately, those demands take the form of what feels like excessive socializing and community-building. Maybe that sounds a little bitter, but it has kind of felt that way: like there are social obligations I can’t get out of or enjoy as much as I would like. For my birthday in October I told Marc all I wanted was to have a weekend where we didn’t make any plans. I am craving both spontaneity and just a few days when the calendar is…empty.

So, resolved: no more double- and triple-booking; white lies are okay for the sake of my sanity; time alone is gold; yoga can be skipped in favor of staying home, if that’s how I want to roll; and it is okay to say “no.”


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Mindful Resolution #4: Be Grateful

In meditation a week ago, the guy who led the session and gave the dharma talk read some work by poet Danna Faulds. These lines stuck with me:

“It took years for me to realize that the very twists and turns and shadows I labeled ‘problems’ were really sacred ground, grace disguised as obstacles, the whole path a pilgrimage, mysteries baring themselves before me all along the way” (from “Every Step is Holy, in From Root to Bloom).

I grew up in a family where we all held on by our fingertips so nothing bad would happen. As an adult, I tend to remember, in my more graceful moments, that adversity brings growth. Here on Thanksgiving, I want to remember that the only way through dukkha is by experiencing it and growing stronger. Grace, disguised as obstacles.

But I think Poi Dog Pondering maybe said it best.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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Mindful Resolution #2: Enjoy My Kid

I’d be lying if I didn’t say this one is a little hard to write this morning, since yesterday goes down in the annals of bad days with toddler. I never thought I’d have a kid who would say things to me like, “You’re the worst Mumma I never wanted!” (the grammar and syntax are astoundingly difficult to figure out, when you get down to it). But there you have it. From the moment I picked him up from preschool to the moment I left for meditation, he acted like a drunk, abusive husband, berating me for my inadequacy (then begging my forgiveness) while I tried in vain to get him to stop bursting into tears in utter despair and, clearly, exhaustion.

Gretchen Rubin talks a lot about enjoying her kids. Like me, she knows that there is always one voice in your head reminding you, “they’re little for such a short time.” On the other hand, she knows that as the mother of a toddler, you experience a roller-coaster of emotions almost as up-and-down as theirs, which is to say, in one day you might feel joy, confusion, despair, boredom, happiness, nostalgia, longing, and sadness. They’re little for such a short time, you think. Then: Thank God.

“What’s the most difficult thing about parenting for you?” I asked an old friend, who had tried for over two years to get his wife pregnant before they went through a very intense and drawn-out adoption. “Probably the mind-numbing boredom,” he said without missing a beat.

Rubin says, the days are long, but the years are short.

(Modest Mouse said it slightly differently: “The years go fast but the days go so slow.”)

Maybe because I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever have another toddler, lately I’m bringing more loving-kindness to the days with Lex. (Okay, okay, I’m lying. My behavior turned distinctly un-Zen around 6:30 p.m. yesterday.) I’m trying to enjoy getting down on the floor and playing more. I’m trying to bring compassion to his very un-Zen moments. I’m trying to remember that an hour after I was the worst Mumma he never wanted, he kissed me and said, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best mom I ever wanted.” And that the night before, we’d had one of those ornate, chatty, sweet bedtime tuck-ins that was absolutely magical.

Resolved to to enjoy my kid.

Resolved to enjoy my kid when he’s like this…

…and like this.


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Mindful Resolution #1: Embrace Abundance

Last spring, Marc and I had one of those terrible moments when we realized that the reason we were perpetually broke was that our income and our expenses were EXACTLY THE SAME. Seriously. I figured this out one day when I sat down with ye olde calculator and the checkbook and the credit card statements and afterwards I felt so bummed–we have jobs, we’re well off in the scheme of things, and it just felt crazy to think that we were incapable of even saving $100/month.

So, as is my way, I immediately sprung to action. And, as usual, action made me feel better. We needed to either increase our income by X number of dollars or reduce our costs by about the same amount, and after a month of phone-calling and moving things around and me finding a little more work and really embracing frugality, I am pleased to say that we now, knock on wood, come out ahead by a few hundred bucks a month. It’s not amazing, but it sure feels better not to be stressing out about money all the time.

So why do I still live like I’m holding onto my wallet for dear life with my fingertips?

This resolution is two-fold. One, to appreciate the abundance we have. We can afford preschool, a nice, albeit small, apartment, occasional meals out, good organic food and occasional free-range meat. We have music, books, magazines, and Netflix in our lives. We sleep on a gorgeous expensive mattress we bought during a flush period. Lex has his own room. We have bicycles, a car, and BART passes. We have generous grandparents and a safety net, should things get hairy. In other words, to quote Marc’s mother when he was a kid and whining about wanting a new toy: we have everything we need.

Resolved to remember that, every day.

Abundance at the Union Square Farmer’s Market (photo courtesy of Emma Brode)

And, on a much more practical and mundane level, resolved to keep my house full. Today I opened the fridge for the umpteenth time and found: a quart of milk, a jar of preserved lemons, some boring old vegetables, and some corn tortillas. So after I picked up Lex from school, we made a giant pot of Cuban black bean soup and a batch of granola, plus started soaking chick peas for hummus. And we cleaned the kitchen and emptied the compost and swept the floor, listening to very loud music the whole time.


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On Making Resolutions, or What I Learned from Reading The Happiness Project

I just finished Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that in a roundabout way had some bearing on my decision to undertake this project. As I said in My Story, I’m not doing an experiment in happiness, exactly, but nonetheless Rubin’s decision to take a year to improve her relationships, be more mindful, clear out clutter, and pursue a passion definitely appealed to me. She and I are very different people, but I liked and admired her strange, thoughtful, and sometimes-hokey journey through self-improvement.

The Goddess in the side yard

The book is full of resolutions, and I must admit that was part of its appeal. I love to make resolutions: resolutions to be more tidy, resolutions to write more, resolutions to do yoga everyday, and the biggie, this resolution to find a spiritual life and live more mindfully. I have to admit, though, that I can’t tell whether resolutions are actually antithetical to what I’m trying to do. I struggle with the dichotomy of “get your ass to yoga, slacker” and “actually, if you choose not to go to yoga–and have a glass of wine instead–that’s A-ok.” I know Buddhism, and any spiritual practice, really, is about discipline. I also know that personally, I err way on the side of giving myself too many tasks to accomplish and things to do, and sometimes, the best choice for me would be saying no–even to yoga.

So I had an idea. I decided to make some mindful resolutions. What’s a mindful resolution, you ask? Well, resolutions that take me beyond those states like Ego, Anger, and Animality–and closer to Enlightenment. Resolutions that ultimately might help me end dukkha (suffering). Being more tidy is a good resolution, but let’s face it, it won’t bring me closer to God. Or will it?

Stay tuned, readers: next week. My mindful resolutions.

To read: The Happiness Project