Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Fucking Four, or We Are in the Presence of Greatness

I had this revelation today about the kid-previously-known-as-a-three-year-old. Since turning four, L has been a very different creature. The kid who was afraid to climb anything higher than a footstool now wants to get on top of the table, the checkout stand, the back of the couch, the bicycle, the tree. The kid who wasn’t terribly loud has become deafening, letting loose random squawks and shouts. The kid who had words in his vocabulary like “foundation,” “extremely,” “predator,” and “nocturnal” has started obsessing over “poop,” “diaper,” and “stupid.” (He also calls me “Mummy Doodle Pants,” “Little Baby Mama,” “Dumb Head,” and other terms of derision endearment.) And the kid who had a sweet head of babyish blond curls very calmly requested a mohawk a couple of weeks ago.

The young mohawked meditator

The young mohawked meditator

Yup, I’ve been thinking, it’s the fucking fours.

Part of me has been finding this new, intrepid, interesting kid really cool. He’s pretty fun, with his verbal ticks and his wily ways. But some days I mean to be playing along with his wildness and everything is going great and then he hits me out of the blue and I yell, or he throws edamame pods all over the kitchen for no reason at all and I punish and he cackles and storms off and I think, what’s happening here? Why can’t we connect?

So I’ve been trying to slow down a little. It’s hard when he’s moving like a freight train all the time, but I’m trying. I’m secondhandedly learning some “hand-in-hand” parenting strategies from a friend. The philosophy emphasizes connection and being more authentic, present, on his level. I’m also just trying to observe what’s going on. He’s experiencing a lot of tiredness, I think, and probably some confusion since one of his dearest-friends-from-out-of-school is now going to his school. And they say there are hormones raging when they’re four, but who knows.

But back to the revelation. Today at the store things were spinning right on the edge of control. L was grabbing at pears and shouting at me about bananas! And strawberries! And mangoes! And grapes! (Kid likes fruit) and I realized I was reaching my edge. So I calmly told him he had to sit in the cart and point at things he wanted instead of grabbing and yelling, and he actually obliged. Then when we got to the leafy greens aisle he really wanted to use the tongs to pick up a few grabbers of loose spinach for the bag and–revelation coming–I LET HIM…and then he wanted to get out and push the cart and I LET HIM…and then he wanted to help take everything out of the cart at checkout and I LET HIM…and then after containing him from ramming everyone and pillaging the bulk bins I asked him to carry the lightest bag to the car and HE DID…and into the house from the car, too…and before dinner he set the table…and then he ate two bowls of cauliflower soup and decided he liked tomatoes after all. And I thought to myself, we may be in the presence of greatness here.

It turns out the kid is growing up. The kid wants more responsibility. He wants more autonomy. And part of our difficulty has been that I’ve still been treating him like the three-year-old who needed all my love and support. I said to Marc after dinner, I think we need to harness this powerful, complex energy and turn it into something positive. Because this is actually a really exciting time.

Four is not going to be easy, I can tell you that, but I’m feeling kind of excited by the difficulty it presents. I can practically see his brain cells multiplying as he navigates the back yard at school with confidence and excitement.

One foot in preschool, one foot pushing the cart through the big wide world.


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Mistakes were Made

photo-4 copy

I conceived of this post in the middle of the night, when I woke up with insomnia of the social remorse variety, so it’s still a little unformed.

The background: I’m the co-chair of my son’s cooperative preschool. It’s an amazing place, but I’ll let you in on the dirty little secret of co-op nursery schools: it’s a shitload of work to keep them running. And, because almost everyone is volunteering, on top of being moms and dads with jobs and lives, stuff falls through the cracks. Interpersonal things get intense. Budgets get interesting. Meetings can drag on. On top of that, you still have to “participate” every week and show up for work days twice a year.

Since becoming co-chair, I’ve been wrestling with this feeling of not being good enough. I had two meetings this week, and after each, I came home feeling like I’d made mistakes. After the first I thought, oh why did I make that one comment? Was I inclusive enough? Do people like me? Am I doing a good job? And after the second I thought, oh why did I make that one comment? Was I inclusive enough? Do people like me? Am I doing a good job?

That last question I verbalized to The Hubs after I got home: “Do you think I’m doing a good job as co-chair?” To which he replied, “Why are you agonizing over whether you’re doing a good job as co-chair?” To which I replied: “Isn’t that my point in life, to agonize over whether I’m doing a good job?”

You’d think I was kidding. Sadly, I wasn’t.

In the middle of the night this came back to me. I thought again about the meeting I’d had and whether things had gone down the way they were supposed to. Then, bizarrely, I remembered how in college, when I edited an anthology of women’s writing for my senior project, I failed to correct a grammar mistake in one of the poems. Embarrassingly, what I did do back then–in 1995, nearly twenty years ago–was attempt to edit another poem that was perfectly fine as it was; in fact, I read the other day that this woman went on to get her PhD and has published several books of poetry and has a tenure-track job somewhere, so clearly the joke is on me.

I lay there in the dark, thinking about all these ways in which I haven’t done a good enough job. And I realized that I have been doing this my whole life: looking back on mistakes I’ve made, and regretting them. Often, in the middle of the night.

Lately, whenever I have a moment that, back when I could afford therapy I would have taken to my therapist, I now take to this little compartment in my brain labeled “mindfulness.” I think how Buddhism is helping and not helping with my sometimes-debilitating anxiety. And I don’t come up with many answers, truthfully. I do see that now, I notice these really unhealthy patterns of behavior, and I notice how intensely difficult it is to change them. I notice now when I wake up in the morning and feel like I’ve been beating myself up all night, and I can maybe, on a good day, remind myself that this is illusion.

What I truly hope is that eventually, I’ll stop doing it altogether, and sometimes, I see a glimmer: I think to myself, why don’t I just stop remembering how “sung” should have been changed to “sang?” Why don’t I stop remembering how hurtful I was to my 9th-grade boyfriend? And a tiny piece of me lets go.

But another piece seems to snatch onto it again, to hold it, like I need to keep torturing myself until I learn to do a better job. I’ll be forty in two weeks. Do I really need to do this for another forty years? What, exactly, would that accomplish?


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54 percent

I use Insight Timer as a meditation tool, not the free app but the “real” one, which gives you a timer; about ten options for starting and ending bells (I use the lovely “Kangse”); and stats about your friends, your sessions, your percentages, your progress. It may seem counter-intuitive to measure mindfulness–it’s certainly very 21st-century!–but I have found it to be a lovely little tool for some reason. I like seeing that Susan in Berkeley has been meditating alongside me, or that my friend in Norway has gathered four gold stars. Meanwhile, I’m hovering at a mere 54%.

Huh?

Well, I meditate 54% of the days. When I started this gig, I was closer to 60%, mostly 59%, if I’m being honest. I’m not sure why, exactly, but over the spring and summer my percentage dropped to 55% and then to 54% and I started to feel a little panicked: am I only half mindful, I wondered?

It seems wrong, because I actually feel like I’ve become more like 65% mindful. Over the weekend I managed to avoid several potential conflicts with Marc’s family by choosing silence, for example. And when I woke up feeling out of sorts and depressed today, I reminded myself that this too shall pass, that it’s okay to sit with the strange revealing dream I had about wanting another baby, or the fact that I feel this week like there hasn’t been enough intimacy in my life, and this slow-dawning realization that I’m not that into my job(s). For example. I feel more mindful, yet I get to the zafu about five percent less.

I wonder what’s the end goal, here, if there is one. I know Pema Chödrön talks about the importance of sitting every day, but Pema Chödrön also lives in a monastery and doesn’t have a four-year-old jumping on her head every morning. (This morning, 7:25: “Mama, I thought you were meditating!” Yep, me too…) But I mean–is the idea to get so mindful that you don’t need the sitting anymore? Or is the idea that the sitting will always be necessary because mindfulness will always, always be challenged?

And is it possible to become, well, better at the practice, so that even when you’re making it to the cushion less often you’re being more mindful in your life? Or is this some self-serving illusion I’ve created?

I love asking all these questions, because I know there aren’t really answers. I have this feeling that if I asked Pema, she’d say: sit every day, and find out.