Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Extra! Extra! Woman Feeling Guilt, Shame, and Negativity Writes Herself a Love Letter

photo-4 copyFriday: one mom, me, talking to another mom, Kate, about a situation at my son’s school. I tell Kate that I want to say something about it but am concerned about backlash. I also admit to feeling like a coward, and thus, am thinking maybe I will complain anonymously.

“I hear that,” she says, gently, “but I think it’s not a great attitude for a parent to have. Because we all need to advocate for our kids, right?”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. Kate is so much wiser than I am, and I am truly a coward. And a bad parent, likely because I am infertile and only have one child to practice on. 

Thursday: L has a playdate with one of the most ill-behaved children I have ever met. When I tell him we’re out of cream cheese at lunch time, he screams at me that he hates me. When it’s time to clean up, he tells me, “I’m not your slave!” When he bonks his head and I try to comfort him, he yells, “Stop touching me!” I know this kid well; he went to preschool with L, so I worked with him in the classroom every week, and we have relatives in common. So I feel pretty comfortable with him. So comfortable, in fact, that when he screams at me the last time, I say, calmly, “If you’re going to speak to me like that, T., I’m not going to invite you to my house again.”

Told the hubs, M, about it. He was a little shocked, said it sounded kind of harsh.

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. I’m such a terrible person, for speaking that way to someone else’s kid. And T’s dad is going to find out and tell all our friends that I’m a monster. 

Wednesday: I’m applying for this…thing. I need a letter of recommendation. I email a couple of friends who have academic jobs and ask a couple of questions about whom I should list as recommenders and whether I should include X or Y on my CV.

My friend Brooke writes back. “Don’t make assumptions about what they’re looking for,” she says. “This is a prestigious *thing* and they’re going to get a ton of great applicants, so just pull out all the stops.”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. There’s no way I will be competitive with all those great applicants out there, since I am just an untalented 41-year-old wash-up whose career is in the toilet. 

Yup, that’s the week I’ve had. (I won’t even tell you about Monday and Tuesday.)

I go through these periods where I feel I just can’t do anything right. I’m a bad parent, a bad writer. I’m a bad teacher. I don’t keep my house clean enough. I have gray hair, I’m no longer pretty. I eat too much cheese. I yell at my kid. I can’t keep my room tidy enough. I’m not financially savvy, and generally, I suck.

If I’m honest, I spend a lot of my life in this pattern of thinking. Some weeks, when I’m meditating a lot, when I remember to be mindful, when things with L and M are smooth, when I’m exercising enough and writing enough—I can take these small, relatively insignificant moments and roll them off the back like so much water. I can remind myself that at 41, I’m still learning. That it’s okay to make mistakes. That Kate, M, and Brooke are not out to get me; they’re trying to be supportive, helpful, and kind. That really, geez, these are tiny things to get all het up about.

But other weeks, small wounds like these go straight to some place in me that believes it’s not okay to make mistakes, and more than that, that my tiny falters somehow indicate terrible things about my character. On these weeks, it feels like the whole world is persecuting me. I’m hypersensitive about everything. Negativity runs the show. Look at me wrong and I just might freak out.

I’ve thought a lot about this pattern. At 41 I am no longer in therapy, and honestly (no, believe me!) not so tethered to my anxieties and insecurities all the time. I’m actually a pretty functional and whole person, capable, kind, evolved. But I have this dark place in me that still holds a lot of sway. It comes, I think, from having grown up with parents who second-guess every move they make; in addition to brown eyes, good teeth, and olive skin, I got this tendency towards self-doubt, and this belief that mistakes mean weakness.

And I am heartily, heartily sick of it. In fact, one of the reasons I started a meditation practice was to try to let some of this negativity go. And it worked, for a while; or at least, meditation helped me remember not to make my life, and these small parts of it, such a big deal. But lately, for a thousand reasons, my meditation practice is spotty, at best. The mornings have become too tight, since we’re trying to get everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door in a calm fashion (instead of what was happening before: bedlam, fights, tears). I sometimes manage to meditate before bed, but it just doesn’t feel as powerful, somehow. L’s own negativity and moods have been weighing heavily on our house—it’s amazing how powerful the discontent of a five-year-old can be—and that’s been hard to be mindful through. Also, it’s been raining and raining and raining, and while my joy and happiness that this is the case (remember our 4-year drought?) is palpable, it’s also meant less exercising for me and just more time indoors, with cabin fever (and that cranky five-year-old, did I mention him?).

So it’s been a tough week.

And so here, at the end, I will just note the writing prompt that appeared in my inbox this morning, from Kat McNally and her #Reverb project (a reflective writing prompt a day, in the month of December):

It all starts with kindness. Everything I have learnt, everyone I have interviewed, every word I have studied has guided me to this simple but profound conclusion: true happiness begins and ends with self-kindness.

No more guilt. No more shoulds. No more comparison.

And the very best way to give your weary soul some kindness at the end of this year? A love note.

Write a letter from you to you… filled with forgiveness, love, and a big bear hug.

Here’s mine:

Dear BB,

I forgive you for making mistakes. I forgive you for being oversensitive. I forgive you for not meditating. I forgive you for making things such a big deal. You’re tops.

Love,

BB

This post is, sort of, part of the Reverb 14 December daily writing challenge, a series of reflective writing prompts designed to help let go of 2014 and move into 2015 with intention.

 

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Why Are Blessings So Hard to Accept?

I’ve had such a wonderful few weeks. On May 17, my spring semester ended, and I turned in final grades a few days later. Lex’s school has been in session the whole time, which means, yes–my somewhat harried usual 15-20-hours-of-work-in-20-hours-of-childcare (and grading on the weekends) became long days with no grading to do and no kid to chase around until 12:30 or 3:00 p.m., sometimes 4:00. Sometimes, during these breaks (I get two long ones, and one short, per year), I can’t concentrate, and I fritter away the days worrying about the missing paychecks, but for whatever reason I fully embraced this break.

I:

  • Fulfilled my goal of sending out my memoir to at least 3 agents a week (my general goal was 5 submissions a week, of the memoir, of essays, whatever)
  • Finished up and sent out one essay
  • Drafted and polished another, and sent it out, too
  • Blogged
  • Figured out Twitter (insofar as one can do such a thing!)
  • Lazily graded the papers and exams I needed to for the other school where I teach very part-time
  • Got caught up with my preschool chair duties
  • Cleaned my house
  • Read some books
  • Cooked some good food
  • Meditated
  • Relaxed and concentrated on my IVF
  • And, today, went to yoga.

Formal yoga classes have left my life sphere in the last year or so. This started as a logistical issue; I couldn’t find a teacher I particularly liked, and all of the classes were either too long or at the wrong time. Then I decided that I’d rather save the money for a house (in these parts $16 per class is a good deal–oof–and a tiny house costs $650,000–double oof). So I began just doing a little yoga at home and the occasional 20-minute video here and there, which, actually, is pretty sustaining (try it!). So when I decided last minute today to hit a lunch-hour yoga class with a friend, it felt indulgent, exciting, and just a little bit like…a guilty pleasure.

Ah, guilt.

A little reminder that sits on the kitchen cupboard at a friend's house

A little reminder that sits on the kitchen cupboard at a friend’s house

At the class, the teacher talked about the concept of wounds, and how we heal from wounds by seeking out experiences that fulfill needs we missed as children. Some of this didn’t make sense to me; I of course have my wounds, but the ones the teacher was referencing were not ones I feel I need to address, exactly. Nonetheless it got me thinking about ways that I hurt–that we all hurt–and how those same hurts come up, again and again. And my experience of being in that class–feeling an inexplicable guilt because many of my friends were at work; my husband was at work; I was paying someone else to watch my kid while I was at yoga; etc etc etc–was compounded by the realization that one of my wounds is this inability to accept the blessings in my life without feeling guilty for them.

Put another way: why, when I have the chance to go to noon yoga, or morning meditation, or take a nap in the afternoon, why do I not think, wow, what a lucky, blessed life, that I can do this? and instead go to, you’re such a privileged little shit, you who only works part time and gets 12 weeks off a year. You suck.

This kind of guilt has pretty much plagued me my whole life. Call it white guilt, or privileged guilt, or just plain-old guilt, I always feel guilty for the good fortune I have had and conflicted when things are really going right for me, like I don’t deserve it.

Interestingly, this revelation dovetailed with something that happened yesterday. A writer friend told me she thinks I need more “mystery” on my writing blog, less an air of “Oh God I want to be published so badly” and more of an air of “I have so many irons in the fire, so much great is happening, look at me.” At first, this unsolicited advice really hurt. It made me feel I was doing something wrong. After, it made a little sense. It made sense because she reminded me that a) a prestigious publication has an essay of mine right now and is deliberating; and b) a prestigious literary agent is looking at my book. Both of these things are true! They’re flattering! It’s great! BUT, I am also the type of person who feels that more than likely neither of those great possibilities will pan out, and, I guess I am too superstitious to assume they will.

Now I’m a bit muddled. I think what I’m getting at is that it feels difficult to accept that blessings are all around me, and that, well, great things could happen for me and do happen for me and that I’m very lucky and I don’t need to feel guilty for having time off or good fortune or the ability to go to yoga sometimes. And, on the other I hand, nor do I need to feel less than authentic when shitty things happen to me.

—-

May I be open to the joy and happiness in my life. And may you, reader, too.

 

 


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Someone is Throwing Rocks at My Head; or, The IVF Files

Hi. My friend Laal reminded me that while silence and privacy are great and all, she missed my ruminations. And I realized I did, too. Though as I also told her, I’m not sure where to start since it kind of feels like someone is throwing rocks at my head. M put it this way: “It’s pouring on us.” And, I have to say, it seems like it’s pouring on most people I know. Is this what it means to be an adult? That all of a sudden you can’t remember what it was to be carefree because your life is insane?

(Aside: read this rambling, funny, very cool article about being in pain when everyone around you seems to be, too.)

Short version of the pouring: I’m doing IVF. I am uttering this out loud on this blog after having felt more than usually private about it. But there it is: I am taking injectable fertility medications twice a day, preparing a cadre of eggs for what, we hope, will eventually become a sibling for L. My feelings about IVF alternate between excitement/joy and fear/anxiety; mostly I am just happy that the side effects of the drugs are minimal and I’m doing something proactive in my life about something that has felt unchangeable, fixed, and stagnant. In and of itself, IVF is surprisingly okay.

Longer version of the pouring: I am doing IVF at the same time that our house is being sold out from under us and the landlady is being pushy and unreasonable (all correspondence now goes through a lawyer); on the same day there may be an egg retrieval there is a brokers’ tour going on at my house. I am doing IVF while I got an email on Tuesday from my supervisor at one of the schools where I teach telling me my contract won’t be renewed, and I suspect that this is retaliatory because I complained a couple months ago about the extremely unreasonable pay schedule. So I have been talking to an employment lawyer. Both of these things have me feeling more than a little upset and freaked out: I love lawyers when they’re my husband and my dad; I don’t like getting letters from lawyers who represent clients hostile to me, and while I have an email from the employment lawyer saying I might actually have a winnable case, I’m not in any position to sue the school and just want it all to go away. And I am doing IVF while my parents are dealing with logging trucks at their nice home in the country, people using a right-of-way to bulldoze the hell out of my parents’ property. On a lighter note, I am doing IVF while planning a terrific party for 150 people at L’s school, which takes place tomorrow, after yet another ultrasound. That task has actually felt like a really nice distraction, planning cheese trays and making hummus and organizing.

My Buddhist practice has been in full force. Ha! That makes it sound so lofty. What I mean is, I’m trying–trying–to practice mindfulness at every step of the way. I’m meditating every day, alternating between a cheesy 5-minute IVF meditation I found on YouTube (“Picture your ovaries nice and full…”) and my usual silent meditations, or guided ones courtesy of Insight Timer. It is helping; yet the feelings of despair/anxiety/fear/excitement/uncertainty very much remain. The happiest thing in my life right now is my relationship with M., who, after I texted him fretting yesterday that there are only nine eggs, and it might not be enough, texted back: “Nine eggs is great, I’ve decided. Nine beautiful little eggies.” We watch a silly episode of Parks & Rec most nights before bed, and he helps me “cook up” the meds and watches without wincing while I inject them into my bruised and swollen belly.

I very much hope this works out, but I suppose that goes without saying. This morning at a pre-op appointment I was told that if I don’t have a certain number of eggs all maturing at about exactly the same time, there won’t be an egg retrieval at all. So all my energy is forward to those nine beautiful little eggies, may they be what they are meant to be……

Onward.


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The List

So last week I wrote about how I was choosing silence a little bit, and I am, still, but–I also am feeling this nice little pull towards this blog but totally unsure what to write about. This happens a lot to me. I kind of want to just settle in to this blog like it’s a comfy chair–no no, a welcoming zafu, rather–but then the words don’t come. So I had this idea that I would just throw out all the words. You know, the ones swirling around in my head as I try to meditate, as I fall asleep, as I pretend to be present with my kid, as I manage to be present with my kid, as I teach, walk, love, be, do.

Black flies, buttercups, two butterflies flying out of jars this week, one I was sure would be dead, but wasn’t, L’s desire lately to put in jars every creature the yard will throw at him: roly polys, caterpillars, earthworms, three salamanders under a rock last week, rock me to sleep, meditate with me, I should meditate more, I should meditate at all—no shoulds—my to-do list for today (send out an essay I have been writing for a month and really really think is good, take that big faithful leap and email it off, fingers crossed; blog; blog about poetry; grade papers, check in on classes; grocery shop, pay bills, try to buy a house, email Amelia to see how she’s doing; pick up L and his friend R at three, keep them safe and happy; play music tonight with the Buddha, every Thursday night—wait, laundry—return library books—wrap my head around the weekend—have M. call the landlady’s lawyer, who is sending us threatening notes) and sometimes I want to say no to it all, but it will never change, these words and these lists and this to-do-ness, will always be just. Like. This.

 

 


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Touchdown

Oh, it’s been a long time. I’m having the urge to apologize, though I’m not sure that’s what’s needed. Perhaps just an honest expression of missing this secret blog world and having known, this past month of being very very checked out, that I would return. Hello, friends.

There's the path again...

There’s the path again…

(Aside: Bussokuseki’s beautiful poem “Almost Nine” this morning kind of slayed me. Go read it.)

Around the time I last posted, I had a personal revelation that I think has contributed to my silence. Around the devastating house business, I felt that no one could say the right thing. I am so grateful for the kind support of friends and readers–thank you, Momaste, Laal, and others–but it felt kind of impossible to explain to people exactly why I felt so utterly destroyed for a while there. Perhaps consequently, what I kept getting back was well-meaning but sort of not very helpful. And that was hard.

And M said to me, at one point, “You know, you don’t have to tell everyone everything.”

I’ve always been an over-sharer; that’s who I am. But I realized that some of that urge to confess everything comes from a place of feeling undeserved, like, I don’t deserve my feelings unless they’re validated, so I tell everyone in hopes of being validated–or I feel that if I’m keeping something to myself I’m somehow being selfish, closeted, untrue. I feel guilty for wanting a secret. It was a very strange revelation to have about myself, and it occurred to me that I really don’t have to share anything I don’t want to. There is power in keeping things to myself. I don’t need to justify what I’m feeling. I mean, right?

This reminds me of an earlier post of mine about silence, when I first started thinking about this stuff many months ago. Silence is feeling very powerful to me right now. And maybe I just didn’t feel like writing about the big life challenges I’m facing right now this past month. I’m sure I will, again; but not now.

I’ve found a women’s meditation group at a famous meditation center in Marin County, and I’ve been twice now. It has been incredibly powerful. It’s during the week, so it’s me and the retired ladies and a few others with flexible schedules, and I’m consciously trying to work my grading and teaching into other time blocks so I can go. In fact, I’m looking forward to it already!

Onward,

BB

 


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Post from Paradise

ForogBuddha I’m in Hawaii.

I came here with my cousin, who has meetings on Oahu this week. Over Christmas, she called and suggested we splurge: meet a few days early for some R and R before she had to enter the world of business. And after some deliberation (money, childcare, logistics), I said yes.

We spent three days at a place called the Zen Treehouse, on the windward side of Oahu in a town called Waimanalo. Our Zen Treehouse was quiet and calm and spacious, with sliding doors to little lanais (decks), a sitting area, a giant bathroom with a rain shower. We were steps from the beach. I got up every morning to do yoga and meditate on the back lanai. One day we drove up to the North Shore to see surfers, stopped for plate lunch and shave ice, then came back and grilled some fish for dinner. Other days we poked around “our beach,” and explored several others, too. The sand was like cornmeal, unmarred by even many shells, so different from the East and West coast beaches I’m used to. We went on two great hikes, and on both, saw humpback whales far off in the distance. On the North Shore, the whales were slapping their flukes against the water and breaching. I have always wanted to see whales!

I also snorkeled a bit, finished a page-turner novel, thought a lot, watched a movie, drank too much rum punch one night, slept badly, slept well, missed L and M, etcetera.

Yesterday we left the Zen Treehouse and headed for one of the massive corporate resorts that dot the Hawaii landscape. We’re in a huge room six floors up, overlooking a pool and a human-made lagoon where, yesterday, we paddleboarded and swam. My cousin’s meetings started this morning; this afternoon, we’re being taken out on a boat to snorkel with dolphins (or something). Later, there will be cocktails, dinner, and schmoozing by the pool. It all feels a little unreal, to have gone from the Zen Treehouse and plate lunch to this fancy sixth-floor room with Top-40 hits blasting from poolside.

IMG_0895When I go on vacation, my prevailing difficulty is the realization that it’s hard for me to relax. I wish it weren’t so. We’re contemplating doing an IVF cycle next month, and I thought how great it would be for me to take this trip before we walked down that road, so I could come back rested and calm. There have been many calming moments, to be sure–those whales inspired something in me, and my daily yoga and meditation has been a luxury I don’t always afford at home. It’s good to have a break from L. But on the other hand, I’ve felt a bit untethered without my boys to anchor me, without M’s steadiness and consistency.

I’m writing and working this morning; since Lou is in meetings, I figured I should use the time too. Later we’ll be wined and dined, and tomorrow, I’ll leave. I expect to feel that mix of feelings when you come home from vacation: sad the adventure is over, but happy to be home, too.

Many alohas, friends!


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Keep Walking Forward, or: The Year of the Horse

I have been feeling totally pregnant with this blog post and felt almost irrationally worried that, with a to-do list a mile long, I wouldn’t get to it today. But a quick time-check has revealed that I can blog this morning. Yes!

My mother in law sent me a note about Chinese New Year that really resonated with me. Among the bits of (somewhat scary) wisdom:

“Decisions you make in any new cycle are important, for they can have a profound impact on the rest of the cycle. The decisions or choices you make now, as the Horse Year begins and unfolds, can be even more significant than those you made in 2013 – impacting you in big ways throughout 2014 and beyond.”

and

“To make the best choice, you must be clear about what you want. That takes mastery. You are learning to differentiate between what your conditioned ego-self wants and what is in your highest good to want. You must be grounded and in your heart to make the optimal choices. It’s not enough to mentally say that you are in your heart – you must truly reside there and operate from there. That sounds easy, as though intent were enough. In fact, it involves great skill and lots of practice.”

and, most significant:

“Compared with previous years, the energies of 2014 will involve more movement. That means more ups and downs, more twists and turns, and more peaks and valleys. The energy of the Horse Year is all about movement, journeys into new territory, and an intense desire to be free of past limitations.”

(I don’t know exactly where to find the note, though this web address was at the end of her email. Thank you, Intuitive Healing Worldwide!)

Now, I feel about horoscopes like many people do: I always manage to find something true in them, some perfect tidbit that relates totally to my life. (Aside: my husband, like many other people, thinks they’re a bunch of hooey. This is probably why we get along.) And so I was delighted to read these words just three weeks into the new year, when life has been feeling like it’s been throwing me a lot of fast pitches. And these words about choices, intent, mindful decision-making, and movement really got me thinking.

The Path.

The Path.

So much of my adult life has been spent agonizing over the right path to take. M. is a Gemini, and I’m a Libra, and I joke sometimes that we spend all our time weighing both sides of the issue and/or feeling “of two minds.” We’re the type of couple who discusses buying a new car or taking a vacation and then spends so long thinking about it that we’re still driving the same 1998 Honda Accord three years later (and no plane tickets have been purchased). It was dawning on me at the start of the new year that we—well, I, anyway—had become paralyzed with indecision around my infertility and what to do next. I felt like adoption was too risky; IVF too unlikely. I spent day after day trying to convince myself that I didn’t really want a new baby anyway—and gearing up to convince M.—but my heart felt heavy and sad. So I just trundled on, getting older and less fertile by the minute. I’m not sure when things shifted, but all of a sudden one day M. said to me, “let’s stop agonizing and just DO it,” and I was actually able to hear that message loud and clear. Later that week, I pulled some of my friend Other Steph’s “Goddess cards” and the message was the same: stop weighing everything judiciously, drop down into your body, and take a big, risky leap.

The next day, I called a new fertility clinic, and made an appointment.

At the same time—fast pitch—we learned that an old fixer-upper house in our neighborhood was for sale. It’s across the street from Other Steph, and next door to my friend C., in the best location possible in my view, and we decided to check it out, even though we have just started on the road to house-buying (and found ourselves thoroughly depressed about the Bay Area housing market, where 1,000 square feet typically sells for $650,000+). I just called the guy, and asked whether we could come by and look at it. And he said yes.

Now here’s where the revelation comes in.

In the past, I would have waited a week before making the appointment at the fertility clinic, worrying over it all the time. In terms of the house, I would have immediately decided it was too much effort to pursue (it’s a real dump; it may in fact be too much effort to pursue). But with a kind of lightning-rod clarity, I realized how easy it would to simply

Take.

A.

Step.

Forward.

Instead.

So I had that appointment, and then I had another one. And then I just scheduled the third and the fourth. I trust myself that if at any point there’s a red flag, or a clear reason to stop, I can stop. And with the house: we went to look at it. Then we arranged a time to bring by an architect friend and a realtor friend. We called for the inspection reports. We may decide it is absolutely not worth pursuing. But without moving forward, we’ll never know.

I feel like my meditation practice and my general efforts at mindfulness are almost entirely to credit for this shift in my behavior. I’ve been doing this guided meditation through my fave app Insight Timer, and the—what do you call the person leading the meditation? Anyway—voice says, “Breathe in unlimited possibility. Breathe out what no longer serves you.” It came to me immediately that what no longer serves me is fear.

And so, last week, when I….

  • Taught my first class of the semester…
  • Had an appointment at the IVF clinic…
  • Recorded another song with my friend Dave, one I’d co-written (!)…
  • Pursued the fixer-upper…

I kept breathing in possibility and breathing out fear. I just kept moving forward.

Moving forward is scary. It’s so much easier to stay where you are, weighing things. I couldn’t sleep last night for dreaming of the possibilities of the house (and then another voice reminding me how much those possibilities would cost). As M. said, “When you move forward, things move awfully fast.” He’s right. It might be too fast. But I just want to keep walking.