Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Balancing competing interests

I think one of the toughest times that I face is when my wife and my child both have competing interests and each one asks me to help them.
This happened tonight. My wife was sick and my 5 year old wanted to sleep in mommy's bed. Jenn need to get some rest and that was not going to happen with Mia rolling on her.
Jenn began issuing consequences, but Mia just dug in deeper and began grunting and screaming. Mia wanted me to let her stay, Jenny needed her out. The clock was ticking, because everyone's patience was wearing thin.
"Mia, you can sleep on my side of the bed or on the Dave bed." (The day bed has been nicknamed the Dave bed.)
"Arrrrgggg, I need to think." Grunted Mia, barely audible.
"You need to think?" I confirmed.
Another grunt.
"Think quickly, because mommy needs to sleep."
Mia sat sucking her thumb.
"What is your decision?" I asked.
More incoherent grunting mixed with "I need to think!"
"Can I carry you to your decision?" I suggested.
Mia flung out her arms and allowed me to pick her up. I began to play "Am I getting hotter or colder." I moved to one area of the room, and then another. As it turned out she decided to go to her brother's room. I never would have suspected that she wanted to sleep there. It's freezing in there:)
I chalked this up to another win-win outcome. I was able to maintain my patience by connecting with my breath and realizing that the needs of my wife and child were both important. I was thankful that I was able to keep my cool while keeping the threats and consequences to a minimum.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mia grunts and screams her way to sleep

Tommy called Mia the "fat" word tonight and Mia fell apart. She began screaming, grunting and crying uncontrollably in the living room. I can't reach her when she is in that state.
I figured my options were to move her into her bedroom and hold the door shut as she screamed and kicked. Or I could hug her and place her on the soft couch while Tommy and I went up for his bath.
I chose the latter option. She was tired, sad and angry. Who needs a consequence in that condition? I hugged her and told her I was sorry that she was so sad. I have done this enough times so that she knows that I mean it and she no longer gets defensive when I hug her when she is angry.
When I got back down from the bath, she had cried herself off to sleep.
I call this ButterCream Gang parenting. This was a movie from the early 90s where one of the kids in a group begins to do some really horrible things, like bullying and shoplifting. The entire town reacts with unconditional love and the kid eventually comes around. It worked from my point of view, tonight with Mia.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Attachment to a family meal.

I realized that I have an attachment to quiet meals with my family. When I take time to prepare a meal for Jenn and the kids I have an expectation that they will drop what they are doing and join me in a time of laughter and sharing and joy.
Often times however, my families agenda does not coincide with my desire to enjoy this time together. By reflecting on the needs of my family and respecting where they are in their lives I can attempt to reduce my need for a connected meal and simply enjoy the times when such an event occurs.
Hopefully this scene will not unfold again:
As I was finishing preparing a meal for Jenny and the kids, Mia began to lose her patience. She lied down on the kitchen floor next to me and began screaming at the top of her lungs. My 8 year old son Tommy began to stand just out of her reach as she tried to kick him from her back. I did not think it was possible, but her screams got louder.
"Mia, if you don't stop yelling, I am going to move you to your room."
More yelling and kicking.
"Mia, take a breath. You need to settle down and start using your words or there will be a consequence."
More yelling and kicking.
"Last chance." I began to lose my temper and put my hands on her shirt.
"No! I will stop!" she screamed.
I let her lay on the floor and tried to breathe. She grunted softly and was whining a bit.
Then Jenny decided to enter the argument. She was disappointed that I had not followed through on the consequence. (As many people who are reading this post are:)
"If you are not going to put her in a time out then I am." said Jenny.
I snapped.
"Don't even think about it! You don't like it when I interfere in your parenting choices, please don't interfere in mine."
Jenny turned and walked away and that outburst brought my 9 year old daughter into the argument.
"Daddy stop!" she yelled and she stormed out of the room.
I know she hates it when my wife and I argue. We snip at each other like that about once every 6 months. I have set the intention to reduce that amount.
She and Jenn came back to the kitchen, and still fuming I apologized for losing my temper. The scene was ugly, but as I regained my cool it was the only way that I could attempt to repair the damage.
"I am sorry for losing my patience and raising my voice." I said.
"No you are not!" screamed my 9 year old.
"I meditate each morning and do yoga in order to let those emotions go before I lose my temper. I do feel sorry. I am doing the best I can."
My 9 year old was still angry, but she seemed somewhat satisfied with this answer.

Needless to say, I did not enjoy the fish tacos as much as I anticipated. Since that incident I have reflected on my attachment to mealtimes and have tried to let it go with some success.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Talk on Buddhism for First Parish Church Sunday school.

The kids at FPC Sunday school recently visited a meditatation center. I was asked to put together a discussion on Buddhism to try to help them understand the topic better. Here is what I wrote:

Buddhism is a method to improve personal happiness. Premise: everyone wants happiness and deserves to be happy. We have a right to be happy and so does everyone else in equal measure.
Buddhism gives us a roadmap of the path to attain happiness. Two of the important ideas are:
1.Emotional Management
2.Compassion for ourselves and others.

Emotional Management: Buddhism gives us a method for incrementally calming and steadying our emotional state of mind. Our minds are like a pond. In high winds things aren’t clearly reflected. We want our mind to reflect reality and the truth.

We want to exercise control over which thoughts that we entertain and which thoughts we let go. Thoughts give rise to emotions. We have a thought and that evokes feelings. We want to limit the impact of the afflictive emotions of: anger, fear, frustration and greed. These are the biggest trouble makers in our experience and need our focus, attention and mindfulness. We want to limit the actions we take when we are under the influence of these emotions. When we are under their influence we don’t see the truth. Evolution delivers us blind energy when anger is present.

Story of the angry samurai:
This Buddhist story summarizes the effect of the afflictive emotion of anger:
A samurai warrior visited a Buddhist monk and said: “Master, explain to me the difference between heaven and hell.”
The monk replied: “I have no time for a simpleminded brute like you. Leave my temple.”
The samurai unsheathed his sword and shouted: “I could cut your head off right now!”
The monk replied: “That is hell.”
The samurai sheathed his sword, bowed his head and said: “Thank you, master.”
“That is heaven.” The monk proclaimed.

Sample meditation: One type of meditation involves letting go of all thoughts as they arise. An example meditation is one where we watch the breath. Let’s do a 5 minute breath meditation where we watch the breath and let go of all thoughts as they arise. This will enhance our ability to let go of toxic thoughts when they come into our experience, because if we can let go of all thoughts we can more readily let go of toxic ones when they are recognized.

The topic of attachment is important in the Buddhist framework.
We want to insure we don’t get caught up in praise or blame, fame or disrepute, pleasure and pain, gain and loss.
We don’t want to cling or grasp to a sensation because, by its nature, it is going to change. We need to welcome the present moment and we need to be ready to accept events as they unfold. One day we are the best at our sport, the next day we feel like we are an amateur again. Our bodies change and the world changes, but our calm, tranquil state of mind should be constant.

My 9 year old presented me with this joke the other day: “Why couldn’t the Buddhist vacuum in the corners of his house? Because he had no attachments!” She gets it, too.

We want to seek the truth in our experience. A Buddhist tries to resist falsehoods, exaggerations and sarcasm. The famous Japanese Buddhist poet Basho wrote: “The old pond, the frog jumps in, plop.”
Often in the West we use exaggerations to add excitement or humor to a story. Buddhist prefer truth because it is safer.

Meditation on the emotions:
Think of the last time you got really angry? Reflect on this event as a neutral third party. Reduce your ego and examine the events while taking all sides into account. Try to discover the truth in the experience.

The final topic I would like to introduce is emptiness. Buddhists believe that objects don’t exist in the way our minds initially interpret them. Everything is interconnected in our world and nothing exists in its own right. Everything that comes into existence depends on something that helped create it. Objects are constantly changing and cannot remain indefinitely or be completely destroyed. The table that we are using was build from trees and will eventually break down and return to the earth. Life and death are examples of another continuum. We think of our life starting when we were born, but we lived as a fetus prior to our birth. We were also a part of the apple that our mother ate that nourished her eggs. Another meditation is to contemplate where you were when your grandmother was born.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Buddhist joke from Lauren

Lauren asked me the other day: "Daddy, why can't the Buddhist clean in the corners of his room?"
"Because he has no attachments?"
"Get it? For his vacuum."
I love Buddhist jokes from my 9 year old.
She can be very emotionally mature and does a great job understanding the emotions of others.
Thanks to Jenn for supplying the joke.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best bedtime routine ever.

After Mia stopped screaming after being chased around the kitchen for the third time this evening, we had the best bedtime routine ever.
I brought Mia a book for bed, and she said that she did not want to read that book, but that she wanted to sleep with Tom. I said:
"OK, but Tommy needs to read you this book."
Win-win-win outcome. I love it.
Tommy read Mia to sleep and then put himself to sleep, while Lauren and I went downstairs and played Uno.
Lauren told me all about her presentation of her science project at school and how she got nervous in front of the class. We also laughed about the cards we pulled and just relaxed and hung out.
Later I finished my yoga poses for the day while Lauren drifted off to sleep.
Fantastic night.
It was tough not to yell at the older kids when they were chasing Mia and being hard on her earlier in the evening. I have to breathe deeply and simply get them separated.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My journey to Universal Unitarianism at First Parish Church

I was asked to deliver a talk about my journey to Unitarian Universalism at First Parish Church. Here is what I presented to the congregation:

My spiritual journey started as a young child attending services at St. Mary’s church in Beverly and I was confirmed Catholic. I became disillusioned with the Catholic Church in high school and I fell out of religious practice completely toward the end of my college years. I remember many useful lessons from the Bible like loving thy neighbor, but I continue to work on reducing my self-righteousness that was reinforced by my religious upbringing.

About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service here at First Parish Church, I had my UU ahhaaa moment. I thought, church can be like this,? Open, informative, challenging, current? I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending services. That peace became more difficult to attain as my children grew to toddlers. I began grasping for the tranquility that our services provided and I could become frustrated when the children would not stay in the nursery or attend classes.

At that time I realized that I could create the calm atmosphere at church in my home through Buddhist meditative practices. A little over 3 years ago I began meditating at home daily. The moment I started a daily practice, my grasping for the tranquility of church was greatly reduced. But I welcomed the moments of peace between stints of sheparding the kids.

My spiritual practice involves creating a calm state of mind so that I can try to act in the interests of all concerned in any situation. This involves trying to develop a steadier mind that can recognize when the afflictive emotions, such as, anger and frustration are arising. If I am successful in recognizing the afflictive emotion and can connect with the breath I can often act with compassion. Compassion: understanding and alleviating the suffering of others, is critical to my religious practice. Most of my time in meditation is spent reflecting on what has happened in the past to cause me to become angry, and to try to envision the feelings of others when anger arises. I believe that God exists in the interconnected web of all existence and our actions either cause the web to shine brighter or dim.

We talk about these topics often at FPC when we discuss the interconnected web of all existence and compassion in human relations. These are 2 of our 7 principles, which I carry in my wallet. But, please don’t quiz me on them:)

I like to use a college analogy when describing UUs and FPC: I feel like we are all majors in UU with various concentrations in other religions. I believe that my concentration is in Buddhism. I feel uplifted and rejuvenated when we weave the Buddhist tradition into our services. I also am inspired by our sermons on Thoreau and Native American culture.
I love how this church exposes us to different traditions. The only thing that I knew about Judaism before FPC was that my mother got all the Jewish holidays off as a middle school teacher in Peabody. Now I know about many Jewish holidays and traditions as well as Hinduism and even Wiccan.

I am grateful to be able to lead the FPC meditation group. It is a time when the group comes together and deepens our spiritual practice. We work on connecting with our breath and developing our patience and compassion through positive visualization and insight meditation. I am thankful for the group energy that we create during our monthly encounters.

Ferry Beach is my most spiritual weekend of the year. It is a weekend of Meditation, yoga, dancing, singing songs around a campfire and connecting with friends and family. It is a weekend of the deepest renewal and it allows me to sustain my patience with my family for weeks afterwards.

Some of my best friendships have been established through this church. I can prove this because at least half of my Facebook friends are from First Parish. I have shared many Spiritual Parenting nights, winter solstice celebrations, Halloween parties, small group ministry meetings, auctions and Pastoral Care meetings.

I have watched members of this church take up the call to community service and that inspires me to do as much as I can in the community. Many of us gathered together to demonstrate for peace during the escalation of the Iraq war. Among my most cherished memories are the ones when we came together to cook meals for the less fortunate. I have been involved in several Monday night suppers and preparing meals for the River House or the kids for a UU coming of age weekend. There is nothing better than preparing a meal with friends, especially when you are doing it for a great cause.

I have had the opportunity to connect with many of the children in the church through teaching at our Sunday school. This will be my third year teaching. I am happy to have gotten to know so many of the kids at are church through teaching. It also helped me to appreciate the different learning styles that we have in our youth, and that fact kept me on my toes. I organized a scavenger hunt for the class last year for earth day and that was one of my favorite classes.

I have loved my last 10 years at FPC and look forward to 50 or 60 more.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Meditation on family compassion

I have been working on developing compassion for my family in my seated morning insight meditations for the past 2 weeks.  Each day it feels like my patience expands and my orientation towards service expands as well.  One specific competence that has been arising in meditation is listening skills.  I also worked on listening to Jenn and not interjecting my judgement into her ideas, until I validate and completely understand everything that she has spoken.  I think I accomplished this today.

Today Jenny asked if I could help her friend clear her yard.  I brought my chainsaw and helped clear brush for an hour and a half.  I felt accomplished that I was able to provide so much impact in a short period of time.
Later, a couple of Jennies friends asked that we go to a town meeting and vote for appropriations for a new HVAC system for their school.  The vote lasted 4 hours and I was not at all invested in the outcome.  I walked around and talked and played with my kids while the meeting unfolded.  I also worked on my mountain pose, forward bends and posture during the marathon. 
We finally voted and it turned out the vote was not even close.  The appropriation passed by an enormous margin and the hype to get people to turn out was not necessary.  That outcome did not affect me in any way. I was helping my wife and her friends, and living in the moment.
I took off with the kids and we played cards and games for the rest of the day.  It turned out to be a great day.  Having fun, and enjoying the experience wherever I went.  I had nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish.  I just wanted to by with my family in any capacity, serving them and enjoying their company.


Friday, October 09, 2009

10 days of Contemplation on Compassion for Family

I have been having some great results with meditating on compassion for my wife and kids.  I have been able to sit for about 30 minutes each morning.  First 10 minutes breath, the next 20 minutes are spent reviewing examples where I could have been more compassionate and understanding.  I try to visualize the compassionate thoughts moving out of the sphere of my mind and seeping down into my heart, stomach and the rest of my body.  If I can internalize the compassionate thougths then I should no longer react when anger and frustration arise.
Two themes have been reoccurring for these past 10 days:

1.  I can be happy whatever I am doing, I don't need to be anticipating the next activity. 
2.  I can choose to be happy even when my ideas are challenged. I need not be right 100% of the time. 
These 2 issues seem to be the source of much of the anger that I experience.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Letting go of outcomes

The topic of my insight portion of my meditation this morning was "Letting go of outcomes and results."  For instance, during bedtime routine, to let go of:
  1. Being yelled at.
  2. Being ignored
  3. Procrastination
  4. Finishing the last Wii game
  5. ect....
By attacking these problems, one at a time as the arise, I can let go of needing to get the kids to bed on my schedule and let them have some freedom with a reasonalble framework.
I am also trying to heal my ears, so that when I hear whining and yelling, that I don't react.  It is highly unlikely that the kids will need to visit the ER as a result of their horseplay.
Having this intention in my mind this evening helped bedtime proceed well from my perspective.  I did not lose my cool and the kids got to bed only a few minutes after their scheduled bedtimes.
I think that the more I reflect on these insights, the deeper that they sink in and more healing occurs.
So far so good.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend of Service at Grampy's

Made it back from a weekend of service at my father-in-Law's. He is doing OK. When you give, you get, however. I got to spend a weekend with the funniest 8 year old boy you will ever meet. T and I talked about everything, from the Sox to the Pats to the Lightening Theif books.  He is such a great kid.  We talked about the time a bully punched him in the stomach at school.  This same kid aspires to be a murderer when he grows up.  

T asked me how electricity is generated for our house.  Why are there 4 downs in football and how does that work.  How many more game do the RedSox have and who are they playing.  Who won the baseball allstar game and who will get home field advantage this year?  The list went on and on.  I answered patiently and tried to ask as many follow up questions as I could.  

I discovered that T remembered as much or more about the Lightening Thief series as I did.  We also had a telepathic moment.  I was trying to recall one of the characters names in the book and was spouting out names: David, Peter, Bobby.  None of them seemed right.  Then T said he thought he remembered the name, but was not sure.  It popped imediately into my head.  Was it Daniel?  He said it was.  Pretty amazing.

Servicing my Father-In-Law and his partner was hard work, but the reward of doing for others is extremely enriching.  To get this added bonus of bonding time with my son was priceless.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bristling at judgement

I realized that I have a hot button when I am feeling judged.
When I was driving the other day someone commented that I was taking the long way to out destination.
I replied that I liked the scenic route better.
"You will use more gas." they said and "that is bad for the environment."
But we are in a hybrid and it is only about a mile out of the way, I replied.
"Studies show that people who drive hybrids drive more miles" my passenger replied.
"Thanks for the judgment." I replied.
We moved on and didn't talk about the exchange, but I resented being judged when I work hard at minimizing my impact on the environment.
Ideally I would be able to accept the criticism and move on. I reflected on that in meditation and hopefully will heal this hot button.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A little preparation before bedtime confrontation

M was not interested in bed this evening. At 8:30 she was screaming for her brother to be returned from a sleep over. I let her call our neighbors house to get that out of her system. Naturally her brother refused to come home.
While she spoke to him I gathered myself and prepared for a difficult bedtime. I had no goals, and nowhere to go and nothing to do. All that mattered was that I was compassionate to my daughter and had a win-win outcome for bedtime.
She crumpled down on the floor and dug in her heels:
"I am not going to bed no matter what you say."
"M, you are going to bed. You can go walking or I can carry you. I can carry you like a baby or I can carry you by your heels."
"You mean I can walk on my hands all the way to bed?"
"If you can make it. It would be a new family record, I said."
We laughed our way all the way to bed and read a book and M drifted off to sleep, happy as a clam.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Incredible weekend

My meditation practice feels like it is paying huge dividends. Last weekend I spent a full weekend with my wife and kids without reacting in anger for one moment. It felt like a huge accomplishment!

Communicating through the Chakras

In my 200 hour yoga teacher training class we did an intense set of Kundalini yoga for about 20 minutes, then the group took Shavasana. I was breathing normally and my mind was exploring a topic about work and I had received an insight. Then I heard a groan in the middle of the room, about 30 feet to my left. I felt sorry for the person who was experiencing the grief. A moment later I heard the groan again, but it was even louder. I had a thought that I could help the woman who was groaning by taking on some of her suffering. I decided to set the intention to try to offload some of her suffering onto me.
The moment that I set the intention, my breathing became shallow. I could only breathe in the top 10% of my lungs. I put my hand to the bridge of my nose and tried to breathe deeper. I was able to catch my breath after 4 or 5 breaths.
My abdomen began to feel like it was generating an extreme amount of energy. The area that I would call my 3rd Chakra was vibrating intensely. After 20 minutes this energy pattern moved to my 4th Chakra in the area of my heart. This again felt like deep, vibrational energy. For a brief time I also felt the feeling lower in my second chakra.
I believe that the woman and I communicated through our 3rd Chakras. This happened several months ago and my meditation practice has become much more focused since. I feel that energy channels were opened within my body by this experience.
My instructor explained that she saw this experience as my first experience as a healer. I look forward to exploring these abilities in future classes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Good Karma

Two months ago I lost the key to my Honda Civic Hybrid. I told my son T I would give him $5 if he found it. He looked for hours, but did not find it. I gave him $5 for his effort.

On Saturday of this week I needed to borrow T's pedometer. He was not in his room, so I grabbed it, looked at the steps (22,000) and reset the pedometer so that I could track my steps for that day.

At the end of our walk T discovered I was wearing his pedometer. Dad, I was counting my steps, please tell me you did not reset that! He was crushed, but I promised him that I would get it back up to 22,000 steps.

By Thursday morning I had completed the necessary steps and handed T back his pedometer. I also advised him that if you break something of somebody's that you should fix it for them before you give it back. He said he understood.

On Thursday afternoon I got a voicemail that T had found my car key in the garage that afternoon.

On Thursday night I gave T a new, crisp $5 bill.

Now that is good Karma.