Mindful mothering

On Wednesday I gave a presentation on Nonviolent Parenting to the Morris County (West) Chapter of the Holistic Moms Network.  I’ve been working on developing this workshop for awhile and was excited to finally take it out for a test drive, and I’m pleased to report that it went great!  We had an open and enthusiastic group of moms who were really receptive and willing to put themselves out there.

One exercise that went particularly well was when I asked each mom to think of her least favorite household chore, preferably a task she does at least once daily.  (Personally, I can’t stand laundry because unless you do it naked, it’s never done!)  For example, one of the moms said that she dislikes emptying the dishwasher.  Then, I asked them to think of a way they could turn that chore into a mindfulness practice and we all brainstormed ideas for turning that into a moment of calm focus.  Some of our ideas were:

  • Take the dishes out early and notice how they are still warm
  • Notice the weight of the different dishes as you take them out and put them away
  • Listen to the sound the dishes make when they clink together, and notice if different dishes make different sounds
  • Look at each dish and notice how it is clean (or not!) before putting it away

What daily drudgery can you transform into a moment of mindfulness?

On compromise

Image courtesy of hiking artist.com

Image courtesy of hiking artist.com

As part of my Certificate in Nonviolent Studies, I’ve been studying the conflicts going on in places like Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.  In almost every radio and podcast interview I’ve heard, the following question is asked:

What will it take for the two sides to reach a compromise?

I have studied the Ukraine conflict most closely, so I’ll use that as an example.  Naturally these things are always much more complicated than what you hear on the news, but in a nutshell the problem is this: ethnic Ukranians want to become more closely allied with the EU, while ethnic Russians living in Ukraine want to maintain close ties with the Kremlin.

Within this context, what would a “settlement of differences by mutual concessions” look like?   Either you are of Ukranian heritage or you are ethnically Russian.  Either you are from the city in the west or from the countryside in the east.  Either you think the economic future of Ukraine lies with the EU or you think security will come from Russia.  These things are mutually exclusive and stable.  Concessions may lead to a cease-fire, but they are unlikely to lead to a decrease in hostility.

As long as we frame this issue in such either-or terms, compromise seems impossible.  But maybe it’s all about perspective.  Looked at in a different way, maybe the chasm isn’t quite so wide.

Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing.  All Ukranians, whatever their ethnic heritage, want economic security, freedom and self-determination.  While they may have differing opinions as to how this can best be accomplished, the dispute is in the details.

What is true writ large on the global stage is also true in the microcosm of our personal relationships.  We all want the same thing out of life.  We want to feel cherished, important, worthwhile, safe, happy.

While we may choose to employ vastly different strategies for getting these needs met and we may not understand the choices other people make, we ultimately aren’t so different.

I have this conversation with my 8-year-old daughter all the time.  There is one girl at school who really rubs her the wrong way.  This girl always wants to be the center of attention, always has to one-up the other children, always has to be an expert on everything.  While I understand why Bess finds this annoying, and I don’t expect them to be BFFs, my daughter has to learn how to get along with all kinds of people.

So we talk about it.  We discuss how, just like Bess, just like all of us, this girl wants to feel special and loved.  Obviously she has decided or learned that the way to get her emotional needs met is to seek attention and approval from others by any means necessary.  We may not like or understand the behavior, but certainly we can understand the motivation.  That’s not to say that one must be willing to be a doormat.  If this girl is doing things that are hurtful or dishonest then it is okay, even necessary, to speak up.  But even though she is frustrating, doesn’t she also deserve our compassion?

And after having had this conversation eleventy thousand times, gradually, my daughter is gaining the skills she needs to compassionately deal with difficult people while demanding respect from them.

The world isn’t made up of right and wrong, me and you.  As long as we think it is, we will continue to have all sorts of unresolvable conflicts.

But when we see that the world is actually made up of 7 billion other people who are just like me these conflicts become manageable and compromise becomes truly possible.  Maybe all those people don’t look, talk, act, eat, or worship like me, but they are just like me in the ways that count

My mindfulness journey: The Relative and the Absolute

morningmeditationAs I delve more deeply into my spiritual practice, I struggle more with the idea of “either/or”.  How can we sit in non-judgement when we are taking vows to refrain from behaviors we judge to be wrong such as killing and stealing?  How do we advocate for peace while respecting that other people have their own truths?

My confusion, according to my Sensei, stems from the fact that I am stuck in dualistic thought, and I must strive to overcome the human tendency to organize the world into categories.  It can be uncomfortable to see things as “both/and”.  If something is bad, we fight against it; if it is good we support it.

If it is both…what do we do?  It requires a certain degree of sophistication, maturity, and creativity to hold this tension.

While intellectually I am comfortable with this, on a deeper level I am still clinging to my habitual way of seeing the world.  As it turns out, it is quite scary to let go of my rational mind.  I accept that there is good in the bad and bad in the good, but I want to find, study and understand it and these things are beyond that kind of understanding.

When you follow your breath during meditation, Sensei asked me, what is between the breaths?  Nothing, I answered.  Theoretically, my true nature is between the breaths.

Not theoretically, he answered.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days at my in-laws’ house at the beach where I was able to sit by the ocean each morning.  I watched the ocean, constant flux within permanence, and I wondered: what is between the waves?  Nothing.  Or everything.

The whole ocean is between the waves.

The Identity of the Relative and the Absolute calls to transcend our dualistic understanding of the world.

Within light there is darkness,

but do not try to understand that darkness.

Within darkness there is light,

but do not look for that light.

Light and darkness are a pair,

like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.

It’s all there, all the time.  Light in the darkness, darkness in the light; good in the bad, bad in the good.  One does not make sense without the other, but don’t bother looking for it because it is outside the purview of the analytical mind.  This is not the fatalism with which many approach the world, comforting themselves with the idea that everything happens for a reason and one day they may be able to understand their misfortunes.  This is about recognizing the divine spark in all of creation.  We are all, good and bad, sacred manifestations of life.

Each thing has its own intrinsic value

and is related to everything else in function and position…

Do not judge by any standards.

I am nothing and all things; I am a temporary expression of the eternal, a particular accumulation of molecules and energies.  So are we all.  Some of the molecules in my body, maybe, once belonged to the body of Jesus or Thoreau or Rachel Carson; others, maybe, once belonged to the body of Hitler or Pol Pot or Caligula or even a dinosaur or saber-toothed tiger.  We are all waves in the ocean, momentarily surging forward to embody the infinite mystery.

My personal war on “Attachment Parenting”

Image courtesy of Flickr user christyscherrer

Image courtesy of Flickr user christyscherrer

I am an Attachment Parenting International leader.  I’ve read the books.  I’ve studied the research.  I believe wholeheartedly in Bowlby’s theory that a baby human needs to have her primary attachment figure(s) nearby in order to ensure survival, and the extent to which she is able to accomplish this goal defines, to a large degree, her ability to have stable relationships throughout her lifetime.

I just don’t like the term “Attachment Parenting”.

Only recently did I figure out why it bugs me so much.  One clue came from a recent article in the Huffington Post, “Why I Am a Detachment Parent”.  While the article is riddled with hyperbole, the description of attachment parenting as “masochism” really struck me.

I have found AP to be the easy way.  Who wants to be tied down to the house during nap time every day when your kid could just sleep in a wrap while you go about your business?  Why deal with a baby screaming for a lost pacifier when you could pop in a boob?  If some parents are over the top, that is less about Attachment Parenting and more about the parent.  AP is about meeting the needs of all family members – including, but not limited to, the children.  Parents’ needs are important too, they are just not more important than the needs of the child.  I am baffled by the proud assertion of parental detachment.

It all became clear to me when I read a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”

When most people hear the word “attachment”, they don’t think of Attachment Theory.  Most people  I’ve met, even those who identify themselves as AP,  have no idea what that is.  “Attachment” connotes codependency, clinging, smothering, and that is a big turnoff for many people.

But there is a third choice in between attachment and detachment, and that is equanimity.

I think it’s obvious that all healthy parent-child relationships involve some degree of attachment.  Otherwise, why bother?  But instead of being attached to a particular outcome for the child or the relationship, we accept what is true now for this child in this place and time.  I want certain things for my children but I work to accept, to the best of my deeply flawed ability, that they are their own people with their own lives to live.  I hope to have close relationships with them as adults, but all I can do for them is offer them my unconditional love and presence and tell them that they are fundamentally valued and cherished, and then let go.

When Bess was a baby, she wanted me and only me all the time.  She would not take a bottle, she would not sleep for more than 90 minutes at a stretch, and she cried frequently at high volume.

Yes, I lost sleep.  Yes, it was outrageously stressful.  But you know what?  It passed.

Now we have a great relationship where she is willing to talk to me, and I am able to help her.  (We shall see what happens during the teen years…)  She trusts that I am there for her even when the timing is inconvenient or she has ugly things to say. Would we have had the same kind of relationship if I were a 7 am to 7 pm parent?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  And Harry, who was parented the same way, is totally different.  It’s just the way they came into this world.

This begs the question: if not “Attachment Parenting”, then what?

Equanimous Parenting is really hard to spell.  Respectful Parenting?  Peaceful Parenting?  They’ve been used.  Mindful Parenting?  I think Humane Parenting comes close.

I’m currently leaning toward “Nonviolent Parenting”.

I like “Nonviolent Parenting” because it goes so much deeper and speaks to a fundamental starting point of a deep and abiding love for all beings without judgement.

Do you have a good alternative to the term “Attachment Parenting”?  Do you think we need one?