Yesterday I took my 4 year old daughter son and 9 year old to my meditation teacher training. I couldn’t find a babysitter and my teacher was gracious enough to suggest bringing them and letting them stay in a room close to our meeting room. Her suggestion brought an immediate feeling of resistance and fear.
For some parents the thought of bringing their kids is a non-issue, but not so for me with my disciplined Caribbean upbringing. I had visions of my daughter laughing out loud in the middle of a meditation segment; of people in the class being annoyed by these pesky kids; of having to constantly leave class to attend to them or quiet them down; of them trashing the room they were staying in and in the end of my teacher being displeased with them being there.
Ah, the workings of the mind and the scenarios it creates to reinforce its resistance! None of these fears were justified! My children, though they can be raucous and challenging at home are generally very well behaved in public. The class is full of other parents and gentle, loving souls who might actually enjoy the sound of a child’s laughter in the midst of their meditation. And my teacher suggested I bring them! So the fear, like most fears, was not logical at all. In fact when examined closely, it was a manifestation of the ego worrying: “What will people think of me?” So of course I had to take them! I also didn’t want to miss the lecture on Chapters 7 & 8 of the Bhagavad Gita (definitely worth reading if you haven’t already!).
Amazingly enough, pushing through my fear actually helped me appreciate my kids even more. Neither one complained when I explained what was going to happen. My son did a wonderful job of monitoring and helping his sister. They occupied themselves with the activities we brought, and he was very quiet the two times he did need to come and get me. We had to leave early to take him to soccer (especially since we were bringing snacks!) and he kept track of the time so that he changed into his soccer gear before we had to leave. My daughter made lots of little foam crafts and cleaned up all her scraps. She had pretty much reached her limit by the time we had to leave (in the middle of the lecture), but still they were both very considerate of being quiet as we left.
Later that day after soccer, my daughter handed me a juice pack and straw, and sweetly asked: “Mommy, would you help me with this please?” In that moment I recognized again the sweetness of their presence in my life. Even though there might be actual (rather than fear-imposed) limits to what I am able to do as a result of having to care for them, they are such beautiful beings and I am so blessed to know, love and be loved by them.
Happy Earth Day!! It seems a little ridiculous to say I love the Earth. After all, without Earth where would this body live? What would this body eat? Where would this body find a beach to lay on or a garden to dig in? Perhaps there are a million other habitable planets where I could have incarnated, but for this lifetime, at least, Earth is where this body lives. And it’s a gorgeous planet! Even with frozen ears walking my daughter to school this morning (40°F here in Chi) it was hard to avoid the beauty of this place I call home: the newly flowering trees; the sun brilliantly illuminating and gently warming; a robin picking at a worm (I do hope those things don’t have well developed nervous systems – that robin was picking it off piece by piece – yikes!); our favorite red-winged blackbird singing it’s glorious song in it’s favorite tree; a duck with its head tucked under its wing standing by a mud “pond” left from a mound of melted snow; majestic swamp white oaks… And to top it all off, all those amazing humans making their way about.
We are Nature! When did we forget that? We talk about being in Nature, or observing Nature, or balancing the ecosystem, or protecting the Environment, but somehow these minds that have created so much separation have not only separated us from each other, but from the very stuff of that we are. Is a tree “in Nature”? Does Alex the bunny who lives in my backyard think he’s “in Nature”? No! He’s just part of the whole thing. Chicago’s motto is Urbs in Horto (the city in a garden) so we have lots of trees and green space. It’s so refreshing to walk outside, and see flowers and look at the sky, because there’s a sense of connection that comes almost automatically – a deep “ahh” – a coming home.
This Earth Day let’s celebrate ourselves as Nature with all its expansive amazingness. So when we care for our Earth, we’re caring for ourselves. And when we care for ourselves, we’re taking care of all of Nature.
Here’s an easy way to send some love to ourselves for 2 minutes.
My facebook status yesterday read: Francine Kelley is wondering why it is so hard for people to acknowledge each other when we walk down the street. Is it fear? Disinterest? How do we choose who we acknowledge and who we don’t? Which strangers are “okay?” Just wondering….
I used to be one of the people who walks down the street with blinders on, making sure to not catch anyone’s eye. I grew up in Jamaica where a woman walking on the street automatically became the subject of commentary from the men along the road. I remember living in Brooklyn in the early ‘90s and living in mortal fear of similar comments. So I did a pretty good job of becoming ‘invisible’ by not looking anyone in the face and by developing a posture that said “leave me the heck alone.” This stance wasn’t really to protect me from potential physical harm, but from the possibility of public humiliation. My self esteem didn’t feel up to the challenge.
My husband often teases me that I kept that “tough” stance even after moving to this laid-back midwestern town (Chicago!). I was actually shocked on first moving here when the bus driver smiled and said “good morning” as I got on the bus. At first I wasn’t sure how to respond! Nowadays I’m one of those people who smiles and says “Good morning!” to strangers walking down the street. These strangers occasionally appear surprised (maybe they’re from Brooklyn?), others respond with varying levels of enthusiasm. The most fascinating to me, however, are the ones who don’t look at me at all – not the ones who are oblivious (I know I’m not so impressive as to draw everyone’s attention!), but the ones who seem to be making an effort to not look, or the ones who look away after “hello.”
One comment to my Facebook status was that “being polite and friendly seems to be a thing of the past.” The thing about politeness is that it gave us a structure for rules of engagement. Is it that now, without that structure, we no longer have rules by which to interact – and so we don’t? Or is it that we just don’t feel safe connecting with each other – either due to fear of physical harm or public humiliation? Maybe it is the loss of community – the sense of strangers as “other” and therefore either dangerous or insignificant? Maybe our cell phones & mp3 players give us a way to become even more distant and self-absorbed? Maybe it is all these things – maybe none.
Years ago I read an email that was circulating about a boy who was about to commit suicide until a stranger helped him pick up a stack of books he had dropped. The moral of course was that a simple act of kindness can change the trajectory of someone’s life, and even save it. If you smile at someone walking down the street – is it possible that might be the only smile she sees that day? If you catch the eye of someone waiting at the bus stop, what would be the harm in smiling before going back to listening to your iPod? I realize I can’t control whether people look at me to receive my smile – a small gift of love to a stranger, an acknowledgement of our shared humanity. But if I pass someone who can’t or won’t look at me, for whatever reason, I can still send a smile from my heart by wishing for them: “May you have joy, peace and happiness, today and always.” And since we are not separate, this smile blesses me with love, as it blesses them.
So, I’m curious – do you smile a strangers or allow yourself to be smiled at? Why? If not, why not? What would happen if we all started offering the gift of a smile to strangers (and therefore to ourselves)?