Friday, December 5, 2008

Still Learning To Be Still

"You talk too much, you worry me to death ... You ta-a-a-alk ... talk too much."

I heard this song years ago and never forgot it. I had to google to find out again who first sang it -- Joe Jones -- and got to listen to it again on youtube. You can too: .

Talking, both aloud and internally, is a major component of my life. I can't seem to get my head to shut up even when my mouth agrees to.

This is not a unique problem. Meditators consider it a human hallmark: the monkey mind, it's called and if you watch Curious George on PBS, you'll understand how a monkey mind is all over the place and into everything under the sun.

I watch Curious George on PBS -- with my 20-month-old granddaughter, Kaitlyn. Now George himself can't talk, but he sure can "hee hee, hoo hoo, ha ha" for most of the 30 minutes that the program is on.

Sometimes Kaitlyn gets going with her own gibberish, which soon will be replaced by several sentences strung together. And then several paragraphs. And in the not too distant future, alas, she will have the same difficult time we all do getting her mind to quiet.

But I, the wise gma (my shortened, hip version of grandmother), am wondering if I can wire in a direct link to silence for my little one, now, before the mind forgets how to be still.

"Learn to be still." Don Henley sang that one when I was all grown up. (You can listen to the song at ) but here is the first verse:

It's just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed.
You'd give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head.
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill.
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will;
Learn to be still ...

Can I help Kaitlyn find the still small space inside her?

When we were in the car last week I realized that, at the very least, I didn't have to be part of the culture that encourages all this chatter.

She sits in the back of the car in her infant safety seat, alone. When she was a baby, I pretty much let her lie there quietly, but now that she's jabbering, I have been thinking that she needed company, stuck back there all alone. So anytime we we were driving, I would talk to her and sing to her and reach back at stop lights and touch her. In short, I was the antithesis of stillness with this precious spirit.

One day, when we had a lot of errands to run and my mouth was running even faster, I realized it was tiring me to keep up the chatter patter. So I shut up. And in the moments that followed, I realized that shutting up was the biggest gift I could offer Kaitlyn.

So now when we go someplace, I belt her into the seat and tell her she can enjoy this quiet time in the car, and I get in the front seat and I enjoy some quiet time in the car. No radio. No CD. No talking.

No touching, too, I discovered. When we get quiet and are centered in our own spirit, we don't want distractions. Neither does Kaitlyn. Yesterday I was driving her to the store, both of us quietly enjoying the sunshine streaming into the warm car, and I reached back to pat her leg.
She looked so blissful, thumb in mouth, eyes slightly closed. I wanted to touch her.

So I patted her thigh and she shook my hand off. Immediately I understood. The baby was completely immersed in her own space.

For her, stillness still comes naturally. I thought I would be the teacher, but she ended up perfectly modeling the lesson for me.

Shhhhh. Be still and know. Like babies do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sob Story

The tears flowed. I mopped them from my face, choking on sobs and wondering why I felt such grief. Our grown children had suddenly decided that it was time for them to leave our home for a place of their own.
Actually, I was thrilled for them, even more so after I saw the beautifully maintained two-bedroom house with a deck and fenced yard. Only four miles from our place, it’s close enough for me to continue babysitting my granddaughter while our son and daughter-in-law finish school.
It’s not that I was railing against what was about to happen. I could see the benefits. I could see the disadvantages, too, but it was time, my son explained gently, after expressing his deep appreciation that we had harbored them for the past 28 months.
So I was happy for them, and yet I couldn’t stop sobbing. Yes, the grandbaby, now 19 months, won’t be wandering into our bedroom each morning to wake us up. There could be some sadness around that. And her parents might holler at her when they are feeling frustrated, something her grandparents don’t do because we have the patience that comes with having watched thousands of suns rise and set.
But, to be honest, we hollered at our kids, and in the end our children’s deep love for their daughter will prevail.
Then why the heavy heart, I wondered. I suspected it had a little to do with being at a crossroads in my life, one where mothering moves from the front burner to the back. What is it I want to do with this new chapter in my life? I’m not sure, and that’s a little intimidating, because I don’t want to waste these precious days. I’m old enough to know how precious each one is.
A spiritual guru recently counseled that it’s time to focus on me. I’ve been mothering others all my life, she said, and now it’s time to mother me. What does that mean? How does that work? I don’t know yet, and maybe this explains a cup or two of the tears.
I was driving to the store this morning, musing on all of this, when the tears resumed. I thought about how my nest is emptying out again, and, bingo, I finally understood what was going on. A current situation – my kids’ leaving – was triggering past grief.
My mother, Angela, came to live with us five years ago. I was so excited to be near her after living half a continent away for three decades, and I looked forward to sharing our home with her. But it was a short visit. She came in early September and died a few days before Thanksgiving.
My husband and I went on a cruise for two weeks during the October she was living with me. She was supposed to go on the cruise, too, but had a wound in her foot that was healing and decided to stay behind. Coincidentally, Jeremy and I just returned from a two-week cruise.
The cruise, the kids’ leaving – these events triggered the pain of losing my mom. Once I realized what was going on, I was flooded with relief – and another quart of tears. But the tears were okay now because I understood them and because they brought a familiar feeling: a mother’s love. Not me loving my offspring this time, but, rather, me feeling that my mother still loves me. And on the anniversary of her passing, it warms me up to know she’s still here. It even makes me cry.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fazed About the Moon

I'm up early the day before we fly to Rome to board a cruise ship. It's still dark when I walk outside to check on the moon. In the middle of the night, Jeremy had risen for a few minutes. When he came back to bed I asked him where he'd gone.

"I went up on deck to see the moon," he quipped. He was pretending he was already on the ship: We've both been giddy about this trip to Europe. One thing we love about cruising is being on deck with sky and ocean in every direction.

His joke reminded me that the moon had been waxing in recent days, and now I was wondering how much. I was thinking how lovely it would be to see the full moon rise over the Mediterranean Sea. I've wanted to see that ever since watching the movie, "Joe and the Volcano," where a humongous moon rises over Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

But, alas, not this cruise. Stepping out into the driveway, I look west and see the moon low on the horizon -- looking like a gold brocade brooch pinned to the black sky. It is big and round and full

"Shoot!" is my first reaction. And then I catch myself. I'm going to be traveling with the sun and moon and sea as my companions for 12 days. Hey, over an ocean, any old moon will do!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Stories of Our Lives

The sun hadn’t yet pulled itself up over the eastern hills when I was walking down College Avenue in Fayetteville. I wore my jacket with the hood up to keep the 45-degree air out of my ears, but my hands were cold. I could not tuck them into my pockets because I needed them to balance as I trekked across uneven grass and rocks and asphalt driveways. There was no sidewalk along this part of the main drag. Cars swished past, only a couple of yards to my right.
I had dropped off my car to be washed and detailed, and I figured I could start walking back to get some exercise. My son would pick me up in about 20 minutes and drive me the rest of the way home.
As I walked I thought about the drivers passing me, and I wondered what kind of figure I cut: a solitary middle-aged, hooded woman in blue jeans. Would they wonder why I had no car? Would they suspect I was homeless? Would they think I had no family? Why would I be out walking before dawn?
I thought about all the times I drive College Avenue and make up stories about the people I see out walking. If they have a backpack and are heavily clothed, I guess they are homeless, carrying all of their possessions. If they are lugging grocery bags, I assume they have no car. If there’s a fast-food cup in their hands, I figure they are on break from work nearby. No one walks this route for exercise, so that’s never part of the stories I make up about the people I see.
Stories. It’s what we human beings love to create: tales about life – our own and others. It’s why we are attracted to soap operas and movies. It’s why we buy the tabloids at the supermarket checkouts. It’s why we listen to talk shows on the radio and watch reality shows on television.
There’s this place inside us that relishes stories, and while I don’t have a problem with story telling, too often the stories end up as fodder for our egos, which use them as proof that we are better or worse than the other guy. Even worse, though, is when we start believing these stories are the truth, especially if what we’ve written is a sad story. As soon as I write a sad story and start identifying with it, I begin to spiral downward emotionally, and guess what? My story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because as I get more depressed, I find more reasons to be sad and I attract others who are sad as well. Misery loves company.
But so does happiness and joy. And that’s the truth of our universe: the law of attraction, or like begets like. So if I’m going to make up stories, why not make up happy ones?
My daughter and her boyfriend broke up recently, and she’s written a sad story for herself about this. We all do this sometimes. At my place in life (i.e. older!), it’s easier to see this is a sad story of her own creation. Yes, she hurts. I honor that. But she’s trying to write a story that makes this one act a theme of her life: No one will ever love her the way she wants to be loved. Now that’s a sad story. But it’s not the truth.
More importantly, we can always choose to rewrite our stories. For example, my daughter and her boyfriend broke up and now she knows that her heart will fit more perfectly with someone else on down the line. And isn’t it good that she has this time to reflect on how beautiful the spring is, how much she loves her job, how fun it is to decorate her new apartment – all without the distraction of a long-distance relationship? And doesn’t this give her the space to figure out why she feels sad so much of the time, and to seek instead little pockets of happiness? Little pockets like the light scent of a butter-yellow jonquil blooming in the grass, the warm sun on her back as she rides her bike, the sweet taste of a frothy Frappuccino, the toothy grin on her niece’s face in the picture taped to her computer.
My daughter is not unlike most of us who have explored deep caves of pain. But even in these places, we can mine little gems of joy. And when we do – when we hold these sparkling pieces of now – we find ourselves at a starting point again. We can choose to write new stories. And if we do, let’s end them with “happily ever after.”