24: Gratitude

“We have a tradition at our house before a meal.”  People start looking around nervously.  You can see the thoughts scrolling through their mind.

I didn’t think they were religious.
Are we going to have to hold hands?
We are praying!?!

Then we explain that we go around the table and say something that we are grateful for.  Of course, you can opt out.  No one ever does.  When we started this about a year ago, it was just Noel and I trying this before dinner.  I had just read The Happiness Advantage by by Shawn Achor.  Simple as it sounds, the premise of the book is that we can’t wait for this or that to happen before we let ourselves be happy.  We have everything we need right here, right now to be perfectly happy.  Instead of believing we will be happy when we become successful, our happiness is what causes us to be successful.  It’s all about our mindset.  Like many self-helpy type books, The Happiness Advantage encourages people to actively seek, notice, and verbalize things they thankful for.  In fact, it is so important that he made it Happiness Habit #1.  Gratitude, he says, is one of the best starting points for retraining our brain to look for the positive, rather than the negative as most of us have become accustomed to doing. When you know you’ll need to verbalize something every day to be thankful for, you start looking for things, and then seeing them all over.

When we decided that we were not going to put our gratitude practice on hold when we had guests, but instead to ask them to join us in the practice, we just assumed most people would say something superficial to get it over with.  That’s not what happened at all. Some of the most wonderful conversations at our dinner parties stem from our gratitude practice.  Men saying incredibly kind, wonderful things about their wives that have us in tears.  People talking about difficult things that has brought profound perspective.  And, of course, people sharing exciting news of promotions, new babies, new houses and so much more.  By starting with gratitude, we watch as the small talk falls by the wayside so real connections can form.  It is one of the things we are most proud of; creating a place and a time for people (many of whom don’t know each other) to come together and connect.

My childhood memories of Thanksgiving are rich.

The bloop bloop of the bubbles bursting through the white foam on the top of boiling potatoes.  The whirr of the electric knife slicing through the turkey.  The plop of the canned cranberries falling onto a salad plate.  The whisper of the sugar being poured into the whipping cream and the whizzing of the handmixer.  The muffled sound of the adult’s conversation telephoned from the basement through the vents into the first floor bathroom. The splash of milk pouring into glasses.  The hummmm of the space heater.  The squeak of the basement stairs as grown ups came down with hot creamy casseroles and jello salads.  Holding hands dutifully reciting “Come Lord Jesus…”

Deer hunting, Thanksgiving and Christmas all meld into one big memory ball because they were all so similar.  Always at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  Always with all the whole family.  Always the same food.  Never a discussion about why.

Tradition.  “The handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another” says Miriam-Webster.  For better or worse, sheer repetition creates memories and with more repetition, tradition.  The sights and smells transport us to another place and time.  For some, the memories are warm and comforting.  For others, they are painful.  Whether great or terrible, most of us don’t know the source of these traditions.  There is little storytelling.  There is little intention.  “This is how we’ve always done it,” just has to suffice.

In our family, there was much that went unspoken.  People didn’t say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or “forgive me.”  And at Thanksgiving people didn’t say “I’m grateful for…”  We were taught that “thank you” was an automatic response when someone held a door, or gave you a gift, or served your food.  It wasn’t something that stood on its own, a gift in itself because it came from a place so real and true.  None of this was with ill intent.  The opposite.  I suppose people felt these things were so obvious they didn’t need to be said.  Of course I love you, look at all I do for you.  Of course I’m sorry, look how I’m trying to fix it.  Of course I’m grateful, how could you not be with this family and this food at this table we’ve shared together so many times before.  Perhaps the Acts of Service people who taught us how to say thank you were fulfilled by the satisfaction of doing for others without needing to be recognized and fussed over, so it didn’t occur to them to teach us the Words of Affirmation that others in our life need from us now.

And so we have to learn.  Learning takes practice. This Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that the practice we nervously tried last year means that this is not the first time in a year I’ve thought about all the things I’m truly grateful for.  Now I can really focus on the traditions and creating traditions of our own, because the day-to-day things I am grateful for have been at the forefront of my mind every day for the last year.

Sincerest wishes to you and yours for a happy, tasty, tradition and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanksgiving

23: The Debut of Soul Food Friday

Man I loved me some Febreeze.  Living in the same closet-sized apartment with a dog for eight years meant some limited cleaning options.  A vacuum and some Febreeze later and it was like a new place.  Before I met my husband, I didn’t give chemicals or toxins a second thought.  I bought the cleaning supplies that worked, and the cheaper the better, chose the beauty products I used by how they smelled (and the cheaper the better), and bought the cheapest healthy food I could find.  See the pattern?

My husband made a Febreeze joke within a week of our first date.  I clearly hadn’t sprayed it right before he came over because he just said it, like an inside joke that we were both in on, probably with an eye roll. Something real judgy like “it looks like the kind of place that smells like Febreeze” or something ridiculous.  I was not in on the inside joke but definitely made a mental note “do NOT let him see your Febreeze.”  Don’t get me wrong, as bitchy a comment as that was, it’s not like his cabinets were full of Seventh Generation, no, no, he’s the kind of granola that doesn’t care about show-labels.  He had an industrial size spray bottle full of a Thieves oil concoction.  What is it exactly?  “Thieves.”  Yeah, but what IS it?  “It’s like a non-toxic cleaner.”  I don’t get it.

Then there was the fabric softener conversation.  After we lived together, I was folding our laundry one day when he said “I would really prefer you stop using fabric softener.”  “I would really prefer our clothes smell like Mountain Spring,” I retorted.  “Well, I do not want all those chemicals on my clothes so maybe we’ll need to wash our clothes separately.  I don’t mind.”  “Yeah, maybe,” I said indignantly.  We never washed our clothes separately.  I stopped using fabric softener…and, bought three of those goofy yarn balls you put in the dryer at a farmer’s market.

Oh, and I can’t forget the deodorant conversation.  “You know, you should really switch over to deodorant rather than antiperspirant.”  Then I’ll have sweaty pits.  I’m not cool with that.  “Well you are basically putting cancer directly on your body all day every day.”  (Eye roll)

As luck would have it, about the time I started reading my babymaking bible, The Book, (Making Babies by Jill Blakeway & Sami David), I was also introduced to the Think Dirty app by a pregnant coworker.  “This will horrify you,” she prefaced.  The app contains a search bar and a bar code scanner for you to see how chemical-laden your cleaning and hygiene products are on a scale from 0-10.  Since The Book says eliminate as many chemicals and toxins from your everyday life as possible, and as previously established since I pretty much do whatever the book says, thus beginneth the chemical overhaul.

I soon learned that almost everything, even “unscented” or “sensitive skin” products has fragrance which just dirties up anything that might otherwise be ok.  I also learned that some of the things I’ve come to associate with “clean” is synonymous with chemicals.  Clean smelling, foaming, sudsing, moisturizing, mostly all created to make you perceive things are working.  Fun fact, even Febreeze was originally scentless.  It didn’t sell.  It was only when they added “fresh” fragrance that people bought in droves.  The research showed even though the freshening properties worked exactly the same, the scent made people perceive the rooms as cleaner.  Changing over to better cleaning products was actually the easiest.  “What is the name of that stuff in the spray bottle?”  Everyday hygiene products were a little tougher.  “What?!? A plain bar of Dove is an 8!”  And then there were the real doozies, like cosmetics and supplements.  “Wait, they make these vitamins out of chemicals?!?”

I’ve started to embrace  this process as a fun (sometimes cathartic) challenge.   For a girl who loves a bargain, I still get that high when I find the supplement BOGO sale.  Or when I stumble across that dishwasher rinse aid I’ve been looking for because it’s a 0 on Think Dirty.  And even when it’s not on sale, there is something satisfying when I find a lotion that’s a 1 AND smells like lavender rather than my unscented lotion that’s a 3.

So what’s the point…?

The Baby Buddhist Blog is debuting a new weekly installment called Soul Food Fridays.  Each week I’ll highlight a person, place, product, podcast, quote, song, book…something that is feeding my need for spiritual growth, balance, or healthy mindful living this week.

Why?

For people committed to living a purposeful, mindful, healthy life the things we put in, around, and on our body, matter. The places we spend our time, the people we are around, the media we consume, the phrases we repeat in our head…it all matters.  And, life is busy.  Sometimes we just need things to be easier.  If I can share a product you’ll love, a quote that inspires your day, a picture that makes you laugh my hope is that it makes it just a little bit easier for others to find their own purposeful, mindful habits.

Without further ado, I give you the very first installment of Soul Food Friday.

What’s feeding my soul this week?  Laughter.  I am a podcast freak.  Love em.  Listen to them in double speed anytime I’m in the car.  A lot of political and legal stuff.  But this week, I’m on the way to work in the usual Monday morning fog of blah and put on This American Life.  This American Life is one of my favorites. I just love the stories.  But the introduction of this particular episode just tickled my funny bone.  The chuckles were a welcome start to the week, put me in a great mood, and made me genuinely nicer and more patient with my Monday morning court clients.  Start your weekend off on the right foot and take a listen to the first 7 minutes.  I dare you not to laugh.

This American Life: The Radio Drama (first 7 minutes)

Laugh

 

 

22: Opening Day

Did you just think “Brewers?”  City folk.  I tell ya.  “Opening day” in November in Wisconsin *should* mean just one thing.  Deer hunting.

I grew up in a small Wisconsin farming town.  Deer hunting, in the heavy Midwestern accent of Brittany Murphy in Drop Dead Gorgeous, “it’s just whatchya do.”

Mid-November had a collective anticipation that I have never felt living anywhere else.  There was an energy, a buzz.  Boys in my class fresh out of hunter’s safety eagerly turning in their absence slips so they could hunt with their dad on a school day.  Taverns around town with big banners welcoming hunters.  The cool radio station playing “Da Turdy Point Buck” during prime morning time.

My dad digging his blaze orange out of the cedar closet in the basement and laying out all of his gear.  Huge, puffy orange overalls, an oversized coat and a fuzzy hat.  Sliding his deer tag into that plastic sleeve that he pinned to the back of his coat.  Those giant snow boots, often out for the first time this season.  Pulling his rifle off the gun rack above his cluttered workbench.  Taking it apart, cleaning it at the kitchen table with ESPN in the background. The soft zippered case leaned up against the refrigerator to grab on the way out of the house.

My mom, sister and I had a different ritual.  We packed our bags to make the long one-mile journey to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the weekend.  The aunts and cousins would eat blueberry waffle breakfast for dinner and then the kids would play in the basement and the upstairs bedrooms in pajamas while moms and aunts prepared sugar cookie dough in the cramped kitchen using every possible horizontal surface.  The next day Grandma and Grandpa covered the long table in the basement with a vinyl tablecloth, pulled the folding chairs from underneath the stairs, and turned on the scary hot space heater.  Moms rolled and cut out shapes from the sugar cookie dough as baked cookies went into tupperware containers.  After “hot dish” and white bread with peanut butter for lunch, kids were put to work frosting cookies.  Icing that was more food coloring than anything else slathered all over stars and santas and snowflakes with crispy brown edges.  Colored sugar glitter was immediately everywhere except on the cookies.  Inevitably one kid would hog the red hots so you could never get a Rudolph nose when you needed it.  “Oops, this one broke.  I guess I have to eat it,” meant getting sick stuffed with cookies.  And despite all the anticipation of the main event, within an hour one by one the kids would abandon our posts as this one and then that would find a toy laying on the basement floor they’d rather play with.  Sometimes the dusk hours would be interrupted by a blustery cold blast and then hunter appearing at the top of the steps to yell down into the basement that so-and-so got a deer.  Of course we all had to go out into the driveway to admire the latest kill that by now was strung up inside the garage before the hunters left us again to celebrate their masculinity, surely with beer.  By early evening everyone was gathered in the living room watching a Christmas movie on video with root beer and popcorn in our hands.  Grandpa periodically getting up from his chair to turn on the dust-buster close at hand to take care of all the kid crumbs we left on the living room floor.

I don’t remember the last year we did this.  I’m sure I didn’t know it would be the last time.  It’s funny, the things you don’t realize are becoming memories.

“Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

I suppose that is why it is important to be purposeful to create traditions and rituals.  You don’t know what fish will be caught in the net.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

21: Sissy

I know exactly what my first memories are.  It was the day my sister was born. I was 2 years, 2 months and 15 days old.  I remember helping my dad pick out a balloon at the florist.  I remember walking into a hospital room and seeing my mom laying there.  I remember trying yogurt for the first time.  I didn’t really understand what was happening, but whatever it was it was a BIG deal.

We were not always close.  On any given day, we were likely to be somewhere on the spectrum between annoyed and outright disdain.  She was into dolls and dress up and drama.  I was into sports and school and socializing.  When we were younger, attempts to do much of anything together inevitably wound up in a fight.  It wasn’t uncommon for us to be forced to sit on the kitchen floor looking at each other and “thinking about how much you love your sister.”  There was a time I put chewed up gum in her hair so she had to have a piece of her hair cut off.  There was the time she was jumping on the bed, fell off and then told my parents I pushed her.  But we were built-in companions so we found ways to compromise so we could play together.  She would play alligator swamp on our swing set with me…if we could put on sparkly outfits and pretend we were in the circus.  I’d play dress up with her…and be maid while she was the princess.  We’d play softball in the backyard and when she got tired of me winning she’d just throw the ball at me instead of running to tag me out.  We managed.

As we got older we just avoided each other more and more.  Middle school was brutal for us both (and everyone right?) and we both had some self esteem problems.  By high school our interests and personalities were so different there just wasn’t a need to spend time together.  We didn’t get each other.  She was angsty and didn’t care about school or much of anything it seemed.  And from her perspective I was a goodie two shoes know-it-all just looking to tell her what to do any chance I could get.

I graduated high school and moved away.  Cell phones and social media weren’t really a thing yet so my Krissy updates came through my mom.  It was only because she guilted me into staying at my sister’s new apartment while I was home on a visit that we are so close today.  She showed me her new place with pride, we ate Kraft mac and cheese and talked.  For some reason, we both had our guard down this time and we learned a lot about each other.  The rest is history.

Our lives and interests are still very different.  My path was easier for people to wrap their heads around, school, career etc.  Krissy paid her way through her early 20’s and cosmetology school by working at Hooters.  When she told us she was going to start working at Hooters, it would be an understatement to say that our family had “concerns” about her employment choice.  We also quickly saw that Hooters wasn’t as scandalous as we thought and that she was kicking butt at the company.  In her years at Hooters she traveled all over on the company dime for special publicity events, received national-level awards, was an extra in a Denzel Washington movie, did a segment on Good Morning America, was  a contestant on the Singing Bee, was a regular in the Hooter’s calendar and swimsuit pageant, and was the covergirl and centerfold of Hooter’s Magazine.  Oh, and she also was quickly recognized as a fantastic salesperson and an even better mentor/trainer.  Within a few years, she was promoted to store manager and, let me tell you, any idea you might have about how she may have been treated as a Hooter’s Girl pales in comparison to how she was treated as a young female manager.  She proved a lot of people wrong.

Despite that, people have always had some skepticism about Krissy’s ability to do things.  “Are you suuuuuure you’re gonna do _________?”  I’m embarrassed to say that I have fallen into that category too.  Last Fall Krissy asked me one day if I wanted to go on a run.  Sure, I’ll go on a run.  I told her we’d run on the Oak Leaf until she was tired.  Four miles in I told her we were turning back.  That first eight mile run led to jokingly suggesting that Krissy run a half marathon with me.  About six weeks later Krissy ran her first half marathon.  “Why haven’t you ever done this before?” I asked her one day.  “Because I never thought I could,” she said.

I suggested the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.  The race is always on the Top Ten marathon lists and the idea of traveling somewhere for a race appealed to me.  It also happened to be one of the only races that allowed you to transfer bibs or defer to the following year.  Perfect, I thought, if I get pregnant or she’s not ready we can just defer a year.

Training started pretty slow.  A lot of sporadic short runs that we walked half of. If I didn’t suggest a run, we weren’t doing one.  We were sitting by the pool on vacation in California with about 12 weeks til the race, surely safe enough to broach the topic of being in or being out of this race.  Clearly annoyed I’d even brought it up Krissy said “I’ve been running you know.  I wanted to surprise you.”  Right then we agreed we’d do our long training runs together every weekend no matter what.  We were doing this race.

My confidence wasn’t fully restored when we started our training runs.  A lot of “I didn’t eat enough” or “I didn’t stretch enough” or “what’s that pain?!”  I didn’t know how to help or what to say.  Without an athletic background, she had no way of knowing whether what she was feeling was just her body adjusting or something that meant she needed to stop.  I didn’t know when to be soft, when she needed tough love, or what advice to give.  We both just fumbled our way through.  But one thing was clear from week to week, she was getting stronger.  The distance we struggled to finish last time, she would run with ease this time.  She learned from her mistakes and got into a solid habits.  She took care of herself.  She tried different things on her runs.  All of it was paying off.

Our 14-mile run was a major breakthrough.  It was raining, not like sprinkling, really raining.  True to our word, we were running today.  No excuses.  We hooked up Juneau and off the three of us went down the Oak Leaf, completely soaked.  Luckily the rain was warm and there was no wind, so besides wet, we were pretty comfortable.  And it started to be a fun, cool thing that it was just us out there…training…in the rain.  Doing our thing.  About mile 9 Krissy started to fade, needing to walk more, clearly struggling and the thought of four more miles daunting.  We walked for a bit.  She cried.  We decided to bail out and called for a ride back.  Krissy was so mad.  Totally down on herself, doubting whether she would be able to do this.  She called me later that day.  She’d been out doing errands and at two different places overheard people talking about marathon training and having to bail out way sooner on their runs than we did.  With that, she was back in it.  We agreed to redo our 14 mile run the next week.  She was very angry with me by the end, and struggled through the last couple miles but she finished it.

A couple weeks later as we prepared for our 16-mile training run, I could already feel her uncertainty.  Can I do this?  We had guests in town who ran the Chicago marathon a couple years ago.  She told me later talking to “normal people” made all the difference.  With that, her mind got right and stayed right.  There was such a determination.  Not all fired up and intense and rah rah like I get.  Quiet, matter-of-fact almost.  She was running better than I’d ever seen her.

Race day was great.  We weren’t rushed for time.  Of course there were Marines and flags and cheering people and motivational signs all over the place.  We’d were very strategic about our race shirts.  It was common for us to brainstorm shirt slogans in the worst part of our training runs and we settled on “Bad Year to Bad Ass,” a nod to using some of the recent challenges we’ve each had to motivate us to focus on something positive and accomplish something we could really be proud of.  On the back, her shirt said “My first marathon” on the back of my shirt “Krissy’s first marathon, show her some love.”  The strategy worked.  The entire race people were shouting “Go Krissy” “You got this Krissy” “It’s my first marathon too!”  But they were also shouting “And GO Krissy’s friend!”  I found myself wanting to correct everyone who said this.

She’s not my friend.  She’s my sister.  She’s in a whole other category.  She takes more of my grief, gets more passes, has said yes to the most crazy ideas, and has more of me figured out than anyone besides maybe Noel.  Even more than him sometimes.  She will literally share more years of my life than any other person. After years of Krissy showing up at every athletic competition I’ve ever done with signs and support and the title of “Katie’s sister” it was one of my proudest days not to be Katie but to be “Krissy’s sister.”  Back when we were just trying to become close, I called Krissy for advice about I don’t even remember what and her answer was simply “family comes first.”  She has lived by that not just in words but by showing up, taking a backseat, being a supporter.  What a privilege to be by her side as she accomplished this goal for herself.  I hope she always knows that I’m by her side.  As she’s accomplishing goals.  As she’s figuring it out.  And when she’s not her best self.  I also hope she never doubts herself again.  I know I won’t.

Spiritual but Not Religious

What kind of holiday practices past, present, or future do you have that fulfills your spiritual needs?   The Baby Buddhist blog is going to blow up in 2019.  I’m going to be writing a lot more about what it means to be “spiritual but not religious” not just in theory but in ACTION.  December is filled with traditions that have religious and spiritual roots.  I’d love to include guest posts about your holiday spiritual practices.  Don’t be shy.  Contact me in comments or by email at thebabybuddhistblog@gmail.com for details!

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20: Love at first…

I knew he was special.  For someone who doesn’t especially subscribe to the idea of love at first sight, there was something palpably unique.  Mostly it was the kindness in his eyes and the genuineness of his face.  This was someone I needed to know.  Three weeks after our first date, I told my sister “I think I’m in love with him.”  The only word to describe that time is magic.

Even more than love at first sight, I definitely do not subscribe to the idea of life as a fairy tale.  Even the magic love bubble only lasted a few weeks before the reality of life had us dealing with pretty serious stuff.  Still, the newness, the possibility, the feeling of having all of life’s good things finally come together in the same place and time made difficult things feel less difficult.  I was the best version of myself.

I saw “A Star is Born” with girlfriends the other night and it really stirred something up.  I was very emotional on the way home and kept thinking about the movie for days later.  “Bradley Cooper.” my friend opined simply.  This was more than lusting after Bradley Cooper.

We’ve reached a bit of a crossroads in our journey to parenthood.  We’ve been trying over a year. We are doing all the things. We’ve had all the tests.  Nothing is wrong with us.  My doctor looked at me with pity-eyes and said “there’s nothing else I can do for you” and recommended we go see a fertility specialist.  My medical chart now says “female infertility.”

From the moment I reached out to the fertility clinic, my fears about taking a number in the baby factory felt true.  Electronically sign this form and this one and that.  Watch this online module about Zika.  Check out our website with all the pictures of smiling babies (which, of course, conveniently leaves off how much any of this costs).

It all makes me feel…inhuman.

That’s when it occurred to me; that feeling I had watching “A Star is Born” wasn’t lust and it wasn’t envy wishing  we were back in that new-love bubble, it was just that desire to be seen.  As a whole person.

That magical time three years ago when Noel and I had our first date, yes it was magic because I met such a special person, but it was magic because for the first time in my life I felt I was sitting across from someone who really saw my flawed awesomeness and was totally into it.  The other night Noel said to me “You want to think you find someone and get into a relationship because it’s easy, but it’s not.  It’s hard.  And it’s something you have to be really conscious and purposeful about all the time.”  Yeah you do.  Every day you do.  And you have to try things, and get them wrong, and try again, and talk…a lot, and ask each other for help, and do things that don’t come easily for the good of the relationship.

The inhumanity of trying to create a human, I’m not up for it.  For me, this is not an at-any-cost situation.  I want to have a baby.  Even more than that, I want to be the best version of myself.  And I want to have the strongest relationship I can.

My Chinese medicine dream team, they make me feel human.  I depend more and more on their words of wisdom and encouragement.  Jodie, my acupuncturist, has me reading “You are a Badass” by Jen Sicero.  As the name suggests, it is brilliantly simple.  Know yourself, love yourself, live yourself.  “There is nothing wrong with you” says the book and Jodie the Acupuncturist and Ali the herbalist, and Noel the Husband.  I like that.  “Trust your intuition” says the book and Jodie the Acupuncturist and Ali the herbalist and Noel the Husband.  “Love yourself because you are awesome and the only one in the whole world like you” says the book and Jodie the Acupuncturist and Ali the Herbalist and Noel the Husband.  All of that sounds so much better than sitting in a hospital gown waiting to be poked and prodded holding a piece of paper that says “female infertility.”

In the end, our family is going to have whatever journey we are meant to have.  In the meantime, we have work to do.  The daily work of overcoming the urge to fall into routines that prioritize tasks, chores, and obligations instead of opportunities to see, know, and support one another.  The humanity of trying to be the best I can be so that our relationship can be the best it can be.  I’m up for that.

Door

19: Whatever You’re Doing, Do Less

I used to cry e-v-e-r-y time I went to yoga.  It became sort of a half-funny thing between my girlfriends and I.  They would find opportunities to get me out of the house while I was single so even though I always saw yoga as a waste-of-time workout, I’d go along. I finally told my therapist this was happening and she wisely said “why don’t you stop thinking about whatever you’re thinking about.  Think about yoga.”  Amazing we need people to tell us these things right?

Buddhists are into shrines, something I haven’t gotten far enough in the teachings to learn much about.  The first time I walked into the shrine room and saw all this stuff on an alter, I heard my mom’s voice in my head saying “cult.”  I learned very quickly that the shrine simply uses a number of images and symbolic items to represent qualities inherent in ourselves and our lives.  I can get on board with that, the idea that what we do and what we put out to the world is a reflection of what’s going on inside of us.  So, I decided to create my own version of a shrine that I can carry with me all the time.  I wear necklace every day with a number of symbols.  It has a penny pendant, something I found at a boutique on a break from a Shambhala class.  It was attached to a card saying something about using pennies as a gratitude practice.  Every time you see a penny, say an ‘I’m grateful for” kind of thing.  It also has a silver pendant with a flaming chalice, a Unitarian Universalist symbol.  And finally, it has the silhouette of a cross legged Kwan Yin.

Jodie put Kwan Yin next to me during an acupuncture session. Like most things Jodie does I was like “this is weird but whatever works.”  I figured if she was going to sit with me I should know a little more about her.  I assumed she was a fertility goddess.  I was right.  Sort of.  Kwan Yin or Guanyin is like a goddess in Chinese and East Asian religious traditions, but a goddess compassion.  They believe that this quality, compassion, along with mercy and love, make her inherently motherly.  This really made me pause.   The symbol of motherhood, the root of our fertility… is compassion…

Right now my Saturday Cafe group at the Shambhala center is reading “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Compassion for others, she says, is a reflection of compassion for ourselves and requires total openness and acceptance of every aspect of ourselves, good and bad.  We need to fully see and accept who we are, people as they are, and things as they are, without holding on to our own idea of what they should be. This is what causes pain and suffering. Categorizing good or bad, blaming, these are are all signs that we are lacking in compassion.

This whole process of trying to get pregnant has put a magnifying glass on so many parts of my personality, so many patterns in thinking and behavior.  It’s like some cosmic bartender put me in a giant martini shaker and has been shaking that bitch for a solid year now.  Looking at what I want, what I need, who I am, who I thought I was all while having to go to work and interact with people and, you know, do life continues to be a journey that I expect will go on a long time.

In an earlier chapter on “hopelessness” Pema writes about the inevitability of difficulty, without blame.

“Without giving up hope-that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be- we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us…Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it does not mean something is wrong. . . .Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. . . .As long as we are addicted to hope, we feel we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty.

It is not our fault we are suffering.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  It is the nature of the human condition.

Now that Lake Michigan is almost certainly below 60 degrees until next Spring, my last swim of the season is likely behind me.  I’ve conveniently forgotten to tell my dream team that I’m running a marathon in a few weeks but have cut down my running to the bare minimum needed to finish.  Yoga is really the only exercise that is ideal for our efforts to get pregnant.  This is tough.  Not sweating, not feeling that total physical exhaustion,  not feeling that burn and fatigue, my default is to see this as some inferior form of exercise.  Especially when so much of the language just sounds like bullshit euphemisms.  “sits bones”  bleh “root into the ground” bleh “only do what serves you” barf…   I am trying to accept this fact and see it as an opportunity.  I’m also trying to allow myself to really embrace this in a similar way that I have other physical challenges and intend to practice 4-5 times a week.

I’m also seeing that this resistance I feel, this impression I have of yoga as inferior, weak, “bullshit”, is directly correlated to my experience of it being “softer.” It’s not about how much you can lift, how fast you can run, it’s not about physical straining strength.  It’s about letting go, quiet calm control, peacefulness, knowing understanding of the limits of our own body.  I’m not very good at any of those things and I suspect it’s because I have always looked forward to what is next, what is better, than to simply stand in the right now.  As Pema predicted, it is and has caused a lot of suffering.  I still cry at yoga sometimes, probably because when I stop the business and the rushing and the pushing I get this glimmer of softness.  It comes out when we are doing our shavasana at the end of class, literally just laying there not doing anything.  “Whatever you’re doing, do less” the instructor said.  Even in the stillest, quietest moments there’s an opportunity to do less, let go more, get softer still.  The softness is also part of me.  I need to accept that part too.  I want to be better at seeing it, acknowledging it, and caring for it.  I thought being awesome at my job was, in part, because I already was pretty good at being thoughtfully compassionate.  I’m now reminded that there will always be a threshold in my compassion for others if I can’t first be compassionate with myself.  So, Kwan Yin, I’m gonna keep working on it.

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