Tag Archives: mindfulness

Quiet Street

Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task….

― Nisargadatta Maharaj

Where I come from, like anywhere, there are rules. Some are written, but most are unwritten, passed on member to member, generation to generation, word of mouth, tongue in cheek, morphing as they circulate, like an ontological plague.

Learning the official promise and bylaws at the Organization was easy. At the beginning of meetings, everyone recites the pledge: “I promise by the strength of Christ to be brave, pure and true. I will fulfill my duties at school, home and club; do my part in [the Organization’s] activities, keep all dates and promises and read at least one verse in the Bible daily.”  

It takes a little longer to learn the laws, but anyone who wants to be recognized by leadership, to earn a pin or a neckerchief, to move up into Phosterians or RHLA, strives to live by these, as well:

A member is brave. He/she will not shun duty. He/she realizes that bravery in standing for the right is greater than mere physical strength. Coaxing of friends and jeers of enemies cannot persuade him/her to do wrong.

A member is pure in body, mind, speech and conduct. He/she will not defile his/her body with tobacco, liquor, or other harmful habits. Because he/she keeps his/her mind pure, his/her speech and conduct will also be pure and he/she will choose to go with a clean crowd.

A member is true to himself/herself, to parents, to all leaders, and to God. He/she will not lie, steal, cheat or gamble. He/she will honor his/her parents and be respectful to those in authority. He/she is reverent toward God.

In theory, these were the only rules, but in practice, the parameter of acceptable behaviors was vastly more complex. To thrive in this Organization, you had to learn the boundaries–meaning, the bi-conditional logic of what is and isn’t godly.

The Organization obtained its current property when my mother was a young child, leasing the initial 4 acres of riverbed from a local philanthropic family in 1952, and then acquiring adjoining use rights from the Southern California Water Company and the Los Angeles Flood Control District. My family turned a former garbage dump located at the end of a cul-de-sac, surrounded by suburban homes, into a sanctuary of ballfields, and the bowl of refuse became a worship center to a close-knit homogeneous ideological community that has thrived for decades.

However you approached the entrance to the Organization, an unofficially zoned no-noise buffer emanated approximately a mile in each direction. Upon entering that perimeter, no matter what was taking place prior, everyone would hush, and the participants on the bus would be quiet until we drove down the driveway into the basin of fields. Whatever your age, whether you entered the property by car or bus or bike, the blocks of homes outlining the entrance were all part of Quiet Street. If you wanted to stay in the fold, you made the journey silent as a contemplative monk.

The practice of silence served two purposes, but the second one didn’t occur to me until long after I left.

Ostensibly, we were quiet to respect the residents in the surrounding homes. If they weren’t bothered by our noise, they wouldn’t complain to law enforcement of our presence. We all understood that what we did in that basin was unconventional (and, of course, holy) and only those who fully understood God’s purpose should be privy to it.

I walked, biked and drove through Quiet Street thousands of times from my first memories as a toddler through my teenage years, and each time I did so etched in me an unwitting meditation practice. We left what we called the Outside–a world of commerce, temptation and worldly pleasures–to pass through the silence of those transitional streets, to cross the threshold of the cul-de-sac thoroughfare and burrow down into our spiritual home.

A student asked me today how I learned to drop down into my body, how I learned to be still and practice inner-knowing. I didn’t explain Quiet Street, nor quote how at the end of all our exploring, we will arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. What I did share was a simpler truth: throughout my childhood, the practice of mindfulness was integrated into my daily life. Learning to be silent, learning to be reverent in the midst of chaos, learning to pause and respect the physical space of a spiritual journey, is a practice I am deeply grateful for, and one I continue to honor.

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

moving

I get an itch when I stay in one place for too long. I always said I wouldn’t move my kids as much as I have moved, but I never hated it. I looked forward to it. After a year or two, I thought, we have been here for too long. But I recognize that maybe it wasn’t ideal. Maybe it is a good thing to have friends you have known since you were a child, to have a mutual record of ridiculous secrets and outlandish ambitions. One of my family members recently accused me of thinking I am a perfect parent. I know I am not. Since Benjamin was born, we have lived in one apartment and four different houses, one of which was foreclosed upon. That is exactly the opposite of what I had planned. I know that moving too many times is disruptive, particularly when you have two children who need routine more than most. That is not good parenting.

We just moved again this weekend. We painted the kids’ rooms their favorite colors and we set up their rooms first. We tried to keep a routine, and they didn’t switch schools or anything. Elliott protested a little more than usual, but it was nothing like three years ago, the last time we moved, when I had to unpack everything in 24 hours just to stop the screaming. The plan is to stay here for a few years, save up, and buy a house. And then never move again. At least not for a long, long time. Moving is hard.

Still, when I think about living in one place for a very long time, I admit that it makes me feel a little panicked and even claustrophobic. I know that it is best for the kids. I know that it is probably best for me. Earlier this year, Ryan and I participated in that mindfulness study that required us to regularly sit still for a very long time and listen to our own breathing. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and one of the most beneficial. And I haven’t done it as much as I should since then.

My friend Michelle shared this Mark Strand poem with me last year, and all I could think was, YES.


Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.
I can and will stay in one place, but I will never stop moving. I will just move within that space.
Tagged , , ,

mindfulness

Last night, Ryan and I rolled our mats out onto the carpeted 2nd floor of a freshly stuccoed behavioral health clinic near our house. The lights overhead are fluorescent and there is a constant rumble of air conditioning—it is always too cold, as it tends to be in these types of buildings. On one wall, there are several poster-sized photos of the clinic’s employees, under the phrase “Teamwork.” The employees wear toothy, gleaming, teamwork-y smiles and bright, solid polo shirts. These overly happy, middle-aged white people are posed in an assortment of humorous positions—back to back with arms crossed, and even in a pyramid. When I look at the photos, I imagine the details of the pyramid formation, knees digging into quivering, doughy backs, a photographer nervously clicking. The idea seemed hilarious and harmless, but there’s been a violation; the intimacy is forced. It is uncomfortable to think about.

Hugh, our leader, a tiny Irishman with a heavy brogue, a receding hairline, and exaggerated, almost cartoonish, facial features, tells us to lie down. He leads us through a series of movements, simple yoga poses and stretches, and tells us to breathe and feel our abdomens rise and fall and not to release so far that we are no longer being mindful. Mindful. That is the word of these last few weeks in this class. “Breathe,” he reminds us, constantly, and then he inhales so deeply and exhales so dramatically that I am a tiny bit jealous. I want to breathe like Hugh.

Ryan and I are fascinated with him. In our weekly meetings, he drops hints about what his life used to be like before he discovered mindfulness. “I used to live on Weetabix and adrenaline,” he says, and god I want to know what that means. He used to drink excessively. He was a journalist. He’s seen war. But he never elaborates. “What do you think?” he always asks. After we practice our yoga, we sit in a circle and Hugh talks to us about the past week. I feel an irrational urge to please him. He asks me if I did my yoga and quizzes us about the body’s reaction to stress and I want to tell him the right answer. When he looks at you, he twists his mouth and furrows his forehead and stares intently. He is listening in a way that people rarely do and it is unnerving, and almost exhilarating. The meetings take place every Wednesday between 6pm and 8pm, so we are always hungry, but we can tell that Hugh frowns upon eating during his class, even though snacks are made available. He allows us a five-minute break, during which I quickly gulp down an oatmeal cookie and some green tea, returning to the circle empty-handed. I do not want to disappoint him.

We are in week 4 of an 8-week autism study about stress and parents of children with special needs. Parenting is a stressful job for anyone, we were told by the doctor conducting the study, but parents of children with special needs have much higher levels of stress and therefore suffer increased health problems, including higher mortality rates. I know that I have a problem with stress, and I can’t blame my children for that. It’s always been this way. Of course, as I have gotten older and my responsibilities have grown, my levels of stress have increased. I have so many obligations to so many people and much of the time I feel as though I’m disappointing everyone, doing a sub-par job in every area of my life. I do not need to be told that this manifests physically—I get sick and can’t sleep. I feel knots of pressure in my shoulders and neck. Worse, I get irritable with the people who love me the most. I run regularly, which helps, but not enough. So when I heard about this study in January, I signed us up.

The first night of the study, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and explaining why we were there. Many of the parents are dealing with the same sorts of problems Ryan and I deal with—balancing our obligations, managing the particular uncertainty that comes with raising a child with special needs, feeling as though we are failing. One of the women started crying, which made several of us cry. We recognized something in each other. Hugh stared back at us and listened. Then he told us to lie on the ground, our calves propped up on our chairs. The room was hot and crowded. My arms rubbed up against the stranger next to me. Hugh instructed us to close our eyes and spent several minutes asking us to think about our bodies while we “noticed” our breath. I wanted to get the hell out of there. Panic started to rise up into my chest. I began formulating a to-do list. The trunk of my car needs to be cleaned. I need to put my clothes away. I need to pack Ben’s lunch. I do not have time for this. I do not have time.

We were given a notebook and a cd with Hugh’s voice on it and told to do this “body scan” every night. In the past weeks, he has given us many other exercises to help us be mindful, or aware, of what we are doing, what we are thinking, the sensations in our bodies. I have struggled with my own resistance against this. I do not like to dwell. I do not like to sit in a circle with other people and talk about it. I like to push it away and move forward and knock down whatever is in front of me. Even though it can be exhausting, a part of me likes to be in “fight” mode, even when I don’t need to be. There’s that Avett Brothers song that says “Ever since I learned to speak/ I used all my words to fight/ with him and her and you and me/ but it was just a waste of time.” Ryan says that reminds him of me. I am starting to realize that while this has served me well in many ways, while this has helped me to survive, it is not good for me and it is time to stop, or at least to try.

It is easier to be cynical and to make fun of the photos on the wall or to be annoyed with that one parent who wears boots with her sweatpants and talks about how her diabetes makes her have to pee all of the time. But that doesn’t get me anywhere. It helps that Hugh can be funny and that I can tell he’s been through some dark places. So I am lying down as many nights as I can, and I am listening to Hugh’s voice telling me to notice my toes and the spaces in between, to feel the sensation of my breath as it enters my body, to notice my thoughts and allow them to pass. I am giving it a chance, and I think it is beginning to help.

Tagged , , , , ,
Advertisements
We Will Begin Again

"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire

GentlemanSparks

Gentleman with a hint of Spark. If you have any Questions you would like answered email GentlemanSparks@Gmail.com with the subject #ASKGS x

midnightpears

Just another WordPress.com site

The Winter Bites My Bones

The Collected Poems of Dennis McHale: 1981-2016

A Birth Project

Transracial Adoption from one black girl's perspective

The Guilty Preacher Man

abandoned illustrations

projectophile

\ˈprä-JECT-oh-fahyl\ (noun) 1. A lover of projects, especially those derived from scavenged materials and made more beautiful through paint, thread and sandpaper.

Another angry woman

Thoughts and rants from another angry woman

Unkilled Darlings

Faulkner said, kill your darlings. I say, put them on the internet and let strangers read them.

MiscEtcetera v2

Random bits about libraries, digital culture, life, and writing

glass half full

This is my blog. I write a lot about autism, raising boys, and my own alcohol consumption. I also tend to cover topics like poop and toothpaste. You've been warned.

jessepeckwrites

about all things human

The Belle Jar

"Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences." - Sylvia Plath

Daniel Nester

essayist, poet, college prof, hubby, dad, Queen fan

spookyactionsbooks.wordpress.com/

a publisher of quality chapbooks

James Henry Dufresne

"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire

"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire

%d bloggers like this: