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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Living with an open heart

Living with an open heart...seems so easy on the surface. Be open, accepting, compassionate...easy in those moments of comfort...harder in those moments of difficulty.

In meditation and yoga we often talk about opening our hearts, letting go of barriers, being compassionate to all. In those brief peaceful moments it feels attainable. Yet when we go out into the world and face the challenges of our daily lives, keeping an open heart is a challenge.

When frustrated or angry, my response is often to shut down my heart, build a barrier, and refuse to feel compassionate. Those habitual patterns seem easier than facing the difficulties within myself or my relationships. But, as Pema Chodron says, if I do something different, anything different, I can change those patterns and keep my heart open.

Sometimes its as simple as breathing...yet simple as it is, it is often difficult to do. Sometimes it's laughing at the absurdity of the situation or of my own response to it. Mostly it's letting go of my expectations, changing my perspective, and softening the rigidity that sets in when facing difficulties.

Taking a moment to put myself in the shoes of the other person, trying to see things from their perspective, is a huge part of my practice of compassion. A friend recently asked me if understanding the other person's situation justifies their inappropriate behavior. I of course said no, but if I can keep my heart open to understand and feel compassion for a person who has hurt me or someone I care about, then perhaps the next time I make a huge mistake or a small misstep I can be compassionate with myself as well. We all know we are harder on ourselves than anyone else and compassion must start within.

So why try to live with an open heart? It is, after all, a difficult journey. I believe that through practicing living with an open heart, mistakes and all along the way, that I can change the world one moment of compassion at a time. I can teach and model this for my children, pass it on to those with whom I interact every day, and have positive impact on the world. Idealistic, yes. I don't expect to change everything and everyone, but those little ripples and waves of compassion flowing out into the universe will grow and influence each life they touch.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Surrendering to Sickness

When my boys are sick it is often easy to view the illness as an inconvenience that interrupts our schedule. The yogic niyama of surrender - ishvara pranidhana - helps me with these situations.

Ishvara pranidhana teaches me to surrender to whatever is happening and to be open to what it has to offer. As I have stayed home with my boys over the past week I have found much to appreciate. A slower pace to the day, lots of snuggling, reading books, listening to stories on cd, quiet afternoons as they slept reminding me of their younger days, playing scrabble, and moments of talking and giggling.

One of the funniest things that happened was when Walkingstick and I found a new stomach settling trick that is perfect for ten year old boys. In my book of yoga mudras there is a mudra breath called snake breathing - bhujangani mudra - that eliminates stomach complaints, cleanses the digestive tract, and eliminates gases. The best part of the mudra from Walkingstick's perspective is the end when you get to belch. He thought that was hilarious! And it made him feel better. :)

To practice snake breathing you sit cross legged holding your hands in Apan Mudra (middle and ring fingers touching the pad of the thumb). Swallow air, as if slurping it, sending it into your stomach. Arch your abdomen gently and hold the air for a moment. Then let the air back out by belching. Practice this for three to five breaths. (For more info see Mudras, Yoga in your Hands by Gertrud Hirschi)

While many tasks at work did not get accomplished, surrendering to the moment and appreciating the extra time I have had with my sons has been a gift I can truly appreciate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Girl of My Dreams

My little Gigglebox gave me quite a boost (and a laugh) the other day when he exclaimed, "Mom, you're the girl of my dreams!" He was so earnest and sweet, but it was hard not to giggle given the circumstances of his comment.

I had just taken his big brother down to the floor in one quick swoop in response to his telling me I couldn't. Both boys were stunned, big brother laughingly so, and apparently quite impressed with my skills. My prowess at wrestling ten-year-olds will become legendary I'm sure.

A few minutes later Gigglebox decided while I could take down his brother so easily, he was certain there was no way I could take him down. Again, there was a quick swoop and he was on the floor. "I wasn't ready, Mom," he claimed. I let him prepare, which in seven year old terms means to put on his determined grimace and run at me, and proceeded to drop him to the floor again, gently of course. We laughed and he tried the not ready again, but I figured twice was plenty for the seven year old ego. He then proceeded to try to lift me off of him which had tears rolling down my face it was so funny!

It was wonderful to watch their faces as they realized I was more than they had thought. They always perceive their Dad as the strong one, which he is of course, but I was glad to remind them that girls are strong, too. It's a good lesson to realize that people can be more than what we perceive of them. And in a house full of boys, it's good to remind them that boys aren't always stronger and better just because they are boys. (Yes, I'm a feminist and proud of it!)

We too often limit ourselves, our children, and others through our expectations or lack thereof. Narrowing our view narrows the possibilities. Opening our hearts and expecting that anything is possible provides a launching pad for our children to be and become anything they can imagine.