Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On Having Compassion...towards Myself


I threw that word around a lot while volunteering in Calcutta with Mother Teresa's Missionaries.  Mother Teresa exuded compassion.  Her white-sari-clad sisters floated around in filth and misery and suffering with a smile and a laugh and a lightness that defined compassion better than a dictionary. All of us volunteers opened our hearts and used our hands to improve one single minute of one destitute person's life...and we did it with compassion.

And yet, that definition seems so big, so impossibly hard to reach without boarding another plane and flying to Calcutta and yet again dirtying myself in the work of serving the poor.

Twenty years ago, I didn't find a way to bring compassion home with me in any meaningful way.  Certainly I couldn't pack it up in my suitcase or tuck it into the pages of my journal.  Instead, I brought home perspective, another invaluable life lesson that fits my personality a whole lot more.  Perspective was and still is used to remind me how much I should appreciate each and every moment and thing and person that is in my life, especially when remembering how few moments and things and people others have or have not.  I'm good at a lot of things, but holding myself to high standards and being hard on myself top the list, and the perspective I gained abroad often helps to fuel these tougher sides of me.

But compassion.  That's the softer side, definitely one that I use for my kids but rarely on myself.  Only recently have I begun to steep myself in a little of that, in a gentle way, the way a mother would cradle a hurt child--gingerly but with strength, waiting until the tears stopped to ask why there were tears at all.

Some weeks ago I was part of a yoga workshop where the instructor, through a long guided meditation--during which I was more relaxed and at ease and open than I had been in years--urged us to stand outside ourselves and look at ourselves.  It was a funny, dream-like moment.  But as I stood and drank in the image of myself meditating on my yoga mat, I felt compassion for the woman I saw.  She is sad and struggling, but also hopeful, tired and discouraged but still thoughtful and still trying to make others around her feel a little better.  I felt compassion towards her...towards myself.

I finally began to appreciate my own story or journey of the past few years that really, of course, started decades ago in my seemingly perfect childhood home with my seemingly perfect parents' marriage.  I continue to unravel myself and explore what I find in that unraveling process.  I want to understand myself and, ultimately I hope, accept myself.  So, with the help of an endless stack of self-help-y books, conversations with therapists, hours on my sweaty yoga mat, and miles on local trails and running paths, I think and meditate and contemplate and seek understanding.  

I'm hoping to continue to do all this with a little more compassion.  With a concern and a gentleness that I usually save for others, this time I'll sprinkle a little of that on myself.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Savasana (Corpse Pose) with Mom

Last night I took my 63 year old mother to her second yoga class.  She's always exercised--she was an aerobic fanatic when I was in elementary school, jogged some half-marathons when I was in middle school, and walked briskly around the neighborhood of her new life with her second husband when I was in college.  She has always--and I am pretty sure will always--move.  And move a lot!  At 63, she's slim, strong, and isn't slowing down.

I got into yoga because I am very similar to my mom.  I move a lot.  I push myself a lot.  I run lots of miles and lift lots of weights and, in between those two physical challenge, I care for and play with and run after our three young children. I am always on the move.  The only person who can come along on days with me and the kids and feel exhilarated, not exhausted: my mom.

Movement is part of both of our lives.  We don't slow down a whole lot.

In fact, yesterday was a typical, barely-catch-your-breath day: She arrived around 9; we met after I dropped off my older son at preschool.  She took my youngest to gymnastics while I went to Crossfit, then she walked him to a bakery while I went to my dermatology appointment and then dropped off my prescriptions only to drive back and pick up my little guy and my mom and then we went to through Chic Fil A drive thru and went back to pick up my prescriptions and then picked up my oldest son at preschool but managed to talk to about five moms about ten different things while waiting for him and we ended up picking him up early and driving home to eat lunch and wait for the handyman who never came so while the boys had quiet time we zipped around cleaning up the house a little bit and then...

You get the idea.

Because of all the things we packed into our day, we got to the yoga studio just five or ten minutes before class started.  I set up our mats side-by-side in the back (so we could whisper a bit without disturbing anyone) while she signed a waiver.  I do Hatha Yoga, which is less hold-this-pose-until-your-muscles-ache and more breathe-calmly-and-center-yourself-while-flowing-through-these-poses.  Everything centers on your breath.  It's 90 minutes of quiet breathing.  In and out.  Slowly, deliberately, deep.  Undoing all the inevitable stress from the day.

And, at the end, we did savasana (corpse pose).  This one is wonderfully easy: you lie, splayed out, like a corpse.  But there's some set-up involved, so I had mom lie down and I put a big bolster under her knees and spread a blanket out over her.  I rolled up a small mat and put it under her head.  I couldn't help but think how grateful I was to be doing this for her, she who has tucked me in a million times, comforted me with words and hugs even more times.  My yoga instructor walked over and put a lavender-infused eye pillow over her eyes.

Once she was taken care of, I did the same for myself.

And we lay there, side by side, not moving.  Bringing our awareness to our breath.  Breathing into and through our own challenges in our own lives.  Taking a break from analyzing and wondering and thinking.  Slowing all that movement.  Pausing between the movement of today and the movement of tomorrow.

Me and my mom, learning the beauty of slowing down and breathing deeply, together.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Painting Mistakes

Some months ago after a busy Saturday morning and a rushed lunch, my husband and youngest son, Kiefer, settled in for a quiet, long afternoon nap.  I took the opportunity to take my oldest child, Lorelei, and oldest son, Ben, to the library.  Without Kiefer we would be able to stay at the library for longer than 12 minutes.  I could sit with them. I could read with them.  I could browse for books for them, and for myself.  I could actually have a conversation with a librarian.

A trip to the library without a 2 year old (no offense, Kiefer) was something to savor.

So we set off for our own quiet afternoon.  We spent a blessed hour at the library, taking our time and enjoying taking our time.  On the way out, Lorelei pointed to a white board with an arrow pointing to the large meeting room in the back of the building. "Live Artist Today" (hmmm...that sounds sort of exhibit-y but the message was something like that) read the sign.  They asked to check it out.  Free of wiggle-y Kiefer, it didn't take me long to reply: "Sure! Let's go check it out."

Lorelei gasped with delight when we walked in.

At the front of the big room were two teenage girls dressed as ballerinas.  One had a black leotard and tutu; she was sitting with her legs dangling over the arm of the chair.  The other, dressed all in pink, was sitting on the floor, stretching over her legs and pink pointe shoes.

They were posing for an artist--a real live artist!  She had black unkempt hair and cool dark-rimmed glasses.  She had full cheeks and plenty of laugh lines.  She had on over her baggy pants a large smock that buttoned up in front.  The smock was wonderfully messy--clearly it was well-used and well-loved. The artist was painting the two girls on a small canvas.  She held a palate of colors in her left hand and a paintbrush in the right.  She looked and dabbed, looked and dabbed, talked a little, made the audience at home and at ease, then looked and dabbed some more.

Lorelei and Ben were enthralled.  And the artist association that had put this one was thrilled to see them: kids!  They had prepared thoughtfully for kids, though mine were the only ones in the room.  Lorelei and Ben happily accepted the clip board and white piece of paper; one chose crayons and one chose a pencil and each chose a seat (next to each other) in the audience.  They were encouraged to draw the ballerinas, too.  They were happy to, and jumped right in.

So they did. And I simply watched.  As the artist looked, dabbed, and gabbed in an unintimidating, inviting way, I just savored the quiet moment.  What a serendipitous thing, to just stumble across something as cool as this.

At the end, during the question and answer period, Ben whispered to me:  "I have a question.  What does the artist do when she makes a mistake?"  I loved the question and, though he didn't want me to ask the artist, we chatted on the way home:

Me: "Did you see an eraser at the end of her paintbrush?"

Ben: "Of course not, Mommy!  Paintbrushes don't have erasers."

Me: "Then what do you think she did?"

Ben: "Kept painting?"

Me: "Yup.  If she doesn't like one stroke of her brush, I bet she lets it dry for a bit and then paints over it."

He was uncharacteristically quiet on the way home; I think I could see his brain at work on this short discussion of ours.

I think about that artist and Ben's question all the time.  It taught me so much!  As a perfectionist with a daughter who has perfectionist tendencies, I try hard to point out my mistakes so that she and her brothers realize that mistakes are part of life.  Last summer on our kitchen white board I wrote "Mistake = the best way to learn something" for months.  "On to new mistakes!" my friends hear me say all the time.  I say, "Nothing is perfect in nature or in life!" all the time when there is frustration over a misshaped letter or artwork gone awry or...well, pretty much anything.

But the painting over mistakes...  That image was most helpful to me--I'm older and still making them and sure am hard on myself about the whole thing.  Those mistakes are part of the painting. Some are more hidden than others, but some become part of the painting in unexpected ways.  Just like in life.  I sure can't go back and face the mistakes I've made in the past few years.  There were a lot of them--lots of daily mistakes that I'd like to erase.  But I can't.  I've got to let time let them settle and then slowly, maybe a little delicately at first to test if the paint is truly dry, I've got to paint over to make something better out of them.

I believe I can.