Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gertrude Stein Said It Best!





 On this, the first day of fall, I never expected another rose.  What good fortune this is!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Taking a Sad Song and Making it Better

So my brother calls me this morning, right at the moment that I am crying because my husband and I have just opened an anniversary card from our middle child and it was so so beautiful and she lives so far away.

We have this conversation, my brother and me. I tell him that I am having great difficulty handling the emotions associated with letting go of my adult children.

I tell him – and he agrees – that it’s really ironic that I am having this problem, considering the fact that I was so intent on getting away from my own family as a young woman.

And without missing a beat, he says he thinks that there is a ying and yang here, that is, the emotions that drove me to leave my past behind, are related to the emotions that I am experiencing now.

He has known me all my life of course. He reminds me that as a child I had what we call the “aroo tummin?” (are you coming?) complex, shorthand for me not ever wanting to separate from my mother. This separation anxiety was so severe that at age 12, when I went to stay with my cousin one summer, I wet my bed. I think I remember coming home to my Mom earlier than I was supposed to.

I remember a conversation with her afterwards that went something like this: “Mom, if I can’t leave you now then how am I going to get married someday?” My mom, smiling, responded by saying, “Well, I guess we’ll all just have to come with you, in a caravan of cars!”

My brother (who is older than me by almost two years) noted that when I turned seventeen I wanted nothing more than to escape the family. I needed to go as far away as possible in order to become the person I was going to be. I spent years living in California and a variety of other places.

And then, boom, at 29 or 30 I made another switch, this time deciding I wanted to have my own family. My husband and I came back to live only an hour from my folks. I folded my emotions into my three kids, and enjoyed close relationships with my parents and siblings and other members of my family. Through all the kids' growing up years, I didn't give much thought to the fact that like me, my three offspring were going to have to separate in order to live their own independent and productive lives. My mother would express this irony with one of her favorite phraises: "What goes around comes around."

So here I am today, with the kids grown, reliving the same emotions that I felt as a child, terrified of the separation, worrying and anxious that I’ll never accept the fact that children grow up and move away. The empty nest remains the empty nest, until you as a parent fill your life with new activities and meaningful relationships.

And of course you continue to love your children. And of course you have relationships with each of them. But you don’t put yourself through misery every time you think about how wonderful it was to have your kids as they grew up. You listen to your husband ask “Aren’t you glad your children are happy and productive people?” and "Can't you enjoy all the wonderful memories you have of them?"

Just then the tears bubble up and that’s precisely the moment my brother calls to ask me about this hotel in Rome and after I answer him, he asks how I am and instead of lying and saying I’m fine, I tell him the truth: that I am having trouble adjusting to my role as the mother of adult children. He tells me that yes it’s an objectively difficult problem, and then he offers his wisdom, that some of the impulses and emotions I feel today are intricately tied up in with the way I felt as a child growing up. He adds: “Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.”

I thank him and say that I am afraid if I write about this issue, I am going to make myself depressed and he says “No, I think just the opposite is going to happen.” He says he thinks that I need to deal with this problem and writing about it in a clear way might be exactly the right cure.

I’m not sure about that, but then again, as soon as I hung up the phone, I ran to my computer and wrote down what you see here.

To be continued… 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Magical Morning with Thich Nhat Hanh

Anyone who has read his amazing books knows that spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh has a profound ability to make us feel deep appreciation for the moments we live.

He reminds us over and over again that being happy doesn't involve waiting for some future event to arrive, or in acquiring some object or satisfying some desire. Thai -- the name he uses -- shows us that joy is right here in this very moment we take our next breath. Happiness lies in the ability to be mindful of all of the joy and mystery of life. One of his many quotes is this one:

"Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. This is the present moment, this is a wonderful moment."

Indeed, every moment of life is a miracle.

On Sunday, I had the good fortune (along with about 1500 other people) to spend the morning with Thich Nhat Hanh, who was in retreat at the Blue Cliff monastery in Pine Bush, N.Y. I have always loved Thich Nhat Hanh's books and messages, but I wasn't sure what to expect of him as a speaker. I was astonished at Thai's ability to make so many of us in the huge crowd smile. He reminded us that we can be in contact with joy simply by taking the time to focus on the in-and-out of breathing and so many other of life's mysteries.

Many of us who crowded into the monastery on Sunday to hear the humble 87-year old Vietnamese monk speak were smiling during the entire presentation.

He has the remarkable capability of communicating profoundly moving ideas in simple words and images.  While acknowledging that life inevitably involves suffering and loss, he makes us see that peace and joy lie in appreciating (being mindful of) so many of life's everyday activities.

At the end of his talk, Thai invited all of us to take a mindful walk. I was sitting with friends in a tent outside the monastery hall, which was packed and overflowing. But it turns out that our tent seats were ideal. As Thai proceeded to lead the mindful walking, he headed directly toward us, and came so close that we fell right in step only a few feet behind him. While the skies were threatening rain, and the rumbling of thunder filled the air, we made our way around the Blue Cliff's beautiful grounds.

And then, Thai stopped, and sat down, and prepared to give a blessing.

My friend Christine, who once before encountered the monk at another retreat (she passed him on a walk and he handed her a Bodhi leaf), sat very close to the spiritual leader. (She is the blonde woman in the photo.) But no matter how close you were to the spiritual leader on Sunday, you felt the power and magic of his message and the peace and joy that fills his life and the lives of all who are fortunate enough to hear his message.