Being Breath

stories from the wilderness of everyday life

Momma Zen

ORIGINALLY POSTED: 12/15/2008

I’ve just finished reading yet another wonderful book, this one titled, “Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood” by Karen Maezen Miller. Karen is a Zen Buddhist Priest and mother who definitely knows how to keep it real. The book has certainly given me a lot to think about and to practice in daily life.

Allow me to quote a few passages:

“This is the absolutism, the certitude, with which we divide our view of the world. The either and or, the good and bad, the better and worse, the right and wrong, the sickness and health, the perfect and imperfect, the before and after, the flower and weed, the you and me. In Buddhism this is called dualism, the view of everything as part of a pair of opposites. The world, of course, does not really divide the way, only our egocentric views do. By good, we mean good for me. By wrong, we mean wrong to me. Ask your child to distinguish between a daisy and a dandelion to see that their is no distinction at all. We call it a weed because we don’t like it; we call it a flower because we do; we call it a tragedy because flowers fall. And so it is in life. So it is!”

And another:
“In the company of my child, I realize how much time I spend in some other place entirely. Indeed, how much of my life I spend in the reverie of my own thoughts and schemes. Her laughs and cries, her outbursts and calls, snap me back to where we are right now. Can I manage to stay here for a little while longer before I compulsively trail off again? It’s very hard to do. In my bleakest times, one more plea from her hooks me, and I thrash back, as if fighting for my life. I’m not really fighting for my life; I’m fighting for my way of life. Namely, the lost luxury of solitude combined with unlimited escapes into e-mail and the Internet. I know that all my daughter wants is for me to be present at every fresh, new moment of her life. How sad that I can’t give her that. My exits are so habitually ingrained that I’m no longer sure how much of my own life I’ve shown up for.”

I included the first quote because it beautifully explains some of the thoughts I’ve written about letting go, about imagining if there were no good or bad. Can you accept the beauty of both a “flower” and a “weed”? Can you accept that both will die? Can you be with the fact that you too will die - as will your parents, your children?

The second quote is one that has given me a great deal of practice over the past couple of days. I’m fascinated by the fact that no matter how much I study my ego from different angles, it always seems to hoodwink me again. My wise teacher from the past yoga workshop (Kofi Busia - check him out via the web) talked about “uninterruptedness”. One facet of this is being completely uninterrupted in our focus on that which we truly desire, who we truly are. It is in the moments we are distracted that we find ourselves tricked once again. (Think you’ve given up the habit of eating unhealthy foods? Of smoking? Drinking? What happens when a few stressful days build up, distracting you from your focus? If nothing else, thoughts of the habit flood back in…often leading once again to action.)

My ego is the same way. And good god, does it know how to fight. I realize that probably 99% of my stress through my days arises because I don’t want to be here, now. I’m thinking about not being able to get the clothes folded and getting quite upset everytime Dilana comes in again to grab another neatly folded shirt off the bed. I’m thinking about not being able to get my shopping done and how I’m going to have to come back and it isn’t fair because Tyler is throwing another fit because he can’t get the little Mustang that was so appropriately placed on a display round at the groccery store. I’m worried about others opinions when I yell at the kids in the middle of the mall because I can’t take it any more. I’d rather be anywhere - anywhere - else when Dilana starts her attitude-based screaming (think banshee-like and you’ll get the picture). I get frustrated when I can’t get my yoga posture chart done because Tyler wants to build yet another train set, when Dilana asks me to sing “Sunshine” for literally the 10th time, when Tyler wants to listen to the “Move It, Move It” song for literally the hundredth time. The trend here? It’s all about me. What I want, what I don’t want, where I want to be or not. Why not play trains? Why not just fold the shirt again? Why not spend a few minutes talking to the kids and calming them down instead of rushing to another store?

Ah, but the ego fights. A mean fight, too. They need to learn discipline. If I give in now, I’ll lose the battle. Why can’t they play on their own - my homework, my life is important too! My rules, my house, my shopping trip, my life, me, me, me! Instead of being with what is (the kids are tired, Tyler wants to play, Dilana is curious about the clothes that mommy and daddy wear), I’m struggling to be with what I WANT things to be like.

I’m not saying that I should give the kids everything they want. But in being with what is, it will be so much easier to relieve both my stress and theirs when our views differ. Another quote from Momma Zen (not exact - can’t find where it is in the book), “A friend of mine once said, ‘but if I can’t control what they eat, what can I control?’ It was in the silence that followed that the answer was found.” That’s just it - we can’t control. We can prod, urge, coerce, encourage, discourage, punish, reward, push, and tweak - but we can’t control. It is in this realization that bliss can be found. As parents it is our job to examine our own ego, determine how to release our grip on how we think life should be, and gently step moment to moment into the unfolding and ever changing present. As we do this, our children learn how to do the same.

I love analogies, and one I think of here is of driving. To get anywhere, we need to press the gas peddle - otherwise, we’ll just stay exactly where we are. To have some say in where we are going - and to avoid hitting rocks, trees, other cars, and mountains - we need to direct the wheel. But for the drive we’re on, we have no ultimate destination. We need to keep gas in our car. We need to accept the fact that we can’t drive through a lake to get to the other side. We can’t change how others are driving, and need to drive ourselves accordingly. Eventually, we will all stop and leave our cars. You never know where you’ll be when called to do this. Some choose to sit and idle and just look out the window, dreaming of being somewhere else. Others try to power across fields, crash through other cars, and drive across impossibly rocky terrain in order to get anywhere else but where they are. I’d like to keep myself moving with a firm grip on the wheel, but just enjoy the scenery and the awesome music playing on my radio. Other drivers will drive, the roads will change, the weather will keep me alert, and on I will drive until I, too, will be asked to leave my car.

Ok, maybe not the prettiest analogy, but you get the picture. I’m nowhere being a “Zen Momma” yet, but have had a beautiful couple of days trying. I’ve still lost it a couple of times (I now know that Dilana’s screaching is a sure way to get me unbalanced, no matter how calm I may have been before), but have rebounded fairly quickly. That’s the point, I think - knowing that as parents, we are human, and are bound to do human things every now and then. But it’s how quickly we can re-find our zen, our center, our calm, that matters.

The laundry still isn’t done. As I type this, I hear Tyler in his room bouncing around even though he is supposed to be asleep. I didn’t brush Dilana’s teeth tonight. I’m enjoying a glass of wine. There are dirty dishes in the sink. Yet, amazingly, life goes on. All I can hope for is that I’m present for every delicious, blissful, blessed moment of it - for my sake and for that of the kids.

NOTE: I was quite honored to have the author of Momma Zen comment on this original post. Her response? "Karen Maezen Miller said, on December 16th, 2008 at 11:36 pm I know. I understand. Me too. What encouragement you have given me! We have one and the same life! All my love to you and your family.It’s OK if the laundry isn’t done. The next book is called “Hand Wash Cold.” "

What a beautiful woman.