Category Archives: Parenting

The Four Noble Truths of Parenting

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress:[1] Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

~ Taken from Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation at Access to Insight

The Four Noble Truths form the foundation of all Buddhist thought, philosophy and practice. It is here that the Buddha diagnosed the fundamental “dis-ease” of the human condition, and provided us with a prescription to cure that dis-ease.

 

My son was sick this past weekend, and is also in the process of cutting his 2-year molars. This week he has basically been screaming and crying all day long at the drop of a hat. It has been very, very stressful for myself, and even more so for my wonderful wife that has to be face-to-face with him all day long. His twos have not been “terrible” so much as apocalyptically horrendous. At times I am quite certain I’ve seen his head spin a full 360 degrees around his head.

This morning his tantrums got me to thinking about Thanissaro Bikkhu’s translation of dukkha as stress. Often times you hear the first noble truth loosely translated as “all life is stress/suffering” and this morning all I could think was “all parenting is stress”. So I’ve taken some liberty with the Four Noble Truths, and re-written them for parents. I hope you enjoy.

1. Now this, parents, is the noble truth of stress: nap time is stressful, dinnertime is stressful, bath time is stressful, diaper changes are stressful, grocery shopping is stressful, car rides are stressful. In short, your entire day as a parent is stressful.

2. And this, parents, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: your child craving shiny objects, craving dirty faces, craving one more movie, craving chocolate chip cookies, desire to play with toilet paper as if it were confetti, desire to climb to the ceiling, desire to never ever sleep, this is the origination of stress.

3. And this parents, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the letting go of any expectation that your day will not at some point be stressful, the relinquishing of the feeling that everything will go according to plan, the passing away of the delusion that you fail when things fall apart.

4. And this parents, is the noble truth of the practice leading to the cessation of stress:  just this Noble Eightfold Path for Parents – right bedtime, right snack time, right babysitters, right grandparents, right hugs, right story time, right husbands/wives, and right love and affection.

 

Cheers.

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There were 19 victims in Arizona

 

I really don’t have much time to post lately, and I have thoughts of closing the blog down for good as I really don’t see myself being able to make time to commit to posting. More on that some other time perhaps.

I wanted to post today just a thought or two on the Arizona shooting that took place on Saturday. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the whole story, so I’ll spare going into any details here.

My only thoughts are this: 19 people’s lives were directly and permanently altered on Saturday. The shooter brought lots of ammo with him. While his main target certainly seemed to be Congresswoman Giffords, there were 19 others that were shot, 6 of which died.

Federal judge John Roll, 63, left behind 3 sons, a wife, and 5 grandchildren.

30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, a Gifford’s staffer who was engaged and had a wedding date set for 2012.

Phyllis Schneck, 79 leaves behind 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild.

Dorwan Stoddard 76 – this is from Huff Post: “When the shooting started Saturday, he dove to the ground, covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times. The couple had been grade school sweethearts growing up in Tucson. After their respective spouses died, they independently moved back to retire, became reacquainted and fell in love all over again. Mavy Stoddard talked to her husband, who was shot in the head, for 10 minutes while he breathed heavily. Then he stopped breathing. He had two sons from his first marriage, and Mavy has three daughters.

Dorothy Morris, 76 whose husband was shot in the rampage, but is in the hospital also left behind a few daughters (I’ve seen 2 and 3, so don’t know for sure).

And then, what to me is the most tragic result of this mad man’s terror, Christina Taylor Green, only 9 years old. Apparently she had just been elected to Student Council and had an interest in politics, which is why she was at that Safeway to meet Congresswoman Giffords. She apparently wanted to have a career where she would be of service to others (I think I wanted to be a pilot at that age….). She enjoyed athletics. She leaves behind an 11-year-old brother. She leaves behind parents, and grandparents.

It isn’t too hard to read about the people the elderly victims leave behind. It’s generally expected that parents and grandparents outlive their offspring. It is tragic and sad, yes. And I certainly don’t want to value one life above another here.

But she was only 9 years old.

She was only 9 years old.

I understand the outrage pouring out over this incident. I just don’t understand how the conversation was so quickly turned into a left vs. right ideological battle. Within hours of the massacre people were trying to figure out who was to blame. We heard from pundits about other pundits and about that half-term quitter governor from Alaska, but we didn’t hear about Christina, and her story (other than the little I’ve shared here). We didn’t hear about her aunts and uncles and friends from school and 9 year old team mates that now have to deal with the fact that their loved one isn’t coming back.

It isn’t that I don’t agree with some of the political statements being made out there. Some of them, I do. And I do so adamantly. But their bodies weren’t even cold and all we could hear about was some redneck’s map and what Rush Limbaugh had to say and what books were on the shooter’s MySpace book list.

I remember when Kayla Rolland was shot. It was in my community. My mother worked with a close friend of the family (or Aunt of Kayla’s or something….) and I remember it vividly. Shock. Terror. Unimaginable sadness. A 6-year-old shot another 6-year-old. And I remember that very day, people carrying signs in favor of the 2nd amendment on some busy cross streets in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. Yes, we have freedom of speech in this country. I respect that. But just because you have the right to do/say something, doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do.

I also remember my teachers waiting a week or so before we started talking about the greater themes that revolved around the shooting like gun rights, poverty, drugs, homelessness and other broader social issues that contributed to the tragedy.

Already the 6 victims that were killed and the others that were wounded are being forgot. They’re being pushed down in the headlines in favor of partisan rhetoric, blame games, conversations on society’s role in all this and yadda yadda yadda. It’s not that I don’t think some of those points are important or valid. I do. My fear is that this intense personal tragedy will just get churned into fodder for the left vs. right meme machine. In 5 years most of us will probably remember that Congresswoman Giffords was shot, and that there were others shot that day too (I bet we’ll forget how many). Some of us will remember Christina, but I bet it will be the minority. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if you knew who Kayla Rolland was reading that first sentence, without having to click on the link. It was one of the most tragic killings this country has ever seen, and I don’t know that anyone outside of Flint (and Mid-Michigan) still thinks about it.

Can we try holding off on the politicizing for just a few days? Maybe direct our efforts toward compassion for the victims and their families, even for just a few days? Is the “noble discussion” about whose fault it is and what role everyone plays in it that urgent that it can’t wait a few days? Maybe if we shine the spotlight on the victims for a bit longer, we won’t forget quite so soon this time.

I’ll leave it to others to cry outrage!

Right now, all I can come up with is tragedy!

  

Cheers.

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Raising spiritual children

A few posts have gone up recently regarding raising your children in a spiritual tradition, and all the samsara that goes with it. Check out Nathan’s post, John’s post, Mumon’s post, and Karen’s post for some interesting perspectives. (I would say that my post here is inspired by, rather than a response to these posts).

Interesting perspectives. That’s what they are. Perspectives. Of the 4 mentioned above, all are parents save Nathan, who speaks from experience of working with children and running a successful children’s program in his Zen sangha to which he is very much involved. When I read these posts I see a deep sense of caring. Really caring about the children, their lives, their minds, their future selfs.

And something else is there as well. Parents and caregivers projecting what they wish the desired outcome to be. Parents that want their children to be Buddhist or Christian or Atheist or open-minded or skeptical or whatever; they all want something for their children, all to take on a specific role or mindset. And that is part of parenting. You have to want something for your children, and most of us want what is best for them. We all have our different flavors of “best” peppered by the experiences and luggage we bring with us to the table of life.

Personally, I think telling a child what to believe, or “hey Johnny, you’re a Christian, so you believe in ‘x'” is wrong, and does them a disservice. It takes away the process of discovery and replaces it with dogma, at a time in their lives where fostering an attitude of discovery and imagination is most crucial. Spirituality is a very wonderous, malleable thing. To force it into a shape before a child has had the time to poke and prod at it robs them of an experience that is very special, something that will take a terrible amount of work to get back later in life, if at all.

Currently developing the "Rocks and Sticks" Sutra...

But what of raising a child Buddhist, or in a Buddhist community? Is there a difference? I tend to think so, at least to some degree. Buddhism has less to do with belief, and more to do with results. For instance, take the five precepts. This is a teaching I could explain to my children that will lead to examination, and more questions. There is no “because ‘x’ holy book says so answer; there are only questions of “why” and “how” to be met with their own experiences and guidance from father and mother. In Buddhism we seek noble qualities, not adherence to doctrine.

Why do we take the precept to refrain from taking life?

To affirm and honor life, because it is precious. Why else do think we should not take life?

Why do we take the precept to refrain from taking what isn’t given?

To develop generosity, and to accept ourselves wholly. Why else do you think we shouldn’t take what belongs to us?

Why do we take the precept to refrain from wrong speech?

To develop compassion, live our truth, and honor others. Why else should we tell the truth, and not speak unkindly of others?

One day my son and daughter will ask me about Buddha and meditation and being a Buddhist. The questions they ask will come from a genuine place of wonder and curiosity, and my answers should foster that state of mind.

What’s a Buddhist?

Someone that follows the teachings of the Buddha.

What did he teach?

He taught many things. First he taught us that life isn’t always what it seems or what we want it to be. At times this can cause us to be sad, or even angry. So he taught us to use compassion, wisdom, and have the right frame of mind so that we don’t have to live that way.

Oh. So why do you sit on that pillow in the living room?

That’s one way to help me develop the right frame of mind.

 

That is a nice pretend scenario of a conversation that might take place. But given my son’s nature I can only imagine the questions that will soon follow. It will be awhile until the questions begin to emerge, but in time they will. And when that time comes I have no qualms with asking him if he wants to practice with me. And if he says no, he says no and he will enjoy racing matchbox cars around the Kitchen 500.

Spiritual communities can be great environments for children. But when the activities include having them sing songs in praise of people and ideals they have no way of understanding, I draw a line.

Presently we have no formal sangha or spiritual community to raise our children in. Our religious practice revolves around our attempt to manifest spirituality in our daily lives and activity. So there is no temple to “drag” them to. And there isn’t much in the way of belief to indoctrinate them in. There are our daily successes and failures that will guide and shape them. For those with access to a sangha or dharma center, their perspective will be different; I cannot speak to the experience of others.

Or maybe they’ll never really take an interest in Dad’s Buddhism. Maybe they’d rather play with the Tarot cards on our shelves, mesmerized by the dozens of different artist’s depictions of the journey of The Fool. Maybe they’d rather read The Lord of the Rings and get lost in The Shire. Maybe they’d rather spend the day in the woods taking in deep breaths of dead leaves and cedar, running from whatever forest creature they might imagine is in pursuit.

It really is up to them. I’ll be steering them in a direction that keeps them on the road. But that is my perspective, and that is where I feel my children would benefit most. For now I’m focusing on raising compassionate, spiritual children. We can worry about the framework later.

Cheers.

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Just Patience.

The Great Bodhisattva of Patience wields a fiery spoonful of pudding!

I’m finding more and more that I’ve reached a bit of a plateau when it comes to this blog and Buddhism in general. Part of the reason I started this blog was to openly explore the dharma as I started on the path. I am nowhere near any kind of expert, realized master, or authority or any such person when it comes to Buddhism. But I do feel like I have a grip on enough of the basics that I have little where else to go as far as the online world is concerned. I’m finding more and more that what I’m looking for isn’t here, but lies closer to where my feet are planted, and my fingers meet the keyboard.

After awhile the basics start to get boring. I can only read the same thing said a million different ways so many times before it becomes Geography class. Geography class was always required in middle and high school. But it was useless. Once you learned where Bolivia was, that was it. But we had to learn where Bolivia was and what their climate and chief exports and natural landmarks were year after year. But nothing changed. Most of the basic concepts of Buddhism are like this, at least on an intellectual level. And quite frankly, you can only do so much with text.

Also quite frankly, you can only do so much while sleep deprived. I haven’t had but maybe 4 good nights of sleep in the past 2 years or so. Kids can do this to you. My kids do this to me. My wife has it worse. So I haven’t been meditating, and I struggle to even read the past few weeks. For my son Corbin, it’s been a struggle to get him to go down for the night. Once he does, he’s been mostly sleeping through the night (finally, after almost 2 years) but wakes between 5-6am. This wouldn’t be too bad if our daughter Zoa would allow us to put her down to sleep at a decent hour, but she’s a bit of a night owl and frequently won’t lay down for the night until between 11pm-1am.

Needless to say, I’m running short on patience. Patience with my wife, children, situation, self, work, strangers, family, you name it. It manifests in many forms. Anger, rudeness, non-compassion are the usual ones, though cold distance is there at times as well.

Concepts are great, but they don’t mean shit off the paper.

Spiritual traditions are great, but they don’t mean shit if you can’t apply them to your life. They don’t mean shit if they can’t help you deal with your issues in a way that brings about real, actual change. And those changes don’t mean shit if you can’t use them to better deal with those you love the most and keep the closest.

So I’m dedicating my practice to the pursuit of patience.

Patience.

                 Patience.

Patience.

It really couldn’t be a better time to do so. Financially, we’re hoping to put ourselves in the house market by the end of 2011. This will take work, sacrifice, and a ton of patience and non-attachment. Starting in January, I’m going back to school to pursue a degree in Enviromental Policy and Planning. The A.A.S. part will hopefully be done by Summer 2012, but looking down the road this is going to be tough. I’m going to have to put in a lot of work for this, and working 40+ hours while trying to be a family man and go to school full-time is going to really test ability to remain patient, calm, and present.

Oh, and I have 2 kids! Wow! They are a daily test of patience. My son’s new favorite game is just to knock shit over. He walks up to a chair, and just knocks it over, bam! Vacuum? Bam! High Chair? Bam! Our neighbors below must love us…

So what I’m getting at here in this long “me me me” post is that what I really need to do is forget some of my loftier dreams of group meditation or kensho and just go for what matters most to my life right now: developing patience. My family will thank me for it. I will thank me for it. To me it is more beneficial than digging through Nagarjuna’s thoughts on Dharmadhatu, though I do hope to make it there someday as well. Right now my practice needs to meet the pavement where I commute daily, in hope that my passengers will benefit.

Cheers.

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Affirm life; do not kill

— On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags lay in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus.

Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where they had been hidden for a year — apparently to conceal illegal abortions.

…Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions — if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal.

…Suchart Poomee, 38, one of the undertakers being questioned, confessed Tuesday he had been hired by illegal abortion clinics to destroy the fetuses, police said. He said he had been collecting the fetuses since November 2009. It was not clear why they had not yet been cremated.

The above is from the following article, please take a short minute to read it.

I’ve been thinking about posting on the issue of abortion for a while now, and this article presented a good context for it. At first I was shocked and saddened by what happened, mostly it was just at the magnitude of that many dead fetuses. For me this article brings to light issues that fall outside of the black/white pro-choice/pro-life debate we usually hear about. I don’t know if there is a unifying theme to my thoughts here, so I think I’ll just go for it, and ask for your forgiveness regarding the scattered nature of this post..

First thing I think about is the entire premise of pro-life/choice. Seeing death of this magnitude definitely makes me question my long-held stance of being pro-choice. It’s hard for me to argue for someone else’s right to do something like that.

I find I sometimes have to remove the human element away from the situation in order to argue in favor of being pro-choice. I wonder if it is possible to feel empathetic toward all those involved in the process, and what that looks like.

I don’t want to force a woman to have a baby if she doesn’t want to, regardless the reason. And I sure as shit don’t want to see a return to back-alley abortions.

I wonder if it is more disheartening because of the magnitude of seeing thousands of fetuses all there, all at once. It’s in my face and not in the back of a clinic with no windows. I wonder what else I take for granted simply because it happens behind a door in a place I’ve never been.

I wonder what those at the temple have to go through when dealing with the aftermath of these illegal abortions.

I don’t like the term pro-life. It isn’t accurate. Many of the same people who call themselves “pro-life” are also “pro-war” and “pro-death penalty”. Clearly all life is not precious to them. Why the distinction?

The doctrine of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) comes to mind when I try to think of this topic. Sometimes I think that I’d be okay with abortion if it was done in the 1st trimester if by choice (later for medical reasons). But then I start to wonder where it is that life begins. Is it when the brain has activity? The heart beats? When the sperm fertilizes the egg? When I try to think of this in terms of dependant origination I can’t pinpoint the moment where life begins. I keep going back to the sperm, and egg. The egg that was present when my daughter was fertilized in my wife’s womb actually grew in her mother’s womb, where an egg that was fertilized had been since she had been in her mother’s womb and back and back to all the ancestors of our collective past. All of this is precious.

I think that abstinence only sex-ed doesn’t work. Not at all. Clearly this is evidence of that. Humans want sex. Teenagers want it even more. (and yes, I did just draw a distinction between humans and horny teenagers)

Birth control is there to help prevent people from having an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy, but it’s only 98-99% effective. I have 2 children that can attest to the other 1-2%. Our planet can’t continue to grow at the rate we’re breeding and people shouldn’t have to be brought in this world to parents that want nothing to do with them when there are other options available. Sometimes biology happens. Sometimes you make the best of it, and alter your life and raise two beautiful children. Sometimes it isn’t possible to bring a child into the world and offer her what she needs.

  

Is killing sperm the same as killing an embryo the same as having an abortion at 4 months? If yes: Really? If no: how come?

When does a fetus become a baby?

Legislating morality in the way it seems to happen in Thailand (as well as in many other places) leads to situations like this. Illegal abortions. People put in awkward and potentially dangerous positions.

We legislate morality all the time. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Who’s morality is better? There will never be a system that gets it right 100% of the time.

I believe that non-theraputic male circumcision is wrong. How do I justify that stance with being pro-choice?

I think there are too many filters to view this through, which is why we’ll never resolve this issue. Ever. It is legal, political, moral, and personal. All or none at once. The fetus has a right to attempt to become a person. The woman has a right to not be a mother. The doctor has a right not to perform the procedure. The courts have a right to say who is right and who is wrong.

How do we affirm life and support everyone involved? How do we apply the Bodhisattva vow when it comes to abortion?

The article says that the fetuses were placed in the bags by workers when they were found. Were they just out in the open before this? The image of thousands of fetuses just lying around a morgue is horrifying to me. I haven’t been able to shake it.

For the first time in my life I am able to understand those that picket outside of an abortion clinic. Most definitely there are those that are there for religious and political reasons, but I know that some of them just care. Deeply. And I identify with that.

I understand the desperation a soon-to-be parent can feel. I will never be able to feel that through the filter of motherhood, but as a parent I can say that those shoes are familiar ones. I feel for those that feel the need to end a pregnancy early. But I will never have a woman’s perspective on this.

I feel for those that miscarry. I feel for those that lose a child, no matter what age.

I think I am glad that women have the option, but I wish that it was an option rarely exercised.

I have no easy answers. The gray is too strong on this one.

Edit: I originally had a picture of my 2 children included, but after reading this over a few times felt that wasn’t a good choice for a photo. Not sure why. So I replaced it.

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The 2nd noble truth: my journey into Buddhism (part 1 of 2)

If this sticky, uncouth craving overcomes you in the world,

your sorrows grow like wild grass after rain.

If, in the world,

you overcome this uncouth craving,

hard to escape,

sorrows roll off you, like water beads off a lotus.

— from the Dhammapada

My journey into Buddhism began long before I knew anything about the dharma. Lately during meditation, some memories that I had previously not paid much attention to have begun to surface. Memories of times when I was deeply interested in mind, the process of mind, and the nature of mind. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, somewhere between 8-13 though. I can remember moments where I became obsessed with mind. How is it that I could watch my mind, and the inner dialogue I was having? Were there two of me? And if I noticed that I was able to watch my inner dialogue, was that then a 3rd person/mind/self present? These issues bugged the absolute crap out of me at times, but as a child with ADHD soon I found something else to fixate upon and pass the time.

I also distinctly remember moments of timelessness. Where my concentration was so focused it wasn’t, where time was infinite and minute and neither of these, where the things around me didn’t exist with labels. But I remember them only as fading moments. Desperately I would try to get back to that state of concentration where the inner dialogue (which was always going at 100 MPH) was shut off. After awhile of this and the times spent contemplating my mind, I remember deciding that these things were impossible to figure out, and that if I spent my time attempting to, I’d probably end up in a padded cell. I never really gave these times too much thought the rest of my youth. Occasionally I’d do some quiet contemplation, but nothing formal or serious or anything really worth mentioning. I don’t want to label these moments as I fear that I’d be putting them through a filter that wasn’t there at the time.

I’ve spoken about my religious upbringing enough on this blog, so I won’t bore you with that again. I’ll flash forward to 3-4 years ago. After adopting some of my wife’s pagan beliefs and embracing a more pantheistic world-view, I still somehow felt that my true spiritual calling was still out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. After we settled in to our new apartment in Bellingham, we decided to have a look around town, and it happened that there was an SGI center just a couple of blocks away from where we were living. I had no idea what SGI was, and my wife informed me that she used to practice with them. I knew she had chanted and practiced some kind of Buddhism as a youth, but never really dug into it. Well, considering the close proximity of the center, I decided to check out the whole Buddhist thing. I started by going to SGI’s main website, but that didn’t do much for my investigative mind. So I started at wiki, and searched around a bit at urban dharma and I found the Four Noble Truths.

Whoa.

This, to me was it. Life is unsatisfactory. There is a root cause for why life is in an unsatisfactory state. There is a way to make escape this unsatisfactory existence, and the way to do that is the Noble Eightfold Path.

What really hooked me was the 2nd noble truth. Yes, craving and desire and clinging and attachment are bad. But that isn’t all. Craving is so bad because what we crave is an illusion. Our whole lives are illusionary. Our eyes are liars. Our ears are liars. Our mind is the ultimate trickster.

For me this struck at the core of the problem of mind I experienced as a youth as well as some other unanswered questions I carried with me into adulthood. It was learning about the Buddha’s diagnosis of why we were sick and that he had a prescription that sold me instantly. So I began to read, investigate, listen to podcasts, and try to figure out a way to ‘be a Buddhist’.

For me it is still about the 2nd Noble truth more than the others (though I understand they all work in conjunction). My primary focus on this path lies in discovering the delusional self, exposing it for what it is. Quenching craving. Starving desire. Caging my monkey mind. Peering into the unknown.

I haven’t been doing much of that lately though! Too busy! Also I’ve been mostly reading, studying, thinking, questioning. I have yet to decide on a particular school of Buddhism and lately as far as my practice is concerned that’s where I’ve been focused. Part 2 of this post will deal with that in more detail as I didn’t want to post another TLDR. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 5 day old baby girl to take care of!

Cheers.

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Happy Birth-Day

Welcome to the world Zoa Lilith Reed. You came into my life at 4:17pm on September 29th. You weighed 10lbs 6oz and were 22 inches long with a full head of hair.

I haven’t stopped loving you since, nor will I ever.

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I’m a big teary-eyed moose

 

As many of my readers know, my wife is pregnant. In about a month, we’ll be welcoming our daughter into the world. And I can’t stop crying.

There is a term for this, couvade syndrome, it’s when a man who lives with a pregnant woman suffers from some of the same physical and emotional symptoms that his partner does. With my wife’s first pregnancy, it was food cravings. I gained about 15 lbs during my son’s gestation. But this time around, I’m just a big teary-eyed moose.

I can’t help it. Anything remotely emotional makes me well up. I get all sappy and the waterworks start flowing at least half a dozen times a day. We watched the movie “The Unborn” (terrible, terrible scary movie) the other night, and I started to cry because I thought about how the demon boy wouldn’t be able to play with other little kids his age, on account of being possessed by a demon and all. Today it was leaving for work, and having to say goodbye to my son. I started to cry a bit in the car.

It is really silly, and I can’t control it. I wish it would have been the food thing again.

It’s happening right now, for no good goddamned reason.

I’d like to say this has given me some profound insight into something. But it hasn’t. It’s mostly just made me cry a lot for no good reason. I suppose it could be worse. Some men gain up to 30 lbs, experience vomiting, and sometimes breast augmentation or hardening of the nipples.

Those poor men. Makes me wanna cry.

 

 

Cheers.

 

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In a fog

Oregon Coast

 

Fog rolling in thick, endless beyond sight

A steady ebb

A steady flow of water eroding away the rocks one by one

Nature taking its course without the approval of the rocks

They only want to feel the warmth of the sun.

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My baptism: growing up in a spiritual community

My childhood church - Ascension Lutheran Church, Saginaw, MI

Recently my dad sent me some of my stuff that he had been holding on to. A copy of my birth certificate and immunization record. My handprints. And a certificate from my baptism, along with that Sunday’s church bulletin.

I was baptized in a Lutheran church about two months after I was born. The prayer for the day upon entering the church was

Almighty Lord, you are aware of our problems. When troubles thicken, you do not desert us. We need to be reminded of your presence, your willingness to remain with us, even through suffering and pain. Help us to remember; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, within our world today. Amen

The memories I have of that church are mostly all fond. Sure, when I was real little I hated putting on those stupid itchy clothes, but I can always remember finding something to enjoy when we were there. Most of the time it was the children’s sermon, a time during the service where the pastor would call all the children up to the front of the church and he would tell a story for them. I always liked that.

On that particular Sunday, a few hymns were sung. A few verses were read. The theme of the sermon that day was ” Faithful Examples”. The choir sang. Then my baptism. Obviously, I don’t remember it. But I do remember attending a few later on in life. They were fairly simple ceremonies. My parents would have stood there with me, and I’m sure an Aunt and Uncle and my Grandparents were there as well. The pastor would have said a few words, splashed my head with a little water, then dried me off with a baptismal cloth (which my dad also sent along). The concept of god-parents is present in the Lutheran faith, but we didn’t put as much stock in it as the Catholic tradition tends to. After that, another song or two, and service was over.

There is some more information included in the bulletin. That week, Mr. Landskroener was serving in the nursery, and Mr. and Mrs. Colpean donated that week’s flowers. You see, in my church, there was a strong sense of community. In the back of the church there was the “cry room” where mothers could take crying babies to quiet them or nurse them and still listen to the service through a speaker (there was  a large window there for them to watch as well). The nursery was there for kids that couldn’t sit still (toddlers mostly) so that parents could attend service and not have to worry about a sitter. Every week near the altar there were was a fresh arrangement of flowers donated by someone in the church.

Later in the bulletin the week’s events were listed. Tuesday was 7th and 8th grade catechism class. Wednesday youth choir (which I was later a part of) practiced. Friday the Luther-League mini-retreat began, and it ended sometime on Saturday in time for adult volleyball at the middle school gym. That next Sunday in March there was a couple’s home bible study at the Sanders’ house.

This is the church I grew up in. There was a strong sense of community, albeit relaxed. For the most part, no one was really pressured to attend or made to feel worse for missing a week or not attending bible study. Of course there were a few busy-bodies that fueled the stereotypical church-gossip, but they were in the minority and easy to ignore. Never once did I hear a fire a brimstone style sermon. They were always inspirational (though many times boring to an 8-year-old) and meaningful. I have an extremely hard time relating to the fundamental Christians I see carrying signs that say “God hates Fags” and the ones found on internet discussions condemning all non-believers to Hell. I never knew that.

My dad rarely went to church growing up, preferring instead to stay home and work on the yard, fix the house, all those dad type things that dads have to do. But when he did go and get involved, it always seemed to me like he was doing it out of obligation to the community, rather than service to God. My church community consisted of families. Families that knew each other and their children. People you would stop and talk to if you saw them in the grocery store. So it may come as no surprise that when I decided to no longer tread the Christian path that I wasn’t rebelling against the church. I never had a problem with church. My problem was with the belief system.. It just never really ever made sense to me, and never really spoke to me.

This idea of a spiritual community is something that my wife Alex and I have been searching out for some time, and have yet to really find one. I hope to find such an environment for my children to grow up in. One that fosters their spirituality and sense of community. I feel that it’s important for my children (and my self and wife) to experience something like that. It might not end up being a Buddhist community, as we both hold other spiritual beliefs as well. But being a part of something that shows them how to be in service to something greater to themselves (the community) and fulfills their spiritual needs is an experience I think they should experience.

Cheers.

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Wordless Wednesday – with words

We live in a 2nd floor apartment, so when it gets hot out outside, it turns our living space into an oven. So we decided to get Corbin this little pool to play in on our balcony. It’s the best we can do for the moment, and he enjoys the hell out of it.

Cheers.

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Welcome!

Thank you for checking out my new blog, Fly Like a Crow.

First, what’s up with the name?

Check out the ‘About’ page at the top for more info on that. And take a moment to explore the other pages as well. They’re short and sweet, I promise.

So what is this blog about?

Beyond what you read on the about page, it will be a place to write and blog on a myriad of topics. Primarily, I’ll be focusing on Buddhism, and my family/being a father. I actually see these two things as being parallel lines on the same track of “me”. They are both an evolving practice where I work towards perfection. Every day brings a new challenge, struggle, and usually some success.

I might just try my hand at some more poetry here. It’s something I’ve only dabbled in before, and has been a long time since I’ve really written any.

I’m going to toss in some politics from time to time. Nothing hateful, no right vs. left narratives. There are plenty of those to go around.

I’ll continue to review books here, whether they get sent to me by authors or publishers, or ones that I just happen to purchase myself.

And there’s a slight possibility that I might get philosophical from time to time. I also might throw in some sutra study that I’ve been working on.

And sometimes, I’ll just throw up a picture or two. I’m also going to try to include a picture with more of my posts in general, and I’m going to try to only use ones that I’ve taken.

Whatever happens, it will flow naturally. Like my previous blogging endeavours, I have no ambitions to blog daily. Once, twice a week is about all I can muster given work and family responsibilities (and enjoying time with my family).

So, take a look around. You’ll notice all of my old posts from the past, minus a few I wasn’t proud of at all. Feel free to subscribe via RSS or email (head to the footer) and feel free to add this blog to your blog roll if you feel so inclined. Thank you for stopping by.

Cheers.

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A good day at the park

A good day at the park always ends in a face full of dirt

 

Cheers.

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A “real man”, and a narrative

I have a guest post up over at the DaddyYoBlog about being a “real man” that leads into a little bit about false narratives. Go check it out here.

A teaser blurb:

Maybe what was lacking was the spiritual side of manhood, of fatherhood. Maybe when our grandfathers came back from WW2, they had no sprit left to give their sons. So manhood became something that was altogether mechanical, and was out of balance. Our fathers then pursued this mechanized lifestyle which fulfilled the mundane aspects of their lives, but left little room for them in the realm of that which is ethereal. For a few years, my dad raised me all by himself, and I now wonder if he struggled with this on some subconscious level. I wonder how detached my grandfather was. I wonder how my Father’s generation prepared for Fatherhood, if at all?

Cheers

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Why you should(n’t) be a parent

Of the many hats I wear, “Father” is the one that feels most comfortable. I must admit that I was (am?) scared shitless when I found out that I was going to be a dad a little over 2 years ago. How could I be a Dad? How could I afford it? Can I still party hard? Did I have to put away my Tool CDs in favor of Barney or whatever other monstrosity was being marketed to kids these days? Would my wife and I still be able to maintain our close relationship? So many thoughts, mostly worries, ran through my head those first few months. And I really had no idea what to expect. No one does. My wife is due again in September, and I’ve been able to finally reconcile with myself that I have no idea what to expect this time around, and that revelation is okay.

But for the 4 of you out there that read this blog and don’t have children, I thought I’d put together a little list of reasons as to why you shouldn’t have kids. People that have kids and those that don’t live in two completely different worlds, and I thought this might put into perspective just how different things can be. The responsibilities are endless and paramount, but there are lessons to be learned along the way.

So without further ado, here are some reasons as to why you shouldn’t have kids (and if you stick around, there might be a few reasons as to why you should).

1. You shouldn’t have kids if you value sleep. I seriously haven’t slept more than 4 or 5 hours straight in almost 2 years. Routinely I’m only getting about 5 hours of sleep a night. And with another child on the way, I can look forward to not sleeping through the night for another two years or so. Yippee! Though I have heard rumors that they now make kids that learn to fall asleep, and I’m considering trading mine in for one of those…

2. You shouldn’t have kids if you value your free time. Because, there is no free time. There is only parenting time, work, and sleep. Sure, after the kids go to bed you can sit around, watch some TV, read or whatever, but usually for us that means fall down on couch exhausted. Might be partially due to the fact that Corbin never, ever slows down. His thirst for knowledge and inquisitive nature lead him to be constantly discovering and running around. The kid is a sponge. He’s just under 18 months and can count to 10, read letters in succession, name 16+ species of dinosaurs and 20 Marvel super heros. That’s not me bragging (I have no idea what other kids his age are fixated on) that’s just examples of the things he soaks up. He didn’t settle with just learning Spider Man  and Allasaurus, he wanted to know about Hulk and Rouge (he has a Marvel super hero poster, he calls them “super guys”) and pteranodon and diplodocus (dinosaur book). He simply has to know these things. He needs constant stimulation or he gets frustrated. Also, he’s pretty young, and not quite to the “hey I’ll just play in my room for the next hour” phase yet. Also, he figured out how to dismantle the baby gate, so there is no more baby prison around my place.

3. You shouldn’t have kids if you enjoy having extra cash. This one is a given. Extra mouths require extra food which requires diapers and clothes and toys and co-pays and Iron Man plates and boxes of crayons and an endless supply of paper.

So, okay those are pretty ubiquitous when it comes to parenting, and most people know (at least in some part) that these things will happen going in. But then there are a ton of little things as well. Like heading to a friend’s house that isn’t baby-proofed. And I’m not even talking about locks on drawers, but just stuff lying around in arms reach of my toddler. You put your child’s safety and your friend’s CD/faberge egg/replica Tie Fighter collection at risk. So then rather than visiting, you spend most of your time corralling.

Or then there’s shopping. It used to be we could head to 5-6 different grocery/supply stores in one day to do all of our shopping, but that can’t happen anymore. Now we can hit a max of about 3 (maybe 4) stores because we have to take into consideration his nap time, snack time, bed time, diaper changes, and general fussiness about being locked in a car seat/shopping kart for a few hours. Having kids can be a pain in the ass! There, I said it.

The point is, having a child doesn’t just change your life, it becomes your life. It affects who you are and what you do in every way imaginable (and many that aren’t). It used to be that scary/sad movies didn’t affect me much. But now I start to well up anytime I see a child in danger, getting abused or when anything bad happens to a kid on TV (or in the news). I am no longer Adam. I am now Daddy. And it is through this filter that I now view life.

With this change comes an opportunity to examine our selves. Parenting, much like Buddhism, is a process of discovery. We can look at ourselves and ask, “okay, why is it that I feel that having kids can be a pain in the ass sometimes?” Usually it comes down to an inconvenience, laziness, apathy, not being able to be okay with the present moment, or some such thing. You’re then able to uncover the motivations behind those excuses and really dredge some shit up. Which can then lead to the revelation that you loathe the person looking back at you in the mirror, because the person you see is a reflection of a person you don’t want to be. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because at that point, you’re able to actually do something about the “problems” and baggage we’re carrying around with us. You have to be a little disgusted by yourself to effect some change in your life. At this point you can then begin the process of striving for the change you are looking for. Those excuses you came up with about why it’s so damn hard to wake up in the middle of the night and why you’d rather be golfing with friends than feeding your kid dinner suddenly start to look ridiculous upon evaluation. They don’t go away overnight (or ever?), but you can begin to see them for what they are: hindrances. They hinder your ability to fully embrace this moment with kind-heartedness and acceptance. They hinder your ability to produce the end results you fantasize about (rather than put into action). And they hinder your ability to live with the love you usually feel about being a parent. Because even though the responsibilities of being a parent are enormous, a majority of the time we are able to embrace them with joy and a smile.

So if you can get over all the crap you have to deal with as a parent (which you may just fall in love with), that I talked about in the beginning of this post you might find there is a greater source of joy out there than you could ever imagine and discover quite a bit about yourself along the way.  For for me, that simple joy comes from moments like these, moments I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for:

 

 

 

Cheers.

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Shhhh……

 The dim blue of the white noise machine that is currently rolling ocean waves through its speakers is the only light piercing the darkness in my son Corbin’s room. Sponge Bob is there staring at me from the corner, in front of the rest of his toys that are frozen, poised ready to leap to life from their respective bins the moment he wakes up. It’s 8:30 or so, and this is the first time he’s woken up tonight. Right now I’m practicing shushing meditation.

He wakes up 6-8 times a night, and my wife Alex and I have decided to try the “cry it out” method to break him of this habit that he’s formed. 11+ months of no sleep has turned us into bitter, angry night people. I’ve let him cry for 5 minutes, and now I hover over his crib, shushing in sync with the ocean waves. I rock back and forth, backing away from the crib inch by literal inch. It is a process that is laborious, boring, and mentally demanding. After 10 minutes or so, I’ve backpedaled to the door and make my exit; silent except for my continued, rhythmic shushing. The door closes and I head to the fridge to grab some juice as all the shushing has severely dried my mouth and depleted my saliva reserves. It’s then that I realize that I’m still shushing. Hmmm.

A couple of hours later I’m swimming in the ocean again, rocking side to side and shushing. Now I’m thinking of earlier and my trip to the fridge. The shushing had focused my attention on my movements. No commentary from my mind. Just shushing, and movement. Now I begin to wonder why all this seems like such a chore. Why is it that I would rather go out in the living room and finish watching Weeds with Alex? Isn’t this moment just as special? Then the switch just flips. It becomes easy. With the effort of a passing thought I made a determination that this subtle moving and shushing alone in the dark with my son was the better of the two options. And it became easy. Now I felt the comfort of my own shushing. My son stops stirring. Time to start sneaking backwards. Slowly. Carefully. Purposefully.

When I return to the couch I un-pause Weeds and the noise and light from the TV assault my senses. This is no longer the desired escape from reality it was a few hours ago. I’d rather go back in and sit down in front of Corbin’s crib and just sush. But then Alex leans over on my chest and I wrap my arm around her, and the calm and comfort return.

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My punishment became my path?

Reminiscing the other day, I remembered that one of my Father’s punishments for me was to ground me. Basically, the idea was that I when I came home from school, I couldn’t watch TV, play outside, talk on the phone or do anything other than chores, homework, eat dinner, and stay in my room. Sweeping the dust and pushing the dirt for punishment? WTF?

Upon remembering this, a few things came to mind.

1) Our society has gotten to the point where unplugging one’s self from the stresses, distractions and attachments of the world is punishment. The reward is a life full of suffering, delusion, and distraction from the true nature of reality. How can we expect to advance as a society when this is the way we encourage each other to live?

2) What would I be like today, if being alone with my thoughts (cultivating mindfulness), and playing outside, adoring nature were my rewards, and plugging into the TV and video games had been my punishment?

3) How truly attached to my “things” I was to get so upset over not being able to use them for a couple of hours! This life of attachment and distance from one’s self is addicting, more powerful than any drug that grows in the ground or is made in a lab.

Okay, enough of that. Time to go play Call of Duty.

Cheers.

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Guest Post by Rohan – part of the Buddhoblog swap

A few weeks ago Nate at Precious Metal had the lovely  idea of a blog swap where our names are put into a hat and then drawn to decide who would guest post on who’s blog.  And so it was my great fortune that I’ve been invited to post here and in turn John from Zen Dust Zen Dirt is guesting on my blog which is called 21awake.

 As a relatively new parent and knowing that my Sri Lankan heritage meant I grew up with Buddhist parents, Adam asked that I write a little about this  experience and even offer some advice as to him as a father as how to incorporate some Buddhist principcles into life with his children.  Reflecting on this challenge I soon realised that as not being a father myself I was in no real position to give advice in parenthood.  But I did realise that I might have something of interest to share.  And I’ll do so with two quite different stories.

 

One Nation Under Dharma.  It was the initiation ceremony for what is the UK equivalent of the Cub Scouts and I was one of a group of about six of us seven-year olds waiting to get our official scarves and woggles.  And just as I was getting ready to drone out the words with my friends, I got a tap on the shoulder from the group leader. Rohan…you’ll be doing your initiation first.  Because you’re a Buddhist your parents have asked for you to do a special pledge.

 

You can imagine the embarrassment.  While my friends watched (and giggled) I was asked to repeat the following words: I promise to do my best / To be kind and helpful / And to love the Triple Gem. And of course I had no idea what I was saying.   Looking back it was really quite touching and beautiful but at the time it was awfully embarassing because it made me feel different.  I had been outed as this thing called Buddhist for the first time.

 

My parents came to London from Sri Lanka in the late 60s and having left their extended families back home, found replacements in the form of the small but tight immigrant community – all sharing the common languages that are Sinhalese and very hot curries.  And of course Theravadan Buddhism was another of those languages holding the community together since the Sinhalese proportion of Sri Lanka are Theravadan Buddhist and very proudly so.

 

But I do think it would be fair to say that the Buddhism I grew up with would be very alien to that which the majority of Western dharma practitioners recognise.  For while Westerners are mostly attracted to Buddhism for its transformative practices and emphasis on meditation, these are very much absent from popular Sri Lankan Buddhism.  Instead you will see a fair amount of ritual.  This means a bit of incense and a LOT of chanting.  And the social occasions that was the Sunday meal offerings for monks to mark birthdays and the like.  It can be quite the feast.

 

And while many people look at this sort of practice as not especially Dharmic, I will stand up for it since it plays a really important role in a community that is displaced from its cultural setting.  1970’s London was a pretty intimidating place at times for these relatively green young people from Sri Lanka so a place where some of their identity was understood meant – and indeed continues to mean – a great deal.

 

So my relationship to Buddhism while growing up as a second-generation Sri Lankan in London was very much social.  I went to Sunday school classes but there we studied Jataka stories which have an emphasis on basic morality rather than anything more transformative.  However one particular story did move me very deeply and that was the story of the Buddha.  Here is the book that I was given as a ten year old which I still have to this day.  Its simple archetypal story with which you are probably all very familiar struck me greatly and placed the young Siddhartha Gotama as the ultimate cultural hero of my childhood.  In retrospect that was probably very important for my later life and development.

 

 

You’re wasting your time meditating”. These were the words uttered to me by my mother and form the basis of my second story.

 

As you can infer from the above, what we in the West as dharma or meditation practice does not feature much in the Sri Lankan cultural expression of Buddhism.  For all sorts of socio-cultural reasons which I wont bore you with now, authentic and transformative Dharma practice in 2oth century was very much the confines of the monastics and even then, only a very small proportion of  them.

 

So when about 10 years ago a number of normal lay teachers emerged in Sri Lanka who claimed a certain level of classical awakening, they gathered a significant following – my mother included.  And while I doubt the credibility of some of them, some of them seemed genuinely realized to some extent and they began sharing that understanding.  And because popular Buddhism in Sri Lanka wasn’t necessarily the same as core Dharma teachings, these new teachers were seen as a renaissance and in particular – they were seen in opposition to the monks – who were now perceived to have withheld the teachings or at worst, not knowing them at all.

 

This is a complex issue about which I could say a lot but the main thing for the sake of this story was that these new teachers did not recognize meditation as a particularly valuable tool in realizing the Dharma.  And the reason for this was probably that these teachers although they may have had authentic realizations, they probably did not know how they occurred and so had no understanding of practice.

 

And with my mother very much following their teaching, my own burgeoning meditation practice was seen as being a waste of time.  Good for relieving stress perhaps but no more than that.

 

So that was my odd situation.  I had myself learnt meditation through its Western forms such as insight meditation or the Western vipassana scene but as a second-generation Buddhist I had all this baggage which initially was lovely since it gave me a great love for the tradition.  But now due to these new teachers with their there-is-no-practice messages I had all my parents’ generation not recognizing any value in what I was spending an increasing amount of time doing.  Oh dear.

 

As you can imagine it was fairly painful – especially as I was fairly new in the practice and wanting to share my new love with those around me, only to have it denigrated.  But fear not, this story has a happy ending.

 

For as I persisted with my practice, the simple result of it helping improve my relationships with my parents showed them its value in real-terms and in real-time.  And at the same time, my parents began to see the limitations in the there-is-no-practice approach and while they are not meditators, they accept what I do.  And while they would love me to have the big house & big car model as my life’s ambition instead of this thing called Awakening, they understand it’s value and that’s as much as I can ask for.

 

Sorry Adam…you’ll have to advise me! So back to Adam’s original question about Buddhist parenting tips I’m afraid I have none.  But if I were to offer something it would be to include your fatherhood into your practice as fully as possibly.  Thereby the example you will set to your son and to the world is one of wholeness.   Or as I like to say wholiness.  You Zen guys have this phrase Nothing left out – I love that very much and it inspires me constantly on many levels of practice, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary and back again.

 

And if I ever have a child I will drop you an email and you can let me know how it’s done. How’s that?

-Rohan

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