last thoughts on...

I found my mind wandering in a less than positive way today and was inspired to put on Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie by Bob Dylan* as I remember loving it, learning of it from one of my first mentors when I first started working in outdoor ed, who described it as 'the nicest thing I've ever heard anyone say about anybody.'  All I wanted to do was sit and intently listen to the words. All I wanted to do after listening was read and read more, to consume information on this last day of Obama's presidency - the tributes, the reflections, the opinions from all sides, the facts as presented by different outlets, the stuff that I'm not sure where it falls. I feel a sense of mourning. I'm worried for what's next. I wanted to sit with my feelings of sadness and my worries, to sit with my thoughts. My little girl had other ideas.

As I sat on my kitchen floor, trying to listen to Dylan's prose coming out of the speaker on the counter, my daughter wanted to play. She toddler-ran to the adjacent living room, flopped on a blanket, then ran back to me and kissed me. Back to the living room, flop and laugh, back for a kiss. Over and over. I smiled, still trying to stay engaged with the recording. Then I giggled. Then I laughed and nothing else existed except what she and I were doing and that moment.

When she got distracted by another activity (eating peas, remnants of a snack she had forgotten about) and I stepped out of the moment, a thought crossed my mind  - what if something bad were to happen? What if there was accident and my life is cut short? How would I have liked to spend one of my last days with my little girl? With her. Present. Steeped in this joy.

Present is how I want to spend every moment.

There is, undoubtedly, a fight ahead, even for me, who reflexively moves to diffuse and deescalate tense situations, who prefers to listen more than talk, prefers to challenge by asking questions instead of publicly proclaiming my views. I'll fight for her if needed, when needed. I'll fight for the people I love, to keep them safe. Yet, to do what I was trying to do - to try to imagine and then steel myself for scenarios where I may need to fight; to intentionally ruminate and feel sad; to actively worry about what's to come and feel fearful...I've lived in those head spaces before and it doesn't help, it doesn't work, it doesn't generate positive change, it doesn't prepare me for what will happen in future moments. To sit in those head spaces only invites depression and anxiety, which helps no one. It doesn't help me act now or later. It doesn't serve my values.

I'm here in moments. I'm here to help. I'm here to speak when needed. I'm here to listen even more. I'm here to write and share when I feel moved. I'm here to take action.

I'm not here to dwell, I'm not here to cower.

This life, lived in moments, is too important. These moments are too important. This moment is too important. This moment is the only one in which I can help and speak and listen and write and share. This moment is the only one in which I can act. I need to stay in this moment.

P.S. I've been recording three things I'm grateful for each day since the beginning of January. My three gratitudes for today: democracy, freedom of speech, the indomitable joy of the toddler spirit


*I'm finding myself drawn to the music of artists who served as voices of conscience or protest or inspiration during other tumultuous times.  I'd love to hear about what others are listening to - please drop me a note on the Contact page.

nowhere but here.

Fifteen months ago I became a mom. My little one is my teacher as much as I am hers, reminding me of truths I’m sure I once knew. One of the ways she’s taught me is by being an emotional mirror - when I’m playful and happy she’s joyful, when I let myself get carried away by worries about the future, or sad thinking about the past, she will often reflect my emotions. She also picks up on when I've let my mind wander off someplace, and am mindlessly doing some household task. She’ll toddle over to me and I’ll feel her tiny, powerful fingers pinch my thigh, as if to say, ‘I’m right here, mama. Where else would you want to be?’

It was hard to always stay present this past year. It was a challenging year, as it was for many. At times I was desperately sleep deprived while managing professional and personal challenges that would have felt formidable with a fully rested brain and body. To be so tired and then have my internal state picked up and amplified by an infant felt crazy making. If I felt impatient and agitated, she was restless and sleepless; if I gave into emotion and cried, she wailed. Yet, it was also true for the opposite end of the emotional spectrum - when I smiled, she often smiled. If I slowed my breathing, cleared my head to focus on her and willed myself to feeling calm, no matter how I felt when I picked her up, and no matter how distressed she may have appeared, she would, in time, calm. As tired as I was in so many moments in the first half of this year, through the action of calming her and being present I was often able to shift how I was feeling. When I went onto whatever was next in my day or evening, I was mentally present and better prepared to do the next task.

I’ve since realized that this trick and personal parenting survival tool I stumbled upon is a form of meditation, a very short practice of mindfulness. The beneficial shift I felt while trying to calm my daughter has been studied and documented, and I’ve over the past few months I’ve added ten to fifteen minutes of mindfulness as a (almost) daily practice. 

I stress practice because that’s what I do - I practice being present, sometimes peacefully and sometimes while being pestered by the thoughts, ideas, memories and anxieties that seem unwilling to end the noisy party they’re throwing in my mind. Yet, even on the days when it’s been more party than peace, my mindfulness practice serves me. Outside of my formal mediation, I’m more mindful in accomplishing the goals of the day, and more grounded when faced with inevitable challenges, whether for work objectives, or in trying to understand the needs and wants of a strong willed toddler who doesn’t have many words yet.

Like many people, I have great hopes and big goals for 2017.  Also like many, I feel unfamiliar uneasiness and uncertainty when I look forward at the year to come. No matter the challenges that occur, whether opportunities or trials, I’ve been learning that the only moment I can affect is the one I’m currently in. Being and staying present is a choice. I don't always remember that it's a choice, yet I’m practicing, working to remember and to live it because it makes me better at all that I do. I've also noticed that I find more laughter each day.

So, when that small pain of my daughter’s pinch yanks me out of my head and into the present moment, I look down to that cheeky smile (or defiant expression) and, in gratitude, I pick her up for a hug. I want her to  know that no matter how easy and tempting it is to  worry about what's to come, or wonder about what-ifs from moments already past, I realize that there's nowhere else I should be, and nowhere I’d rather be, than where I am in this moment. ’Nowhere, baby girl,’ I let her know, ’I don't want to be anywhere but here.’

*For those who are looking into a mindfulness practice: There’s an app I’ve come to love as I continue to learn how to be present. It's great for beginners and the first ten sessions are free. I’ve found it helpful enough to become a subscriber.

A few books I've enjoyed this year and continue to learn from that touch on mindfulness and the power of being present:

The Power of Now which is as dense as it is interesting. I recommend small doses, and The Awakened Family, which touches upon elements of mindfulness in consciously parenting.

I’d love to hear about other book recommendations; please drop me a note in the contact form.