Shuba’s Weblog

Journeys of the soul…

On Retreat…

My meditation teacher Doreen has been caring for her mother these past four plus years. Her Mother Anna came to live with her in her 90’s, and these past years have been a profound spiritual journey for Doreen. We as a sangha, a community, have been a witness to this transformation that love invites – indeed asks of us – and we have seen the quality of metta and compassion shine through Doreen in her teachings. Anna passed away recently in March – in a joyful and peaceful manner. Anji and I visited her in her last days – and the room was filled with a sort of joy that I didn’t know could exist near the end. There was so much love in that room. And Anji brought her own pure soul into the room – and connected with Anna at that deep level that only children and old souls can do. It was beautiful to witness.

Talking to Doreen a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting about retreats. After several years, Doreen is going to a formal retreat in the near future –where one is often given formal instructions for practicing mindfulness, and the opportunity to go deeper into our own inner experience in the comfort and protection of silence. I was talking to Doreen about my life and where I am and how difficult it would be for me to go on a retreat right now – much as it is something I have always and would love deeply. My last formal retreat was in 2009, nearly four years ago. And Doreen gently reminded me: Shuba, this is a time of retreat for you, just as it was a time of retreat for me caring for my Mom.

This gentle reminder hit home for me in a deep manner. Many times, I’m torn and indeed amazed, even shocked at times at how little I know of what is going on around in the world. I’m not in touch with news enough, or with people I don’t see in our immediate lives. I’m not on the computer enough (and many times I feel bad that I don’t read the blogs of these wonderful creative beings who take the time to read mine.) My world revolves around my family, and caring for our two and a half year old daughter for the most part – and my own spiritual journey.

I have never skimped on my practice – even now (as before having a child) I usually meditate everyday in some form and read dhamma, connecting with an intention that speaks to me, and listen to talks regularly and attend sits when I can. I write and I reflect and I seem to have time for that. IN a way, it doesn’t even feel like a choice: my practice is how I take care of myself, it is how I tune in and find out how this being inside of me is really doing. And it seems to take priority over so many things. Sometimes I wonder, is this real, the life I am leading? Sometimes I feel lonely and starved for mental stimulation. But other times, this feels more real than anything else I have ever done in my life: there is a urgency right now – to be with what is happening, the emotions, the keeping up with developmental milestones (I’m not sure if they are my daughter’s or mine!). And the letting go.

Mark Coleman, who is one of my favorite teachers when it comes to dhamma talks, says in a talk, that the most important practice in terms of mindfulness/Buddhism can be summed up into two words: Let Go. Let Go Let Go Let Go. As a parent we are challenged to do this everyday, to let go of our ideas, our expectations, our goals and our agendas. We are thrust into this world where our little one doesn’t and cannot understand these concepts (thank god for that!) and we have to let go. It ultimately serves us well – but who said letting go was easy?

This is perhaps my biggest struggle: to let go of what I think is a good day, of what I think my daughter should be like, and the ideas I have that constitute ‘’good parenting’’ which in itself is a trap. Since I have no prior experience in parenting, these ideas are largely questionable: they have not been tested out by my own experience. This to me is an important clue. So I learn the hard way: to let go.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.” Says Rumi of the soul. We keep finding our way back to this field. This field – this abundant peaceful all-knowing compassionate place inside of us knows at a very deep visceral level what the truth is. But we forget in our human ways and conditions. And so we force ourselves to remember.

So I am grateful. To have a time in my life when so much of outer distractions seem to be removed so that my own inner experience comes to the forefront. All of it: sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. And it is just like it is on a retreat: a time for remembering the sacredness of our lives, in its tiny details.

So this is what I say to mothers who resonate with me (and to myself – since I so often forget!): when the retreat ends – however long or short it is – we will be ready to meet the outside world. Until then – this is the journey – and we follow. Lets leave behind our guilt, shall we? And lets take in the love. The love never stops.

With Love, S.

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I am myself!!

I feel the urge to type and type and put into words, the experiences of the last few weeks. It feels like I have traveled eons in this month of May. Coming face to face with my anger, my emotions and finding a way to move through. Coming face to face with my own lack of control and practicing patient acceptance.

And finding a way of saying Yes. Yes to this moment is as it is. Finding a way to abide in metta during my struggles and lean into the support of my own practice and the support of my friendships and relationships. Having slammed doors, yelled, cried, and even broken plates in the privacy of my porch on an afternoon when all else failed, I have let go of everything. And one afternoon, when I saw the crying face of my baby girl, everything dissipated. Just like that. None of the stories mattered anymore. It turns out – there isn’t anything more important to do than this right now. and no one else to be but me. Kindness is possible, no matter what. When we can’t summon kindness, even in that situation, kindness is possible through non-judging.

Beloved Rumi says it best:

‘Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.”

Perhaps it is the way through hardships that we discover the soft heart. The compassionate wise heart. And this is the doorway to joy. I’m finding that joy arises spontaneously when I say, yes to this moment. When I say yes to singing the same lullaby for the 20th time during bedtime for my daughter, I find joy. When I say yes to reading ‘Annie and the wild animals’ for the umpteenth time, I find joy. When I say yes to my feeling low about my back hurting, I find joy. Joy it turns out is present. All the time. It requires me to be in this moment, to participate, to connect and to make choices. And then, it feels like the effort of striving, of trying too hard, of being someone else, falls away.

‘I am myself!’, says Pezzetino, joyfully in this fable when he discovers that he too like all the others is made of little pieces. “I am myself”!! I want to shout out in joy, like Pezzetino.

Perhaps when we discover our own brokenness, our own struggles, and how fragile the identities that we hold so close, we can let them all go. And we can be ourselves, truly and joyfully.

So here is your invitation – to say yes to this moment. And to be yourself. Then you become me, the other and everybody else in this universe!!

With Peace, S.

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About love and loving…

Today I want to talk about love. Not the love that drowns us that envelopes us in a haze, that is so beautiful that we can’t bear a moment without it, that makes our hearts melt in sweetness but the love that is steady and deep and burning like a flame and never stops – not for the winds or the rains. It just keeps burning and getting stronger day by day.

This is the kind of love my 2-year old daughter teaches me. The love that exists when she won’t take a nap and I lose it and yell at her, and she adds – ‘mom still loves you’. And my heart breaks. In that moment, I don’t want to love. But my heart can’t help it. This is the burning of that candle that purges all those dark places inside that I would rather not see, but I don’t have a choice. I would rather believe that I am kind, loving and don’t lose my temper and helpful and will not hurt a soul. But I know the truth – I am capable of the other side. I’m capable of slamming doors, being rough, yelling, and I do hurt others. This acceptance is the deep grief of the human heart when we come to terms with all of ourselves and all that we are truly capable of. Even though I would never hurt my child, in that flash of anger, I can see how violence happens. How if I didn’t stop myself and try my best, my emotions would rule me.

So this idea of having a child, of raising your child, of spending time involves what any close relationship does – a facing of our own shadows and the things about ourselves that we would rather not see. IN usual relationships we sometimes make the choice to not go through, to want out. But in a parent – child relationship that is often not and cannot be our choice, and we know that in our hearts. So we agree to go through this journey, of walking through fire sometimes – of losing it and finding it and forgiveness and learning to trust in our own capacities to ride the storms. The storms are inevitable, and they do pass. It’s our choice what we allow them to teach us, and our children.

And the storms always leave behind something – trees broken, hearts broken. This is the way to compassion – this picking up the pieces and putting them together and mending the bridges. Apologies are difficult. They require us to face the facts and the consequences and find ourselves worthy of love and forgiveness. When I say sorry to my daughter, the person I’m really asking for forgiveness from is myself. My daughter readily forgives. She has forgotten the episode and moved on. It is me who is still lingering in that moment that I was who I did not want to be.

And then I make the next choice – to try harder, to be more patient, and to take better care of myself so I don’t reach that place of desperation again. And I make the choice to let go of the guilt, the consuming guilt and start over again. This is now a new moment. The sun is shining. Lets go ride our bikes together, I say. My daughter skips downstairs and runs to put on her helmet. My heart still hurts, but this is a new moment. I’m here now.

With Love, S.

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Changing desires…

It is a beautiful spring day. Yes, spring is here! finally! The leaves are coming out of the ground and the first flowers have appeared in our compound. The breeze is blowing and there is promise of warmer weather and long summer days yet to come. Ahhhhh. I love this feeling, of change and new life and moving ahead.

I have also been amazed at the shifting of my desires. About a month ago, I was sure I needed to find a job that was more than my very part-time teaching math at community college, and that needed to be now. it turns out what I needed was a change – and when a weekend materialized in the form of time away from home, it served the purpose! Just one night away with family in beautiful Burlington, VT – we all felt restored and my mind felt quieter than it had been for a while. Its a good lesson to learn: sometimes we need a change – but it doesn’t have to be a life-altering one like getting a new job! Before we make the life-changing ones, can we try the smaller ones?

This is also the first school break that I have asked for help in the form of child-care and it has felt simply wonderful to allow myself a break. Life feels so much more spacious when you have had a hot chocolate on your own in a cafe without having your toddler around! I’m also learning an important shift in my own perspective – that much as I love being a Mom and its who I am most of my day, it isn’t personal. It has its amazing rewards as well as challenges and learning, and at the end of the day, it is still what I bring to it. And I bring attention and care to it when I take care of myself. What a good lesson! One that I keep relearning and discovering and every time feels like the first time!

Whats interesting to me is that when we pause, when we take a step back, we can actually witness the moving of our desires – how they keep changing, morphing into new shapes and sizes. We are tempted to respond to each one, but we don’t always have to. if we simply watch, they will shape-shift. and it gives us such insight into our own minds, our patterns and where we react and when. What our triggers are. I know what some of mine are, which make me reactive and my mind go nuts. exhaustion, doing too much, too many expectations (that are unrealistic), bank balances, and not knowing. And I’m coming to see their cycles, and learning to see them pass by and learning not to react and learning what kindness is and connecting to my deepest heart’s desires.

I would love to hear yours. send me a message or post a comment on this post.

with Love, S.

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That wild, that loving in the heaven of earth…

I’m thinking this morning of the Mary Oliver poem on Luke. I’m driving gudiya to the preschool she goes three mornings a week. I’m singing the Illayaraja’s ‘Kanmani’ song to her, and feeling generally uplifted. And all the thoughts – the weighing of the good and bad in my life and its various variations disappear. Poof. Just like that.

The reason my life has come into review this week is because I have a job interview this afternoon, my second one with this imaging research group. The position is for a research analyst and is reminiscent of my graduate student days – before I got mired into the world of writing grants, and managing students – and gave it all up to be home more with gudiya and to keep my sanity. At my previous interview with the group, they asked me, why would you apply for this staff position, given your CV? My only answer was that I wanted to do just research without all the responsibilities that a faculty job involved. That is part of the truth. The real truth is that my life as a Mom has plenty of responsibility in it. I don’t want to seek more – not of my own volition.

But am I ready to go back into work? This involves a full-time job and I am sure I don’t want that. “But you could work 30 hours a week” – chimed in my whatever-you-want-to-hear-dearie mind – if they would be amenable to that. I am not sure I want that either. But then gudiya starts school this Fall – Montessori – and I am scared at the thought of my life passing by while I wait for her to be back from school. I can think of all kinds of rationalizations, but really I am feeling the urge to move, to change, even as I am scared to death about it. I love my life as it is, part of me exclaims. Not yet, not already!

Anyways, as I am singing kanmani after dropping off gudiya, memories of my college days flash by. They were among the favorite days of my life. I have had the most incredible friends who saw through me and accepted me and loved me. So many dear friends come to mind. I was lucky to meet many amazing people. We had fun times and I have been meaning to share old photos from those days on FB. They have been out and about in our living room – I have been showing them to gudiya, but mostly just enjoying seeing them myself.

And this thought hits me as I am reminiscing and driving: we did not know then – in those carefree college days – that it would not last. We would never have that time again – the time when we were young, without responsibilities, of fun and flirting, and of discovering our own selves through our new-found relationships. If we had known, would we have appreciated it more?

And what about now? Here is another phase in my life that is pretty amazing. To have the time and make the choices to be able to witness the growing miracle of my daughter – and my husband as a Dad – and to discover what it is like to be young again – and what it is like to play. What it is like to read the same book for the 10th time and still witness the same incredible laughter and joy as the first time from Gudiya, and to witness her unending, enduring energy and capacity for play, imagination and fun. Of long summer days of farmers markets and cold winter days of story times and libraries. Of bouncy houses and meeting other Moms and sharing stories and making connections.

What is different about this time now is I know: that this doesn’t last. Its one of those bitter-sweet things about childhoods. These carefree days of my gudiya as a toddler learning, playing, growing will pass. Just as my gudiya’s early months passed by – the miracle of seeing her sit up, seeing her crawl and then walk and then learn to talk and then put ideas together. They will never be back again. The miracles continue but I don’t take it for granted. Mostly.

And then sometimes I do. I forget.

Like some days when she refuses to take a nap – there have been more of them lately. I’m exhausted, cranky and want out. Some escape from what seems sometimes a lasting-forever cycle of snacks, potty times, books, and cooking and washing dishes and laundry. I can’t seem to remember anything else. Is this what I signed up for? In that moment of judgment – and of course there is judgment – that’s the most ready weapon when we tether on the edge of exhaustion – I forget and I take it for granted. I forget the miracle of having a healthy child, of having the luxury of being home, of feeling these frustrations and still knowing I love my babe. Thank goodness, I always wake up. In time to appreciate.

So really, it is okay. This is life. That is the truth of it. We may make choices based on what we want, what feels good, what is pleasant, what our priorities are but at the end of the day, our choices are about relationships. And it begins with a relationship with ourselves – how we relate to all of this, all of ourselves – all the moods and all the feelings.

So after a week of weighing and feeling weighed down, I am finding the light, the light that is streaming through the windows, the gorgeous sunshine of a spring day, a day full of possibilities, a light that is everywhere. I don’t know what my future will be and it is okay. What I do know is that feeling Mary Oliver was talking about in Luke and how…

“…easily
she adored
every blossom

not in the serious
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom

the way we praise or don’t praise –
the way we love
or don’t love –
but the way

we long to be –
that happy
in the heaven of earth –
that wild, that loving.”

With Love, S.

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winter blues…

It is that time of the year. Mid February when the spirit is ready for spring, but not yet the earth. The snow is still falling and the skies gray, and the winter is still around, much as we yearn for spring, for flowers to bloom, for squirrels to retrieve their nuts, for birds to chirp and the geese to make their journeys back. It is that time of the year when we are ready for change, but change is not yet here.

Winter is a time to go inward and reflect and perhaps the very nature of how long winter can be suggests how much time we need as we flow and we grow and we prepare our seeds of intention for springtime. We worship the growing light and we pay attention to our bodies and we nourish from within when we can. and we cultivate patience and mindfulness – a knowing that, as Shelley puts it, even when winter comes can spring be far behind?

As the sky lightens, it is time to move. or so thinks my daughter Anji as we see her increasingly run around the house as if ready to burst into spring song, the minute it arrives. That readiness is what we prepare for this time of the year. We take care of details, we shed our excess pounds and we make our way to movement and song. We gather together to celebrate the last few rituals of winter – hot chocolate at night, late mornings in bed, even as we start to transition.

Transition is a slow process. We think it happens in a day, that we get through change just like that. But it doesn’t. It is slow and painstaking and gradual and requires us to be with the present in whatever form it is. It requires us to accept our lives, its myraid details, its highs and lows and the even planes when nothing much is happening. It requires us to show up with the same attitude of humility and waiting that we are willing to show our children as we witness their growth – sometimes in huge spurts and sometimes in slow gradualness.

and we learn to perfect our own way into this world one small day at a time – a way of love, heart, gratitude and fullness.

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Being alive…

I wrote to an old friend of mine recently about travel – how I didn’t miss it and how much magic was in my own backyard. I was basking in the glow of contentment that the last few weeks have brought. I spoke too soon.

Yes, there is magic in our backyard. We live in a spectacularly beautiful area, nestled by hills and snowy tree tops, with fresh air and a kind of beauty that grows on you. There are bluejays playing outside our window, and the sunrise in the winter is amazing pink on clear mornings. But somedays, I don’t see this beauty quite the same way. I’m caught in the resistance to whatever is unfolding in my life, and the resistance always sneaks up when I’m not watching. And on such days, the thought of a vacation is sublime.

I know I am well and alive when resentment and stress are present in my life. It is so absurd, but last week I had a cold/flu and it was one of the best weeks of my life because I took it easy and laid low the self-expectations. Once I start back on the wagon of simmering cooking self-judgment and lack of appreciation, I know I have way too much energy!

So what takes us away and what brings us back? I believe most of the time what takes us away is stress, worry, tiredness…when I over schedule myself and my inner resources are at a low, I get tripped up the voices, the same voices that I would have the wisdom to acknowledge and ignore on other times. So first it in itself is a reminder to come back, acknowledge that and the fact that we are human and prone to messing up and being imperfect and saying unkind things and doing unthoughtful deeds. and then the next step is to make room, make space for some R & R, whenever that can happen. An hour of yoga, or a warm bath or a chat with a best friend, all of it helps. If it cannot happen immediately, planning for it helps in a practical way to know that it is coming so we can hang in there.

And then it is bringing a kind of softening, an acknowledging and forgiveness of the things we messed up on. This is what helps the heart soften, learn compassion and be willing to extend it to others when they are in need, because we learn to recognize a heart in distress, from our own experience.

Lastly, we bring in joy. put on some favorite music, dance a little, hop a little, be silly and make our apologies to others.

So today, I apologized to my two-year old daughter for not being patient enough and spacious enough to give her the time she needed to leave the library, for not being thoughtful and caring enough about her tears – her distraught face is still in front of my eyes though she has moved on hours ago. And I learned a hard lesson not to over-schedule myself with work stuff – teaching, astrology readings, managing a home – in the limited time I have to myself.

I think now its time to climb into bed in my favorite pajamas and read Anne Lamott. She always makes me feel better and makes me laugh (or cry, depending…).

With Love, S.

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peace like a river…

At this story time we go to, on Tuesday mornings that my wonderful friend Nelleke introduced us to, the teacher sings this song, ‘peace like a river’. It’s a beautiful song, and Anji loves it, especially the words ‘peace like a river’ and ‘love like the ocean’.

I’m thinking as I write this, what an apt metaphor river is, for peace. Peace really is like a river, meandering, swaying, taking its own course, but drenching us with love when it passes by. We can’t make peace happen, though we can set the intention. We can’t hold on to peace, for it ebbs and flows its own way. But when we pay attention, we start to realize that peace doesn’t have as much to do with circumstances as much as our state of mind.

Sometimes, I’m struck by the fact that I can be in the most embarrassing of situations and still find a way to be at peace, mostly when I don’t make it into a full blown drama about me. There are times when I think I’m at peace with something, but it comes back again and in a different light and I’m forced to be honest with how I really feel (rather than hoping I feel a certain way!). And sometimes, I don’t feel peaceful at all, but somehow being with the not-peace makes me find my way back again.

I have had moments of drama, plenty in fact, in the past few weeks, but somehow that feels okay. I know for sure, more of it will be upcoming too, since I love things a certain way so I very often struggle when they don’t go that certain way, but that too feels okay. Underlying all of this, I’m trying to hold on lightly to this simple thought: I’m doing my day’s work. And I do it to the best of my attention and knowledge as I can. And when I fail, I start again.

Somehow this thought is comforting. Perhaps this is the secret to peace: one moment, one day at a time. And this too, is part of holding on: maybe if I remember this secret, I will always have peace. But I won’t. And that too is okay.

So here is a thought today, right now. Check in. Is there peace? And if there isn’t, can there be a small space, an inclining towards it? And what can help nourish it? And if you are so inclined, please share your thoughts with me here in this space…

With Love, S.

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what do we do ?

What is compassion when your two year old is screaming at around 3.00 in the morning – and nothing you do is exactly right. What do you do when you find that softness in your heart that comes when you look at her sweet body and warm self seems to be utterly missing and there seems no hope in sight. You just want to curl up in bed and ask someone else to make everything okay, but no someone else is Mama! How do you keep your cool when your child is crying and you really have to pee, so that you can all go to bed but even peeing in the middle of the night feels like a luxury, and not just a luxury but the very thing that has turned this night upside down. What do you do when you wake up in the morning, after a groggy couple of hours sleeping next to your two year old, and she is getting down the bed; and before you have been able to awaken the consciousness to get out of the bed, she has peed – on the carpet in front of your altar. What do you do with all the judging thoughts resounding in your head that you suck as a parent and that patience and loving-kindness you want to embody is falling short.

Maybe we learn to recognize how difficult it is when we are hugely attached – as we are to our babies. And what a difficult journey motherhood is. We recognize that we are vulnerable, and that softness can go a long way. We make room for forgiveness for ourselves and our hearts that sometimes fail us despite our best intentions. We learn to love ourselves again and discover our children again on a new day. The sun is shining, the morning is bright and we pick up the pieces and start over again.

With Love, S.

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Mindful Mamma? Yes, No, Maybe so…

Being mindful as a parent is hard. Most days, my attention is so focused outward that I don’t often pause to take that breath and be in my body and take in what is happening. Most days, I’m sandwiched between meal times, making meals, play dates, nap times, potty times, story times, reading, play dough, painting, music, most of which I love most of the time. In between all of this, I don’t pause enough. Its only when exhaustion, or hunger or a cranky mood hits that I stop to take note and do what is necessary: breathe!

My daughter now knows ‘breathe’ through peaceful piggy meditation book. She does ‘breathe’ like piggy when she gets upset, but only when I tell her to and then too, its more like a sound than a deep breath. It’s like that with me. Its only when I really need it that I remember. Sometimes that feels like I’m failing in my practice.

But then pauses happen naturally in my life in between all the activity.Like when I look at Anji’s face, her eyes lighting up with her dark hair framing her face as she says, ‘read it again!’ I feel a rush of love. I never want to take my eyes off. Or when she is sleeping curled up on her bed on her side, breathing deeply just the way she did as a baby, I feel this incredible sense of peace and wellbeing. Or when she dances and we hold hands and jump together to ‘the more we are together, the happier we’ll be’, I feel the music in my body. When we draw together with pastel crayons on a big blank sheet of paper, rapidly filling with her lines and mine coming together to make something beautiful, I feel joyful.

All these moments I forget when I am tired and don’t want to clean up or do the laundry one more time. Not the dishes again. Not making dinner again. Not get out of my bed again so early. But I always remember. When I pick her up and smell that amazing incredible scent that somehow children have – of pureness and love, everything comes back. I’m a Mama and that is my practice, to be present with all of it, the hardship and the amazing glorious moments. And when my mind spins in circles at the end of the day, buzzing with activity, I stop and remind myself – this is tiredness. I recount the moments that sparkled like the sun and the rain, and I relax again.

When I lose it, my patience or my perseverance, my daughter is my barometer. She brings me back again. My moods reflect on her as she climbs up the stairs after a difficult moment and sits on top waiting for me. Always, when I go up the steps, I remember. The incredible Love that seeps through my life touching everything, that is somehow marvelous and comforting.

Being mindful as a Mom is hard. I’m not mindful when I eat – I’m usually too hungry to wait, or while eating with Anji much more focused on her painstakingly slow nibbles than mine. Before I know it, the warm milk or my peanut butter toast is gone – and it is only at the last bite that I remember that I’m eating or drinking something!

But then there are few precious moments when we sit together on the table for lunch and I eat my noodles and Anji eats hers. The leaves fall outside in the breeze and Anji says, ‘leaves falling. Because it is Autumn’. I smile. Everything is all right.

With Love, S.

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