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A Lazy Saturday

This is the first Saturday in well over a month that hasn’t been a crazy day. It’s been great to not have to run around from one place to the next and to just hang out at home and watch movies with the kids and set up my new Droid 2 phone. I don’t think I’ve really done anything “productive” today and I’m totally cool with that. It’s refreshing to have a day like this every once in a while. We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day distractions that we almost begin to feel bad if we’re not doing something or going somewhere. In fact, I’m so totally into not doing anything today that I think I’m just going to go take a nap now. Have a good day everyone and remember to avoid the candy tomorrow. I know I’ll be trying my best to leave my kid’s candy buckets alone.

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That’s My Girl

As I’ve said before, my daughter has my sense of humor. When I got home from the retreat yesterday, I found out just how similar we really are. On Saturday, I dropped her off at a friend’s house before I left for my trip. Unknown to the rest of us, she had stolen a pair of her brother’s underwear. She proceeded to stuff and sew them into a pillow with the help of her friend. When I came home, I found the most amazing pillow that had been specially made for my son. Apparently, when her friend’s mother asked her where she got her sense of humor from my daughter simply replied, “From my dad.”

How my daughter puts her arts and crafts knowledge to good use.

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This past weekend I was in the woods at a retreat with my Sangha from Northern Light Zen Center. It was a great experience and I am very glad that I went. It’s amazing what spending two days in meditation will do for your clarity of mind. This retreat was a mixture of sitting meditation and walking meditation. The walking took place outdoors in the woods and was an opportunity to see a lot of beauty in the autumn trees, the moon and the stars and the sunrise and sunset. It was also a time for me to experience practicing through some hardship. I’ve already gotten a post about that half-written but didn’t want to publish it yet since I want to focus on the positives of the experience before I start speaking about the challenges I had to overcome.

As with all Zen retreats, this one was designed to push the body and mind to their limits in order to quiet the mind so that it could focus more easily while in meditation. I think I spent at least five hours in sitting meditation this weekend and another four in walking meditation. I would have done even more had I been able to attend the full retreat but I had to arrive late because my wife works on Saturday morning so I stayed home to watch the kids while she was at her job. I arrived at the perfect time at the retreat though: right after lunch. I met my Sangha as they were walking back to the yurt we were using for meditation so I was present for the entire afternoon and evening sessions.

At first, I had a hard time concentrating on sitting because I’d had a hectic morning trying to get ready to go and deal with the logistics of everyday life and then trying to find the camping site in the Maine wilderness. Once you leave pavement behind, a GPS becomes a little less reliable when trying to reach a destination. Let that be a warning for you if you plan to come to Maine. We have a lot of unpaved roads up here. However, I did begin to finally quiet down my mind and began to focus. About three minutes after that, it was time to get up to begin walking. We spent 20 minutes wandering through the woods and I realized that even though I am in much better shape now than I once was, I’m not much of a hiker. All of the exercise I do is as low impact as possible so my feet are not used to being picked up and put down over and over as I exercise. This meant that I was pushing my body in a different way than normal and I began to wear out more quickly than I ever thought possible. Fortunately, it was only a 20 minute walk and then we were back to sitting for 20 minutes. My body was worn out so it took me about 15 minutes to finally calm down and get back into the calm state that is conducive to sitting meditation. Five minutes later, time for a walk. This went on for a few hours: sitting, walking, sitting, walking. My body didn’t quite know what to do and my mind was mirroring the state that my body was in. That evening, after dinner, my mind and body were quite worn out and in the last sitting meditation session, I found that I achieved a level of calmness and focus unlike any I’d ever experienced. My mind was at a point where it was too tired to wander around as my aching butt sat on the cushion.  I actually came out of that sitting session feeling better than when I had going in. I had turned the corner just in time to go on an evening walk under the stars.

The night sky was amazing. The moon was full and so bright in that clear sky that it hurt ones eyes to look directly at it. We didn’t even need our flashlights it was so bright. I’ve never seen shadows cast by moonlight as clearly as we had them on this evening. As we looked up at the stars (facing away from the moon), we could actually see space debris and satellites moving slowly in orbit around Earth. We even saw a few meteors flash across the sky as they burned up in the atmosphere. It was a perfect way to end the evening. My mind felt as clear as the sky we were looking up at. After the walk, we had a brief period of chanting meditation and then went to bed. I was asleep before 9:30. I was probably asleep before my kids at home had gone to bed.

The next day started at 5:00 A.M. I’m not sure why Zen retreats start so damn early but I think it has to do with keeping the body and mind worn out. That, or those who run the retreats are just a bunch of sadistic bastards. However, since I know the leader of our Sangha isn’t a sadistic bastard, I quickly dismissed that hypothesis. The day started with 108 bows. Once again, I entertained the thought about sadistic bastards but dismissed it again. Last week I did 108 bows for the first time. I was thankful that I had done it because I knew what to expect from this session. I did 107 half-bows and did the final one as a complete bow. This helped me from getting too sore but it was still murder on the muscles in my neck and back. We then spent time in sitting meditation and, once again, I was amazed at the clarity of mind I still had. We went out for a morning walk and then went back for a longer session of sitting while interviews were conducted.

On a Zen retreat, if you are with a Zen Master, you will be given a koan to answer. Since the leader of our Sangha is not a Zen Master, the interview process is a bit more laid back. For me, it was a time to see that Colin, our leader, was concerned about how I was handling the schedule and concerned that my being gone from home for a weekend wasn’t causing any problems for my wife or family. He was very concerned about this and he shared some stories about how he had to face the stress that came with going away for a weekend when his children, now in college, were young. After I had my interview, I was able to go back to the meditation yurt and spend the rest of the interview session in sitting meditation. That was about 40 minutes of uninterrupted sitting. It was the most amazing 40 minutes of meditation I have ever had. I was able to be present in the moment, with crystal clarity of mind and really feel my connection to the world around me and see my true self a little more clearly. This isn’t the self that we normally relate to, but our real innermost self. It was a liberating experience for me to know that I was having this experience without extending any effort as I had no energy left to extend. I see now, more clearly, why Zen stresses the importance of sitting just to sit and not being attached to thoughts or feelings or perceptions or impulses. Now, my goal is to learn how to achieve this state of calm without having to go away for days. The challenge I now face is to not get attached to that experience and to try to force myself to have it again. I cannot repeat the past and the next time I have this experience, it will be different. It will be a new and different experience but will be just as amazing.

After breakfast, we went on a “five-mile hike”. The goal of the hike was to reach the top of Frost Mountain and to eat our lunch up there. The five miles was actually only the distance to the top of the mountain and didn’t include the five miles back to camp. I’m not going to write a lot more about this here because much of the other post I am working on includes my thoughts and feelings while on this trip. For now, I’ll leave it at the joyous news that I made it to the top and back and received a round of applause from my Sangha on my return to the camp site. Once we got back, we had time for one session of sitting and chanting. Then, it was time to clean, pack and go home. We all agreed that we would love to stay for one more day but clinging to the experiences we’d had on the retreat would not be a good thing so we reluctantly got into our cars and headed home.

I got home and fell into bed and slept until it was time to go to dinner with my family. It was a great dinner and I loved being back at home with them. After putting the kids to bed, I started to work on a blog post but I was still exhausted and went to bed earlier than normal. I was surprised to find that I wanted to sit and meditate before going to bed but I knew I needed to give my body some rest. Instead of meditating, I just lay in bed and watched a bit of a movie and then fell to sleep. Now that it’s all said and done and I’m sitting here with a sore body and a clear(er) mind, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend separated from my family.

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Happy Birthday Sweetheart

There are three days in my life I would consider to be the happiest I’ve ever had. The first one was when I married my beautiful wife. That’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s a tie for second place between the birth of my kids. Ten years ago today was one of those days. I still remember the day vividly: the hours spent waiting at the hospital, the excitement building as we knew each minute got us closer to meeting our precious baby girl. Then, the real work began of labor and delivery. When the doctor put this newly born, wrinkled, pink and crying creature into my shaking hands I couldn’t believe the waves of joy and love that poured over me. I attempted to cut through the umbilical cord and was so weakened by emotion that I couldn’t quite do it. The doctor gently squeezed my hand so that I was able to complete the cut and she was completely free and on her own for the first time. I quickly handed her over to my wife who was crying from joy and the relief that comes after labor. Seeing the two of them together for the first time is a sight I will carry with me to my grave. For the first time in my life I was truly speechless. I just didn’t have words to describe how amazing and beautiful and wonderful she was. I was madly and deeply in love with this little girl and it hasn’t changed one bit in ten years.

The past ten years have had so many wonderful memories. Watching my little girl grow and learn to speak and walk and jump and run are moments I will never forget. Now, she’s ten years old and such an amazing person. Her ability to sing and play music on the piano after having heard it only once still amazes me. Her voracious appetite for the written word is wonderful. Her sense of humor is so similar to mine that it’s scary. She’s sweet and wonderful and amazing and I am so proud of her and I love her so much it hurts sometimes. Having a daughter brings out the best in me. How else would I have learned the names of all the My Little Pony dolls? Only a little girl can make a grown man crawl around on the floor playing with dolls and horses. As I have watched her grow and mature and become the person she is today, I too have grown and matured in ways I never thought possible. I don’t see how I could have done it without her influence. Sure, it’s my job as a parent to help her grow, but it’s my joy as a parent to grow along with her. In another ten years, she’ll be a grown woman and I will be looking back on this day with fond memories. We’re going to the American Girl store and even though I’m a big, hairy man I’m going to be excited to be there with her today. That’s the paradox of having a little girl: you find yourself feeling like a total and complete man while holding up pink dresses saying “Doesn’t this look CUTE?!” Happy birthday sweetheart. I love you in the way only a daddy can.

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The Beauty of Diversity

About a month ago, I signed up to be the leader of my son’s cub scout den. I was a scout when I was a kid and I have a lot of good memories of my time in the scouts. It was a lot of fun learning how to go camping and spend time in the outdoors with my friends. My son risked not getting to have that experience if I hadn’t volunteered to be a leader. I really didn’t want that to happen so, I added a new responsibility to my life. So far, it’s been a lot of fun for the kids and I’ve enjoyed it too. We had our second meeting tonight and all of the kids were able to learn what they needed to in order to get their first badge at our big meeting later this month. After they had proven themselves at being able to say and do everything they needed to get the badge, we went to a show at the kid’s school where they were showing off some awesome wild animals. It was a lot more fun for the boys than anything I would have been able to do with them so it worked out well for everyone.

As much fun as scouts was for me as a kid and as much fun as my son is having in it with his friends I do find myself torn in a few areas when it comes to scouting. First, the scouts stance on homosexuality is one that I find to be unacceptable. With the cub scouts it isn’t a big deal because they’re so young but as they get older, I’m not sure if I will want my son to continue with the program once he’s old enough to understand what the scout’s views on homosexuality is. Secondly, their insistence on accepting certain religious positions is also problematic for me as I really don’t agree with where they’re coming from. This isn’t a very big deal here in Maine but there are other places where it is a big deal and I know that I would not be allowed to be in a leadership position there. Once again, my son is still young enough that he’s not concerned with these issues and it’s all about being with his friends and having fun. I’m not about to prevent him from doing that. Plus, I figure if I’m the leader I’m going to have a strong influence on what he gets exposed to and how things are presented to him and the other boys when it is time to have to cover some of this information.

Even though some of these things are difficult for me on a personal level, I am happy to be a part of this organization. Even though there are a few things that I don’t agree with, the fact is they do some good work in the community and they do a good job at helping the kids to learn things that they may not get the opportunity to know otherwise. It’s a lot of fun for the boys and I enjoy spending time with these kids and working with them. I’m putting their needs and desires in front of my own concerns or issues. That’s the least I can do and it’s good for me to do it. I believe in diversity and that means that people of all backgrounds and lifestyles and beliefs should be treated with the respect due to a human being. When the time comes for my son to learn about the things that I may not like about scouting, he will also be able to learn a lot about what respecting others and their views means. I’m leading by example and I hope that this will be a much more valuable lesson for him than anything else I can teach him. It’s not good enough for me to just talk about diversity, this is me putting diversity into action. Sure the scouts at a national level are a homophobic and overtly religious group that preaches god and state above all else but here in America they can do that. Getting along with others is messy. It’s contentious and can often be full of strife and pain. No matter what we feel about it though, it’s all we’ve got to go on. We’re all in this together and we’re all a part of one big nation of diverse opinions, thoughts, feelings and priorities. Living together the way that we do is no small feat. If I can teach my kids that (both my own two and all of the scouts in the den) then this time will be worth it. A lot of people have said that diversity is necessary, but I’ve never heard anyone say it’s easy.

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As I’ve examined my log files on the blog, I’ve noticed that a number of people are trying to access the site by going to dharmaloss.com instead of dharmaloss.wordpress.com. So, I’ve decided to go ahead and update the blog address to dharmaloss.com. Both web addresses will work to access the blog so any bookmarks or RSS feeds set up will still work.

In other news, I did finally open up to my family about the full extent of the changes that I have made over the past few months and I’ll admit that it went about as I expected it would. It was a painful process but one that I needed to go through. My parents are upset but I know that they still love me and I still love them. It’s difficult to say to someone that you have decided to abandon something they hold to be so special and important. I’m sure things will be a bit “interesting” for a while but I know that I, and hopefully my family, will get through it.

Overall this experience has been one where I have learned just how hard it can be to separate ourselves from our attachments and desires. I am definitely attached to the relationship I have with my parents and my desire is that it be as positive and beneficial as possible. However, opening up to them the way that I have definitely disturbed the status of the relationship and shook things up. The fear of changing the relationship that I was attached to caused me a lot of inner turmoil. It wasn’t until I analyzed things and realized that trying to keep things a secret and deceiving them about what I was doing would cause an even bigger problem that I made the decision to open up. Our attachments and desire for permanence are so often at the root of our sufferings that we don’t even feel their pull. It’s like the air that we move through and breathe every moment of our lives. It’s like gravity and air pressure and sound: we just don’t know that they’re there until they’re removed or something changes them drastically. I was certainly aware of them yesterday after I hit the send button in my email. Every time the phone rang or an email being received caused my phone to beep at me, my heart jumped up into my throat. In the end, I got a reply from my mom stating that she needed time to think things over and that she loved me. That was the best possible outcome that I could have hoped for and I was glad that her response came that way. It helped calm me down a bit but I was still on edge because I knew that a thousand miles away things were anything but calm. Last night I meditated for about 30 minutes in order to get my mind back to a place of calm and I was able to achieve some measure of success. I spent more time sitting this morning but it didn’t go as well because children and cats both thought that since I was no longer lying prone in bed that it was OK to climb all over me. So, I’m here in my box of cloth covered walls surrounded by computers and big ass monitors and papers and the detritus of geekdome and my mind is mostly focused. Every so often, I stop what I’m doing, focus on my breathing and add one or two sentences to this blog entry. It keeps me going and allows me to keep things in the present moment rather than speculate about the future or grieve about the past. Right now, that’s the most I can hope for.

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OK, it’s done. As I have talked about before I have made the decision to be as open about myself as possible and to tell all of my family and friends about how Buddhism has influenced me and allowed me to make this journey that I’m on. Today I spent a significant amount of time writing a letter to my mom. In it, I tell her about where I have been coming from and where I am now and how and why I got there. I haven’t sent it to her yet but I will be sending it soon. For now, I’m waiting for my emotions to calm back down before I send it to her.

I try to post at least once a day here on my blog and I can knock out a post of hundreds of words in just a few minutes but I spent hours on this letter and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. It came in at nearly 3000 words and was five pages long. As I said to my wife earlier today, I wish I could keep the entire world at an intellectual distance so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the emotional messiness of life. Wouldn’t it be easier that way? The logical and Spock-like part of my brain tells me yes but the emotional Kirk-like side of my brain tells me that I’d be missing out on way too much to make it worth it.

Strong emotions can be very confusing for me. I never really feel like I know what to do with them. It’s like wearing a suit of clothes that just doesn’t fit. They just feel weird and a little uncomfortable. Right now I feel my insides twisting up like they want to become a part of my outsides. It’s not fear or despair or anything, it’s more of the emotional equivalent of how my body feels when I’ve spent a long time at the gym: worn out, breathing hard with a pounding heart. The funny thing is I think I’d know how to handle things if I was just scared to tell my mother what I need to tell her. I could handle scared. Right now, I’d welcome scared. I don’t know what name goes along with what I’m feeling right now. What genus and species of emotion is it that I’m experiencing right now? If only I could classify it I think I’d be better off.

So I find myself asking the age old Zen question, “what is this?” Usually I can answer that question but right now I really can’t. For now I think I’ll just go into the kitchen and clean and straighten things up so that I can start trying to come up with some new recipes tomorrow. Then I’ll probably sit in meditation for a while. After I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I think I’ll read through the letter once again (for the 50th time) and make sure that it still sounds good. If it does, I’ll be sending it off and being thankful that I’m 1000 miles away. There are about five other things I’d like to be writing about at this moment but I couldn’t do it. Instead, I offer up this rambling and emotionally messy post without a resolution. Life’s like that sometimes and I’ll keep trying to learn to deal with it.

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When is Pride OK?

Today I am full of pride. In fact I can feel it welling up inside me like it wants to burst. I’m so proud that it’s almost palpable. I’m totally 100% happy to feel that pride. Why? Because it’s not directed at myself: it’s for my daughter.

My daughter has my love of reading and language. She reads every day and has been reading far above her level for as long as she has been able to read. Today, in a meeting my wife had with my daughter’s school, they informed her that they were going to refer my daughter to a gifted program for language arts and reading. Additionally, they told my wife that she is doing very well this year and is adjusting well. This is a big deal for her as she is extremely introverted to the point of being referred to a specialist to see if she may have Asperger’s. We’re still waiting for that trip to the specialist as it’s incredibly hard to get in to see him. To hear that she is doing well and is working well in social situations (as well as we could hope for) is a great thing. As a parent you want what’s best for your child and I know that a program that helps addresses her abilities in language arts and reading will be fantastic. When I was her age, I spent most of my time wrapped up in books. I learned about the world around me by reading and not by experience. My daughter is the same way. She reads books and she loves music. It’s like watching my childhood unwrap in front of me all over again. I love to listen to her sing and to watch her pick out tunes on the piano after having only heard a song once or twice. She has a beautiful voice and an incredible amount of potential if she chooses to pursue music seriously.

I love her so much and I am so proud of her accomplishments and her growth and development. I know that she will have challenges to overcome. I had to overcome a lot of similar challenges when I was her age. I know she can do it and I’m so happy to know that she will excel in whatever she chooses to do. For now, I’ll continue to gush with pride and admiration for the only other woman in my life that I love as much as my wife. I’ll continue to cheer and guide her and continue to discover just how deep a father’s love and pride can really be.

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