Meditation Challenge – Week One

The Meditation Challenge is off to a great start. I have meditated every night except one (my family and I got home late from celebrating a family member’s birthday) and it has really helped me wrap up my days with peaceful reflection, and at times, helpful revelations.

To begin, I honestly didn’t know much about meditation or any specific techniques, so I have largely just been sitting cross-legged on the floor in the dark after the kids have gone to bed and the house is (finally) quiet and calm. The first two nights, this immensely helped me sort through the events of the day and my actions, reactions, and feelings about them. On the fourth day, I was feeling out of sorts — not stressed, but not exactly calm either. I didn’t even know where to begin to sort through my thoughts, and decided to try a “Guided Meditation” video on YouTube. I’ve done these sorts of relaxation exercises before, and they have really aided me in times of great anxiety. So a simple 20 minute video helped direct my thoughts and actions so that I could go to bed feeling much more relaxed and at peace than I felt prior.

Last night I decided to try Zazen Meditation (which literally means “seated meditation”) for the first time. I found helpful tips to begin on Zen Mountain Monastery‘s website. Basically, you choose from a variety of ways to sit (preferably on the floor), you place your hands in a specific position called “cosmic mudra”, close your eyes and count your breath — inhale, one; exhale, two; inhale, three and so on — up to ten. Once you reach ten you start back at one and continue on. Zen Mountain Monastery says:

“The counting is a feedback to help you know when your mind has drifted off. Each time you return to the breath you are empowering yourself with the ability to put your mind where you want it, when you want it there, for as long as you want it there. That simple fact is extremely important. We call this power of concentration joriki, or spiritual power.”

I found the simplicity of it to be very alluring, and it was indeed a very nice experience. I loved that instead of trying to work through my thoughts, I was instructed to literally let my thoughts go. I counted my breaths up to ten, started back at one and then back up to ten….over and over again. I did that for 10 minutes, and by the end I felt more relaxed and clear-minded. I think I would like to continue with this particular method for the next week. It intrigues me that a practice which seems so simple could reap so many deep-reaching benefits for those who do it on a regular basis. I would really like to see if I could experience these benefits myself.

One thing I think will be particularly interesting is the thought of my exploring spirituality. I am not, nor have I ever truly been, a spiritual person. There are moments in life, usually when I am doing my yoga practice or successfully engaging myself in “present awareness” when I feel deeply connected to life and fulfilled by it…and perhaps other, more enlightened, individuals would say that is part of spirituality. I don’t really know. I just know that I am so un-spiritual in a mental sense that I feel uncomfortable when people talk about their spirituality with great fervor, whether it be Christians, Buddhists, or new-age spiritualists. It will be interesting to see if I could possibly reach such an “enlightened” state of being — or if I would even allow myself to. I am not interested in joining a particular movement or denomination, and frankly don’t believe in a creator of any sort, but I am interested in going through life with a heightened awareness of myself and being to engage with those around me in a more meaningful way.

I do feel like the meditation has, thus far, helped me go about my days in a more calm way. I feel like my interactions with the kids have been better, and some specific revelations regarding my relationships with them has aided in that. In saying this, I want to make it clear that my relationships with my children have not been terrible up to this point, quite the contrary — I am simply trying to change how I react to the stressful situations that arise daily with homeschooling a young boy on the Autism Spectrum alongside a clingy toddler that seems like she will never be ready to give up breastfeeding. Being home with them is amazing, but it’s stressful too, so I am trying to place myself in a better state of mind to handle the stress in a way that will preserve my good relationships with my children and maintain my well-being inside and out.

There is so much to learn on this journey of awareness and peace, but I will slowly but surely work my way through and hopefully find what works for me.

If you are joining me on this journey, what have you been trying? What have been your experiences, and do you feel like you seeing benefits from it? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Challenging Parenthood breeds Meditation Challenge

I think I need some help with centering and balancing my life and my emotions. Do any of you ever feel like that?

I stay at home with my children, all day everyday, and although it is an awesome job…it can be very taxing and stressful and irritating. Whenever I read blogs or articles from other moms that seem to have figured it all out and write these posts about loving the time with their children, I feel frustrated because I so often feel so far from where I should be as a mother. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 7 1/2 years now, shouldn’t I have mastered this gig?

I can just hear experienced mothers laughing hysterically at that last sentence.

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I seriously thought I would have figured things out by now…I sincerely, and quite naively, thought I would have a handle on J.J.’s Autism and have him on the fast track to a “successful” life. Oh, how arrogant the human mind can be. I have a hard enough time caring for my own mind, body, heart…how on Earth can I expect to help another master their own human condition?

Therein lies the great challenge of motherhood.

We mothers (and fathers)… We imperfect beings are responsible for our children’s entire lives and well-being. What an awe-inspiring and equally intimidating challenge that is.

This brings me to the “Meditation Challenge”. I think, and hope, I could greatly benefit from meditation. I have been doing yoga for more than 10 years now, but have not yet given meditation a place in my life. I have thought about it so many times in my life, during good and bad times, but when I sit down to try it out…I find myself feeling so anxious I cannot sit for more than a few minutes and I wind up feeling worse from the sense of failure from not being about to “accomplish” a blissful state.

Now, I’m fully aware that looking at meditation as something to accomplish is not at all the way to go about it. So, perhaps, my first step would be to change my perceptions about meditation, about relaxation, about slowing down… Because I certainly have a difficult time with all of the above. When there is so much to be done every single day, every single moment… I have great difficulty calming my mind and just being in the moment.

So, starting today I will begin attempting to meditate every day for the rest of November. I will try to do some research on perspectives and techniques and see what works for me and I will try to share my findings at least once a week.

Do any of you have any experience with meditation? What works for you? How do you feel when you do it? I would love to hear any tips, tricks, challenges, and stories you would like to share. If you do not have any experience with meditation, maybe you can join me in this challenge and share your thoughts!

“Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom From the Urban Wilderness” Book Review

Nathan and I have been fans of the blog The Tangled Nest for quite some time now. I would say more so me than him, since I am a woman as is the creator of the blog, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, so there is much more for me to relate to than he. Even so, there is a lot of great information and perspectives on various subjects of interest to many “urban homesteaders”, man or woman.

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Lyanda is also the author of four books — one of which I was fortunate enough to receive as a gift this past Christmas. I was unbelievably excited to hold “Crow Planet“ in my hands after having my eye on it for so long, and I got to reading it right away. Even with having to care for house and family full-time, I finished the book within two weeks. I simply couldn’t put it down and more than once considered not cooking dinner just so I could read more! It’s been quite some time since I’ve made the time to read, let alone engage myself in something that captivates my attention so greatly.

Specifically, the writing itself really captured me. It flowed so nicely — it was whimsical, technical, lyrical, philosophical, and truthful…all at once. Also, the content was diverse and interesting — she had information on birds (namely crows) and she intertwined her personal stories in a way that was very honest and graceful. As a woman, mother, lover of the natural world, and concerned world citizen — I found myself relating so much to her narrative and life philosophies even though if you were to examine her life and mine — they are dramatically different. With that said, I also think males with similar values would reap equal enjoyment from reading this charming book.

The book is greatly about crows in several contexts, but I also venture to say that it is about life and moving along more aware in it. She touches base on current global crises and how the future may seem bleak. Nathan and I try to remain hopeful in our actions while still knowing we cannot possibly change the world or the people who seem to not care (or simply are not aware) what consumerism and the degradation of nature does to the planet and our children’s futures. It’s difficult sometimes to be a knowledgeable citizen of the wide world with all of its problems and yet still remain hopeful. However, it is important to walk that line and be a part of both sides — knowledge and hope. Lyanda puts it well:

“It is easy to become cynical about the fact that we as a species appear to have waited until the last possible moment — the moment in which we must radically change our way of living in order to forestall an unprecedented human-created ecological collapse — and even that, for many, seems not quite enough incentive. It is easy to become cynical, but it is not helpful.”

We all need to be more aware of our actions and how things such as throwing items away instead of recycling or composting because it is easier, or readily putting chemicals in our gardens and lawns so that we can defy the natural world and make it look as if Martha Stewart presides over it, or buying disposable diapers for our children instead of using cloth…all these things have very real and concrete consequences for the world and all of its inhabitants — even if we can’t see the “direct” effects, apart from the global climate crisis and continued habitat destructions for countless species around the world… We need to open our eyes and begin to realize our deep connection to the natural world.

Lyanda says it much more positively and exquisitely than I ever could:

“How exactly, are we connected to the earth, the more-than-human world, in our lives and in our actions? And in light of this connection, how are we to carry our lives on a changing earth? These are questions we are called to answer in this kairos, this graced moment of opportune crisis. I have come to believe that opening ourselves to such inquiry and participating daily in the process of discovery it implies is our most urgent work as humans in the new millennium  And not because engaging these questions will make us happier, or smarter, or make more of our moments feel enchanted, though it will certainly do all of these things. It is urgent because an intimate awareness of the continuity between our lives and the rest of life is the only thing that will truly conserve the earth — this wonderful earth that we rightly love.”

We also should all, at some point, ask ourselves what our definition of nature is. Lyanda prompts this thought exercise:

“When people — usually scientists or academics or nature writers — bother to define nature, one of two definitions typically emerges. Nature is either the whole physical world, excepting humans and their various constructs, or nature is the whole of the physical world, including humans and their various constructs.”

Before reading this beautifully written book, I was admittedly in the former category — finding humans and their constructs (largely so far removed from any one material’s natural state) to be separate from nature. But now I find myself rethinking my previous stance and asking: Why wouldn’t our homes be considered just another species’ habitat? If they are not nature, at what point past our doorsteps does nature begin? Where is the defining line? Is there a defining line? There is so much to be considered when trying to tackle these questions, and I certainly don’t feel equipped with any real answers. That should be left for each to decide for themselves.

All these philosophies are all fine and well…but what about crows. The title of the book is ”Crow Planet”. Lyanda visits the subject of crows in several ways, including personal stories of her experiences observing crows as well as information about crow life around the globe and through history. She speaks of the fear and unsettling feelings crows often stir up in even the most rational of individuals — yet she also sheds light on how intelligent, playful, and caring crows can be (for one another). She describes how an acquaintance of hers witnessed a sort of “crow funeral” as a group of crows quietly gathered around a dead crow on the ground. If only there were a real-life Dr. Doolittle to dive into the minds of these abundant, common, yet extraordinary creatures! I can only imagine what magnificent things we could learn.

To finish, the book has a Reading Group Guide in the back, as well as Lyanda’s essential reading list which I found to be helpful. She also cites several great naturalists, scientists, and writers throughout her book including Rachel Carson, E.O. Wilson, and Aldo Leopold. All in all…it was a fantastic book that I am sure to read again…probably in the near future.

There is much more to the book than I could possibly touch base on here, but I wanted to highlight some of the things I found most intriguing and thought-provoking. I sincerely hope you all order yourselves a copy and relax with this great read.