Thursday, January 17, 2019

Stories of love

After returning from my parents' house following the Christmas holiday, we soon suspected that we had left one of our daughter's favorite bedtime stories, 'The Poky Little Puppy's Wonderful Winter Day' behind. Fortunately she wasn't too upset about it (something else to be grateful for!), but I still gave my mom a call to see what happened to it. A woman on a mission, she soon found it, and before I knew it, an envelope arrived in our mailbox. It contained not only the book in question, but a kind note from 'Oma' and some fun stickers.

Although this alone was a wonderful and kind surprise, there's more to it. This book is special to me not only because my daughter loves it, but because it was also one of my favorite books. I loved how the Poky Little Puppy had so much fun in the snow, how his snow angel looked like 'a fat little sausage', and how he was too tired to finish his strawberry shortcake after all his adventures. I still love these things, and it seems my daughter does too. But most of all I love how my mother's voice rings in my ears as I read the last line of the story, "Mother tucked them all in . . . one, two, three, four, five little puppies, all happily dreaming of their wonderful winter day." 

The same is true for the oh-so-many stories my mother read to me at countless bedtimes, over and over again. Of all of the moments of my childhood, I count those as some of the most precious, as they all meld together as one beautiful expression of kindness and love. Now time has passed and I am the one reading 'The Poky Little Puppy' (and many others) to my own daughter, and so it is for these memories I am so very grateful.  

Caption: Don't worry Mama, it didn't get lost in the mail!😊

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am currently developing. Curious? You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!    

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Our 'first' date

While at my parents' house for the Christmas holiday, my husband and I did something totally outrageous . . . we had our first date since BEFORE our daughter was born over two years ago! I know, way overdue, but ours is the same story as so many other couples with small children; there aren't many people around us who we feel comfortable asking to watch our daughter, so the opportunity for a 'date night' is pretty slim. 

Although our toddler usually sleeps through the night, she goes to bed a bit later than other children her age, making an actual date 'night' more difficult. So, I decided to get a little creative. I asked myself, why does it have to be a date 'night'? Why couldn't we go do something during the day, like lunch and a nice walk together? So I asked my mom and my sister if they wouldn't mind humoring us and watching our little Lotus Blossom while we went for lunch at a favorite local restaurant. To my utmost relief, they said yes, and assured me that everything would go without a hitch. 

With our daughter in the care of our own family experts, my husband and I had a wonderful, peaceful lunch, complete with Prosecco and a delicious crème brûlée. What's more, we were served by our favorite waitress in the world, who happens to be my niece 😀. Between our non-kid related conversations (my husband knew instinctively!), we were able to enjoy chatting and joking with her throughout the meal. Needless to say, the service was impeccable, and we had a nice, leisurely meal that I know I will remember for a long time.    

I did not ask my husband directly whether he had been looking forward to our date, but I know that I certainly was. When I say that our daughter is usually very sweet, fun, and well-behaved, I mean it. But even parents who are generally proud of their child's behavior need not only a break, but a chance to reconnect as couple. So, it is for this experience and everyone who made it possible, I am truly grateful.  

Image: Romance in the air! :)

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop. Curious? You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!    

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What 'sucks' right now

After a full year of 'counting my blessings' and slowly working towards developing a viable gratitude practice, I pause. When it comes to how I approach obstacles and daily life in general, I compare the attitude I have now to over a year ago and am truly amazed. Despite being so tired, frustrated, discouraged, and completely unsure of what to do about it, that initial intuition to turn towards gratitude in the face of adversity has changed my life.    

But I think it is also important to discuss how it hasn't. As I have mentioned before, practicing gratitude cannot directly obliterate one's problems, and it sure as hell doesn't make the feelings about those problems go away. To illustrate that my life is in fact not perfect, I thought I would go out on a limb and quickly list what is not so great right now. 

Here are some things I struggle with on a daily basis:
My body image. I long to feel comfortable in my own skin (or even my own clothes!), and more like the woman I used to be.
After losing almost all the 'baby weight' I fell off the wagon and gained back more than ten pounds. Getting back to my former shape has been so incredibly hard, and I am so angry at myself for relapsing.
Wishing we could live in a spacious house with a yard, instead of a small apartment in (what I call) 'suburban hell'.
Feeling overwhelmed by clearing, organizing, or otherwise trying to manage clutter.
After almost a year and a half of applications and interviews, I am still unemployed.
Fearing that I will never teach again.
The fact that my dissertation work remains unpublished hangs over my head as a personal failure.
After having a child, saving money has basically come to a standstill.
After caring for a toddler all day, I have very little patience left, either for my husband or myself.
I don't see most of my friends anymore, and feel very isolated.
When I actually do spend time with others, I feel as though no one cares about how I am doing or what I have to say.
I hate that there is so much traffic where we live.
I wish I had more time to myself, and more time with my husband for us to reconnect as a couple.
I wish I could get more sleep (or, more correctly, that my daughter would sleep better!).

So there it is, 'what sucks right now', for better or for worse. But the point is not for me to wallow in it, or for you to feel sorry for me. In fact, I would actually really hate it if you did that, because I know that you have your own problems to deal with! 

When I read through the list of problems, I notice that most of them have not changed much. So it makes sense to ask, if the problems are still there, then what is the point of practicing gratitude? Well, first of all, using gratitude as a 'magic eraser' was never my motivation to begin with. When first embracing gratitude, I knew that I needed another way to view my own life, because the lens of resentment and pessimism certainly wasn't working. I also realized that I was letting my negative feelings and emotions obscure some of the best things in life, and wanted to change that. 

Fast forward to now, gratitude has clearly brought about that change in my life, even if it is a slow, day by day process. Whenever I take a moment to acknowledge all that is good in this life, the importance of any problem automatically fades. I also realize that they do not define me. Practicing gratitude has helped me take a big step back from my personal problems and view them more logically, even critically, and with less drama. This in turn has led to obstacles seeming much less formidable (note, I didn't say 'easier') to confront, and ultimately overcome. Most importantly though, gratitude has allowed me to let go and just celebrate the wonderful things, experiences, and people in my life, which was one of my major motivations to begin this journey.  

So, in closing, I just want to emphasize that it's okay to have problems, frustrations, and negative emotions. It is simply part of being human. But giving them free reign to take over your life, to slowly rob you of your happiness does not have to be. Practicing gratitude can help us shift our focus away from ruminating about everything we dislike or cannot control, and towards truly illuminating and rejoicing in all that we love. This has been my experience, and what I would also hope for anyone practicing or just embarking upon inviting gratitude in their own life. 

Image: Illuminating gratitude. 


This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!    

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Just scratching the surface

As I arrive at the one-year anniversary of when I started this gratitude practice, I am aware that it is still clearly in its early stages. Despite my efforts, I have yet to develop a consistent gratitude ritual/meditation that serves as a reminder when I am not writing here at BCB. Over the past year, I have not carried out some of the 'acts of gratitude' for people who have stood out in their love and support for me and everything I hold dear in life. Finally, there are still so many people whom I wish to thank, but I have not yet written the posts acknowledging their kindnesses.

But nevertheless, things have progressed. A year ago my mind and attitude were in such a stark place; sinking ever downwards. I knew that I was not where I wanted to be, but hadn't quite devised a plan that could successfully ease my own suffering; let alone confer benefits beyond myself.

Enter gratitude. At the time I thought that with all the mental baggage I was sorting through, finding things to be grateful for and expressing that gratitude in a genuine way would be so difficult. Only it wasn't. Instead, I soon felt gratitude flow into my heart as I was going about my daily tasks and interactions with the people I love. The time was right and I was ready for all gratitude had to offer.

Although gratitude does not automatically erase all mistakes and bad feelings, it quickly became a refuge that shielded me from the fallout caused by negative emotions and events. Rather than being a place of denial and aversion, gratitude steered me towards a place of truth where I acknowledged the ups and downs of reality, but also rejoiced in what was good.

So here I am, a little over a year later, and, in terms of expressing gratitude, I have but only scratched the surface. But when I really step back to think about it, did I ever really believe that I would be 'done' with this practice, that I could actually say 'that's enough'? I don't think so.

But I do think that now it is clear that I must continue onwards, expanding and deepening this sacred practice that I am so grateful for, in and of itself.

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy! 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Loving the LUSH

Okay, so that title may be a little clickbait-y, but I couldn't resist! One thing I have been wanting to write about for a while now is my journey into reducing the packaging used and garbage generated by me as a consumer. And yes, I certainly do have a lot to learn about living waste/package free, so this post is certainly not to sing my own praises. I know that there is a lot of room for improvement, but still, it can't hurt to embrace the 'beginner mind'. 😊

One of the things that has both bothered and intrigued me is the business of recycling. Certainly a complex process, I recently learned that huge lots of waste destined for recycling often sits a long time before someone purchases and actually recycles it. Also, sadly, many of the things we place in the recycling bin never even make it to those vast lots, rather, they just end up in the landfill with everything else. But despite the challenges, there is room for hope; and some alternate strategies. One of these is simply to consume less, or, for necessary items, opt for products that include little to no packaging. 

Enter LUSH, a company that specializes not only in fair trade, cruelty-free skincare and toiletries, but also package free/recyclable products. After reading and hearing about this company for some time, I decided to check them out at my local mall. 

In short, it was a great experience. Specifically, I really appreciated the:

  • Personal attention I received from the sales associate. 
  • Fact that my questions were answered with minimal BS. 
  • Many choices of quality products (which I did not expect)
  • Opportunities to contribute to charities through purchases. 

After I said I wanted to try the solid (package-free) shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant, the sales associate (who was absolutely lovely, btw) cut off a reasonably-sized piece from a bar of each. When I asked if the price for the sample was by weight, she kindly told me that they were all mine, free of charge! I am certain that anyone who has dealt with this company before already knows this, but I did not. I just wanted to say how impressed I was with their generosity- and confidence that people will benefit from and therefore buy their products in the future!

Although I do not usually include commercial products in my gratitude posts, I really would like to express my gratitude for LUSH's efforts to make a positive impact on our world. Oh, and as I am sure you want to know- I really love everything I have tried so far! Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, either through product discounts or monetary rewards. I really do love this stuff- and will definitely purchase more!  

LUSH: Packaging (if used/needed) can be beautiful AND completely recyclable.

LUSH: My first three choices, in sample form.
This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy! 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

An opportunity

Right before Thanksgiving, I was called for an onsite job interview for a faculty teaching position. Although extremely excited about the opportunity, I must admit to feeling some anxiety. In addition to the typical job interview jitters, I was going to be away from my daughter for more than 12 hours for the first time since she was born. I was a little nervous for my husband, who would be taking off work to care for her the whole time I was gone. I was also scheduled to give two formal talks in two days, and had a packed schedule that included meetings with college faculty and administrators just about every half hour.

Was it stressful? Most definitely. But, once I arrived and it was clear that my daughter and husband were a-okay, it was a really good type of stress. I was in my element, and had the tremendous opportunity to speak with some really great educators from a variety of academic fields.

The students seemed engaged by my teaching talk, and I later had a great conversation with a few of them as I hustled from one meeting to another. Although the onset of the frigid winter season was upon us, I also enjoyed the historic campus tour, accentuated with statues of great Americans like George Washington and Frederick Douglass.

Overall, I do think the interview went well, and I felt especially comfortable and 'at home' with other educators at the college; also the local people I met during my stay. However, the position I applied for is competitive, and so I am fully aware that despite being a top candidate, I may not have been the top candidate. But whether we are faced with disappointment or success, my wise mother always said that things way of working out for the best. I will do my best to follow her intuition and advice. 😊

So, here's to a rare, unique, and amazing learning opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life, and of course, am very grateful for.  
Caption: View of one of the campus buildings where I interviewed. 

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The end of the milky way

A while ago my daughter and I reached the conclusion of our breastfeeding journey. Although I am content with the reality that this represents the natural progression of her growth and development, letting go was certainly bittersweet. Looking back, I am happy to now have a little more freedom in my daily routine, yet miss the quiet moments of closeness as I put her to bed each night.  

Of course, I will be the first to admit that this journey did not start out all unicorns and rainbows. As someone who has earned a Ph.D. and also tackled some other major challenges, I would have never imagined that learning to successfully breastfeed a newborn was one of the most difficult things I had ever done. Even with no issues with tongue ties, illness, or milk supply, the beginning was excruciating, simply because my body was in so. much. pain.  

After bringing our daughter home, I sat in the glider chair with her cradled in my arms, crying tears of physical and emotional exhaustion. With the knowledge that my poor husband had in the middle of the night ventured out to the only 24 hour pharmacy for emergency infant formula, the fear and shame of failure hung heavy around me. 

In that moment, little Lotus Blossom started at my sobs, looking intently for the source of the sound. Our eyes met. She looked at me so deeply that I could not believe she was just barely three days old. It was then I knew we could do this. With renewed determination, I found a way to temporarily work through the pain and make us both as comfortable as possible. Most importantly, I also silently resolved to get help. Given the state in which he had left us, my husband came home and was surprised- and probably very relieved- to see things had improved a little.

From that time forward, there were still many, many difficult moments and days. At eight weeks I was ready to quit, especially with the knowledge that breastfeeding was recommended for baby's first year- it just seemed so impossibly far away. But it did get better, and with time, patience, and help from a great lactation consultant, breastfeeding became easier, and yes, even peaceful and fulfilling.

After we put our very sleepy and well-fed little Lotus Blossom to bed without her bedtime milk feeding, my husband and I were nervous. Ready for any sounds of protest coming from upstairs, we sat at the kitchen table together. I told him how grateful I was for his constant support and confidence. I was also so very grateful not only that I persisted, but also for our daughter's resilience and ability to adjust. It was my job to observe her to see what she needed and gently guide her there, but only she could take the next step, and she did so with flying colors.

We are now on the other side of that 'milky way' and, although it was difficult at times, I know that this journey has changed me for the better. I also know that the way we did things was not the only way there is, but I am grateful for our personal journey and the support we received along the way.

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. Curious? You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!