Sunday at Sunset – Sweet New Year!

As the day draws to a close this Sunday, the Jewish community will ring in the New Year 5773, the age of our world by some ancient calculations. What I love about Rosh Hashanah is this celebration of all life, not Jewish life alone, but of the world’s birthday — the birth of our humanness, of spiritual life.

We celebrate the birth of the source of humanity, of our shared origin and destiny as human beings.

Since childhood the end of summer heralds the beginning of a new school year… the September sense of a new beginning is in our bones. For Jewish people, a blast of the ritual horn, the shofar, sounds a wake-up call each fall, calling “Hey, everyone, wake up! It’s time! Time to remember, to reconnect, repair, renew our relationships.”

For this is a teaching for all of us on these Jewish High Holidays, ten holy days: no matter how badly we may have blown it during the past year, with mindfulness and compassion, we get to have a second chance. We can move beyond our past regrets, and sweeten our collective future, with fresh apples and golden honey, with acts of caring and goodness, healthy living, and with generosity — the heart of happy relationship.

So this is a great time to offer loving awareness to all our relationships. A time to bring attention to ourselves, our communities, to our spiritual lives and traditions, to each other, to all the relationships that sustain us and our world. These ten days are a powerful opportunity to be attentive, to be as mindful and loving as possible. This is one of the great gifts of sitting, of meditation. We take time to get in touch with who we are in ways we simply can’t when we’re running around losing touch with ourselves! Jewish or not, we can connect with the collective sweetness of these sacred days. We can shift from having to do, do, do our long lists of doings and allow ourselves to BE still and appreciate what we have, what we love, and what we are — to simply BE — with ourselves, each other, and our world.

~ Trudy

My 18-Year Retreat: Grand Slam

Cars were big in the 70s. They had heavy doors and periodically one of us kids would get our hand slammed in one, which was a fairly serious injury. If we were lucky and there were no broken bones, there was nonetheless a lot of swelling and bruising, and it would often take several days to heal. That first day would be spent nursing an ice pack and collecting sympathy and special treatment.

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My 18-Year Retreat: In the “No!”

Luca and I are visiting my family in northern California this week. I can hear him playing in the garden with my parents as I write. He turned two recently and he is becoming increasingly expressive about his likes and dislikes. The birth of preference and aversion is coming on strong. And he is expressing his aversion with very bold "No!"s! It makes me think about the progression of “no” in our relationship.

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My 18-Year Retreat: Awake

"My 18-Year Retreat" is a series of posts by sangha member, and teacher trainee, Paloma Cain, on the topic of "Mindful Parenting."  This is the third post in the series.  Read all the posts in the series here.

Why am I awake?

I am not being metaphorical. I am not speaking of awake as in alive, and certainly not in terms of enlightened. I have insomnia. It is 4am. Husband and child are sound asleep. The house is quiet. The pre-dawn hush is upon the world, this narrow slice when even most night owls have gone to bed, and the early risers are not quite up yet. Yet I can't sleep. This little slice sometimes feels like the private domain reserved for insomniacs.

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My 18-Year Retreat: Blogging While the Baby Sleeps

"My 18-Year Retreat" is a series of posts by sangha member, and teacher trainee, Paloma Cain, on the topic of "Mindful Parenting."  This is the second post in the series.  Read all the posts in the series here.

A deep breath. A sigh. Bringing myself back to the writing. Luca is playing downstairs with a friend of mine and I can hear his robust laughter and his strong voice. He loves this friend who is always ready to read books with him. Whenever she walks in the door, he runs excitedly forward shouting, "Books! Books!" Then he clumsily gathers a stack and invites her, in his own ways, to sit down with him. And they begin the game of naming everything they see. Luca usually shouts everything twice, "Bear! BE-AR!", and, "Firetruck! FIRE-TRUCK!"

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My 18-Year Retreat: Blogging While the Baby Sleeps

"My 18-Year Retreat" is a series of posts by sangha member, and teacher trainee, Paloma Cain, on the topic of "Mindful Parenting."  This is the first post in the series.

I've been awake since 4am when Luca woke up restless with teething pain and shouting, "Mama!" He would settle down and sleep when I lay next to him, rocking him, so that's what I did for the next 3.5 hours. Until he opened his eyes, patted my face, and beamed a playful smile at me, letting me know that it was time to get up and start the day.

Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn, in their book, Everyday Blessings, liken parenting to an 18-year, or longer, retreat and that idea intrigues me. I'm interested in the experience that bridges so that my parenting is not "other" from my practice life. I've been asked to write about mindful parenting here, and hopefully it will be a place where we can explore this a bit together.

Appropriately enough, it was my mother who introduced me to meditation. She started practicing when I was three years old, so the sight of meditating adults was familiar to me, and annoying. For us kids, meditation sessions were tedious exercises in trying to behave while feeling ignored.

Now Luca is napping and I would be too — really, I have actually learned to do that — but there is someone here working on the house and he needs intermittent input, so I am blogging while the baby sleeps instead. In my previous (pre-parenting) life, if I had been up since 4am, it would have been because I was on retreat meditating, greeting the day in deep silence or surrounded by clouds of incense and chanting. Today, I was just tired and wishing that I had gone to bed before midnight so that I would have gotten a little more sleep.

My relationship to practice shifted when I was 19 and mom took my brother and me on a trip to India. For the first time, I met meditators my own age who were following an inner urging to seek something that their upbringing had been lacking. A notion of my own good fortune at having grown up with meditators began to dawn. Tibetan monks spent all day in puja in the dim temple, emerging radiant and joking at mealtimes. Western monks spoke with us in the courtyard about watching thoughts cross our minds like clouds across a pure blue sky, leaving no trace.

Much like the moods of a toddler, I reflect now. Luca can be adoring and angry in the same breath as he tries to figure EVERYTHING out and looks to me to explain this world to him. And right now he is looking for simple answers. He wants to know how basic things work, like pouring water from a cup. We worked on it all morning.

Now Luca shouts in his sleep and I pause, listening, wondering whether it's a full wake-up. He is cutting some molars right now and has frequent bouts of restless peevishness. Silence. I draw a deep breath. So far, the hardest part about parenting has been not being able to take away his pain. The traditional teachings of meditation say much about suffering and how to work with it, but I find it more challenging in this context. How do we apply what we have learned in our practice to parenting? How does the solo adventure of sitting on a cushion translate into the ceaseless activity of parenting?

My interest in meditation continued to grow as I attended UCSB  where I studied with renowned scholar and former monk, Alan Wallace. Then, after college, when I found myself ungrounded during a breakup, my mother invited me to join her on retreat and, for the first time, I accepted.

The retreat had a profound effect. It showed me the relevance of practice to my journey. Meditation became a refuge from the stormy and unmanageable waters of my emotional life. The teachings on the inevitability of suffering that I had formerly found so depressing became inspiring as I applied them to my own circumstances. The cherished relationship, the feelings I clung to… the impermanence of these things was unavoidable.

I look at Luca now with admiration as his emotions flow through and leave without a trace. My little teacher. He holds nothing at this stage. My heart aches and I want to tell him to hold this purity. But, alas, impermanence. He holds nothing, not this state of being, not anything.
My work is to rest with him through it all, not abandoning him in his anger or praising his sweetness, but letting it all in. I can hear him talking now, softly naming the animals in bed with him, almost whispering as he wakes up gentle and rested. I have been playing with the idea of his voice as my meditation bell, my call to practice. I get up now, remembering that this is my 18-year – or longer – retreat.

Next:  My journey continues and I find my way to Insight L.A.

Paloma Paloma Cain was raised in an American Buddhist family in Northern California. She claims that she didn't like meditation until circumstances drove her to it, but now she can't imagine living without it. An artist at heart, she holds degrees in art and psychology and has interned as a hospital chaplain. She is a former director of Tara Mandala Retreat Center in Colorado, and is currently in Insight L.A.'s teacher training program. She and her husband live in Los Angeles with their young son, Luca.

photo credit: Margie Woods Brown