Put yourself out there

I wrote an article about breastfeeding. I dropped the F-bomb a lot. It turned out really ridiculous.

I realized something. When talking about breastfeeding, politics, or whatever the controversial issue may be…in the moment it can feel great to outshout or outsmart people who we think are wrong. However, in doing this those people likely aren’t going to change their minds even if they do back off. Instead, they will go to someone else who isn’t as smart or outspoken and fight with them. It seems to me we have only succeeded in passing the fighting along to someone else.

I don’t want to pass fighting to others. What do I want to pass to others? Kindness. Actually putting this into practice can be difficult. With certain people, it’s hard to deeply listen, look the person in the eye, and try to understand. We can choose to see difficult people as an opportunity to practice and an opportunity to be the person you want to be. Acting kind does not make us pushovers or weak people. It means we are strong.

Know who you are, the kind of person you want to be, and then go out there and do your best no matter what happens.

Living your values in life is just like breastfeeding.  Literally, all you can do is take your boobs out in front of God and everyone and do it.

The Mindful Mean Girl

“Real beauty is in the inside.” We have been taught this since kindergarten and many of us would agree that it’s true. We try our best to remember this yet every now and then we just can’t help it: we analyze, we critique, we judge.

For example, I see a woman in shorts and a T-shirt. I make a snap judgement and label her as beautiful/not beautiful or whatever and then move on.  If the judgement I made was negative I sometimes feel guilty and then try to chase away those guilty feelings with thoughts like, “Why should I care? She is a stranger after all,” or, “No big deal. It’s not like I said that out loud. All that matters is that I’m nice in real life.” Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. If I still can’t shake the guilt I may go so far as to full-on repent like, “I know that was a mean. I’m sorry. For now on I’m going to stop judging people.”

Stop judging. Right. No matter how determined or sincere I am when I say it, I’m starting to realize that it cannot be done. My theory is that as humans we are constantly analyzing our surroundings as the primitive parts of our brains try to protect us from potential threats. The primitive brain has not gotten the memo that it’s the inside that really counts. It seems to me that the answer is not to deny that we judge each other but rather recognize it and use it as a reminder to come back to ourselves and think deeply.

Again, see the woman in shorts and a T-shirt. Why did that woman choose that outfit? Maybe that woman saw an advertisement for a similar outfit and she wanted to look like the model in the advertisement. Now that thought may lead us to think, “Well, wanting to look like a model is a little arrogant.”  Okay, sit with that thought for a moment. Wait for the next thought. Another possibility is that maybe she wanted to look like her friends. That makes our hearts soften a bit and we may think, “I do the same thing.” Then we look over at her friends or imagine what they may look like in our minds. That may cause us to think, “They have expensive stuff. Maybe they’re rich.” This may make our hearts harden again. We may then think, “Maybe they come from a privileged family and never had to work a day in their lives.” If we have negative thoughts that’s okay for now. If those thoughts cascade into negativity and become more and more mean and vicious so be it. It’s okay. You’re okay. Everyone is okay. Just let all those thoughts and feelings wash over. Let them float by without censoring them or criticizing.  Sit with them a bit. Think until the thoughts stop coming. Breathe. Feel the feelings. Wait.

I think that in doing this we can give the brain a chance to start putting pieces together. Instead of dismissing emotions when we feel them we can give ourselves the opportunity to actually feel. The brain will start to process.

By feeling and processing we may come to realize something about ourselves.  Something like, “The way she looks reminds me of this girl who bullied me at my first job,” or, “I remember struggling when I was in college and not being able to afford a similar colored shirt. I felt really bad.” Our negative thoughts may be tied to something in our past. We all have old wounds that are buried away and our primitive brain makes connections to things we see in the present to try to protect us. Now that we can identify this with our intellectual brain we can heal and better move on. It is healing to have compassion for ourselves and where we have been in our lives. Also, we may recognize, “Hey, this isn’t her crap, it’s my crap.” Which is fine. We all have crap. Gaining such insights help negative thoughts dissipate. The primitive brain can release the notion of thinking that person is a potential threat.

Now let’s look at that woman again. She certainly looks dressed up. That leads us to remember the times that we’ve dressed up. We felt happy and excited. Maybe this woman is dressing up because she wants to feel happy too. We can relate and understand.

When we gain that moment of being able to relate to this other person, then something happens: we can suddenly really see that other person.  We are able to realize that that person is not just another body but another human being. And in gaining that moment of understanding we cannot help but to feel caring for that person. Even though that person is a stranger. Because we realize that we all follow similar motivations and patterns and do the same things. In her we see our self.

When our inner mean girl creeps up and whispers something catty in our ears we can presume that she may be just trying to protect us. Let her have her piece and listen with mindful breathing and compassion. She may lead us to heal something in our past and learn something new. Let yourself heal and let go.  Be left with peace. Peace inside and out, for yourself and others.

Real Beauty is Modesty: Part 1

“For women, real beauty is modesty.” This statement is from a book I’m reading.

Hmm. Let’s think about this statement literally.

I think of people I’ve seen who are covered up.  In some Christian denominations, women wear long skirts.  Nuns wear habits, Amish people wear Amish clothing, and Muslim women wear long skirts, sleeves and headscarves.  Modern American women sometimes dress modestly too like wearing a sweater over jeans.

Women who are dressed modestly can certainly still look pretty. Jeans and sweaters can look nice. Some long skirts are colorful and gorgeous. There are ways to intricately tie a hair scarf so it looks just striking as the fanciest hairstyle. Nuns, Amish people, and others who are dressed plainly can still look beautiful since simple dress can really makes a naturally beautiful face stand out.

Now what about people who wear revealing clothing?

I see people walking around in dresses and skirts in various lengths.  I see women at the gym wearing shorts, t shirts and tank tops. Women wear bikinis at the beach. I think many of them look beautiful too.

Do I see people who are not beautiful? Sure.

Reveling does not always equal attractive. Some who are dressed in revealing clothes don’t look so great. Sometimes the style is not the most flattering to that person.  Sometimes I see a woman constantly pulling down their skirt or pulling up their shirt to cover her cleavage and she just looks very uncomfortable rather than attractive. Sometimes it’s freezing out and girls are shivering in short skirts.

And modestly dressed people have the same issues. Sometimes the style not so flattering. A woman may look uncomfortable, stressed out, sick or tired. Having negative feelings will register on our faces and then we do not look as beautiful.

Sometimes we can cover up skin issues or dark circles with makeup, try to dress a certain way, do our hair and force a smile on our faces so we can still try to look nice even when we are not feeling well on the inside. If one does not believe in wearing makeup or showing her hair she would not have the hair/makeup options. However, that type of person also saves on time and the stress of going through these cover-ups and can save her energy to work on whatever her real issues are at that time.

Neither modesty nor showing some skin can guarantee beauty. It seems to me that real beauty depends on being happy, healthy, confident, and at peace on the inside.

The Psychology of Cleaning

Some days, it is very hard to meditate.  My mind keeps thinking about this or that and I feel very irritated with everything and everyone.  When this is happening I realize it is not because of any one issue or person but it’s just my brain being irritated in general then running around from thought to thought trying to pin the cause onto something tangible.

During those times, what helps me is to start cleaning and bagging stuff up that I don’t need to take to Goodwill.  I believe that there is some truth in the expression, “A cluttered house is a cluttered mind.”  Our primitive brains may register piles of junk with anxiety.  Although our intellectual brains know that the pile of junk is not going to hurt us, the primitive brain cannot tell the difference between those piles of junk and piles of rocks that can topple over and kill us all. And that mound of laundry waiting to be put away?  Our primitive brain might be thinking that deadly insects could be hidden in the little crevices.  It will then releases stress chemicals until the laundry put away. The primitive brain is only trying to save us!

Why I Do Cloth Diapers

My 81 year old Filipino Grandma hangs crinkly and yellowed zip lock bags and latex gloves to drip dry in the garage. She rescues every empty yogurt and takeout container from the recycling bin for indefinite reuse. She only uses napkins, straws, and condiments acquired from fast food places. She yells at us when we try to throw away stale bread saying: “NAKO! If you throw food away you won’t be BLESSED!”

My grandma thinks that I’m too cheap.

Why?

I use cloth diapers.

My grandma sees me washing diapers in the garage and asks me why I’m so cheap. I know that when my Grandma was raising my mom disposable diapers were not yet invented. So she must have used cloth diapers. I ask Grandma and she says that she hired someone to wash the cloth diapers for her.

Grandma tells me, “Last time I visited the Philippines I asked about that one who used to wash the diapers. I learned she already died. I asked your mom if she remembered her. She said she did not.”

Grandma then stares at me ominously, frowning. Maybe washing cloth diapers will lead me to a similar fate.

I started using cloth diapers after deciding to live with more mindfulness. My favorite mindfulness writer, Thich Nhat Hahn does not say, “Stop using disposable diapers” but instead says to use them with mindfulness. When you throw one away, think, “I am throwing a diaper away.”

So I tried that. I found that saying, “I am throwing a diaper away” every time you change the baby, minimum 5x a day or so, and it starts to eat at you. Not hard, but rather like a gentle nibbling on the conscience.

“I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

“But I NEED them.” (Guilty feeling).

“I’m busy. And Alisa is already 2 and Amira is 8 months old so it’s not worth starting cloth diapers now. It’s too late.” (Guilty feeling).

Next change. “I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

“I’m busy! I don’t care! I’m sleep deprived. I don’t care about the environment. I’ll stomp through a field of kittens if it would make my like easier.” (Guilty feeling, times 100).

Next change. “I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

This thought pattern would repeat over and over again with each changing.

I learned that when I tried to battle negative energy, like guilt, with more negative energy, anger, the feelings would just get worse and worse. It was exhausting. With the practice of mindfulness one does not fight his or her feelings but instead has to decide to really feel emotions and then work on transforming them.

Next change. “I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

I inhaled and exhaled and focused on the guilty feeling.

I said to myself, “I know I have a bad feeling and it is guilt.”

Inhaled and exhaled and sat with the guilty feeling.

I thought, “I cradle my bad feelings. I cradle my guilt. I cradle my guilt and forgive myself for my unskillfulness in the past. I did not know better and was trying to alleviate my own suffering. Please forgive me and help me to be more skillful in the future.” I felt better.

Then I bought cloth diapers. I put them on both my kids. Alisa, my oldest, was 50% potty-trained at the time and she went to 100% potty trained 2 days. This included nights, naps and going out. My youngest, Amira was 8 months old.

After making the switch, I save so much money and I’m not constantly taking stinky diaper trash out and filling the whole trash with diapers. Most of the time, I hand wash them and hang them up to dry in the sun. But if I’m too busy I use the washing machine and dryer. And if I’m really, really busy I use disposable diapers but with awareness. I think that some cloth diapering, any cloth diapering is better than nothing. Even if you save even one diaper that is 250-500 years you are saving the planet from a disposable diaper sitting in a landfill.

I never thought I would use cloth diapers. Now there is no more bad feeling and instead I can feel good about saving the planet and myself some hard-earned money. When I change, wash, and dry them I do it with awareness and then every action becomes a source of healing to me.

 

 

 

The Music Festival

My sister Jane went to a music festival and did not like it. It was hot. There were porta potties. People were smoking. She says, “The people there were not into the music. They asked the audience to sing along and they didn’t except me and my friend. And then people turned around and gave us dirty looks.”

I said, “Well Thich Nhat Hanh would say to focus on things that you do like. For example, the beautiful weather.”

“It was too hot.”

“The beautiful sky then. The music. Your friends.”

“I wish I were somewhere where people are different.”

“But then you would miss what is real and all the good things in front of you. What you are thinking is only a fantasy.”

When I feel down about things in my life I try to remember what Thich Nhat Hanh said:  “You have more than enough conditions right now to be happy.”  We do not have to wait until we die to go to heaven we can have heaven right here on earth. We just have to notice the good things that we do have that are all around us.

 

W.W.J.D

W.W.J.D. or “What Would Jesus Do?” is a popular Christian phrase. It seems so simple but trying to apply it in real life can be really hard. Would Jesus watch Titanic or Friends or read Harry Potter? Finding the answer takes some deep looking.

Let’s try to apply W.W.J.D to watching the show Friends. Should I watch Friends? Should I let my teen watch Friends?

Let’s look at Friends.  It’s funny! It shows this great group of friends.  It’s a secular show so the friends do not go to church but sometimes there are still good moral lessons like the time Phoebe somehow got credited $5000 in her bank account and she decided be honest and tell the bank. When the friends lie to each other, like when Monica starts hanging out with Julie, Ross’ new girlfriends, and lies to Rachael so not to hurt her feelings, they always end up feeling bad and telling the truth in the end.

Although it has some moral lessons, the show is still risqué by Christian standards. Sometimes the friends drink alcohol and have premarital sex.  Premarital sex-big no-no. Casual sex is a bigger no-no.

The Bible sometimes refers to light as truth. Finding the truth takes thinking. It takes awareness, mindfulness and time. The light is a muscle that takes work and maturity to develop.  Should a teen watch Friends? I say sure. But the best way for a teen or anyone to watch Friends is with mindfulness. The ideal situation would been for the teen to watch Friends with their parents. Afterwards talk about issues in the episode such as premarital sex or casual sex and really talk without judgement.  Questions like, “What happens in casual sex when one person get emotionally attached and the other does not want to make a commitment?” There is an episode where Chandler sleeps with Janice and Chandler wants a commitment and Janice does not. Chandler gets really sad. Some people may believe that casual sex is just fine if it’s between two consenting adults who use protection and are up-front to each other about their intentions. But, as we can see in this episode, casual sex always runs the risk of things getting messy emotionally.

Also point out the fact that this show is fiction and does not mean “everyone is doing it” in regards to sex in general.  Watching the show with mindfulness and talking with your teen would be a much richer and valuable learning experience than simply banning a teen from watching non-Christian shows.

We also have to protect ourselves by avoiding images-violent, sexual or otherwise.  Sometimes it’s not worth it to look at a bad violent or sexual movie-if one does not find it entertaining anyway why watch it? It’s just a waste of time and energy. Watching violent or sexual images that serve no purpose will just disturb our peace later on. I would rather save my energy and time for truly excellent books, movies, and T.V shows.

If we isolate ourselves from non-Christian people and things we miss out on some positive people and experiences. My opinion: Friends and Titanic were excellent productions and Harry Potter was an excellent book series. A lot of effort and care were put into their productions. Even though one may not agree with some of the actions of the characters if we view excellent books, movies, and T.V shows with mindfulness and awareness we can guard our minds and build our understanding of the world and other people.

In the Bible, Matthew says that Christians should be a light on a hill. To actually build our light and understanding we cannot completely isolate ourselves from the rest of the world or worse-pretend we are isolating ourselves and then watch a certain movie, T.V show, or read certain books in secret. Honesty is part of that light too.

The light of God is everything good.  It is love, kindness, awareness, mindfulness, honestly and truth. We can ask ourselves what Jesus would do when faced with a certain movie, T.V show, book, website, or conversation. Asking this can help us know when to pass something up and when to view or partake with mindfulness. And afterwards, we can talk to one another about it with kindness and the intent to help. That is an art which will take a lifetime of practice. Doing these things will build the light in each one of us.