everydaybalance

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family threads – finding everyday balance in may

April23

Right now the sun is broken along the wooden floorboards. The light reaches in long cold arches and Ruby plays sitting up on her own with soft blocks and wooden toys and board books. Her blond hair is now curly and thick and her eye lashes are as delicate and precious as thin crescent moons hanging precariously in an early morning sky. There is a tall cup of Chai tea in a red mug and the steam moves up through the air as if it were a potion in a Harry Potter novel. We’ve been up early this week, really early. I’m not naturally an early bird, more a night owl. These early mornings which we are woken into with the cries from the pain of teething, break open new parts of myself that I didn’t know before Ruby was born. Deep pockets of compassion and love and stillness open up out of nowhere. The feelings come in sudden waves of emotion when I notice that the tiny wrinkled hands of my newborn have grown into the chubby wrists of a toddler.

Ruby will be one year old, one week from today, and the months that we have paged through hold me warm like a treasured family quilt. So much has been built and so much has been let go and in this I feel a thick kind of bond with my husband simply from what we have witnessed and created together. The details of a first word and the coordination found in crawling and volcanos of laughter erupting like tiny bells have been celebrated. These moments taste so sweet when contrasted against the salty lack of sleep and letting go of small freedoms that accompany them. It has been a year of firsts becoming a parent. Firsts take energy and they take heart, but most of all what I’ve found in them is that I’m simply stronger for having turned the corners without knowing what would greet me.

In November we experienced a first that will always stand out as a jewel in Ruby’s first year. This was her baby blessing offered by Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Spirit Rock is a Buddhist meditation center in San Geronimo Valley, an hour from our home. The Monday night meditation evening is usually held in the lower hall which is cozy and small. On the night of Ruby’s baby blessing, in a coincidence of events, the Monday night sitting and Ruby’s blessing were held in the upper retreat hall. This building is a jewel. Its golden wooden walls open up like a flower blooming purely of ease and light. Walking into it you feel a hush of sanctuary enter your soul. What greets me in this room are the feelings from the week long Vippasana retreat that I experienced there in 2008. It felt like a miracle that under the same roof that I had meditated on the child I wished so much to conceive, that I would now have her in my arms on the night of her baby blessing.

On the night of Ruby’s blessing, there were nearly four hundred people gathered in this sanctuary. Of those people, two parents, two grandparents and an auntie sat proudly with eyes only for one smiling nine month old. She wore a pale blue jacket and opened her eyes wide towards the sea of people scattered out around her.

One of the most wonderful aspects of having a baby is the immediate connection that I have felt with strangers. This evening was no exception. From the moment we walked into the meditation hall, Ruby who was due to go to sleep an hour previously, lit up the room with her cherub smiles. She danced her magic hands in swirls and claps as if she was trying to teach us all the tune of connection. Smiles came from near and far from people we had never met. During the thirty minutes of meditation, I swayed and rocked and walked between the aisles. Ruby cooed and gazed and people smiled with their eyes closed or snuck a peak and a giggle or rested their hand on the tiny slope of her back. As I danced this mother’s dance, I realized that Ruby had been carried in with five members of her family and would leave with a roomful of friends.

When it was time for the blessing, Jack Kornfield called Ruby, Pete and I to the front of the room. We stood up on a slightly elevated stage and gazed out to so many smiling faces. Ruby snuggled in against me and listened intently as Jack shared his blessing for her. He told her that Spirit Rock was now and for always “one of her places” to come to when she needed it. He tied a red blessing cord around her chubby baby wrist and held her in front of a room of people who witnessed the blessing that her life is. To end the ceremony, the whole room gave her a gift by singing “row row, row your boat” and I could feel how a little bit of magic was sprinkled upon her with the smiles and joyful energy in that moment. Driving home, our baby, so small and real, felt a part of something so big. We tucked her into bed and felt blessed ourselves simply to have her as a part of our lives. Ceremony, often lost in our culture, is so important. It gathers up the special energy that accompanies beginnings and endings and allows us to feel more deeply both our joy and our grief.

In January, we experienced another first. Peter and Ruby and I took our first flight. It was a short flight to San Diego and I packed for it like I might pack for a month trip back to Australia. I wrote a list the length of my arm hoping to anticipate all the needs that a single day asks of little baby. The path we were about to take was one I had traveled often myself as a baby and in its own way felt like a rite of passage.

We were taking Ruby to meet her great grandparents who live in El Centro, a desert town so near to the bottom of California that it nearly teeters into Mexico. We arrived off our flight into sunny San Diego, where it felt suddenly like summer. We shed our winter coats and scarves and drove the lush palm tree lined freeway for thirty minutes before we met the contrasting landscape of the California desert. Driving this wide open flat road, the mind has nowhere to become caught except the far reaching horizon. As children, this was the point when my sister and I would always fall asleep. Each trip I would struggle to keep my eyes open so that I could experience such a contrast to my normal everyday landscape, but inevitably sleep would win out.

Driving with Peter at the wheel and Ruby fast asleep in her car seat, I was struck by the fact that now I was the mother and my own child slept snug in the back. How did time pass so quickly to bring me here? Reflection entered and gratitude followed a few steps behind. This trip especially had my heart wide open. My grandmother and grandfather are in their nineties. After we had booked this trip in December, my grandfather was taken to hospital and we found out that he had a blood clot in his lung. Each day that took us closer to our trip, I felt grateful that we might get Ruby there in time to meet him. As we drove, I felt my nervousness and emotion, gather in my stomach. It felt like butterflies were caught in an area too small, their speedy wings hitting hard at my heart. We drove past the hills that were made up of great big dry boulders and I felt small underneath the stark sky. I felt even smaller underneath the reality of having to say hello and then good-bye to my grandfather who had always lived larger than life in my eyes.

We arrived and I couldn’t wait for my grandmother to drink in the first glimpse of her great granddaughter. She is in a wheelchair now and I hardly notice because her beauty still shouts so loudly when you are in the room with her. Having her and Ruby together looked like a smiling contest. It was joyous and sparkly and felt like a beauty pageant as they both shone so bright. We asked if my grandfather was awake and he was. He spends most of his days asleep now and in a single hospital bed in what once was my grandparent’s bedroom. I held Ruby tight. Her chubby little body bursting with the life of a thousand stars was held snug against my butterflies. The room was quiet and he didn’t turn his head when we entered. He was looking up and out the window. His once full profile was now thin and angular. I walked around the bed and searched for his gaze. All those butterflies flew with a whoosh out of my heart. Here he was, my grandfather, at the same time still larger than life and now also smaller than me. I had made it. We had made it.

The sound of the room was quiet in sound and loud in emotion. My husband, Peter, and my Aunt Joy stood at the doorway and Ruby and I and my grandpa were circled in togetherness. He was so beautiful. I had never noticed how his fingers were long like a piano player. They were long like mine. He touched the tips of those long slender fingers together and held them there so gently that he looked like he was praying. He seemed to pray at Ruby and his eyes greeted her and I back towards him. The room felt clear as if I were standing next to the silence and life of a fresh running stream. The kind of stream that moves smoothly and effortlessly over jagged rocks. Ruby reached out and touched his hands and he said, “Hello Baby.” He spoke slowly and each syllable felt like a gift with the obvious effort that it took to speak them. It felt as if he had arrived to a place that was beyond words, as if they had all been said and now silence was a comfortable companion. I was surprised at the ease I felt in this type of silence. It was bare. There was no pretense of personality or agenda, simply connection and understanding and love.

Over the next three days, we visited with words and play and joy with my grandma and Aunt Joy and with silence and presence and eye contact with my grandpa. I kept thinking that I should do something. I wanted to hang a bird feeder, buy a plant, bring in certain foods, but none of it felt right. I asked him if there were any books that he wanted me to read him. He said to me, “I read a lot of books.” Finally it sunk in that there was nothing for me to do. He needed me to let go and simply be there with him. In the short visit that we had, my grandpa taught me more about meditation than I had learned in the past ten years of practice. I will never forget the peace in his face and the gentle gaze of his eyes. I could feel how much he had set down, how light he was. It felt like only love was left.

When it came to say good-bye, I felt lost. I knew this could be the last time that I saw my grandpa or my grandma. Something caved out in my chest. We had only recently lost Pete’s dear Grandfather, Gadam, and the reality of the situation was near and fresh. Pete stood by and his empathy was palpable. It took me three good-byes before I could leave. The last good-bye, my grandfather held my hand with surprising strength. In that hand hold was the strength of the bigger than life, over six foot tall, ballad singing, outspoken, brave, poetry writing and life of the party man he was throughout his life. He held my hand for many long minutes and we looked into each other’s eyes and I knew that without words he was pouring out sentences to me. We said, “I love you” slowly back and forth as if echoing each other’s hearts out loud. Sometimes there are simply no other words.

I chose to walk back to the hotel alone under the white light of the pale desert sky, Ruby was held in a carrier against my chest and I cried. I cried big tears of not knowing how to let go. I told her over and over again that, “Mommy was okay” and then she did the most amazing thing.

In the middle of the night, if Ruby wakes up she often makes a repetitive “ah” sound to herself. My dear friend, a musician named Bryan, heard his son two weeks younger also making this comforting sound. He coined it, “singing themselves to sleep.” As we walked and I continued to cry the big sobs of my good-bye, Ruby so young yet so wise, leaned heavy against my heart and beautifully and slowly began to sing my sadness to sleep. Her “Ahh, ahh” grew deeper and louder as we walked.

This is the wonder of connection. The space that one generation opens up for the next. There is heartbreak in this loss and joy in the wonder of it all. These emotions flip so quickly that they take your breath away. Be present not only for the joys in your life, but for the other emotions as well. If we allow ourselves to experience our full range of emotions, the feelings are able to move and change. We then have room for more of it all and our lives become a rich tapestry of celebration and ceremony and letting go. Let us be present for all of our feelings and support each other not only in the difficult times, but in the moments that shine.

This month I invite you to be present for your family. There is an old saying that starts out by saying “you don’t choose your family….” but I think we should add to this quote that we also don’t get to choose how long we get to be with our family members. With this in mind, treat the time that you do have with your family kindly. Whether you are near or far, close or distant in heart, allow their presence to be acknowledged in your life. Honor the simplicity in the fact that, without your family, there would be no you. Celebrate those that have passed by speaking their names regularly and enjoy those that are still alive by reaching out to strengthen the connections that you share. We all have frictions within our families, some big and some small. Some of these disagreements are never resolved, some we laugh at later for having dug our heels in. If you find yourselves in a place where you can’t find resolution in your life with someone that you love, try to resolve it in some small way each day, even if only within your own self. Lovingkindness practice is a wonderful way to start. This is a practice of sending unconditional love out in the form of intentions to ourselves and those around us which is especially transformative to those we are in conflict with. If you are interested in more information on Lovingkindness practice, please feel free to contact me in the contacts section of this website and I can send you the intentions to work with.

Remember all of our family members live on in us, in our passions and our dislikes, in the shape of our smile and the sound of our voices, the slant of our handwriting and the color of our eyes. This month, wear this with love, and by doing so honor the blessing that each of our lives is. This month I will be writing and reading aloud my poetry, observing the song and flight of the birds, enjoying classical music, cooking fried chicken, reaching out through letters written in pencil on long yellow steno pads, speaking with honesty and humor, planning a summer trip where I can be absorbed in nature and telling my family that I love them whenever I see them. These are all things that my dear Grandpa Jack is wonderful at and as I dance through them this month, I know that he will be living on through me.

Note by Author:
After this piece was written, my Grandpa Jack died at the age of 92 on March 20, 2011. As a family, we are grieving this loss in so many ways, but most especially my Grandma Lela, who had been married to my grandfather for 72 years. It has taken me two months to publish this piece simply because each time I went to edit it, I found it too hard to call it finished. Thank you for sharing in my work this month by connecting with your own families with love and presence.

This monthly inspiration piece is brought to you by author Christina Adler at everyday balance. If you would like to share your experience with these tools, please feel free to email me by visiting the contacts section on the home page. To subscribe for a free monthly reminder for these inspiration pieces, simply fill in your name and email address on the home page under “subscribe to everyday balance.” For information regarding life coaching appointments in person, by telephone or online, visit the ‘for life coaching’ section of this website. Photo taken by Peter Moore in El Centro, California

posted under 2011 life balance