Behind

For my few loyal followers of this blog (and I LOVE that I have even a few!), just a quick post to say that I’m SORRY that I have not been posting. I am behind behind behind! I did some travel and thought I would get caught up this week, but have not, in fact, done anything of the kind. I plan to post again next week. And so as not to leave you completely empty handed, I thought I would include a favorite quote of mine that says, quite nicely, what attracts me to Buddhism:

“There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.” – The Dalai Lama

Snake in the Waters

There is an analogy in Buddhist teachings (Buddhist teachings are almost all analogies, by the way) that Sogyal Rinpoche, the Tibetan Llama I followed for many years, often spoke about and that is ‘not confusing a rope for a snake’. Its meaning is to teach about discernment and to not allow every little thing to derail us from life or from our practice. An analogy better suited, of course, for a time in history when people, and specifically, monks, were walking everywhere they went, but an effective teaching nonetheless, as a fear of snakes is something everyone can relate to. The analogy actually works the other way too – don’t mistake a snake for a rope! This teaching ran through my head this past weekend when I was in this very dilemma – figuring out if I was being faced with a snake or a rope. Or a snake in ropes clothing….oh wait, that’s a different story.

As a treat for myself, I signed up for the Trek Women’s Triathlon this year in Austin. It’s a short race (750 m swimming (approx ½ mile), 12 mile bike, and 3.1 miles running), and all women, so it seemed the perfect event to sign up for as a goal, almost 1 year after Eliana’s birth. As part of my “training”, which is in quotes because I have not done much, I went to a small man-made lake, called Quarry Lake, here in Austin, to do an open water swim. It was created for, or is at least used exclusively by, a gym here. If you swim around it’s perimeter it is only ½ mile, if that gives you an idea of how small it is, and it is man-made. My point is that it’s probably the safest open-water swim a person can do. I stress this because I only learned to swim laps, properly, in the last 4 years or so (for triathlon), so I have always been more comfortable swimming in a pool where I can see directly to the bottom at all times, where I am in a lane and where I have edges every 25 meters to grab onto if I needed to stop for any reason at all, like, to adjust my goggles, stretch a muscle, or any other excuse I can come up with in order to take a break. I know my fear of open water is irrational because there are very few things that could actually harm me in most lakes, and even if there are things, they tend to stay away from thrashing humans. But I have had many a mental moment about these open-water swims.

During my first triathlon (also a sprint distance), my swim portion did not go so well. I was not as strong of a swimmer then, and with the anxiety of the race, etc. I clearly went out too fast. I had to tread water about ¼ the way into it and regain composure because I was absolutely certain I was going to drown. By the time I finished the swim, I was so exhausted (I was not the last out of the water, but pretty darn close), I could not even run to my bicycle, which is pretty standard in a triathlon to jog to transition. Mark was spectating and I remember him yelling to me, in as supportive of a way as he could, “run, honey, run”, in a tone that suggested that maybe I was not aware that I was supposed to jog, and not stumble, to the transition area. The swim went very well for me, however, in my 2nd triathlon (Olympic distance of 1 mile swim), so I am over that mental hurdle of thinking I might actually drown. However, just to be sure, I figured I better do at least one open water swim before my race this weekend, and so the Quarry Lake was it.

I confidently strode down to the lake, with my racer-looking bathing suit, swim cap and goggles – all items that make me feel like a legitimate swimmer. I am rather cat-like when it comes to water, even in a nice clean pool, so there is always a long mental talk that I have to have with myself while sitting on the edge of any body of water, coercing my body to submerge. I finally did so, and started my swim. I had planned to do two laps of this 750m perimeter course, knowing that the actual course is only one lap, so if I could do two, I would have the utmost of confidence in myself for the event. The first half of the first lap was awkward. All of my mental anguish about not seeing the bottom surfaced, and without my lanes/ropes and edges, I started to feel out of breath after less than 100 meters. I switched to the breast stroke to catch my breath and do some mental pep-talking. After I was sufficiently convinced that I am now a much stronger swimmer, that there were platforms every few hundred meters anyway, AND that there was nothing in that lake that was going to eat me, I started again. By the last few hundred meters, I had found my rhythm and I was LOVING the open water swim. I made my first lap and then decided that I would, in fact, go another round. I started in, catching the same groove. I was approximately 200 yards into my second lap when I was thinking to myself this exact thought – “I am loving this! I don’t even know WHAT it is about an open water swim that I was so freaked out about!”

As if the universe heard me ask the question, it answered back through a burly Hispanic looking man. He was calling loudly from the water’s edge (there is a running trail that goes around the lake) – “Maam! Maam!” With a customized ear plug in one ear, rendering me ½ deaf, being ½ submerged in water, AND being in my own endorphin filled zone, how I heard this man calling me “Maam”, I have no idea. But I did, so I stopped to hear what he had to say. “There is a snake in the water” is exactly what he had to say. I heard him clearly, but as I didn’t see a snake anywhere near, I wanted to buy myself time while I decided what I wanted to do.

“A what?” I yelled.

“A SNAKE! A Water snake! I almost stepped on him on the trail and he slithered down to the water right over there”, and he pointed to an opening in the bushes.

Strangely, my mind was going wild with the ‘proper’ reaction. Surely we all know that there are snakes in the water, or at least at the water’s edge. I had gone over this in my head dozens of time before even starting this swim. But now I was really faced with the reality – one had been spotted. I also wondered what this man expected from me. Did he expect me to scream and come running out immediately? Did he want me to turn directly around and swim in the opposite direction?

“Where, exactly?” was my yelled response to buy me more time, and because I did really want to know.

He explained where he entered. We both knew, however, that this was of little relevance, given that a water snake is pretty adept in the water, so he could be anywhere by now. This again raised the question to me as to WHY this man felt compelled to tell me. If I had seen a snake, would I alert the swimmers? I am still not sure. I knew this guy’s heart was SO in the right place, but as I swam away, after reporting that I would “avoid that area,” which really was my plan, I found myself a little angry at the messenger. My thoughts were going crazy…now I KNOW there is a snake in here with me…why did he have to tell me…of course we all know there are “probably” snakes in here. Aha – probably. Prior to this moment, I was comfortable with the fact that there were probably snakes in the lake. Now I really knew. And if I got bit by the snake after being warned, it would not only really hurt, but I was going to look like a total idiot on top of it. Interesting, I thought, that I was worried about his and other people’s reactions. But don’t we all dread, at least a little, the dying with egg on our face scenario? I didn’t want to end up in the annual Darwin awards e-mail, detailing out famed idiots demises. So, I did cut my lap slightly short and “avoided the area” where the snake had entered. Instead of just sighting in terms of going in the right direction, I was then surveying the surface of the water every time I turned my head for a breath, to ensure I wasn’t headed into any snake traps. All the while, I was wondering some of the things that, perhaps, you are wondering at this point – is there such thing as a ubiquitous “water snake”, and if so, is it poisonous, and if so, could this man really be able to identify it, and if so, is THAT why he felt compelled to stop me and let me know?

I found out later that afternoon, with a tiny bit of research, that cottonmouth snakes are the only poisonous ‘water snake’ variety, and while it’s possible that it was such a snake in this area, it is almost impossible that I would be bitten by one in the water. They, like all of their other lake dwelling friends, avoid thrashing humans at all lengths. And so you know for your own, “there’s a snake in the water” experiences, snakes don’t attack very well in the water b/c they don’t have much leverage. These were the things I had supposed and used to comfort myself through the end of the swim.

Though my snake or rope dilemma was slightly different from the scenario in the teaching, I thought it a great teaching, nonetheless. Indeed there was a real snake, but the danger was probably equivalent to that of the rope. The fear itself was the rope on the side of the road, and it was my choice to react to it as if it were a snake or a rope. Fears, themselves, are always ropes – they pose no real threat. And I felt a lesson had been learned. I thank the man because 1) his heart was absolutely in the right place to warn me of potential disaster, and 2) I not only got in a good 1 mile swim that day, but a great mental exercise as well. It turned out that I had a fear that I thought that I had conquered. I then conquered the fear that I thought I had conquered that it turned out I still had. And then peter piper picked a peck of peppers, and we both headed home, not spotting a thing along the side of the road.

Life is but a dream

The following is a quote / teaching from a renowned Buddhist teacher in the same ‘school’ (Nyingma) that I have been following. This comes from the Rigpa Glimpse of the Day, a daily e-mail from Rigpa, the Buddhist organization I “grew up” in (www.rigpa.org). I love this because of its simplicity and flow…i hope it inspires you in the same way…

Always recognize the dreamlike qualities of life and reduce attachment and aversion. Practice good-heartedness toward all beings. Be loving and compassionate, no matter what others do to you. What they will do will not matter so much when you see it as a dream. The trick is to have positive intention during the dream. This is the essential point. This is true spirituality. – CHAKDUD TULKU RINPOCHE

Super Mommy Brain

“Mommy Brain.”  I actually hate this term, though I feel compelled to use it often. What I don’t like about it is that it implies that women, once they become mother’s, lose some intelligence and that our brains work differently than those without children. The reason I tend to use it frequently is that it’s generally used when we do something forgetful, and lately, this is very frequent for me. What it should imply, however, is that our brains are doing SO MUCH MORE than ever before, that we should expect some slip ups in the normal course of things. So, I am re-naming it to Super Mommy Brain. I am allowed to do this. I believe it is a right, a responsibility even, for writers to coin new phrases. But I can only coin it – it is up to fellow moms and non-moms alike to USE it – SUPER MOMMY BRAIN! Say it out loud! Roll it off the tongue! Own It! Shout it at everyone who is rolling their eyes at you in the grocery store line after you have checked out and just now realized that you forgot your wallet! Use it in the phone conversation with your Mother-in-law when you are apologizing for forgetting her birthday (and then under your breath blame your husband, whose responsibility this should be anyway)! Use it when you are trying to explain why you missed your Hair cut / dentist / dr / playdate /fill in the blank / appt. OK, I’ll stop now. You get the picture. But seriously, think about it – while I am sure an employer may have their own opinions about a resume that says:

April 2008 – present: Stay at Home Mom

I think most would be impressed if it read something like this:

April 2008 – present: Stay at Home Mom, spent one year honing Super Mommy Brain

Super Mommy Brain has two sides to it, of course. On one side, my Super Mommy Brain is processing what 3 other people, in addition to myself, need at every given moment of every day. I co-ordinate meals, activities, naps, household chores, workouts and school stuff on a daily basis, each day slightly different than the one before. Like Newton’s law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so if something happens to one person’s schedule, I simultaneously run through the effect this has on everyone else’s schedule and needs, and change plans accordingly. This is also separate from, but including the larger parenting and relationship issues that these Super Mommy Brains handle such as raising decent and happy little human beings. This in itself requires regular big-picture planning with minute ‘of the moment’ decisions, both requiring re-visiting and re-direction at all times of the day including in the middle of the night or the wee wee hours of the morning. Then there is the strategy for making sure my husband and I stay connected AND ensuring I am taking good care of myself, which sometimes seems the hardest part, though it is arguably the most important. SMB needs TLC. All of this is while I stay home with the kids. Many Super Mommy Brains also uphold careers functions and simultaneously think about work issues as well. Super Mommy Brain is actually different from pre-mom status – it is better!

So, where does “mommy brain” get it’s bad rap? Welllllll, ok. SO, I recently organized and scheduled a book club directly ON my husband’s birthday. Not around the same day, or on the weekend where it would make most sense to celebrate the day, but squarely ON his birthday. AND I did not realize this until I sent him an e-mail asking him if he could stay at home with the kids that evening while I ran off to book club. When he responded with an, “are you serious?” I replied that he needn’t panic, the book club was not at our house. It was only when he responded again with an, “I think you are missing the bigger picture here”, that it clicked. I was mortified. Had he done the same thing to me, I can not imagine the repercussions I would have dreamed up – a good lesson for me, perhaps, to cut him some slack.

Then my sister called me with her Super Mommy Brain story. Her children are teenagers, making it clear to me that Super Mommy Brain sticks around for quite some time (thankfully!). Her son called her after his baseball game to say that his peanut butter and jelly sandwich didn’t actually contain any peanut butter and jelly. There was nothing but two pieces of bread pushed together inside of a baggy. She claims that she clearly remembers putting peanut butter and jelly on the bread. Super Mommy Brain at work – she must have “clearly remembered” from the prior 4,345 times she had actually put peanut butter and jelly on the bread. But hey – her son got to his baseball game on time, with all needed gear, in good health and spirit, so let’s not overlook that!

My funny examples could go on forever, and I am sure everyone has their own – if you have some, please do share. We tend to focus on the funny / ‘I have no brain’ Mommy Super Brain moments because they are, in fact, very funny. I am always up for a good laugh, but Super Mommy Brain is a great thing, and what a perfect time to celebrate it – Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend…just in case you had forgotten.