Brain Training (part 1)

After years of reading about the benefits of retraining my brain with meditation, after checking out from the library the book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, and after realizing how hectic my days, thoughts, and to-do list are, I finally tried to meditate.
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[this is me: wrought iron vulture that’s lovable to only a quirky few. And the flowers my boys added last week are my hope for meditation: a little sweetening that doesn’t change the vulture as much as give it some soft contrast.]

[Yes, that’s a Halloween pumpkin. From early October. Get over it.]

I wanted to meditate in earnest this time. Not just writing it on a list, not trying to do a teaser session in the four seconds before I fall asleep at night. Rather, actually sitting comfortably in the kitchen after tucking in the boys, closing my eyes, and watching my thoughts without judging them.

It took several minutes to settle. I noticed sounds and tried to let them go, then wanted to get up. I noticed my wanting to get up and tried to let it go, and wanted to write about it. I noticed my desire to write and tried to let it go, and tried to make a mental list of things I should do in addition to write. I noted the compulsion to list how many things I’m not doing. I let the list go. And I breathed. The list came back and I noted that I tend to repeat lists so I can remember them. I noticed how I was forcing breath. I noticed my breath settle.

And then a loud crash lit every nerve in my body on fire with the surety that someone had broken through a window and was going to murder all three of us. I screamed at the absolute top of my volume range and forced my eyes open.

I was just in time to see the cat finish his leap on top of the fridge a few feet from me, creating a cascade of holiday cards and homemade magnets to the floor. Jackass. Abjectly terrified, with a sore throat and adrenaline absolutely shaking every muscle in my body, I thought that, with the murder threat alleviated I had to go check on my son. I had screamed loud enough that I was sure I’d awakened him.

So I ran up the stairs and whispered as I hurried down the hall and into his room, “It’s mommy, honey; I’m sorry about the loud noise.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“The cat jumped on the fridge and scared me. I was trying to rest my thoughts and my brain and he freaked me out.”

“I thought he had jumped on you and scratched you.”

“Nope. I’m okay. Nothing is hurt and nobody is hurt and I’m sorry I woke you.”

“I was awake already. I was trying to figure out who is tricking who in Harry Potter.”

“Who is tricking whom is a good question, buddy. You go to sleep and I’ll go try to meditate again.”

“You should, mom. We do it in school and it’s really nice to connect with your breath.”

“Okay, buddy.”

There was no way I’d close my eyes again that evening. I had things to do and wasn’t interested in associating meditation with terror.

I’m sure I’ll try it again soon. Maybe not at night. Not in the kitchen. And not with cats nearby.

In his defense, this is what happens to the mediation-murdering cat when he tries to meditate.

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Win. Seriously.

A few weeks ago I read Carinn Jade’s post about gratitude. She has lovely things to say about teaching children to think about their lives in perspective, to teach ourselves to find the bright side by living in thoughtful meditations on gratitude.

After reading it, I decided I’m a terrible parent appreciated the reminder that I should be focusing the family on gratitude. We have always, every night, talked about what each person’s favorite and most challenging parts of the day were. We’ve used it as a way to learn evaluative skills and to hear how other people address challenges.

But other than Thanksgiving, we don’t spend a lot of time using the words grateful and thankful. I’m rather embarrassed about that, because I know full well that reflecting upon that which makes life wonderful creates a cycle in which gratitude makes us see events and people in a better light, which makes us more grateful. I’ve been reading Secrets of Successful Families and Raising Happiness, and both point me in the same direction Jade’s post did: get everyone in the family thinking about life’s gifts, and appreciate them together. It helps.

So we started. I intended to circle the gratitude wagons at dinner, but meals are a reasonably raucous time of “please don’t call each other buttface,” and “please don’t call each other poopface, either,” and “please eat the food or leave it on the plate; food is not a toy,” and “yes, you can have more, but please finish what you have first,” and “did you say that to make him feel good?”, “dear gawd am I ever going to eat more than two bites without someone asking me for something?” moments.

But I finally remembered to ask what the boys are grateful for as we walked to school.

I told them I am grateful I have three wonderful guys in my house to see every day.

Peanut, who is seven, said he is grateful for friends.

Butter, the three-year-old, said he is grateful for cake. If I’d thought of it, I might have started there, too.

I said I am grateful for the way Spring smells and feels and shines.

Peanut said he is grateful that we have enough money to live in a house.

Butter said he doesn’t want to do this any more.

I said I’m grateful we have so much wonderful family to visit and play with.

Peanut said he’s grateful for tigers and leopards and he wants to try to save them.

I judge myself pretty harshly, readers, about the job I’m doing parenting because my kids fight a lot and Spouse and I are not patient enough. But it seems to me that if my seven year old is grateful for friends, his home, and his place in the world, I’m doing an okay job. A genuinely okay job.

And I’m grateful for that.