Pick One

My teacher explained to us that when we are trying to make a decision between two choices, we must realize that there is always another option.  It’s taken me thirty-one years to realize something so simple and when he put it into words it hit me:  I am teaching my three-year-old son that he usually only has two choices.  “Do you want to shut the TV off or do you want me to do it?”  And that’s how I usually get him to shut the TV off, for example.  He wants to do it and he does it with the threat that I would be the one to “press the button,” but I know he didn’t want the fun to end.  He must decide between one of the choices that I give him, and if he picks a third choice I didn’t offer which doesn’t accomplish my goal, I was taught that this is the moment where I am supposed to get frustrated.

I am passing onto him an understanding of limited choices, choices that originate from authority figures.  This is a technique to get little ones to comply, as in the TV example.  It works often and I have used it in desperate measures, like getting him to stop throwing a tantrum that he doesn’t want to hold my hand while we’re crossing the street, and not so desperate ones, like deterring Spiderman cartoons meant for 7-year-olds.  This is also a sales technique as my teacher pointed out, one that I’m sure I’ve used.  His example:  “Would you like to meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow or 5:30 this evening?”  Only two choices – pick one.  And when it happens, ring the bell, we just made a sale!

I didn’t come from a free-spirited home where we were encouraged to be wildly imaginative.  We learned, like most people, rules.  When we abided by the rules we got positive reinforcement.  That’s why I washed the dishes and pushed a massive vacuum twice the size of me at four-years-old.  Not because I wanted to clean.  It was the reward after cleaning; the pat on the back, the “thank you” for helping, the labeling of me as a “helper” and the “clean one” in the family.  After recently reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, I felt this enormous sense of confusion:  How am I going to raise a human being to not follow these rigid rules, or accept the “agreements” that I’ve followed all these years?  How am I going to teach him that he doesn’t need anyone’s acceptance but his own and there are always creative solutions to problems,  when here I am relying on giving limited choices and leaning on positive reinforcement to get the behavior want as a mother.  How selfish of me to feel the need to control his behavior to my liking so I can accomplish daily chores and get some “me time” in during his nap.  But then again, how else will I teach him to eat healthy or socialize him to go to school if I weren’t controlling his behavior?   It’s a dilemma I haven’t solved.  But next on my reading list is the topic of mindful parenting.  I’m sure to find answers there.

Life Lesson #8:  If there is a world of choices, there are other alternatives to raising an obedient and rigid child.  When my son takes choice number three that I didn’t offer to begin with, I should celebrate his creative problem solving (I think) and realize he’s giving me the opportunity to rethink the limitations I place on myself and those around me.

Life Lesson #9:  One Choice, Two Choices, Three Choiceseses.  If I choose to see my child as my teacher, possibilities become infinite.

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I am in a unique situation that is forcing me to see things differently.  The situation is an opportunity.  In this opportunity, learning to be a yoga teacher, I am learning about the idea of emptiness, the idea that grounds Buddhism and yoga philosophy.  Once I finally allowed this idea of emptiness to be planted in my mind, I realized that with each moment of life that I was misinterpreting, I had the responsibility to reinterpret the moment for what it was, empty of its own nature.  This is a difficult yet life-giving task.

A brief explanation of emptiness:  Emptiness is the notion that nothing has its own nature – our perceptions are nothing but perceptions.  Our minds work in ways to make us believe that everything has its own true essence, so that the computer I’m typing on is, well, a computer.  The end.  When we apply the idea of emptiness, reality changes.  Without my twisted mind getting in the way to call see this thing as a computer in and of itself, this is a thing made up of a bunch of little squares with shapes on them, connected to a rectangle connected to a rectangle and all these other little microrectangles that function as a computer.  One day this rectangle of a rectangle will not function anymore.  And while it may function as a mechanism of productivity for me, it may function as a toy for my son.  It may function as a warm (and hard) bed for a kitty cat.  So, I see this computer as a computer because of my own perceptions of it.  The way I see things comes from ME, not from the things I am saying. 

It’s expected, in the beginning of “getting” emptiness, that one goes back and forth, forgetting that things come from us and not to us and then coming back to emptiness.  Even in the atmosphere where I can express all of the yoga teachings to the fullest at teacher training school, I am noticing that I am reverting to my old conceptions. 

For example, in my attempts to constantly censor myself, I’ve noticed that when people seek to know about my life, I tend to act superficially until I know that (1) I am not burdening them in whatever way with knowledge about me (2) They are genuine in their concern (3) I have nothing to prove.  Though I know my yoga teacher is genuine in his concern, I feel that I burden him if I share or explain my pain and then suddenly I have something to prove:  that I am strong.  And then I become overanalytical, judging everything I say, judging everything my teacher says to me, wondering if I offended my teacher or a peer, UNTIL I remember emptiness. 

STOP!  STOP!  STOP!  Stop apologizing, stop wondering how others are perceiving me, stop doing all this nonsense, I have to say to my self.  See the situation for what it is.  When I am in pain, sometimes I am not genuine with others.  Sometimes I don’t speak meaningfully and truthfully.  Sometimes I engage in meaningless chatter because I am afraid to say that I’m in pain.  Sometimes I want to feel like I’m not in pain so I put on a smile and try to make others feel comfortable and good about themselves, and I agree with them when I really don’t or don’t even have an opinion about what they’re saying. 

Life Lesson 4:  Everything comes from me.       

Life Lesson 5:  I can change everything.

I often catch certain people looking at me.  Their eyes are fixed.  They are watching everything I do.  They are watching every frown and every smile.  I’ve caught my Grandmother Shamamta doing it.  And she finally said to me the other day in her Inshalla voice, wishes for me to have another boy.  One of my uncles has done it as well.  He seems to be wondering how I can smile and laugh as much as I do.  My close friend had tried to tell me once how she was so deeply affected from my loss, and months later, after I had stopped talking about it, she told me that her anxiety level was so high that her doctor gave her anti-anxiety medication and a referral to a therapist.  She was reminded of death and her fear escalated.

And then I remember the people that try NOT to look at me for too long, because they are too afraid to be reminded of something that we can never escape.  And I think to myself, what would happen if these people tried a Buddhist meditation that I have yet to try, where you meditate on your own death.  Where, no matter how hard you try, you are unable to prevent this inevitable death.  What would happen to us if we all did that?  Wouldn’t it help us stop fighting with each other?  Stop bickering?  Stop blabbing about things that simply don’t matter.  Wouldn’t it keep us from spending money on ridiculous things and maybe spend it on others who need food, medicine, or shelter? 

For my friend, I wouldn’t try to do away with the reminder.  I would embrace it and the anxiety will diminish.  I am thankful that I am able to even though I’m just learning how to do that.  And for those that try to forget it, I will always be a reminder for them that death exists.  That’s okay by me.  When they see me smile,  I hope they think, what enables her to smile?  What does she know that I don’t?  And maybe they’ll ask.  And if not, maybe they’ll wonder.  That is usually the beginning of something wonderful.

 

The only thing there is to do, is GROW

 Tragedies can lull your spirit to sleep or they can help awaken.  The loss of my son has shaken me so hard, that I do not expect to sleep until that day when I stop breathing.  There are no more mindless activities to do.  Everything is now a conscious decision.  By conscious I mean, whatever I do, I do because I believe it will help me grow.  The only thing there is to do is grow. 

I am beginning a new spiritual journey.  I will be exploring the spiritual side of yoga on the path to becoming a yoga instructor.  To prepare for teacher training classes beginning in April 2011, I will be attending Buddhist talks on Tuesdays and continue to practice yoga at home and in class.  I will be reading philosophical and historical works.  I’ll be blogging about this journey so that one day I will look back and remember the steps along the way.

Amado holding a balloon from my 2008 birthday

Every year when November 16th rolls around, I think about the most memorable birthday celebrations I’ve had up to this point.  I like to reflect on how much I’ve changed and grown since those funny and very selfish moments in my life when birthdays were accompanied by tantrums and tears.

My 5th birthday celebration was caught on video, hence my stronger memories of the occasion.  I was ECSTATIC to get my first pair of real roller skates.  They were beautiful white with red wheels, and it was my dad, who really knew what I wanted, that gave them to me in a perfect birthday box.  I laced them up and rolled around the family room carpet.  I felt accomplished not because I HAD the skates, but because I was given what I WANTED SO BADLY.  And still, I managed to cry that day because my grandmother did or said something that upset me, for probably no gosh darn reason.  A pouting face in front of the camera and a birthday cake.  WHAT is my PROBLEM!!!

Birthday tears from unfulfilled expectations. 

As an introverted child, I was never one to have MANY friends, but a few CLOSE friends.  So having a birthday party with friends and not just family was always a stressful moment in my life.  Who would I invite?  When I was turning maybe 8 or so, I had invited probably every girl I knew in my class, even though I didn’t care for most of them.  We bobbed for apples, pinned tails on donkeys, it was ridiculous!  I hate games!  When I opened my mother’s gift in front of all those girls I felt HUMILIATED.  CHAPSTICK?  I got CHAPSTICK for my birthday?  Tinkerbell Chapstick of all things!  That day, I was so let down, I cried.  Of course.  Or the time I got a barbie doll and I hated barbie and all things girly.

Eventually, if it was years later I don’t remember, I apologized to my mother for that awful moment in my life.  I cried for my 16th birthday as well.  I don’t remember why and I’m sure it was ridiculous. 

The problem was my expectation and understanding of what birthdays were.  I thought that was the day you’re supposed to get amazing presents and everyone is supposed to give you all the attention you’ve ever craved.  Yes, I’m a middle child.  I wanted attention but didn’t know what to do with it!  As I found my way into college I started despising birthdays because I didn’t know how else to deal with the high expectations and the eventual letdown.  A birthday, I thought, should be like any other day. 

I’ve awoken from both of these beliefs.  A birthday is neither a day of recognition nor a day to forget.  It is, for me, a day to honor quietly like every day that I am breathing.  This 31st birthday, I am thankful and nothing more.  I don’t need a party or a fancy dinner or amazing gifts. I just need a moment to acknowledge that I am here and there are a lot of people who are responsible for that.  I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to just be here to BE.  I exist.  🙂