A Love Letter to My Daughter

Posted Monday, September 8th, 2014 @ 10:51 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Motherhood, Nature, Spirit

Today is my daughter’s seventh birthday.

Dear Claire,

Happy birthday to you! Now you are seven, and you are becoming such an interesting person! I am writing this to you, and sharing it with the world, as a way to honor who you are.

Like me, you are gifted with curiosity, intensity, creativity, and emotional expression. You love life and meet it fully. Your passion for animals and stories deepens with each year. Your best buddies are the dozens and dozens of stuffies in our house. You make up stories with your realistic plastic animals as well as Calico Critters using teeny tiny toys. You make boxes into animals, houses, and caves. All objects are fair game for being morphed into different uses and incorporated into stories.

Right now you want to be a marine biologist when you grow up. This is a recent change from wanting to be a National Park Ranger. You’ve also wanted to be an animal rescuer, paleontologist, rancher, or veterinarian. You have watched so many David Attenborough wildlife specials that you’ve picked up the British pronunciation of some words, like “territory.” In the U.S. we say “tare-a-tory” and in Britain it’s “tare-a-tree.” You watch dinosaur shows and understand the classifications of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous epochs like nobody’s business, not to mention the Cambrian, Ordovician, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian ages.

Ironically, you are a reluctant reader. You are an auditory learner, and you have always loved being read to. You will sit for hours as long as the reader indulges you and her voice holds. You savor the intimacy of being read to. Although you are in first grade, you comprehend material that is several grades beyond. I suspect you can read more than you will admit. Remember the conversation we had about this?

I sussed out that you were expecting to learn the entire English language before reading on your own. I thought it was because you have a perfectionist streak and feared making errors. You told me it was because the work of de-coding words is hard. Once I clarified that there is no way to ever learn the entire language, and that reading is one of the crucial skills to doing anything in life, you offered to read. But you only do it on a barter basis — you’ll read one “baby” book (as you refer to with scorn anything you are currently able to read, like the Bob series) — if I read you a more complex book. You have a memory for concepts, words, and experiences that takes me by surprise.

Yet you are also visual. Only recently have you been able to tolerate watching movies. Your ability to slip into the story completely and the intensity of the visual stimulus bring the stories alive in a very real way for you. You understand intellectually about story structure — protagonists and antagonists, about plot, conflict, suspense, and conclusions — but understanding with the mind does not override your ability to immerse yourself.

You are a scientist. You form hypotheses about situations and test them. You engineer pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks into contraptions, and Scotch tape is your go-to adhesive. You like the Goldieblox toys and all the open-ended options within. You want to know why and how things work. You want to know the origins of words. You watched the Cosmos series by Neil Degrasse Tyson and it triggered a response of awe that brought you to tears. You love the Bedtime Math problems, which I apologize that we don’t do often enough for your taste.

You are a philosopher. You wonder if there is a god and imagine the possibilities of what that manifests. You view the cycle of life with equanimity. You ponder the ethics of eating meat. You are concerned about how humans treat each other. You worry about the fate of humankind and the environment. We have shielded you from much of the news of the world; soon enough you will learn harsh realities.

You are a visual artist. You enjoy a variety of media — pencil, crayon, pastel, paint. You enjoy drawing, sculpting, painting, and collage. Your favorite color remains yellow with pink being the next favorite. You enjoy crafts such as sticky mosaic, perler beads, and making no-sew pillows. You want me to teach you to knit and sew. (I will!)

You are a writer. You create characters and stories all the time. Every day we walk to and from school we make up a story together. Frankly, it exhausts me! You play on your own for hours making up intricate plots and conflicts for your characters to resolve.

You are a musician. While you haven’t yet taken up an instrument, you are an enthusiastic singer. You won’t listen to classical music because there is no singing (except opera which none of us likes). You want to be Melissa Etheridge when you grow up. You still love the Music Together CDs, and you also enjoy folk and alternative rock music.

You are an athlete. You swim and play in water like a fish. You love to run and feel the wind. Your body often frustrates you with its petite frame; there are tasks you want to do that you lack the hand and arm strength to accomplish. At the same time, you are stronger that you realize, and we encourage you to try several times before giving up.

As for your personality, you are complex. You have a strong will and a desire to direct your life as well as the lives of others. When you play with other kids, you have plots and roles for every person and a story you want them to play. Collaboration challenges you. You feel big feelings and they sometimes overwhelm you. It scares me, actually, because I feel unskilled at helping you calm down. (Which is an odd statement for a former therapist to make, but it’s oh-so-different when it’s a personal relationship.) You feel big love.

Here’s an example of the big love. At tuck-in one night, you began relating to me how you felt thinking about Voyager taking one last look back at earth as it passed Neptune, and how it felt so lonely. (This is from the Cosmos series.) It was leaving forever, would never see its parents again. You burst into sobs. Later you also asked if parents ever get rid of their kids (after I reassured you we’d only let you go when you wanted). I delicately answered that sometimes people aren’t ready to raise kids. You asked where they go, and I said there are foster parents and families, and sometimes they adopt the children they foster. You screwed your face up and bravely announced that if we ever fostered a child, you are willing to leave the family and go out into the world to make room for the child. And then you sobbed. We went downstairs to tell Daddy all this. He and I held you, loved on you, acknowledged the very brave gift you offered. We also told you we would never get rid of you, or disown you. I asked you if you felt like you needed more attention, and you clung to me and cried. If I could have brought you back inside my body to comfort you, I would have.

Seven years ago I met you and did not have an inkling of the richness you would bring to my life. I was born too, into motherhood, and you have been as much my teacher as I have been yours. You are marvelous and adorable. I am grateful to be your mother. I love you beyond expression or comprehension. Happy birthday, Sunshine Girl, my Claire Bear!


How the Universe Thinks

Posted Friday, August 29th, 2014 @ 9:59 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Nature, Quotes, Science

“I will argue that modern science, traditionally considered guilty of reducing our existence to a pointless accident in an indifferent universe, is actually saying the opposite. While it does say that we are an accident in an indifferent universe, it also says that we are a rare accident and thus not pointless.

As we look at planet Earth and the factors that came into play for us to be here, we quickly realize that our planet is very special. Here is a short list: the long-term existence of a protective and oxygen-rich atmosphere; Earth’s axial tilt, stabilized by a single large moon; the ozone layer and the magnetic field that jointly protect surface creatures from lethal cosmic radiation; plate tectonics that regulate the levels of carbon dioxide and keep the global temperature stable; the fact that our sun is a smallish, fairly stable star not too prone to releasing huge plasma burps. Consequently, it’s rather naive to expect life – at the complexity level that exists here – to be ubiquitous across the universe.

Even if there is intelligent life elsewhere and, of course, we can’t rule that out, it will be so remote that for all practical purposes we are alone. Even if SETI finds evidence of other cosmic intelligences, we are not going to initiate a very intense collaboration. And if we are alone, and alone have the awareness of what it means to be alive and of the importance of remaining alive, we gain a new kind of cosmic centrality, very different – and much more meaningful – from the religiously-inspired one of pre-Copernican days, when Earth was the center of Creation: we matter because we are rare and we know it.

The joint realization that we live in a remarkable cosmic cocoon and that we are able to create languages and rocket ships in an otherwise apparently dumb universe ought to be transformative. Until we find other self-aware intelligences, we are how the universe thinks. We might as well start enjoying each other’s company.”

–Marcelo Gleiser, We Are Unique

Thanks to Whiskey River for sharing this.

On the Verge of Seven

Posted Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 @ 2:37 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Meditation, Motherhood

Sometimes I am not certain I have the fortitude of heart — the courage — to be a parent. It’s too late, of course, because I am one. Yet as Claire grows up and into her personality and the world at large, there are times when I am uncertain who she is. The little darling I adored, and who was so much more manageable, has disappeared into a volatile, mercurial, brilliant, curious, glorious, and intense girl. Like me, only much smarter. She is so very quick to anger, and she turns that anger on herself.

I have what is called a “spirited child” — a child who is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic. Certain behaviors emerged in 2012 and 2013 that made us curious, and then concerned me. Particular social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and hyper-sensory issues made me wonder if she had Asperberger’s. So with a referral from her pediatrician, we saw a specialist in February. (It took eight months to get that appointment.) I was permitted to be in the room during the entire evaluation of her behavior and intelligence. It was fascinating. In the end, the experts declared that she does indeed have some traits, but that she is “too social” to be classified on the spectrum. High sensitivity is not considered a diagnosable or real condition of its own, though as a Highly Sensitive Person myself I believe it’s real. And the last test result is that Claire is really, really smart. Gifted smart. As some people (a family of teachers) we met while camping said, “Sick smart.”

Now, I’m bright. My husband is smarter. Our daughter is a combination of highly intelligent and acutely sensitive to not only the physical world, but emotions.

Yesterday she was home with a fever. We had two conflicts that resulted in meltdown. Now, I know young kids have meltdowns. However, I’m not sure how many of them say they want to hurt themselves because they are so angry, or try to scratch or bite themselves in an effort not to physically destroy things. And I’m not sure how many first graders sob and cry about how afraid they are of growing up and say, “I feel like no one understands me! I feel like you liked me better when I was younger. I wish I wasn’t so science-y and had so many big words, because everyone expects me to behave older than I am! I feel different from everyone. I don’t want to be so smart. I wish I didn’t exist.”

She cried because she wants to control her world, but at the same time, she doesn’t want the responsibilities and high expectations she feels are placed on her. She used words like “always” and “never,” and places the responsibility for her feelings externally. “You made me mad! It’s your fault!”

So what did I do during all this sturm und drang? I opened my heart. I breathed through my own exasperation, fear, and anger, my wish to grab her and lash out. I told myself, “This isn’t an emergency. It just feels that way, emotions are high.” I asked her to identify where in her body she felt the anger, and what it felt like. She said her chest felt like it had flames inside. She wanted me nearby but not to touch her. And I told her how my body felt listening to her. “My chest feels heavy, listening to you say you want to scratch yourself,” I said. “My story is that the anger you feel is very huge and scary and feels like a monster inside you.” She relaxed a bit. She agreed.

I talked to Claire a bit about the pain-body, a term Eckhart Tolle uses for the ego as an entity of negative energy. I described that we all have a pain-body, and that we have a choice whether to feed it our energy and attention and make it grow, or not. Negative self-talk, angry thoughts, judgements — all this fuels the pain-body. She said the pain-body is bad. And I replied, “It just IS. Whether or not you judge it good or bad, it exists. If you judge and resist it, you push away that part of yourself, and that feeds it too.” I told her that’s why I’m always suggesting she breathe and connect with the stillness inside.

As for the other part, about being different, I simply acknowledged all these feelings and contradictions. I held her as she sobbed. And within me, my heart quaked with this realization: I cannot protect her — from the world, or from herself. I parent diligently, I try to let go and give her independence, I teach her to understand and don’t parent autocratically or through intimidation. In other words, I’m trying to give her a loving, supportive home, and yet she has such anger and feels disconnected from others. I once said to another parent who was coping with a challenging child, “The trick is to accept the child you have, not the one you imagined you’d have.” Well, those words are coming back to me.

She is her own person, on her own journey. She is my heart, walking out in the world. My heart, completely bare and vulnerable. How will I survive this?

What else did I do when she was storming and I felt overwhelmed with this seeming stranger? I prayed, “Help me. Help me trust you, Life. I’m in over my head.” And I keep breathing and being still.

small heart

How to Love

Posted Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 @ 9:37 am by Kathryn
Categories: Arts, Buddhism, Journal, Spirit

This video was played at church Sunday for the kids. While it seems sad, it provided a seed for discussion. We watched it again this morning. Claire’s thoughts about what the squid could do: “Stroke the boats, like a cat. Or find submarines to hang out with.” We talked about how you don’t have to possess someone to love her; if we hold too tight we hurt the person’s spirit and destroy the love. Being NEXT TO someone is not the same as being alone.

SoulCollage® Companion Suit

Posted Thursday, May 8th, 2014 @ 1:25 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Arts, Journal, Meditation, Nature, Spirit
Companion Suit: Turtle - 1st Chakra - Root

Companion Suit: 1st Chakra/Root – Turtle

I am one who lives intimately with the roots of the earth. I am one who is hardy. I am one who moves deliberately. I am one who travels at the speed of eternity. I carry the earth and its Source in me.

Artist Date

Posted Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:19 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Arts, Journal, Meditation, Recreation

I made a date with myself to go to Lori Krein Studios and play with collage today. It made me happy.

Asian Collage Play

The Dark Path to Enlightenment

Posted Friday, April 18th, 2014 @ 7:25 am by Kathryn
Categories: Buddhism, Journal, Meditation, Quotes, Spirit

“We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast. Unless we face a major disaster like the death of a friend or spouse or loss of a marriage or job, we usually will not go there. As a culture, we have to be taught the language of descent. That is the great language of religion. It teaches us to enter willingly, trustingly into the dark periods of life. These dark periods are good teachers. Religious energy is in the dark questions, seldom in the answers. Answers are the way out, but that is not what we are here for. But when we look at the questions, we look for the opening to transformation. Fixing something doesn’t usually transform us. We try to change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the perilous dark path of true prayer.”

—Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer

Open Wide to Love

Posted Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 @ 1:47 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Buddhism, Journal, Spirit

My OA sponsor wrote and asked me how I’m doing, and am I tracking my food intake as I’d intended. I wrote her back, but I’m putting it “out there” as well.
I began tracking my food after we met using an app on my phone. Then I stopped when I realized it required entering meals right away — there’s no way to go back and do it later. I understand why — to induce awareness. So in short, no.

And then, on Monday, I went to Target in the evening to get toothpaste and hair ties. When I set foot in the store, I KNEW I was going to buy some Easter candy. I was keenly aware of this part of myself, and the aware part of myself was saying, “Really? Come on! Let’s not.” But the primal part carried out the acquisition. I sat in the car, eating two Reeses’ eggs and a 5 oz. chocolate bunny. And none of it even TASTED good. There was no enjoyment. There was just the impulse to finish. I didn’t reach out to you or Hub. I didn’t tell Hub. I threw away the trash. Note to self: maybe it would be good to avoid Target at night, though it didn’t used to be a problem. Then again, there’s more to this — it’s not just about Target.

So I was meeting with my friend Sofia (who is a spiritual facilitator) Tuesday and explored this. Here’s what I noticed: I go through life unconsciously with tight stomach muscles, as if I’m holding myself together. When I realize this and relax, I feel the expansion and pressure on my clothing. It feels a little bit freeing, and also out of control. So I’ve just practiced noticing and relaxing, being curious over how it feels to be “all out there.” Because the deeper wisdom in me sees that being obese is a form of protection. I am afraid of my power. I have the power, and it takes about 50 extra pounds to quell it.

Right now I’m not prodding myself with “why?” Why? What am I afraid of? Hell, as if knowing in my mind I could transform and fix it. Instead, I’m meeting that part of myself. Instead of power struggle, it feels like an invitation. “I see that you’re afraid. May I just keep you company?” And if Primal Me wants to eat something that Wisdom realizes my body doesn’t need, then Wisdom is connecting with Primal Me where she’s at. Wisdom isn’t completely silent. She says, “I see you’re pouring a bowl of Raisin Bran and adding walnuts. Are you hungry?” Primal Me says, “I just WANT it. And I WILL HAVE IT.” Wisdom says, “Okay, you take care of yourself. I’m here if you want or need me.”

On one hand this looks like a recipe (hah!) for condoning destructive behavior. But it FEELS different. There’s a very young part of me — Primal Me — that has urges, needs, wants, and doesn’t know how to get them met except by consuming. I’ve judged her, deprived her of love and attention, for decades. Gaining her trust and helping her heal will probably take more time than my ego would like. But Wisdom knows that’s how true healing occurs. And in fact, I have been healing for the past couple of years. It started with Honesty Salons, and Ecstatic Dance. In the past year I’ve lived increasingly through intuition, working with Sofia. Then I took the SoulCollage® facilitator training, and committed to a spiritual community at the Los Gatos UU Fellowship. I’m in therapy (since December), and have met you.

So it’s happening. And yes, I would like to weigh less and move more, with power and strength. My body hurts. I worry how the weight compromises my abilities and health; I worry about the message I’m giving my daughter. But apparently Ego can’t force this. It’s a process beyond “me” and yet I’m part of it. Does this make sense?

Committee Suit: Tender Protection

SoulCollage® Committee Suit: Tender Protection

I am one who is small and frightened, who needs protection. I am one who wanted protection. I am one who wants an all-present Mother, who wants tenderness.

Baby Steps

Posted Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 @ 9:54 am by Kathryn
Categories: Buddhism, Journal, Motherhood

You’d think that having support from my minister, my therapist, my Zen teacher, my OA sponsor, and my personal coach, I’d be pretty damn enlightened, but no. Spiritual awakening is a process of realizing how unconscious I am much of the time. Each of these people accompany me through different facets of evolution.

This morning Claire got angry at herself and a toy she was playing with, a teeny dish cupboard with even teenier dishes and utensils that wouldn’t stay put. It happened yesterday too. Her anger feels intense and out of proportion to the problem (and it’s been this way for a number of days). In my very sleepy morning state I said to her, “Why don’t you choose something else to play with?” She replied plaintively and angrily, “Why do you always want me to QUIT?”

Yikes! I took a breath, and then another. And then I replied, “I don’t want you to quit but I can see how it sounds like that. I was feeling triggered by your response to the situation and it made me feel anxious. Lately you’ve had a lot of anger. My self-talk is that I must be doing something wrong with you and I get uncomfortable. I try to take away that discomfort by redirecting you.”

She was quiet awhile and played. Then she said, “I figured out a different way to use the dishes.” Then I announced breakfast, and she came willingly and cheerfully. The energy within and between us had shifted, and then we had peace.

As a result of this interaction, I’m a smidge more aware of my story about how Claire shouldn’t be angry, how ungrateful she is to be angry (because she has such a wonderful life), about how her intense angry responses suggest something wrong with her or me, and how I’m leaving both of us when I live in that story. And THAT is enlightenment.


The Definition of My Life

Posted Monday, April 7th, 2014 @ 2:43 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Quotes

Oh, best of intentions! You know where they lead. I’d planned to focus more on the blog this year and it’s languished.

I’ve got many irons in the fire. And I’ll explore them here later. Meanwhile, of late this quote has been my email signature. It resonates.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

–Douglas Adams