Doing the Best We Can

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

img_6786A Soul is Born to Earth…to do the best it can, trusting that what is coming through the noise of life is a guide to the best decision in each moment.

My soul was born to Earth…to fulfill the role of mother to two innocent, sweet souls. A significant, temporary, sometimes all-consuming, yet not-my-only-purpose role. A role that brings with it endless opportunities for doubt and guilt. A role in which I sometimes have no clue what I’m doing, with days where I’m just barely making it, as I piece together the minutes. A role where I, at times, still feel like a child raising children, playing house.

It’s also a role that is teaching me, more than anything, how to really trust my natural instincts, to tune in with my intuition about the right decisions to make. A role that is daily reminding me to trust that I’m being guided by the Creator who designed all this. Because there are moments I can’t believe I’ve been entrusted with the safety, survival and development of these little humans. It’s daunting, and I need help knowing what to do.

There’s a whole running list in my head of the things I could feel guilty about when it comes to my kids. I’ll just pick one, with the hope that in writing it here, I can erase it from the list and move on.

Meals. Do I really need to explain? Let’s take a deep breath in here together, moms. Now let it out with a huge sigh. I have to be confident that I’m doing the best I can at balancing my kids’ nutritional needs with their picky preferences. Here’s a glimpse into how it goes down in our house:

“Oh honey, you want to dip that grilled cheese sandwich in applesauce. Go for it.”

“You want to drench green beans in sugary yogurt. Be my guest.

“Sure, have three suckers while your sister naps, as long as you’re quiet. Here’s an apple to go with it.”

“And yes, I will give you three chocolate chip cookies if you get in the car, right now.”

Hey…we’re making it work. My kids are healthy and they never go hungry. Not all families can say that. So I’m replacing the guilt with gratitude that I can put any kind of food on the table, three times a day, seven days a week.

I’ve talked to enough moms to know, I’m not alone in this. No one really knows what they’re doing. But I know for sure that we’re ALL doing the best we can with the knowledge and resources we currently have in every situation, always. That is the main message here.

This realization has been a huge stepping stone to self-forgiveness for any perceived failures on my part. As well as a step in letting go of some resentment held toward my own parents. Having children has shifted my perspective and shed a new light on old wounds.

For example, I have this faint memory of lying on the couch as a kid with the stomach flu, throwing up in a bucket on the floor. It’s in the middle of the night and my mom is sitting in a lazy boy chair across the room staring at me with what I interpreted as a scornful glare. I’ve held this memory for years wondering why my mom would be mad that I had the flu. Seeing it as “proof” that she really is selfish.

But now that I’m a mother, with a wider perspective, I have a new interpretation. She was tired, really tired, and very worried. At the time, she owned a daycare, and in that moment she was probably thinking about how in just three short hours she’d have ten other kids showing up who she’d be caring for, all day long. She’d have to be cheerful and on top of her game, all the while trying to keep a good watch on her own sick child, and keep the other kids away. Wondering how the hell she was going to make it through the day. I see it now that she was there for me while I was sick. She brought me a bucket, cleaned it up, and was probably sitting away from me so she wouldn’t be puked on, again.

Of course, I’ve never asked her about it. I’m aware that neither of these interpretations could be the truth. We have no control over how others perceive our actions. Perhaps I’ll ask her someday for the true story, if it’s even a memory for her.

My mother had me at age nineteen. There’s no doubt, I would have been a terrible mother at that age. Seeing this clearly now, gives me immense compassion for her. I’m sure she wasn’t really ready for a child and didn’t have the most supportive family or spouse. When I think about this and so many other stories from her life, I can’t believe she did so well in raising me. It turns my anger toward her into empathy for her. I want to hug that scared nineteen year old and say, “It’s going to be just fine. You’re strong and you can do it. We’re in this together. I love you.”

I still have a long way to go in forgiving every hurt I’m holding onto but a little space has been created for the healing to begin. Forgiveness is not saying what was done is okay. Forgiveness is not about relief for the other person but for your own heart. As Jack Kornfield said, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” The way I’ve been able to give up that hope is by realizing everyone is always doing the best they can in the moment. You. Me. Even that person who cut you off in traffic this morning. Even your dad when he lashed out with hurtful words. Even your sister when she stole money from you. Not their finest moments for sure, but still doing what they knew to do at that time with their current knowledge, resources, and past conditioning. If you had been born into their life, with the same experiences and conditioning, you’d make the same decisions. Guaranteed.

So what is it for you? Where are you hardest on yourself? Your eating habits, exercise routine, work performance, a faulty relationship, all of thee above? Take a deep breath. The past is over. You’ve always done the best you can and you still are this very moment. And your best is always good enough for whatever situation is presenting itself right now. There is no need for wondering if you could have or should be doing better. Those are nasty guilt words filling up useless space in our heads.

Know that your best today may be different than your best yesterday or tomorrow, and that’s okay, as we are ever changing beings. Like for me today, I’m unusually tired. My little girl was up last night for over three hours for a reason that is still unclear. On days like this my emotions are high and my patience is low. I woke up knowing that to make it through the day with my sanity in tact, I would need to go extra easy on myself and my kids. Taking it slower than usual, pausing more, breathing extra deep, asking for guidance and supporting myself with coffee and caring words, “No matter what, you’re a fantastic mother. Keep going.  If you do nothing but love these babies today, it’s enough. You can do this.”

We were given natural born instincts – those gut feelings – for a reason: to use them. The key is in asking for guidance and pausing long enough to hear the answers. We can start to trust this guidance by using it in small everyday decisions and working up to higher impact situations. Should I go to the store right now or later? Should I call my mom to apologize or wait until she visits? Pause. What feels right? Or what feels easiest right now? The best choice will always appear. As the late, great Louise Hay would say, “Everything I need to know in any given moment is revealed to me.” Breath. Trust that wisdom. You’ve got this.

“Just do your best. This is the whole of practice, the whole of your life.” Elihu Genmyo Smith, Zen Teacher

 

Whose rules are these anyway?

“I am not writing anymore for a teacher or for school. I am writing for myself first and I don’t have to stay within my limits, not even margins. This gives me a psychological freedom and permission.” Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones

A Soul is Born to Earth…to not necessarily follow every rule. Rules, after all, are just made up by some human. Who are they meant for anyway? And who says you have to follow them?

We’ve heard it all before: Color outside the lines; think outside the box; rules are made to be broken. But I’ve never been more acutely aware of these bits of wisdom as I am with writing this blog. Because never before have I so openly shared a creative project this close to my heart. I want to do it right, but I know if I lookup what “right” means and all it entails, I’ll be stifled by all the information and quit. So I’m going for it with wild abandon, as I tend to be an all or nothing person. I can’t count how many times I’ve jumped into something, only to quit shortly after, once I researched everything about the subject and got scared by all the rules around it – feeling overwhelmed and not good enough as I compared myself to the experts.

I wanted more than anything to study art in college. I was “art student of the year” my senior year in high school and I’ve produced some pretty good pieces. But one of the many reasons I didn’t follow my instincts (a whole different matter) is that I don’t like following many rules about art and I couldn’t handle being graded by someone else’s subjective opinion. I’ve since grown much more confident than a teenage girl, and thus, have begun to share my creations with the world again.

I’m determined not to be stifled here. I know there are grammatical rules to follow that help the words to flow smoothly and make the writing easy to understand. I took honors English in high school, but to be honest, I don’t remember very many writing rules. I’m not really sure how to use a semi colon or a dash, and I don’t care. I just put them in where it feels right, and maybe google the correct usage later. I’m taking a new approach this time, writing with no self-imposed pressure, going easy on myself, and learning a little here and there along the way.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t learn about our chosen craft and refine our skills to produce the best work possible. But when I think about how people pursue Masters and Doctorate degrees in one writing format alone, poetry for instance, it scares me into wanting to quit. Who am I to write a poem when I haven’t even read one full poetry book? Why even try? Others are so far ahead on the learning curve. However, I recognize this voice as the young self-conscious girl within. This older, wiser, more confident woman is writing poems anyway. Why not? Writing isn’t astrophysics. Everyone starts somewhere and there will always be someone who knows more or who is farther along. Use them as inspiration for what is possible and perhaps as a resource for knowledge.

My soul needs to create and I’m finally honoring that urge. Creating because I have something in me that simply needs expressed and must come out. If it doesn’t follow the rules someone made up, who cares? To the soul there are no rules. Like a child who has no clue what the rules are, but plays and creates with glee anyway, learning by doing with a beginners mind.

I’ve always been a bit of a rule pusher, not breaker, but pushing the boundaries out to see how far I can get away with something. For instance, at about the age six, I went around the whole house with a pink highlighter and made tiny dots all over the walls – one over by the fireplace, another by the stairs, a few in the kitchen – just to see how many I could do without my dad noticing. This makes me snicker with mischievous excitement still today. I can’t remember my dad’s reaction when he finally noticed, but oh how I wish I could ask him about it today. I like to think on the inside, he laughed a little too. And that’s how I feel now. I bit of rebel excitement in doing something not many other people have the confidence to do – express who I really am in the form or writing and art.

Is there a social, cultural or technical rule holding you back from doing or saying something you really want? It’s most likely a rule made up by someone you don’t know, or your parents, or even yourself. So who says you have to follow it? You are not a child anymore. Forget all the rules and check-in with your true inner wisdom. What feels right in this moment? Do that. Start now. Because in the end…what’s going to matter? We must always come back to this question and be mindful that our days are indeed numbered. Let’s try not to break any laws, but let’s live the truth inside while we’re here.

 

In with Nothing, Out with Nothing 

“No matter how attractive the objects of the senses may appear to be, they’re simply powerless to provide us with any lasting happiness.” Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche

A Soul is Born to Earth…with nothing and leaves this Earth with nothing. So what are we holding onto?

We are temporary caretakers of all material objects. We really own nothing, ever. Everything is on loan. There are times I look around my house and think, “Someday this home and everything in it will be someone else’s.” The thought makes my heart sink a little. We built this home from a hole in the ground nine years ago, it’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and we’re raising our kids here. But it’s really only my emotions wrapped around those thoughts which are leading me down a sad road. Held up to a different light, the same thoughts can motivate me to take good care of the things to which I am temporarily entrusted, in order to pass them on, in the best condition possible, to the next user. Same thought, two different emotional paths. I get to choose.

The only monetary or emotional value a material object has is what we decide to project upon it. Value is relative. Take Picasso paintings for example. Art experts give them a value and the rest of us go along with it. But they are really only canvas and paint, monetarily worth only what those materials cost, a value which has also been determined by someone we don’t know and that we’re just agreeing to. Same goes for your house, car, or wedding ring. Someone gave it a value, and you agreed to it, even signing papers to say so. Any emotional value tied to these things are what you alone attach to them. To anyone else, they are most likely “worth” much less.

A personal example, I have an old wall clock my mom gave me years ago that belonged to my grandma, whose Soul has gone on to its next adventure. I don’t remember this clock being in her home. I don’t relate this clock to my grandma whatsoever. To me it is wood, metal and chimes. It does not hang on my wall. The only reason I keep it is because my mom will ask about it every so often. And on the chance she would ask to see the clock the next time she visits, I can easily retrieve it off the shelf in the basement where it sits collecting dust, thus not hurting her feelings because to her it has sentimental value. But you better believe as soon as she passes on, that clock will be out of here faster than you can say garage sale.

It’s not that I hold no attachment to any material object. If I lost baby pictures of my kids I’d be devastated, for years. My books, although replaceable, are my most prized possessions. And this is a picture of my favorite coffee mug. I clutch it dearly each morning. Even though made of hard ceramic, it’s cozy and warm. The curves are soft, the handle fits my four fingers perfectly and it holds a vat of coffee. I hope to drink from it for the rest of my life. And when I’m gone I hope someone gets as much pleasure out of it as I do when they slurp from its shiny lip. If it broke, I’d find a new one, but my heart would break a little too.

The issue is not about enjoying and finding sensory pleasure in material things. We are here as humans to experience all that this magical life has to offer. However, the enjoyment turns to suffering at the point where we cling to things, like they really belong to us, like they are an extension of who we are. In the end though, what’s really going to matter? We must always live with our mortality in mind if we want to live a meaningful life. On my death bed I won’t be clutching my favorite coffee mug or any of my books. I will hopefully be holding the hands of my babies.

If you need some help in letting go, take a trip to an antique store. I get really uneasy every time I go. All those things belonged to someone who is most likely dead now. Maybe that cracked plate set was a family’s fine China. Maybe that scary looking doll was a little girls favorite toy. That scratched wooden desk is where hundreds of kids learned math. And someday all your stuff will be there too, or at the dump. Waste is a  topic that deserves it’s own post, as I don’t have the mental energy or space to tackle that beast here.

Although this does feel like a good time to say that all my blog posts are lessons coming through me that I most need to learn. I take them to heart and send them out to the universe via cyberspace trusting that these words will be heard by someone else who needs them too. The intention is never to tell you what you “should” do, think, feel, or how to live your life. Simply absorb what resonates with you and let the rest bounce off for someone else to catch.

With that said, these days are numbered my friends, whether we want to face it or not. It matters not what we have, but how much we loved, how gently we lived and how gracefully we let go of things not meant for us.

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From the Tao Te Ching, translated by Wayne Dyer.