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Cultivating Heart-Space (With a Meditation) (A #WholeMama Post)

Cultivating Heart-Space (With a Meditation) (A #WholeMama Post)

I feel as tightly wound as the springs of the trampoline that we are standing on.  It’s late afternoon.  A storm is blowing in and it’s cooling and inviting after the heat of the day.  It should be wonderful to be outside enjoying it all.  Instead, I am smiling at my daughter with a fake, forced smile.  She has been explaining the game we are about to play.  It involves a very large wolf (me) and a teeny tiny leopard (her).  Somehow there is a ball, which belongs to the leopard.  I am not allowed to touch it because I am a wolf.

She has been setting the scene for this game for an eternity.

“Ok!”  I finally say in my best cheery wolf voice, cutting her off mid-sentence.  “Want to go pouncing with me, little leopard? arf, arf.” I start to prowl around the edge of the trampoline.

“We can’t talk to each other!” she says indignantly and slightly impatiently.  “You’re a wolf and I’m a leopard.  Also, we can’t play together.  You’re so big that you would step on me and crush me.”

Breathe.  Long breath.  It is not enough.

“What exactly do we do then!?”  My fake smile is completely gone as the exasperation takes over.  Lewis Carol had almost certainly endured the complicated plot of a young child’s game when he was inspired to write Through the Looking Glass.  I feel exactly like I am having a conversation with the Cheshire Cat.  Not only is everything nonsense but I’m being glared at as though I’m too stupid for words.  She starts over.  Explaining the game.  Again.

Image result for cheshire cat

It has been one of those out-of-sync days.  My head is entirely elsewhere.  I want to be curled up with my nose in a book or even tackling my to-do list.  I want to go for a run and ponder a bit of writing, rolling the words around on my tongue as my mind drifts.  I want to meditate without worrying about being interrupted, or do a bit of yoga without having a gangly little body crawl under my plank or downward dog.

I want space.

My daughter wants space, too.  She wants the space to build a fort that takes up the entire living room, right where I am trying to clear away some leftover weekend clutter.  She wants the space to let her little imagination run wild as she creates a world where giant wolves and minuscule leopards live side by side.  She wants space next to me, space where she can draw in her favorite notebook while listening to a Judy Moody book on CD, happily chattering about each twist in the plot.  It is as though there is an imaginary circle around me and we both want to occupy it.  I want it for me, she wants it for her.

I have never been good at sharing space.  It is not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  But my thoughts–they take up a physical space.  They need actual room around me, room to grow and shrink and come and go.

I know that this is not a challenge limited to parents.  It is a challenge faced within every relationship: the challenge of balancing each person’s needs for companionship with each person’s need for space, silence, solitude.


Sometimes the solution to this awkward, weird dance between “mine” and “ours” is to set clear personal boundaries.  It is to make sure that we get enough alone time.  It is getting up early in the morning and using that time for meditation or reading.  It is taking whatever time you need to do whatever nourishes you.

But sometimes the solution is actually the exact opposite.  Sometimes finding space means giving space.  This is because sometimes the space that we’re craving isn’t physical space at all.  What we’re really craving is heart-space, that place of open generosity where our world intersects another’s and we feel no resentment, no desire to claim our circle back, only happiness that we are together.


Which is all well and good in theory but doesn’t solve the problem because back on the trampoline I was seriously failing to be connected and engaged.  What does help, at least sometimes, is this lovely little heart-centering practice:

  •  Start with a few deep breaths to settle your body and mind.
  • Think of a time when you felt perfectly happy or content with another person.     Imagine where you were in as much detail as possible.  What do you see?  Smell? Hear?
  • Focus now on how you felt.  Lean into that feeling, holding on to it.  Smile.  Open your eyes and return to whatever you were doing with the intention of passing on that same feeling.

*This is a fast little meditation.  It’s not meant to take 20 minutes.  It takes me about 2.  

I’d like to say that I did my meditation, settled into the game of “Wolf and Leopard Don’t Play Together” and connected with my daughter in a new, amazing way.  It did not go that way.  Instead, I floundered through the game until–thank God!–it began to rain and we had to go inside.  But I tried.

If there’s anything holy to be found in playing an endless game of let’s-pretend, I think it’s this lesson in cultivating heart-space.  It is a realization that sometimes the hardest inner work doesn’t happen in our quiet sanctuaries but in our ordinary white-bread, American suburb moments.  Whether we pull it off or not isn’t really the point.  The real mark of grace is that we want to try at all.  It is an opening, a small bit of heart-space that might just grow into something bigger and better than we ever thought.

A Beautiful Thing: Turning the Table on Wastefulness

A Beautiful Thing: Turning the Table on Wastefulness

FlowerWith another holiday around the corner, my family is in full swing getting organized for An Event.  If you’ve ever watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” or any other movie about families, you know what this looks like.  You might even live it yourself.  Yesterday I had 3 multi-step conversations about who was bringing what for Easter dinner.  That sounds reasonable until you know that each of these people had also talked to other people and we were all just going around talking to each other, confirming with this person, talking to the original person.  This is why conference calling was invented.

Here is my confession: I am sometimes drained by these conversations.  (Again, if you have family, you know what I mean.  Other members of my own family feel this way.  I am not unique in my observations.)  Family get-togethers can be hard for all the usual reasons.  In my family they’re also hard because everyone gives too much.

I know, it sounds crazy on paper.  You know what, though?  It’s really true.  Our gatherings have so much food that we cannot fit the leftovers in the freezer.  The kids will end up with stockings, Easter baskets, trick-or-treat bags or whatever we’re celebrating from multiple grandparents, in-laws, friends, aunts and uncles.  On Christmas, my daughter came home with enough stuff to start a small toy store and I wondered with no small amount of irritation where I was supposed to put it all.

Plus, you know, the waste.

In each conversation I’ve had about Easter dinner, I’ve cautioned restraint.  I plan things with an eye for economy and efficiency.  I am cheap and do not enjoy eating leftovers for days.  In this respect, I’ve always identified with the disciples and their frustration over Mary’s extravagant “anointing” of Jesus with an expensive pitcher of perfumed oil.  In Mark’s account, this act is even the tipping point for Judas, the event that propels him into betrayal.

“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” (Mark 14:4-5)

No joke.  I would want to rebuke someone harshly too.  I have, indeed, rebuked people harshly.  “You didn’t have to do that.”  “That’s too much.”  “There’s always plenty of food.”  “The kids will be happy just to play together.”

Sometimes the irrationality of generosity makes my head spin.  A years worth of wages!  Let’s donate to charity instead.

Even as I type this, I’m resistant to say what I’m about to say.  I’m stuck on these ideas I have.  I want to take this reflection in a direction that inspires us all (me included, because I need the inspiration) to go live perfectly austere lives where we give everything to the poor, save the earth and welcome the prisoner.  I want to say that this expensive oil-bath was only ok because it was Jesus, and he was about to die.  I really, truly do.  Especially in the middle of Holy Week, which is all about somberness and reflection and the awareness of suffering that still exists in our world.  This week in particular, as I participate in a beans and rice fast to remember that many people do not have enough to eat, as I plan to wake up in the middle of the night on Friday to take my turn at our prayer vigil, as I long for wholeness in our world, I want to craft a lecture about responsibility and stewardship.  And many of you are reading this and thinking the same thing.  You’re waiting for that, ready to close the browser window if I don’t say something–quick!–about making the world a better place by simplifying our lives.

But then this scripture is here, nestled right in the middle of Holy Week itself.  It is a mystery to me.  I want Jesus to say something other than, “Leave her alone.”  I want him to appreciate Mary’s good heart but then gently guide her toward a better use of her money.  I want him to say, “”whatever you do for the poor, you do for me.”  Instead, he just sits here, asking us to ponder the miracle of this love, in all its materialistic, extravagant wasteful ways.  He says, instead, “love those in your midst while you have them.  Love them and love them lavishly.”  After all, the ever-present reminder of Lent is that we will all die.  From ashes you came and to ashes you will return.  In other words, no one will be with us forever.

So for this week, just for this one week, I’m going to stick with the mystery of this story.  I’m going to remember that out-of-control generosity is a blessing.  When Easter comes and there are 20 pounds of potato salad, 10 desserts, a ham too big to fit on the table and the kids are covered in melted chocolate from their 7th Cadbury egg, I’m going to remember that the ability to give big is indeed a virtue.  After all, these things–the too-many dishes, the planning, the excitement, the very wastefulness of it all–are a generosity born out of love.  It is a beautiful thing.

Love grafitti