Blog Archives

Body-centering Babies (and Mommies!)

When babies cry “for no reason”, people usually try to distract them. I had the realization the other day that doing this might encourage habits of dissociation + escapism when they get older, instead of being present with their feelings (“I’m upset, oh I’ll go into the next room and look at the computer for a while”, etc).

Today I was caring for a 5-month-old. Right after a nap, bottle, and diaper change, the baby started to cry. I knew it wasn’t one of those three things she needed, and she had that glazed-over look that babies sometimes have when they are crying “for no reason”, so I thought she might like me to help bring her attention back to herself. I moved her legs and rubbed her belly and said “here you are!”, and she IMMEDIATELY stopped crying and regained focus in her eyes. She looked at me with a deep, fully conscious look, and let out a delighted laugh.

How awesome is THAT?

I also sometimes need help coming back to myself. My husband (who conveniently for me, is skilled in teaching various body-centered somatic psychotherapy practices) is an awesome resource for me when I am stressed and want to just go on autopilot instead of confront those feelings. When I am lost in thoughts, he’s there like a light in the fog to tell me “here you are!”. And here I am, needing nothing in this moment other than what I have already.

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The Tao of Tantrums

I have a toddler, and I nanny a not-yet-sitting-up-by-herself baby full time. So far, it has been very interesting, delightful, and occasionally completely chaotic. My daughter is just now entering into the phase of “tantrums”, where her frustrations can quickly explode into very intense emotion. Now all of a sudden she has to share mommy with another baby, so she sometimes must WAIT instead of having her needs met immediately. Recipe for disaster? Not necessarily!

When a baby is crying, it is instinctual to check on them to see what they need. When a more self-reliant toddler is crying, it is easier to assume that they are “just being whiny” or “can wait a little longer while I finish the dishes”, etc. But ignoring children sets a bad example, and soon they will start to ignore YOU when you want them to pay attention! Despite knowing this, I have recently been doing something foolish…

Whenever I would bring the baby in to the diaper changing room, my daughter would follow us in and start crying with RAGE. I didn’t understand why she was so mad, but I knew the baby needed a diaper change or SHE would start to freak out too, so I would just try to do it as quickly as possible. Usually I’d try to distract my daughter with an interesting object (ooo shiny!). But then the next time the baby needed a diaper change, it would be the same thing over again.

At some point, I realized that perhaps my daughter just didn’t know WHY I was bringing the baby in there and doing something on a high table she couldn’t see the top of, WHY she was being made to wait, WHY mommy was hurrying and being stressed in response to her cries instead of LISTENING. I decided to take a moment – breathe – and explain! I knelt down with the baby on my knee, and said to my daughter very slowly, and simply: “There’s POOP in the baby’s diaper!”. She stopped crying, and said “DI-PUH”, pointing to the baby’s diaper. I said “Yes. POOP! In the diaper. She wants a NEW diaper. Should we give her a new diaper?”

After that, she seemed to understand. The next time the baby needed a diaper change, my daughter pointed down the hall toward the changing room as if to say “Let’s go!”

When you are tired, trying to finish something, and there is a tiny person screaming at you for a reason that you don’t think is reasonable, it is sometimes hard to know what is best to do. Really, the best thing you can do is BE CALM yourself, and notice your kid. They are trying to tell you something that feels very important to them. The dishes can wait. The diapers can wait. What is actually needed might only take a moment.

Why Tantrum-throwing Children Aren’t “Brats”


Imagine that you have just heard the most upsetting news of your life (your best friend died, your home town was bombed, etc.) and picture yourself totally LOSING IT. You’re on the ground crying, overwhelmed by suffering, and not even noticing/caring if anyone else is witnessing it. Now picture your partner responding to your suffering by angrily whispering “Be quiet! Behave!“, and maybe even smacking you a few times. Picture a crowd around you frowning, saying “What a spoiled brat“!

We generally think of a child’s tantrum as different from REAL suffering, because the child’s reasons for being upset “aren’t valid”.

It’s been a while since we were that small, and most adults have forgotten what it actually felt like to be a toddler. But people who DO remember describe it the same as the scenario above– as if they’d just heard the most upsetting news of their lives, and had no ability to cope with the resulting intense emotions.

If someone is experiencing suffering, then they are experiencing suffering. The reason behind it absolutely doesn’t matter, but we often dismiss people’s suffering if we don’t agree that they SHOULD be upset (especially if that person is a toddler). But if someone is upset, they SHOULD be. Here’s why:
* They don’t have the skills of dealing with stress in any other way yet (or in that specific moment).
* There may be factors that we aren’t aware of that are adding to the upset. The reason you can see might have merely been the “last straw”.
* What is upsetting to one person might not be upsetting to another. Just because you don’t understand WHY it is upsetting, that doesn’t mean the other person isn’t experiencing real grief.

So I’m just supposed to GIVE IN or I’m traumatizing my kid?
No that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that once a tantrum has begun, the best way of dealing with it is by giving the child the sort of interaction someone would want if they were experiencing REAL GRIEF (hug them and show them genuine love). Of course, showing genuine love is sometimes a difficult task if YOU are also upset in that moment. An “I love you” coming from a stressed parent just isn’t going to cut it. Kids pick up on your stress, and then escalate.

How do you LOVE when stressed?
Love is an action, and so is stress– they are not just happening to you at random. You can decide in the moment which one you want to embrace. It is unrealistic to expect a toddler to be able to recognize that their tantrum is something they are DOING (instead of happening to them), but YOU have a better chance at realizing this and turning your own silent tantrum back toward the direction of calm + peace. It is easy to think of a child’s tantrum as a problem that demands an immediate solution. But really, the best thing you can possibly do is be aware of your emotional state– be aware of the physical sensations in your chest– breathe– and notice that you can be present and compassionate in the middle of the storm.

Other resources:
Here’s what Dr. Sears has to say about tantrums
And here’s some tips from “Happiest Toddler on the Block” Author Dr. Karp

Liver Recipe that is TASTY… Not Just Tolerable!

Ever since I got pregnant, I have been having a severe problem getting enough B12 (to the point of severe bruising + constant dizziness/fatigue). Supplements don’t do the trick for me, and even eating meat doesn’t help unless I eat a LOT of it. I reluctantly gave up being vegan and went straight for the most efficient + plentiful source of B12: BEEF LIVER. The only problem is that I hate liver! The smell, the taste, the concept… it all = eww. But it gives me so much energy and makes me feel amazingly healthy, not to mention dramatically increases my breast-milk production, and is CHEAP! So I’ve been searching for a way to eat it without having to hold my breath the whole time, and I believe I’ve found it at last.

This is a liver recipe that is actually edible. Dare I say… DELICIOUS? It is suitable for a main course, even when you’re having company over! I would eat it in a house and I would eat it with a mouse, and I would eat it here or there. Say, I would eat it ANYWHERE!

I adapted it from this Indian masala recipe, taking out the sugar and just making it a little easier for the lazy/busy people out there (like me). The spices don’t have to be these exact measurements– feel free to play around and substitute!

Ingredients :
1 pound grass-fed beef liver
2 medium-sized onions (chopped)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups cooked + strained lentils
1 tbsp ginger
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
6-8 tbsp oil (I used homemade chicken schmaltz)
salt to taste

Directions:
– Boil the liver in salted water till it is almost tender (10-15min)
– At the same time, cook all other ingredients (except for the lentils) in a covered frying pan on medium heat.
– Drain the liver and cut into tiny slices.
– Add the liver and lentils to the pan.
– Lower heat and simmer uncovered, about half an hour.
– Prepare to be amazed!

COOKING TIME = 45min.
SERVING SIZE = 6-8 servings

On the Sabbath, I Smell Like Jasmine

I remember reading a story about a mother who would welcome the Sabbath by wearing a special perfume on that day. I don’t know where this story came from, but I really liked the idea and it stuck with me. I envisioned the woman’s family recognizing that sweet scent, and knowing that the warmth of Shabbat was there. At some point, I decided to take this on as a personal practice. I picked Jasmine oil as my special scent because it felt peaceful and also wasn’t a scent that I normally used (normally, I smell like lavender, cinnamon, or just plain old patchouli hippie).

When my husband and I lived at Twin Oaks (an eco-village of 100 people on 600 acres), we would celebrate the Sabbath together by camping out by the river and praying/meditating all day. I loved how the jasmine scent that I wore gradually faded throughout the day and by sundown was mostly gone. Now that we are living together with a baby in a “normal” neighborhood, I put on my Sabbath jasmine oil and remember those beautiful days by the river. It also brings my attention back into the present moment, as a reminder that this day is not about doing, but is about BEING.

I came across the following description of the scent:

Jasmine fragrance is associated with inner feelings and aspirations. It is intensely floral but with a feminine modesty. Jasmine is a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac. Jasmine is a scent so unreserved that it purifies the emotions. It has been known to relieve melancholy. As a well-used scent, Jasmine provides strength in matters of spiritual love. It has a soothing effect on the inner-self and lends its scent well to meditation and contemplation.

Seems appropriate.

Birthing as Awareness Practice

I was the type of person who would immediately dose up on pain killers at the first sign of a headache. But when I became pregnant, I knew that I wanted to have an “all natural” birth without any drugs or interventions. How could I possibly prepare for such a thing? I mean, I was headed toward the most physically intense experience of my life and I couldn’t even handle a little headache! I watched “Birth As We Know It” and “Orgasmic Birth” (both excellent films), and read “Birthing From Within” from cover to cover. These things were very inspiring, but I knew that in the heat of the moment, there was no way that I’d be thinking about that “inspirational thing I read about inner strength that one time”.

At some point I realized that there was actually nothing I could do to make myself have an ideal birthing experience. Everybody’s birth is different, and you can’t know beforehand how it will all unfold. I realized that I would have to learn how to be ok with whatever happened, even if it happened in an unexpected way. I started practicing being ok with THIS MOMENT, in every new moment (without a story about what happened before and what might/should happen next). I just kept noticing my body sensations, what I was hearing/seeing, etc., without focusing on my thoughts about any of it. And something awesome began to happen. I noticed that my experience of reality was largely based upon my interpretations of what was actually happening.

For example: In the past when I would get a headache, I would immediately start thinking something like “Oh no! This is a headache and it is gonna suck!”. But I noticed that without that description, there was just the sensation in THAT MOMENT, and it changed from moment to moment. When I started to think “This is pain, and pain is BAD!”, I would start to tense up my body and mind, and THAT was what actually made the experience so horrific. Without the story, it was just a squeezing sensation, and eventually it passed.

Ok, sure. But can that really work during CHILDBIRTH?

Yes! But you might have to practice it a lot beforehand for it to become second-nature. All throughout the last couple months of my pregnancy, I spent most of my time noticing my body sensations and what I was hearing/seeing/experiencing, and noticing that my thoughts about all of this profoundly altered my experience of it. I practiced being aware in every new moment that I remembered that I could. I had no real background in meditation, but I have come to understand that this is what I was doing. I was basically meditating for 2 months.

So when the time came to give birth, I felt a calmness and a trust in my body. I experienced every intense sensation that came along with labor, without a story of “pain” or “suffering”. And thus, I did not experience any of it as pain or suffering! I went into a deep trance, and envisioned being in a cave with drums beating. I felt a powerful spiraling energy moving through me, and I trusted that it knew what to do. All I had to do was to let it move through me, without tensing up or trying to stop it.

A “contraction” is that intense spiraling energy pushing through you, and people experience it as pain when they try to fight against it by clenching down on it or “being tough” to get through it. It is like huge waves in an ocean, and you can either try to fight them (and lose), try to ignore them (and they will hit you anyway), or you can RIDE them!

I was surprised to find that I didn’t need all the hysterical screaming like you see in movies. I made some low groaning noises when I felt moved to, as the energy was moving through me. Much of the time I remained silent. The midwife said that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a woman with such focus during labor. To me, it felt effortless because I was not DOING something extra; I was merely letting myself have the experience. At one point I made a noise and she said something like “was that a contraction?”. Her speaking brought me out of the trance and I realized that perhaps I should let everyone know that I had already gone into the final (pushing) phase some time ago. My nurse, midwife, and husband all swooped over as soon as I told them. I thought it was funny because I felt like their presence was totally unnecessary. I was doing fine on my own, and feeling powerfully awesome. Moments later, little Ariana burst into the world.

Later, I realized that just because I had already gone through the intensity of labor did not mean that I had to stop using this meditation practice. Now, when I am experiencing each new moment, and noticing how my thoughts change my experience of it, I have so much more enjoyment from life. Some people have esteemed gurus as their “spiritual teachers”. I had pregnancy as mine.

Haggadah For A Meaningful Passover Seder

I wanted a haggadah with less dogma, and more meaningful/interactive stuff. I liked bits + pieces of several haggadot, so I decided to put together my own. I used a lot from Rachel Barenblat’s (“Velveteen Rabbi”) haggadah, and a lot of it I wrote myself. I left space for my family to decorate with crayons. Feel free to use some (or all) of this haggadah for your own Passover seder!

It begins with:
“Passover is the Jewish springtime festival: a time for renewal, returning, and rebirth. A Passover seder is a ritual feast in which we take time to fully experience each new taste we encounter, and (much like in a Japanese tea ceremony) everything is done purposefully, with awareness.”

Here is my haggadah for your downloading pleasure!
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1S1MUFmy6je3VJTM0zUjFVRLCL-5WcwHNFlTx85CfaG8/edit?hl=en

Conscious Parenting

Judging requires effort.  Anger requires effort.  Believing and reacting to thoughts about what “should be happening” requires effort.  Believing and reacting to thoughts like “this is more than I can do” or “people are asking too much of me” requires effort.  These are the things that are actually draining, not what is happening in the moment.

If people imagine that they are needed to do more than they think they are physically able to do, this can be a very stressful thought.  But often what is actually happening in those moments is that they are either not realizing what their capabilities are, or they are misinterpreting what is actually needed in that situation.

I experienced this early on when my infant daughter would cry, I would put out a lot more energy than was necessary as I tried to “fix the problem”, and would feel exhausted and nervous about not being able to calm her.  Then my husband had the insight that all the baby ACTUALLY needed in that moment was for me to be present, and hold her while looking at her with love and acceptance.  And it was true.  I realized that I obviously couldn’t calm her while believing the stressful thought that I HAD TO calm her.  Without that thought, what naturally happened was just experiencing being true love, and this is what is actually needed when there is no obvious physical need.  Everything else requires effort and becomes draining.

Being infinite love requires no effort.  It is not training yourself to have “positive thinking”.  It is what happens before thinking begins.  It is surrendering and letting everything happen through you instead of being done by you.

I used to think that this experience of complete surrender into infinite love and consciousness was something random, ephemeral, and sporadic.  But I have learned that consciousness is actually a muscle that can be exercised (by doing body-awareness and thought-questioning exercises, or by praying in a way that invokes real surrender instead of just feeling safe).

In any moment, you can choose to fully embrace believing your thoughts, or choose to fully embrace consciousness/G-d/surrendering.  I think this is what that “Jesus” guy was talking about when he said to give up all possessions and follow him (I like the idea of reclaiming Jesus as a cool Jewish dude, instead of thinking of him with the mythology/concepts that Christians came up with)… Anyway, I don’t think he was talking about morals or afterlife; I think he was talking about having freedom from suffering NOW.  I think he was talking about giving up all of your baggage (in every moment that you remember that you can) and embracing what is happening in THIS moment instead of believing that you know better than the universe what SHOULD be happening in this moment.  Such sweet bliss is available in every moment, but we often pick “being right” over it.

Mother Poetry and the Jewish “Divine Feminine”

There are many reasons that I love Rachel Barenblat.  I have been following her beautiful Torah commentary and poetry on The Velveteen Rabbi for years, and was delighted when she became pregnant at the same time that I did because her poetry began to follow the amazing journey of pregnancy and motherhood as I was having similar experiences.

I co-lead a workshop recently with Rachel Galper, about connecting with the ”Divine Feminine” (in a Jewish context) through art and storytelling.  My experience of divinity as female is directly linked to the intensity of my body bearing, birthing, and nourishing a child.  The following poem by Rachel Barenblat really captures this experience.  The poem is based on Psalm 126 and on her experiences of her first year as a mother:

ONE YEAR

A psalm of ascent

When the doctor brought you

through my narrow places

I was as in a dream: tucked behind

my closed eyes, chanting silently

we are opening up in sweet surrender.

The night before we left the hospital

I wept: didn’t they know

I had no idea what to do with you?

Even newborn-sized clothes

loomed around you, vast and ill-fitting.

I couldn’t convince you to latch

without a nurse there to reposition.

But we got into the car, the old world

made terrifying and new, and

in time I learned your language.

I had my own narrow places ahead,

the valley of the postpartum shadow.

Nights when I would hand you over,

mutely grateful to anyone willing

to rock you down, to suffer your cries…

But those who sow in tears

will reap in joy, and you

are the joy I never knew I didn’t have.

I have paced these long hours

bearing a baby on my shoulder

and now I am home in rejoicing,

bearing you, my own harvest.

http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/mother-poems

 

Homegrown Judaica

Some of my artwork is being featured on the up-and-coming “Jewish etsy” art site Homegrown Judaica. They have some pretty cool ideas. Check them out!

“Founder and CEO, Rachel Silverman, earned a PresenTense 2011 Fellowship with the idea for creating a “Jewish Etsy” that allows local Jewish artists to sell their work to customers who care about buying local, supporting Jewish artists in their community, and, most importantly, purchasing high quality, hand-made items that are often one-of-a-kind.”