Saturday, December 29, 2007

China's Take

An excerpt from a forthcoming novel ...

Sometimes, I am amazed and happy about small, obvious things. Like, that my clothes fit into drawers. How marvelous! Who invented drawers? A place for everything, everything in its place. They roll out, they roll in. They disappear--invisible, inner rows, storing treasures of all textures and colors. At top, a place to perch a photo, a glass of water, a watch, a can of beer. Whose idea was this? I'd like to thank them.

I am grateful.

Or that there are roads. Amazing. Think of the complexity and thought that has gone into roads. People came together and planned, rolled out endless sheets of paper onto tables, and then dug and laid hot pavement and built a network so vast, so intricate that one can drive all around in one's own city, never bumping into anything, going everywhere! And, then--even more amazing still--one can leave and drive to another city altogether!

When I think this way, life feels complete. What else could one want when one has drawers and also roads?

In these moments, I realize that it is not what we seek that will make us happy, but what already is. We don't see anything. We don't see anything we have.

And if that's the case, what could we possibly do with anything more?

Excerpt from a novel for young adults ...

I woke up and all I knew was my Mommy was gone, my Mommy was gone. My daddy had never been, and now my Mommy was gone, too. I blinked, and cried, and blinked. I felt tears pool around my eyes and run down sideways across my face to where my cheek rested on, what? something, not a pillow. Something slick.

A soft sadness, and as I woke up more, I realized I was 16 years old and my Mommy had been gone now for a long, long time. I had been wondering where she was for 11 years. But the more important question now, was Where am I?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Curiouser & Curiouser Part II

More Family Facts & Figures

• Children of depressed moms are more likely to be anxious or depressed or to engage in disruptive behavior. (Parenting Magazine, Dec. 2007) I imagine this would be true for depressed dads, too. I include this statistic not to create more depression, but because I believe the current trend has been to negate state of mind in favor of “biochemical” causes for almost all untoward behavior on the part of children. I do believe that the feeling state in the home has a foundational impact on children in the home. If there were no way to change one’s state of mind, this would be distressing news indeed. However, as Sydney Banks (“The Missing Link,” “Second Chance,” “The Enlightened Gardener,” and et. al.) has said, mental health and happiness for every human being on the planet is “just one thought away.” Take care of yourselves, Moms, Dads, Foster Folks, Grandfolks, Loving Others! … You will find a way.

• There is no greater risk for emotional problems among adopted kids (adopted as infants) than among non-adopted children. In fact, adopted teenagers scored higher than their non-adopted siblings or samples of their peers in connectedness, caring, social competency, school achievement, optimism and “support” (available support from others) measures. Search Institute, Minneapolis, 1994.

• Less Guilt! There is no correlation between time spent watching TV (for children) and time spent exercising, playing sports, or engaging in other types of physical activity. In other words, there is no negative correlation. In other words, “there was no statistically significant difference in the amount of time light, moderate or [even] heavy TV viewers reported spending in physical activity.” Actually, heavy TV viewers registered nearly 10 minutes more physical activity per day than light TV viewers. However, in both 1) houses with TV “rules” or 2) without a TV in the home, kids on average, engaged in reading 16 minutes more per day. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005,, see executive summary #7250 or full report #7251.)

• The Kaiser study did find a correlation linking kids who reported as “discontented” and/or kids not doing well in school to increased/high media use, including playing video games (one to two hours more, on average, per day). This makes perfect sense to me—an escape. Overall, despite increasing and more variegated media use, “most young people report being largely happy and well adjusted.” Hurrah! (They’re not just saying that, are they?)


Your anger is a veil

Like Spiderman shoots a web at the world,

So you spit and seethe your Fury

But this web keeps you from seeing, changing, moving, growing

It binds you tight.

Who knows if your victim has been damaged, or hurt

Or made stronger?

Have you evoked fear

Or Love?

Only one thing is certain.

Like a cocoon wound too tightly,

Or the spider's sticky shroud

Anger will kill you, first.

Unless ...

Unless you emerge from your chrysalis


and beat your sudden wings

damp with your second--& most significant--birth

into Newness, the vast & tremulous Unknown

Now ...

you are

full of tenderness,

full of rhythm

In ecstatic flight

through the Infinite night.


Lomi Lomi Conflict Mediation

The Director Emeritus of my daughter's Preschool, a man I consider uniquely gifted in his demeanor and interaction with children, is also a huge Hawaii fan. He told me this:

In Hawaii, in the old tradition, when there was an argument or a disagreement or bad feelings, all the people involved would come together and listen closely to each other as each person shared from their heart.

When this was all done, and everyone had a chance to speak and everyone felt heard and understood, they would all have a Lomi Lomi massage and jump into the ocean for a swim.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Surprising Facts and Figures about Families, Parenting and Kids

In most cases, I cite the relevant sources. Corrections welcome.

Families & Couples

  • In a 2002 study of “unhappy” marriages and spouses from such marriages, researchers found that divorce did not ensure that spouses, overall, became more happy. It was more likely (two-thirds of “unhappy” marriages/spouses studied) that spouses became more happy staying in the marriage and weathering various marital storms—including having children, depressive episodes, infidelity, financial stress and what the researchers called “men behaving badly.” Spouses who divorced, on average, showed no significant improvements in well-being, self-empowerment, personal efficacy or depressive symptoms and showed an overall increase in use of alcohol. (I’m guessing alcohol use may increase as a result of more time spent out in public venues like bars.)
  • Marital counseling, especially secular marital counseling, did not play any significant role in helping couples to stay married. Couples, and especially men, were wary of couples’ counseling and especially “value neutral” counseling that was perceived as not valuing the institution of marriage itself. More helpful—according to spouses interviewed—were invested outsiders, such as family members and clergy, who encouraged couples to “stick with it.”
  • Almost 8 of 10 spouses who had reported that their marriages were “very unhappy” reported themselves as happily married (to the same spouse) five years later. (In other words, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds.)
  • No significant differences were found in education and income levels between those reporting themselves as happily or unhappily married after five years.
  • Often, only one spouse in a marriage reports as “unhappy.”
  • Wives were most often the “barometers” of whether the marriage was happy or not … Although men in marriages that “became happy” reported making significant changes or shifts in their thinking and behaviors to create a better marriage. (In other words, men had little awareness of how their behaviors impacted their marriages, but were able to gain awareness and make changes.)
  • The birth of first and second children significantly impacted marital happiness for the worse. However, dedication to the well-being of children was a potent force in keeping marriages intact. Enjoyment of children together was then cited as one of the many benefits in marriages that eventually become happy. (This is a very touching section, with quotes from participants, in the study report.)
  • The threat of divorce, when seen as real, was a major incentive to many spouses—especially men—to “get it together” and change.
  • Commonly cited reasons for why a marriage improved: time passing, or just “sticking it out” (number one!); a “marital endurance ethic”; improved communication/adjustments.
  • Researchers found that “commitment [to marriage] is not just a side effect [of a happy marriage], but is also a cause of relationship happiness.” Entertaining the idea of divorce or separation over time, or “continually wondering whether your marriage is good enough to keep can be exhausting … When people are intensely committed to their marriages, they invest more in the relationship, they minimize the importance of differences they can’t resolve … they have a powerful incentive to understand their partner’s actions in the best possible light, and to be an advocate for their spouse as well as themselves.”
  • One wife in the study said: “I just had to try to ride it out and not bitch so much.” One man said his father (who lived in Ghana) told him: “It’s not any easier with another wife!”
  • When marriages were extremely bad and involved physical conflict and violence, there was a benefit in divorcing for spouses interviewed. This was a very small number of all marriages studies (four to six percent).

--“Does Divorce Make People Happy?: Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages,” 2002, Institute for American Values (this study is available as a highly readable 39-page document online).

  • “Good” divorces are not necessarily better for children than two parents staying in a somewhat unhappy (or “low-conflict”) marriage. A study by author Elizabeth Marquadt (“Between Two Worlds”) and Dr. Norval Glenn at the University of Texas at Austin shows that divorce, no matter how amicable “still takes a toll on children’s overall well being, as well as their own future marital success.” Impact on children includes “much less ability to trust and little idea of what a lasting marriage looks like” (from U.T. Austin website article, “The Divorce Dilemma,” 2006). According to Dr. Glenn, “Even by being good people and marrying good people, [these children of ‘good’ divorce] feel they cannot assure that their marriage will work.”
  • The study also found that “if the marriage is so bad it leaves the primary parent, usually the mother, so depressed she can’t parent effectively, the children are usually better off after the parents divorce. However, only a minority of divorces of couples with children is of this nature …”
  • “The separation of parents bifurcates children’s inner lives, forcing them to become navigators, conciliators and emotional caregivers at an early age, all of which leaves them with a sense of tentativeness and isolation even as adults … Children whose parents remain in somewhat unhappy, low conflict marriages … fare better in certain crucial spheres than children of divorce.” –from “Straight Talk about Happy Talk: Is there such a thing as a good divorce?” online article in OpinionJournal.

I am raising perhaps controversial points here about divorce and marriage not to make divorced parents feel guilty (which is never helpful), but to help currently married or coupled parents come to grips. Ultimately, one’s inner wisdom, one’s “sense of knowing,” which arises from a calm feeling state, is one’s best guide and last word in all life matters. However, I believe these statistics point to state of mind as the essential variable, more than “externals” in our lives, as the main determinant of we are “happy” or not. It is our state of mind that our children bathe in, and breathe in—from which they nurse. Is it possible that your state of mind, within your marriage, could shift?

I myself am a child of divorce and, because I am, I am certainly the one in my marriage who has thought of divorce more often, who has wondered if there is “something better out there” and if all my “needs” are being met.

My husband, who comes from a large and intact, tightly-knit family, reports that he does not think this way at all. (I think this is sub-consciously why I married him). When I needed an “excuse” to settle my mind and become happy, these facts and figures appeared in my life. They explained a lot for me. When I commit to my marriage and my children, I experience the joy of companionship and partnership, humor and love, togetherness. I am not committing to an institution or body of moral law, I am simply committing to Now. I am committing to the one who happens to be by my side. I am committing to a love that sometimes cannot be seen.

Socio-political debates about marriage as an institution are relevant in context. However, I believe that conservatives and progressives alike deeply (and sometimes sub-consciously) value Love and caring—as well as individual freedom. And we all do, or should, value children.

If we can adjust our own thinking and expectations, setting our sights on happiness within our current circumstances, then happy outcomes (and more harmonious external circumstances) result from this internal shift, including happy and harmonious outcomes for our children.

Recommended Reading: “A Book for Couples” and “I Will Never Leave You: How Couples Can Achieve the Power of Lasting Love” Hugh & Gayle Prather, “The Relationship Handbook,” George Pransky, “Whole Child/Whole Parent” Polly Berrien Berends.

More curious family stats to come ...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

i wonder sometimes ...

"i wonder sometimes,

if we ever give God a headache."

--Dontay Hall, age 8

... as printed on a Kate Harper Designs greeting card

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Timely Invitation

This blog is not meant to promote, particularly, any one person or philosophy (except myself, of course!)

However, due to a very special event, approaching rapidly (see below), I dedicate this blog to the work of Mr. Sydney Banks (see also

Here are excerpts from his books and lectures:

It is impossible to lose the ego ... "You can only find out what the ego is so that it will have less control over you. Then you will stop having to prove yourself to the world ... and the feeling of contentment and self-esteem will be yours."

--Sydney Banks, "Second Chance"

"There is no fixed way to get oneself into a state of meditation. The state of meditation comes when the ego is put to sleep via silence."

--Sydney Banks, "Second Chance"

"Once the mind is elevated, it will never return permanently to its former state."

--S. Banks, "The Enlightened Gardener"

"The vastness of this physical earth and sky, with all its solar systems, is miniscule compared to what lies within every living soul on the face of this earth."

--"The Enlightened Gardener Revisited"

"In the illusory world of thought, many believe the inner self is God and the outer self is the body. But I can assure you, the inner self and the outer self are the same thing.

Your eyes must see in the singular if you want to find the truth.

When you understand this, you will see through the illusionary duality of life."

--S. Banks, "The Missing Link"

"Heaven is not a place, it is a conscious state."

--S. Banks, lecture

The discoveries and nearly lifelong work of Mr. Sydney Banks, Canadian author and theosopher, have produced a now widely practiced psychology based on three psycho-spiritual, or formless, principles. These principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought condense the mysteries and wisdom of the ages into simple truths, easily shared, that awaken the mental health and well-being in even severely distressed individuals.

I have been a student and teacher of these principles in various settings for more than a decade--and have witnessed remarkable and very swift outcomes in my own clients and students. In the county in which I work, Principles-based psychology has expanded rapidly throughout mental health and social services, including juvenile justice, due to client outcomes and client demand.

At this time, Principles-based psychology is taught and practiced in academic settings, hospital systems, city and county government, school districts, correctional institutions and sober living and recovery institutions--as well as in the corporate world.

Mr. Banks will be holding perhaps his last public lecture in the U.S. in San Jose, California on October 20 & 21, 2007 at the bucolic Dolce Hayes Mansion. Therapists, counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists who practice a Principles-based psychology, nationally and internationally, will be in attendance. Registration is through Pransky and Associates at 360-466-5200. Registration forms can be found at my own organization's website at ...

Because mental health and inner well-being is the basis for positive, loving, and respectful human relations, I strongly encourage all those who seek to help the world end suffering and find peace in the fastest possible manner to attend this seminar.

Mr. Banks teaches a truly simplified truth with vast implications for the mental health field, community renewal, parents, teachers, children and youth.

With Love and Great Regard,


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Swallow the Moon

A Poem for Pregnant Elise

By and by,

Baby will be coming soon

You, who have

Swallowed the moon

Now follow the course of its arc in-utero

waxing into fullness within

(Who knew you could hold the moon in your belly?)

carrying this ethereal weight

beyond fullness and ripeness, into bruisy, turning juiciness

Bearing, with its majesty,

Bearing down darkness, down-ness, too

Yes, sometimes,

The dark side of the moon whips its scythe over fluffy pink and blue-ness

Though Darkness

also bears its gift—a Question,

revealing Mystery

of Birth, of Soul Appearing from Shadow

and as you stay open, open! as darkness grows,

You may find within that Shadow

the Joy you seek, too

of Love crowning and descending upon you

Revealing what it means to

Mother, to be constant—to be pock-marked and battered

to be luminescent and light, a comfort in the night

to be loved, to ache within

waxing and waning

again and again,

Oh holy holy


Mother Moon

© by Ami Chen Mills-Naim, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Quickest Route to Change

The quickest route to change is gratitude.

Love your life as it is now ... whatever you can find about it to love

And your heart & mind will open wide to receive

What is wonderful to come ...


Here's the deeper secret

For those really ready (is it you? is it you?
... if not now, later then
I will meet you here, again)

It's all true ...

wonderful things, life unfolding, taking wing,
people, places, relations--all the worldly Nouns

But the real change

the change you're really looking for

is Gratitude


Thursday, August 2, 2007

My Children Are My Gurus Now

I am intimidated by gurus. I feel they must see right through me, and I suppose I have yet to accept that what they may see is entirely good.

On the other hand, I believe the idea is supposed to be that they do see right through me ... and therefore what they see is entirely good.

Let's hope it's the latter for everyone's sake.

My children also see right through me, but I am also sure that they love me very much. Of course, they depend on me entirely, and so the deck is stacked in my favor. At any rate, I get to love them back--and it's a beautiful thing.

My children are my gurus now. When they are present, they are very present and--if I tune in--there is so much love and joy and laughter there. So much purity, so much energy.

I am not always "tuned in," of course. Often, I am tuned out. But after observing myself for some time, I noticed that I preferred to be tuned in.

Just noticed ... just noticed.

Soon enough, it was hard to see a reason to tune out.

Self torture, perhaps.

Still, I do that once in a while. But my kids are my reminder. The little bell goes "ding"--Aldous Huxley's bells from "Island"--and I am reminded,

"Oh! Come back! Come back! Where are you going? ... There is no There there!"

You don't have to be a parent, of course. You can do this with bird song. The wind.

It's all God talking.

But these days, for me, it's my kids.

They say:

Aaaaag ga ga ba ba ba! They say:

Hello, Mommy!!! I am having a picnic with my friends. Can you come? Can you come?

... Here is your chair.

Are You Human, Too?

Stand back!

Let's unearth

all those mean n' crazy thoughts

we think (yes, I know you do!)

bizarre, inhumane, selfish, shamed, skeptical, deviant, horrific, insane

terrifying, stultifying, completely inane

Angry! Morose! Sullen! Perverse!


The worst!

There you are ...

All of it inside of you/inside of me

As humans, We.

A whole, huge heap and tangle

of nothing

And the seeds of everything

Everything we judge


in us ...

Allow it all to Be

in You &

in Me

the wind passing

& still I love you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"You Say 'Lazy' Like It's a Bad Thing"

(Caveat Emptor: A very long, but worthwhile, blog ...)

I have a greeting card on my office wall with that text. A woman in a lovely fifties frock reclines in a hammock, surrounded by flowers, and the card reads:

"You say 'lazy' like it's a bad thing."

The card, of course, is a joke for me. I am a mother of two (baby & toddler), head of a non-profit organization, also work a government contract job, am in the midst of a studio construction and design project, volunteer much of time, attempt to arrange play dates, manage the family finances and social events, write and publish my freelance and book projects, and etc. etc.

You know the drill. Oh, and now I write this blog. The classic picture of the "Woman Who Does Too Much." I don't read books about "Women Who Do Too Much" because that would be yet another thing to do.

Also, I'd prefer to consider myself a "Woman Who Runs with the Wolves" or something similarly wild and free. I would trade places with Paris Hilton in a New York minute, just to saunter around in outrageous fashions, recline on a yacht, and look bored ... I would even take the jail stay. That would be like a retreat for me. Three squares and a cot, peace and quiet (depending on crowding and conditions), no monumental decisions to make. I am down for that.

But I would only take Paris' life for a month or so. Maybe less. I'm sure I would miss my kids and husband. I would even miss my work. Also, perhaps Paris is actually very, very busy and just cultivates the bored look, the bored saunter. In fact, I suspect she is actually a human being.

Unless things that happen in the movies and on TV start happening to me (i.e. I get to trade lives with someone, live in a child's body, receive an extreme life makeover), I have to settle in the meantime for Mystical Mamahood.

Mystical Mamahood means accepting your life and adjusting your head. Mystical Mamahood means that, while things do need to get done, perhaps they do not need to get done all at once. Perhaps they do not even need to get done "right away" as you imagined. Perhaps--and this sounds like sacrilege, I know--they do not even need to get done at all.

I saw an article recently in the local daily paper with the headline: "More Americans Doing Less." I thought, "Thank God! Are we finally starting to slow down?" I have had this uneasy sensation that the world is speeding up. Perhaps this is pretty obvious to everyone by now, but all the technology that was supposed to improve our lives means that we can be "on" and available to almost everyone at almost every moment of the day. Rather than having one squeaky old answering machine to check at home, we now have the home phone, the office phone, the cell phone, the two or three e-mail accounts and other technologically advanced messaging and communication devices that I am still not familiar with.

The time in the car during rush hour for me used to be reflection time. Now I have the capability to make a business or personal call. Others can make an online restaurant reservation, snoop on unsuspecting members of the public via live cam, or browse the web, I hear. So, the original idea would be that you might use your "down time" in the car to get things done so that you could get home and have some real "down time." The problem of course, is that people get home and get busy. There's the e-mail to check, the home voice mail and all the many bills to pay that accompany such technology. (Not to mention continual upgrades and possible repairs.)

Notwithstanding those people who find joy and fun in technology, as one might in any hobby, the culture overall appears to be speeding to manic levels. Even when you settle on the couch to watch the news, you can now both watch the actual televised report and simultaneously try to read other, incoming and apparently urgent written reports scrolling across the bottom of the screen. During your favorite TV program, you can start to think about the next TV program you are going to watch because its animated teaser shows up in the lower left corner doing a little dance.

So I was thrilled to read that "Americans" were "doing less." When I read the article, however, the whole slant was that "procrastination" had become a huge problem in American life. In other words, this "doing less" business was considered a kind of disaster.

If there's anything that Americans need to be doing, it's less. Procrastination may be a separate issue altogether, but I see busy-ness (both mental and physical) as increasing and also as a very serious, if not monumental, mental health issue. And here is why: It is the assumption and experience of the Mystical Mama that true mental health (that is, a rich, grounded, safe and comfortable feeling in life, a sense of connection, aliveness and compassion, a feeling of love) is a state of mind that surfaces only when the mind is actually still. "Still" can mean focused, too. As in singularly focused on a project, a hobby, a piece of art, a child. A still mind imparts a sense of timelessness and meaning that is essential to human mental health. Children, for the most part, are naturally mentally healthy because they have not learned to speed up their thinking and place it unnecessarily in the future or the past.

What compels our "busy-ness"? To what happy end do we hope our busy-ness will bring us to?

Humanity is on a seemingly endless quest for technological advance, information, money, objects, status, prestige, relationships, even individual growth and spiritual mastery ("an endless list of forms of nothingness that you endow with magical powers" --ACIM*).

If only sub-consciously, we all seek some form of contentment from our eventual "achievements." As in, when I get that, when we move, when my husband changes, when my kids behave, when I get pregnant, when I clean the house, when I quit my job ... then I will be content. In actuality, it is the mental habit of seeking that obscures the natural contentment that arises when our minds become still.

There is one study on money and happiness which shows that after people earn $12,000 a year, their level of "happiness" does not increase with any new increase in money. Essentially, if you earn enough to eat and possibly pay the rent (although not in Northern California), you can expect to experience the amount of happiness you will always experience--no matter how much money you make! Of course, this would assume you have not changed your mindset.

The study also showed that, although people do feel temporarily elated with an increase in funds, that elation wears off quickly. People who start to earn more than their "old" friends, soon find new, wealthier friends to compare themselves too. And it never ends. Therefore, in order to experience more happiness, one needs to actually find feelings of contentment, appreciation, love and understanding within the current context of one's life. This means slowing down the mind.

Shabbat Shalom, Peaceful Rest

I know that this is not new information, but it is so important, I feel it cannot be said enough in this culture. Books like "Slowing Down to the Speed of Life" (Joe Bailey & Richard Carlson), "Do Less Achieve More" (Chin-Ning Chu), and "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There" (Sylvia Boorstein) point in this direction. I recommend the books and audio/visual materials of Mr. Sydney Banks (, who speaks so directly of the essential importance of the quiet mind and its relation to wisdom, mental health and common sense.

A quiet mind can also accomplish tasks, cook dinner, tend to children and calm tantrums--and all much more effectively than a distracted, busy mind. So, how many of us take the time to quiet our minds? How many of us set aside a whole day, for example, just to be still and become present?

Some folks have been doing this for millenia, and that would be the Jewish people. The day that observant Jews set aside is Shabbat (later "borrowed" by Christians and re-named "the Sabbath.") My husband is a Sephardic, Israeli Jew. For a while, I took Jewish education classes and I was deeply struck by the Jewish idea of the Sabbath Day, of Shabbat.

This would be the original Sabbath idea, as the Jews were the first monotheists and created the Old Testament and also the holy day of rest (as divinely inspired or commanded, as the case may be). The idea of Shabbat follows the Biblical creation story which tells that after creating the whole, entire universe, God rested for one day ... and took it all in.

The idea then is that we humans should also do so--unless we suppose we actually have more energy than God. In very observant Jewish families, one does not cook or clean on Shabbat, one does not drive a car, use electricity (no TV, no computers), shop, handle money, conduct business or become "productive" in any manner. Interestingly enough, the spirit of Shabbat is feminine and women are especially encouraged to rest (in the texts, at any rate--actual practice seems sketchy.)

Here is what is both encouraged and allowed:
  • Contemplative reading
  • Taking walks, socializing with friends
  • Time with family and especially children
  • Making love with one's spouse
  • Comforting others, welcoming strangers into one's home
Much to my mother-in-law's dismay, I never became Jewish. I think she has now accepted this fact. She doesn't speak English at all; she speaks a unique combination of Arabic and Hebrew so that only her immediate family members understand her well. So, I have been lucky to have sidestepped any sort of debate about my religious leanings or practices (virtually none). But she once did say something to me that took hold. She took my hands one day before my husband and I were about to leave Israel, and she said with great emphasis and direct eye contact: "Keep the Shabbat." (This was translated by my husband.)

And with that, we left for the airport. Got back to the States, got busy with life. And from time to time, especially on Saturdays (the day for Jewish Shabbat), I remembered her words. I also remembered an image of her on a Saturday in a dusty village in Israel, not far from the West Bank--this image of Jasmina lying on a couch. That was her Saturday routine, get up, have a cup of coffee, chat a little with her family and then lie down on the couch. Lunch was served from a crock pot, having been prepared the day before to sidestep cooking on Shabbat (and in the crock pot to avoid turning electricity on or off). Jasmina would eat lunch, maybe sit on the front porch a bit, and then go lie down on the couch. Sometimes her eyes were open, sometimes closed. Sometimes she was actually sleeping, and sometimes she was just half-dozing or just pretending to sleep, to avoid being bothered by her myriad grandchildren.

What impressed me most was how heavily she lay on the couch, how she let her large body sink down into its sagging cushions, how it seemed that only a fire in the house could possibly rouse her.

Let me make it clear that Jasmina is not an idle woman. On the contrary! On any other day, and especially the Friday before Shabbat, she can be found doing laundry, peeling tomatoes over a large bucket, cooking, washing dishes, feeding her three dozen or so chickens, fixing the hen house or wire fences, tending to grandchildren (almost as many as the chickens) and so forth. Here is a woman who has raised seven sons and one daughter.

Back in the U.S., in the middle of a busy Saturday, with the TV on to "take care" of the kids, me going through bills or laundry, my husband running out to Home Depot or Orchard Supply, and all of us feeling somehow fatigued, on a treadmill, I remembered Jasima on that couch.

Over the years, I made a few attempts to talk my husband into doing "Shabbat." But my heart was not quite there, either. And then, the kids showed up. And life got very, very busy. I found that on Saturdays, after a week of work, I was very tired. And still, we tried to "get things done." After work, there are bills, household chores, cleaning, cooking, shopping, errand running. And then, one week, it dawned on me that Now was the time. Life was becoming crazy and I was losing my mental health. The feeling state in our home had dipped to new lows. I had no time to read the spiritual books I loved so well. I had forgotten what "spiritual" felt like. So I spoke to my husband again, and to my surprise, he immediately agreed.

Now, as much as I love the Jewish tradition and my husband, I also happen to just adore Jesus. And what Jesus said about the Seventh Day (the resting day) was this:

"The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."**

And so our family adopted a somewhat casual approach to Shabbat. For one thing, we do not do the big dinner on Friday night, necessarily. I found that trying to invite people over and prepare the house and food de-railed what I see as the original intent of Shabbat--to rest. And especially for women to rest. In our family, we sometimes get takeout.

I love the ritual of blessing children at the start of Shabbat, but we have not yet incorporated all the lovely Jewish blessings (for wine, for bread, for children) into our routine. I used to make my own braided Challah bread on Fridays, but that for me now is like a fantastical dream experience from another life.

Here's the most interesting part: How very long it has taken us to even be somewhat true to the basic "dictates" of Shabbat. For example, we snuck errands in often. Which made us frazzled. We put the kibosh on that. I would get on the computer "just to check a few e-mails" and be on for an hour, suddenly dazed with "to do" items and work issues, or long lost friends I "needed" to visit, phone or write. We put the kibosh on that. My husband loves watching the World Poker Tour. He's addicted. The WPT is on, like, all day on Saturday. We put the kibosh on that.

I have a hard time sitting still when the house is a mess. Most observant Jews clean the house thoroughly on Friday, but I cannot do that with any sanity. So, our house can be messy on Saturday mornings. It has taken rigorous mental discipline to let even small messes pile up or sit around through one Saturday morning. We do allow some small amount of cleaning or waxing or gardening or photo organizing as long as it fits the definition of "puttering"--meaning something you enjoy and which keeps your hands busy so your head can rest.

It has taken rigorous mental discipline not to feel as though I will go nuts if I do not "get out of the house" before 2pm. (We do still drive and go places for fun, but are discovering the wisdom of not getting in a car at all. It's nice to meet the neighbors on walks, and they are often just as friendly and human as anyone else we might devise elaborate plans to see.) It has taken the same discipline to notice when we (the adults) are once again not being present for our kids because we feel the need to "do something"--even just talk on the phone with a friend.

I have been surprised by how little I want to make plans with anybody outside of our immediate family to do anything at all now on Saturdays. When there is a plan, there is a "start time," and when there is a "start time" or a time you must be somewhere, all of a sudden, the time before that gets sorely compressed into "preparation time." Now, there is something you must think about. Someone to answer to. You are no longer playing the day by ear, you have a plan. You are back "in time."

And that's contrary to the idea of a day of rest. Or at least, my idea of a day of rest. When, since our childhoods or teenage years, have we had whole days of apparent nothingness to fill and waste? When do we now have the "time,"--or rather, the mental space, to just flow ... to become bored ... to go beyond boredom and into a sense of richness and satisfaction, an enlivening of the senses, a presence of spirit--call it human or divine, I call it both--that is really Living. And isn't that what we're all looking for, with all our busy-ness, a sense of Living, contentment, insight, inspiration, joy?

Lao Tzu said, "To know when you have enough is to be rich beyond measure." We always have enough, but we seldom slow down enough to know it. It is the paradox of the human thought system, or the ego: "Seek and do not find."*** For me Shabbat is about engendering the timeless within our human sense of time. Ideally, we would extend that same timelessness into every other day of the week. For don't we really want to Live 24/7?

So, it is interesting for me to reflect on how the Shabbat came into my life, at the right time. It touched me gently on the shoulder and invited me to follow and then stopped and waited for me many times as I considered so many other seemingly important options. It is fascinating for me to see how my husband and I still struggle with "doing nothing," how much I can still feel our lives will go to hell in a hand basket if I don't just do this one (ridiculous, meaningless) thing.

And then I think of Jasmina, and I lay my tired body down on the couch, on the bed, or a blanket on the lawn. I am restless for a moment, or ten. Then, the penny drops. I look around and see my yard--really see it. I look around and see my children--really see them. I see the sky, the crows, the neighbors' roofs and it all envelopes me, a supportive, gentle, beautiful reality.

"Rest" is Simply A State of Mind

Other delightful points about Shabbat ... It does not start at a "time" necessarily, but at sunset, Friday evening. Jewish calendars and planners list sunset times in each time zone, to the minute, but I think it far nicer and more in the spirit of things to go out and see the sun set and then declare Shabbat. The Shabbat ends when one can see three stars in Saturday's evening sky. But, like I say, Shabbat should never end, in spirit. If you try it, see how long you can keep it up.

I am not necessarily pro-Jewish over Christian. I am pro-nothing and pro-everything. But I have found that Saturday is a far better day for our family to rest because most working human adults are exhausted on Saturday. Sometimes you don't even realize this until you slow down. (In Israel, most people get off work by mid-day Friday to prepare for Shabbat.) Also, it is easier to "let things go" knowing there is still Sunday in which to "get busy" if need be. By Sunday, your mind is clearer and more alert, and your energy is better.

Finally, if the intent of the Shabbat is to help us with our mental health and sanity, then--at least for our family--when something arises that would cause more mental distress for us not to do than to do, we go and do it. We pack for the camping trip that begins on Monday. We go to the funeral. We shop for food because there is none in the house. We visit the out-of-town friends we never get to see.

Of course, societal pressures also figure in, and I sometimes struggle with how and when to say No. No, I will not bake cupcakes for the fundraiser. No, I will not volunteer to lead the book sale. No, we will not come to the birthday party. No, I will not answer the phone. As Byron Katie has said (not in so many words): Sometimes a No is a big, fat Yes. A Yes to one's Self, one's Being and one's Life.

We are not perfect at Shabbat, or even at resting, particularly. Perhaps what we do, as a family, should not be called Shabbat at all. Call it a Day of Rest then. I do hope others follow. I know others have led. I also know that if more people did this, or simply approached life with more of a restful, one-step-at-a-time spirit, mental and physical health problems would decline in our society, so would crime, violence and abuse of many sorts.

At the very least, our imperfect "Shabbat" is one busy family's answer to the question that has nagged me for the last half-dozen years: If we do not enjoy life (our children, our families) now, today, this instant, when will we?

Your comments greatly anticipated and appreciated.

--With Love, from a Mystical Mama

*A Course in Miracles, Workbook, I: 50: 3

**Obviously, New Testament, please advise.

*** Also from a Course in Miracles, Lord knows where!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

God is a We

"God does not forgive because He has never condemned."

--A Course in Miracles

"The Kingdom of Heaven lies within you."

--Jesus of Nazareth

"Heaven is not a place, it is a conscious state."

--Sydney Banks

"Now ... is as far as you'll ever go."


"God is a We."


Monday, July 9, 2007

Mystical Mamas

As a first-time pregnant gal, I started in with all the requisite books, i.e. "What to Expect ... " (Hah!), "The Baby Whisperer," and many other books about other people's "good ideas" about parenting. I got so confused, I finally just gave up and decided to maybe try my own instincts. Books and products about babies and birth (natural and otherwise) and child rearing seem to have become a boom industry along the lines of weddings and food shows.

There is a lot of thinking out there about how to be as a mom--or dad, I suppose. I think it's mostly moms who read all these books though. New moms are a vulnerable lot: we certainly do feel that we've entered uncharted territory--maps and guides appear useful. More maps! More guides!

But it is my general belief that as a culture, we've "made too much" of everything. Did anyone hear the news that parents actually spend more time with their kids now than ever before? (I'd love to get the source on this.) And we thought we were neglecting our children! It's time to stop taking everyone else's advice and begin to follow our own. Is parenting really such a big deal?

Here in our humble family, my husband now takes care of the kids. Our income, of course is lower than average for educated Bay Area types (I guess). Both my husband and I have chosen to pursue meaningful, self-directed work over high incomes (a possible mistake?), but we live our lives in our own unique fashion, and we hope others are doing the same.

My fear, however, is that they are not. There is so very much discussion about everything--as if our choices at every turn were life and death. Do your children sleep in bed with you? Yes? Fantastic! Do you tuck them in and close the door to their own private rooms? Great! Did you breast feed? Fabulous! Did you choose formula instead? Good for you!

I am pretty sure now that it is not so much what you do with your children that matters as much as the feeling state you do it in. And part of maintaining a positive feeling state in the home is about not worrying.

For example: not worrying about how you are putting your children to bed, not worrying about whether they ate too much candy this afternoon, not worrying about how clean the house is, how much TV is being watched, is the pre-school providing enough pre-academic instruction? and so forth ... A worried parent is a distracted, unhappy parent. A worried parent is not "present." And I am not speaking of neglect (which is often the result of too much worrying about other things: the self, life, for example).

There was this wonderful post-humous quote on (of all things) "Extreme Home Makeover" last night. The father of the new-home-needing family used to say this one thing before he passed away, and it got inscribed on a stone bench in the backyard of the new and fabulous house.

"There is plenty to think about, but nothing to worry about."

This from a man diagnosed with cancer.

Worry is the great cancer of parenthood. Better replaced with "reflection."

There is a wisdom in you and in me, and in our children and partners that emerges when we actually stop worrying and start reflecting. We know what to do--with our children, our work, our homes. We know what "feels right" for us. Wherever we are and in whatever condition. As one of my teachers, Sydney Banks, has said: "no matter what situation you are in, no matter how deplorable, Truth will take you out of it."

A mystical mama worries (of course, she is a human being, too) ... and then she drops her worrying and gets quiet.

And then the answer comes. Maybe not even from her. Maybe from the child. Maybe from the Dad.

The best parenting for our families comes from us and from within our families. Good ideas are good ideas and often useful. Wisdom is always right on target.

What do other people think? The experts? The neighbors? The professionals? The media?

Who cares?!

Please, do share your thoughts if they are authentic ...

Hot and Sour Soup

During a week in Yosemite, schlepping along a toddler, a baby, half the contents of our house, enough food to feed all the bears in the park, and a few ground squirrels too, I had the epiphany to begin a blog. The epiphany came somewhere around Tuolumne Meadows--one of the many heavens here on Earth, here in the actual Garden. So many large hearted, giant spirited others have had their own epiphanies in Tuolumne Meadows--John Muir, Ansel Adams and Elizabeth Stone O'Neill (author of "Tuolumne: How the Runny River Ran") among them. I consider myself to be, then, in excellent company.

This blog is my entirely free creative outlet. For many years, I was a journalist and essayist, staff writer and freelancer ... and then, after writing an investigative article on depression and the use of medications (see "Club Meds" at I abruptly answered a calling to work in the helping field. I now run a non-profit organization, write self-help-ish books, funded by foundations.

But my poetic spirit has also called, again, to be let loose in the world of language and ideas--to be free to speak of God if I so choose (and not a co-opted, defined God, just that word--the creative life force ... that which cannot be named, but always is.) To be free to speak of apple butter (where did it go?), Israel, babies and belly dancing. To use words like: tumescence and crepuscular, bedraggled and abscond.

So here I am. I wish I had an editor, of course. I do not have the time--with two children and a full time job running a "start up" organization, as well as various other funded writing projects--to do a great deal of research and fact checking here. This will be just rough and ready prosetry from me. Hot and sour soup. Spicy. Colorful. All mixed up. Ideally, fresh and nourishing.

Always a good way to begin.