The Beauty in My Life

Jessi flowers

My wife is responsible for all of the beauty in my life. Today is her birthday and while I won’t say how old she is, I will say she’s more beautiful than ever! The most amazing thing about Jessi, however, is that EVERYTHING that is beautiful in my life stems from her in one way or another.

All summer long, Jessi has been watering, weeding, and nurturing flowers of different types all around the outside of our house. In the last 2-3 weeks they’ve just exploded and I took the picture above last weekend after she cut a bunch of her flowers and put them in vases and jars all around our kitchen. It is incredible to me what bright, fresh cut flowers do to brighten a room and I have noticed that they also have had an effect on the mood and cheeriness of our entire family when we’re in there – it is just hard to be sad or grumpy or upset with this kind of beauty hanging around. It is a beauty that wouldn’t be in my life if not for my wife.

This week, our kids started school. Our 3rd grade son wasn’t so excited, but my wife has been pumping him up and encouraging him for a month now and he seemed genuinely interested in what the new year was going to have in store. Our 5 year old daughter, on the other hand, was wired beyond belief about going to Kindergarten. Jessi helped her pick out all of her supplies and a new outfit for the first day of school, and ordered her the coolest lunchbox on the block to make this special week for her even greater. To see the happiness on my kids’ faces this morning when I dropped my daughter off for her first day was really rewarding for me. It is a beauty that wouldn’t be in my life if not for my wife.

On any given Saturday or Sunday in our house you can usually find us enjoying a leisurely breakfast, reading books for pleasure and relaxation, listening to NPR or some tunes in the background, and preparing for some sort of outdoor activity that involves a bike ride, hike, farmer’s market trip, walk around the neighborhood, or day at the pool. Contrary to my upbringing and the way I was wired for a good part of my life, we don’t typically race around to do a million things or cart our kids all over the place for sports and activities on the weekends. We relax, recharge, and spend time together and I am so grateful for that space in our family and the fun we have together. It is a beauty that wouldn’t be in my life if not for my wife.

13 years, 3 months, and 11 days ago I married the woman that I chose to love for the rest of my life. She was gorgeous when I first saw her, stunning on our wedding day, and has been my smoking hot wife ever since. Our marriage hasn’t been all flowers, fun, and frolicking – we’ve had struggles that felt like they’d never end and we’ve had mountaintops that we wished we could have held on to longer. I’m certain that she’s wanted to choke me more than once, confident that I’ve screwed things up royally a time or two, and grateful that through all of that we’ve continued to love each other. There will be more beauty to come in my life; now, more than ever, I am aware that life is more beauty than ugliness, we humans just have a way of fixating on the negative. I don’t know what form that beauty will come in, but one thing I’m sure of is that it will be a beauty that wouldn’t be in my life if not for my wife.

Happy Birthday Jessi. I love you.

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Life is NOT Extreme

OregonFamilyPhoto

Mostly life is mundane. That is just how it is for most of us; we go through days and weeks tackling the everyday challenges and enjoying the everyday joys without much up and down. Don’t get me wrong, there is some variation off the middle – you might have a great Saturday relaxing together as a family that goes above the median line or you might have fussy kids on a Tuesday who fight you to get out of bed and don’t want to do homework when they get home so it drags the day down a little. Mostly, life is NOT extreme.

This weekend my wife and I got new phones so we were going through the exercise of deleting pictures from our old phones and deciding which ones to put on our new phones to carry around with us in our pockets. I came across the picture above of our family trip to Oregon this summer when we snapped this pic in front of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach. That was pretty extreme – on the other side of the country on a two week camping vacation exploring areas we’d never seen! Life at its best, right? It was great, and it was certainly a highlight of the summer, but it really wasn’t what life is all about.

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And then I found this picture. It was a Tuesday last fall and instead of taking her to preschool, I told Josie she could stay at home while I worked in the morning. I worked for a few hours while she played with Barbies or something and then we went and ate lunch. And I snapped this picture; this picture is really what life is mostly – a regular day that has a little bit more joy than any other day. A chance for a dad and a daughter to each lunch together and smile at each other. I don’t remember what we talked about, it doesn’t really matter. It was just a little above the median line, but it was great. 

So yesterday, when I had both kids at home all day with me while I worked (or attempted to work); because school hasn’t started yet but all of the college babysitters have already gone back to campus, I was going crazy. It was a day full of interruptions, fighting, crying, childhood boredom, and an impatient father. I lost my cool more than once and we all just wanted to get away from each other by the time mom got home from work. As I reflected on it this morning, however, I realized that it was just a regular day that happened to be a little below the median line. I fantasize that every day I get to spend with my kids will be like that day on the Oregon coast at Cannon Beach. The fact is, life is NOT that Extreme and I need to relish ALL of the days – good and bad, easy and tough, happy and sad, exciting and mundane because that is where the richness of life comes from – staying in each moment, no matter what that moment is bringing.

Airport Mindfulness

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How many airports have you been in like this? Me neither.

Most of the airports that I spend my considerable time in look a lot more like this…

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which got me thinking today about mindfulness at the airport, probably the LEAST mindful place on earth. 

Mindfulness is defined as:

mind·ful·ness
ˈmīndfəlnəs/ – a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
 
I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it can sometimes be to focus one’s awareness on the present moment while accepting your feelings at the airport. Nearly every week I see dozens, if not hundreds, of people completely lose their minds over things at the airport that they not only have no control over, but that really have no bearing or impact on the present moment. I know how it feels, I used to be one of those people flying off the handle at airline employees because I was running late and the plane was running on time or staring down a flight attendant who refused to do something about the screaming kid in 10B right behind me!
 
No more. Part of the growth of my own mindfulness has been most tested and best utilized in the airport. What I have CHOSEN to do (and I emphasize the choice part because it is just that), is take the approach that you see on my daughter’s face in the top picture – “go with the flow, wherever that might take me.” I now recognize when my body starts to tense up because there is a non-stop talking 5 year old sitting next to me (as there was this morning on CLT-Boston) and I intentionally RELAX and remind myself that my own 5 year old daughter would be chattering on non-stop out of excitement and imagine how I would want someone treating her in the same situation. Instead of getting off the plane this morning angry, anxious, and annoyed I followed my young seatmate off the plane with a smile on my face thinking about my Josie and how much pure joy she has in her life.
 
I’ll likely never fix this problem – 824,000,000 people boarded planes in the United States last year! I will however, continue to exercise my own mindfulness in airports. At the very least I figure if I can do it in the midst of 823,999,999 other crazy nut jobs I should be able find a way to be mindful under my own roof with the 3 nut jobs that I share a house with every day!!! Maybe we should pray for them, not me?!?!
 

The Compulsion to “DO”

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Applying mindfulness to the thinking mind is incredibly revealing.  It allows me to observe my mind’s constant compulsion to “do,” to squeeze another activity into this moment, often without regard to whether or not the present moment actually calls for it.  This impulse will feed on just about anything, most often my cell phone or something electronic.  It would have me watching television with an iPad on my lap while I shove food into my mouth, oblivious to the presence of my children except for brief moments of chastisement for being too loud.  It seems as if its purpose is to maintain control and keep me on autopilot – unconscious and numb.

I’ve learned to observe this impulse and to question it.  Not ignore it, mistrust it.  Choosing simplicity helps me accomplish this.  Intentionally doing one thing at a time helps ensure that I’m actually here for it.  By doing this, I find that I am available and present for things that truly matter, and that my attending to these things is much more effective and appropriate.  In his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn explains the concept of voluntary simplicity:

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.  It all ties in.  It’s not a real option for me as a father of young children, a breadwinner, a husband, an oldest son to my parents, a person who cares deeply about his work to go off to Walden Pond or another and sit under a tree for a few years, listening to the grass grow and the seasons change, much as the impulse beckons at times.  But within the organized chaos and complexity of family life and work, with all their demands and responsibilities, frustrations and unsurpassed gifts, there is ample opportunity for choosing simplicity in small ways.”

Practicing voluntary simplicity is extremely difficult to do in a Western society where achievement, financial gain and productivity are constantly celebrated and rewarded.  These ideals are worthy of celebration, but are also fraught with problems and dysfunction unless they are tempered with awareness and simplicity. Even activities and results that are “good,” are not fulfilling or ultimately rewarding unless they come from a place of mental stillness; a place that acknowledges what the present moment calls for and is void of self-interest and ego.

What happens now affects what happens next.  So, doesn’t it make sense to take a look around and pay more attention to what is happening right now?  I’ve found that practicing mindfulness and voluntary simplicity helps me minimize distractions, cultivate awareness, and mistrust the compulsion to do.  And the paradox of it all is that by mistrusting the compulsion to do, I get more done.

by Dr. Jason Pittser, friend and fellow Zen seeker