Coping

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People do all kinds of crazy (and utterly sane) things to cope with challenging situations. Some coping is healthy. Some isn’t. Sometimes I eat half a bag of candy bars while pacing with a crying baby, and sometimes I meditate after the baby finally falls asleep.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist books.

It’s not that I’m particularly interested in being Buddhist, whatever that may mean. I’m happy with the essentials of my faith, but most of the Christian reading I’ve come across lately feeds into the—for lack of a better term—codependency Christianity I’ve practiced before and still sometimes fall into. So much garden-variety Christianity is about change—how to pray for change, work for change, desire to change. You have to change your attitude; change your heart; change your actions. You pray so that God will change your circumstances or at least change the way you perceive them.

Change, aspire, grow—anything but stay where you are and accept who you are.

I’m not saying there’s not some truth to this sort of thinking. I’m just saying I have thirty years familiarity with it and it’s gotten me a bit lopsided. Sort of like a potted plant on the kitchen window. Plants grow toward whatever light is available, and if there’s only light from one direction you can safely bet your plant’s going to get a bit leggy on the other side. I’m well-aware that God is powerful, that I am not God, that there is a very real sense in which I need salvation.

But the salvation imagery can become so habitual to a Christian that suddenly we think we need salvation from EVERYTHING. I’d like to be saved from Oliver’s fussy evenings and my irritation at being woken for the fifth time at night; I’d like God to save me from being a crap mom when I don’t sleep and by 6:30 I REALLY want Carl to save me from parenting solo. I’d like my friends to save me from being lonely and my books to save me from being bored.

I want things to change, and my mind is constantly bent on figuring out who should change (ok, sometimes I admit I’m the one that needs to change, but it would be super convenient if it was other people) or what should change in order for me to suddenly exist in a nirvana-like state of bliss on earth.

I mean, that would be great, right?

Too bad it’s completely absurd.

So I need the gentle reminders of my Buddhist books. And even though there are Bible passages to support most of these concepts, the treads are worn thin on them for me. I need to hear them in a fresh way. I need to hear that everything about my life right now—both precious and crazy-making—is impermanent, a short season that will never come again. I need to know that difficult circumstances are a given but suffering is optional; I need to hear that my children are holy beings and be reminded that suffering is an inevitable byproduct of trying to control other people.

Pema Chodron helped me through Iris’s infancy, and last week my copies of Buddhism for Mothers and Zen Momma showed up at my door. I won’t say they’ve completely changed my life (there’s that word again). In fact, the computer ate my first draft of this post—a draft written with my only writing time in a week—and let me promise you I received that news with all the grace and acceptance of a two-year-old Attila being escorted out of Chuck E. Cheese. But you know. Acceptance is a spectrum. Life is long. Lessons recur.

I actually sat down to write this post in the first place because I was inspired by an off-hand remark made in one of the books that it can be important for mothers of young children not to get too attached to the idea of “me time”—not because it’s not important to take time away for yourself to recharge and be alone, but because a too-literal reading of that can leave you believing that all the rest of life is “not me” time. It becomes all too easy to spend entire days counting down to tiny slivers of time.

And I am SUPER GUILTY AS CHARGED. I can’t even look at a clock anymore without calculating when Carl will be home or the play date starts or I finally get to go to bed. It’s honestly sad.

So the pictures up top are from the day I decided to start working harder to enjoy the times I do have instead of waiting for the ones I think I want. I don’t have time right now to experiment with painting the way I’d like to, but I DO have time to paint with Iris. So that’s what we did. And it was great. She loved it, and I was able to play on the canvas with a freedom I couldn’t have had if I’d been trying to seriously create something.

The more I read about acceptance and happiness, the more I think it’s truly a skill set that has nothing to do with circumstances. The only way to become more skillful is to practice daily. When I don’t have time to paint, when the computer eats my draft, when I’m watching Winnie the Pooh for the eighth time or trying to read with both babies asleep on me… I can practice wishful thinking or I can practice acceptance.

So far acceptance has been a much better time.

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