Posted by: Shel | April 26, 2008

The preliminaries

Of the 59 Tibetan Buddhist lojong slogans, the first is to focus on the preliminaries. The first of the four preliminaries is to maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life. The second, flowing reasonably from the first, is the awareness that life ends; death comes for everyone. When we maintain an awareness of these realities, we develop true gratitude, and understanding of the wonderful gift and the fleeting impermanence of life.
Things have been coming to a head in my household recently. More precisely, I’ve been nearing the end of my sanity. Three kids age 5 and under, my husband traveling, a work-at-home job that keeps me up all hours of the night, my children being sick and keeping me up the remaining hours of the night . . . the house needs cleaning, I’m chronically late, my hair is greasy, I can’t get it all done. I’m working, I’m trying, I’m struggling . . . but I can’t get it done: the girls are fighting, Samantha wants me to play with her, Serena needs my attention, Samuel is crying to nurse.
And I find myself saying to them, in an increasingly irritable voice, “Samantha, Mommy can’t just sit and play with you!” “Serena, why are you pestering me? Go away!” And, much to my horror, “Samuel, I don’t have TIME to nurse you!” And I find myself going to bed at night, crying for all I didn’t do . . . for all that I wanted to do and didn’t . . . and for another day of my children’s lives gone by when I didn’t spend the time I wanted to with them.
So it was that I started praying in earnest for the Lord’s guidance. And, in doing so, I started thinking about my own mother, about how she was a mere eight years older than myself when she passed away. I started thinking about where I am, and where I and my family will be in eight years. If I were to die at age 46, as she did, would I have spent my time wisely? Would I have cherished every moment with my family? Would I have focused on what matters? Would I have focused on the preliminaries? I asked the Lord to guide me.
And He did.

I had a dream last night. I had been up and down all night with the children; they were waking one after the other in some kind of sadistic spiral that was keeping me going from the girls’ room, back to my room with Samuel, back to the girls’ room, and back again, until finally I resorted to putting all three of them in the bed with me, wishing my husband were in town, just so I could get some sleep. Now, I’m no mystic, and I don’t think every dream is an oracle from God. But this morning, right before awakening, I had a dream I believe was intended as a wake-up call. Or, more precisely, I had a nightmare from God.

I dreamt my children were dead.

I don’t know how or why they were dead, but in my dream, I was hit with the realization that my two girls (but, strangely, not my son) had died a few days earlier, both at their current ages of three and five. I was in a coffee shop, a public place, thinking I was “going on” with my life, when suddenly I was overwhelmed with the realization that I would never see my beautiful daughters again, and I was overtaken with a grief that surpassed even that which I underwent when, in reality, I lost all my other family members. Mercifully, I was allowed to awaken after only a minute or so of that suffering, to find all three of my children tucked into bed with me, their faces quiet with peaceful sleep.

And now it is all clear again. All that wisdom that I once knew, but allowed the busyness of life to steal from me. I know what’s important. I know what matters and what doesn’t. I don’t yet know what to do about what doesn’t matter, but I know what to do about what does.  This is a lesson one would think I wouldn’t still need to learn.  I’ve been through this.  I’ve lost my family of origin, both immediate and extended.  I know the preciousness of life.  But how easy it is to loose focus!

So I’m making some changes. I’m not sweating the small stuff. And the state of the house is small stuff. My work is small stuff. It’s necessary, but it’s small stuff. Making sure I look as “put together” as the other moms I know is small stuff. The big stuff are the preliminaries. The big stuff is my family. Only God knows how much longer I have in this world to enjoy my children; only God knows how much longer they have in this world. Every moment is a gift. Every moment is a blessing. It’s good; it’s all good. Even the nightmares.

I’m cutting back. I’m coming home. I’m focusing on what counts. I’m walking away from things that pull me away from what matters. And I’m blogging it. I’m not spending untoward amounts of time online; I’ll probably only be updating my blog once a week or so, and then I’m going to be largely offline. I have a couple small online communities I’ll continue to be a part of, but the larger, more time consuming ones, I’m going to have to step back from. I’m not sure yet if that will involve an official deactivation, or just a self-imposed leave of absence, but I don’t want to be like Rabindranath Tagore who said, “I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” I don’t want to spend my days talking about parenting, while failing to actually do it. I want to spend my days looking into my children’s eyes, laughing with them, touching them, imprinting every detail of their preciousness forever in my brain.

I’m somewhat abandoning my MySpace page, my Facebook page, and my old blogs. I used to blog seriously, about five years ago. Now I’m ready to do it again, in a new way. I want to Be There. I want to really live in the Moment. I want to really live . . . you know, marrow-sucking and all that. I’m not there yet. It’s a journey. But it’s a journey I’m ready to take. And I’ll share what I’m learning along the way.






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