My Son, My Teacher

Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder, just saying it makes me feel as alone as my son. I’ve become an extension of his brain, a place to store all his esoteric knowledge about hummingbirds and basilisk lizards. I try to pretend the repetition is normal, the constant cataloging of information, but I find myself inundated, overflowing with facts I’d rather forget.

His world exists in paper animal masks that he meticulously designs and colors, then wears, embodying each creature. I time him running around our block, his peregrine falcon wings flapping off his seven-year old imagination. I vacillate between fully joining him, wearing the mask he made me, and living in fear that he will never change. That tension between what is and what I want, exists always.

Meditation has helped me navigate parenthood. The breath only knows one moment, this one, now. When I detach from my dreams of him playing basketball and having abundant friends, I get lost in the beauty of his being. His seconds in space are unencumbered by my expectations, he is free.

My son has become my teacher. I no longer dwell on his future, schools he will attend, careers he might explore, that is gone. Instead, I’m with him, all of him, in this very second.

Where Does Technology End?

Not until the screen in the hand becomes a screen in the head. Think inserted microchips storing relevant information, foreign languages, memories; as we go from unofficial to certified cyborgs. Apps to meditate, take pills, track the dog’s walk. We don’t know how to be free anymore. To just close our eyes, breathe in, breathe out. We need the screen to tell us when and how. Efficiency, the better way, more exact, controlled.

We sell it to each other, make ourselves dependent on it, use it to alleviate boredom, to entertain, to advertise. We text, rarely call, occasionally FaceTime, an image of person, flat on a device. But do we need it? Is it natural? Is it a tree? A sperm touching an egg? A summer rain shower? No. It is a bragger, a consumer of hours, a window into violence, a distraction from what truly is.

Where does technology end? Not until virtual reality is ours, all the time, as we become surrounded by curated unreality. It is our gold, our diamonds, our oil, extracting time and synapses, the new rich. I say no, watching the cursor blinking on the screen.

Keep Writing

I love it when friends tell me they are going to do a little writing, maybe spend some time thinking poetically. It’s like they are going to drink a glass of chardonnay. I’m happy for them. I am. For me, writing is the equivalent of starting with an IPA, then quaffing a bourbon, then a whole bottle of cab; I get obsessed, addicted even. I’ve tried doing Natalie Goldberg-inspired timed writes, but I just turn off the timer when it rings and keep going. You might find this impressive, but my wife and kids think I’m annoying. Even when I do turn off the computer, I’m still thinking; about words, sentences, plotting when I can sneak back on and write a bit more. It really can be a problem, which is why I stopped writing for 6 months. During that time I meditated, read, spent more moments with my family. But recently I got published in a magazine, won a prize in a national poetry contest, and the writing bug is itching.

It is a little voice whispering, you have some talent, nurture it, hone it, own it. And I have to admit, I do like identifying as a writer/poet. It is mine, something I control, something I can do alone, like meditation, but very different. But how do I tame the beast? I’ve learned not to blog everyday, I did that for awhile, it drove me crazy and the quality of my work was precarious. One day I produced something halfway decent, the next day I’m writing a recollection about eating sugary cereal and watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. The discipline of writing that way was great, but the self-induced pressure to publish something all the time was ridiculous.

There is also the intense reading involved with writing. To all of my friends out there who want to write, I adhere to Bill Roorbach’s adage, reading is writing. Meaning, time spent reading definitely adds to one’s writing mojo. I don’t mean like People Magazine or even the San Francisco Chronicle. You say, I want to write poetry. So who are you reading? Or do you create poems from memories of Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein? Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not me. I have to take out volumes of Jane Kenyon, C.K. Williams, Li-Young Lee, Frost even, and actually read them, alot, before poems start to arrive. Yes, I can have poetic impulses, but full poems? That comes from me reading a ton.

So do I stop writing? The better question probably is, did I ever stop? If reading is writing, then one could argue that observing life is writing too. During those six months I didn’t stop reading, and I didn’t stop creating internal narratives to go along with people, observations, and experiences; they just weren’t going into a Google Doc.. What is the answer? The words don’t lie, fingers on the keys, ideas in the brain, I’m writing, can’t stop now.

Evening Prayer

I don’t pray every night, but I probably should. After baths, books, conversation with wife, I usually drift into writing, creating, rearranging words on a screen. Mind a whir, could journey depths until dawn, but the clock of calculation, of sanity, of sacred sleep, tells me to stop. I go into my daughter’s room, turn down her light, I love you, I say to her curled up slumber. I meditate in my son’s room, the sound of his breathing, my pew, my stained glass, my sanctuary. Seated, darkness, air in, carbon dioxide out, first minutes filled with brain bouncing from thought to thought, the earlier, the tomorrow, the could happen. Then sometimes the indescribable now, when I’m nowhere, everywhere, witness to all time, and no time at all. Emerge a short life span later, pray for my colleague, that her malignant tumor retreats, allows life, hers to continue. It feels like I could stay forever, talking to God, to no one, to everyone.

Interview with ABC News Anchor and Author, Dan Harris

I had the opportunity to catch up with ABC News Anchor and Author, Dan Harris.  Dan is the author of 10% Happier, a New York Times bestselling book that explores his discovery of meditation and mindfulness.

I asked Dan about the role that mindfulness can play in the lives of young people.  He mentioned the clear benefits of mindful students being able to better maintain focus, while improving behavior.  He stressed that mindfulness can help kids be less emotionally reactive.   In particular, we spoke about the recent developments in Baltimore.  He cited the Holistic Life Foundation as an organization in Baltimore doing incredible work teaching mindfulness in high risk, urban environments.  He stated that there has been an economic divide within the mindfulness community, with some people feeling that mindfulness is largely an upper middle class pursuit, but that he sees diverse socioeconomic communities embracing the practice more and more.  Dan went on to share the insight that practicing mindfulness can help take the bias out of decision making.  With mindfulness practice one can better see how things truly are, getting past stereotypes and preconceived assumptions.

I asked Dan about how his life might have been different had he learned mindfulness meditation when he was younger.  Dan said that he would have been a better student growing up and that it would have helped him focus.  He also said that he probably would have been a little less obnoxious to teachers.  Later as a reporter, mindfulness would have helped him make more reflective decisions before venturing into war zones.  Upon return from covering conflict zones in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, he expressed how mindfulness could have helped him be more self-aware and perhaps avoid depression related to those often traumatic experiences.

Next, I asked Dan whether he thought that mindfulness could compete with drugs and alcohol on college campuses.  He said that college will probably always be a time for experimentation with drugs and alcohol, but that mindfulness can play a role in reducing binge behaviors and sexual assault on college campuses, while also helping to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.  We spoke in particular about his alma mater Colby College, where he recently addressed students.  After concluding his talk there, a handsome, big, charismatic male student got up and made an announcement about an upcoming event for the “Colby Mindfulness Club.” Dan said that that never would have happened when he was a student there.

I went on to ask Dan about how mindfulness connected to his work reporting for ABC’s Good Morning America and Nightline.  On Good Morning America he mentioned how he often tries to use his mindfulness training to be more aware.  He is able to deeply listen to his co-anchors, slow down the moment, and be fully present in the now.  For example, there are times when he is able to notice when someone on the show is being ignored.  He went on to say that this isn’t something he is always able to achieve, but that he certainly makes the mindful effort.  As a reporter in the field, mindfulness has made Dan more sensitive to others and a better listener.  This sensitivity in turn, has translated into him being a more careful, accurate, and mature reporter.

My last question for Dan was focused on Global Citizenship.  I asked him if he felt a sense of responsibility to parts of the world outside of our nation’s borders.  He cited three levels of mindfulness practice: personal practice, interpersonal practice, and global collective consciousness.  He said that he has made real strides in his personal and interpersonal practice, and that his opening up to a global interconnectedness was a work in progress.  He went on to share that the third practice of global collective consciousness, if achieved by many, can contribute to improving the overall happiness of the world.