Tag Archives: mantras

Born in the bulge (or bull-dge)

“Mommy, I was born in the bulge of the Milky Way.”

Declan has been telling me this at random intervals for two or three months now.

Because human anatomy has become one of his secondary interests, after astronomy, he likes to snuggle up to my belly and talk about being born. And since he’s had a proclivity for saying things that make him seem like the great mystic baby from the distant planet of Zog for as long as he could speak, I chalked it up to some verbal conflation of bulging bellies and the latest galaxy wisdom from our bevy of space documentaries. (Oddly, as I was writing this, he was watching Unfolding Universe, his very first favorite space show, and we just took a computer-generated flight through the Milky Way’s “bulge” so there you have it.)

Yesterday, moment after waking, he thrust a book about constellations into my hands.

“We’re having a book about stars now,” he commanded.

I complied.

We got to Taurus, his birth sign, and he pointed at it between the eyes.

“I was born in the bulge,” he told me again. “See? It’s the bulge, where I belong.”

I used to think I knew where babies came from. I’m not so sure anymore.

And speaking of birthdays, happy 129th to the spirit of this person:

Also, to the considerably younger father of mine, as well as my dearest childhood friend, all born on this important (in my universe) day of the fishes.

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What we’re doing this morning

Orbiting the sun!
Orbiting the sun!
Orbiting the sun!

At least that’s the word from my younger counterpart, who chanted this while marching around the dining room table.

We might go to the library too.

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Medicine mantras

Today, hundreds of people are pulling for Whymommy, a scientist and the mother of two young boys (ages one and three), who has candidly, bravely shared her struggle with Inflammatory Breast Cancer online. Dozens of people have joined Team Whymommy to build a “wall of support” for her over the last seven months, but all good wishes from strangers (or, as she calls them, new friends) are welcome at her blog. She is undergoing a double mastectomy today and her husband will be reading all of the comments and well-wishes that are left online for her as she recovers from the surgery. The hope, after weeks of chemo, is that there will be clear margins around the cancer, so that it may all be removed safely from her body.

Also, a woman who gives an unbelievable amount of time and energy to the Buddhist temple where I have learned so much will be waiting through her mother’s extensive surgery today. The doctors will be trying to find and remove multiple tumors from her abdomen in a procedure that will take several hours. Some members of the sangha will recite the Medicine Buddha mantra, Chenrezig’s compassion mantra or the Tashi Prayer and dedicate the merit to her family.

Whatever your belief system, try and make a little space in your thoughts and hearts for these women and the people that love them.

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The origin of the name Tiny Mantras

(Image: A sculptural representation of Milarepa).

When Declan was about four months old, I took a rare evening to myself so I could attend a teaching by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. It was to be, I believed, a dharma talk for Buddhist novices like myself, replete with a tantalizing title about the “purity” of desire, stupidity and anger.

After the Rinpoche and his translator entered the room and took their place in front of the group, they compelled us to sing. We sang a verse about the purity and oneness of desire and forms, followed by the same verse, only this time about the purity and oneness of desire and feelings, then about desire and discriminations.

For the first five rounds or so, it felt novel and fun. I sat with friends who brought their weeks-old baby girl, singing along cheerfully, confident that this was an overture for an illuminating lecture. But as we kept on going past four to five, six and seven verses, my friends and I looked at each other, and at the list of 100-plus virtues, vices, senses, feelings, elements and emptinesses that we were marching through.

“We aren’t going to sing all of these are we?” One of us whispered. There were shrugs all around. I started to feel vaguely annoyed. I wondered if I had chosen to spend my precious evening alone for nothing more than an extended Buddhist version of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”?

But as a few more verses came and went, I resigned myself to this fate. Singing these lines would have to be my lesson. Once I accepted that, I enjoyed it immensely, the way that I had found that breathing and accepting the requirement to be still often made breastfeeding a time for meditation, rather than a struggle.

Somewhere during those verses, I let go of some of the noise in my head. I let go of some of the new, protective anger that motherhood had brought me, and the unfamiliar fears. After more than an hour of singing 60-plus verses, I did get the dharma talk that I had hoped for.

Now, I’m no great scholar or practitioner of Buddhism. I started attending dharma talks at a local Kagyu temple soon after I got pregnant for completely selfish reasons – I wanted to find more ways to deal with stress in my daily life. I felt more vulnerable than ever before. And I especially wanted hope for the future in the face of a war I did not support and a president I did not support (who had just been tipped to reelection by my home state). In the sangha, I found some people seeking the same.

Of that night of singing and the talk, what I remember learning best was that things like anger and stupidity can come through us in a neutral and benign way. It’s how we grab at or cling to them, the pentimento that we make of our experiences, that propels us to do hurtful things to ourselves or to others. And simply put, it’s a lot harder to cling to your past or your fears or your ego when you’re singing. (Or chanting prayers or mantras.)

A little over a year beyond that night, Declan’s hunger for language became overwhelming. He went from saying a few words to learning the name of every color, shape, animal and household item in his proximity as quickly as he could. One of his favorite words was “space.” He would jump up and down and cheer “space, space, SPACE!” in front of various Star Trek series’ openings, marveling at the planets, asteroids and stars.

Wondering if his interest would extend to science as well as science fiction, we started saving space documentaries on our DVR. Declan would watch them, and pick out and modify lines from the narrative to repeat over and over while he played, ate breakfast, tackled the dog or took a bath. His earliest mantras included the ominous-sounding “galaxies fade away, all stars merge” (from “Unfolding Universe“) and “just the right speed, just the right angle!” (from “If We Had No Moon“). Others were simpler, like the one he has most frequently yelled up the stairs at me while I try to get work done: “Saturn has rings, MOMMAY!

There is such joy on his face when he says these things – an abandon in his mastery of language, in his strange desire to process the workings of the universe. And because of the vastness and mystery of his favorite subject, his mantras have a special depth and gravity (pun intended). Now that he’s a full sentences kind of guy, he still has a remarkable skill for picking up on soothing concepts, many of which still have to do with space. He also finds them in other places, like the latest wisdom from Blue’s Clues: “Stop. Breathe. Think.” A reminder he’s offered me three times today.

I’m still not very good at managing stress, and I am probably not any closer to being able to let anger and stupidity announce themselves without climbing on for the ride. But Declan’s mantras, like that night of singing, are often the things that remind me that forgetting myself and being in the moment are possible.

This is my 200th post!

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Earth boy

Wisdom, while enjoying a “blueberry Mars” popsicle last evening:

“Earth is a good boy.”

He considers this for a minute, then corrects himself.

“No, Earth is not a boy. Earth is a good ball.”

At bedtime, he turned to Dan and said:

“It’s a nice sunny day downstairs.”

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Hanging on the telephone

After months of trying to get Declan to talk to relatives over the telephone, he’s finally just recently begun to comprehend what it is that a phone really does. For months, he would listen without speaking. Then he started speaking without listening. Now he seems to understand that what looks like any ordinary inanimate object is, in fact, a tool to have a conversation with all the wise, weird and interesting people in his life.

I spent quite a bit of time out of the house for work and family errands this week, so we had some of our first mother-son phone conversations when I called to check in.

He told me about going to the library with his daddy and looking at books about meerkats, then eating lunch outside and searching for the monkey bush. He recited some of his favorite mantras, including “we live on Earth” and “Jupiter’s red spot doesn’t make any sense.” And every time I called, whether I had been gone for an hour or seven, he asked me where I was and when I was coming home.

On Friday, we spent the morning alone together while Dan took care of some things in the outside world. Around noon, the phone rang and Declan lunged for it.

“Daddy?” he said. Pause. “It’s daddy!”

Long pause.

“Yes. I’m happy ’cause I’m home with mommy.”


“Yes, mommy’s a good boy.”

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Life is a carnival

It absolutely made my day to see that our photo essay Jupiter is everywhere made it into this week’s Carnival of Space. Yay!

If you are interested in submitting something of your own, home base for the carnival lives over at Universe Today.

Declan imparted some further wisdom about the gas giant to me earlier this week:

“Jupiter doesn’t make any sense. The red spot doesn’t make any sense.”

That’s basically true.

Launch cosmic jukebox

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Your hair is like a book

I was leaving the house, so I got down on my knees to hug Declan goodbye.

I put my arms around him and kissed him, told him that I wouldn’t be gone long.

He put his hands on my cheeks, then moved them just over my ears.

He grabbed a handful of hair on either side and ever so gently pulled them outward and all the way up, until his hands touched each other.

He let the strands fall slowly back to my face, studying them as they dropped.

He repeated it two more times.

“Your hair is like a book,” he said.

This, in a week when I’ve been telling myself to cut it all off.

Life soundtrack: Pavement, “Cut Your Hair” Launch

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