Monday, March 20, 2017


     Stress is an interesting and relative thing. When you live in the lap of luxury, you can get very stressed when you purse doesn't match your shoes for the big gala. When you are a suburban mom, you can get very stressed with the endless demands of child-raising, housekeeping and work. When you live a "regular" American life, you can get very stressed when you overspent at the pizza place and now you have to recalculate the budget to be able to pay the electric bill. When you live on the poverty line, you can get very stressed figuring out how to simply keep your family in a house while you watch those all around you sipping lattes. When you are suddenly facing a debilitating illness or physical limitation when you are used to being healthy, the stress rocks your world.
     Ironically, the level of stress and the physiological response to it differs little in all of these scenarios. You breathe faster and more shallowly. Your muscles tense. Your lips purse. Your blood pressure goes up. You have anxiety, etc. Sometimes you devolve from stressed to depressed. But when you are a rural farmer in Southeast Asia fighting for your very life and livelihood on a daily basis with the devastations of natural disasters, droughts, floods, and disease, something changes. You laugh. You love. You look at a clear bright day with a sense of relief and endless gratitude. When you are living in destitution of Sub-Saharan Africa, you look at each day with hope for the new technologies beginning to arise to improve life, like hydropower. Shoes and purses and pizza and soccer games and houses have no meaning here. Death is a daily occurrence, as are tyranny and starvation, but people connect, rather than isolate. Look to the past and our horrific practice of slavery in this country. Some of the best music was born from the worst possible conditions.   
     Why bring this up? Because this morning I felt the monster of stress, as big as anyone facing starvation or tyranny, simply over today's "laundry list" and while sipping a Trader Joe's cup of chai tea. Ha! A subtle consideration of the world, my relationship to it, and a shift of perspective were needed to enjoy this enormously phenomenal and beautiful day. 
Thanks for being part of it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


     From an early age, we are shown the world as a place defined by labels. "That's a ball. This is the color blue. This is called a computer."  Everything is given a name, and often a judgement is attached to it: "She is a good mother.  He is a bad student." Labels become our identity and how we identify others and our relationships to them.  Moms hang out with moms. Good moms bake cookies from scratch. Dads hang out with dads. Good dads barbecue. Bikers hang out with bikers. Good bikers party. Spiritual people meditate together.  Good spiritual people are peaceful and don't use exclamation points!

     Labels are easy and neat and comfortable, at least on one level, because they give us a simple road map for our lives.  Pick your labels, we are told implicitly  (and sometimes bluntly!) and stick with them. Keep on the main roads and follow the rules. Ignore the back roads that are lulling you like moths to a flame. It's too dangerous, we are told, and too terrifying, and people will look down on you.

     Except it is in our nature to look longingly at the back roads, to explore them, to go off the map. It is our deepest essence to seek the meanings of existence beyond our prescribed and manicured labels, beneath our unease, and beyond words themselves.  

     When I got my Master's degree and Ph.D. candidacy in Oceanography, I could impress anyone by spouting off the scientific name for pretty much every marine animal in the Gulf of Mexico.  While outwardly I looked like an expert and got a temporary ego satisfaction out of this ability, inside I knew I was a fraud.  Being able to label a thousand--even a million--marine animals brought me no closer to really KNOWING them, knowing the ocean, or knowing myself. No words could touch these levels of knowing, and I longed for them as a thirsty woman longs for a tall glass of water.

     My mom has this great saying: "The easy way gets hard and the hard way gets easy."  One can spend decades staying on the main roads, ignoring the siren song of inner exploration, distracting oneself from really diving in to sit with the demons and dragons of that are stuffed inside to get through to that place that isn't bipolar anymore. Or, they can start now, and keep starting in every moment they remember, finding presence in this moment, softening into this one, allowing this next one, gently and lovingly watching and holding as labels and unease dissolve away into pure awareness.

     In the twists and turns of life, we come to a place of realization that there is only one ride--the ride of this one life--and it is most intimate.  We can label ourselves all we want through our various stages from child to teen to college student to mom to biker to Jewish Buddhist Yogi and beyond. But labels are only pointers at best, reminding us that there is a deeper identity we are really after. There is an earnest realization that we've got this one precious ride and an urgency to find clarity, peace, connection and wisdom within its mortal borders. And while your story is deeply personal, the path of conscious seeking is in fact everyone's story.  We each have a delicious invitation to pursue and personalize our own path.

     My teacher, Valerie Forstman Roshi, Associate Zen Master of Sanbo Zen and teacher at the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, leaves these parting words at the end of every teaching: "Go straight on." There is nowhere to go but here, and yet there is clearly a path and an inner fire that stokes our pursuit of it. May you savor every organic, nonlinear, authentic moment of it,  as you go straight on.

     This blog was inspired by the reading of Becky Pourchot's latest book, "Ride."

Shana Smith
Author, Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers
Director, Gainesville Retreat Center, Gainesville Florida
Student of Sanbo Zen (10 Years) under formal guidance of Valerie Forstman Roshi 

Monday, October 31, 2016

MEDITATION FOR MOMS AND DADS: Why the Busiest People of Them All Can Have a Regular Practice

Why the Busiest People of Them All Can Have a Regular Practice
By Shana Smith, c. 2016

                The date was June 27, 1995.  It was both my 25th birthday and the five-year anniversary of having a committed daily yoga practice, and my friend Charlotte and I were celebrating with two back-to-back yoga classes followed by meditation and brunch.  We even had special new yoga outfits to wear, and the stage was set for a perfect morning befitting the occasion.

                We had just started the first class, sitting peacefully in half-lotus and grounding with some pranayama, when suddenly the door creaked open, and the high-pitched sounds of children pierced through the quiet blanket of the room. Reflexively, we all looked towards the door, and saw a mother with a toddler clinging to her like a spider monkey and an older child--wearing an unmistakable pout--at her hip.

                “Sorry I’m late,” she offered. “Can you please tell me where the child care room is?”
                “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO CHILD CARE!” wailed the older child, while the toddler nestled her head deeply into the mother’s neck. “I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND!” The mother held her gaze on the teacher pleadingly, awaiting an answer.

                “I’m so sorry,” said the teacher, “but we no longer offer child care.”

                The look of dejection on the mother’s face was palpable. She fell into a slump, but then tried again: “But your ad in the local paper says you have child care on Saturday mornings. I planned all week for this class.”

                “It must have been an old ad,” said the teacher. “We used to have it, but we don’t right now.” Then, with a firmer I-need-to-get-back-to-the-class tone in her voice, the teacher said: “Sorry again.” She turned her head back to face us, and restarted her instructions for yogic breathing.

                My gaze lingered on the mom for a few moments, long enough for me to catch her hungrily gazing at us blissful breathing yogis before she put her head down and closed the door.  I heard the muffled sounds of the older child’s shouts of “YAY! PLAYGROUND!” Charlotte gave me a look of “can you believe that?” which I acknowledged, feeling relieved that the interruption of my perfect day was over.  Still, I couldn’t stop thinking of her…for years.

                Long before I ever had children of my own, I worked with them: first as a babysitter, then as an educator. I also worked with parents by default, and while I didn’t yet fully comprehend the kind of mojo it really takes to parent, I did pretty easily see that families have a lot going on. I knew some parents who handled the busy-ness like expert managers, while others could barely keep it all together and always seemed to be on the brink of falling apart. I knew some parents who made it all look effortless, and others who liberally shared the travails and endless sacrifices they made in the name of parenthood. But that morning, for the first time, I became aware of a person who had a longing for something that seemed inexplicably unobtainable:  a simple hour of peace.

                The years went on, and my yoga and meditation practice deepened.  I always seemed to have plenty of time to practice.  I met my husband at an ashram, where we meditated, did yoga, and enjoyed kirtan together daily.  We married. We got pregnant. Throughout pregnancy, I meditated, did yoga, and chanted.  When my daughter was a baby, I blissfully swaddled her to my side and my practice became our practice, knowing that it would bond us together and to the Universe in ways deep and beautiful.

                And then one day, and seemingly overnight, I became that same mother of my 1995 yoga class.  My daughter was 2, and it wasn’t so easy to put her in the sling or nurse her while doing my practices.  She woke up one morning and had her own ideas about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go, and she wanted all of it to be with me. To compound this sudden change in flow, I was also going back to work, which was in direct conflict to our attachment style of parenting and caused separation anxiety.  She became the spider monkey, and I the slumped mother, watching others breathe and ground and stretch and sit unhampered while I felt longing for the unobtainable. 
But my years of practice had taught me surrender and patience, and soon enough, my husband and I found a wonderful meditation group that offered free child care.  While we sat for two hours, she enjoyed her time in the play room with other kids and I became introduced to formal Zen meditation.  Our weekly sit with the Zen group became my church, and sustained a daily practice that provided a vital grounding each morning before my daughter woke up.  

                A few years later, and without warning, the funding for the group’s child care was cut, and so was our ability to sit weekly with the group.  We had our second child soon afterwards: an energetic and insatiably curious son who demanded time and attention at a whole new level.  Daily morning meditation became a distant memory with two very young children to attend to. An experienced father of grown children gave me a well-meaning picture of the road ahead: this is the busy time of life. My practice now is to be fully in the world, doing what householders do, raising kids and making a living. He advised me to simply remember to be present as much as possible, but to not expect to return to formal practice anytime soon in the way I’d known it.

After four years of dedicated Zen practice and many more as a yogi, I had already seen the effect it had on my inner and outer worlds. Meditation had become a foundation for living, and I was unwilling to accept that it was no longer an option.  The kids deserved a mindful, compassionate mom.  My husband, co-workers, and neighbors deserved a mindful, compassionate peer. My alternative “sans meditation” persona was harried, anxious, a bit manic, overachieving, and dramatic. I heard the arguments that giving up yoga and meditation is part of the “sacrifices one must make” to be a good parent. But I could only think: sacrifices are about giving up “just me” stuff. There was no doubt in my mind that “my” meditation benefitted everyone.  Giving up meditation was simply not an option. I had a whole list of things that somehow got done every day, like brushing and flossing and bathing and cooking and getting work done and even getting to the gym. It took some serious time management and focus, but this list was doable. Meditation needed to be on that list, so I put it at the very top, right after “wake up.”

                Like going to the gym, the hardest part about doing regular morning meditation is simply getting straight to the cushion instead of filling up those sacred thirty or so minutes with distractions like making tea, checking emails, or making a dent in the laundry. It takes discipline and determination to report to the cushion, but it works, proving that the old adage “I don’t have time to meditate” doesn’t have to apply. It is simply a matter of priorities.

In a householder’s life, meditation can be just as much a priority as that of a Zen monk’s.  In the words of Zen master Ruben L.F. Habito Roshi, “Even if we’re not called to monastic life in the formal sense, we are called to awaken to truth, to awaken to the mystery of our existence here on Earth.” [1]Like the monastics, parents do well when they take time to manage their day, putting the  priority of “awakening to truth” in the forefront and minimizing distractions like cell phones and TV and other things which rob us of time to meditate and live holistically and mindfully. With an established meditation practice, life becomes more mindful, or in the words of Habito Roshi: “a life in total harmony with one’s true nature, an authentic way of living one’s life.”

In Philip Kapleau’s “Three Pillars of Zen,”[2] there are many accounts of enlightenment that happen during mundane life, or life that Charlotte Joko-Beck simply calls “Nothing Special.”[3]  In “Autobiography of a Yogi,”[4] after Yogananda broke through the veil of illusion and touched the sky, Yogananda’s master handed him a mop and bucket to clean the ashram floor.  Monks surrender to a life of deep practice, letting go of worldly wants and desires, while tending to work that must be done and contemplating the mystery of the gentle opening of a mountain cherry blossom.  Seeking parents surrender to the miracle of things as they are now, letting go of wanting things to be different, while tending to the work that must be done and contemplating the mystery of why the laundry and dishes never cease while the cherry blossom is gently opening. The beauty of a daily morning practice is that it sets an attitude for the rest of the day that can really make some great waves that have a wonderful impact on everyone.

Here’s a great real-life example of this idea, one that proved to me that the world of awakening is indeed available to all of us:  I had been rather drudgingly tackling a very large pile of laundry, and after three days, the floor where the laundry pile was heaped was at last bare.  Precisely at that moment (for the Universe is determined to help), my two kids arrived and dumped their clothesbaskets of soiled clothes all over that precious, smooth, floor, wiping my “done with laundry” hopes and dreams right off the board.  The “plop” of the clothes on the tiles was as cathartic as the chime of the temple bells after a long meditation retreat, when the Universe cracks open and spills gloriously all over you.  I broke out into laughter—it all suddenly seemed so funny!  Endless laundry. No laundry.  What was the difference? I’m here, alive, now, able and strong.  It was all so beautiful, and so clear. The wiping out of wants, expectations, desires—even for “spiritual” things—brought me home. For the monk, it was the gentle opening of the mountain cherry blossom. For me, it was the “plop” of soiled clothes.  There was no difference.

Happy as I was, my kids were even happier.  They fully expected a disgruntled response to the extra piles, but instead they got the full brunt of the boundless joy of a momentarily free being. My kids loved this light and blissful me, and the day simply got lighter and happier.  All that because I got myself to a cushion for a few minutes in the quiet morning.

Start meditating. Today and from now on, set your alarm clock just fifteen minutes earlier and create a daily life routine that includes some space and time for yourself on the meditation cushion at home.  If you are new to meditation, start with five minutes of counting your breaths in and out.  If you are experienced, return to your practice for five, fifteen, or thirty minutes.  If your thoughts wander, label them “thoughts” without judgement, then return to your breath. That’s it.  Through the simple act of sitting you have set forth a powerful intention into the cosmos that manifests for you by its very nature. It doesn’t take much time, and isn’t as hard as it seems once you get yourself on the cushion and just begin. Get to yoga class and meditation groups when you can, but make your personal daily home practice your foundation.

I still often think about that mother from twenty years ago.  Today, her children are grown, and she is probably free to attend any yoga class she wishes whenever she wants to.  After twenty years of raising her children, of surrendering to the playground while yearning for the siren song of the Universe, she probably reached a profound understanding that there is no difference between the playground and the Universe, that matching yoga outfits and formal classes don’t a yogini make. How I understand her better now, and how honored I feel to be walking her same path. It’s the path of the masters: full of grace, presence, wonder, and gratitude.

By simply sitting and breathing with intention at a scheduled time each day, you can reach deep states of awareness and peace. By practicing meditation and yoga from the perspective of transcending  wants and expectations, your practice is the most authentic of them all.  You, mom and dad, will benefit in marvelous ways, but your children and the world itself will benefit most of all.

Reprinted with permission from Om Yoga Magazine.  

Insight Timer: A great App to support and encourage your meditation!
Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers: A new book by the author to keep you motivated.

                ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
            Shana Smith is a mom, musician, marine biologist, teacher, and writer.  She is an avid and longtime practitioner of Zen and meditation, a decades-long yogi, and a much sought-after kirtan wallah, or devotional chanting leader.  For the past twenty years, she has been known to many across the state of Florida and the U.S. as the nationally award-winning (Parent's Choice, iParenting, NAPPA, Just Plain Folks) children’s musical persona “Shana Banana.”  Shana and her family (husband Dan, daughter Grace Ohana, and son Benny Albert) have settled down in Gainesville, Florida to run their meditation- and yoga-based Gainesville Retreat Center, which attracts many renowned teachers and practitioners and offers weekly meditation nights. 
In addition to book and music appearances, homeschooling her two kids, and running the retreat center with her family, Shana is currently working on a series of children's books based on her original musical stories currently available on Shana Banana CD's. She is also writing a tween mystery series developed over the past two years with her kids, and recording a CD of devotional chants from various traditions.   In her free time, she walks in the forest, gardens, cooks, writes poetry, and plays. A lot.  Also visit Shana at: and and Facebook

[1] Habito, Ruben L.F., 2006. “Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World.” Wisdom Publications, Boston.
[2] Kapleau, Philip, 1989.” The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment.” Anchor Books, New York.
[3] Joko-Beck, Charlotte, 1994. “Nothing Special: Living Zen.” HarperCollins Publishers, New York.
[4] Yogananda, Paramahansa, 1998. “Autobiography of a Yogi.” Self Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles CA.

MAKING WAVES: Mindful Parents, Transformed World

MAKING WAVES: Mindful Parents, Transformed World
By Shana Smith
c. 2016

MY FRIEND ANGEL was a diehard yogi for ten years before she had her first child.  She was accustomed to spending two hours on the mat a day, and had begun working on her teacher certification while subbing at local yoga studios. When she became pregnant, she started a devoted Zen meditation practice, creating the intention of a calm and loving space for her growing child to thrive in.

After her baby son Sage was born, she knew she wanted him to share in the benefits of her practice.  She was very busy as a new mom, but her yoga and meditation had become part of her identity and her vision for making a difference, and she had every intention of incorporating this mission into her role as a mother. Thankfully, there were yoga classes for moms and babies, which she loved.  While her baby stared lovingly into her eyes, she would languish in a downward dog, gazing back down at him lying swaddled on the sticky mat.  While Sage nursed, she would enjoy silent meditation. Together, they shared a daily practice of yoga, meditation, diaper changes, nursing, naps, and play that filled her heart.

Sage got bigger. Angel got busier just tending after him.  When Sage was too big for his carrier and would walk off towards the nearest electrical outlet or other hazard at any given opportunity, she could no longer bring him to the new mom yoga classes. His nursing was now so active that silent meditation was out of the question, and she had to nap when he napped out of sheer sleep deprivation. She would often go for days or even weeks without being able to find time to be on her meditation cushion or yoga mat, but she never forgot about the importance of practice.  So, as her son began to walk and talk, she began looking for programs he could partake in.  She loved doing Baby Yoga with him, and since he liked the fun guided meditation at the end, she decided to start a Toddler Meditation group. 

Several hopeful, kindred moms showed up to give Toddler Meditation a try. They placed their wiggling children on or near their laps and sat in a circle. Angel set a mindfulness bell in the middle of the circle and made silly faces in an attempt to focus the yearlings to pay attention and begin to learn how to meditate, but the whole thing ended up resembling a very noisy, erratic playgroup. The moms repeatedly tried  to quiet everyone down by ringing the mindfulness bell, but the bell ended up being clanged very loudly, over and over again, and one toddler tried to put the bell—small parts and all-- into his mouth. Babies started crying—a lot. Angel watched in disbelief as her Buddha boy started pulling a little girl’s hair with overzealous vigor. She suddenly saw her whole life as it was—time for yoga, meditation, blissful oneness with her child and the world around her—unraveling in one cacophonous afternoon.  And it wasn’t just Angel feeling this way. Everyone was beginning to look frustrated and frazzled until, thankfully, one of the moms started to laugh.  She didn’t just giggle—she belly laughed-- and the release was palpable.  She surrendered. She did her own practice rather than trying to enforce it on the toddlers.  And here’s the amazing part: the toddlers calmed down too.  Smiles replaced screams. The moms sat in presence with their crawling, teething, bouncing, drooling, pooping little beings and learned how to be in the present moment with them. And that’s when Angel had a catharsis: it wasn’t about getting her child to practice.  It was about getting back to her own.

As the benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and a yogic lifestyle become better and better known in mainstream society, teaching children early on about meditation and yoga is something a whole conscious population of moms and dads are incorporating into their parenting MO, right alongside growing gardens, eating “slow” foods, art, creativity, homeschooling or more parent-involved education, lovingkindness, environmental stewardship, animal welfare, compassionate decision making, and a whole host of other wholesome endeavors. Mindful parents and caregivers are critically aware of the need to effect a better generation to turn things around on this one struggling planet.  We have a formidable job: to raise and teach younglings to be equipped with the tools they need to make amends on a planetary scale.  Reversing global warming, improving world relations, saving species from extinction and facilitating evolved human consciousness will all be in their hands. After all, it was previous generations who exacerbated these huge problems, and now legions of western kids today are glued to violent media and hooked on fast foods while the issues begin to approach tipping points.  Moms, dads, teachers, and caregivers alike are looking for solutions, and while panicked school administrators are manically adding  STEM curriculum to preschool classes, replacing cursive with coding and cutting recess and naptime in order to try to keep up with the technological overdrive of the rest of the world, conscious parents and caregivers are manifesting another path: mindfulness.

Many parents are seeing that mindfulness practices have such a nourishing effect that kids do better in STEM, better in coding, and, well, just better (they still need their recess and naptimes, however). Cultivating inner peace, wisdom, lovingkindness, and self-awareness within makes waves that extend far beyond the reaches of our homes and right into our communities and beyond.  Indeed, the Buddha himself described that a direct result of meditation is the attainment of four emotional states--the Brahma Viharas[i]--that are so high that they radiate outward like the ripples of a single pebble making waves across the ocean. 

So it only makes sense to jump on the mindful kids bandwagon, right?  Kids’ yoga classes are popping up in yoga studios and gyms.  Wonderful books have been written about games, lessons, and lesson plans that teach meditation to kids.  Thich Nhat Hanh was one of the first to see, write about, and offer programs on the importance of kids’ mindfulness[ii]. Today teachers from even the more traditional practice of Theravada Buddhism, like the Venerable Dhammajiva[iii] are embracing the idea.  Both lay and monastic practitioners and teachers are clearly seeing that keeping these ancient practices only in the monasteries--and far away from the families--may be missing the whole point. 

There is no doubt that cultivating mindfulness in children is a noble and beneficial cause, beginning to get the attention it merits. But as my friend Angel quickly discovered, we parents are getting lost in the fervor. In fact, if we vest ourselves so fully in their mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, we may sabotage ours simply by the nature of our high-standards, self-sacrificial parenting.  Just as we tend to feed our kids first and be left hungry, leave the house in sweats and smelling of sweat while our kids are dressed and coiffed and bathed in rosewater, care for their every need while our own needs and callings sit in waiting for days, weeks, even years—so goes for a meditation and mindfulness practice. And, contrary to what some people may realize, even the most enlightened yogi/meditator needs to practice every day.  Meditation and mindfulness are daily practices, whether you’ve been doing it for twenty years or two weeks, whether you’ve reached the highest levels of Oneness Consciousness or simply had a fleeting taste of peace of mind. Indeed, in Zen, there would be no difference between any of these states.  There is only this—your practice, as essential to daily life as food, water, and shelter—and as or more essential to the state of this world as any political movement or STEM curriculum is to be able to turn things around.      
A compassionate parent might say: “Since it’s their generation we’re most invested in, I will gladly sacrifice my own practice if I can effect a new generation of mindful children.”  Makes sense, if kids had the same brains as we do.  But they don’t. Very young kids aren’t addled by strategic, manipulative, big-brained thinking like we are. Their phenomenal brains are way too busy experiencing, sensing, and discovering a whole new world for the very first time. To sit them on a cushion and ask them to be quiet for five minutes when they would much rather chase a ladybug around a rock or play with a Beepy Betty doll would only teach them to be pulled away from the present moment, when the present moment is all there is.  From age 0-5, children don’t have big egos. There’s nothing to meditate on, because they are living fully present already—they are already enlightenment embodied. But wait, you say: what about the classic 2-year old mantra known as MINE? Isn’t that about as big as an ego can get? In reality, MINE is a rather obnoxious demonstration of how present very young children truly are. There is no sense of, “well, in the past I’ve enjoyed this toy, and in the future I’m sure I’ll enjoy it too, and my friend Caitlyn may not have ever had the chance to experience the wonders of this Beepy Betty Doll the way I have, and so I would be best served to share it with her.  Besides, sharing is looked upon so highly by all the grown-ups, which means they’ll be so proud of me, and they might give me a shiny sticker, and I like that feeling, so I will share.”  No. It’s just MINE. Mine NOW. No discussion, no analysis, nothing but me and Beepy Betty now. The child and Beepy Betty, ladybug, sippy cup, nursing mama, etc. are completely one with the Universe in each and every moment. From 0-5, there is no better teacher of mindfulness than your child, and as they go through MINE and you begin to teach them, you become their models of lovingkindness as well. Share the doll with your friends. Watch and enjoy the ladybug, but please don’t hurt it. Mindfulness and lovingkindness together, working in harmony, are the essence of this practice, and the dance of pure presence and love between you and your child is a meditation unto itself.

Older kids, pre-teens and teens, on the other hand, certainly struggle with ego, identity, academic and social pressures, and other issues that threaten their peace of mind, as their relationship with the world and their responsibilities become more and more expansive.  But making them sit down to meditate while preaching to them how important it is, like any other task, may not be the direct answer. If meditation becomes a thing they have to do, like chores, tooth brushing, homework or piano practice because it’s “good for them,” then it’s not meditation anymore.  It’s a thing on a list of things that mom or dad wants them to do (insert pre-teen eye roll here). But your presence with them, your ability to give them a focused listening ear, your ability to stay grounded for them, to bathe them in that same lovingkindness they remember from their younger years despite your mind wanting to react to or dismiss their behaviors: there’s the practice for both of you, right there.

It’s mom and dad’s commitment to their own meditation practice that is the root of everything.  To cite the title mantra of Paramahansa Yogananda’s famous chant: “I am the bubble; make me the sea.”[iv] If we remain compartmentalized in our well-meaning brain without regularly dipping into the ocean of a greater consciousness that meditation brings, then we are just putting well-intentioned but minimally effective band-aids on the world.  We become reactive and “gotta do” oriented, versus “gotta be.” When mom and dad meditate as a way of life, then “being” becomes a way of life for the family with little effort.  According to Annabel Fitzsimmons, “The benefits of meditation can touch many areas of your life, helping you decrease stress and anxiety, better manage your emotions, let go of mental distractions, and be more present and attentive with your kids.”[v]

Most moms and dads cite that they’re way too busy to meditate.  From the moment the alarm clock goes off to the point you fall into bed, life is packed.  Making time to meditate seems like a dream, somewhere between lying in a hammock on the beach and buying a sequined party dress.  But Christine Wushke sums it up perfectly in her blog post Meditation for Busy Moms: “As a parent, performing a plethora of duties during the day is inevitable, but struggling with them is optional. The next time you find yourself tracking events through time and mentally checking your to-do list, see if you can enter mindfulness and go to the feeling of busy, rather than the idea of busy.”[vi] She is referring to something often called “witness consciousness”: a shift in your state of being in which you are watching your mind’s endless progression of thoughts, feelings, calculations, and more rather than becoming caught up in them.  Give yourself time on the meditation cushion regularly—even 5 minutes will do, right before you wake up the kids—to practice this subtle but profound shift.  Breathe in and out, noticing the sensations of your breath, and watch your thoughts come and go as you label them “thoughts” and watch them do the cha-cha in your head without acting on them. That’s it. Throughout the day, come back to your breath whenever you remember to: at a stoplight or in the car line, when your phone rings, when a bird flies overhead and captures your attention for a brief but very present and fully aware moment. Don’t chastise yourself if you don’t remember to do it. Just do it when you do remember, in this moment, and then the next. You have infinite moments to work with, after all, and each one is perfect unto itself, just the way it is.

By doing this simple practice as a way of life, you change your relationship with yourself, and hence every other being you come into contact with. Dr. Laura Markham calls this commitment to your own practice “heroic work…if you keep digging for your own emotional generosity, you’ll see your kids begin to soften towards each other.”[vii] You begin to merge into a greater consciousness, aka the “sea” that Yogananda sings so passionately about. And the waves of this consciousness are felt all around you. Your toddler laughs. Your teenager meditates. Or, if they don’t, like when your toddler has a fever or your 8-year old is struggling with a bully or your teen has a crush on a boy named “Skull”--your deeper compassion, presence, deep love and equanimity with things just as they are will have a huge impact on your family, resolution will come without reactivity, and the ripples of this practice will extend far beyond the borders of your home.  

You, mom and dad, are making some serious dharma waves. Experience each moment as you watch with gratitude as the world fully expresses itself around you. Love one another, and as you take in each miraculous breath, deeply love the one who is most important of all to this equation: yourself.

   Reprinted with permission from Holistic Parenting Magazine.             

[vii] Markham, Dr. Laura, c. 2015. Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. Perigee, New York, NY, 324pp.
This article first appeared in Holistic Parenting Magazine, Issue No.17, September/October 2016.

Chopra, Deepak, c. 1997. The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. Harmony Books, New York NY, 156pp.
Markham, Dr. Laura, c. 2015. Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. Perigee, New York, NY, 324pp.
Smith, Shana, c. 2016. Meditation for Moms and Dads. ClearSky Publishing, Los Angeles, CA, 147pp.

Shana Smith is a mom, musician, marine biologist, teacher, and writer.  She has just released her first book, Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers. This groundbreaking book boldly claims that a thriving meditation practice is not only possible, but an absolute must for the parent/householder.  It isn't an empty claim.  The author is doing it. Her journey is profound, funny, and fabulous. The entertaining combination of tips, real-parent stories, and poetry demonstrates that parents can squelch the mindset of "I can't" to "I will," to celebrate the opportunity to embrace parenthood and worldly life itself as a vital spiritual practice rather than an impediment to one.

Shana is an avid and longtime practitioner of Zen and meditation, a decades-long yogi, and a much sought-after kirtan wallah, or devotional chanting leader.  For the past twenty years, she has been known to many across the state of Florida and the U.S. as the nationally award-winning (Parent's Choice, iParenting, NAPPA, Just Plain Folks) children’s musical persona “Shana Banana.”  Shana and her family (husband Dan, daughter Grace Ohana, and son Benny Albert) have settled down in Gainesville, Florida to run their meditation- and yoga-based Gainesville Retreat Center, which attracts many renowned teachers and practitioners and offers weekly meditation nights. 

In addition to book and music appearances, homeschooling her two kids, and running the retreat center with her family, Shana is currently working on a series of children's books based on her original musical stories currently available on Shana Banana CD's. She is also writing a tween mystery series developed over the past two years with her kids, and recording a CD of devotional chants from various traditions.   In her free time, she walks in the forest, gardens, cooks, writes poetry, does yoga and meditation, and plays. A lot. 

For more information, go to

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Softening Out of Perfection

Perfection is not an easy goal. Perfection takes work.  Hard work. Balls-to-the-walls work.  Don't just sing; belt!  Don't just cry; sob. Don't just work. Work harder than anyone else ever could or would, and never make a mistake.  Figure out what makes people happy and do it tenfold. Stand out. Be exemplary. That's what perfection is all about, right?

Only if you want to be neurotic and drive everyone around you insane. Only if you want to be left wondering why, despite years of working so hard, you are unhappy.

Because of decades of perfectionitis, despite a lack of true happiness, I did garner a few commendable attributes.  I have incredible endurance.  You could give me a project--any project, be it filling up a landfill with a single shovel or organizing a festival or cataloguing 1,000 species of gastropods--and I'll do it unwaveringly, without food or drink or sleep, until it is done, and done perfectly.  I am pretty skinny for a middle-aged woman. That's because I have always been buzzing and working, even during "rest" periods, which keeps my metabolism on overdrive.  I am dependable and self-deprecating and nice (until I blow up from feeling unable to live up to my perfection). I am wholesome and moral.  Yes, perfection has a few superficially honorable side effects.

I have also been hard-edged, easily hurt, overbearing in my energy with others, strongly opinionated, insecure, nail-biting, and limited in my ability to see a bigger, kinder, picture of both myself and the world around me. Perfection had created barriers to the very thing it was striving for.

Thanks to a longtime dedicated meditation practice,  the tight-lipped walls of perfection are beginning to soften, especially in these past  several years, and the process is continuing with tangible results.  In addition to daily time on the cushion, it's a moment-to-moment practice to enjoy less work for myself instead of creating more, to soften and loosen into each moment, experience, thought and interaction rather than tense up and do battle with them.  To lay back with things as they are instead of diving in to and trying to influence everything. To shed the need and tendency to engage--and over-engage.. To stop the need to let everyone know what I can do, have done, or will do. To physically soften--my face, jaw, shoulders, stomach--and feel a new sense of flow through pliant, newly alive joints and muscles.  To really see, hear and enjoy people rather than being intent on being perfect around them.  To allow my kids to be themselves as they change and grow rather than be "my kids." To discover--wide eyed and awestruck--that the whole world opens up and dances with me when I finally relax these gripping muscles and let go of it.  To be utterly, openly, flabbily, softly, loosely, quietly, unapologetically, imperfect. To breathe. To be happy and even better than happy: to be content.

Now THAT'S perfection.

Friday, February 19, 2016

React or Release? How Mindfulness Brings Compassion

Had just enough time to try a new vegan cafe, and I was by myself--no kids, no family--for the first time in years. I walked in, expecting a warm welcome, but none came.  I sat down. No one came. No one brought a menu, so I asked for one, and was told they were up at the counter.  Went up and grabbed one and sat back down again. No one came. Started working on some writing, fully expecting that someone would notice me, maybe ask me what I wanted to drink, etc. No one came.

No one told me you were supposed to order up front, so I waited for 20 minutes at that table dramatically looking at that menu, and no one took my order. I noticed a big line forming up front. Got concerned--was so short on time as it was. Asked the cashier: "Am I supposed to order here, then sit down?" "Yes," was her hurried and harried reply, as she was clearly very busy. Looked at line, now 8 people long, when there was no line when I got there. Could've been eating by now. So hungry, so thirsty. Felt frustration and indignant anger were building. 

My thoughts went wild: "They should have told me when I came in! They just left me sitting there! I need to complain about this. They need to hear about this injustice that has been served to me. They need to feel bad for ignoring me. Maybe give me a free meal. Put me at the front of the line." Took a few deep breaths. Looked around. They were all college kids, working their tails off. Multitasking as much as I do as a mother and more. I looked at the posters and flyers all over the coffeehouse, advertising charity concerts and helping services. I checked my phone. Still enough time. I remembered when others got mad at me for their own reasons, because I was so busy I didn't fulfill their expectations, and how badly I felt during those times. Returned to the present sensations. I was just hungry. Just thirsty. Just tired. Went to back of line. Waited my turn. Ordered and paid. Food came out in 3 minutes with a huge smile added on, and an extra big cup of tea. 

What a different world when mindfulness brings compassion. May we all be in this together. So grateful. heart emoticon

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Get Real!

Meditation for Moms and Dads (and Students and Profs and Everyone):  Getting Real
Guest Blog by Shana Smith
Author, Meditation for Moms and Dads (
Director, Gainesville Retreat Center (
Music for Children, (

When I was asked to write a guest blog for the UF Mindfulness website, I watched an entertaining movie inside my mind: “Great! Can’t wait to start writing! I’ve got some ideas—let me start up the computer. Wait—my son has to poop. It takes him 25 minutes to poop, and he needs me to read Curious George to him the whole time.  We’re already late for piano lessons!  I might have time to think about the blog while the kids are taking their lessons, after I go to the post office and return a few phone calls…no, no not then.  Got to go over room assignments and meals for our next meditation retreat. Where are their piano he still pooping?!”

How I actually wrote a whole book called “Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers” is a mystery that can only be explained through my mindfulness practice.  The rational, thinking mind could have never pulled it off.  It would say, well-intentioned and quite matter-of-factly, that I am just too busy to indulge in such an idea during this busy time of life.  There’s no time to even tweeze my eyebrows or have lunch with a friend.  How can I think of maintaining a meditation practice, and write a book about it?  Get real.

But the prospect of “getting real” is exactly the goal of mindfulness. A peek into any mother’s mind, or student’s, professor’s, or most anyone’s mind for that matter, is a testament to a perception of sheer chaos in life and the “monkey mind” that feeds into it.  We are forever pulled out, out, out into the storm of activity, ambition, relationships, responsibilities, self-care, caregiving, survival skills and management that it takes to live and function in this busy world, often feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s a vicious cycle: the more you get pulled out into the maelstrom, the more stressed and at the mercy of external forces you feel, making you even more vulnerable to the workings of the monkey mind. 

Enter mindfulness.

When you have a meditation practice and learn to practice mindfulness in daily activities, you have the opportunity to pull back from the cycle of being caught up in worldly mania and just watch your mind during the full expression of your life experiences. That’s when you realize that this monkey mind is just that—a kind of a half-cute, half-annoying beast that swings from branch to branch, changing direction and intensity constantly and with no rhyme or reason.  It creates self-doubt and confusion, and expends a whole lot of your precious energy. This mind we are so attached to is obscuring our reality.

A lot of people identify meditation and mindfulness as a technique to change the mind so that it becomes quiet and still. Mindfulness practice, for me, has not changed my mind. It’s busy in there, because usually it has to be: I’m a full-time parent who homeschools two active children and the director of a meditation center, as well as a writer, scientist, and still occasionally working musician. I need my mind to be what it was meant to be: able to handle and process a lot of stuff, but without the drama and hyperbole involved with the mind’s monkeyish tendencies. Most people in the regular world need a mind that can help them learn, multitask, and figure things out. So if we can’t always still the mind, what does mindfulness really do?

Mindfulness practice, via meditation and moment-to-moment awareness, changes the relationship you have with your mind, and there is where the magic lies.  You no longer get pulled out into a false sense of crisis or drama. When you do, you are able to recognize it much sooner and bring yourself back to mindful awareness.  You are simply aware of each experience, each moment, and the miracle of being able to experience it.  And sometimes, yes, the mind does become still.  For me, it’s usually during that precious thirty to sixty minutes that I have moved mountains around to secure as my daily morning meditation time. Sometimes it’s when walking in the woods or on the beach, or spending time with a beloved person or pet. It’s during these sacred moments that reality pours through like the golden sunbeams coming through the window, and it fuels mindfulness for the rest of the day.

Once you’ve had a taste of this new perception of life, cultivated through the practice of mindfulness, you will never be quite the same.  Generally, you will feel a greater sense of ease within yourself and with others.  But even more than that, you will begin to see that this new perception of life is the real one, and that all you were experiencing before—emotive attachments, heaviness, crisis, and drama—are illusory.  That monkey will become a sideshow most days, one you can even love and appreciate for all of its good intentions.  You will feel compassion. You will feel flow. You can write a book or create a masterpiece or make new discoveries. Or not. But your mind will no longer impede whatever is next in each moment of your experience.  Awareness will open the gates.

I wish I’d known about this practice as a university student, when months of intensive studying, bad boyfriends and sleep deprivation often turned me into a dramatic, sickly mess. Parenting isn’t much different really, except for one thing: now, my state of mind directly impacts not only myself and my spouse but two fresh new beings with open hearts and as-of-yet non-addled minds, and I don’t want to mess it up.  Even if you don’t have kids, you have people and other beings all around you every day. What a great opportunity mindfulness brings, in its ability to positively impact others.  Your mindfulness practice is indeed the world’s practice. 

Get real.