How Big Are Your Moments?

hurry, multi-tasking, paying attention, living each moment, conscious living, cherishing loved ones, “Every moment is enormous, and it’s all we have.”   Natalie Goldberg

When my daughter was a baby she napped in the stroller. One time. This may stand out in my memory because it was so unusual. Or because I savored that wonderfully long nap in a babyhood troubled by chronic illness. But I think it’s because I consciously chose to hold on to the memory.

That day I pulled the stroller gently into the backyard. Tiny spring wildflowers sprouted everywhere in the expanse of weeds we called a lawn. The honey locust trees were in bloom, making the air smell particularly sweet. As I sat there watching my oldest child play and my daughter sleep, an ice cream truck passed a few streets away, adding a magical tune to the afternoon.  The springtime smells, the sun shining on my little boy, the soft untroubled look on my baby’s face, the complete peace of sitting on the back step are still with me.

Our lives are stitched together by what we notice and remember. Look back at any particular phase of your life. What you recall is constructed from what you paid attention to. Each moment there are sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts and feelings unique to your experience. The way you pay attention to those elements forms your memories. The shocking part? Looking back and realizing how few rich and full memories we really form.

That’s because we only really latch on to memories when we pay attention. When we’re engaged in the moment. Recall the last really memorable meal you had. It probably wasn’t one you ate in the car or standing at the kitchen counter. It was one you savored with full awareness of flavor, texture, scent. Most likely there were other important elements as well. Perhaps it was a meal shared with a new friend or made from a challenging cookbook. Perhaps it was a last meal you had before a loved one passed away, a meal you now try reconstruct in detail.

It’s easier than ever to miss our own lives. I’m guilty. Large chunks of mine have drifted by unheeded. Sure I was there. But I was distracted. I was multitasking. I was rummaging around in the past or fussing over the future rather than paying attention to the moment.

I won’t delude myself into believing that I have the capacity to stay in the moment. But I can try. And because my daughter has just come into the room I’ll be turning from the computer now to hear about her day.





Maybe Next Time courtesy of PORG

Dancing Babies & World Peace

dancing for peace, babies smile to music, net and music, research babies and music,

The magnificent blues guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr., performed regularly not far from my childhood home. But the divides of race and radio kept me from hearing him play until I was an adult. Even when I started spending my babysitting money on music I was limited to what was available in stores within walking distance. Just like everyone else born before the net, my musical ear was limited to narrow channels of exposure.

As I got older and discovered what to me was new music, I felt my smaller world crack open. Music pours in past filters. Music, perhaps more than any other form of art, evokes a personal response. Unique as it may be to each musician, it’s also an expression of our shared humanity.

Turns out we’re born to be more receptive to music than to speech. According to a recent study babies respond to music, even regular drumbeats, with increased smiling. Even more surprising, this research shows that babies correlate their movements with the tempo and rhythm. They dance! And music gets a much greater response than spoken words. No wonder adults all over the world naturally engage babies in a sort of singsong-like call and response. We’re translating our language into one that is more evocative.

That’s what music does. It makes us known to one another.

Music is used to lull small ones to sleep, rouse teams to competition, woo lovers, worship, commemorate solemn occasions and celebrate. In some parts of the world music is a medium to intentionally and peacefully resolve conflicts. Through music we more fully grasp that all of us feel grief, love, fear, injustice, joy and moments of transcendence.

My children enjoy wider access to music of all kinds. They’ve seen Chinese opera, Tibetan throat singing, Lakota flute playing, Balinese gamelan and much more. They know more than I ever will as they seek out and share music across a huge range of styles. Entranced I wander upstairs to my daughter’s room, lured by the sounds of Le Mystere des voix Bulgares. I pay attention as my son enthuses about Inon Zur, composer of the orchestral music for inCrysis.

Theirs is the first generation to have the full advantage of the net and other music sharing technology. Across all divides, music can be a peacemaker. It can let us slide past cultural differences and language barriers to a place of mutual understanding.  It can let our children keep on dancing and smiling as they were born to do.





Little Girl Dancing courtesy of James Lee

Horse Boy: Because Autism Pushes Past Definitions

autism changing definition of normal, autism gifts,

We live in a time when limited definitions and restrictive boundaries no longer apply.

For example, autism.

People with autism themselves are changing what it means to be “normal.” The wild artist, the radical theorist, the creative scientist have long been held at arm’s length from the rest of us. So have many others who push the boundaries.

Amanda Baggs,  who doesn’t speak aloud but does speak through her keyboard, says that autism is a “constant conversation” with one’s surroundings. Ms. Baggs also actively communicates with a network of people around the world through her articles and forum posts. Videos she’s made have been viewed over a million times. Her voice makes a difference.

Which brings me to a powerful new documentary, The Horse Boy (and companion book The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing).

It shows the parents of five-year-old Rowan dealing with his tantrums, incontinence and most upsetting to them, their son’s distance. The mother, a psychology professor and the father, a human rights advocate who works with indigenous people around the world, apply diets, therapies, supplements and remarkable patience. Rowan’s screaming outbursts isolate the family. The couple, once world travelers, can barely manage a trip to a nearby park.

Although the father is a life-long equestrian, he keeps his unpredictable son away from horses. But one day Rowan runs to the next door neighbor’s horse. There an old mare reaches her head down and nuzzles the child as if he were her colt. Instinctively the father puts his son on the horse’s back. Rowan relaxes, lies down and talks easily.

A brief experience with a shamanistic healing ceremony that seems to be beneficial stirs Rowan’s parents to wonder where in the world they might find help for their son that pairs horses with shamanism. They end up going all the way to Mongolia.

There they don’t find miracles. But the journey, the horseback riding, the shamanic healing and the wide open landscape precipitates something beyond their understanding. Something happens that has to do with the mystery of autism itself. Although Rowan’s tantrums don’t go away, he also laughs, plays with other children, talks freely and becomes toilet trained. These improvements persist.

Autism is, whatever your perspective, now part of the human experience.  According to some studies, the incidence has risen to epidemic proportions of one in every 110 children. That’s a 50% increase from 1994. Other studies say the incidence may be a great deal higher.

This has been linked to heavy metals  such as mercury and aluminum exposure, to inflammatory syndrome affecting the gut, to a whole range of interrelated environmental factors which may disproportionately affect people with specific genetic or epigenic factors.

autism evolution, autism rights

A friend with two sons whose behavior puts them at the low functioning end of the autism spectrum says her boys, with their overt preference for screen-based technology, make her wonder if we’re pushing the envelope of evolution. “This is what more of our next generations will act like,” she tells me. “I’m not saying it’s good or bad. It’s where our choices have led us.”


Rowan’s father said a prayer before a wind-swept shine in Mongolia for all people touched in any way by autism. He asked that it be understood. He asked that the unknown gifts of autism be revealed.

May it be so.







image titled “Autistic” courtesy of Tyora

image titled “People Are Not Puzzles” courtesty of hgmuffin_stuff

For Brainpower & Focus, Try Clapping

Mom was right.

The older I get the more I recognize the wisdom my mother applied in parenting. For example, she believed that traditional games held their value. We played croquet in the back yard—-a lawn game that went out of fashion soon after the Victorian era. We played Battleship using only graph paper and pencils. And we played all kinds of clapping games, from Pat a Cake to silly counting rhymes.

Turns out I owe my mother thanks for more than my straight hair and tendency to burn immediately upon exposure to the sun. I owe her thanks for those games, particularly the hand-clapping ones.

New research finds hand-clapping rhymes and songs are directly linked to cognitive skills.

Dr. Idit Sulkin, of the Ben-Gurion University Music Science Lab, found that young children who naturally play hand-clapping games are better spellers, have neater handwriting and better overall writing skills.

Intrigued, she conducted further research. For ten weeks she engaged groups of children, ages 6 to 10, in a program of either music appreciation or hand-clapping. Very quickly the children’s cognitive abilities improved, but only those taking part in hand-clapping songs.

She also interviewed teachers and joined in when children sang in their classrooms. She was trying to understand why they tend to enjoy hand-clapping songs until a certain age, when other activities such as sports become dominant. Dr. Sulkin observed, these activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.”

Interestingly, Dr. Sulkin also found that hand-clapping songs also benefit adults. When adults engage in these games from childhood they report feeling less tense and their mood improves. They also become more focused and alert.

Clapping and singing, clapping and chanting—-this is found across all cultures in religious ceremonies, solemn rituals, joyous celebrations and to accompany storytellers.  The experience of calling and clapping may speak to something deeper in us.  Maybe we all should play a round of Miss Suzy or Cee Cee My Playmate at the start of every political debate, business meeting or extended family get-together.





Clapping Hands sketch courtesy of  sycen