This week my younger child headed back to school, bringing home the impermanence of summer vacation.
Children do an excellent job of reminding you that everything is constantly changing. They grow, seeming at times to move through clothing sizes faster than the speed of light. They change from tiny people who writhe in agony if you try to put clothing on them that is not pink and fit for a princess to crust punks. You not only don’t recognize the shirt they’re wearing; you’re not sure you recognize the kid. Oh, wait – there’s gramma’s nose.
And emptiness – the lack of inherent identity – is constantly reinforced. I had a friend who would introduce her preschoolers by saying, This is my son, and he’s going to Harvard to be a doctor. This is my daughter; she’s going to Yale to be a lawyer. You don’t need me to tell you, do you?
My view is that it is the parent’s job to train them to live in the world, to figure out what they need and why they need it, to see there are many paths and that how you get there is as important as where you’re going.
It’s a view that can be hard to hold onto, especially when they’re leaving.
The cause of suffering, the Buddha taught, is attachment. The cessation of suffering results when we let go of that attachment, that grasping, that craving.
Talk about the emptiness of words – when you’re a mother, craving is what happens when your hormones go wild as your body takes care of the new being growing there. (Friendly’s Jubilee Rolls were the staple of this child’s gestation.) Grasping is what those tiny fingers do, an entire hand wrapping itself around your extended finger. Attachment – uh, umbilical cord. Can it get more visceral?
How do you experience the very ordinary magic of parenting without compounding the suffering that is part of life?
Compassionate equanimity, my teacher advises. Throw in loving kindness and sympathetic joy, inherent aspects of parenting, and you’ve got all four brahma viharas, the heavens on earth.
Put it another way: Affectionate non-attachment.
Loving kindness is radiant warmth and openness, an unattached appreciation with no sense of duty or obligation. … Loving kindness is the natural and heartfelt wish for this person to be happy. Ken McLeod “Wake Up to Your Life”
Dharma Punx founder Noah Levine illustrates this beautifully with his colorfully tattooed hands. (these illustrations are my non-tattooed, arthritic hands.)
Not grasping. (Hands clasped together, fingers intertwined.)
Not distanced. (Hands parallel, a slight distance apart.)
But connected. (Hands in anjeli mudra.)
Non-attachment does not mean detachment. Detachment means “from”-- to detach is to pull away , to disengage. Nonattachment, on the other hand, is a fully engaged and connected experience of being in the middle of whatever is going on, without clinging to or trying to control it. Noah Levine “The Heart of the Revolution.
Connection without clinging.
I recently heard Judith Simmer Brown, an acharya in the Shambhala tradition, talk about romantic love, using the movie "Titanic" as her text, deconstructing the stereotypes and conventions. A lot of what she had to say applies also to the parent-child relationship.
Babies are pretty much a blank screen for parents' projections -- although they come into this world with certain ways of doing things, the result of genetics or the training received in past lives. Some people see their kids as a do-over of their lives: Relive the good parts, avoid or correct the bad. The kid makes you proud or makes you cringe.
But the kid doesn't make you anything. You can choose to be proud or embarrassed or disappointed. Or you can choose to interact with the person in front of you -- while helping them learn how to live in society.
The love of a real person is more wonderful than any fantasy, to paraphrase Simmer Brown.
You have to be willing to see through the fantasy that this kid will be THE ONE. And when you realize that this kid will not be all that you dreamed, that, to quote directly from Simmer Brown, "is the moment to step out of the fantasy and have a relationship with a real person."
That person is pretty amazing. You and yet not you. Self in flux.
And then they go away to college. Oh, yeah. That impermanence thing again.