Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy All Beings Have Been Your Mother Day

Traditional Buddhist teachings tell us that we should love all beings because -- over the course of many lifetimes -- everyone has been your mother in one of them. In traditional Buddhist southeast Asian cultures, this is a valid metaphor for creating an attitude of love, respect, and gratitude for all beings.

Here in the west, that ain't necessarily so. Our relationships with our mothers are fraught with tension. We rebel against them, seek to separate from them, blame them for our messed-up psyches. So if you tell a westerner that all beings have been there mother, instead of unlocking a well of love and respect you might find the thought, "So that's why they're so hard to get along with."

Buddhism also tells us that those two aspects can co-exist -- can co-arise -- that there is wisdom and confusion in each. At the very least, some woman somewhere enabled you to be born, to experience this precious human life. If that had not happened, there would not be pain but there also would not be joy. Gratitude for your human birth and existence contains some measure of gratitude toward your mother.

If you are a mother yourself, you realize the impossibility of perfectly filling that role. "Raising a girl has similarities to looking closely into one of those magnifying mirrors where you can see every little pore and hair," a friend posted on Facebook this week.

Achingly true. But as an adult -- especially one with a Buddhist practice -- you can look at the flaws with kind eyes. Loving your child and watching them go through the same things you went through allows you to soften the judgments you made back then (and may have solidified into a personal history that makes you who you are today). You may also find yourself softening your judgments about your parents once you realize how hard it is to know just what to do as a parent yourself.

A million times a day you meet moments where you can react from habit -- reactions you probably developed in your own childhood -- or you can meet freshly and be present with what's going on now. Of course, that happens for everyone, parent or not, but when that moment is looking at you with a smaller version of the same face you see when you look in the mirror, it is particularly piercing.

And when they stumble over the same roadblocks that tripped you up, you can hand down your reaction -- or help them find their own. As you mindfully look for the words or gestures that your child needs during a difficult time, you may discover what you needed. And you may be able to provide that to your inner child -- which may allow that child to mature (at last).
(Buddhist and psychologist John Welwood says that the ego -- which Buddhist practice seeks to dismantle -- is "a child version of the self." Buddhist practices for shedding the ego are also a way of nurturing your inner child so they can grow up.)

Mother's Day calls for metta all around. Here is a practice that I love, based on teachings by Noah Levine:

Get into a meditative posture and ground your self with mindfulness meditation for a few minutes.

Think back in your life to your earliest childhood memories. If you can't call up a memory, maybe
you have a photo you can recall or think of a young child you know or have seen. Say to your younger self: I see you. I care for you. I love you.
Move up through your life at intervals -- maybe every three years, if you're young, or every eight or 10 if you're older. Look for sticky places, those spots where you felt unlovable at the time. See yourself, accept yourself, and love yourself. Or aspire to.
Continue up to the present day.
Then, if you like, go back and go through the years, bringing to mind your mother. Can you see your mother -- as a human in those moments of chaos and confusion? Can you care for her? Can you love her? If you can't use those words, find ones that express what you can say, genuinely.
And extend to all beings.

Know this: No parent starts with the intention of destroying a child's life. Some have very confused ideas about how to protect and love children that may be at odds with what that child needs. But that parent is doing the best they can with what they know.

* * * * *

I wanted to share this perspective:

Anne Lamott, in an essay on called "Why I Hate Mother's Day," laments that Mother's Day elevates parents above the child-free and hurts those who have lost their mothers or had mothers who didn't meet their needs. Her view feels a bit extreme to me, but I like her conclusion, that our gratitude should be extended to all those who have nurtured us and filled a maternal role in our lives:

No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior. You want to give me chocolate and flowers? That would be great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&M’s, and maybe flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawers. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all.

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