Saturday, October 16, 2010

"I" of the hurricane

 Spins Madly On

Today my oldest two are helping each other make newspaper pirate hats and my youngest is making up songs about friendship and hugging. I had an uneventful morning meditation, as sometimes happens, after which I got some reading and study in. Things are peaceful.
Yesterday? Not so much.

My oldest had nothing to do with it, she assures me.
My 5-y.o. has a beatpoet beard and Dali mustachio, courtesy Sharpie®.
My 3-y.o. is arched backwards on the stairs, knees locked impossibly in the wrong direction, a peal of ultimate dissatisfaction searing from her tiny lungs to peel the paint off the walls.
[cue phone ringing]

There's a semi-famous ukiyo-e painting of a man standing on the very bowtip of his little boat, reaching just a little too far for a bit of seaweed to put in his bucket, at the same time a giant wave is curling above, just about to smash down on him, as he's fully aware. I wish I had a print, because I refer to my memory of it a lot.

Honor thy tantrum!

I have discovered — along with many other parents I'm sure, but want to share with those who haven't — that some 92% of kid crises do not need to be solved. Everything in the entire world is wrong, so there's no use trying anyway. Samsara sucks, what can you say? But in the middle of that tension and noise, assuming no one is bleeding or similar, there's really nothing required but to be present. (...And maybe check the caller I.D.)

Contemplative Tantrumming  101

I gently sit next to her, she takes it up a decibel. I step back a bit and make myself comfortable on the stair. I feel the room and my body in it and all the suffering suffusing everything in the world. I recognize the grasping-as-real. Everything is like an illusion. "To a Buddha, everything is Buddha." I bring my awareness to the boundary between the perceiver and the perception and penetrate it. There is quiet. The guru smiles from the top of my head. Every single speck of interdependent arising, completely unestablished as anything but emptiness, glows as the dance of my own karma presenting itself, laughing "with" me. I make an offering of it all, both upwards and downwards. From the beginning there has never been a problem, save my confusion regarding the nature of things as Suchness.
There's room for a few steady breaths.

"I want you to get me something to drink."
"Can you ask nicely?"
"Will you please get me something to PLEASE drink?!"
Child's play. 
[Although I can't help but wonder if she's old enough to put a split-infinitive in out of spite.]

I hold her cheek tight against mine as we head to the fridge, still dreaming.

Meditation helps life, but does your daily life make your meditation better?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Core Values (pt 2)

"Be good.”

In the first session of this diatribe I examined a few of my own ideas about teaching dharma to kids, specifically how best to expose them to some of the basic Abhidharma concepts of interdependence and cause-and-effect. It’s what happened to be on my mind, but truly, teaching my kids the “science” — to abuse a term — of Dharma is not something I spend much time thinking on.
As much as I wish my parents had raised me with an understanding of nidanas, ayatanas, etc., I’m much more interested in teaching these guys how to feel good about themselves, work with their difficulties, share friendship, value people-over-things, find joy in their day... all of that stuff; leave the real Dharma instruction to a karmically-suited teacher of an authentic lineage. My list is really not a whole lot different from non-Buddhist parents is it?
Like I said before, kids learn by example, so I might be able to guage my own progress on theirs. (Yikes!) To the extent that I don’t rank as an authentic bodhisattva, such that they would simply learn by watching, it’s been very helpful (for my side) to teach them what a bodhisattva “ought” to act like. I can say there’s not much in the world quite like having your 8-yr old stare you down arms akimbo and say, “so much for PATIENCE!!!” [sigh....]

What Would Daddy Do?

The Mahayana ideal of “holding back” from attaining personal liberation, in order to help others — all others — finds natural expression in the ease with which we sacrifice for our children. Just as with the idea of “all beings as mothers,” maybe we can take “all beings as our children” (figuratively) as a measure of how we should treat them. The pedagogical aspect may be out of place in normal relationships, but the concern-for-others bit may be very close to the mark, depending on your level of clinging.
[Excellent subject for a future blog!]
But it's just a seed. All beings take care of "their own" — nothing particularly Buddhist about that. We have to apply that care and feeling that their well-being is more important than our own, and translate it to how we treat others, especially those that slight us. Our little teachers can help us get the ball rolling, but it has to roll much further than the house.

How can we bring our children more fully into our practice?
Who’s teaching whom here?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Routine

What time is it? (A long-winded examination of daily practice.)

One of my favorite jokes I like to play on myself is pretending that raising kids means “I just don’t have time to practice!” I’ve heard this line from a number of other parents as well, even before I was a parent myself. The fact is, when I was childless, single and virtually carefree I had just as many reasons to battle on the way to the daily cushion. Disabusing oneself of the notion that there just isn’t enough time in the day is maybe Step One in my book.

Yeah, we parents have commitments that extend past our clock-in/clock-out, and those commitments are not easily broken compared to, say, a gym membership. But (speaking for myself only here) there are many gaps in my schedule, and what I fill them with may not always be the best use of my time. I did an experiment a few months ago where for a couple of days I tried to keep track of my “down time” with the idea that I would take half of that and add it to my practice day.
I didn’t... but I was not all that surprised to find out just how much “me” time I was wedging into my everyday life.

“Them time” ÷ bodhicitta = “me time”
24hr - (them-time + me-time + sleep) = practice time.

Of course “me” time is important for us mere mortals so young on the bodhisattva path, but just how much do we need? I would say: exactly as much as it takes. If our practice becomes just another weight put upon us by the world, we will surely have a hard time of it. However, the thought that I will “take care of myself and then go practice” has some serious flaws in it. If meditation is not taking care of myself, then I need to revisit good ol’ Noble Truth #1 and remember why I started this whole project.
Assuming good technique and training, meditation (in all the various forms under that umbrella-term) is a fascinating and amazing event. I’m certain that in all regards cushion-time is THE best me-time there is, and I reaffirm it (almost) everytime I sit down. The biggest trick is getting to the seat. It’s much like diving off a diving board, or getting out of bed too early: you just have to make your muscles move without listening to your brain. You decided beforehand that you would do this, so your brain’s contribution is finished. “Legs, walk!”
Coming to the decisive conviction that you actually WANT a steady practice in your life might be Step Two in this imaginary guidebook. After that, it’s simply a matter of making a schedule that honors all parts of your life each with the weight it deserves.

My own personal aspiration is to find four hours a day without unduly neglecting my “life duties.” To that end, I’ve been attempting three sessions (morning, midday and night) each of indeterminate time, with the hopes of haggling more time for each of them from the so-called “me-time” and sleep until I have 90 minutes in the morning and evening, and an hour midday. It’s a lot compared to what I’ve done in the past, but I think I can do it.
(Feel free to egg me on and/or shame me into it!)

I'm looking into "meditation games" to play with my children, such as sitting quietly and shoting "THOUGHT!" whenever a thought comes up... with some success I guess, but would love to hear others' ideas for inventive ways to make sitting still a normal and interesting part of a child's life.

Who else has an ideal time goal of “enough” daily practice?
How do you plan to get there?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Core Values" (pt 1)

“Pooh, how do you spell ‘bodhicitta’?”
“You don’t spell it, Piglet, you FEEL it!”

Kids learn by example. If we act with kindness and patience, tolerance and forgiveness, generosity and acceptance, so will they. End of story.

But today I’m thinking more about “education” in terms of Buddhist view, basic dharma, how the world works. When and how are these things best broached with our children?

I’ll be honest - I follow Buddha et alum because his message makes sense. (I still have lots of questions, but I’ve long since come to trust that the answers are there.) I think that’s the main reason I don't advocate pushing Buddhadharma on kids. I really want it to make sense, for them to welcome it as a refuge from their troubles. 
[The joke is that it seems to invite more troubles than you knew you had, but we’ll just put a little flag on that thought and keep moving forward!]

Buddhadharma is renowned for its myriad techiniques and perspectives, displaying an almost infinite adaptability to whatever one’s trip du jour might be. This suggests that the only thing preventing a person from grasping (at least some aspect of) the dharma is simply a matter of discovering the meeting place between that person’s view and reality. Kids don’t have the same sorts of problems that adults do... but the problems the do have, they really do have. Just ask them.

After nine years of parenting, if I were going to throw out a ballpark range of when the idea of dukkha, suffering/dissatisfaction, begins to make sense (and you’re free to disagree) it would be somewhere in the 6-8 year range. I say that because that is right around when cause-and-effect and interdependance begin to surface.

[For fun, I just now asked my nine-year-old what “cause and effect” means to her: “Something happens, and then something happens because of that thing.” Example? “Her skirt tore, so she got a new one. She wouldn’t have gotten a new one if she still had the old one, right?” What about interdependence? “One thing depending on something else.” Well, that’s dependence. “Okay, so like a chicken and an egg. You can’t have one without the other. Or gravity - the Earth pulls on you and you pull on it.” ...not bad]

With cause-and-effect and interdependence in play, we can begin to trace the cause of suffering. This, to me, is the beginning of Dharma. Understand, I’ve been putting these kids to sleep with Tibetan-prayers-cum-lullaby since they were breathing air. I think exposure to tradition cannot start too early. Here I’m strictly talking “view” since that’s the critical point in raising a child to make some use of this life, versus just being trained to act Buddhist.
With cause-and-effect and interdependence in play, we can begin to take charge of our own happiness, and justify when things go right or wrong. We can begin to watch our karma (action) to see if they are bringing us the results we want in life. We can b*e*g*i*n to taste the dissatisfaction in our efforts and see the sprouts of bigger questions.

How does the project of helping your kids realize the inherent futility of worldly gain/pleasure/fame/praise coexist and compete with the project of developing a healthy sense of self -purpose and -value?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Parenting as Bodhisattva Training?

As of this writing, I’m 39 years old; I'm a husband, and a dad to three kids: ages nine, five and three; I’m also on a quest to attain enlightenment. No problem, right!? Ok, maybe I could use a little help. ;)

Luckily, turns out there are about 2,150,000 of us actively practicing Buddhism in the United States so surely I’m not alone in looking for ways to apply both my practice to parenting and my parenting to practice. Anyone, Buddhist or otherwise, who is trying to raise healthy and happy children in a spiritual environment can relate to how challenging this can be. I'm by no means the best parent or the best Buddhist, but with about twenty years of study, meditation and reflection behind me, I am able to make efforts at applying what my teachers have given me toward my daily life. Hopefully here I can share some of my successes and struggles, and maybe give others a place to share, vent, teach, question, laugh, commiserate and explore this profound journey. 
So then:

“How does a Buddhist parent?”
Being a parent is no better or worse than not having children, it's just a lot bigger. The profound joys are matched by the fears and heartaches in ways that non-breeders simply cannot fathom. This makes for some serious mill grist. Every single aspect of one’s day becomes an opportunity to engage in the path in a very thick way. There’s the obvious demand for one’s time and attention, patience and understanding, creativity and kindness (which is different from the easy “love” part) — these things that are required of us almost 24/7, and there’s the less-obvious stuff that comes later like providing comfort from fear; teaching flexibility, responsibility and consequences; impermanence; working hard for something you want and suffering through failure. The relationship you have to your children, the utter reliance they have on you, is unlike anything in the world. Welcome to bodhisattva training, deep-end-of-the-pool style. ;)
Hopefully our meditation practice gives us a leg up when dealing the stress and emotional turmoil of raising kids, but I won't say that it has given me any real definite rules about any of this. More just an anchor for rolling through the waves of it all. Almost ten years later, I'm still just feeling it out, you know.

[For the new parents out there, let me assure assure you: things don’t get easier, they just get different! My Rule #1 is “just hang in there.” More on that later.]

“How does a parent Buddhist?”
As the Dalai Lama says, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” If we take the Three Jewels as our refuge, we can call ourselves Buddhist. If we apply ourselves to benefitting others, then we can rightfully say we are on the bodhisattva path. It doesn’t matter how successful we are, just that we are committed, and that we take every obstacle as another chance to learn. At least, that’s what I’m banking on!
My main supports throughout the day are remembering the Four Noble Truths (especially the first one!), applying myself to the six perfections (especially the first, third and fourth) and practicing lojong, “sending and receiving.” With these tools in hand, not only do I (er... mostly) find the strength to do the best job I can, but as a Buddhist I’m able to spend much more of my day actually practicing, rather than “trying to get my job done” so I can go meditate in a corner somewhere.
That's not to say we can do without cushion time — certainly one of the biggest challenges for us parents on the path — but that's a subject for another time.

How do YOU integrate your spiritual practice with the nuts and bolts of being a parent?