I used to think a spiritual life would have to be put on hold while I had children. Instead, I have come to realize there's probably no better spiritual practice for the "warrior" than raising children.
This quote by the Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche struck me:
Hold the sadness and pain [of life] in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.
The quote brought to mind a recent parenting milestone--seeing my child's feelings hurt by another child.
My son just turned 5 years old. He has stood up for himself at the playground before. That day something different happened. He wanted to play with two slightly older boys, and they let him know with a few words that he was not welcome.
It wasn't bullying. They were not even particularly mean about it. If my son hadn't reacted the way he did, I would not have thought too much about the event. But my son had wanted to join in their game, so to him it was a big deal. He was upset.
He walked over to me and grabbed my shirt, pushing and pulling me away at the same time, and cried angry tears. I tried to put my arms around him while he fought against me. My first instinct was to shoot daggers with my eyes at the boys, which I probably did (hey, I'm only human!), and I looked around to see if their parents were close by, but I didn't see anyone (figures, right?). Like my son, I was upset, and my thoughts reflected it.
As a parent, I felt my son's pain so acutely. I had tears in my eyes, and I felt the same disempowerment my son did. In that moment, there was nothing I could do to change what had happened or make things better for my son.
One of the boys walked over for a second and looked at my son curiously. Maybe he realized he hurt somebody's feelings. Maybe he didn't. Soon after, my son went back to where he had been playing and played by himself, insisting I stand near him.
This is life--holding the pain while keeping our eyes on the Eastern sun--the bigger picture that these are life experiences everyone has, that my son is going to have many more times throughout his life.
It may not be easy to keep in mind the big picture, but that does not mean it's not there.
The challenge for me is making friends with the bad feelings, with the hurt and sadness, rather than reacting out of the emotional pain I am feeling or distracting myself so I don't have to feel the feelings. I didn't react or distract, and we all lived through it.
Tibetan Buddhist and author Pema Chodron's words have helped me through many difficult moments of parenthood. She writes:
If you can live with the sadness of human life, if you can be willing to feel fully and acknowledge continually your own sadness and the sadness of life, but at the same time not be drowned by it, because you also remember the vision and power of the Great Eastern Sun, you experience balance and completeness, joining heaven and earth, joining vision and practicality.
There may be no more difficult task in life. In that moment, there was nothing I could do except hold the pain with my son and keep my eyes on the horizon.
It did not feel good in the moment to do nothing. My first impulse when I saw my children's anger or sadness was to try to fix it or make it better. But maybe sometimes this makes it worse. Maybe sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. I sat. I held. I listened. I waited till things got a little better. Maybe this is the warrior's training. No swords or weapons or fighting, just a lot of holding of feelings.
We have been back to that park twice since this event, and both times, while driving there, my son has asked me, "Are those boys going to be there?" The incident left an impression on him.
Surprisingly, he's shown more independence during our recent trips to the park, even though he is on the look out for "those boys." He no longer insists I stand near him while he's playing. Maybe he feels more confident knowing the hurt feelings will not destroy him. From experience I learned the fear of something happening is often scarier than the actual something happening.
I was forced to confront a fear of my own-seeing my child's feelings hurt by another child. It does not feel good, but if I can hold the feeling, and somehow keep in mind the bigger picture--I know it will all be okay.
The band Swedish House Mafia says it well, "Don't your worry, don't you worry, child, see heaven's got a plan for you."
Parenthood is a journey for the spiritual warrior--hard, but also a great privilege to be making this journey alongside my son. Maybe someday I will be making that "proper cup of tea." For now, on those especially hard days, at least there's dark chocolate to take the edge off.