Kids as Teachers

Our experience at Lamayuru was a stark contrast to our visits to the other monasteries. It felt like coming home. And without Jackson's nudge to go to Ladakh, I might have fallen prey to my own laziness and missed an amazing chapter in my life.
09/23/2013 04:28 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2014

Excerpted from author Richard Melnick's "PARENTS WHO DON'T DO DISHES."

My belief is that kids are here to be your teachers and not the other way around. I don't mean they are here to be your guru, though I've heard more than a few wise observations from my boys, including the dreaded, "Dad, you seem a bit defensive."

I feel that having these wild cards in my life, these other people who were now my responsibility, provided a tremendous opportunity for self-realization. I thought that if I were to somehow allow their divine plan to unfold without my egoic imprint, then the entire process of raising kids might be infused with more grace and less stress. I thought it possible I might become more patient and kind. I hoped to set a good example, be a good listener and a trusted confidant. I'll always feel humbled and blessed by them, and through them, I think it's possible to open my heart to the divine flow in a whole new way.

I also believe that in some wacky way, kids actually choose their parents and owe their folks a measure of gratitude for hosting them. (Perhaps from the un-manifested world they say, "I'd like my soul to inhabit that fertilized egg." Or better, "I bet that guy can cook!) We feed them, wipe their bottoms, work three shifts at the factory, let's face it -- everyone benefits when kids challenge their status as freeloaders and are otherwise disabused of any misguided notions of victimhood.

"Sorry dude. You picked me."

My friend Arthur wonders if laziness has influenced my thinking in any way, and this argument is not entirely without merit, although I prefer to believe that I've done a nice job being a teacher and motivator over the years and am not a diabolical slacker bent on taking over the world one kid at a time. I've also learned that when you let them, kids can give us a nudge to follow our own path, even one with a few unexpected twists and turns...

In 1983, when I was 23 years old, I began to have this dream: I am walking up a stone path with gigantic jagged mountains in the background. An old lady is on her way down and I asked, "Where are we?" "La-dock" she replies. I continued up the path to a large white building and then the dream ends.

After the third or fourth time having the same dream, I mentioned it to my friend Ivan Ussach, and he was amazed. Ivan knew that Ladakh is a real place in northern India, a place where Tibetan culture and Buddhism has run uninterrupted for nearly a thousand years. I was in shock. I'd figured it was some made-up name. Gibberish. I thought it'd be cool to visit one day.

The dreams stopped after I spoke to Ivan that night and the experience faded from my memory. Then, 17 years later, I was 40 years old, in the throes of cancer treatment, and at a yoga class with my friend Dr. Cynthia Ruggero. We were at Mahmood's house in Boulder, Colo., where he taught every Friday morning and served tea and snacks afterward.

After class I went to use the bathroom, where there was a photograph I instantly recognized as the mountains from my dream. I hadn't thought of Ladakh since Ivan had told me about it, and in typical slacker fashion, had not investigated further. Now suddenly, there they were.

I asked Mahmood if the picture had been taken in Ladakh. He seemed surprised.

"Yes! Have you been there?"

I told him and Cynthia the story of the recurring dream. Though busy with cancer treatment, I vowed to make my way one day to Ladakh.

Seven years later, I was telling the story to my kids, and my son Jackson -- who was about 12 at that time -- became quite interested in the subject. He even did a little research on it and discovered that Ladakh was also referred to as Little Tibet, with active and beautifully preserved Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and culture due to its remoteness and extraordinary good fortune.

Jackson looked for the mountains from my dream and over a period of a few months presented me with picture after picture of mountains and monasteries. Monasteries and mountains. Each time I wanted to say, "Yes, that's it." But I couldn't. Until I saw a picture of Lamayuru -- I instantly recognized the image. It turned out Lamayuru was the oldest monastery in Ladakh, founded by Naropa in 1050. Jackson made me promise to take him, and four months later we were off to India.

Upon our arrival in Ladakh we began visiting a monastery each day, traveling by car and hiking too. It was late May, the wild apricot blossoms of spring were in full force, and the tourists had not yet arrived. It felt as if we had all of Ladakh to ourselves.

Now keep in mind, we had no set itinerary and had not made any advance arrangements (there are a lot of monasteries in Ladakh and we planned to see eight or 10 -- it's a big region). Not much English is spoken in Ladakh, and we just showed up wherever, whenever, saving Lamayuru for the end of our journey. We were greeted at each monastery by a boy monk, typically 10 years old, and given a brief, polite tour, though they seemed mostly bored by our presence.

But at Lamayuru, a Senior Lama met us at the front gates and put white scarves around our necks, a traditional gesture of welcome and respect. He ushered us into the private study of the Head Lama of Ladakh who just happened to be visiting that day and the next. The Head Lama invited us to sit with him in his private office while he recited prayers, served tea and snacks. We were treated like visiting dignitaries while Lamas continually scurried around to fill our cups and bring more food.

Jackson and I exchanged silent, knowing looks with each other. Later that afternoon we were given a grand tour of the monastery by a few of the Lamas. We sat in the Lamas' private meditation room overlooking the Zanskar Mountains. We were invited to relax. We were shown the hidden rooms of the monastery and even viewed Naropa's relics. We were served more food and drink and invited to stay the night.

Our experience at Lamayuru was a stark contrast to our visits to the other monasteries. It felt like coming home. And without Jackson's nudge to go to Ladakh, I might have fallen prey to my own laziness and missed an amazing chapter in my life.