Monday, June 14, 2010

Basic goodness and our daily parenting challenges

Buddhist psychology is based on the notion that human beings are fundamentally good. Their most basic qualities are positive ones: openness, intelligence and warmth...When problems are seen in this [context], then there is less panic and everything seems more workable. When problems arise, instead of being seen as purely threats, they become learning situations, opportunities to find out more about one’s own mind, and to continue on one’s journey. - Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I've been contemplating daily life problems and the truth of basic goodness lately. I've been contemplating basic goodness, or buddha nature, for many years now, but have been doing so in a more urgent way since my first son was born. And as for the problems - well, with the birth of a child, it does seem that our daily lives become rather more complicated!

As Chogyam Trungpa explains above, in the buddhist view, our true nature is fundamentally, basically good. Our minds are inherently sane, compassionate, wise, joyful and clear. That is who we truly ARE. We are all awakened buddhas. But we do not experience ourselves as basically good in an ongoing way. Instead, we mistake our discursive thinking for who we are. All of our hopes and fears, our replaying of the past and fantasizing about the future, our neurosis - we think all of THAT is who we are. This case of mistaken identity seems to make our daily lives inherently problematic, rather than inherently joyful and sane. I think that because of this mistake, we find it very hard to be gentle towards ourselves. And when it is hard to be gentle towards ourselves, it becomes very hard to be gentle towards others in a consistent, lasting way. This includes our children.

Our children are also basically good, fundamentally awake beings. I think we have an easier time perceiving this in them - their ability to be awake to the present moment, to dwell in their own, pure natures, to not get caught up in past and future. They fall, they cry, they get up, and they are on to the next moment. Their basic goodness is less obscured by habitual thought patterns.

But ...because we distrust that we are also basically good, we can begin to doubt it in our children as well, particularly when they challenge us, which they do on a daily basis! When they irritate us with their demands or their behavior, we can very easily let the irritation take us over and respond to them without gentleness or sanity. We can then use that response as evidence pointing to our lack of basic goodness! It can become a vicious cycle of blaming our child and then blaming ourselves, escalating and escalating until we are all miserable. We get stuck in the challenge, rather than letting go and allowing space to expand.

Mistakes in our parenting will occur - it is part of being a human being in this world, learning to trust ourselves, learning to trust our children, learning to trust in basic goodness. Our aspiration as mindful parents is to use these mistakes as learning opportunities to open further into our true natures and to our children. A teaching that has worked powerfully for me is "regret, remediate and refrain" followed by my own addition of "and then move on".

Regret: we realize we have responded in a way not in accordance with our aspirations, or created a situation of confusion or aggression or whatever. Remediate: if it is possible, we change the situation, apologize for the response, clear up the confusion etc. Refrain: we restate to ourselves our intention to refrain from that particular kind of response, that particular confusing action, etc. and do our best to not repeat it. And then we move on. We don't continue to replay the incident, the response, over and over in our minds, beating ourselves up about it. We don't continue to fantasize about what we should or could have done, said, given instead. We let go and we move on into the next moment.

This kind of mindfulness work in our day-to-day parenting can be very powerful, and can truly transform our problems into opportunities for opening our hearts and transforming our neurosis. It can be challenging work. We can discover that we are rather attached to viewing ourselves as inherently bad rather than inherently good. Being inherently a buddha can seem rather threatening!! But when we begin to unravel the thick skein of thought patterns we have spent so long in weaving, we discover an incredible source of joy and energy that in turn allows for our children to express their own basic goodness in myriad ways. Our home life becomes one of sanity and nurture, a further part of our journey of awakening. What a gift to bestow on our children!
Here is a wonderful talk by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on having confidence in our basic goodness. I would love to hear your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. "With aggression you can solve some things, but with gentleness you can solve all problems."
    Very hard to remember this.