When we are not sure what is going on, we react in fear and start labeling things black and white, good or bad, doomed to fail or destined to succeed. The process of labeling something because we are not sure what it is further increases the illusion of duality. Dualistic mind creates an aggressive scenario because we project a self and “other.” This process becomes a cycle: the heavier the dualism, the heavier the fear. - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Lately I have been contemplating the quote above from my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The original context of this teaching was the current economic crisis and the fear it continues to generate, but I have been chewing it over in regards to my parenting. In particular, I have been seeing how easily I can become dualistic, both with my own children and with others and their parenting choices.
To become a parent is to make friends with fear. To become a human being is to live with fear of course, but being responsible for another life really intensifies it! Having children really forces one to face the truth that we cannot control things. The world and life are groundless. Our children will get hurt. They will get sick. They will make mistakes. They will hurt others. They will drop out of highschool and run off to Mexico with that other kid we really disapprove of...you get the idea! All we can do is provide them with a strong foundation of love, nurturing and acceptance so that they recognize their own basic goodness and can make that manifest in the world. But that can look all different ways. And they will still get sick, get old if they are lucky, and eventually, like all of us, will die.
Scary stuff. And compounded by the already chaotic daily challenges of raising young children, it is no wonder that we try to push off these truths and our fear around them by constructing some kind of identity that (we hope) will somehow stave off the vagaries of living. This immediately puts us at war with life! It is hard to go with the flow of life when we are constantly trying to stem it, stop it, turn it this way and that. This is how suffering increases and we lose all ease in our parenting.
The dharma tells us that it is always problematic when we seek to construct and maintain any kind of identity, any "this is what I am" storyline. When we label ourselves as being some thing, then others inevitably become something else, and separation is cultivated in our minds and hearts. So, if I decide to call myself an attachment parenting mama, then everyone else either is in alignment with that or not, and of course, whatever actions I take as a parent are either in alignment with this label or out of alignment with it. Always the schizophrenia we impose on the outer world is equally imposed on our inner world! This leads to labeling things as good or bad or with me or against me. Even our children are either with us or against us. We are constantly measuring ourselves, our children, and other parents up, seeing how we all do against the criteria we have created. And then we judge.
And the more I experience this, the more I realize all of this is really just about managing our own fear. Our fear for our children and for ourselves. Our fear of the world. And our continual struggle to deny reality - to try and make things permanent that are impermanent. This is, as the Buddha taught, the root of all suffering. We keep thinking that if we just do things a certain way, we will be safe from life. But what if life wasn't something we had to keep safe from? What if we could really begin to trust in our own basic goodness, and in the basic goodness that underpins the entire world?
As a good attachment parenting mama (lol!), I read Mothering magazine, which is all about natural parenting. In their letters to the editor section, I am always struck by how the majority of the writers list their natural parenting bona fides in the beginning of their letters, as in "I am a breastfeeding, babywearing, bedsharing, cloth diapering . . ." you get the idea. I find it rather exhausting. Just as I find it exhausting when I find myself doing it! Stating our identity seems to close off compassion for other paths. And it can also close off compassion towards ourselves or our children when we miss the mark, when we don't comfortably comply with the parameters we have imposed so strongly on our lives.
We need to make peace with the truth that everything is constantly changing. Nothing is fixed. Our children certainly are not, but neither are we. I often think of the many different things I have called myself over the course of this lifetime, and how they more often than not no longer apply in any way, shape or form! We need to allow ourselves this kind of space in our parenting - the space to be constantly changing, adapting, flowing. This is allowing life to work through us and with us, rather than fighting it. This is opening ourselves to our own parenting path, our children's path, and the paths of other caregivers. We can see more clearly when we aren't looking through our heavy labels. What we see without them is so much more beautiful, joyful, and energetic than with them. We can stop being at war with ourselves and others and instead fill our heartminds with gentleness and spaciousness. This will cultivate our awareness of basic goodness and allow it to flow out of us unimpeded.
To read all of the Sakyong's wonderful talk, you can go here.