"Finally, we take refuge in the sangha, the people who are on the path with us. Those who are in the sangha are warriors, because they are trying to overcome samsara. Members of the sangha support one another and care for one another. They are not perfect, but they inspire us because they are people who want to deepen their practice of mindfulness, awareness and compassion...We realize that there are other people around who are going through the same thing. That gives us a feeling of encouragement."- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
It was lovely to read the comments that some of you left when I asked for some companionship a couple of weeks ago. It was so encouraging. So often on the path of parenting and of awakening one can feel a bit lonely. Lonesome. Alone. A bit like, "does anyone else go through this???" Which is why it is so important to connect to other parents who are also walking, running, stumbling, dancing, wailing along this crooked path. Particularly in this age and culture when we often do not have the proximity or support of blood relations in raising our children up. It becomes absolutely necessary once you have a child to seek others out, even if previously you were the last person to do so. Having a child forces one to exit any self-imposed seclusion - you have to begin to extend outward into the world, because that is what your child naturally needs and wants to do. In order for our children to thrive, their world needs to expand ever outwards, and that necessitates that our world expands as well.
I have always found it wonderful how children of a certain age and temperament will say "hello" to almost anyone and anything. They do not make distinctions. I have exchanged beautiful smiles and laughter with many a baby only to look up at a scowling mama or daddy - lol! Chogyam Trungpa once said that the dharmic person says "Hello" in a crowded elevator, even if he or she is the only person to do so and gets no reply. Babies are true buddhas, aren't they? They don't need anyone to tell them to connect!
However, in terms of who we surround ourselves and our families with on an intimate level, I think we can make some necessary distinctions. The Buddha taught extensively on the importance of good companions on the spiritual path - going so far as to say that having admirable companions was "the whole of the spiritual path". I think we often become aware with our children that who they are close friends with is very important. It is also important for us as mindful parents to be conscious of the people we gather with, to make sure that their friendship is nourishing to us and our families, that it encourages us rather than depletes us or discourages us.
This doesn't mean we close our hearts to other beings, or don't befriend people who are suffering, or don't say "hello" to everyone. I think it means that we are mindful of who we choose to invite into our private spaces, who we choose to share our struggles with, who we ask for advice, who we hire to nurture our children. I think it can also help us begin to discern when we need to set a compassionate boundary with our families when they question or undermine our parenting choices.
What I look for in a parenting friend is kindness, gentleness towards their children and others, some sense of integrity to their word, open hearts - if they demonstrate basic sanity in how they manifest in the world. Or if they are trying to be sane in how they manifest in the world.
Ultimately, we can view the entire world of beings as our sangha, and relate to them all as our teachers, treating them with friendliness and compassion. But on the relative level, the more I surround myself with friends who are working with some sense of awareness, some sense of mindfulness in the world and in their parenting, the more encouraged I feel on my own path. The world we live in is often dedicated to eradicating mindfulness and compassion. Let us build and strengthen our community of family and friends so that basic goodness and the magic born from awareness are what our children are surrounded by.