“The cure for the pain is in the pain.” - Rumi
We celebrated Halloween this past weekend at my parents' house upstate. My elderly mother is ailing from late stage, multi-symptomatic Parkinson's Disease, and is being cared for very inadequately by my elderly father. I haven't been visiting as often as I would like since my youngest was born this past spring - the four hour trip is hard for us, and it is difficult to care for my children while also caring for my mother and father, and vice versa. Whenever we visit, the house is in complete chaos: emotional, physical and familial. It is very hard to not get pulled into that chaos, and lose one's mindfulness. I find that the difficult circumstances often lead to the unfortunate flowering of seeds of aggression - there is just so much fear and sadness in the situation, that it is hard to open to what is. Especially when the ancient family dynamics and neurotic habitual patterns are in play.
Sometimes my awareness is strong enough that I am able to see the pattern and pause, step away, not engage in the old scripts we have been acting for so long with one another, exacerbated by my mother's illness and my father's overwhelm. But this weekend, I really failed at it. I engaged in silly arguments with my husband, my father and my sister who was present. I literally cried when my toddler refused to wear the Halloween costume I spent all week working on for him. I gave into exhaustion and despair. I felt totally undone by the reality of the situation and instead of opening to it, touching my sadness, I just behaved like a big, stressed out grump.
How appropriate that during the time of year when evil spirits are said to walk about, I was overcome by my own ghosts and demons. Lately in my parenting, I have seen so clearly the places where, if I fail to bring my awareness to them, the neurotic patterns I have inherited from my family rise up and get projected onto my own babes. I have seen clearly the places where I hesitate, an old fear gripping me, preventing me from being in compassionate action, and I have seen where I want to just vomit out all of my own stuff - my fear, my resentment, my rage, whatever- onto my little ones. It is in those really claustrophobic moments, when I feel all the karma from my own past and mind hurtling out of me towards my children, that I am beginning to just bow to it and to them. I literally find myself stopping mid-sentence, and bowing to my toddler. "You are my perfect guru" I tell him repeatedly. When I am feeling paralyzed by fear, I kiss my baby and say to him "You are my perfect guru" as I wipe his nose. Something in me relaxes when I voice this. Something stops running away from my own mind and turns instead and bows - bows to my stuckness. Bows to the demons and the ghosts. And the bowing leads to them melting away.
What I realized this weekend is I need to bow to my family of origin as well, if I really want to stop the flow of karma. If I really want to end this lineage of neurosis, and not inject my children with the old familial poisons, I need to bow down to them. I need to touch the pain. Open to it, even though I really don't want to. It is too scary, too raw and, it feels at times, absolutely devastating. Sometimes instead of bowing, I would really prefer to just be really angry and right about what a toxic environment I grew up in. But I realize, that is just a thought, a story, a delusion. It isn't so solid, so permanent and monolithic. The more I open to my pain, the more holes seem to grow in it, the more it loosens and I can see through the cracks the moments of basic goodness and nurture that my parents and family gave and give me. By bowing to them, I offer up my heart, and recognize their hearts as well. I recognize their buddha nature, their goodness. I recognize their struggles. I recognize that they suffer, greatly. Then I can help. Instead of arguing with my father, I can move the carpet that keeps getting stuck under my mother's wheel chair. Instead of arguing with my husband, I can help him roll that carpet up and bring it to the basement. Instead of snapping at my sister, I can apologize to her and recognize she is really sad about my mother dying. I can touch my own sadness about my mother dying instead of covering it up with all that aggression and fear. And I can begin to work with my tangled feelings around that, and begin to unwind them and let them go.
As the great yogi Milarepa wrote:
Previously, I was confused by delusion, And staying in the dwelling
of ignorant confusion,
I perceived gods who help and demons who harm as real...
With the realization that confusion is groundless,
The water that reflects the moon of awareness is clear of murkiness.
The sun of luminosity, free of clouds,
Clears away the darkness of ignorance from the edges.
Deluded confusion disappears.
The true nature arises from within.
The precious thought that perceives demons
Is the wonderful clarifier of the unborn bias.
Bowing to our demons- what a powerful practice for the Halloween season.