Wednesday, January 26, 2011


"...even if we think that we're doing our best in life, we still feel that we haven't fully lived up to what we should be. We feel that we're not quite doing things right. We feel that our parents or others don't approve of us. There is that fundamental doubt, or fundamental fear, as to whether or not we can actually accomplish something."
- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Doubt. I just spent a weekend contemplating doubt - it was the subject of the retreat I participated in. Actually, windhorse was the subject of the retreat, but doubt was discussed as an obstacle to windhorse. Contemplating doubt is not new to me. I have always been haunted by it. After many years of practice, I have realized that all this doubt has ultimately been my lack of confidence in my basic goodness. Raising children has given this habitual doubt new texture and power. So many fears. Am I doing this right? Do others think I am doing this right? What am I doing? How could I have done that? How could they have done that!? And so on. Doubt can become such a trap that we almost dare not move for fear of making a mistake or embarrassing ourselves. There is no freedom to act, and we become completely disconnected from our basic goodness and that of others.

Again and again in my daily life with my little ones, doubt arises. At the end of the retreat, a little party was held to celebrate a milestone in my local meditation center's history. We brought our children to this party. They were the only children present, and they did what a two year old and a 10 month old do - they made noise, they were audibly frustrated with having to wait to have a piece of the delicious looking cake present, they were antsy and wanted to run and move about, wanted to explore in baby and toddler ways - i.e., throwing plastic forks on the floor, ringing the meditation gong, crawling over meditation cushions. Really, not a big deal. But, oh, the looks! And oh, the doubt that arose in this mama - doubts about my parenting, about my choice to bring the children, and doubts about them - feeling embarrassed about them and wanting to make them wrong for being, well, young children.

I began to doubt the entire situation. I felt stressed and anxious - very claustrophobic. And then at one point, I overheard an elderly woman say to another person present about my toddler: "He has such a loud voice for such a little boy" and it pierced me. I wasn't sure if she was irritated or just noting it neutrally, but it stopped my mind, which had been racing along in a similar observation. As so often happens in these moments, I began to laugh. Indeed, he does have a big voice for such a little boy. He is two years old. He is excited. He has a lot of pent up energy. He loves the gong and the pictures of the Buddha and the cushions. He loves running around on a carpeted floor. He was expressing his windhorse, his sheer delight in exploring the phenomenal world and his body moving through space. How marvelous. How absolutely appropriate for him. And how not a big deal. We weren't attending a silent meditation. We were at a celebratory party. He was celebrating something bigger. The life force, flowing through him, through us, through the space.

And I saw how I had felt ashamed about that. My heart broke open. I had been doubting his goodness. I had been doubting the fundamental sanity of the situation. There was nothing to be ashamed about. If necessary, I could redirect the children, move them into a different space, cut some frosting off the back of the cake to give to my eldest (which is what I did, ahem). But ultimately, there was no problem. There was no "not doing this right". What I realized again about doubt is that it is based in the fear of not getting confirmed by others. Or not confirmed in the way I would hope to be. This illusory, ever changing "I" wants to believe it is some "thing". Something real and solid and admired by others. Children have a way of disassembling this project we have of building ourselves up again and again.

I guess what I realized (once again) was that my children have a right to be here. And I have a right to be here. This doesn't mean we have the right to create chaos and confusion. There is a time and a place for the throwing down of plastic forks and the indiscriminate ringing of huge meditation gongs. But we can relate to all of it without doubt. With fundamental confidence in our sanity and the sanity of our children. And in the sanity of the others observing us as we relate to one another. Sometimes we have to wake up their sanity as well (the sanity of those around us)- we have to remind them that children are sentient beings, the same sentient beings they come to the meditation cushion to assist. We have to remind them that children are buddha. That the phenomenal world is messy and a bit chaotic and noisy, and ultimately, extremely workable. That phenomena can wake us up to the present moment, rather than shut us down further.

At one point during the weekend retreat I was asked to timekeep for the meditation session. This means sitting at the front of the room, next to the big meditation gong, watching the clock, ringing the gong to mark off the periods of sitting and walking meditation, and just "holding the space" as they say. As I sat up front, meditating, I could hear people crunching in the snow outside. I could hear the stomachs of people meditating growling. People sneezed and sniffed. Someone farted. I found it all tremendously moving. Every sound brought me back to right now. Every sound pulled me out of any self obsessive thoughts into the thought of others. Our children demand this of us on a daily basis. Let them pull you out of self-doubt. Let them remind you of your goodness and the goodness of the world.


  1. I was once told (by my husband's grandmother, on a visit to her nursing home) that "children should be seen and not heard". I was profoundly hurt by that and struck by how utterly wrong she (and her generation) were re: raising children. We constantly watch new and old videos of our kids. One of the things we love is listening to their voices and seeing them run or dance about with no embarrassment, no societal pressures, total freedom. They could do that bec they felt safe enough to do that and boy, do they grow out of that fast, so enjoy it while you can, regardless of what other say. The other side of that coin, is of course, balance. Children can act with total freedom, but it is the job of the parents, when necessary, to control/manipulate (semantics) the environment to keep them safe or teach them appropriate behaviors for living in a society and respecting others' space while enjoying ours. Balance and moderation in everything.

  2. Tom Muppet is me, Kolet. Did I mention, that good parenting, is the HARDEST job ever!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyone who says otherwise-is LYING!!!!!!! You spoke very elegantly about doubt, I can't wait to read your post re: Guilt-ha! Another emotion, esp. for mothers, that could be crippling. Wait until you want to go to a movie or dinner, without those babes. If a happy life comes bec, one has a happy wife, then happy mother=a happy, well-rested, clear-headed, sexy (remember you are a young, beautiful WOMAN- remember her), mother. Mother does not equal slave.

  3. Hey K! Thanks for reading and for your comments! I think the important thing is to be aware of one's mind - in other words, when the need arises to modify our children's behavior, are we relating to them out of sanity and respect, or out of fear? We can help them respect other people and public spaces with gentleness and a lack of shame. If we react out of our own neurosis though, out of our own fear of looking bad or being bad, then we tend to see things in a distorted way, projecting our own fear onto others and the situation, and then behaving in an aggressive way towards our children. YKWIM? If we are able to pause in the fear and discern what is actually happening, I think it can be helpful for us in those situations when our children's behavior may not be conforming to what others think it "should" be. And of course, I think we can question at times our larger society's view of how children should behave and so forth - is that view necessarily helpful for our children and our society? And yes, it is the HARDEST job ever! Guilt is a very juicy topic which I have touched on a bit in previous posts, but definitely calls for a more in-depth look. It can be hard to remember to care for ourselves when so deeply immersed for the care of others, but you are right to say it is necessary! We sit at the center of our home mandala, and if we are not well and happy, it is hard to make others happy! xxoo love you!

  4. Thank you for framing this for me in these terms.
    I feel that doubt about my daughter's behavior, and see that censorious unease in myself and others. I feel sad for us, that we want children to fit the holes we make for them, and for ourselves. We must not love that creative but trustworthy chaos in ourselves, either...