Monday, July 11, 2011

when others criticize our parenting - no ground

The attempt to confirm our solidity is very painful. Constantly we find ourselves suddenly slipping off the edge of a floor which had appeared to extend endlessly. Then we must attempt to save ourselves from death by immediately building an extension to the floor in order to make it appear endless again. We think we are safe on our seemingly solid floor, but then we slip off again and have to build another extension. We do not realize that the whole process is unnecessary, that we do not need a floor to stand on, that we have been building all these floors on the ground level. There was never any danger of falling or need for support. In fact, our occupation of extending the floor to secure our ground is a big joke, the biggest joke of all, a cosmic joke. -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I got back recently from a week with my in-laws.  It was interesting to spend an extended amount of time with them, in a rather uncomfortable situation physically speaking (a small camp house up in Maine), after my previous post about judging or joy.  There was much to work with internally speaking - lots of discomfort and anxiety.  My mother-in-law is a lovely person.  She is very generous.  She is funny and warm.  And she strongly disagrees with almost everything her son and I do as parents.  Since she is very close to her son (my husband) and really idolizes him, she directs much of her criticism to me.  

And I found it really hard to work with her criticism skillfully.  I had a really hard time not taking her criticism personally.  I felt the need to make her words mean something, something about me, about me being a mama, about my children, about my relationship with my husband and his family and on and on.  During her various critiques, often expressed on her part with some energy and anger, I managed to just sit and listen and breathe.  Which was progress for me, because in the past, I have taken the bait and argued.  Tried to convince.  Defended.  Which only exacerbated the situation and left everyone feeling more pissed off.

So I sat there and breathed.  And when my husband's sister-in-law came over with her children, I complained about it to her, as she is also a recipient of these critiques.  I am not proud of doing that, because it was just creating more karma around the whole thing.  Really, all I wanted to do was just cry.

I have been thinking about that.  Wanting to cry.  Taking it personally.  Why?  When people judge us, whether in our parenting or another area of our lives, why do we shut down and lash out, whether at them or ourselves? Why does it engender so much doubt?  For me, the answer is in the quote above from Chogyam Trungpa.  We are constantly looking to others to confirm that we exist, that we truly are who we think we are and when people criticize, we don't get confirmed - instead, we get a glimpse of no-ground.  When the illusory self we are always trying to maintain and shore up is rejected in that way, an opening occurs where we see, however briefly, that we don't really exist in the way we think we do.  We aren't solid.  We aren't independent.  We aren't unchanging.  Scary stuff.

When others judge our parenting aloud to our faces, it triggers in us so much doubt about the fundamental ground of our being.  We can acknowledge that doubt and the pain around it.  Parenting is a path that is constantly reasserting the truth of our situation as human beings in the world - everything is impermanent and we have control over very little.  The Buddha taught that we suffer because we try to make that which is inherently impermanent, permanent.  Raising children is a deep lesson in that truth, and one of the reasons why I think it is a profound path to waking up.  When what we are doing with our children is judged as wrong, or unhelpful or bad, it is an incredibly vulnerable, shaky spot to find ourselves in.  

What I am trying to cultivate is an appreciation of that vulnerability.  An appreciation of that shaky spot and of the person who has nudged me into it, revealed to me the truth of groundlessness.  I may not like it, but if I can open to it, I might find some compassion there.  Some sense of, "we are all so uncertain, and so scared of getting it wrong".  Some feeling of, "this person cares for these children too, and wants what is best for them".  Some insight that, ultimately, all that matters is the ground of basic goodness.  No matter how I raise them, or what people think, or what happens, their basically good, sane natures will be there. That is the one ground that doesn't change.  Buddha nature, awake, joyous and shining.  And no matter what I do, or what others think, it is in me too.  It is my true nature.  My true self.  I can let go of being the mama, wife, friend, teacher, baker - and just embrace my basic goodness.  That seems the wisest, and kindest thing to do.  Then I can laugh at the big, cosmic joke, as Trungpa describes.  It's a joke I've been playing on myself for many lifetimes, after all.


  1. What a wonderful post! I just happened upon your blog, and I can relate so much with this situation. It's certainly a challenging one to work with, but, like so many challenges, can force us into waking up just a bit more. I'll try to remember this next time my in-laws visit!

  2. there are so many layers in an onion - and it's first a disappointment then a relief to keep discovering them. Even hanging on to our basic goodness as something solid we can relate to is of course another layer.

    But all of our paths are made of new clothes which we discard - in our own time - over and over - and over... if we're lucky.

    I'm a student of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu ever since I was 12 years old, many many years ago - and found this post looking for that Trungpa's quote which I wanted to give as a parting gift to someone very dear to me - who's not a practitioner and is overwhelmed by having to "manage" every detail of life, from bureaucracy to relationships.

    Even though my wish to provide a little seed that maybe one day may mature for that person is sincere, I can't avoid taking a little pride in handing over such a precious quote - it was precious to me when I first read it at least. There it is, I'm a good man, right? I've got it all figured out - I can even sit and listen to someone yelling at me without getting ruffled up...

    Ohh... the layers never end!

    Yours is indeed a beautiful post, it shows a soft heart.

    a la la ho