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.