"Treat yourself as your own beloved child." - Pema Chodron
I wrote a letter the other day to my mother, who is slowly, slowly dying. She has a very hard time speaking now, so we can't really talk on the phone. I have been wanting to write her a letter for quite awhile, before it is too late to tell her that I love her, that I am grateful for the nurturing she gave me, which now runs like a thread to my own little ones.
There is also a thread of neurosis that runs through to them, from my own mother and father, and their parents, and their parents, and on and on down the line to the very beginning, wherever that may be. It's up to me to continue weaving the thread of compassion and nurture, and cut that of neurosis, again and again as my children grow. It's very hard some days. Other days, it is easier. I am calmer. Clearer. More present. I can see when the taut thread of aggression, shame or resentment begins to peak out. And on the hard days, the thread seems to slip from my mouth, and there I am, centuries of habitual patterns pouring out onto my wee ones' heads.
Then I need to regroup, think "fresh start" and begin again. Come back onto the path. Regret, remediate and renew my aspiration to transform. Notice I don't say "to do better". I think this whole "doing better" business just hurts us. It seems to reaffirm our doubts about ourselves - that we are somehow messed up, flawed, damaged, need improvement. It's not that we need to improve - we need to uncover. We need to stop believing the stories we tell ourselves. We need to see through our confused thoughts and rest in the basic goodness, sanity, joy and wisdom of our true natures. We need to believe, really believe that basic goodness is who we are. All that other...stuff...it's temporary confusion. Like the clouds in front of the sun on a rainy day. The fresh wind of insight or compassion blows - and there is the sun again, brilliant and strong.
When I really get stuck in "needing to do better" or too tangled in that thread of neurosis, I need to rock myself in the cradle of loving kindness. I need to treat myself, as Ani Pema says above, as my "own beloved child". It is so hard to be patient, kind, loving when we are unable to be any of that with our own, dear selves. One of things I wrote in the letter to my mother was that I have always had a very hard time loving myself. And I thanked her for loving me, despite the many challenges I presented her with, despite the many times I must have been really, truly hard to love without reservations. We all deserve that kind of love. Most of the time, we look to others to give us that all encompassing, compassionate, non-judging love. We look to lovers, to parents, to teachers, to friends, even, sadly, to our own children. No one else can give it to us. We need to give it to ourselves.
I am still learning how to do that. It starts, I have found, with gentleness. With compassion. With forgiveness. With knowing that falling off of the path is as much a part of it as walking it straight and strong. The important part is getting back on. The important part is knowing that every other human being has felt and thought and probably done all those things you think only you are bad enough to have felt, thought or done. The important part is knowing that there is no such thing as a perfect mother or father. That we all do the best we can in every moment. That children are resilient. That to aspire to transform that thread of neurosis is the first step to transforming it into nurture. That just to notice that thread of neurosis is the first step to liberation. That your basic birth right as a human being is goodness, joy and sanity.
My mother is unable to hold me in her own arms - not because I am too big, but because her's are too weak. She is unable to tell me she loves me, because her mouth and throat muscles don't work anymore, or at least not very well. So, I working on holding myself, rocking myself in kindness, whispering sweet words of love. It seems that after I do that, it is even easier to do the same for my own children. The thread of nurture seems to grow so much stronger, truer, lasting. I can see it spool out, into their hearts, carrying centuries of compassion and gentleness.