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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 49 children from failure. This is true empathy, and where the fun begins. To cherish family obligations and attachments is to be free from them. so what does it look like, this mix of the mundane and the mo- nastic, the secular and the spiritual, besides a mother making her dutiful morning rounds in a suburban kitchen? yesterday i took my nine-year-old daughter and her friend to the movies. While we watched the onslaught of film pre- views, many with a christmas Day release, i heard my daugh- ter tell her companion, “i’m crewish.” i wasn’t entirely surprised. i’ve watched good-humoredly as she tries to reconcile her mixed religious heritage into a mash guaranteeing the maximum holiday gifts. before she mastered fractions, she often claimed to be “half-christian, half-jew- ish, and half-buddhist.” even so, i was wounded by this new formulation, and felt a sudden flare of upset. To be left out altogether! “What does that mean?” i probed, hoping to coax her into an identity i could agree with. “i’m christian and jewish,” she answered, blank-faced. “you aren’t buddhist?” i asked. “no.” “Why not?” “i don’t know.” she wasn’t being mean, resentful, or rebellious. she was be- ing free. The ultimate truth is what we do not know. Within this boundless field, her life has its own trajectory; her wisdom awaits its own realization, no matter what she calls it. i stifled the impulse to demand an assurance that could not be given, and instead i plunged my hand deeper into a bag of buttered popcorn. The popcorn was tasty and the movie was enjoyable. My daughter had shown me once again the kind of bud- dhist i endeavor to be and the subtle teaching my Zen fore- bears evinced—a teaching free of dogmatic imposition, filial obligation, or expectation. This, too, is the kind of parent i as- pire to become: compassionate, empathetic, and flexible. ours is a practice that sustains all these things, when we do not leave the monastery. We give our children life. now, if we can only really give it to them. When we cherish our family enough to leave home, then they can leave home too, and we find ourselves never apart. ♦ Quotations by Dogen zenji are from his essays “Continuous Practice” and “Guidelines for Officers of the Monastery,” in enlightenment unfolds: The es- sential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi (Sham- bhala Publications, 2000). The Monastery of Mom and Dad Karen Miller’s practical guidelines for mindful parents Practice in plain sight. Place your zafu meditation cush- ion in a conspicuous place in your home, such as on your bedroom floor. as you pass by, let it invite you to practice meditation daily. even five minutes in the morning or night can turn your life around. Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. let everyone relax into the predict- able flow of a healthy and secure life. Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimula- tion. This begins with you. Elevate the small. and overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. in- struct your child in how to brush his or her teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day. Give more attention. and less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. not in activities driven by your agenda, but ac- cording to their terms. undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Take a break. before you break in two. Designate a chair in your home as a “quiet chair,” where you can retreat to decelerate conflicts. or walk around the block and see how quickly your own two feet can stamp out the fire on your head. Be the first to apologize. Practice the miracle of atonement and in- stantly restore household har- mony. by your doing it, your children will learn how. Be the last to know. refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is mar- velous, and yours is the best seat in the house. ♦