ARTICLE: May 2010
"Parenting as Dharma Practice"
The birth of my son has perhaps changed my mindfulness practice more than any other event. The line between formal practice and informal practice has been shattered – there are now many days when formal/structured sitting and asana practice may not occur at all. Early on, my resistance to this situation caused great suffering, and still does from time to time (probably more so than I care to admit). But slowly and lovingly my practice has evolved and adapted to what is real now. At a recent talk I attended, the teacher emphasized the phrase, “The end of practice is now.” Having a child as part of your day-to-day life brings this point home in an emphatic way. For ‘now’ is my son’s childhood, it will not be different than it is – and whatever role I will play in his unfolding is affected by exactly what I am currently doing; practice is not a dress rehearsal, it is really real. This moment truly is ‘like this’, and my role in what that is is my practice.
Since 1999 I have been teaching yoga and meditation, and as part of that practice I have learned all the more the importance of modeling, of embodying the practice. Students learn more from how a teacher lives than from what they say; of course each contribution can skillfully support the other. With my son, it has been all the more important to model a mindful home and family. After the initial shock of having our son, slowly my practice began to settle in – much like after the initial ‘arriving phase’ of a silent retreat. Things like lighting incense and bowing towards the Buddha, gentle asana practice, and offering thanks at meals – each has helped to show our son what the gifts of careful attention, civility, and gratitude look like in action. As my practice slowly re-emerged, I couldn’t really have appreciated the impact it was having upon my son. However, soon after he began to walk, there was a morning when I was doing my rounds (we have three Buddhas and meditation bells that I like to ring), I looked over and saw him following and bowing in time with Dadda. These days (he’s currently two), he playfully sits on my zafu, says the word ‘meditate’ in a questioning tone, and then closes his eyes with a big grin – if only he would extend his practice from five seconds to forty-five minutes, then myself and momma could get a bonus nap; but I’ll leave that to his discretion in time.
As a wise friend once said to me, “How do you know there is dharma in the world?” and his own reply, “Because beings are living it.” As a parent my role is to live it like I’ve never lived it before, for this is the most secure inheritance that I might pass on to my son. My practice has never before been so challenging, alive, and precious – jewel-like you might say.