As far as my life goes, it is pretty boring; nothing too exciting or too adventurous. We had a ‘minor scare’ over Christmas, however, but it turned out to be nothing but a change in hormones. Had it come to fruition it would have meant another three years of my life doing nothing but the same thing that I have been doing for the past six years, and boy oh boy, I am so relieved that it was just a scare. You can never be too careful, and at the same time you can’t even plan the perfect time to have a baby, but now certainly is not the right time. In fact after having two, never is now the best time to have another one.
Before Dorian, there was Selena, and before Selena, there was Damian, and before Damian, I was a nun. When I think back to all those years as a novice Buddhist nun I remember loving being on retreat, in solitude. But I also remember hearing that the best meditation was looking after children. Before children, I would just nod my head, accepting that sort of wisdom, “ah yes, but did I really know why?” There are so many other wise things I hear, that I find myself nodding my head to, but now I know that I am nodding because I have heard and my head is acknowledging that I have heard but if you asked me back then why that is the case I would only be able to give you half the answer.
So, ever since I had Selena I haven’t really been able to meditate. So how can looking after children be better than meditation. What some practitioners discover after entering the second or third dyana state is a kind of blissful feeling. One enters into it by focussing and concentrating single mindedly on an object and then eventually all distractions fall away and one is left in a pleasant abode. I can honestly say that I have not achieved even the first dyana as a mother, let alone the third. So why do eminent Buddhists say that looking after children is even better than meditation?
What I have learned is very hard to admit, but it is something that all parents learn, if not feel, pretty much from the time the baby is born. I am selfish. I have so many things that are important to me that I think I need but actually when faced with a new born baby who is dependant on me as though I am her only lifeline, well, the baby’s need are always so much greater. So the baby, and then toddler, are a constant source of dukkha to the well preserved ego. Thankfully I was aware of what was happening so I managed to convince myself that my well-being depended on how well I could nurture and mother this precious girl. So, my needs changed greatly, and so long as Selena needed me, my ego was being preserved rather than eroded.
All of a sudden, rather than focussing on Buddhist issues, I was tuned into all the parenting issues, and learned as much as I could about parenting so that there was no conflict between my needs and the baby’s, and it felt so easy to look after children. So then came the impulse to have another child. If baby number one taught me that I was selfish, then how hard could it be to have another one?
Shinran, one of Honen’s disciples, is renowned for saying how evil he is. And once again, I used to nod and think I understood what he met, but after having two children, I have learned and felt just how evil I am. So, lesson number two has turned out to be equally hard.
As a mother of one daughter, I thought all my babies would require the same kind of nurture and care. (I can hear other parents of more than one child laughing after reading that sentence.) I was pretty much ready to do everything for him, so how hard could it be? I could say that where I was once selfish I was now only giving. As a baby, I gave him food whenever he wanted, and held him close whenever possible, but he would push his arms straight whenever he could as if I was suffocating him. Then, when he was old enough to show any kind of personal traits, he made it pretty clear that he wants to do things by himself and if he can’t then he will let me know. And if I don’t let him, then he is going to make me suffer. And the best way to make me suffer is to scream and cry. All my efforts to be selfless, helpful, nurturing, and mothering are evil to him. What worked with Selena seemed to kill his independent spirit.
If only I knew what I had been doing wrong after the first time he had cried about it. But I didn’t. I was determined to help and be the ever helpful mum because I didn’t think he could do what he wanted to by himself, but really, it worked for me to help him. Until the time came when he got stronger, and his determination to do things his way actually made my help worse. I would give him a spoon and myself a spoon but he would throw the bowl of food if I held it for him. Or he would grab the spoon from my hand and the food would go everywhere. I would put his coat on and he would take it off and then refuse to put it on, thereby stopping us from going out on time. It wasn’t until he looked at me as if I was evil that I actually reflected on what I was doing. And even after I saw just how self-centred and evil I was, i still couldn’t break the habit of going ahead and doing things for him. He has taught me that where I thought I had opened up to the other and Other-power, I was still caught up with my self and still operating from Self-power. And for a Pureland Buddhist, that is rather humiliating and shameful, not to mention evil.
The thought of maybe being pregnant again has taught me that I am no longer in control of my life. Whether I want children or not is irrelevant. Surprises happen, and when it does expect dukkha. But the best gift in my life at this very moment is to have the full knowledge through lived experience that in spite of being selfish and evil, Amida loves me. Namo Amida Bu.
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