Here’s a paragraph from a Buddhist book I love which I’m relating to so tenderly this week:
“When we look in the mirror, the one thing we don’t want to see is an ordinary human being. We would like to see someone special. Whether we are conscious of this or not, we are simply not content to see an ordinary human being with neuroses, obstacles, and problems.
We want to see a happy person, but instead we see someone who is struggling. We want to think of ourselves as compassionate but instead we see someone who is selfish. We long to be elegant, but our arrogance makes us crass. And instead of a strong or immortal person, we see someone who is vulnerable to the four streams of birth, old age, sickness, and death. The conflict between what we see and what we want to see causes tremendous pain.”
This week looking in the mirror I’ve seen an ordinary, struggling human being.
Last week I had friends visiting from out of town. I have a habit of trying to pause my life to be available as fully as possible when people come to visit me. And as my neighbor said a few days ago, “You guys always have houseguests! Even when you’re out of town!” It’s true. We have a lot of dear ones, family, and friends, who live a lot of places and I truly adore sharing intimate time with them, sharing our home.
So–I did it again–pausing my own life as much as possible, and then after a few days started to feel the pressure building….I need to attend to my work and my life! (No one asks me to pause. I just have a weird compulsion to do so.) On my friends’ last morning in town, we had a little back and forth deciding what we had time for in the morning. I wanted to show them our spectacular mountains, yet to get to the airport on a leisurely schedule, we decided to walk in City Creek Canyon, a nearby spot to my home, and forego a trip to the larger, more majestic Cottonwood Canyons. My son, now almost six years old, wanted to join us. My friends wanted to get a walk in as they’d be on a plane the rest of the day. My son wanted to sit at the creek’s edge throwing rocks in. He had no interest in a walk. I wanted to be a good host. I wanted my kid to cooperate. I was approaching this situation of balancing 4 different human beings’ needs in a way that I felt weighed down by it all. I nudged my son to come on. I felt exhausted and irritated by his lack of cooperation. I walked up the canyon and said, “Have fun. We’ll see you when we come back down.” He sat on the trail crying. In the game of chicken that I initiated, I finally “won” when he got up, crying, and joined us. I didn’t enjoy the hike. I wanted my friends to have a good time. I felt my whining boy was annoying them. I was annoyed. All in all it went fine – we hiked; my boy succumbed to walking the trail and found sticks, climbed a bit; it was no biggie. An everyday parenting story. Sometimes it’s adorable and heart-lifting. Sometimes it’s rough.
Later that afternoon, with my friends on a plane to their next destination, my son on his way to go camping with Carl for the weekend so I could work, as I was sitting home alone, I felt terrible. In my internet perusals, I came across a parenting expert of sorts, who said, “Children survive by giving up their truths.” How terrible is that? It was heartbreaking to read. And I had just made him do that very thing. I overpowered his wish to sit by the creek with my own stressy need to do what my guests wanted to do. I didn’t even find my inner skills to look in his eyes with love and say, “Honey, we have to do something else now, but I hear you and I love you.” I didn’t find my sense of humor and playfulness and scoop him up and make it a game. I just felt pissed that he wasn’t doing what I wanted, I groaned at his whining; eventually I made him succumb. And then I felt like shit.
A favorite Hafiz poem surfaced in my mind.
“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.”
For me it wasn’t loneliness I needed to be seasoned by. It was my low parenting moment. Regret and humility. And it made my need for lovingkindness so absolutely clear.
There’s a habitual human response to want to get away from our yucky feelings. To have a glass of wine or four to mellow it out. To watch a movie that makes us feel something other than this yucky feeling. But as it turns out, after all these years I know better than to try and avoid myself. Over the weekend, as I weeded the garden, returned emails, did a bunch of writing, and strolled around my blossom-filled neighborhood – I marinated in the feeling of regret, that heavy, awful feeling in my chest. The more I stayed with it, the more I considered my son’s perspective.
Over the weekend, as I weeded the garden, returned emails, did a bunch of writing, and strolled around my blossom-filled neighborhood – I marinated in the feeling of regret; that heavy, awful feeling in my chest. The more I stayed with it, the more I considered my son’s perspective. How awful it must’ve felt to have your parent seem so burdened, so annoyed by your simple wish to throw rocks in the creek. And this crappy feeling in my chest brought me back to the ground of my values. How important it is to me that my son feels respected, even when he can’t have or do what he wants. That I communicate in such a way that when I say “no” it can be a loving no. And that when I am not at my best and I’m feeling overwhelmed and I botch an interaction (as I’m sure I will about, oh a gazillion more times), I can forgive myself. Generously. And ask his forgiveness too. (I just did that as he got home from camping today, and we had a powerful reconnection. I’m so grateful.)
So – it’s true.
We are ordinary human beings, all of us. Struggling sometimes, soaring others. Fortunately, there’s room for it all. And I love knowing that when I trust the feedback of my body-mind, when I don’t avoid the bad feelings – the “funk” can point me in a good direction. Recognition. Regret. Repair. Reconnection.
Last year, the amazing Tami Simon of Sounds True produced a series of interviews with 40 or so modern spiritual teachers on the subject of “Waking Up: What Does it Really Mean?” I loved listening and was fascinated to notice the teachers I really resonated with – or not. One guy basically said how he just keeps getting more and more blissful and my gut sense was, “Um, he’s full of it. I wonder what his girlfriend would say about that.” When I heard Tara Brach say, “I have real juice for finding those moments when I find myself being selfish in my marriage. That’s where I can learn.” My body knew that was much more true for me. It’s not about being perfect. But about learning. And where we stumble, that’s where our treasure lies.