Sunday, July 08, 2007

June 28, 2007 -- California visit

Wanted to write a little bit about my visit with Amber and Shawn and kiddos (5, 2, and 6 months) in California (Amber is Pam's daughter [known as Plow to dharma folks]). It was a delightful time. All of them are so welcoming, I felt at home almost immediately. Of course, the kids had a little trouble adjusting to me the first night, but by the next day we were all pals, and by the time I left, they were completely comfortable with me.

There were aspects of it that reminded me a lot of practice and what I'm learning. For example, the baby, Piper, 6 months old. She isn't quite sitting up yet, not crawling, not even (quite) turning over. She's a bit chunky, and having trouble figuring out how to move this body of hers. She kicks and kicks and struggles and tries, rolling from side to side, and sometimes scooching along on her back a little bit. Can't quite get the hang of it. When she's on her tummy, she struggles to hold her head up and tries to move everything she can. But it's not comfortable for her, so after a while she fusses and we relent and pick her up or move her to a different position. She's getting lots of floor time and eventually she will figure it all out.

What applies for me is that this is something (a) she doesn't quite know how to do and (b) her body isn't quite ready for. The effort she is expending is important in terms of continuing to strengthen her muscles and help her body get ready for all of this. Also as a way of expressing her intention to move that body. But it doesn't, in itself, get her anywhere. Her body needs to grow a bit more, and she needs to figure out what works and what doesn't. All of this takes time and patience, not generally qualities ascribed to 6-month-old babies. But think about it. Babies have to have incredible patience and determination to overcome these difficulties, to learn to walk, to learn language, all the things they have to learn. It's quite amazing when you think about it.

And so, my teacher tells me to keep working, to be patient. He agrees that I don't know how to do what I'm trying to do. He agrees that the effort I'm making is not in itself going to get me what I want. And yet it is important. Everything is perfect just as it is, and yet there is something that needs to be done. Sometimes I get tired of hearing that. But when I see this baby working so hard to figure out how to move her body, I see the truth of it.

The same thing is true for the other children at their own stages of development. There are things they are trying to do, wanting to do, not knowing how to do, and they get frustrated. The best thing to do for them is to keep encouraging them, supporting them in the efforts they are making, give them whatever tips one can, and love, love, love them. What I have been learning about my own struggle, which sometimes frustrates me a lot, is that I need to be patient, need to give myself lots of compassion, and ask for and accept help and encouragement from others.

The other thing I noticed about being in California with Amber and the children was how mothering can be relaxing. Yes, it's a lot of work, and yes, it's often frustrating. But there is a simplicity to it that can be sweet. Mind you, I did this for three days, which is relatively easy, and I was not in charge, leaving the hard stuff to Amber (overnight feedings of the baby, decision-making, driving kids here and there, shopping, cooking -- you know, minor stuff like that [grin]). Shawn was gone on a business trip (he's a pilot with Southwest Airlines, and flew to Alaska) for much of the time I was there, so I pitched in and became a second parent for a while. The tasks were pretty basic -- see to it that the children got food, clothing, cleaned up, sleep, social time, physical exercise, mental and emotional stimulation, and such. With three of them, there was almost always something more or less pressing to do, and what needed to be done was pretty obvious. Not all the needs got met all the time, as you might imagine with three children and only two adults. But most of them got met, and mostly it was very clear what needed to be done.

Sometimes in Zen we deliberately put ourselves into situations where we have no choices about what to do -- on silent retreats everything is scheduled pretty tightly, and what you do next and how you do it is scripted. There's a freedom and simplicity to that, and sometimes it's quite relaxing and refreshing. I found on the last retreat I did that it allowed me to go deeply into my own karmic issues because I didn't have to think, didn't have to talk or interact with anyone, just follow the forms, which are now pretty easy for me. I found this few days of parenting to be somewhat similar. Once you get the basic tasks figured out, you just do those, and it's easy.


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