We can learn to see here and now those places where we are afraid or attached or lost or deluded. We can see in the very same moment the possibility of awakening, of freedom, of fullness of being. We can carry on this practice anywhere - at work, in our community, at home. Sometimes people complain about how difficult it is to practice in family life. When they were single, they could take long periods of silent retreats or spend time in the mountains or travel to exotic temples, and then these places and postures became confused in their minds with the spirit of the sacred itself. But the sacred is always here before us.
Family and children are a wonderful temple. Children can become fantastic teachers for us. They teach us surrender and selflessness. They bring us into the present moment again and again. When we're in an ashram or monastery, if our guru tells us to get up early in the morning to meditate we may not always feel like it. Some mornings we may roll over and go back to sleep thinking we'll do it another day. But when our children awaken us in the middle of the night because they are sick and need us, there's no choice and no question about it - we respond instantly with our entire loving attention.
Over and over we are asked to bring our whole heart and care to family life. These are the same instructions a meditation master or guru gives us when we face the inevitable tiredness, restlessness, or boredom in our meditation cell or temple. Facing these at home is no different from facing them in the meditation retreat. Spiritual life becomes more genuine when things become more difficult. Our children have inevitable accidents and illnesses. Tragedies occur. These situations call for a constancy of our love and wisdom. Through them we touch the marrow of practice and find our true spiritual strength.
In many other cultures the nurturing of wise and healthy children is seen as a spiritual act, and parenting is considered sacred. Children are held constantly, both physically and in the heart of the community, and each healthy child is seen as a potential Leonardo, Nureyev, Clara Barton, a unique contributor to humanity. Our children are our meditation. When children are raised by day care and television, in a society that values, money-making more than its children, we create a generation of discontented, wounded, needy individuals. A key to extending practice into the demanding areas of child rearing and intimate relationships is bringing our heart back a thousand times. Nothing of value grows overnight, not our children, nor the capacity of our hearts to love one another. . . . .
Spiritual practice should not become an excuse to withdraw from life when difficulties arise. Meditation practice of any sort would not get very far if we stopped meditation every time we encountered a difficulty. The capacity for commitment is what carries our practice. In a love relationship such as marriage, commitment is the necessary down payment for success. Commitment does not mean a security pact where love is a business exchange - "I'll be here for you if you don't change too much if you don't leave me." The commitment in a conscious relationship is to remain together, committed to helping one another grow in love, honoring and fostering the opening or our partner's spirit.
In both child rearing and love relationships, we will inevitably encounter the same hindrances as we do in sitting meditation. We will desire to be somewhere else or with someone else. We will feel aversion, judgment, and fear. We will have periods of laziness and dullness. We will get restless with one another, and we will have doubts. We can name these familiar demons and meet them in the spirit of practice. We can acknowledge the body of fear that underlies them and, together with our partner, speak of these very difficulties as a way to deepen our love.
Jack Kornfield - A Path With Heart.
What about family retreats? Can you speak about teaching these?
The family retreats began with the birth of my first child 12 years ago. There are very few models which honor the path of parenting as an authentic path of deepening in understanding. Most models we encounter encourage us to depart from our families and separate our spiritual lives from our family lives. It is a lethal dichotomy. Being a parent is one long retreat. It asks for renunciation, surrender, compassion, selflessness, and immense wisdom. The family retreat honors this. it also provides an opportunity for children to be exposed to the teachings. The family retreat is noisy and chaotic, very different from any other retreat, yet something very important takes place beneath the chaos. For the children it is a time of planting seeds - important seeds in the context of a culture that endlessly encourages them to get more, strive more be more. It shows another path. For the parents it is a time of community and appreciating that the challenges offered by the realities of their lives are the places they learn to live the dharma.
Christina Feldman - "Insight is liberating only if it is lived."
Insight - Insight Meditation Society
I am often struck by how spontaneously children do for us what formal religious practices are designed to accomplish. Sitting in meditation hour after hour, we are forced to observe the flaws in our character and witness our ego-games; in prayer, we repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness.
Parenting forces us to develop these same spiritual virtues. A thousand times as I have watched my child develop, I have been confronted by my faults and forced to repent and forgive. My son loses his temper and shouts; his manner and tone of voice are mine. My daughter doggedly pursuers her goals and is inflexible to the point of insensitivity to others; the set of her jaw is mine.
Daily, in interacting with my children, I see my ego mirrored in their conduct, I witness my unresolved conflicts played out in their confusion, I see my failures of compassion in their wounds.
There is no spiritual discipline more stringent, no more constant source of the honest feedback that is essential to root our ego-centrism, than marriage and family life.
Sam Keen - Hymns to an Unknown God