For many past months, I have been mulling over what I believe is the prime error in our culture, an error that creates an imbalance that seeps deeply into our mode of parenting.
With a recent passing of a dear friend and brilliant writer, Home, I am moved to share a paragraph of his farewell letter to his wife and close friends, eloquently stating my theme as a major factor affecting his life.
“In my later years, I have been functioning under the belief that at least one part of our existence here on the physical plane is to Feel. The Opportunity to Feel the myriad of experiences and emotions that we humans are permitted to Feel is a smorgasbord of joy intertwined with sorrow and pain. Our desire to feel only the most delicious and pleasant of feelings is part of the mechanism by which we actually perpetuate our sorrow. Our efforts to cling to experiences of pleasure and invest immense amounts of energy into avoiding unpleasantness have served only to amplify and sustain our moments of anguish. Rather than accept Life’s roller coaster of ups and occasional downs, we exacerbate our grief by dreading the next down. Perhaps this is a difficult concept to comprehend for some, but it may actually serve you someday, which is why I offer it.”
A toddler falls and sits on the ground, pondering the event; an unwitting adult offers a cookie as a comfort. A four year old has a temper tantrum and is banished to her room. Later, when exuberant, she is told to be quiet. Birthdays and other holidays are celebrated with sweets and, when older, a wide variety of mind altering substances abound. Our culture ceases either to fathom or to honor their underlying physical, emotional and mental effects. The stages of human development and their accompanying physical, mental, and emotional changes are not recognized, but rather are bastardized by our glitzy consumer, pleasure oriented society.
I believe the Buddhists have it right. In the Wise Heart, by Jack Kornfield, the ninth principle of Buddhist psychology states that there are three primary emotions only – pleasure, neutral, and pain: “Wisdom knows what feelings are present without being lost in them.”
A baby’s first wail may express deep pain at the shock of arriving in this world. A kind and loving caregiver provides the warmth and closeness of the heartbeat. In the child’s first two years, all shades of pain and pleasure are amply expressed. The wise adult acknowledges those emotions, does not dismiss or detour them. Gradually, the child learns how they feel in his/her body and the names of the many shades of each (joy, excitement, calm, fury, anger, disappointment, sorrow, love…); that they are fleeting, and that they “come and go like the clouds.”
Hence, my message: It is OKAY to be sad or angry, even to recognize fear! As you recognize these feelings in yourself and honor them, you will grow yourself, and you will be more able to tune into your child – not from some external concept of politeness or propriety, but from seeing and sensing what it is your child is feeling and energetically telling you. Remember, the child is innocently discovering the world and you are the guide. Your modeling is his/her greatest teacher. Learn about emotional attitudes and discover how it is OKAY to feel emotions and love yourself. I heard the other day, “happiness is not steady, but joy… is an inner contentment that is always there.”