via Wikimedia Commons
The spiritual depth of fatherhood cannot be stated. No endeavor I know of, not even addiction recovery, comes close to the grinding and polishing. In recovery, the dreaded itch starts returning less and less over time. But, in fatherhood, I have seen no such diminishment. As children grow, the effort only varies in kind according to their age. By its constancy, breathing is ideal as a focus for meditation and mindfulness. Just so, fatherhood abounds with self improvement and spiritual endeavor.
We can claim our birthright of Heaven’s light by mindfully walking the garden. In the same way, we can loosen the stranglehold of ego and become freer and happier through our daily parenting. A flower is a miracle, but you must reach out to it – a child is a miracle that reaches out to you.
Rightly seen, fatherhood is a giant course in self improvement and spiritual endeavor. Every day brings a new lesson, but each is only fruitful if we take it with patience, compassion, and gladness of heart.
The Weeds of Self
Right there, before your eyes, you can witness in your child your failures of ego. When my son acts incapable of doing something, it is a learned limit I have planted. My own lack of courage shows up his convictions of inability. Once planted, encouragement and affirmations are mostly useless. Only facing my own limits and facing his limits with him can heal it.
When my son reacts in anger, his triggers show where my own intolerance has bloomed. For he reacts violently or in anger to those very things that I myself am upset by, though the toys be different or the people dissimilar. He has his action figures and I have my electronic devices; he has his bad friendships and I have my associations with people who would prefer that everyone be the same. His weeds have grown from my seeds, and your child’s weeds are yours also.
All too often, parents react with severe discipline or bribing when something inappropriate rises in their childrens’ behavior. But these defiances and offenses are our defiances and offenses, and there is no better way to perceive the failures of self than to see how they have bloomed in our offspring. How can a weed be uprooted in another that grows from a seed in the self? We must take these blessings of insight actionably, solving them in community. Only then can the weed be replaced by the flower of love we wish to see in our children.
Discipline and License
When we feel disappointed or upset with ourselves, we react inwardly just the same as we react to our childrens’ failures. When we grab at things with greed or inappropriately comply with other people just to avoid dispute, our habits of clinging and resistance are being taught by demonstration. Just as we must not cling to the tumbling forms of love, but instead let love manifest as God wills, so too we must not focus on the forms and people our children react to. We must, instead, look to the habit of ego in ourselves and see how it is that we have become teachers of ill.
And so, although I myself use “time-outs” and grounding to make consequences for poor choices palpable for my children, I am all too aware that I sometimes do not discipline myself in the same way. Where I give out discipline, I give myself license. And in the other direction too – sometimes I let my children do what I refuse to. It is an incoherence of self – obedience to the conflicting thoughts of ego – that gives rise to such inconsistency. Find the inconsistency, and you find the boundary of self. Find the boundary of self and release it with a sigh, and your divine essence can flood the world more clearly than before.
Discipline and license are a hierarchical structure. Just like a company headed by inept managers, we let one part of the ego suppress and berate another. Just like a country led by corrupt politicians, we let the many flowers of self be pruned by blind gardeners. Children need structure to establish the very ego they will later have to overcome. If we do not give them a good structure, they will establish a bad one instead – such is childhood. One must be first enslaved to find freedom, but if we do not have a positive structure of self, our children will absorb our incoherency. The conflicting voices within our minds are not so much the disagreeing voices of many different people, but rather the disagreeing voices of our primary role models teaching us hypocrisy.
Freedom and Coherency
We inevitably pass on our societal conditioning. To be functioning members of society, one must be socially conditioned at the first. There are moral evaluations, ideals, preferences, and even attachments that we give to our children consciously and unconsciously. Teaching them is not difficult or even a focus, so long as we live and interact with our children as we should. No, the whole emphasis on teaching religion, morality, or proper behavior is not something to be undertaken as a quest. If we must proactively teach, then we are not present enough in our childrens’ lives – and that presence is the only real way of teaching.
Being present, then, is the very ground of parenting. It is not finding good schools. It is going through the daily exercise of resolving disputes, finding entertainment that does not corrupt, preparing and eating meals, and so on. The problem of bad behavior is a problem of self. We must undertake to dissolve the weeds in collaboration and full transparency with our children. Show them how to overcome the inner battles that arise from conditioning, and they will be spiritual warriors on the playground and beyond.
The inevitable conditioning through discipline and license are similar opportunities to address your own incoherency and thickened ego. Show them that these things are hurtful, and so you will not do them. Show them that these other things are good, and so you will. Be consistent in terms of the values you demonstrate, and then the time-outs and groundings will make sense to your children. They will understand that you discipline when they cause other beings pain or hurt themselves in some way, and that you do that as a gift to them. There will sometimes be tantrums, of course, but don’t make it the case that one criminal punishes another.
Fatherhood as Self Improvement and Spiritual Endeavor
What lesson could a spiritual guru give you that your child cannot? A guru, at his or her best, is a mirror that shows you the dust and dents in your mirror. Your child does the same! For your child is from the start an extension of your heart’s garden. These blessed little humans come still gleaming with the holy light of their creation. Especially at the start, you are the world through which they then tumble.
Other people are our reflections, it’s true. What you see in others is yourself, in both their heroics and their miserly greed. But the forms of yourself you see in other mature humans bear the stamp of their conditioning. It may be very difficult to ascertain which demigod or demon of yours has taken the forms you witness in them. There is no such baggage in the forms of our children. Their forms are our forms, and so the essences are easy to perceive.
We parents are unwise and false gurus, but so are all gurus at the start. Fatherhood is a road that teaches us how to work as an act of devotion. Fatherhood teaches us to be mindful always, and to learn how chaotic sound can be happy and silence can loom ominously. It shows us how the natural world is worth preserving and how governmental oppression is worth resisting. In all this world, from the mountaintops to the valleys, parenting is the most common way by which we learn to thin our egos and become selfless, happy, and free. It is unyielding, cruel, and utterly blissful. Properly understood and with right mind, fatherhood and motherhood are the high roads of self improvement and spiritual endeavor.