If You Think You’re Enlightened, Have Kids
Spiritual teacher Ram Dass reportedly once said, ‘If you think you’re enlightened, spend a weekend with your parents.’ I would like to modify that to ‘have kids.’ Of course, having kids is a much bigger time commitment than spending a weekend with your parents. Instead, you get YEARS of weekends in which birthday parties, G-rated movies, and Chuckie Cheese’s qualify as high excitement. But that isn’t really what makes having kids such a spiritual reality check. The value is that you have a built in test of your ego and self-awareness on every front.
I know alot of women who were sure before they had kids that they were nothing like their own mothers, and would parent their own kids very differently. They had worked through their own issues, read all the latest parenting books, and would not nag/yell/bribe/criticize/control/threaten [insert parential sin of your choice here] their own kids. And yet when confronted with the day-in and day-out emotional challenge that parenting can often be, they found themselves issuing some phrase right out of their own mom’s playbook. A friend of mine recently called to bemoan the fact that she had desperately yelled ‘you just wait until your father gets home’ at her children, a threat from her own childhood she had vowed she would never use.
It’s easy to be peaceful in a spiritual ivory tower, where your ego is unchecked and little occurs to trigger anger, frustration, or any latent negative emotional patterns. For this reason, some Buddhist monasteries require their monks to rotate between three-month shifts within the monastery walls and out in the ‘real world’ employed in service-oriented labor. With time, anyone can learn to quiet their mind and pacify their emotions while living a controlled, serene life. But this is really just a skill, it doesn’t necessarily mean any true self-awareness or growth has occurred. I have met alot of people that could meditate quite well, calming their minds and beings on retreat, but when confronted with a true life challenge, lost it entirely, and fell back on old, often destructive, emotional habits.
So this is the spiritual value of kids (or part of it anyway, as there is so much to be mined from it I think.) On a daily basis they help us see ourselves, our emotional patterns, and our internal blocks to spiritual light and freedom very clearly. And they provide us with an eighteen year (give or take a few years) intensive to work on them! Of course the issue for many of us is that we feel like there isn’t enough time in our lives to process what we learn, or to center ourselves enough to change our habitual reactions. This is part of the value of fitting some regular meditation or contemplation time into our lives. It gives us a reference point, and helps us build our ‘peaceful’ muscles. To me, meditating and parenting are together the perfect modern version of the Buddhist monastery/service rotation cycle. We ‘mommy mystics’ just do it every day, instead of every three months.