The Anti-Dogma Dogma, in Parenting and Spirituality
There were several comments on the Tibetan Parenting post (thanks for those) that I would like to delve into more, but for this week I thought I would expand on what I said about relationship and intent being more important in parenting than philosophy. Several people commented on this, and as it happens, I have also been revisiting this same theme in terms of spiritual practice. Or perhaps I should say ‘formal’ spiritual practice, because if you’re of the opinion that we’re ‘spiritual beings having a human experience’, than what in life isn’t spiritual practice?
I’ve written before about how motherhood initially made me realize how attached to my own meditation and certain meditation states I had become, and how in retrospect, having to let go of that opened me in ways that sitting practice never had. That being said, I’m a big believer in formal practice, for those that feel drawn to it. And not everyone is drawn to it – I think if the intent to awaken is there, we are drawn to whatever we personally need. Then staying true to that insight, and committing to it, becomes key.
With commitment however, comes something else, something that happens to almost every spiritual practitioner eventually – the ego tries to take over the spiritual process, a form of ‘spiritual materialism’ as Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trunpga called it. An arrogance creeps in, based on experiences that are had, or insights that are gained, that our ego wants to ‘own’. And a superiority develops – a subtle one to be sure, as spiritual egos are the trickiest kind – based on the notion that those who are consciously pursuing light/truth/peace are leading the world to a better place, or living closer to God, or whatever. And often along with this comes the belief that the way we have discovered is in fact the superior way for everyone. Dogmatism arises, from what began as a very open and personal quest.
I was thinking about this in relation to parenting recently, after watching the movie Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes, which I absolutely loved. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a stellar comic performance as a continuum concept parent, which I won’t even begin to try and describe here, although I will say don’t let this be your introduction to continuum parenting (it is a comedy!) I think the whole scene is less a commentary on continuum parenting than on dogmatic parenting. And dogmatic parenting is just like dogmatic spirituality (or dogmatic politics, or dogmatic nutrition – you get the picture) – it becomes more about the ego, in this case the parent’s ego, than anything else. I think all too often when parenting is done this way, a parent can’t really ‘see’ their own children and their needs, because they already ‘know’ what they need based on their own philosophy/story. And not seeing our kids, or anyone for that matter, becomes a much bigger issue than any particular parenting practice we might have.
I think what I have come to is that in both spirituality and parenting for me it is all about responsiveness. Is there an openness and fluidity? An intent to truly see/seek, to explore, as opposed to just sticking with what is comfortable or known? Or is there a defensiveness, a rigidity, that prevents new information, and feeds a sense of superiority? In the case of parenting, is there a willingness to truly see our kids and what it is that they as individuals need? While at the same time recognizing what we need as a human being, and trying to strike a healthy balance between our own needs and theirs, when they come into conflict? And on the spiritual path, is there true release and surrender going on? Or is there gripping – of beliefs, of superiority, of practices? And in both cases, is there a true recognition that this is a highly individual process, different for every seeker/every parent/every kid?
I realized recently that blogs have become one of the main ways I explore on both these fronts, and I’m frequently confronted with ideas on the blogs I read that are new to me, or that I’m not sure I agree with. And that’s good, because it’s very easy to get closed off. (Miruh at Spiritual Healing Journey covered this beautifully recently.) Personally, I am always on the lookout for a defensive reaction in my own mind, one that says very strongly ‘that can’t be true’ or ‘that can’t be right’. It’s not that I don’t have opinions – I actually have very strong opinions on some things, but I don’t want them to be unconscious or based on an emotional need. I think whenever there is an intense defensive reaction in our awareness to something that is said or read (you know what I mean, I know you do!) it’s often a sign of some emotional need to hold on to a belief, and that’s not the same thing as holding a belief because it’s been examined and known to ‘work’.
Of course trying to be anti-dogmatic can itself become dogmatic, something that I seem to pick up in non-duality type circles quite a bit – the idea that anyone dedicated to any practice other than simply ‘seeing the truth directly’ is off track. And really, trying to be completely un-dogmatic can take you down a rabbit hole very quickly (one of my favorite comic blogs, Monk Mojo, finds the humor in this brilliantly.) I do think you have to ‘pick a lane’ to some extent, in both spiritual practice and parenting. If you don’t do so in parenting, your kids will be completely confused, and if you don’t do so in spirituality, you’ll just end up smoking cigarettes alone in a dark cafe.
But like everything else, it’s all about striking a balance. Walking the razor’s edge. Swinging too far in one direction, realizing it, and swinging back. With honesty and humor, without self-punishment or guilt. Then, doing it all over again, on a hopefully subtler level. That’s the path. That’s life, from what I’ve seen of it so far.
I think the ‘without guilt’ part is particularly important, and particularly difficult. I’m all for personal responsibility, it’s just the self-punishment part of guilt that doesn’t do anyone any good. I think kids learn as much from what they feel from us as what we say or do. So if we are feeling guilty much of the time for not being the perfect parent, that self-punishment might become the message, and that’s not what we want. And in spirituality, harsh self-judgment and guilt can be an even bigger trap, as we swing hopelessly in our mind between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ judgments – “Oh, today I was so peaceful and mindful, I was a good seeker”, and then, “Oh, I really blew it today, I missed my meditation, I got mad at my co-worker, I’m a terrible person, I’m not making any progress.”
Humor might be the saving grace in both, which is why I loved Gyllenhal’s performance in the first place. And Trungpa devotes an entire chapter to humor in his Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It’s also why I will laugh at movies like the Love Guru, that almost everyone else panned. Take your humor where you can get it, that’s my view! And [God] knows, our kids and our egos provide plenty of opportunities to laugh, if we are looking:-)
So that’s it, my anti-dogma dogma, in parenting and spirituality. Any comments?