Thoughts from Annie
Last month, while attending a family retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery, I gave a talk on mindful parenting. In the talk, I share lots of stories of our parenting struggles and how the practice of mindfulness helped me/us get through it and find love and joy in the process. Parenting is hard. And my personal practice, looking clearly at what is really happening, and connecting to other parents are the things that consistently helped us. So, dear friends, I invite you to take a comfortable seat and listen to this talk, which also includes a few short guided practices. I’m also offering the talk in a transcript form, is case you prefer to read it.
Read the transcript:
Welcome to this evening. I’m looking forward to being with all of you tonight. We’ll start by listening to three sounds of the bell, so enjoy.
Again, I want to welcome everyone for coming tonight. We’re going to be talking about “mindful parenting”, which is a funny thing. I’m really grateful to be here.
I want to just start with some gratitudes. I’m really thankful to Thay, to my teacher Thay, for all the teachings that have so supported me and my family along the way. We’ll get into more of that as we go. Also, Ann Weiser Cornell, who is a teacher, a focusing teacher – she’s been my teacher for a while — which is a mindfulness practice as well. I wanted to thank the Lenape people, whose land we’re on, I believe. I’m not from here, but I believe that’s whose land it is. If anyone is from here, maybe nod if that’s correct. Does anybody know? No? Okay. Also, the Piscataway people, whose land we are on back in what we call Washington D.C. I also want to thank my ancestors, who brought me here, and also my sangha back in Washington, all of my sanghas. I have multiple sanghas. Thanking all of you, again.
It’s funny to think that I’m here. I actually don’t even know who asked me to do this talk. I got a word from someone, “Someone wants you to do this talk,” and I never really was officially asked, I don’t think. I’m happy to be here, but it makes me laugh a little bit because I’m thinking about 20 years ago, almost exactly, a few months off, I arrived at Omega Institute about, I think an hour away from here in a Volvo station wagon with a six-year old, two eight-year olds, and a nine-year old. And, having no idea what I was getting myself into.
We arrived — as you know, the first night we have dinner and orientation– We arrived too late for dinner. We had been driving for six or seven hours. We didn’t have dinner. We went right to orientation. It was pretty much a shit show. It was 800 people and I didn’t know what was happening. And, I had these four little kids. Everyone was like, “Go to the front. Go sit in the front. Everyone is in the front.” We go up to the front and we get in the front. The kids are like, “What is it? I’m hungry!” Blah, blah, blah.
We had already dropped our bags in the room. We had a little key to the room that had two twin beds for the five of us. We get to the front and there’s Thay, and he’s starting to give the orientation, and I’m just mesmerized. “Oh my God, This is amazing. There’s Thích Nhất Hạnh. I’ve read his books. I’ve never seen him. I’m so happy to be here.”
And my kids are like, “I’m hungrrryyy…argargarg..” Finally, my oldest one, my nine-year old is like, “I’m going back to the room,” and she grabbed the key, and she took off in the sea of people that I’ve never met before. I was up in the front with three more kids and there’s literally –you’ve been through these many halls, I’m sure, with 800 people, where it’s just– she was gone. I was just terrified. I was like, “Well, I can’t leave these. He’s talking. What am I going to do?” I was just pretty much frozen.
And luckily, some very nice people saw what was happening, other parents. They corralled her and they brought her back to me in the front. That moment was a huge turning point for me because I thought, “Wow, these people are actually really nice.”
I grew up in a family that wasn’t very nice. Very sarcastic, very judgy. I almost couldn’t believe these were real people, they would really just that nice and not be judging or anything. That was really a moment where I was like, “Oh, there’s a different world. There’s a world where people are compassionate, and non-judgmental, and supportive.” I don’t want to make it sound too, “Oh, it’s perfect,” but it was really different than what I was used to.
So that was the first day I was ever on a retreat. Since then, I’ve been in many more retreats. That was 20 years ago. My kids are all grown. During those times of them growing, even though we went on retreats, and even though we had this practice, there was a lot of suffering. I feel like maybe one of the reasons I’m qualified to speak is because I’ve had kids with OCD, anxiety, depression, school refusal. I tried to make a list. Cutting. What else was on my list? I’ve shut it out. Kids on meds, kids self-medicating. I’ve had two of my kids go to three different treatment centers. So, it’s been a rough ride.
But through it, really this practice is what has sustained me. The reason I came to this retreat, actually, even though my kids are grown, is that I felt I wanted to give something back because of all those years when my kids were supported by strangers. By the Mahasangha. And how much that had really shifted my way of thinking about the world, and my way of being in the world. That’s why I came.
Yeah, that’s just a little bit of background. Again, if you didn’t know, my name is Annie. I’m from Washington D.C., as I said. I wanted to start our evening off together with a little exercise. We’re going to take a couple of minutes to check in about something, and then we’re going to be sharing with someone that we don’t know, preferably, but somebody nearby.
Practice: Notice your biggest parenting challenges and joys
Let’s take a minute. Close your eyes. Just begin to check how you are in this moment just to begin with, maybe doing a little body scan. Then just bringing into mind your child, your children. If you don’t have a child or children, maybe the people that you spend time with, just bringing that whole situation to your mind, and see what arises as your current biggest challenge in the area of parenting them. If you’re not a parent, whatever your relationship is with young people. Or if you don’t have a relationship with young people, maybe just any relationship challenge. Just touch that for a moment. Have that in your mind. Then move on to what right now in this moment is your biggest joy in parenting, or in relationships.
Then once you have those two things, just sensing into whether that feels okay for you to share, making sure that’s going to be okay to share with someone you don’t know. If it’s not, then of course we don’t want you to do that, but to see if that would be okay. If so, then you can open your eyes and just turn to someone that maybe you don’t live with at least. Just share that one at a time. Just one person sharing the challenge, and then they’ll share their joy, and then the other person is sharing their challenge and then joy. We’ll just take about four or five minutes max altogether.
If you haven’t switched partners yet, let the other person speak. Make sure you thank your partner, friend.
I don’t really have any answers. That’s why I said, “Mindful parenting,” in quotes. It’s funny. It’s impossible, as you probably already know, to be mindful and parent at the same time.
However, I have had some experience, and I do have a little structure that I’d like us to play with, a model. Of course, models are not reality, but the model I’d like us to use is the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha model for parenting.
I want to start with Buddha nature– our Buddha nature. Our practice. Really, for me, it’s the foundation of all parenting. What is our practice? How are we taking care of the seeds that come up in us, of our formations, of our feelings, of our needs? How are we doing that? Because if we’re not doing that, as I know you know, you’ve heard a million times (but it’s true), if we’re not doing that, we really can’t be there for our kids.
I want to share a story that happened to me on a retreat in the UK. Someone in my life was, and my still be, heavily using alcohol. I really wanted to ask Thay about it. I happened to know the nun who was pulling questions in the question-and-answer session with Thay. I go and put a question in there. I wrote something on the outside so she would know it was my question to make sure it got asked because I really had this burning question about how do I deal with this person who was drinking so much. I wrote in the question that I had given up drinking when I took the five mindfulness trainings, and probably about 10 years before this question was written, I said, “I gave it up. I don’t drink. This person drinks and it’s really hard.”
The answer that Thay gave, my first response was like, “I’m so angry.” Because what he said was, “You’re not practicing hard enough. You’re not fresh enough.” I’m going to read you portions of this so you can her the exact wording. Taken that way, it could be really like blame the victim. But, really, if I take it in the way it was meant, which is that if we take a superiority complex, or we have a judging mind, we’re not going to get very far. Then we have to practice to see the interbeing, but also to have our freshness. So that instead of trying to convince someone, they’re actually drawn to us in a way. I’m going to read you his words. I’m not going to read you all of them because it was long. But it’s funny because I thought I had written a really very open-minded question and he called me out in a way. Luckily, he didn’t know it was me.
First, he says why drinking and taking drugs is someone suffering. That’s what they’re doing. Then he goes on to say, “Our practice has not been good enough. We do not drink alcohol. We do not use drugs. We try to speak more with loving kindness, but that was not enough. We have not been able to help that person because our practice is not strong enough in order to do so. We try to control our anger, our disappointment, our sadness with a lot of efforts, but we have not become truly fresh like the flower. We are not as pleasant as we wish to be even though we might think we are.”
“If we succeed in our practice, we become very refreshing, very smiling, very compassionate. The other person will realize that, and will feel the need of having us beside him, beside her. Instead of drinking alcohol, he or she will drink you because you are so fresh, you are so pleasant, you are so compassionate. Every one of us needs freshness, compassion. Our practice should transform us more, should bring more compassion and freshness into our person. Then if we don’t suffer anymore, we can, with our compassion, with our freshness, with our understanding, help the other person come out of that situation.”
Here’s the part where I felt I was called out. “I will suggest that we stop thinking that we have done our part, only he has not done his part. We can very well improve our quality of practice and we should believe that when we have become true compassion, true freshness, true understanding, things will change. Because every one of us needs these three elements and you become the savior of his life. You become the bodhisattva of his life.”
Addiction is something that is very strong in our family. Those words really challenged me when I heard them. I thought, “Wow, really? Really, it’s all about me? I have to do all that?” Over the years, I go back to them. Actually, I transcribed them, I wrote them, I drew them out. I really have gotten those words into my psyche because they feel really important to remember that we are the ones — our practice is the most primary thing we can do for anyone else. I think at first I thought it meant, “Oh, I’m supposed to be nice,” but I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. I think it’s really saying, “I need to be fresh. I need to have taken care of myself. I need to have held myself in all the ways I need holding and then I can be fresh.”
Practice: Take care of your suffering
What I’d like to do is another short practice with you on taking care of ourselves and our needs, just a short, guided practice. You can just sit where you are or whatever, lie down if you’d like. It’s only going to be about five minutes.
Just having your eyes closed, if that’s comfortable for you, once again, I’d like you to bring to mind a challenging situation, the one you spoke about, if that feels right, or a different one, if you’d like. As you’re holding that image, or that memory, or thought, also become aware of your body here on the earth. Become aware of where you’re touching the mat, or the floor while you’re holding this difficulty.
Just begin to notice where you feel this in your body, this difficulty, this challenge, sensing into where in your body is reacting to this challenge. If it feels right, you can let a gentle hand go to where you feel it. Just like you’re saying, “I’m here. I’m here for you.” You might see if any image comes to mind or sensations. It’s like you’re meeting an old friend and saying, “Hello, I see you there.” It might be your sadness. It might be your anger, wherever it is, fear.
You might see if this part of you that’s having this sensation would like your attention in any certain way, any kind of way. You might imagine you’re sitting beside it and that you’re putting your arm around it, if that feels right. Maybe it wants to let you know something important. As you’re holding this part, you may notice other things that arise as well. If you do, you can also turn toward those in the same way, the same hello, knowing you’re there.
If it feels right, and only if it feels authentic, you can let this part that’s having this reaction know it’s okay for it to be there. It’s okay that my anger is there right now. Or it’s okay that I had this sadness here. You are the one that can hold that. As you breathe in and breathe out, you’re holding this part. If it feels right, you can agree to stay with that or you can see if this part of you would let you know what it’s most worried about. Again, you are holding it and turning toward it. What’s it most worried about? You’re just holding whatever comes up. Maybe it doesn’t want to let you know. Whatever it is, just being with it. Again, just notice if anything shifts or not.
Then let this part of you know that we’re going to be wrapping up with this piece, but that you’re not abandoning it, that you’ll come back later and be with it some more. If there’s an image, or even a word that would help you to carry this forward into your life, you can just make a mental note of that. As you’re ready, begin to come back into the room, and open your eyes, and when you’re ready, sit back up if you’re lying down.
This is the piece of self-care, of really how am I being with myself and everything that arises when I’m parenting. I’m putting that under the category of Buddha nature. How am I being with my Buddha nature? How am I being? How do I show up?
Then the next category is the dharma. These are the three jewels. You probably know that. The next one is dharma, which I’m going to use it loosely here as what’s really happening right now with my child, or with my relationship. What’s really happening? Thay often will ask the question, give us the question, “Am I sure? Am I sure what’s happening?” Really starting to feel into the situation. What’s really going on here between us, and also in me, and them. Really starting to sense into what it is. From that kind of a sense, then having an idea of what the next most skillful step would be to do.
The thing I was going to share about what’s really true and, “Am I sure,” is there was a time when we discovered some, I guess they were razor blades, and saved in a box in my 14-year old daughter’s room. I didn’t know a lot about cutting, but I was like, “Oh, okay, I think this could be related to cutting, because I know she’s not making a lot of craft projects in her room.” Eventually, I told my husband about it, and he was like, “No, I don’t know.” I asked her about it and she came clean. She said, “Yeah, I have been doing that.”
We went to see a therapist, my husband and I first because she didn’t want to go. We told the therapist what we had seen. My husband said, “But I don’t think it’s happening anymore.” I thought, “Oh, that’s really unhelpful,” because I get it, because I wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to be like, “Yeah, but I don’t think it’s really happening anymore. Let’s just move on.” For me, “Am I sure,” is really, really knowing what’s happening, really getting to know what is happening here. It’s so easy to fall into delusion with our kids because we so badly don’t want them to suffer.
Or, conversely, we have things from our past that we’re bringing in, we’re projecting onto them. Like, “Oh, they must be feeling blah, blah, blah because that’s how I would feel in that situation.” Really getting to feel into it, and of course, the practice of mindfulness is the foundation, knowing what’s going on. Can we really just settle, and see, and have a conversation, communicate about it, and know what’s really happening?
Then from knowing what’s really happening, then we can know, “Do we need to set boundaries? Are there things we have to block? Are there harmful actions we need to block?” I think of the five mindfulness trainings as a really great structure to look at. What causes harm? Are there things that I need to prevent my child from experiencing?
Then at the same time, I feel like any avenue we go down in life, we end up at the serenity prayer. I know that sounds funny, but it’s like, “Help me to change things I can and to,” what is it, “have the courage to” … What is it?
Audience: Grant me the serenity-
“To accept the things I cannot change.” That’s it. “And the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Right? That’s the same with parenting. It’s like, “What can I change? What can I prevent them from experiencing and what can’t I?” That’s another big reality check. It’s like, “Oh, it would be great if I could stop them from XYZ, but actually I can’t.” Right? I can’t.
There’s a period of time when one of our daughters came home from college and was in one of those addictive situations. We realized how very little power we had. At the bottom, we were really like, “Oh, the only choice we have is to kick her out. We’ve got nothing else.” We took away the car. We took away the computer, the phone. She’s still going out and doing it. That’s really the only thing we have left. Really getting to know what can I really control, I think that’s part of knowing the truth of the situation. I think that’s all on that piece, on the dharma.
Then the third is the sangha. When I first found this practice, as I said, when I showed up with the kids on that crazy night, I came back from that retreat and I was like, “Oh, my God. I need this practice. I need this practice. I have to change my life.” Blah, blah, blah. “I’m going to do this. I’m going to sit every day, but I really don’t want to be with other people while I’m meditating.” I was like, “Eh, I think I’ll just do it alone.”
Because I had been really in a different … I didn’t have friends who meditated. That wasn’t a thing. I didn’t know anyone like that. For me, it was like I didn’t really want to shift. In a way, I wanted to shift what I experienced, but I didn’t really want to have to shift my life. I didn’t really go to sangha much. I tried a little bit. I tried a little bit of sangha, but I was really judgmental. I went to the sangha and I’m like, “I don’t really like these people.” Then I would not go.
But I really couldn’t maintain my practice without a sangha. I didn’t understand that at all then. I was just like, “This practice is hard. It’s just hard to do it.” But every year I went and Thay harped on sangha. Every other word was like, “Sangha. Sangha. You need a sangha. You need a sangha.” I was like, “Okay, maybe I’ll try it again.” I did eventually join the sangha.
What I want to talk about here is not just going to a meditation sangha, but who is your parenting sangha? I have a friend from Minneapolis and she would always say, “Who is your team for this?” When my daughter was cutting, “Okay, who is on your team to solve this issue?” It’s like that, I feel like, with parenting. It’s like whatever comes up, we need a team. We cannot do this alone. We really need to have a team. Whether it’s a therapist, or a minister, the teacher, or whoever it is. Are there friends that you can talk to? But we need to have a team for our parenting.
When I first started going from retreats, I would come back and, really, I’d go to sangha, but my biggest sangha really were the kids because they were the ones who had been on the retreat with me, and we had this vocabulary we could talk about in this, too. I feel like there’s two parts to this as a parent. There’s building sangha in your home, which is awesome. And, I think we need more. I think we need sangha outside of our home. I think the kids, and the family is great as sangha, but I think we also need beyond just the nuclear family. We need to have other people that we can rely on. It’s partly because I think we’re so isolated sometimes in a single-family home that we need to have some of that outside sangha, too.
One story I have for my son and my experience with him as being sangha. He was the youngest. He was six when I started going on retreats. He was the last one to quit retreats. He actually wanted to go to Vietnam. When Thay went to Vietnam in 2005, he and I went together and he was 11. We were there for two and a half weeks in Vietnam and it was amazing. We were soaked in the dharma and it was incredible. He was so good. For an 11-year old, it was unbelievable. I was exhausted and he was raring to go every morning.
The first morning we were in there, I got sick with the flu the first night because I didn’t know how to turn on the heat in the hotel room. Plus, I had the long travel. He was up the next morning. They gave us breakfast in the hotel lobby. It looked like green Jello. I was like, “Oh, what’s that?” I was kinda feeling sick, so I was like, “I don’t think I’m going to have it.” My son was like, “I’ll have it.” He ate it and I was like, “What does it taste like?” He goes, “It tastes like grass!” I was just like, “That’s so impressive.”
Anyway, he was a great traveler. He was a great sangha buddy of mine. But it really became clear how much he had absorbed when in 2005. We were in there [Vietnam] in 2005. I think we came back at the end of January. My mom, who was 71 on February 12, fell suddenly ill with a heart attack. She was in seemingly perfect health. I flew down to Florida. My sisters all flew down. Unfortunately, she didn’t recover. It was really just so sad. A vibrant woman just had this heart attack.
The next day, when she had passed away, I called home to tell my husband and he put my son, Chuck, on the phone. I was sobbing. I was sobbing. I went, “Why is he putting Chuck on the phone? He’s 11.” I’m sobbing and my son goes, “Mom, why are you crying? Can’t you see that Grandma is still right there with you? That she’s saying, My darling daughter, don’t you see me here?” It was pouring tears, the tears were pouring down. I was like, “Yeah, honey.”
To have people around us absorbing the dharma and then teaching it back to us, there’s nothing like it. That’s what you all are doing, which is so great. Bringing your kids on retreat, it’s like you’re creating little teachers for yourself, which is really good because we forget so often. Yeah, he was really a great support to me as a family sangha.
But then the sangha sangha, outside of my family, has also been just so important. When one of my daughters was in treatment for an eating disorder — she wanted to go, she said she wanted to go. I took her out to Arizona and I dropped her at this place. It was horrible. I was fine. She seemed fine. Bye-bye. I fly back home from Arizona to D.C. It’s I don’t know how many hours. I turn on my phone when I get back and I want to say there were 57 texts or notices. She was like, “You have to come get me. I can’t stay. I can’t stay. I can’t stay. You have to come get me.” I was like, “Well, hang on. You just got there.” It was so, so stressful because she was crying. “You’ve got to let me come back.” It was awful.
I was at sangha one morning and I shared about it. I was like, “I just am so sad.” I was ready to cave. I was very close to being like, “Yeah, let’s just bring her home,” because it was so hard. But my sangha members had heard me sharing on other things as well, and they were just so supportive. This wasn’t during the dharma sharing, because there’s no fixing. This was after the dharma sharing. They said, “You know, it sounds like maybe you need to just say, “You wanted to go. You should stay for 30 days.” I’m like, “Oh, thank you.”
It was like I needed that support. I needed backup on that and so we did. That’s what we said. We said, “You said you’d stay 30 days, so we’re not going to…” She could have left. She was old enough to leave, “But we’re not going to send you fare to come back home.” She was not happy. Oh, my God, it was awful. But I felt so supported by my sangha that I could do that. She ended up staying an extra month after that it was so helpful for her. She was really glad she stayed. Having that kind of sangha has really been invaluable in my parenting. And, I think it’s really important that we have some kind of a team like that.
The other thing that we did is that we had a “mindful parenting” group. We met every month. We shared just about our joys and sorrows, and mostly sorrows. We really supported each other. I can’t recommend that highly enough. If you have the ability to gather a few parents once a month that you can just share in a dharma-sharing setting. It really sustained us. It sustained us. Those same people, I’m still in contact with the majority of them. We still talk about how we really would not have gotten through it without each other.
Practice: Make a list of your parenting sangha
Maybe if you have a piece of paper, or if you don’t you can just think about this, but maybe make a list of who your parenting team is. Who is your team? Who is your parenting sangha? We’ll just take a couple of minutes and you can just either think about that or jot it down.
You can always keep going on that later, but just I wanted to get you started about really thinking about who the actual human beings are that you can rely on for your parenting. Who are the people that you can laugh and cry with about your parenting? Because we do a lot of that as parents, don’t we? A lot of laughing and crying simultaneously.
Those are the three categories. Then overarching that, the one thing I wanted to just remind us all is that all of it so impermanent. It’s all very impermanent. My mom used to always say, and I’m sure most of you have heard a million times, is that, “This, too, shall pass.”
I remember one time during some of the worst times with my oldest daughter, there was all kinds of stuff on Facebook. This was when Facebook was relatively new. She would post things that apparently were bad. I had been blackballed, of course, from her account. My neighbor helped me create a new account for the dog so that I could see what she was posting. I went over to the neighbor’s house and we were working on it trying to figure out what was happening. You all have way more technology for tracking your kids than we did. We didn’t have any of the phone tracking or any of that. This was like you literally had to create a new account, and try to see if I could see what she was doing.
But I remember my neighbor Betsy said, “You know, it’s going to get better.” I remember in that moment I did not think that was true. I really did not think that was true, that things would change. There was a way in which it felt like it was never-ending, because when you’re parenting, there’s something, then there’s something else, something else. There’s always these challenges. I thought, “No, you’re wrong.” Even though she had raised five kids and she was like, “No, trust me on this,” and I was like, “No. Actually, in this case, no, it won’t change.” But it does, of course.
I have a poem on impermanence that I love. It’s kind of intense, but I really love it, and I’m going to share it with you. You have to know that Niagara Falls is a thing. Does everybody know Niagara Falls? It’s the biggest falls in the world maybe. I know someone here is from the area. I don’t know who, but you’ll really appreciate it whoever is from Niagara. I heard this at a yoga retreat many years ago. It’s just been one of my favorites. I go back to it over and over.
It’s called, “The Niagara River,” by Kay Ryan. I’m going to read it twice so you can really hear it.
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
As it moves along,
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced—
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.
Isn’t that beautiful? It’s really hard to remember that this is all impermanent, especially in parenting. It’s the hardest job, maybe in the world.
I want to just wrap up with one more poem. It really sums up this practice of presence, of knowing that there’s something that’s supporting us, that’s underneath us at all times. I feel like that’s what Thay is teaching us with mindfulness is that we can rely on the present moment. I think it was Mitchell Ratner who was my mentor at one point, who said he heard Thay say this many, many years ago that, “It’s great to have teachers, but the present moment is really our true teacher.”
Really being able to lean into whatever it is. And, in order to do that, I believe we need our own practice. We need to be in touch with our Buddha nature. We need our practice, and our self-care, and self-love, and that kind of holding ourselves in that way. And, we need the dharma. We need to know the truth of what’s really happening in any moment. Am I sure? And, we definitely need the sangha. As I said, I started out thinking I didn’t need a sangha, and now that’s pretty much all I need, it feels like. If I have sangha, then I’m good.
I’m going to read this last poem called “Here,” and then if we want, if you want to ask questions, I don’t know if you do, but you’d be welcome to. This is by Danna Faulds, called “Here.”
It’s always here, the silent
underpinning, the foundation
beneath the foundation. When
I reach deep enough into darkness,
inside fear, self-doubt, aversion or
despair, there’s something so intact
I almost miss it in my focus on
brokenness. It’s always here, this
ground of being. Like the water in
which fish swim, It’s easy to overlook
the eloquence of truth. It’s here, this
guiding presence, this calm, abiding
stillness. It’s here when I don’t try
to make life any more or less than
what it is, when I stop trying to be
right. It’s here when I unclench my
fists and breathe, when I let go of the
demand to make life smooth or easy.
It’s here, the oneness underlying
multiplicity, the exquisite “is-ness”
of everything. I could shout it from
the rooftops, but it’s true no matter
what I say, and I know you’ll find
it in your own time, your own way,
that precious moment when you
choose to meet life exactly as it is.
Maybe we can sit for 4-5 minutes.
You can listen to the sound of the bell.
Does anyone have a comment or a question?
Q: How many years did you bring your children? Were they pretty consistent?
A: Yeah. I brought them starting in 1999. Maddie, what did I say, she would have been nine. She quit when she was 13. I had them all going for about five years, including my nephew, who would come sometimes and cause lots of havoc. He would try to meet somebody. He would sneak in and out. Five years with all of them, and then that continued on until the last one. I think I went with a child when it was in the UK, which was in 2009, so 10 years, I guess, total.
Q: Did the retreats have an effect on them?
A: Yeah. Definitely. Someone was asking this earlier, and I said for my kids, it was like they were just raised that way because they were young when I started, but my oldest one dropped out the year we were in Plum Village. It was the hottest summer ever in France. We were in a loft dorm room. She was on the top floor with her friend’s friend. She wanted to go sleep in the woods with the other teenagers and I wouldn’t let her. Oh, man, she was so mad. Oh, she was spitting yelling at me she was so angry. Then she would never go on another retreat after that. She was mad at me.
But that really is still in them. I hear it in them. They speak the language of mindfulness. That’s really the foundation of their spirituality. We did go to church here and there back in the day, but none of that really stuck in the same way. This really is their home in a way. I think if anyone asks them, they would say this is their practice. Although, they don’t practice. They have sitting cushions, let’s say that. I’m not sure they use them, but they have them.
Does that answer it a little? It was fun. Going on retreats with them was a blast. That part was really awesome.
The last one at Plum Village with my son … Actually, my son and his ex-girlfriend were there at a 21-day retreat four years ago, or three years ago, whenever that one was. They were actually there at the first retreat, kind of a day retreat without Thay. He and his girlfriend came. This is his girlfriend, I know you’ll appreciate this, that he met when he was fifteen in Plum Village in France. He met her then. He didn’t speak French. They really liked each other. They stayed in touch on social media. When he moved to France after high school, which who knows if that’s why he moved to France, but he did have a gap year there, and end up living in France for seven years, and they were together for five years. It’s kind of cute until they break up, so sorry. Any other questions or comments?
Q:I thought that was interesting what you said about the parenting team as a sangha. I was just thinking that what we do today, at least in America, is kind of weird. That in both cultures, I think the children have been a community resource, and were raised by large portions of the community. Now, we have a situation where many families, we’re very protective, that we are the only ones who know how to take care of our kids and we’re not willing to share that with anyone. Even grandparents were basically meddlers.
A: I so agree with you on that. Oh, sorry, he was saying we are so protective of our kids, and we’re the only ones allowed to take care of them. He’s saying his grandparents were considered meddlers. One of my soapboxes is that I do not think that we are meant to live in a single-family house. When we do have someone who is left there with the kids a lot of the time, it’s insanely lonely, and doesn’t have anyone to count on. I think my mom was raised in a house with five brothers, and sisters, and two grandparents so her mom could go do stuff, leave the kids with the grandparents. That just feels so much more self-caring. I think that a lot of other people have to just be the only one. I think that pressure that’s on one parent who has got the primary care, or even if it’s two parents who are working, yeah, I so agree with you. I don’t think humans are meant to raise kids like that. It’s not good for anybody.
Q: Just a comment. I appreciate hearing the part of your story about how you still hear pieces of this work in your children now. Because in any undertaking, so just like this, it feels like sand through a sifter. Even with my own peers, I’ve often speaking in a way that I heard the same way sangha would be hearing it. I just wanted to say I appreciate it because it’s hopeful. Nothing is going to stop me from trying. It’s hopeful to hear that everything is so different now, and generations just keep changing, but the essence is still the same. I’m grateful that you showed that aspect of it just because I don’t ?
Annie: Just FYI, all of my kids, even with all those things that I said at the beginning, they’ve turned out to be wonderful adults, and human beings, and they’re doing great things. I don’t know. I don’t want to downplay or overplay, but they’re doing things that I am very happy with, and they’re very happy with. They have their moments. Thank you for sharing that. Anyone else?
Q:I wanted to thank you for starting off with all the shit that they went through. You know? Just thank you. Because I think that, first of all, it’s comforting to share that. I appreciate your honesty because I have a 23-year old and a 15-year old. I think that part of the reasons we isolate are because maybe we think we’re the only ones. But I also think parents are not sharing with each other where their kids are stalling. There’s this great illusion it’s only your kid that’s fucking up. Everybody is talking about, “This one made this team.” We’re also in a very competitive school. All the stuff they post, and all the great stuff that all these kids are doing, I think my kid ate the pie last night. I think of that, so thank you.
The other thing I wanted to share was I was listening to an old acoustic tidbit on NPR. She was interviewing Sylvia Boorstein, who was an old blues great. She’s got four kids, and grandkids. She’s just fabulous. [inaudible 01:05:12]. Somebody asked, “How did your kids turn out,” or something. She said, “Oh, my God. I’m so proud of my children. My kids, I cannot tell you how proud I am of my children. They’re all good people. They are all fabulous human beings, great compassion. They do good things.” I’m like, “Thank you.” I wanted to share that story.
A: Thank you.
Q:I was wondering if you had a way to try to bring the practices home, I guess I want to say teaching their kids. At the same time, [inaudible 01:05:53] time to teach. I was wondering if there was a way that you were taught [inaudible 01:06:18].
A: Oh, practice? Yeah, I was not super successful at that. I tried to do a daily. I loved beginning anew at retreats. I thought that was great. I’m sure you all experienced that. If you haven’t yet, you’re in for a treat. It was the best, although I still remember one time when my son was like, “I wish you weren’t on email so much.” I didn’t change. I still regret it. But everything else was so beautiful to hear all the things you don’t hear normally.
Let me also say that my partner never practiced, ever.The more I went to sangha, the more I did my practice, and I did meditation, the nicer, better mom I was, the more honest I became, all of that. I need to say that I’m hopeful, and at the same time I’m mad at me right now for saying hard, but I wasn’t able to really pull off that structured home practice with my kids.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t talk about it all the time. Right? Because it was my sangha. I went to sangha and talked about the practice, and how I would sit. They knew that and saw me sitting. They saw me going to sangha, making my sangha friends. I think it meant even more than it did for my people, but if you can do it, more power to you if you can set up a home practice. That’s great. Sorry, I don’t want to be discouraging. You could do it. I’m sure you could, but people just aren’t as-
Q: In this modern society, does online sangha really help?
A: What do you think? Is it good enough for you?
Q: I don’t know.
A: Well, if it’s good enough for you. I mean, it’s not good enough for me. I want to look. I was a massage therapist for a while. [inaudible 01:09:16]. I may do a lot of things online, but I think I need to actually see people, and be with them, and hear them, and be in their presence.
Do you not have access to a sangha? Do you have a sangha?
Q: We do, but sometimes we need to set up a time. It’s awkward.
A: Yeah. I think it’s okay even if you have a mindful parenting sangha that’s just you guys decide when you meet. It doesn’t have to be a regular sangha. It can just be like, “Hey, we’re going to meet this day or whenever we can do it.” You don’t need to make an appointment. If that’s the only option, then definitely that’s better than nothing, for sure. Anybody else? Okay.
Q: I just want to make a comment because you came to Omega, I was probably sitting in the front, it’s just been such a pleasure to see the repetition of the practice in which we hear. There’s a momentum that does build up. There’s a relationship. My children all arrived yesterday. Yesterday, they were so excited to see their friends. I know it’s the same with the parents. There’s a continuation of relationship with mothers, mostly. It’s a gradual process. It does not happen overnight, your practice, your leadership
Parenting is a noble purpose because we are fallible. We make so many mistakes with our children. We make so many. Our society is not too cooperative. Whenever I’m in the grocery store, I learn that.. It’s like we as a community really need to make this obligation to help parents bring up their children. Look at Europe, how much they admire their children. In the United States, our children, we still care for them so much in a bubble. Thay calls the sangha an oasis. It is an oasis. It’s a protection.
A: When you were talking, it makes me think that, really, we come here, at least what I learned was how to love my children better. That was one of the best gifts this practice gave me. The thing that my kids took away from the retreats was the quality of practice of the people that were there. It didn’t really even matter what they did, but to be here around people who had committed their lives to this practice, and who had practiced as deeply as they do, monastics especially, but also the staff sometimes, that is really what they took away was knowing that that is a possibility. That they don’t ever see that on the outside world, people who are that way, that are that grounded and present. This is the only place they experience that. That’s what I found.
Thank you all. We’re going to finish with three sounds from that little bell.