Years ago I saw Tich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist monk, speak at the Warner Theater in DC. There were two things I remember clearly. Number one, we chanted for about 347 hours. It was chanting and then breathing and it was excruciatingly boring and NOTHING was happening. As he'd end one chant he'd say, 'We are moistening the soil". Thank you very much Tich Nhat, but I'll skip all that moistening of the soil and let's go right into enlightenment and a little peace please, that is, after all, what I paid for. Here's what I wanted, I wanted him to talk for 30 minutes and I wanted all my angst about the past, and fear about the future to melt away, and melt away FOREVER. AND to know, truly, what to do next. To be absolutely be clear about the next right action, and go forth and do said next right action, and then always live in this peaceful and knowing place. Was I asking too much?
Second, Tich Nhat Hanh made the analogy that the Buddha was like the Lotus Flower. Buddha was made up not just of peace and right action, but he was also made up of non-Buddha parts (anger, confusion, shame). Like the Lotus Flower, the Buddah needed the mud and the ugly roots to flourish and grow.
Are you as annoyed as I am right now? We are like the lotus flower, no better then the Buddha. We are all made up of non-Buddha parts. We can't surgically remove the anger, impatience, angst, worry, fear, disappointment from ourselves. We can moisten the soil with laughing, caring for each other and listening. When we moisten the soil we make it easier to loosen the weeds and plant the good stuff to grow and flourish.
With parents I lead an exercise where we go back in our memories and draw a quick picture of our family of origin from around the age of 6ish. We give each person 3 characteristics. Participants share their family for 3-5 minutes. As I sit there, as I have for the last decade, I'm always struck by the universality of our experience. The hurts that run deep in our childhoods, the way we feel like we didn't measure up, or they didn't measure up, permeates all our stories. We believe, if only the childhood would have been different the suffering, pain and confusion would not be here. Alas dear readers, we are all recovering children, we all are looking for that stable ground, for that love, cherishing and acceptance from our parents (or ourselves).
Families are like the lotus flower. We grow from the muck and the mud and if we cleaned it all up, there would be no where for the roots to flourish.
So think of all the reading aloud time, the family dinners, the setting and upholding limits, bickering, family trips, late night snuggles, ginger ale shared on the couch when people are sick, that's the moistening of the soil. The daily rituals, struggles and routines are the chanting. When we finally get to stop and we rest, we see that our beautiful/peaceful family is made up of non-beautiful/non-peaceful parts. And so it is for all of us.