There are many experiences that are simply part of being human that naturally move us away from self-centeredness.
As we get older, we’re forced to recognize our limitations, to rely more on others, to be more patient with our bodies– all of which has the potential to chip away at the image we have of ourselves and how we’d like to be seen. While many people resist, aging can be a doorway into shifting our focus toward developing ourselves in a way that few of us are motivated to do when we have young bodies and feel like we’ll live forever.
While old age is certainly naturally spiritualizes us, I think that the same could be said for having children (as well as for many other experiences, like falling in love, or communing with nature).
Irrespective of whether one has consciously taken up a spiritual path, the process of having children forces you to learn to put someone else’s needs before your own. This is really the heart of what all spiritual practices ask us do to. In many respects, kids allow our practice to progress more quickly than it might otherwise.
Confronted with a fussy, crying child, I really have no choice but to develop patience. Rocking him in my arms is an exercise in staying present (I thought I could get away with multitasking, and read or watch youtube videos at the same time, but even though he seemed to be asleep, he knew when my attention wasn’t fully on him!). Looking into his curious eyes has the potential to ripen my awareness of the preciousness and mystery of life. All of this is done naturally, with joyous, spontaneous effort.
I’ve thought about the fact that this experience is coming to me when I am 30 years old (Giulia is 34) and how, just a few generations ago, we would be considered latecomers to parenting. There’s part of me that worried that I still wasn’t ready, since I felt like a kid in so many ways, despite my years of exploration and meditation. I looked at many people I knew from high school who have kids and thought, how could they (or anyone for that matter!) possibly be ready to welcome a child at the age of 22 or 24 or even 27? Don’t we really need more time to come to know who we are before coming to know our children?
Then I realized that perhaps those people who have had kids “early” were learning something that I could not, in ways I could not. There I was on a meditation cushion in India, disciplining myself into waking up at 4AM, when anyone who has a child knows that you do this naturally!
I was reading about the importance of loving kindness, going through visualizations to embrace all beings, when anyone who has a child knows that this softening comes naturally (I’ve noticed how I’ve begun to see everyone I cross on the street as they were when they were babies).
We don’t need a system or a secret revelation to learn all this: it’s built into our biology!
And it’s no coincidence nearly everyone says that raising kids is their greatest source of happiness.
Well duh! Children are the ultimate opportunity to move beyond your ego-based self!
That’s what spiritual practice asks us to do. And when we do this, whether with a child, a spouse, or in volunteer work, it naturally brings us happiness.
While it’s great that we have meditation techniques, prayers, and yoga practices to bring us beyond ourselves, I think it’s also pretty convenient that there are so many experiences that can do this which are simply woven into the fabric of who we are. It’s part of our wiring as living beings.