May 20, 2008

When my son was three he got in trouble. I assume that's what happened but I don't actually remember any details. What I do remember is that I sent him to his room for a time out. In our house the "punishment" of time out means you are sent to your room to think. When you feel you are done thinking you are free to end your own time out. It is self controlled. (And gosh, I haven't sent anyone to time out in over 4 years.) Henry had kept himself in time out so long that I went to check on him. I found him curled in a ball sobbing.

I scooped him up and rocked him and asked him what was so very deeply wrong. These tears could not be connected to any crime. Henry has never committed any such crime as that. These were serious tears. His sweet little body was awash. And he told me he was afraid of dying.

Well, our family's spirituality is undefined. And while I am not an atheist neither am I a Christian. (As I've said here before, I don't think Jesus ever intended Christianity.) But you should have been there to hear the heavens open and the arch angels start flying out of my mouth. I held him close and I told him that when we die our spirits become angels that live in heaven forever. I told him not to worry. I told him all manner of things that shocked me as I said them. And he was soothed and we carried forth with our day. His Nana had recently died. It must have been on his mind.

Later, when my daughter turned up with similar tears for similar reasons I told her something similar. To which she replied, "Well then, can we sew our wings to each other so we are always together, Mommy?" I pointed out it might be hard to fly with our wings stitched together. I suggested we hold hands instead. She felt we might need to add some glue. "Let's glue them then, Mommy."

Are you crying now, because I am. Did I lie to them? They were just babies. What does happen when we die? My beliefs run closer to the Buddhist idea of cycle and layer and process cloaked in illusion. Does that ultimately resolve in Nirvana? Do we ultimately melt into one? Are we, in fact, all a reflection of God? I think, perhaps. So I wasn't lying. And I do feel completely certain there are layers of reality we people do not understand.

When I was six I had a dream. In my dream I was a particle of air. That's the best way I can describe it. The air is alive. Each particle of air is a being. Being a particle of air is amazingly fun. Fun doesn't express it. The air is full of good will. The air is happy, expansive, infinite. The dream was a good one. When I woke up I stayed still in bed and ran through the whole thing in my mind. I remember it vividly. And I had the striking thought: that was no dream. That was a memory. I remembered what it was like before I was born.

At about 9 my father took me outside to see the stars. Looking back, he was miserable. He was having an affair. He was on the brink of leaving my mother. I don't know if I knew he was about to leave. But what child escapes an intuitive grasp of their parents pain?

That night in my bed, I looked at my mortality. Then I realised all people die. Then I realised the world would die. Then I was floating in an empty universe. No wind. No light. The physical feeling of these thoughts were not much different then, than they are now. It feels like being struck by lightening on the inside. Seared. Shrieking extreme fear.

Did I go tell anyone? Did I seek my Mommy? Did I even cry? Of course not. I wasn't raised that way. I lay there and I dealt with it. I have been dealing with it ever since.

My son is worried about death again. I see him in pain. I try very hard not to project onto my children. But he has come to me crying and worried and we have talked. We are not stitching on wings at this point. And I feel inadequate to soothe him completely. What to tell him? How to pull him out of the black void?

More importantly, is he in the black void? I am limited to what I can address, by his own ability to express what he is feeling and thinking. I can not project my fear onto his. I must hear what he shares and deal with exactly that. Otherwise, I risk expanding his fear rather than offering refuge.

But here is what I want to tell him. I have noticed that when I am well rested and well fed and peaceful, my heart has no doubt. Life is fundamentally safe. Humans are small and limited and broken, true. But there is so much more than we know. Life is mysterious, magical, spiritual, and ultimately safe. My heart knows this. And I have no problem or hesitation in whispering a prayer of thanks nor in placing my trust and guiding the actions of my life toward that safe feeling - the direct perception of what I call God. Information comes from that place and it offers literal guidance: Do Not Buy That Land. It offers shelter from the most shrieking of fear. It illuminates goodness and safer passage.

Conversely, when I am exhausted, in a major transition, malnourished, or deeply frightened my mind overrides my heart. My mind starts kneading its own form of logic into my heart's navigational system. Doubt takes hold. Cold rationality stomps to the door. Life feels dark, more painful, threatening.

It has taken me all these years of my life to recognise this pattern. The pattern looks suspiciously dualistic, which dovetails nicely with those Buddhists. That comforts me. I find it very easy to be suspicious of my mind's doubt. Fear comes calling when I am depleted and sorry? What truth hangs on a bad diet and lack of exercise and dogs weakness like a predator? No Ma'am. My mind is all too self absorbed and small. I'll place my faith in my heart. I've noticed it tends to expansion and possibility and positivity.

That is the best comfort I have to offer my children. Their hearts are sound, deep, and home to mysterious and profound goodness. Go there, into your heart, where it is safe. And when you feel the void and the fear? Put it down for the moment, tell yourself you will look at it later. Return to those thoughts after you sleep, eat, and exercise. If you can dispel mortality with a nap, how deep can it be?

And finally, if all is lost in the void and if the greatest truth is non, we can do no better than Louis Armstrong. I was feeling the void and driving and listening to "What A Wonderful World" when it hit me that this fear is a waste of time. Is it true? Who cares. We can do no better than working hard and appreciating our lives Right Now. Time spent in the void of fear only siphons away the time you have left to life. So put it down and Go Live.

And that dovetails with those Buddhists as well. So if you are really lost, go take literal refuge in that community. And spend some time in your life in meditation. There is no better way to open your heart.

6 comments:

Maria said...

As always: Wow. There is SO much I would like to say to this...starting from the first paragraph and ending with the last...so many thoughts buzzing in my mind on this subject. But I only have this comment page. and could go on and on...perhaps this is best discussed over blueberries and lobster someday?? :)

Katherine said...

Oh, but do go on if you like. The thing I forgot was this. A question. What do you all tell your children? And how do you handle the pain?

MOM #1 said...

You really gave me alot to think about. I also like Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." I think you summed it up nicely.

Mommylion said...

Katherine. You rock. How is it you are so able to say all the real stuff. So well, and neatly packaged? You should write a 'thinking mom's guide to inner peace' book or something along those lines. I'd buy it. I have so much inside of me on this topic. Sorry in advance if my answer is long. It’s also been on my mind lately due to my sensitive son.

I have one child who is very logical. She's the one who has never once hesitated to eat meat since 'We have teeth made for meat and vegetables, so why feel bad about eating meat, when we are supposed to'. No weeping over the animals for that one. She also believes that when we die our bodies turn to earth and our essence, spirit whatever... turns to energy. The great recycle, so to speak. Although she was feeling a bit vengeful the other day and decided she thinks that bad people just turn to nothing. I asked her who decides who is bad and who is good and she said how we act changes our cells. Where'd she come from?

My boy has feared death since age 2. It started with him asking. Who made us? Who made everything? He revisits and revises his views on death often. His imaginary friends try on different beliefs. One has been reincarnated 12 times and believes in 5 gods. Ds wants to believe in reincarnation. He is hopeful for ‘together forever, everything the same’, yet you sense the doubt and fear in his eyes when he talks of it.

My kids where unschooling Christianity for awhile thanks to a playmobil nativity set, art history lessons and just us talking in general. They know that people believe different things, they know the basics of a few different options. They know what I believe. We talk about it all. I am honest on what I feel and how I came to that belief. I let them explore, ask questions. I try to be gentle. I compare death to birth, since we cannot remember before birth, yet here we are. We cannot yet know what comes after death, yet here we are, today, so let’s make it worth it. So I guess I teach my kids what we know. We know we are here now, together now, responsible for ourselves now. We try to live simply and happily.

I have been reading more about Buddhism lately and have seen much of what I believe on that path. In fact I read a great blog post on zenhabits.net today with an interview from the Dalai Lama that has stuck with me all day. Here's a quote from it, "Excise negative emotions, and along the way, learn to dismiss negative emotions as they arise, so they do not disturb your inner strength." I guess that is how I deal with the pain that comes from the fear of death and unknown. I try to just acknowledge the unknown but keep it devoid of fear and negativity. Just a head nod and use it as a reminder to be gentler with my kids, day and self. Since today is what we have. Not in a fatalistic way though. Grateful.

Katherine said...

Mommylion, Thank You! K

robin said...

thank you for touching my heart with the truth you share.
much love and blessings,
~robin