Recently, a mother posted a query to our metaphysics group asking for advice about schooling for her one year old daughter. She was concerned about making sure that her daughter was challenged but also focused on giving her daughter opportunities to learn a spiritual wisdom tradition. Her concern was that public schools might not provide all of the opportunities to learn that her daughter could benefit from.
The following essay is drawn in part from my response to her.
First of all, please let me respond to your concern about waiting until she’s “too old” to teach her about or expose her to a wisdom tradition. Is there really such a thing as “too old?” Certainly, some people come to a realization of the value of their consciousness and how to use it earlier in life than others, but each person comes to things when he or she is ready. I have met several young people who seem to have a much deeper working knowledge of mental hygiene and success principles than I remember having when I was younger, yet many of them tend, in my experience, to have a relatively narrow focus. Their insight, abilities, and levels of success and happiness are indeed advanced, but their abilities to understand and make meaningful connections across disparate traditions and to find value in even common and difficult circumstances seem to be limited, generally speaking.
I am beginning to suspect that perhaps the times of late childhood, teen, and early adulthood are times when a young person goes through a period of personal turmoil and self-definition perhaps reflective of the transitional states of neurological development and restructuring in the brain that occur throughout those years.
During this time of life, the brain grows and develops radically and rapidly. As connections proliferate and then are pruned in the brain, certain things may from time to time literally fail to connect. It has been observed that functionally, this bears a striking resemblance to brain damage. Of course, it is actually a natural part of growth and development, nonetheless, it might be the case that some degree of turmoil is inevitable during those ages, regardless of the type of training received in childhood.
I’m inclined to believe that a young person raised to practice self awareness will tend to have less difficulty in an absolute sense than someone who hasn’t, however, I suspect that the personal experience from the young person’s perspective might tend to misery. In other words, although my child may do well compared to me when I was his age or compared to his peers, perhaps his experience of his life is full of things that he felt were hard.
On the other hand, I imagine that there are cases in which family, school, community, and religion align perfectly so that a growing child’s life is happy and turmoil-free from birth through say the third or fourth decade of life, however, I wonder how flexible and robust such a person’s worldview and attitudes are likely to be. It’s commonly accepted that the way to raise a spoiled child is to make sure that she gets whatever she wants. I once read in a parental discipline book that the role of a parent is to frustrate the child whenever his demands become unreasonable or inconsiderate. Would raising a child in a completely turmoil-free manner create a monster?
Perhaps there is a link between the degree of difficulty that a person experiences and her ability to transcend difficulty and distractions in life. Gautama didn’t begin his journey to become the Buddha until after he realized that suffering exists and he didn’t transcend suffering as the Buddha until after he understood suffering from personal experience. If he had stayed in his father’s palace, enjoying his family and wealth, he would have not become the Buddha, even if he knew about suffering as an abstraction.
As an aside, it is interesting to recall that Gautama was foretold to be destined to either become a great spiritual master and teacher or to become a great military leader and conqueror. If he had stayed within the palace grounds and embraced his wife and son as part of a life that was defined by the world, he might have been impelled by his awareness of suffering to try to wipe it out. This might easily have translated into mounting war to bring the benefits of abundance to as many people as he could and thereby to ease or eliminate their suffering.
The wisest, richest, happiest, and most serene people I know have grown that way not because of their early childhood training, but because of what they discovered in themselves as they met and transcended the demons of pain, fear, suffering, and distraction in their lives, just as the Buddha did. In meeting and transcending these demons, we learn from first hand discovery not only that we are capable of transcending them and healing our wounds, but also what such demons are and where they come from. We grow in power and wisdom and eventually discover from personal experience the source and nature of wisdom and power.
Perhaps these are things that cannot be taught. Perhaps in trying to raise a child in traditions that we have found useful, we simply invite him or her to become brittle and deaf to the wisdom in a tradition different from the one we were raised in (and grew to be deaf and brittle to). One person may easily feel inspired by Judaism or Christianity and convert into that faith at the same time that someone else may go in the opposite direction for the same reasons.
In the end, intuition tells me that observing my own practices and sharing the benefits of my practice through my accepting presence and love is the most important factor. By being open with my child about what I understand as well as what I am as yet unclear about (but am sitting with) about the world and myself, I set an example and offer insights into a living process of growth and opening to wisdom. The child can follow it or not, use it as a launching point for creation/discovery of his own practices or not, as he chooses.
In this way, we can provide living examples of the tools in use and how the wisdom they lead to is recognized and received. This may be the most important and powerful lesson that we can offer our children.
In my case, I consciously realized that I would not always be able to protect my son and that he would want to be recognized and honored for his decisions, just as I wanted to be honored as I was growing up. I started by acknowledging that he made good decisions to the extent that he was able to make decisions – which, of course, has grown as he has grown – and let him know that I had confidence in his decisions. This provided a foundation and a forum within which we could (and can and do) discuss decisions. As he has grown, our discussions have grown from explaining things and decisions that I have made to probing his thinking, expectations, and decision process and possibly offering suggestions or challenges (or possible consequences) for him to consider but always with the understanding that he is naturally expected to follow his own sense of what is right with my support.
Of course, this also means that he takes responsibility for his decisions with my support. I have “taken him to task” and reminded him of his responsibilities and opportunities for change more than once in this vein. Sometimes he realizes that he hasn’t been fully aware of how his decisions have affected others or himself and sometimes he has made decisions knowing their possible ramifications. In either case, he has ultimately always taken responsibility for himself and his choices.
Spiritual enlightenment is essentially being aware. As I grow more aware of the myriad ways in which I have fallen into habitual shortcuts in how I perceive, receive, and act in the world, I find that with greater awareness comes greater choice and freedom. As I am aware of how I behave, I can choose to exercise a different way of being. In the same fashion, recognizing and accepting responsibility opens the possibility of exercising choice, even to the extent of changing a decision I have made in the past. Without awareness and responsibility, such choice and change are not possible. Perhaps this is why suffering and transcending suffering is linked with enlightenment.
Parents have by far the greatest impact in a child’s life. Although it would probably be better if school and culture (including TV, music, video games, etc.) were all in alignment with you, even if none of them were, your daughter will learn the deepest lessons from you. The manner in which you live your life and in which you treat yourself, her, and other people in your lives together will be the most important factor. When we live well, life is good. What better lesson could we hope to pass on?
© 2013, David Park. All Rights Reserved.
”Passing On the Gift” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.