First, I want to thank all the commentators on my last post, even those who told me off. I will let you off the hook for not liking me. It’s easy enough to let us someone off the hook, since there is no hook except the one I invent with my judgment and expectations.
What I want to explore is where we get the sense that we are so inept at parenting. Where does that judgment come from? It’s a fascinating piece of self-inquiry.
Once I gave what I judged to be a good talk at my Zen Center about the extraordinary challenges of parenting. The parents in the room nodded in solidarity. Why, oh why, was it so hard to do it well, to do it right? Ours was the most difficult job in the world! The discussion wound on and on, going nowhere, until my teacher gave a harrumph.
“Even monkeys can raise their young!” he said.
“Raise them badly,” I thought at the time, taking his comment to be little more than the rude evidence of his unique insensitivity. “He might have been a father,” I reassured myself, “but he was never a mother!” Mothers, I knew firsthand, could be the unrivaled experts at doing difficult things. With an extra degree of difficulty, I might add.
Some of us take at face value the conventional wisdom that “parenting is not intuitive.” It sounds true, since we judge ourselves to be so bad at it. But that would mean that human beings are the only species on the planet without the intuitive capacity to raise their young. That sounds false.
There is something that inhibits us, but I don’t think it’s intuition. After all, we have a boundless store of intuitive wisdom that functions miraculously with no interference from us. That’s what I wrote about in a column that ran yesterday on Shambhala Sunspace. No, what sets us apart from monkeys and all other mothers in the animal kingdom is our intellect. Our higher-order thinking, wherein resides knowledge, comprehension, analysis and judgment. Intellect is useful, but it is limited. Intuition is mysterious, and it is boundless.
Knowledge is acquired, but wisdom is revealed. Each has its place, until we come to the matter of judgment, critical judgment of ourselves and others. This is where the hooks are – the shoulds, the bests, the rights and wrongs, the perfect and imperfect, the not good enoughs. We must be careful when we ensnare ourselves in judgment, because there is no love there, not even monkey love, and that’s the most irresistible kind.
Edited to add: This link to a redemptive story in today’s Times for all of us so preoccupied with “how things will turn out.”