Monkey love

October 27th, 2009

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.”

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  1. Last night after sitting one of my favorite co-students (favorite because he asks the questions the rest of us want to) asked our teacher what would help him get past that point, when he was sitting, when he starts asking himself: "Is this it? Am I doing it now? Am I doing it right?"

    My teacher said, very simply, "You can't get it because you never lost it. You are not doing it wrong."

    Comment by Marianne — October 27, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

  2. Fascinating is right! I'll be keeping this topic close to my heart to feel myself grow…what a gift to see in a new way.

    Comment by pixie — October 27, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

  3. Now, I am going to ask you what others may or may not ask–how do you develop this intuition?

    Comment by Anna — October 27, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

  4. It does not need to be developed. It is your nature. Quiet the fearful rattle of the egocentric mind and intuitive knowing arises by itself.

    Sound familiar?

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — October 27, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  5. Sounds familiar. I do feel having grown up in this culture, that intuition, has in a way, been beaten out of us and replaced with a highly-developed egocentric mind.

    I mean, there I was two-weeks ago "reading up" on anything I can get my hands on getting a toddler to sleep. After a few hours I thought to myself, what did our ancestors do before the advent of the printing press?

    Comment by Anna — October 28, 2009 @ 12:22 am

  6. As I often wondered, "What is in our babies' heads before the arrival of language?" And therefore ruminative thought? THAT is something to get back to.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — October 28, 2009 @ 12:43 am

  7. My husband and I had a conversation about intuition yesterday over our morning coffee. I told him that I was always aware of my intuition, but that I only started to trust it when I was nearly forty. It took years of looking back, and saying to myself that I should have followed what I believed instead of listening to outside voices.

    Comment by Bonnie@DailyDalliance — October 28, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  8. I was really touched by the Thomas Keller article–and I might just have to make some bbq chicken in their honor.

    I was also touched, in a negative way, by the original spanking/yelling article (and am coming late to that dance on your blog). I took it all so personally, was one of those parents who felt so criticized by it, so defensive about the yelling I do. Thankfully, after a few days and reading your rant, I'm recovering. And some walking meditation while my kids played in the sunshine on a beautiful fall day helped . . .

    Comment by J — October 28, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  9. Amen to this and your last post, Karen. Thanks for the honesty that allows us to sail above guilt.

    Comment by Meg Casey — October 29, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

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