Anyone who has ever spent time with a three-year-old knows that, in addition to being either hilarious or nerve-wracking, kids are great teachers. They retrain us to see the wonder and mystery in the world, to marvel at butterflies and clouds--all the things we as adults have grown too jaded to appreciate. But this week I learned that children and adults are not that different.
I played Mr. Mom this week while my wife worked--just me, my three-year-old daughter, and nine-month-old son. As I struggled to juggle what my wife can do with her eyes closed, I learned something from my daughter's temper tantrums: I'm like a giant three-year-old! As adults, we condescendingly tell children to "Relax," or "It's not a big deal," or my favorite, "This will pass; you'll see." But how willing are we to take our own medicine? Not very.
I watched, fascinated, as my daughter had a meltdown because she couldn't finish watching a cartoon before nap time, all the while thinking, "What's the big deal?" Meanwhile, if I'm interrupted while I'm reading or I want to go to the gym but have to wait fifteen minutes, I'm every bit as anxious, self-centered, and unreasonable.
Zen practice forces us to confront our ego--not in combat, but in accepting awareness. We're not trying to change anything about ourselves (although that is a likely side effect), but rather to shine the light of awareness on those habitual thoughts, tacit beliefs, and routine behaviors that drag us around by the nose. And the more awake we are to the present, the more aware we are of our karmic predispositions and unconscious drives, the less likely we are to be hijacked by greed and anger. A space opens, and we are free to make our own choices
And so, as uncomfortable and humbling as this revelation is, only good can come of it. It's like Pandora's Box; there's no shutting it now, no turning back. Now that I've spotted the behavior, I can't turn a blind eye to it; I have to face it and own it. Easier said than done--the ego is like a vampire: it hates being exposed to the light and is ferocious when cornered. Oh well, no one said Zen was easy!
It's also helpful as a parent: now I can try to be more understanding when my daughter is having a meltdown, because I know how frustrating it is not to get my way--even as a so-called "responsible" adult.
So after a week in baby boot camp, I learned that there are two three-year-olds in my house: my daughter and me. Not surprisingly, I don't feel the need to tell my wife; I'm sure she's known the all along!