Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2 AM, with open hands and an open heart

Last night I had an enormously powerful experience. My two-year-old son has been having trouble sleeping lately. He wakes up, wants to crawl into bed with my wife and me, then wants to move downstairs to the couch where he demands juice, and eventually wants to return upstairs to our bed. Over and over again this happens in one night. Up and down the stairs. And as the night winds on, he gets more and more tired, and thus less coherent and more frustrated.

At one point, around 2 AM, I came downstairs with him. I was still groggy from having awakened after about two hours sleep. We laid on the couch together for a few minutes before he grew restless again and wanted to walk around.

Eventually my wife joined us. At one point he had a 10-minute temper tantrum while he screamed, "Juice! Juice!" at the top of his lungs. I swear, I don't even want to know what my neighbors think.

It was during this screaming fit that I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing. Now I don't know about you, but a screaming child is the most horrible sound I can imagine hearing. Seriously. It cuts rights through my nerves.

So I just lay there on the living room floor, cuddled with the world's smallest blankets, and listened to him wail. He was utterly inconsolable, but we weren't about to give in to his demands because his appetite for juice is insatiable, and within another twenty minutes he would just demand more.

In about ten years, this might make for an amusing anecdote in my autobiography, but not last night. There was nothing funny about it.

And not just because I was tired and my nerves were fraying. There came a point when I just let down all of my ego defenses and opened myself up to his suffering. I was too tired to think about me. All that mattered was this poor screaming child. He was exhausted, frustrated, and in his mind, all he was wanted was a damn drink of juice. So why wouldn't his parents comply?

Eventually he calmed down and joined my wife on the couch. And we lay there, the three of us, me on the floor, and them on the couch--exhausted beyond belief, but fully there for one another.

I didn't have any mystical empathetic experience. What I did feel was a profound connection to another human being's pain, and for the most amazing ten minutes all I wanted to do was relieve his suffering. Which paradoxically didn't mean that I was going to give him juice, because he had had his share for the night.

What he needed was patience and tenderness, not juice.

It was an amazing moment. It was one of the most profound experiences I have had as a Buddhist and as a father.

The Bodhisattva's Vow, "Beings are numberless, I vow to save...," took on a whole new meaning last night. It was no longer outside of me, a vow to be fulfilled.

It was inside of me; I was it. Now I understand why Avalokiteshvara has so many hands.

Many thanks to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who made this possible. And special thanks to Rev. Lynch for all you have taught me. None of this would be possible without you.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: AmyZZZ1.


  1. Thank you. I can well understand how you came to be the Bodhisattva vow. Sometimes it just takes being pushed....! But hopefully not too often.

    I'll link to this post on Jade. And thanks for following on Twitter too.