Dharma is intimate, essential, life-giving, practical—so close it is nearly invisible, like a mother for the baby in her womb. Like a tree with its fruits.
Popularly translated simply as support, the word Dharma also gives us levity in a world that speaks only of the laws of gravity. How radical and subtle can real support be?
How trusting, creative, and immediate is life as children of Dharma?
Real happiness lies in growing out of our childishness—impatience, self-importance, dependence—and allowing our childlike joy, immediacy, and open-mindedness to thrive.
Instead of thinking of effortful mindfulness, we can live in a world where going upstairs or putting on a shirt is a wonder.
Where we know we do not know, and therefore we thrive.
Where we are kin to all of life. Our kinship with life teaches us that creativity needs just the kind of specific, unique situations we live in: these parents, that child. We can respectfully acknowledge our ancestry and the way it has imprinted us with genetic potentials and limitations, as well as bonds of love. And then allow life's creativity to grow something honest and fresh out of that very ground.
One of the best ways to grow this freshness and maturity is to be with children, as part of spiritual life—as part of a life so naturally spirited that we do not need to call it "spiritual."
We have all been children (if we are not right now).
We are not all parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adopted aunts and uncles. Not everyone even likes to be around children. But if we are adults right now, we were once babies, toddlers, and children. We spent months floating in fluid inside someone else's body. We learned to say yes, and no, and me and you and us.
Being with children can help us grow in the areas where life has not quite yet come to fruition.
And being with children with our tender hearts and as much wisdom as we can muster, may help generations to come grow out of the ways humans are currently repeating history.
Recent generations are the first in memory or perhaps history to grow up in relative social isolation. Most people in industrialized cultures have not seen a baby being born. Young parents often do not spend much time with babies or children until they are immersed in caretaking their own. (For this reason, we include, even on this Dharma website, a list of practical resources for pregnancy and parenting—books that can help stand in for the extended families or communities that are not there informing, or misinforming, and supporting you.)
However, this deficit of child-rearing role models can provide an opening in history for us to let practices of family and Dharma revolutionize each other.
We can take in the advice of previous generations, but tender it with our own present wisdom, where love takes precedence over idea, shame, and habit.
Children are natural teachers because they widen our view of what is important. They remind us that wonder—a bus! A worm!—is one of the gatekeepers to enlightenment in some traditions.
They remind us that what I thought I wanted to do is not the only option.
They remind us of how exposed we are, how vulnerable to each other—and how, despite ridicule and criticism, we can stand firmly and openly, doing our best and continually learning.
They remind us to be so utterly grounded—first in love and what life is about and secondly in essentials like food and sleep—that we can fly together with the unexpected way life is expressing and taking care of those essentials today.
They remind us that love is always most important: how is wisdom going to move and speak right now?
Ever since the times of Gautama Buddha, Dharma communities have tended to separate spiritual from family life.
We have a chance to mend that gap, letting life show its seamless fabric of challenge and tenderness.
Whatever our relationship to actual children, we can finish growing up—accepting challenges as privileges, and letting real life, with all its surprises, be the center of our lives.