Even the Divine Ones Cannot Fathom This
I don't know if this current generation of children is any different than those that came before, but I certainly know as a middle aged practitioner of traditional medicine, the coming of our first child Maitreya was a far greater event than my arrival was for my parents in the 1960s. During my daughter's first months, our house seemed to be swimming in divine pheromones, and I joked that if we were in India, we'd be carrying my daughter about on an altar, offering incense, and singing to her throughout the day.
All joking aside, our spiritual practice did quickly change as we became aware of how important the task was that we had been given: to not pass on the mechanical ways of being that caused such suffering in our families and our culture at large to our newly-arrived child.
It came as a real delight, therefore, when I realized the good folks in the Native American Church seriously loved their children. During my first teepee, in the early morning hours, bleary eyed from intense dreams and the long vigil at the sacred fire, I beheld a handful of big guys, accompanied by a water drum, vigorously chanting: "Daddy loves his little one. She's his morning star. Daddy loves his little one. May she live in joy with every day..."
Newly come into fatherhood myself, I was thoroughly charmed. Our own child had come into the world accompanied by the icaros (medicine songs) I had learned from my own maestro in the Amazonian tradition of medicine work, but precious little of my experience with shamanic song had been addressed to children, with such a strong communal embrace. To discover that the Native American Church sings many songs to bless "all the children of the world" during their ceremonies was satisfying indeed.
There are unsuspected depths within these indigenous ways, and I soon found I had only glimpsed the surface of the Native American's love for their little ones.
In another ceremony, I sat listening to a traditional tale told by a member of the Diné, or Navaho, tribe, who had come to co-lead the work. He spoke of the sacred dimension in children, reminiscent of Christ's teaching that children already live in the Kingdom of Heaven and we must become as one of them to enter therein. Here's the story, as I recall it:
After the creation of human beings, the gods realized they had to make a special dispensation for this new race of beings who appeared too helpless and maladapted to their environment to survive. As they sat in council weighing the matter, a little human baby played in the far corner of the hogan. Absorbed in their deliberations, they didn't notice that a beam of light had entered through the door and traversed the length of the hogan to strike the wall just above the baby. Fascinated, the child reached up and, taking hold of the light beam, pulled himself up, leaning upon it with wobbly legs. Then a second beam cut through the interior, striking the wall just above the first. Seeing this, the baby threw his blanket over the first beam and clambered up it to reach it. Pulling himself on top of the second beam, he sat there gurgling contentedly. At that moment, the divine ones looked up from their council and beheld the child balancing upon the light beams. Astonished and wide-eyed, they pointed at him and whispered among themselves, "Look at that child! How did he just do that?"
"Those were the divine ones," the storyteller concluded, "and even THEY couldn't understand the wonderful capacity that little children have!"
The truly miraculous power of children hit home at the conclusion of another practice within the church: the sweat lodge.
It felt like a night of open-heart surgery for all within the darkened cavern. As the water poured with prayers for healing and guidance upon the red-hot stones, the steam and heat began sloughing off layers of anger and shame in each of us. My own tears came, as I recalled my daughter's bouts of anguish, her cries emerging from depths that felt impossible for me to reach and made me realize the primal rawness of this human inheritance.
My hand, swollen and bandaged the evening of the sweat lodge, was still recovering from a fracture caused when I punched a wall in response to my daughter's heart-rending cries a month earlier - an action I confessed to in the lodge as I finally started to come to terms with my self-destructive actions.
At the ceremony's conclusion, I crawled out into the cool night air. Enveloped by the night, I made my way to the water hose, doused myself and drank deeply. I then rested, still in prayer, in front of the fire where the stones still radiated their force among the coals. Here I asked my daughter Maitreya's forgiveness for all my shortcomings as a father, aware of how through fear, I had grown callous, repeating the old saw, "We all survived these things and came out okay..."
Then I understood the divine nature of my daughter, her effortless perfection unsurpassed even by the holy ones. I felt my face relax and open as I gazed into the sky, and a deep, ineluctable joy emerged. "If it is impossible to get impatient with my daughter," I asked, "how can I get angry with my wife, who I love as well?"
All the complications of adult communication rolled over me -- all the implicit and explicit demands and concessions of married life. Yet did not my wife share the same fundamental nature as my daughter? Do we not all equally share in the marvelous abundance of Maitreya, the one-thus-come?
In fact, don't all beings share in it? I asked the night sky.
My anguish dissolved, and I found myself ranging with wild exuberance through the Buddhist practice of extending compassion to all beings, charging into the most distressed regions of my memory and discovering that there, too, lo and behold, Maitreya's nature remained true!
Fear is like a magician's deception, the ancient texts tell us, for the nature of the cosmos is as pure as my daughter's nature. What had been a laborious struggle before - to extend unlimited compassion - became as unfettered as an eagle's soaring. I was freed by my daughter's unsurpassable grace. I reflected with delicious irony on my child's nickname - Maitri, or "loving kindness" in Sanskrit - which is the very act I had just been practicing.
"All beings by nature are Maitreya," I murmured like a mantra. It had taken my nine month old daughter to finally open my eyes to what the sages had been trying to teach me for decades.
We've had centuries of obscuring of our children's divine nature: the Augustinian Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, the privileging of language and reason over direct, primitive apprehension, the Freudian theory of polymorphous perversity in children, and the list goes on...
Clearly, it struck me that it is time to start listening to our indigenous elders, to correct our distorted views, and to start working with their medicines to restore clarity. This new generation offers us a seed, a giving forth of a "fresh shoot so fair".
I would like to invite readers of this article to share their own encounters with the divinity of children, or to share meaningful teaching stories from other indigenous cultures, or to weigh in on whether there really is a generational difference happening now. I'd love to hold a cybernet teepee with y'all.
Images by dinoboy-Eric Huang, used courtesy of a Creative Commons license.Tweet