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Staying at Home Dancing with the Universe

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by Amaragita

Staying at Home, Dancing with the Universe

By Amaragita

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=LOC5
Talk given at Buddhafield Festival, 2006


[Introducer speaking]
Ok, so this is Amaragita.

[Amaragita speaking]
We’ll just do it together, so it starts:

[Amaragita singing (Audience repeating)]
In, out (in, out)
Deep, slow (deep, slow)
Breathing in, I calm my body (breathing in, I calm my body)
Breathing out, I am smiling (breathing out, I am smiling)
How wonderful is now (how wonderful is now)

[Everyone singing]
In, out
Deep, slow
Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I am smiling
How wonderful is now

In, out
Deep, slow
Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I am smiling
How wonderful is now

[Amaragita speaking]
Just do a three breath meditation.

[Introducer speaking]
So this is Amaragita: songstress, wayfarer, mother – what else? Human being. “Stay at home,
dance with the universe.” Amaragita.

[Amaragita speaking]
Welcome, thank you for being here. So I just thought I'd share with you some questions and
thoughts about parenting as a spiritual practice. But actually, just before we start, I thought I'd like
to ask people – anyone who’s got anything there – just to say (those of you who are parents) –
what’s a current challenge that you’re in right now about being a parent?

[Audience members]
Making real contact with them.
Reducing scream time without pain.
Thirteen, I’m finding very difficult.

[Amaragita speaking]
Thirteen, what about thirteen?

[Audience members]
That age, I’m finding difficult; not a child anymore, just kind of in between.
Being present as you play with them. How to be present and play when you’re thinking about 101 other things.

Anyone else? Current challenge?

[Audience members]
I would say lack of connection of any kind – I’ve got a thirteen year old who is kind of... gone.
Making choices about what I want to do in my life that will affect her life – and the kind of anxiety
about – if I do what I feel I want, my desires and things – will they be good for her?

[Amaragita talking]
So hopefully we can get round (I'm not going to give a very long talk) to some of these issues that
people have raised, and just reflect and talk and see if we can give each other some pointers.

The false dichotomy between family life and spiritual life

I think the thing that I start with is, for me, quite a fundamental schism in my psyche about whether
or not to have children. I started my spiritual practice 19 years ago and I never actually had a very
strong sense of, ‘I want to have children and get married and live happily ever after’. That just
never was my dream, it just wasn’t there. And there was a very, very strong aspect of me that was
like, ‘Absolutely not; I will not do that’. And I remember seeing somebody who was an Order
Member who got pregnant once, and I then remember seeing her get pregnant again, and I
remember this thought in my head was like, ‘Oh my God! How could she?’ There was this aspect of
me that was just, ‘Absolutely not! That is just not the way if you are true spiritual seeker’. And yet
the older I got, as I went through life – as I was practising, going on more and more retreats – there
was this little (I don’t know quite what it was) aspect of my being that would just tug, ‘Please can I
have a baby? Please, can I please have one?’ [And I’d reply] ‘Don't be ridiculous, we’re on a
serious matter here. We're not going to trouble ourselves with that!’ [And it would tug again]
‘Please can I have one?! Please, just a little one!’ And this voice just started getting stronger and
stronger. And I remember once being at one of the retreat centres, at Tiratanaloka, just having this
absolutely excruciating pain, where I really felt that there were these two aspects of my being that
felt like they couldn’t both coexist. And I was just crying my heart out, just crying and crying at the
fact I couldn’t have both. I felt like I just couldn’t have both, and somehow that felt like a real
obstacle to my spiritual path.

Then I read later on, someone said, ‘If you were walking down a road and you came to a sign – and
you knew that this was a vital signpost – on the one side it said, “Life, that way”, and then it said,
“That way is Enlightenment”. Life. Enlightenment. And you’re standing there; which are you
going to choose?’ Which are you going to choose, c’mon? And what was really interesting in this
book I was reading, was that it was actually saying that that is the false dichotomy that a lot of
religious practice sets up; and actually it really isn’t that. It really, really isn’t that. (I was like this
blubbering heap at the bottom of the signpost, all soggy and limp and not thinking I could go either

It is very real, I don’t think we can avoid that issue: that what is considered real, true spiritual
practice takes place (our consideration of it takes place) in monasteries, on hills, in caves; it doesn't
take place in the midst of family life. In my stereotyped idea of what a spiritual practitioner is, it’s
certainly not someone who’s changing nappies (if I think about my archetypes of what that is).
There is this very real tradition – the Buddha left his family, he went forth from his family, he said,
‘No, in order to find the truth, this is what I need to do. I need to leave that, I need to go forth from
that’ – so we’ve got some pretty powerful images about what it is to be a true spiritual practitioner,
a true dharma warrior; and there are not many images out there that encompass true spiritual
Dharma practitioners with children.

Going beyond simply trying to find tranquillity; the thousand Dharma-doors in parenting

And yet we know that, in the lay life, it is possible to practice; people tell us that. (And we think,
‘Yeah, you’re just telling us that to be kind’ [when they say] ‘You can practice with children; it is
possible... if you try very hard’.) And, I think, one of the first things when we look at practice –
pretty much the first stage that you’re trying to enter into – is tranquillity. In order to have access to
our Buddha-nature – which is kind of buried (it’s present, it’s there, but it’s buried underneath all of
the conditioning) – one of the first prerequisites seems to be that we need tranquillity; so that all of
that business – some of that fog, that ignorance that is there – begins to settle, begins to calm down.
So, tranquillity, compassion and then insight. So, one of the things with the lay life, life with
children – the first stumbling block – is tranquillity. Where do you get it? Certainly, in the first ten
years, it’s pretty hard to come by. So I think people just take one look at that, and you fail at the
first hurdle. But they don’t realise that beyond the tranquillity phase of the spiritual life – in terms
of the compassion and in terms of the insight – there is a huge amount that can be drawn into.

So, I think one of the interesting things is that, we’re in a time now where it is actually possible
more and more. For lots of different reasons – historically and socially – how hard life used to be,
domestically. Now we have a lot more time than in the past. I think there are different conditions
now; there’s more available for us to be able practise within our current conditions as householders,
as lay people. One of the things I find intriguing about the universe and life is that there are so
many different gateways in. So if you think about – like in alternative medicine – iridology. And
apparently, the whole of the body, you can read it in an eye. (Then there’s the foot; the whole body,
you can look at it on your foot. And you can look at it in other places. In your ear, apparently, as
well; all the different organs, you can locate them in your ear.) It’s like, in any one part of your
body, everything else lives. And it’s the same – my intuitive sense is that, if you keep looking
deeply enough into anything, everything is there – I think it’s the same with parenting as a spiritual
practice. There’s a lot that can put you off it, on the surface; but if you keep looking, and you keep
going deep enough, there are a thousand Dharma-doors in parenting, in the family life. If you can
find the universe in a grain of sand, then surely you can find it in the whole of family life!

But it’s hard. One of the main reasons that it’s hard, is that part of practice is about trying to get a
perspective – a big enough perspective – on ourselves. We just get bogged down in thinking that
we’re ‘this’ and that’s all we are; we have this perspective. And actually, what spiritual practice is
trying to get us to do, is to see our ourselves ...

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