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Thoughts on Mother’s Day

In Buddhist tradition, all beings are considered to have been one’s mother at some moment in the long history of existence. It is held that, this being the case, cultivating loving kindness for all others by thinking of them as your mother is a fundamental and helpful way to develop bodhichitta (the wish for enlightenment), the primary, driving force behind practice.

As this mindset and way of thinking are decidedly not the norm for humans, there are a variety of practices devoted to setting this perspective of ultimate compassion into one’s mind and nourishing it.

The tonglen practice (translating to “giving and receiving”) is a breathing/meditation exercise wherein one imagine or places into mind the suffering of another (or many others) and visualizes “taking” that suffering into oneself with the inhalation of breath and, in its place, “giving” peacefulness and relief with the exhalation of the breath.

The practice of equanimity meditation involves a similar visualization as in tonglen, but the focus is set upon first imagining one’s closest loved ones and visualizing extending one’s love to them, then exchanging that group of others for a group of total strangers, and finally, extending it toward one’s “enemies” or those that one perceives have wronged or injured oneself or those for whom one cares.

The practice of meditating upon ultimate compassion is similar to the above two, but focuses instead upon visualizing every other being upon this earth as being one’s mother and cultivating the feeling of care, kindness, and generosity that one associates with the “perfect” mother and child relationship.

On this day in particular, and given my various experiences with motherhood (mine in relation to my children as well as mine in relation to the two women I have known as “mother” in this life), each of these practices have particular benefit for me. I find that their engagement not only allows me to correct my own thoughts in relation to my experiences and perceived injuries or pains, but that the act of practice along these lines helps me to realize that all humans long for and benefit from the kind of compassion that such practice supports.

Because of the above, when I think of Mother’s Day, I tend first to think of and be thankful for the gift of having had two mothers in my life; but I also now think of and am thankful for the many people who have, in various ways and for various reasons, been as a mother to me throughout this life. Whether or not one believes as Buddhists believe, it should still be simple enough to recognize the underlying truism: All humans want to be cared for and to receive kindness and generosity from others. Also, all humans, regardless appearances and one’s own internal perceptions, are striving as best they know how to be someone who can give these things to others while also finding them for themselves.

It is not always an easy thing to keep in the front of one’s own mind, thus the need for the practice; literally, to make a conscious effort to remind oneself of these things so that one does not react without consideration of this. Naturally, I am less than perfect at doing this. I suspect I will always be less than perfect at it because I have my own sack of samsara that I have not yet found the way to set aside.

But I think it might be ok to occasionally remind myself that just being able to conceptualize and explain how and why this is helpful to me as a practice is better than being completely unaware of it all together. I mean, examples of small progress are helpful motivation in the face of the Everest that is me.

All the above in mind, I am content to be able to say (at least in this moment) that I am feeling very humble and thankful for the presence of all the mothers of this world and this life; female as well as male, young as well as old, and known as well as stranger. The annual day of reflection upon motherhood combined with ongoing practice brings me a feeling of quiet and paradoxically overwhelming gratitude.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all.