A short while after my first son Malik turned one, I remember thinking "What the heck's going on? My son's teaching me as much as I'm teaching him." I've learned so many important life lessons from my two boys that still today they're both teaching me new things all the time. And I don't know if I'll ever stop learning from them.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen master and peace activist, and the person who taught me Zen through his books and dharma talks, coined the term "interbeing". It's a term that, for the most part, is meant to describe the truth of our interconnectedness more clearly and correctly. All things inter-are, or in other words all things live intrinsically connected to one another to the point where what I do affects all things and all things affect me, and this includes education.
Have you ever heard the saying, "the teacher learns more than the student"? I feel like that with Buddhaimonia. Writing for others has helped me grow so much. It's the same thing in the case of parenting, although I don't think the saying is completely correct in either case. I think it's more accurate to say:
the student learns from the teacher, the teacher learns from the student, their education inter-is.
Now obviously, when I say I learn from my boys, I don't mean that I'm sitting down in a classroom while my son slaps a yardstick down on my desk every time I get a math problem wrong (although he did try to put me on time-out the other day). The ways that I learn from them are often in the form of a sort of self-reflection. I see things in them. They show me things by their natural behavior.
There are so many different ways to learn, you should live mindful of the fact that every single waking (and even non-waking) moment can be an opportunity to learn something new. The best education is the education we get from going out there and living life, specifically from directly experiencing the very thing we want to learn about.
Now I'm not saying go out and have kids (if you don't already). So, slow down! Being a parent definitely gives you the greatest opportunity to learn these lessons, but you don't need to have children to learn from them. You can learn these same lessons from a niece, nephew, grandson, granddaughter, a friend's child if you're around them often, students if you're a teacher, by volunteering in a children's program, or any other way that allows you to interact with children.
If you don't have much experience with children, I'd suggest you take some time to get to know a few, it can be enlightening. Here are some of the most important things my children have taught me:
7 Important Life Lessons My Children Have Taught Me
1. Act always with love and compassion
Imagine your emotions as a form of energy. And these various energies- anger, sadness, joy, and excitement for instance- can be transferred from person to person. If someone feels a strong sense of joy, they radiate that joy and affect those around them, making them a little (and sometimes a lot) more joyful simply by being around them.
When he became old enough to recognize and understand certain basic emotions, I began to notice my son reflecting me and my wife's dispositions. If I lost my temper and yelled, as any parent is bound to do from time to time, my son would react back with anger, even if it wasn't directed at him. If I reacted with love and compassion, even if it didn't involve a single word, he'd respond back with love and compassion. He was old enough to recognize my emotions, but not old enough that much mental conditioning had set in, so he'd respond the way his mind naturally absorbed the information.
I wish I could remember where, but I read a story recently about researchers who had tried for years to study a specific group of gorillas in a nearby jungle. For years, the gorillas wouldn't let anyone near their jungle home. One research team after another would make plans, test their equipment, gear up, grab guns in case of the need for protection of course, and set out to hopefully get close enough to study the family of gorillas, only to be pushed back by the gorillas themselves.
That is...until a certain researcher decided to travel to the camp without any guns. This researcher took a team to the very same gorilla camp that research teams had tried to visit for years and was welcomed by the gorillas with open arms. The gorillas didn't just let them stay close enough to camp out and research the gorillas, they let them stay within their very camp.
The purpose of this story is that if you want to get through to people then you have to come from a place of love, compassion, and understanding. Any level of hostility can be felt by people (and all animals), and it will make them push back. Even if what you're saying is the truth, if it's hurtful then the other person will shut down. This is the Buddha's "Right Speech". To say something you know could be hurtful to someone is never OK, and it's never the right way to go about things, even if it's the truth. We need to always speak from a place of love and compassion.
If I want to get through to my son, the only way is with love, compassion, and understanding. Any less and he reads it, he feels my energy. Adults have a few more walls built up than the average child, but we all work essentially the same way. Speak to people with love and compassion and you have the ability to create change in them. Be a hard ass all you want, but by coming at people with hostility and aggressiveness they'll never truly let you in.
2. Division is a product of our conditioned mind
Belief, race, sex, and any other way adults seek to divide one another and treat each other unequally don't matter to kids. Sure, they're curious, and they ask questions, but they don't judge. Until you inject the belief in them that they're supposed to judge something in some specific way.
This might seem like an obvious point, but we wouldn't have conflict in the Middle East, hate crimes at home, or racial inequality in our workplaces and communities if this point really was that obvious.
Division is a product of our "small" or conditioned mind, the mind which remains unaware of our interbeing. While this is something I've been aware of for some time, I found strong confirmation in my boys that our natural inclination is that of acceptance as opposed to non-acceptance. It's through our life conditioning that we develop these false ideas of division when actually we're naturally accepting of all people from birth.
3. We have the potential to do amazing things
If my son can go from crawling on the ground, speaking nothing but incoherent blabber at 6 months to less than two years later walking, talking, eating, sleeping, and doing just about everything else like you and me then who knows what we can do as adults with our greater intellect and access to resources.
We really do have the potential to do amazing things, we just need to be willing to put the work in and understand that change doesn't happen overnight. Nearly every day I see stories of people doing amazing and unbelievable things through sheer hard work and perseverance. They don't even necessarily have any sort of prior skills that helped them achieve their goal, they just worked hard and never gave up.
When we accept that change is a gradual process, it's liberating. We stop trying to make game plans and track improvements and we just work. We work on putting our best foot forward at all times, one foot at a time. This is how children learn and grow and this is the best way we have to make lasting and measurable life improvements.
I'll talk a bit more about this in the next point, but this is one of the main reasons I believe why kids are typically so much happier than adults.
A smile is a powerful tool. Sometimes called "mouth Yoga", smiling to improve your mood is something simple, easy, and available to everyone in every moment. When used, it's a powerful tool for better well-being.
My kids smile constantly throughout a typical day. A lot of times they don't even need any good reason, they just smile. I've tried to follow their example as best I can and smile often, and I do feel it makes a measurable difference.
5. Let go
I've spent some time considering just why kids are so happy. Across the board, kids are just generally a lot happier than adults. But, why?
For the most part, I've seen confirmed in them the same things I've discovered in my own practice. One of the most important being their lack of attachment to just about anything. They have no dreams, no goals, and no expectations. And if they develop something, which they can, they quickly get over it as if it never existed. They haven't yet learned how to attach themselves mentally to things and therefore have few of the typical attachments seen in adulthood. And as a result, they live free as a bird.
The Buddhist practice of non-attachment stems from understanding the ultimate truths of impermanence and non-self. Non-attachment is a part of Buddhist practice because adults naturally develop attachments to a lot of things, and you need to undo these attachments and free yourself before you can truly find peace.
Non-attachment can be easily misunderstood, though. Don't be mistaken, to not hold an attachment to something simply means, for the most part, that you're aware of your own impermanence and the impermanence of all other things. It doesn't mean that you can't work towards something or love those around you just because you or they are inevitably going to die someday.
On the contrary, to be aware of the impermanence of all things is to love and appreciate them even more than if you held an attachment to them. Being aware that the flower in your hand is impermanent and will eventually wilt and die makes you appreciate the beauty of the flower that much more. It doesn't at all mean that you stop appreciating the flower any more than you did before.
You can do things, have intentions, and work towards goals. They key is to not attach yourself to them. Practice imagining in your mind losing everything, and find strength, meaning, and fulfillment in simply sitting and breathing mindfully.
6. Live in the present moment
This is, in a way, an extension of #5. One of the most harmful attachments we make in life is our attachment to the past and future. We look back on the past with regret and look to the future with plans and calculations, but rarely do we stop doing both of those things and simply rest in the present moment, free from all the pushing and pulling always occurring in our minds.
My boys have no goals, they're 1 and 3 years-old. They have no regrets....not much to regret. Much of what I've learned from them is due to the fact that they're still too young to have been negatively conditioned in certain ways. They live mostly enjoying the present moment because they don't have much past experience nor a concept of the future. But the fact still stands that they live in the present moment, and this is the last of the major reasons why I believe children are so much happier than adults. They're just always living in the present.
Every moment is an opportunity for fun. It's an opportunity to experience beauty, try something new, or just to do the same-old thing while being fully awake to the present moment. Living in the present moment is one of the most amazing sources of happiness for me, and I can see that same idea in action within my children as well.
7. Life is better lived for others
Before I had children, my entire adult life was one big "me" fest. It was about what I wanted to do with my life, how I was going to get what I wanted, and how I was going to make my mark on the world. The very day that I discovered that I was going to be a dad, that all started to change.
I began to think more about the safety and well-being of someone else, that someone being my future son, more than my own safety and well-being. This changed everything. And little did I know at the time, but it would open the floodgates to a much greater realization: that life isn't just better lived for others, life is best lived for all beings.
I realized later that it wasn't just about my kids, this same idea extended outwards to all people. And even beyond that- to all animals and planet Earth itself. To live in a way that you assume the responsibility of respecting and protecting life is to find a deep sense of meaning in your life. We can't save everything, all human beings destroy to some extent, but if you live life with a deep sense of respect for all living and non-living things then that's enough.
So, what important life lessons have children taught you? Something I didn't mention here? Let me know, I'd love to hear them.