Parenting as Ceremony


by Melinda Haselton

NOTE:  The Burlington Shambhala Center’s Mindful Parenting Group meets on the first Saturday of every month, 3 – 4:30 p.m. Children and parents are invited to come practice and enjoy simple activities. Please contact Melinda with questions: [email protected]  or call (802) 658-6795.

The sun peeks through the blinds and I hear the words, “Hi mama,” draw me out of my deep sleep. Heavy eyes open and I see a sweet smile that fills my heart with instant joy. A new day greets us.

My daughter was born in February 2014. Before her birth, my meditation instructor told me that parenting would be my practice. She was right. By design, my days are filled with ritual and countless opportunities to slow down and enjoy the present moment. For what feels like the first time I see the world around me. This is our ceremony. Each morning we wake up and we go downstairs, open our blinds, and look out into our yard. We point to the grass and the trees. We take note of the color of the sky and see if any animals are out and about.

In The Shambhala Principle, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche talks about looking at life as ceremony. He shares memories of how much he loved setting up tents and living outside at Shambhala Mountain Center for seminary retreats in the summers. At the end of the meditation programs, he would feel sad to pack it all up and go back to regular life. “Thus when we headed back into the everyday world, I realized that it was up to me to create my own ceremony. . .Now I knew I preferred being awake to being asleep, and I understood why my father emphasized the need for discipline and structure at our summer encampment–insisting that we pay attention to how we dressed, how we spoke, what we did, and how we engaged with others. It was all part of creating an awake ceremony.”

I have found in two short years of motherhood that we are creating a ceremony in our home each and every day. The rhythms and rituals that are so comforting to my daughter serve as anchors. . .for all of us. We have rituals around meal time, cleaning, getting dressed, and bedtime. My husband and I continually ask ourselves, “What kind of home do we want to create? What kind of atmosphere?” There are many activities that nourish us and others that shut us down.

I couldn’t have imagined the incredible depth that parenting would bring to my practice. There are times when I am so content to be present and engaged and other times when I want to check out. But so often that’s not possible. I have to sit with my irritation, my boredom, and with the paradox of wishing time would speed up and slow down at the same time.  My daughter with her contagious laugh and bright blue eyes is constantly bringing me back to the present moment, to what’s before me.

The Sakyong goes on to say, “All actions in life are done with some intention. What is the basis of that intention? For the warrior it is always to engage in an activity with confidence and goodness.” We don’t have to be perfect parents. In fact let’s let go of perfection right away. Practice means meeting ourselves and each other where we are. Just like in shamatha, we bring ourselves back to the breath, again and again. We do so with kindness and compassion for ourselves, our partners, and our children.

May we practice ceremonies of wakefulness.
May we recognize basic goodness in our children, our partners, ourselves (and the world).
May we create homes where enlightened society will flourish.
May we be of benefit.