Buddha at Breakfast: Parent Finds Flow

This morning my daughter brought the Buddha to the breakfast table. Imagine the scene: the three of us seated around the white stone counter of the kitchen island staring sleepily into our cereal bowls. The room was quiet except for the gentle humming of our new refrigerator. No one was talking; all of us seemed lost in our thoughts until my daughter broke the silence with her question.

“Could the Buddha be greedy?” she asked. Hearing the sound of her voice startled me. So much so that I wasn’t sure that I caught all of what she’d just said. I repeated her words back to her — well, in French — because that’s what we do at our house. “Le Bouddha, peut-il être égoiste?” (Could the Buddha be selfish?) Okay, so I changed it slightly. Making him selfish, instead of greedy. But it wasn’t a time to split hairs.

My daughter was asking me a philosophical question at breakfast. It was a far cry from her usual banter about wanting to be a cat when she grew up. Here we were plunged in the thick of ethical territory. She was asking if an enlightened man, elevated to the status of a pure spirit, could be flawed.

Without missing a beat — or bite, I should say since I was eating my oatmeal — I asked her what she thought. She told me that his mission was to share all he had with the poor. So, she reasoned, probably not. I nodded my head in disbelief; I mean in agreement. It was one of those rare cinematic moments in the life of a parent when all seems to be bathed in golden light. I beamed at my daughter whose curiosity (and ethics) had brought me this glimpse of parenting glory.

In my heart, I knew I had done something right. No, let me rephrase that. It wasn’t so much that I’d gotten something right, instead of wrong as usual. Rather, it was more that I’d taken a risk and had been rewarded by a successful outcome. To put it differently, the Buddha books had been the bait I’d dangled and my daughter had bitten. Hook, line, and sinker.

She literally took them out of my hand when I was reading them on the couch before bedtime last night. “Could I see that?” she asked — pro forma — as she gently stole it away from me. “Looks interesting,” she said as she began to dig into Anita Gainer’s Buddhist Stories. She must have been drawn to the vibrant yellow cover featuring a meditating Buddha surrounded by spear-wielding demons. Yeah, I agreed, not wanting to break the charm.

So, she read through the Stories. And, then, quickly moved on to the next book in the pile: The Life and Times of Buddha by Mona Gedney. It was from a series entitled, Biography from Ancient Civilizations: Legends, Folklore, and Stories of Ancient Worlds. While considerably less colorful than the storybook, this volume appealed because it hit all the marks. She was a fan of Greek mythology, as well as Egyptology. Ancient worlds — and manga — were her thing.

I watched her out of the corner of my eye tear through this second Buddha book. The sight of her, my die-hard fiction reader, devouring these non-fiction monographs was slightly jarring. I was thrilled that she had taken an interest in a historical figure from another civilization. And, even more so, I was ecstatic that I’d stumbled upon the formula for making her leave her literary comfort zone. This was Buddha land — far from the world of cats and comics.

And, yet, the shift had been smooth. The transition seamless. I hadn’t nagged. I hadn’t bribed. I hadn’t made a single ultimatum. All I’d done was take an interest myself. I’d been at the library with my younger daughter earlier in the day and, as a result, had found myself in the stacks of the children’s department. I’d spied a book on Greek mythology I thought my older daughter would like.

While I was perusing the titles, I saw a few books on Buddhist and Hindu myths. Why not? I said to myself. I often found myself confused by the large cast of characters in these traditions. And, as a result, thought that I could probably benefit from a presentation pitched at kid-level. I could read them with my daughters. Maybe even bring some stories into my kids’ yoga classes.

I grabbed a few of the most promising titles and stowed them in my book bag — totally unaware of my stealthiness. In parenting terms, this would be considered a ninja move. And, you know, the irony is that I was completely unaware of the decision-making process that had brought me from the stacks to the couch that night. For once, I wasn’t trying to get my daughter to do a particular thing. Or, more to the point, to read a particular genre of books.

I was just, you know, flowing. I was talking about being in the flow today during one of my kids’ yoga classes. I gave the example of different ‘flow zones’ that the kids might experience on a daily basis. Reading, drawing, running, I told them, were all examples of activities in which the state of sustained focus we call flow naturally occurs. One of my second graders asked me what ‘flow’ meant. For the second time in a day, I’d been hit unaware by a philosophical question.

I told him that it was the thing water did when it came out of the faucet or traveled in a river or a stream. It was a kind of uninterrupted motion that wasn’t hampered by frequent stops and starts. It was an unrestricted passage from point A to point B. Good question, I added at the end. And, then, having said enough, I reminded myself that it was time to shut up.

I think that this example of flow can be applied to parenting as a practice. It is getting into that zone where things feel less heavy and more effortless. It is tapping into that deeper, less called-into-question place of knowing. It is having confidence that you, as a parent, can be an inspiration to your child. And that your own curiosity can enkindle theirs. It is less trying to make your child into something she’s not. And more being with the person she is. It is sitting together on the couch, elbow to elbow, dreaming about a life without suffering. Reading books and loving every precious minute of it.