To Love Like a Child…
Since the weather has stayed relatively consistent with the arrival of summer, my two boys make it a weekly practice to greet our trash man on the curb every Thursday morning. They eagerly pop out of bed and run outside in their little night clothes to watch Reggie dump our non-recyclable waste into his big green truck. Reggie flashes the boys a great big smile, a friendly wave to me in my robe, and then with the sound of his air brakes releasing, he’s off until next week.
This past Thursday, after his encounter with Reggie, my oldest son strolled back into the house and stated with conviction and sincerity, “Mom, I love Reggie.” He then candidly asked me, “Do you love him too?”
To be completely honest my first thoughts were, ‘I don’t know the man. Of course I don’t love him.’ Those words immediately served as a beckoning device for my timely and generally wise inner teacher. After my knee-jerk response to an unexpected question, my next thoughts were of amazement and admiration for the love radiating out of this little person.
Of course this is not an isolated event. Those of us who have children or have spent time with them know that they posses this seemingly innate ability to spread loving-kindness everywhere they go and with everyone they meet. My boys invariably strike up sweet conversations with people we pass in the aisles at Whole Foods, wave and blow kisses at cars that travel by our home and call everyone they’ve ever encountered a friend. It is an absolutely beautiful thing to observe and experience.
Unfortunately, as adults we form this mind-frame that people need to earn our love and our trust. Like a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ way of looking at the world. I can blame numerous factors throughout my own life that have played into this neurosis, most of which stem from my ego and the need to protect it. I have allowed experiences of being hurt by others to render me somewhat bruised and bitter, along with the media with their perpetually negative slant. Regardless, children look at the world through very different glasses. They haven’t been exposed to the kind of life experiences and mental clutter that cloud our adult view.
If a child’s needs are met and they feel loved then everything is right in their world. They are happy and they are not suffering. To a certain age, this is really all that is important to them, until, of course, their egos begin to solidify. Up until that point they are innately aware of the prevailing fact that, universally, we are all striving for the same goals: to be happy and to eradicate our suffering. It is that common ground, along with their untainted innocence, which allows them to openly and honestly love without discrimination.
As I witness and absorb this inherent view that my children posses and that which I strive daily to attain, I begin to ponder how I can assimilate this as my own natural perspective and foster it in my children. In meditation I use different practices to expand my loving-kindness and compassion well beyond the people I already know and love. This is not an unfamiliar concept for me. I like to think that those practices extend off the meditation cushion and into my daily life, but apparently not to the degree that I had hoped given my first reaction to my son’s question.
Since that particular Thursday, I have taken a bit of a different approach in my attempt to strip away years of ingrained skepticism and frugality with my love. I do this with the help of a little four year old example/model with whom I get the pleasure of spending my days observing and appreciating.
My daily practice involves viewing every single person I encounter, regardless of the situation or context, as someone worthy of my love and compassion. What is really so ‘strange’ about these strangers? We’re all on the same missions striving for happiness and effacing suffering. Those two unifying objectives alone are reason enough to look at all beings with eyes of love and kindness. It is completely irrelevant whether I know them or not, what their past entails or future holds, and if they’ve loved me in return or hurt me prior. Those conditional thoughts do not pass through the mind of a child.
By focusing on our collective connection, instead of our differences, we can then begin to view all people as our friends and family. We can relate, understand and empathize with their journey, which is not unlike our own. So, as I and others have observed in their own children, unhindered by all the baggage of their egos, these little jewels are naturally free of judgment, unfettered by fear and thus open to ubiquitous loving. All we need to do is tap back into this understanding, for we were all there once before.
“A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”
~ Will Rogers