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Zen, Tea, and the Zigzag Path of Parenting

Zen, Tea, and the Zigzag Path of Parenting

Written by Living Tea Founder and CEO Colin Hudon

Raising a child puts everything into perspective, for what could be more important? Children are the vital link in our chain of humanity, our future, the gifts we leave for the world. So much of Zen and “spiritual work” is about service, and what better form of service? What better charity to whom we might give our hands, hearts, and the fruits of our labor? Children are our reminders of who we were, and who we might become. They are our innocence, our purity and our potential. They draw from us a deeper reservoir of love, patience, kindness, compassion, attention and care than we ever knew we harbored. As James Baldwin wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to what their parents tell them, but they never fail to imitate them.” Thus, true parenting teaches us that we are not simply providers, but educators, and the true work of education comes from being present. Parenting has yielded the deepest teachings, and my son Linden is my greatest teacher.

Linden is 18 months old. It’s taken his entire life for me to really realize that parenthood is a path of growth. Like any developed skill, we must practice. While having children is a capacity bestowed to us by biology, raising them well is an art form learned by doing. Comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it aptly, “I don’t know what’s more exhausting about parenting: the getting up early, or acting like you know what you’re doing.” The truth is that parenting is a circus of bungling in every direction, an incoherent chaotic spontaneity-filled adventure, captained by a small drunken pirate. As parents, we do our best, and often fall short. And yet, all the craziness changes us, and if we do it with real care, we just might help the child to find their fullest and most authentic expression.

As the proverb goes, “Mature adults don’t necessarily create children, but children help create mature adults.” And while one of Linden’s greatest gifts has been his ability to reeducate me in the art of being a kid, my maturity has grown in the simple fact that I strive moment-to-moment to put another’s needs and development before my own. Perhaps the greatest gauge of maturity is our capacity for deep external consideration, and the attendant tag-along virtues of reliability, accountability, and trustworthiness. Up until 18 months ago, my life revolved around me (and still does much of the time). Yet, I find with each passing month under Linden’s expert tutelage that I become more skilled in widening my circle of love and consideration while more frequently noticing the ordinary wonders of life- All of which seem intimately related to this thing we call Zen. So what does a life of Zen, Tea and Parenting really look like?

I often wonder what I did with all the “free time” I had before becoming a parent. It seems that I must have enjoyed far more “leisure,” but the truth is that I somehow can’t remember. It’s a bit like a long-term romantic relationship where it’s hard to imagine life without the other person. Becoming a parent has meant learning to prioritize my time and energy far more efficiently than I used to. I get up two hours earlier in order to maintain my practices of meditation, tea, reading, writing and Qi Gong. This time in the morning is sacred and essential to maintaining balance, equanimity and openness in the face of a demanding schedule. In order to get up early, I’ve had to become more disciplined in going to bed early, and typically I try to be asleep by 10:30. Oftentimes, I get into bed soon after Linden has fallen asleep, doing my best not to wake him. We also have two dogs that require a lot of exercise, which means that in addition to the other morning practices, I take them on a run in the mountains. This excursion is also an essential part of my day as the subsequent eight hours is often spent on the computer, with welcome breaks for weekly tea ceremonies, classes and meditations at Mountain Gate Teahouse and Art Gallery. When I return from the run, I get an hour or so to spend time with Jade and Linden. This is my favorite part of the day. We take the time to play with him, to discuss our plans, to eat breakfast and to generally enjoy time together. Then it’s off to work, which often goes well into the evening. The truth is that I wish I were able to spend more time with my family, but the pandemic significantly curveballed our well-designed plans, which has meant working extra hours to maintain financial stability in our home. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve certainly grown a lot on the journey. Linden keeps our home a place of laughter, lightness and joy. His sense of humor and silliness is infectious, and helps us immeasurably when the stresses of modern life are heavy. Parenting without a sense of humor is like being an accountant who is awful at math. Humor (and dancing) have been the glue that holds us all together.

It’s so important for parents to take care of themselves because their state of being profoundly affects the child. When we are able to be serene, joyful, content and peaceful, we are leaving this legacy for our children to develop these qualities. As parents, Jade and I make time for meditation, tea and movement, eat a clean diet, take adaptogenic herbs to wind down at night and manage stress, spend time in nature, sleep as much as possible, take the weekend seriously, and talk to friends who have more parenting experience. We try to model contentment, limiting the amount of clutter, toys, gadgets and distractions in our house. While Linden needs ways to engage his curiosity, it’s also important to learn contentment playing with the dogs, his parents, or a pile of leaves in the lawn. Especially with technology these days, developing the ability to be at peace without stimulation is essential. So many young people suffer from depression and anxiety, largely caused by the influence of technology. We find all sorts of creative ways to interact, which also invites engaged, active parenting, rather than the easier default of putting on a show for the child. This active engagement will contribute to the way that Linden develops his own active attention and imagination. Of course, there are thoughtful, uplifting shows, and at times, they are a great support to our parenting. Like all things, moderation is the key. We stumble a lot as parents, but more importantly, we’re getting better at it. As I mentioned earlier, Linden is my greatest Zen teacher, and integrating some of his lessons have helped me to become a better parent and human.

When I walk with Linden in the forest, there is always a moment when I must tell my mind to stop pushing. Linden likes to check out every plant, rock, tree, bug and animal. He moves slowly and aimlessly, but with great attention. When I slow down, and drop my agenda, I begin to notice every little thing that catches his eye and I begin sharing things that catch mine. In just noticing together, the lesson teaches itself. 

Another big lesson that Linden teaches is equanimity. When he’s upset and crying, the ego in me starts reacting in all sorts of ways. It says, “I wish he would stop crying,” “what’s wrong and how can I fix it,” “why right now when we are trying to leave the house.” When he is happy, joyful, agreeable or calm, I notice the ego putting his behavior in the category of “good.” This assigning of good and bad behavior is based on my own faulty and limited assessment. Over time, it would lead to my wanting to change his behavior through scolding, becoming authoritative or some manipulative strategy based on reward and punishment. I’ve worked recently to create a different habit that I believe will help as he grows. I work to stay at my center and to look beneath the behavior, to Linden’s heart. There I find only good, and I often then know what to do. When he’s upset, and I am able to go to the heart, oftentimes he stops crying and starts laughing.  Jade has also been a profound teacher in the art of equanimity and patience. Her ability to stay calm, centered and open during challenging moments is a true inspiration. Her joy in being a mother comes through moments of ready laughter, caring sweet words, and consistent consideration of Linden’s needs. She intuits and understands what Linden is requesting with tremendous empathy, and even in the face of great exhaustion, summons a seeming supernatural tenderness. Hers is the art of softness and love in action.

There are endless lessons every day. Jade and I feel honored and blessed beyond words to care for our son. He’s the most beautiful gift, and we hope to support him in developing his uniqueness. The truth is that I don’t actually know the true origin of my child, for it came before some biological occurrence between Jade and me. It belongs to the great Mystery, and the truth is that Linden is a child of that mystery. Sometimes, through his sense of wonder, I catch a glimpse of it, and I sense that he is not “mine,” nor that it is my job to “raise” him. Rather, it is simply my job to help him stay open to the marvelous mystery of life, and to not limit his possibilities. As a child, he is so utterly filled with possibilities, and so often parents begin pushing from a very young age, and telling the children what is possible for them. This creates distrust because the child will learn on their own what is and is not possible. My job is to share tea, and presence and the space for any and all possibilities.

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