On Saturday, I was fortunate to be in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Greek Theatre, on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. The event was sponsored by the American Himalayan Foundation, and we were told our attendance made it possible for this amazing organization to build another school in the region. I had suffered through a high fever all week and was not sure I could make the trip to see His Holiness, but through the hospitality and kindness of good friends, I made the trip.
My reaction to seeing the Dalai Lama reminded me of my first experience at the circus as a young child. I know this may seem like a strange analogy, but when faced with beauty, I cry. When the elephants entered the circus tent, I cried as a child. I cried when they left. My mother asked me why, and I said, “Elephants are beautiful.” When the Dalai Lama came on stage at the Greek Theatre, I cried. When he left I cried. His Holiness emodies everything that is beautiful in humans.
The topic of discussion was Peace Through Compassion. Driving home from Berkeley, I thought about His Holiness’ words as they relate to peace in family life. The Dalai Lama spoke about the biological basis for compassion between a mother and child. He shared a story of red eye plane flight from Tokyo to the US, in which he observed a family with two small children. At the beginning of the journey, both parents were attentive to the young children’s needs. As the night wore on, the father fell asleep, and the mother continued caring for the kids. In the morning, she looked stressed, tired, exhausted, as any mother has felt when traveling a long distance with small kids. This sort of selfless compassion and giving of oneself happens with mothers all the time, as their own needs are sacrificed for those of their young. If this same sort of compassion could be developed in all people towards other humans, imagine the peace that would ensue.
The Dalai Lama’s message was that peace must first begin in the individual with “personal disarmament.” Within families, there is always conflict. Whether it is a child not listening to a parent or parents disagreeing over childrearing issues, life in the family home can be anything but peaceful. As the mother of a strong-willed daughter, His Holiness’ words made me reflect on my part in conflicts with her, as well as how I could help her feel she does not have to battle her way through life. Our entire family suffers when there is conflict, so I changed my approach in dealing with her defiance.
Sunday morning, my daughter refused to brush her teeth. Instead of digging in my heals and threatening or giving an ultimatum, I tried approaching her defiance with compassion. She knows why it is important to brush your teeth, so I started there, hugging her and talking about the importance of oral hygiene. I also talked with her about how I only asked her to brush her teeth, because I love her and don’t want to see her suffer from tooth decay. I held her hand, led her to the bathroom, and lo and behold, she brushed her teeth. The conflict was not avoided, but it was gently and lovingly handled. Instead of viewing her defiance as a personal attack on my authority as her mother, I tried to have compassion for her situation. I think when she is acting up, it is really her way of saying I need some affection right now to help me find my way.
If I can remember the Dalai Lama’s words on individual peace through compassion in dealing with my children, I think we will experience less and less conflict as we live our lives together.