Our son is visiting for two weeks. He is on a vacation from work. Suddenly our quiet home is full of sounds again. I especially enjoy my son playing his guitar or passionately rapping one of his on the spot rap creations to himself.
He is always busy. Either his girlfriend is Facetiming him, or, his childhood friends coming to meet him at off hours; or a work email is getting composed that must be responded to, he says, right when we sit down for dinner. Oh, how I missed the chaos only our children can joyfully bring to our quiet and otherwise, adult, orderly ‘sorted’ lives.
My son’s body is in its peak of youth, all of 23 years old. His mind, a confident millennial, travelled, exposed, informed, not only of civil rights but also his civic duties, with social activism and liberal consciousness enlightening his beliefs.
He has a mounting, expansive, yet universally unitive mindset and a globally progressive world culture informing his perceptions, which is apparently giving birth to lofty ideals. When I stand back and observe him, he appears to me to be no less than an intellectually evolved, mature and wise 30-year-old human (mind).
Vedic Wisdom to the Rescue of Parental Dilemma
Vedic wisdom tells me that my son is not a 23-year-old entity made up of matter (body), nor a 30-year-old intelligence (mind), charged with ideas. My son’s true Self (spirit), the invisible consciousness that is behind the material entity I proudly identify as “my son,” is none other than Atman, ageless, timeless, limitless…pure consciousness that animates his body and mind, but is never circumscribed, defined or confined by anything.
The ancient Hindu Upanishads define our True Self, Atman, as
“Aapnoti Iti Sarvam Atma…That which is boundless is who you are, Atman.”
A question I constantly faced as a parent while raising my son was:
Should I relate with my son as the bounded one, demarcated by a body made of matter and limited by the intelligence he can tap into (or not) in a given moment…exposing certain beliefs, ripe or unripe?
Or shall I continue to trust his innermost nature, the non-material entity the Vedas point towards? The true nature that is entirely spiritual, infinitely intelligent, invisible yet animating his body and mind, permanent through temporarily manifesting from inside an impermanent container and appearing to be restricted and bound, but ultimately eternally unbounded?
When I regarded him as body alone, a body I own, possess and claim as my child, I get bound in my mind to his body, in dense emotional attachment. Clouds seem to cover my inner sun of clarity. I get fearful and agitated at the same time, wanting to protect what I own, wanting to enjoy what I own…forever; yet, deep down knowing that all control is mere self-delusion.
Clearly, as I clip his wings, I sabotage my own flight in a free sky, psychologically speaking.
Control and love can never co-exist. They never have. They never will.
The mental vines that bind me to him are thick with the glue of force and attachments and the control, compulsions, scripted roles and self-defeating expectations that arise from unexamined attachments in our mind, every single time. I suffer as a result and I make him suffer, pulling at his strings, making him an object to please my delusory ‘mom-hood’ unconsciousness parading as love, care and concern (control, panic and sheer ignorance)?
But when I see him as the Unbounded One, as Atman, I gift myself the inner freedom to relate to my son in all new ways. The clouds seem to shed away spontaneously and my inner sun of happiness, poise and freedom begins to shine again (or rather, it was shining all along, it's just that clouds of self-ignorance had seemingly covered the sun).
Then, in the right light of my own mind, I can see that we are not just another pair of worldly mom and son with rigid criteria defining and holding (but ultimately dividing) us by convention, seniority, age, generation gap, beliefs and power struggles. We become untethered spirit, no less, mutually co-existing, supporting, understanding, and celebrating both of our flights in pure potentiality.
Bounded and Unbounded Relationships
Bounded humans are psychologically dependent humans. They hold each other back. Unbounded humans fly and help others fly, too, spiritually speaking.
Unbounded humans give each other much-needed and strength and support to be and become what their heart desires, but to always, first and foremost, be free inside. Emotional sovereignty, or what is called in Sanskrit as “Mukta”, is our inherent nature, after all. Any relationships (even our most valuable ones) that bind us in a web of expectations and obligations will sooner or later cause us to suffer.
We must neither depend emotionally for our fulfillment, not encourage others to make us their crutch.
The Vedas say that the Universal Self, Atman, is always one; body and mind are countless. Then, sharing such a splendid united Self, One Consciousness manifesting in diverse bodysuits, we both, mother and son, become united, unconditionally supportive, accepting and equal.
Did you manifest to teach me a thing or two, oh son?
When I first held my son in my arms, perhaps in the first minute of Great Spirit’s manifestation on earth in this tiny body, my heart knew his earth name…I called him Dhruva. His father liked that name, too.
Thus, the invisible Truth, now bound in ‘form,’ acquired a ‘name’. The little bundle of mass, mind and consciousness in my arms became ‘Dhruva’ to the world.
In Sanskrit, the language of my sage ancestors on earth, Dhruva represents that which is unchangeable amidst the changeable, permanent despite rampant impermanence, stable amongst the unstable. Dhruva represents that which is eternal, lasting and enduring. The ancient seers were once again referring to Atman, or shall we say not just your or my Atman but collective Atman of this entire known and unknown, visible and invisible, moveable and unmovable universe.
But how do we parent such a grand entity showed up in a fragile few pounds filling out a tiny bodysuit?
The only way is through Vedic Self-knowledge that reminds us of our first lessons in detached parenting.
Remember, the Vedas says, the Great Spirit only uses your body to create another body, from the first cell to a full-fledged baby, that will grow into a teenager, youth, then full-blown adult body. Your child, like my child, has manufactured his or her own body, or rather directed its growth and cerebral capacities from inside out, through its inherent spirit intelligence, awareness and consciousness. This is because your child is, first and foremost, the Great Being, the One Spirit, Pure Consciousness, Atman, simply manifesting as a cute, clueless, helpless child for this moment in timelessness... but appearances can be deceptive.
The more we trust, the more we will be happily surprised.
You can till a flower bed, fertilize the soil, give water and prune occasionally, gently…but ultimately, like me, you too must await an inner, raw, entirely mystical spiritual power to emerge inside the seed and take over the process of manifestation from potential to actuality. The seed will become a plant or tree one day and you are but a cosmic spectator. Any semblance of control or feeling that you made the seed do what it did, become what it became, is again, mere self-delusion. You were simply a spectator, a helpful one albeit…but even without you doing any of the activities above…the seed has Atman in its womb…and it will become the tree, or even a forest…as Atman wills.
Exploring the Nature of Self
The Self is pure awareness, uninterrupted, eternal life principle, which manifests itself as the layers of mind, intellect, ego, body, etc., and is not itself the mind, intellect, ego, or body. In fact, our essence is “not-something,” and yet, it allows for the manifestation of “everything.”
Below is a potent dialogue between a father and son, from the ancient Vedic/Hindu Wisdom Texts called the Upanishads, that presents this point beautifully.
This dialogue, from the Chandyogya Upanishad, is between Svetaketu and his father, sage Uddalaka, regarding the identity of his inner Self.
Father says to son: “Bring me a fruit of yonder banyan tree.”
“Here it is, father.”
“It is broken, father.”
“What do you see there?”
“These very tiny seeds, father.”
“Break one open.”
“It is broken open, father.”
“What do you see there?”
Father said: “From that subtle essence, which you do not see there, my dear, grows this whole banyan tree. Believe me, my dear; all that exists has its Self in that which is the subtle essence. That is real. That is the Self. You are that, Svetaketu.”
The son now sees what he would not have seen ordinarily with his physical eyes. He understands how the subtle non-manifest essence within the seed is the cause of the manifest tree. The father names and identifies that subtle essence as Atman, the Self.
Self is pure consciousness, that which Svetaketu himself truly is. From the experience of nothingness sprouting an entire tree, the teacher points out to the disciple that the tree and seed are mere changeable, externalized projections (appearances) of the one reality. This reality appears as a “no-thing,” since it is not material but spiritual, and yet contains the potential of “everything.”
Our children are our magical seeds.
Let us become a garden where divine seeds can do their own magic. Let us allow the magic… and not fear it, suppress it, control it or claim it …shall we?
I tried that, and I am seeing my son transform into an original, out-of-the-box musician, conscious political-social activist and a deeply caring person. Instead of arguing over small matters like we once did, we are talking like friends now. We are both learning from each other, since my son, like me, has had many lifetimes and wisdom is innate to Atman…it emerges like magical blossoms emerge in the right season. Why should I sit in supreme arrogance of being a know it all mom/gardner…I may know a few more worldly rules…but wisdom is bound in no rigid worldly book, body or mind. It emerges from within. It is our collective spirit endowment.
A true gardener facilitates blossoming, never questions it, forces it, or decries it... and least of all gets attached to its blossoms!
A true gardener does not expect rose blossoms on cheery blossom trees or vice versa.
A true gardener witnesses the miracles of spirit with equal awe, tending to a blade of a grass or a prize-winning fruit tree… Atman is not less or more, better or less good, preferred or less preferred, right or wrong. It is always radically perfect, as it is manifesting in the moment.
Parents and children are both non-worldly spiritual visitors in this material world
Sure, one manifested sooner, the other, a few decades later, but parents and children are inherently made of the same spirit, light and star materials.
Our fundamental spiritual substance (consciousness) plus our wisdom, intelligence, dreams and potentialities are all emanating from a common cosmic source, the Self. So, through internalized Vedic wisdom from my Guru, Baba Ayodhyanath, when I started looking at my son as Atman, I could only feel grateful, and finally relax as a mother, and enjoy our rides through a special spirit theme park for souls called planet earth.
Slowly my parental angst, born from a solely material vision, dissolved….and with it my brain became free of a tirade of worry and tsunami of control……Dhruva you should, Dhruva you must, Dhruva how could you!
Then a day came when I began to secretly smile to myself, even at times when my son was making decisions I did not approve of (my brain screamed blunder, stop, no way!)… choices that my mom brain wanted to veto with warlike urgency and ferocity.
Instead, I observed more. I offered silent blessings, I kept our growing friendship alive, our silly funny conversation flowing, our little joys alive (like a shared cup of fresh brewed Indian ginger chai or playing with our Labradoodle). I offered laidback advise (only if directly solicited) without pressure and mostly continued to trust our common spirit, Atman.
Next, I stayed by his side, albeit in the background, silently, even in his most risky life adventures (I did not give up on him, or more importantly forget about our common amazing, all-powerful Atman, because it is my ego’s way or no way). Remembering who he truly is… Atman, the Self, would fill me with hope, no matter what.
He will fall, he will get up, he will learn and he will very soon grow and blossom into what he needs to blossom into; these misstarts are not missteps, but important soil lessons from this seed that will grow into a forest sooner or later, in this lifetime or the next.
I have a few flowering vines growing in my backyard. In the past, I used to forcefully make them twirl around structures. They would often rebel. Some would die, or break. Now I just keep the structure around – close enough, but not in the face. No pushiness. No desperation in my gardening. The vines find their own way, sooner or later…Atman lives inside plant bodysuits like it lives in you and me…I trust Atman to find the way. It works every single time now.
The separate self dissolves in the sea of pure consciousness, infinite and immortal. Separateness arises from identifying the Self with the body, which is made up of the elements; when this physical identification dissolves, there can be no more separate Self. This is what I want to tell you.
I love remembering that we share One Amazing, Intelligent, Wise and Beautiful Spiritual Self…we can relax, trust each other and trust ourselves…and navigate the world with belief in our true Self, Atman…I can play the role of mom to my son, but I need not get too caught up in the role, or least of all lose my vital connection to spirit…I can enjoy how Atman wishes to express itself through him (differently) and through me (differently).
The Love of the Soul from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
In truth, it is not for the love of a husband that a husband is dear; but for the love of the Self in the husband that a husband is dear.
In truth, it is not for the love of a wife that a wife is dear; but for the love of the Self in the wife that a wife is dear.
In truth, it is not for the love of children that children are dear; but for the love of the Self in children that children are dear.
In truth, it is not for the love of riches that riches are dear; but for the love of the Self in riches that riches are dear.
In truth, it is not for the love of power that power is dear; but for the love of the Self in power that power is dear.
In truth, it is not for the love of creatures that creatures are dear;
but for the love of the Self in creatures that creatures are dear.
In truth, it is not for the love of the all that the all is dear; but for the love of the Self in the all that the all is dear.
It is the Soul, the Spirit, the Self, that must be seen and be heard and have our thoughts and meditation, O Maitreyi.
When the Self is seen and heard, is thought upon and is known, then all that is becomes known… [all this is understood].
Religion, power, heavens, beings, gods, and all will abandon us if we think that they are apart from the Self Because religion, power, heavens, beings, gods, and all rest on the Self.
— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
I teach my students to love their children, but view them with spiritual eyes first, as Atman. Let them lead their own life, ultimately, and connect with the source of Divine Love inside themselves. They will not only find their way in this universe…but soon enough, show us all the way.
Trust them. They are the Great Being, Atman, the Self. This deeper way of perceiving our kids is the surest path to detached parenting and emergence of true love, that never bounds or gets imprisoned, but is free and forever unconditional.
Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga. She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind + body + soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in 2020, Sovereign Self. Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month. Study Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her online course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.