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When I Leave For Work My Daughter Cries

When I finally closed my eyes for bed, after working an eleven-hour day, putting my children to sleep, and caring for my dogs, my mind filled with an image of my daughter from earlier that morning.   Sitting on the dining room floor with her back against the wall, she looked up at me as I was leaving for work.  Her face was covered in tears, and her words called me to stay.  I kissed her goodbye and told her I loved her and headed to the car.  As the car pulled away from the house, I felt my own eyes fill with tears, and I watched my mind rapid-fire thoughts in an effort to carry me far away from the sadness I felt leaving.

Meditation teaches that humans are hard-wired to push away pain and grasp onto pleasure.  And this approach, in turn, instead of working with our emotions as they arise, creates far greater suffering. This image of my daughter crying, that arose unexpectedly and filled my soul, turning away any hopes I had of sleeping, signaled to me that her sadness, and mine, needed my attention.

Transitioning to working out of the house while my children were young was a change both intensely desirable and one I had greatly feared.  My swirling thoughts of concern surrounding its prospects caused me great anxiety and hesitation.  Did wanting to work outside of my home make me a bad mom?  Was I leaving to get away from my children?  Was I cultivating additional professional aspects of myself because I couldn’t find happiness when and where I was? Would leaving cause my family and me unnecessary suffering?  Was I doing something selfish?

Recognizing that I no longer wanted my anxiety about doing to prevent me from showing up to try, I gave my thoughts space to rise and fall, but decided not to ride them, as Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche instructs.   This approach helped me return to the doing -- the act of going to work.

But I noticed this spiral of anxious thoughts return again each time I left in the morning when my daughter was crying.  As a response to her tears, my fast-paced thought-cycle surged like the waves of the ocean: its familiarity and intimacy provided instant comfort and shielded me from external input.  Thus I became successfully distracted from any pain in the present.

My success was fleeting, and my struggle to sleep was one among other signs.  Recognizing I was in pain and wanting to work with it, I decided to do so on the spot.  I sat down to commute, leaned back in my seat, and felt my own tears stream down my face.  Wiping my face, I self-consciously took in my surroundings.  The boat I was riding was filled mostly with suited men.  In the background, the din from a TV screen broadcasting news from the market carried out over a sea of neatly gelled haircuts, tipped down to view hand-held devices.  I felt judgment arise as I criticized myself for crying among those I deemed to be more together and professional than me.  Then I paused and remembered to come back to what I was feeling.

As I sat and cried, I called on a the practice of tonglen, in which you breathe in deeply the pain of yourself or another, and send out something in return.  I pictured my daughter’s tear-stained face and breathed it in.  As I did this I cried more.  I felt the urge arise to move away from the practice so I could stop crying.  Continuing, I breathed out an image of my daughter and me hugging.  I did this several more times, breathing in pain and out solace, for her and for me.  As I breathed, I felt closer and more connected to her pain and mine.  I recalled a story my meditation teacher told about crying in the airport after ending a relationship, and at that moment, realizing he was truly alone.  And at the same moment, he felt the heart of his sadness.  I took this in, connecting with him, with myself and my daughter, and with all beings who experience pain.

Recently, I had the opportunity to bring my daughter to work with me.  She sat with me while we commuted, and I asked her if I could make a video of the two of us.  In it, I had hoped to talk about work and our feelings surrounding the change in our lives.  Instead, I turned the camera on and my daughter sang a song that my husband sings to her at night, on the nights he’s able to put our children to bed.  The song is about frogs meeting, having to leave, and missing each other and kissing.  Her words for amphibians and for the world are in the video here.  Thank you, Lia.  I love you! ~Karma Mamma

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