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Feb 20
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The Ngondro of Babyhood
River Henriksen

River Henriksen

I conceived my son when I was deep into my ngondro practice. Although my aspiration to receive Rigden abhisheka in the coming months was derailed, I felt that I had received the ultimate blessing.  The ngondro for this abhisheka began after the transmission – through the long days and nights of parenting, the constant surrendering of myself to another human being.

During my pregnancy, my bodhisattva vow was always in my thoughts.  I was no longer just imagining what it would be like to give my entire body over to another sentient being, just as the teachings dare us to do.  “Would you actually give your arm, your skin, your bones to another being in need?”  “Yes” I had to answer, again and again, “yes”.  This view helped tremendously – to be able to consciously surrender to this baby, to let go of my attachment to eating certain foods, taking part in certain activities, looking or even feeling a certain way.  To let go of Me.

Rebekka and River

Rebekka and River

At River’s birth, I felt much as I had at transmission – the same vast openness, awareness, space.  The Sakyong’s picture was in the room with us.  At one point I cried out that I wished the Sakyong were here with me, to help me through this terrifying physical challenge, which at that moment threatened to overwhelm me.  My doula, a non-practitioner, said, “He is here with us.”  I was able to relax, and get through the rest of labor.

Through the early sleepless nights of newborn life, I sometimes found myself struggling with patience and compassion, even towards this precious baby, for whom I had longed and who I loved more than any other being I had ever known.

I found my heart breaking over and over as I realized in the most piercing way how hard it is to let go of my own self-cherishing and open to another being, even my most beloved new son.

He is only three months old now, and caring for him through a long, cold winter has reminded me not only of ngondro, but also dathun.  It is the dathun of babyhood, of holding my seat and opening to what is, again and again, as my ego-driven plans for each day, or even each hour, inevitably dissolve into the chaos of infancy.

This chaos has opened my heart so wide, has filled me with such a vast joy, that I mourn the moments when I realize I am not fully present.  What often brings me back is his smile, his cooing at a shadow on the wall or some other small wonder.  I carry him with me each day as I prepare the tea for the protectors and do morning chants.  I show him the shrine thangka and the pictures of our teachers.  He is sometimes interested, sometimes not.  His patience and compassion towards me and his father are enormous, so what does it matter if he cries during the Heart Sutra?  “Buddha” I say, pointing at the thangka.  He smiles at the Buddha, then at me, rubs his eyes, and sleeps, only to wake crying when I sit on the gomden.  “Hello baby!” I say, and get up, opening again to this being, to this love, to what is.

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