“You are never happier than your least happy child,” was the answer I gave to a list of questions that became a one page “Profile” in a national magazine. Letters to the magazine in response included one in which a dismayed mother wrote that her two adult daughters struggled with various difficult conditions and wondered if I was implying that she couldn’t be happy since she “loved her daughters more than anything in the world.”
I replied saying that the Buddha taught that the love of parents is the prototype of deeply committed loving. He describes the strength of the mother-child bond this way: “Just as a mother would give her life for her one and only child,” he taught in the Sermon on Kindness, “so should we love all beings.”
The problem with the motto I chose, “You are never happier than your least happy child,” is with the word “never.” In the middle of knowing that one of my children, or grandchildren, is having a difficult time, an awareness that saddens me when I think of it, I might have a phone call from a friend and feel gladdened by it, or see a hawk land on my garden fence and watch it just sit there, or decide to listen to a new recording of Joshua Bell playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. In all the times I am not thinking of the situation of distress, times I can cultivate by deciding to put my attention elsewhere or times that arrive by grace, like phone calls from friends, my mind gets a chance to rest. I find that the thought, “My beloved person is in pain,” seems less all-consuming. It remains a true thought, but in a larger field in which it is not the only truth. It feels easier to accept.
One of the ways I choose to rest my mind is to meditate. Even a short period of time of sitting quietly, in a comfortable space, feeling the rhythm of changes in the body as breath comes in and out of it. Paying attention to the way the shoulders rise and fall, or the belly pushes forward and then settles back down is both simple and soothing.
When my mind is relaxed, I am able to think of the person in pain with compassion and to think of myself with compassion, too. Compassion is another form of happiness.