Diving for Pearls with Maggie Kay
The Wisdom of Letting Go
Hindrance or Opportunity?
Some Buddhists claim that having children is unhelpful for your spiritual development because it opens you up to such strong attachment. (Attachment is a big theme in Buddhism which teaches a path of letting go or non-attachment.) It is generally true that the more emotionally involved you are with someone, the more you are liable to be caught in attachment. At worst this can mean limiting, insecure ways of relating and unhealthy dependence. For a Buddhist, however, identifying and uprooting this ‘clinging’ is the very heart of practice.
But even when I was a Buddhist, I couldn’t agree with the idea that having a child was spiritually diminishing. I soon came to value the power and vitality of parental love and discovered that motherhood gave me a depth of experience that enriches my spiritual life, contacting a huge reservoir of love such as I had never known before. It seemed to me that parental love is a spiritual opportunity.
The trick is not to back away from the strength of that love, but to dwell deeply in it, to penetrate love’s true nature and the nature of that which you love. As a parent you have almost no choice but to love your child intensely. This demands that you find the same intensity of wisdom to match it. The more your heart is open, the more you can allow any wise reflections to touch you and let them transform you.
One story that illustrates this is that of Kisa Gotami, probably my favorite story from the Buddha’s day. Kisa Gotami comes to the Buddha cradling her dead child. She is distraught, even a little crazed, and cannot accept that her child is dead. She has heard the Buddha is a great man, a great healer, and begs him to provide medicine for her ‘sick’ child. The Buddha replies that he will help her. She must find a mustard seed as medicine, but there is one condition – it must come from a household that has not known death.
Kisa Gotami sets out on her quest, knocking at doors. Those who greet her are happy to give her a mustard seed, but shake their heads when they hear of the condition. “The living are few, but the dead are many,” they say. Kisa Gotami cannot find a house in which no one has died, and gradually a new perspective dawns. She sees the universality of death and this allows her to acknowledge what has happened. She buries her child, returns to the Buddha and commits herself to the spiritual life.
Kisa Gotami ‘wakes up’ during her quest. She sees that death and loss are universal, so she can finally grieve and let go of her child. This is a deeper engagement with life and death that sees it in a spiritual perspective. In accepting the death of her child, Kisa Gotami gains insight into the nature of human life. Obviously this is challenging ground and Kisa Gotami had the Buddha’s help, but she did not stop loving. It was just that her love was placed in a much vaster context.
Another example comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Many of their texts dwell on the mother-child relationship to evoke the intensity of love that human beings are capable of. Mother love is used as a metaphor to describe metta, a Sanskrit word meaning unconditional loving kindness:
As a mother watches o’er her child, her only child, so long as she doth breathe,
So let one practice unto all that live an all-embracing mind.
The difficulty lies in transforming exclusive love into one that includes all beings. The prospect of loving every being like one’s only child is awesome, but life offers glimpses of such an experience. For example, when we grieve the death of a loved one, the combination of feelings arising from a personal loss, with an acknowledgement of the universality of death, can open up an intense love for all humanity.
Compassion comes with realizing that all beings will one day share this moment in their own way. Similarly, dying people sometimes reach a serenity where they accept impending death and are imbued with a sublime love for their family, friends and humanity, and for life itself – as if only this fullness of love is important, more important and powerful than death itself.
Saying Yes to Love
Over the years I have thought a great deal about the nature of human love – ordinary human affection and intimacy with all its imperfections. It is this middle ground between the lofty climes of metta and the grip of unconscious attachment that I am interested in. That is where many of us stand for much of our lives.
When I first became involved in Buddhism, I latched on to the notion of non-attachment because I was hurt by loss and death. I was only 19 and didn’t know myself well. Although fairly bright and positive on the surface, I was unconsciously on the run from painful experiences. My adolescence had ended abruptly with my father’s illness and death. I felt mature beyond my years and my world of teenage rebellion became meaningless.
So, too, did my relationship with my first love, John, despite having held such passion and promise for me. I had thought he was the man I’d spend my life with. But soon after my dad died, my need for John melted away and I felt strangely alone. Suddenly, I found myself telling him it was over.
Although my response to Buddhism was largely sincere, I misconstrued some of what I learned in the early days. While I rejoiced in my fortune at having come across this spiritual path so young, I did not realize how much emotional backlog I had to deal with. It was during this initial phase that I developed a sort of defended pseudo-independence and fooled myself that I was free of attachments.
Fortunately, meditation and spiritual friendship sorted me out when I moved to London. Meditating every day, living in community and working in right-livelihood businesses was like being in a hall of mirrors. Everywhere I looked, I saw my true self being reflected back. There was no escape. So the pain of what I had been running from caught up with me. It was a journey into the underworld and I came more deeply into relationship with the grief I had been trying to deny.
By fully grieving, in opening up my heart to what had happened, the pseudo-independence crumbled. I was heartbroken and from that broken heart a bigger heart was released. I began to see that non-attachment was not about holding back, being self-contained and trying to limit the inevitable emotional damage that comes through being in relationship with people.
Instead, I found that non-attachment is about loving deeply, letting my love flow and admitting how much friends, family and loved ones matter. It involves being willing to love them, give myself to them, even though we will one day be parted. There is nothing we can do to stop death or to end separation, but practicing non-attachment does not mean shutting off love. It means being prepared to take the pain of losing loved ones because the sheer experience of love is worth it.
My attitude to love began to change as I acknowledged the truth of impermanence and the inevitability of the suffering implicit in loving. From feeling I made myself vulnerable by loving, I began to experience a greater robustness in my love. What did I really have to lose? I started to see love as giving rather than losing myself. To really love I must be prepared to give everything and let go of everything. I must learn to release my love, love for its own sake, with no desire for a secure payoff.
A decade after my first contact with Buddhism, I had a partner and a son, and so those ponderings had a new arena. The issues of attachment were different. I couldn’t choose whether or not to love my son, whether it was ‘safe’ to invest emotional energy in him. It was absolutely what I must and did do. I was only just beginning the journey of loving as a mother, and every time I thought I understood what that involved, it changed. Those changes brought many lessons. Only insight in to my son’s true nature – a beautiful being that I love, but ultimately cannot control the fate of – freed me from attachment.
Every so often a tragic news story rips through the day-to-day illusion that our loved ones last forever, never to be disturbed by accident, illness, separation. I don’t want to have to experience the same as Kisa Gotami in order to wake up and gain insight, but I do want to wake up. I want to feel unbounded love that is passionate, full and wise. Living with the tension of loving fully and letting go is not easy – simultaneously holding two apparent opposites – but it provides the ground of my awakening.
The tension does allow a larger perspective to emerge; continuing to love and let go is the only option. Love is not about binding another or oneself to a status quo because of insecurity. (That is essentially an impossible task as things change, like it or not.) It means taking a stand on a deeper, spiritual understanding. To love fully is to open oneself to the truth of impermanence and to totally relish our loved ones while we can, ‘kissing the joy as it flies’.
Known as the Inner Wisdom Coach and formerly an ordained Buddhist, Maggie specialises in meditation, mindfulness, law of attraction, metaphysics and spiritual intelligence for life, love and business.
As well as coaching one-to-one, she trains accredited Thrivecraft life coaches and meditation teachers and runs retreats and workshops for soulful entrepreneurs, coaches and well being professionals.
In 2016, with her son Jamie grown up, Maggie established Thrivecraft Home Hub, a riverside country retreat in Cornwall, UK, where she lives with her soul mate husband, Patrick.
Her new book – Diving for Pearls: A Wise Woman's Guide to Finding Love (O Books) – is a highly readable true love and spiritual adventure story laced with tips and teachings on meditation, Buddhism, inner wisdom and relationships relevant to all.
Maggie's vision for the future includes taking Thrivecraft worldwide via a new online academy; continuing to mentor coaches, well-being professionals and meditation teachers to grow and prosper their businesses; producing audios of her full range of guided meditations; and writing further books to inspire and support everyone to create rich, happy and fulfilling lives.
Buy Diving for Pearls on Amazon.
Thrivecraft with Maggie Kay
Wisdom. Inspiration. Self-belief.