I often think that parenting is a spiritual practice. This is partly because it takes an enormous amount of patience and mindfulness, but also because my children are, quite literally, my premier spiritual teachers.
The pearls of wisdom that come from my six-year-old daughter Nava are more profound than any guru's teachings, and I am pretty sure I am not just saying that because I am her mother...
1. "I'd rather be happy."
One day, Nava told me that she often plays alone on the playground at school because the other kids don't include her in their games. As a mom who wants to shelter my child from any experiences of rejection, my heart sank when I heard this. But when I asked Nava if the situation bothers her, she simply said, "I could be upset about it, but I'd rather be happy."
Nava went on to tell me about the little games she plays by herself, and how at least it is quiet and peaceful when she is alone. It was clear that this thing which I was labeling as an atrocity was really not affecting my little girl at all, simply because she values her own well-being too much to let it get her down.
2. "This is the best day of my life."
Recently, monarch butterflies passed through our town on their winter migration and some stopped to enjoy the flowering bushes in our backyard. When Nava discovered them fluttering around, she stood back there for ages just watching them in awe. When I came out to watch them with her, she whispered to me, "This is the best day of my life."
When I think of the best day of my life, my wedding day comes to mind — an elaborate day that I hold as this "best day" gold standard — a day that no other day can beat. But here is my six-year-old, thrilled to such joy at the discovery of butterflies in her backyard that today is the best day of her life. And it's quite likely that tomorrow will also be the best day of her life, too.
3. "I love myself the most."
My daughter was giving me one of those delicious, full-embrace hugs when she looked me right in the eyes and said, "Mom, I love you and Dad and my sister second best, because I love myself the most."
My heart could not have been any fuller with pride. Somehow my six-year-old has managed to master what so many of us spend thousands of dollars on self-help courses, therapy, inspirational books and more to learn – that self-love truly is the greatest love of all.
4. "There is magic everywhere."
Nava loves to watch the clouds, search for four leaf clovers, study earth worms and snails as they crawl along, and smell every flower she can possibly find. She will excitedly exclaim, "I see an airplane!" or squeal with delight at the discovery of a ladybug — and to her, those things are pure magic. She tells me, "There is magic everywhere, Mom, you just have to open your eyes and see it."
My daughter is a keen observer of her environment, but the world she perceives is far more enchanted than what I see. To Nava, a circle of mushrooms is a fairy ring, a hummingbird is an angel bringing us a blessing, and a night star is an opportunity to make a wish. Nava has declared that her world is magical, and through her eyes, magic is not only possible — it is to be expected.
5. "I want to help others."
Nava recently asked me if she could have the bag of recycling I was collecting in the kitchen to take out to the bin. "Sure," I said, "why?" She told me that she wanted to make the recycled garbage into art so she could sell the art and give the money to poor people. "We have everything that we need," she told me, "but there are people who don't, and I want to help them. Maybe they need to buy food or clothes, and I can give the money from my art sale to them."
I have to admit, with a bit of guilt, that Nava did not get this sentiment from me. I can give all the excuses in the world about being busy or pressed for cash, but the truth is I do not spend much time volunteering my time or my money. But somehow Nava realized that she is more fortunate than many others, and wants to use her good fortune (and what is our garbage if not a sign of our affluence?) to help others. You are all invited to her recycled art sale, coming soon to our front yard.
6. My favorite part of the day is right now.
One evening as I was tucking Nava into bed, I asked her what her favorite part of the day was. "My favorite part of the day is right now," she told me. We grown-ups on a spiritual path practice meditation, go on retreats, recite mantras and visualize mandalas to train our minds to be present in the moment, to shut off the constant rehashing of the past or projections and worries about the future. But with no effort at all, my six-year-old daughter lives in the moment. And that moment, every moment, is her favorite.