“I love my children so much, but I am not with them most of the day. They go to school and I see them for a few hours every morning and evening. How do I protect them? How do I ensure that they do not suffer, they are not hurt?” I asked the resident Monk.
It was the last evening of a week long Zen meditation retreat. We had been meditating daily for hours, in the morning, afternoon and evening. Now we had the opportunity to ask questions, and my question was about my children.
The Monk looked at me and smiled. “I can see you love your children, and you want to protect them. But it is a futile endeavor.”
“What do you mean?” I asked bewildered, “How can I not protect them?”
“You cannot be with them forever. You already know that,” he responded. “They have their own journey through life. They will be happy and sad and hurt and joyful, and you cannot prevent their suffering. But there is something you can do,” he added.
“What is that?” I asked, still confused.
“There is only one person you are with 24 hours a day. Do you know who that is?” he asked.
I pondered his question for a moment, and then I got it. “The only person I am with, 24 hours a day, is myself.”
“Very good,” he responded. “You are the only person you can affect in this world. You cannot change someone else. You cannot protect someone else. But through the example of your life, you can show your children, how to live. How to be happy. How to deal with disappointment. How to love. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I replied. It was all, suddenly, very clear to me.
I am reminded again of these words, today, the first day of 2017, when we think of our resolutions.
We cannot change our children.
We cannot change our spouses.
We cannot change our parents.
We cannot change our friends.
These are all futile endeavors.
We can only change ourselves, the person we are with, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Grab the opportunity with both hands. Change yourself this year!