The Buddhist paradigm for compassion is a mother’s love for her child – “her only child” the texts often add to drive home the point. And it is incumbent on us to extend the same love and compassion to others, including all sentient beings, who according to the doctrine of karma and rebirth have all been our mothers in some previous lifetime.
Recent psychology, supported by even more recent discoveries in cognitive neuroscience, highlight the essential importance of early “attunement” between mother and child. It is the resonant, caring responsiveness of the mother – the reflection she gives the child of its own behavior – that causes the infant to discover itself as a self, a separate agent in the world, a “me.” This is the foundation for the child’s development of a healthy ego, a secure identity, the sense of having a meaningful place in the world. Ultimately it is the source of our capacity to have love for others. Indeed, even the project of transcending ego, if and when a person reaches that stage of maturity, begins with a healthy, cohesive self-sense.
Developmental psychologist Daniel Siegel, a senior adviser to the Garrison Institute, believes that the practice of mindfulness involves a process of self-attunement that parallels the early process of mother-child attunement. He proposes that mindfulness practice – noticing and gently accepting whatever arises in our experience – engages the same neurological circuits in the brain as do the mother’s reflections of the infant.
This suggests that by practicing meditation we literally, in some neurological sense, become mothers to ourselves. We learn or relearn to love ourselves, and it is the warmth of this loving care and attention that allows neurotic blockages to dissolve and our personality to become more integrated and cohesive as we let go of fears about the reality of our own existence.
So this Mother’s Day let’s celebrate all of our mothers, near or far, alive or dead or in previous lives, and experience deep gratitude for their giving birth to us, to our sense of self, and furthermore to our potential for achieving the higher wisdom and compassion that flow from the realization of no-self.