Monday, November 30, 2009

On Tenderness and Icons

It is sometimes very moving to observe my son exploring objects. He treats things not only with interest, but with tenderness. It goes deeper than simply hugging his cute stuffed animals, the way he buries his face into them.

The tenderness toward objects starts with his fascination over all the sensory information he gets from things. He compares the relative weights of different objects. He is exploring textures, shapes, soft versus hard, and the sounds things can make. His brand new sensory gates are wide open and everything, literally, is teaching him. The intersection of his body with material objects is very clear to see. We stop noticing this later on in our development, as we impose filters on our experience; many of us achieve a tragic sort of adulthood where we hardly notice or feel anything. Gabriel’s experience of himself and his environment is so vibrant right now, I sometimes feel as though I’ve been asleep for years.

Different objects, for periods of time, are selected for extra time and attention by Gabriel. A plastic toy screw. A stone. One of mama’s slippers. He cherishes these objects, often pulling them out and examining them all over again in loving detail.

Today, in class, I felt something in my back pocket and pulled it out to discover that I was holding a red plastic ring that is one of Gabriel’s favored objects lately. In an instant, I was overcome with the same tenderness Gabriel shows to things.

What’s important to remember is that the objects change. A red plastic ring is not magically charged with this affection for life; Gabriel himself will have moved on to another object as soon as this evening. An adult mistake is to think the ring is what is special, but that’s not it. "It" has to do with the transmission of this tenderness for life – it just happens that a plastic ring may serve as a reminder. So might a wedding band. Or a ribbon. Or some small gift from a loved one. It doesn’t matter.

Moreover, it’s not about a person, either. The person is no more special than the stuffed donkey or the favorite stone. We’re here for a while and soon return to dust. While we are here, though, a person may also serve as a reminder.


quid said...

Sometimes it is so hard to go back to the real feeling you can get from the simplest observations. Thanks for helping me do that this Tuesday morning.


Kelly said...

While he is learning, you're learning from him.

Wonderful, isn't it?!

Ji Hyang said...

You should extend this a bit and submit it to Buddhadharma or another site. This is one of the best teaching pieces you've authored yet, showing the tenderness of true seeing even as you describe it.