Both Marcia and her husband were practicing and teaching Integral yoga (which includes hatha, karma, and bhakti yoga), but coping with these deaths challenged everything they thought they knew about the world, including their experience with yoga.
"It was a huge lesson in attachment. It reoriented my relationship with yoga in a deeper, more realistic way," says Marcia. "Even though it's biologically and emotionally reasonable for us to be attached to our children, it's an attachment that creates pain. The Sutra says that anything we resist—like losing somebody—creates pain. We had to learn to experience love without attachment."
For Marcia and Roland, "watching [their] child's spirit leave the body" was the ultimate unselfish act. "It teaches you about the deepest kind of love," she says. "I'm embarrassed at how simplistic I was before I experienced that loss. I thought if people just did yoga everything would be all right. And that's true, but not outwardly—outwardly, the people we love are still going to die or disappoint us in some way. But inwardly, yoga gives us tools to help us live with the changes and pain that are an intrinsic part of life."
Some parents may find this particular kind of unconditional love an impossible stretch, like an asana that hurts too much to execute. Mercifully, many will never have to face what Marcia and Roland did. But if yoga and meditation teach us anything, it is that we must never underestimate our capacity to expand, to take on more, body, mind, and soul. This marvelous, enabling potential of yoga seems at the very heart of Marcia's point.
As parents, we'll always be faced with the dual task of nurturing and teaching our young even as we carry on our own inner work. If we're wise, we'll undertake these tasks simultaneously, letting both assignments inform who we are and who we'll become, without letting one take precedence over the other. After all, the goal in both instances—raising our children and raising ourselves—is to cultivate fully realized human beings.
With our loving guidance, our children will grow up ready and willing to do good works and to commit to some sort of body, mind, and soul work of their own. It helps, then, if we look at our parenting as something we'll be doing over the long haul. "We need to see our children as people we will want to be involved with all our lives," says Bo Lozoff. One of the great tragedies of our culture is that our kids go off and leave us when they grow up, he points out. And that's a shame, because being involved with your adult kids, he says, "can be just as important and rich and beautiful and juicy as being with them when they are small."
Stephanie Renfrow Hamilton, mother of three, has written and edited for Parenting, Essence, and McCall's.She is a coauthor of The Whole Parenting Guide (Broadway Books, 1999).