Articles January 10, 2022

Interview: Finding Joy in Difficult Times

James Baraz

How has fatherhood influenced/informed/affected your dharma teaching and/or practice?

Jack Kornfield: There is nothing like raising children to open you to wild, inexhaustible love, vast trust, and endless patience. Being a father is one of the greatest joys of my life...and it has given warmth and down-to-earth immediacy to my teaching and practice.

James Baraz: Being a father has been one of the most important aspects of my Dharma practice. It has provided me with the greatest opportunity to cultivate all four brahmavihāras. Lovingkindness has been an effortless outflowing of the heart. When my sons are going through a hard time, compassion—deep caring for their suffering—naturally follows. There’s nothing like seeing Adam or Tony experience success to open the channel to genuine sympathetic joy. But it’s equanimity that is a real ongoing practice.

There’s nothing like parenthood to help cultivate equanimity. Staying balanced behind my sons’ ups and downs without trying to take away their pain or make them any different than who they are has been a most profound practice in letting go and honoring their life’s journey. I find the more I’m able to just be there for them without trying to change them, the more they seem to reach out for my moral support and counsel. Being a father is a profound practice, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to cultivate patience, love, and an open heart.

Eugene Cash: My daughter, Aya, was born soon after I began meditating. Becoming a father rooted me in lay life. This meant engaging in practice intensively both on retreat and within the structures of family life and responsibility. Aya's birth opened my heart. I remember walking home in San Francisco after she was born, and I had a living vision, I saw each person as a newborn baby. It put the world in a new perspective to be part of the cycle of life.

In an ongoing way, being a father is like everything else in life—it's a practice. The most significant feature of parenting as practice is letting go. From the minute the child is born, they are growing, changing, and developing. If you try and hold them to any one stage or phase, it's dukkha, suffering. I developed a practice model of concentric circles.

As a parent, you hold the child appropriately at each stage but are also willing to drop that circle when they need to expand and hold them within the next larger circle until that, too, becomes too small and needs to drop away. In this way, parenting has clarified the difference between love and attachment. Attachment is limited and limiting, love is boundless, limitless.

James Baraz

James Baraz

Residential Retreat Teacher

James Baraz is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock. James started the Community Dharma Leader program and Spirit's Rock Family Program. James leads the online course "Awakening Joy" since 2003. He is a guiding teacher to One Earth Sangha, a platform devoted to Buddhist responses to Climate Change.