This past weekend, I returned to Blue Cliff Monastery, a mindfulness meditation practice center in upstate New York, for another short retreat. Each time I leave the city for an experience like this, I learn something new. This time, however, I wasn’t alone—my parents joined me.
They took some convincing, because they’ve never tried meditation. “I’m only coming to see you,” my mom repeated to me several times before the weekend, as if to remind me she had no interest in whatever the monastery had to offer.
I’d noticed that as they’ve grown older, my parents have become more and more fixed in their ways. If an activity doesn’t fall within their highly circumscribed range of habits, they decline to give it a try—missing out on things that they might enjoy or that could be good for them. I feel as frustrated as they must have been back when I refused to eat my vegetables.
On the first day of the retreat, I arrived late and was surprised to find Mom and Dad in the central tea room, yucking it up with a few of the monks and already making friends with the other visitors. My parents had no idea what they were doing, but they still went about the retreat with open minds and earnest spirits. My mom, in particular, was often confused about when silence was expected and when talking was allowed. I had to shush her a few times at the dining hall, but she took it well, and the monks and nuns just smiled.
The most meaningful moments of the weekend? Our silent sits in Blue Cliff’s big, beautiful meditation hall. I felt keenly aware of my parents’ efforts to meditate, wondering if their experiences mirrored mine. Were they comfortable? What were they thinking about? Did they find the all the bell-ringing and the gongs weird, or calming?
Later, my mom told me that those moments of silence convinced her she could use less stress and anxiety in her life, and that she would try to practice mindfulness while driving (which, I can assure you, is a time when she definitely needs it).
My dad said he became aware of his tendency to be too fixated on regrets or future plans: “It reminded me to savor and enjoy what I experience in the moment; to avoid judging and cherish my relationships with family and friends.” Their words offered a rare peek inside my parents’ heads. Their takeaways from the weekend were not so different from my own.
It was the first time I can remember sharing a truly spiritual experience with my parents, and I felt connected to them in a way I hadn’t felt before. Instead of the two of them peppering me with questions about my job, my friends, my relationships, my health—all those things parents obsess over endlessly—we instead focused on the present, enjoying the beauty and calm of Blue Cliff.
The silence may have taken some getting used to for my parents, but it forced us to change the way we related to one another. For the weekend, we were peers, equals, seeking the same connection with a power greater than us and, beyond our understanding. Everything else that typically defined our relationship was gone. This retreat wasn’t only good for them, I realized. It was good for us.
Maybe my parents aren’t so set in their ways after all. I don’t know how my relationship with them will change as we all get older, but I know now that it will change. There’s plenty of room for our relationship to grow.
How has a spiritual practice deepened your relationship with a loved one? Share your story with us.