On this Christmas Day I ponder past celebrations with family. My most settled and memorable Christmases were during the late 50’s and early 60’s. I was still feeling Santa as a palpable energy and could not wait to get up early to see if the “jolly old elf” munched the cookies and milk we placed for his enjoyment. Of course, presents under the tree were from a 1950’s child’s dreams—erector sets for me and dolls for my sister.
Over the years, my family became less settled and we moved frequently. We had eight different addresses in two states and three cities by the time I was 14. I never really had the stability of a childhood home to which I returned as I grew into an adult. And now I experience the loss of my last parent and enter the realm of orphans. It is a strange feeling, a kind of grief that dawns in subtle waves. I really cannot go home again, even though I never had such a home.
The archetype of returning home to the mother, feeling the nurture and warmth of a mother’s love, is very powerful. I think this is why the spiritual path in our tradition is often described as “the son returning to the mother”. This phrase has many layers of meaning but, on the the basic level, it expresses the desire to find our true home to which we may always return. The practice is to recognize we never left, to discover the strength and stability that resides in our own hearts.
It is fitting that our spiritual tradition originates with orphans or persons with only one parent. Buddha’s mother died in childbirth. Garab Dorje had a kind of ‘immaculate conception’—born to a nun who initially tried to get rid of him. Padmasambhava was adopted. Sera Khandro chose orphanhood over being tied to an arranged marriage in order to follow her heart’s longing. It does not matter our parentage. We can still choose to be home and rest in our original compassionate nature.
Nevertheless, I find value in exploring what it means to be an orphan. It connects me to all beings without parents. My heart opens on a visceral level to children who never had parents and those in war-torn countries who experience the death of their families in an explosion. I see new orphans in earthquakes and tsunamis. I witness children stripped from their parents in areas with insensitive and archaic rules about immigration. The mandala of my compassion becomes wider and my practice grows stronger.