This weekend I read that “equanimity is the true mark of spiritual maturity.” What an irony that here I am: mother, practitioner, “adult” – and losing equanimity more often than I ever have since Rowan was born. I know what it is about: finding and encountering the unpracticed, undiscovered territories in myself that don’t yet possess strength in the face of challenge. In this way, Rowan – and motherhood – continue to be my greatest life teachers, offering me opportunities day in and day out to exercise my spiritual faculties and emotional reserves in a way I’d never imagined.
I thought I’d mastered patience and equanimity. I thought I had an unshakable penchant for showing up in any given moment ready to respond with understanding and compassion (what a joke!). I thought I’d burned up life’s imbalances through self-awareness, study and dedication to practice. And then I dove off a cliff into parenting and lost my traditional reserves. I gave birth and literally lost my shit.
Just yesterday at a book group focused on conscious parenting someone spoke on how when they are well rested and prioritizing self-care the intuition is intact, patience is intact, love impulse is intact… I smiled to myself remembering the luxury of self-resourcing through a steady life pace: sleep, exercise, spiritual practice, connecting with others, the joy of uninterrupted creative process or even an uninterrupted conversation… It struck me that my intuition, patience and love impulse are not as intact as they used to be when I could self-regulate on my own terms prior to motherhood. All of the sudden I find myself in an unchartered groundless space: grasping for sanity and centeredness when I need it more than ever, facing the challenges of mothering a toddler in a culture that could use more cooperative community support. Just when you need balance and equanimity and those resources of self-care the most, it seems they are taken, gone, seemingly unavailable – just like the genie disappearing back into a bottle….
Don’t misunderstand: I am a victim of nothing. I simply acknowledge that it is far harder to live in a ‘balanced’ way – where equanimity reigns – now that sleep evades me along with time for ‘practice’ and ‘self-care’ in any predictable or reliable way. As parents, the baseline of physical well-being through rest, community support and overall sense of health and vitality isn’t a given any longer, and yet the demand to function and show up at our best doesn’t relent. In fact, it is only amplified. This is all true. And, at the deepest level, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t to say it doesn’t hurt like hell to be swimming this path that is full of physical and emotional challenges when under-resourced; I am simply clarifying that there are no excuses as to why we can’t still show up at our best.
The calling is one of profound responsibility to serve our children and others through finding a new ground and baseline of balanced surrender into what is. As parents intending to live the parenting journey as sacred practice and mindful art, it is absolutely our responsibility to find new ways of self-care and self-resourcing even when the conditions are less than ‘ideal’ from a conventional perspective.
When the bottom falls out a new opportunity is presented. Instead of engaging life from a place of struggle, we can choose to respond in a relaxed way with a non-problematic disposition. (“What, it isn’t normal to be up eight times a night?” “Oh, you mean waking up to my son’s puke all over me isn’t pleasant?”…”No Big Deal” as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron often says…) This capacity to respond in a relaxed, non-problematic way blurs into my relations with Rowan (at least I want it to). Instead of emotionally responding to difficult moments from a place of exhausted reactivity (which happens more often than I care to admit) I can chill out with a deep breath and answer the tug at shirt or throw of egg across the room with a relaxed, non-problematic disposition (after all, young children respond to our state so much more than our words). I can remember my mantra of ‘nourished surrender’ – meaning that the surrender into my exhaustion or frustration or feeling unsupported can of itself be nourishing; Just the gesture of sinking into what is arising in the present moment without resistance and without pining for something that was or could be is a way to care for ourselves. It often requires a reorientation of how one engages the present moment: a re-framing of what nourishment is or can be in our lives, and a dedication to relax more and crave ‘other’ less. It doesn’t mean we thwart paying close attention to what we are needing/drawn to/attracted to in our lives. It doesn’t mean we stop asking for help or moving in new directions to create more sane situations… It just means we are committed to a relaxed surrender to what is arising, even while we move gently towards what we need for support and sanity. For me, the relaxed surrender points the way towards the elusive realm of equanimity: that mark of spiritual maturity.
The ground shifting beneath our feet can usher forth the discovery of manifestations of Grace not previously understood. There is a way to find a resourcefulness that is less dependent on the realm of physical nourishment or ‘comfort’ – and more rooted in subtler realms of feeling. Smaller gestures of self-care like a cup of tea or a brief hot shower can become more poignant. It is essential to uncover new ways of engaging each present moment in its unexpected challenges, working with not turning away and not delving into the internal dialogues of “if only this”…”if only that” (“if only I could sleep more, then I’d be saner,” “if only he napped longer I could finish this journal entry and get back to a more centered place” “if only I had time to do that downward dog right now without him pulling my hair…” – you get the picture). At each juncture we can choose not to turn away from the present moment into a fantasy of what could be ‘better’ or easier. We can instead choose a ‘no excuses’ orientation in terms of a personal responsibility to engage bliss and love in each moment of arising – hair pulling, moments of contraction, equanimity failing – and all.