Inadequacy: The Great Equalizer

Nataraja, The Dancer
Nataraja, The Dancer

Here is something else parenthood has taught me: Inadequacy is the great equalizer.

You might, understandably, be wondering what on earth I mean. Let me start here: The word adequate is from the Latin, ‘adaequatus,’ “equalized” – as in “to be equal to what is required.” Parenting shows me my own limitations at every turn. Daily I don’t feel equal to what is required. I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating way, I mean it practically. I can’t respond to three requests at once. I can’t do as much as I once did. For me, parenthood often feels like a constant fall on the face: a literal trip up the stairs, dropping so many balls as I try to carry too much. There is food on the wall (and pummeled into the floor). The laundry piles creep out of baskets. Work tasks take longer to check off. Phone calls go unanswered. Letters written three weeks ago are still not mailed. “Where are my keys?” “I swear that diaper was in my bag.” “Mom! Why didn’t you wash my sweatshirt? You said you would!” …

With less and less room to ‘get it all done,’ there is more and more space for humility. And, with that emerges the invitation to dance in the freedom of just being yourself, regardless of and independent of what you are able to ‘accomplish.’ Ultimately, freedom arrives when I am just myself, moment to moment. Nothing more or less, just doing one thing at a time, calmly (or not) juggling all the balls thrown up in the air. I’m reminded of Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, an expression of Shiva who dances a cosmic dance of bliss, with one foot on the ground pointing to his embodiment, with the other foot lifted in the air, pointing to release. His dance is meant to release us from the illusion of separateness. (How can we be ‘unequal’ to anything?)

So – we can be equal dancers in the seamless, never-ending field of current familial chaos. We don’t have to be thrown under the bus of overwhelm and the feeling of not measuring up. We can instead just do the Dance. And we can do it from a level, ‘equalized’ playing field. We can do it from an orientation of no-separation.

For me, the experience of feeling inadequate in the face of what life requires has rendered me smoothed out, laying me flat on my face on the ground of being. Like the priest who prostrates himself before the altar, so too do I feel utterly surrendered: splatted out into what is ultimately an experience of being equalized: “made the same in quantity, size, or degree throughout..made uniform in application or effect.”

My friend Edwige sums it up well. “I looked at this beautiful baby next to me and I just said to myself “let go, just let go.” And so I relinquished myself over to my life—and to not being able to control everything around me; I accepted that I cannot be perfectly rested any more, or perfectly prepared. I am a parent.”  I love this. Even when we are riding along the edges of overwhelm, exhaustion, or a feeling of ‘not measuring up,’ we can choose to let go of trying to control all of the outcomes and instead dance our seamless, perfect dance within life’s ongoing variables – meeting what comes with undivided attention and love.

Laundry, Dishes…Liberation?

“And yet, I can not help but look around some days and wonder; as a daughter of the feminist movement, was this the endgame? Am I living the dream that they held in their hearts? Or, are my sisters working with their babies in daycare living the dream?” Devon Corbet

Devon’s blog post on the rhythm of housework and the ever-present tasks of homemaking got me thinking about my own experience of what it means to be a daughter of the feminist movement. The long days at home, parenting and home-keeping, are hard. The sense of responsibility is ever-present. A toddler seems to have some 3-4 needs a minute, newborns need to be held and fed. There is a poop filled diaper to be changed every hour, or so it seems. The messes pile up. Toys are tripped on. Sleep at night is irregular and intermittent at best. Some days going to work part-time does feel easier. I can self-regulate with ease at work. I can get a drink of water right when I need one. I can choose to be my introverted self for a spell. Parenting young children and trying to maintain a sane order at home alternately tosses me into a cocktail of extroverted, non-stop output, where multitasking is a survival skill. There is always work to be done.

More keenly, Devon’s reflections on housework and feminism get me thinking about how I orient to being a mother and home-maker full time, since I am on a respite from work (maternity leave). I get to thinking about what ‘liberation’ means  – in a day-to-day context (and in light ‘women’s liberation’). Since giving birth several weeks ago I’ve been HOME. Really HOME. In three weeks I rode in a car only once. Since my newborn caught a cold, we received few visitors and avoided all public places. On warm enough days, I took neighborhood walks. But other than these short bursts of air, I have been HOME.

During the long stretches of solitary parenting and tending of hearth I’ve found myself swinging on a trapeze amongst varied emotions. There is the ‘trapped’ feeling; the wanting to ‘get out’ – both literally and figuratively. Then there is the calm bliss of sitting quietly with my new babe. There is the complete overwhelm of looking around and seeing nothing but work that needs to be done. There is the clock-watching which involves anticipating something coming next (and incidentally wishing for something other than what is presently arising). There is then the surrender into the present moment, which comes with a peaceful appreciation of my children. The trapeze swings…Then frustration (“why do my oldest children have to be fighting again?”). Irritation. Acceptance. Love. Gratitude. It all happens, sometimes in a span of 10 minutes or less.

But here is what I want to hone in on: the way in which motherhood and tending hearth can prod us to contemplate escape routes or lose ourselves to the ceaseless task lists, OR settle in to an experience of utter freedom and fulfillment. I don’t know what the endgame of the feminist movement is, but I do know that as a woman I am given a profound opportunity to maintain a peaceful, sane order of my home. I know that there is an ever-present risk of losing myself to mere execution of tasks. I also know that sweeping doesn’t have to be just sweeping; it can be akin to cleaning the temple. The quality of attention we bring to what we do is essential.

If we see the tasks associated with being a householder and parent as “separate” from our deeper passions and yearnings, then we lose an opportunity to have everything we do be a full expression of our (full) selves. Herein lies a first insight about ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation.’ If we are always seeking something else, we are not free. If we assume one expression of ourselves is “better” or more desirable than another (professional work over laundry, a yoga practice over a dish washing practice, or a solo hike over neighborhood stroll to the playground), we miss out on a seamless experience of non-discriminating contentment. If we alternately give ourselves over fully to what is asked of us in the realm of parenting and homemaking (even though cultural forces and even personal preference might deem it less alluring), we can enter the free and clear realm of non-grasping and non-seeking mind.

I am reminded of the etymology of the Sanskrit word moksha: freedom, letting go, releasing, liberating. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, moksha points to freedom from the cycle of life and death, while also connoting self-realization. For me, moksha reminds me to ‘let go’ into the present moment, whatever it demands or offers. I am reminded to simultaneously release expectations of how I think something should be, especially if it looks different that what is. I am reminded that while there will always be social conditions requiring liberation movements, there is also always the possibility of an internal orientation of liberation, in the spiritual sense. Regardless of externals, we can bring a free attention to everything we do. We can choose to rest in the center of acceptance, which is ultimately a great expression of day-to-day freedom. We can embody a wild Love that fuels an experience of expansiveness, even in the seemingly ‘small’ orbit of nuclear family and home…

The Other Side: Paying Homage to Life

The moments after birth: I call it ‘being on the other side.’ Giving birth is one of those moments in life when there is a clear before and after – the continuum of life as it is known is profoundly interrupted. There is a giant pause in the experience of time’s passage just after. Time slows down. Priorities shift. A new normal slowly emerges that can’t fully be imagined before. There is the anticipation, the waiting and wondering, the anxious uncertainly (for me) about labor’s when and how… And then, all of a sudden, you are on the other side. Birth happens. Baby is here. A mystery in the form of a new child has come into the light. And, despite my wish for time to stop just for a moment, life moves on.

There is a lesson herein for me about savoring and acknowledging life’s great transitional moments. Something dramatic has happened. A new life has come into the world and I am changed by it. For these days and weeks immediately following baby’s arrival, I am steeped in a slow wonderment. Life is centered around this tiny being and my immediate present moment home, yet at the same time there is the largeness of a full lifetime perspective. Memories of my own childhood flash. Family stories come to the fore. My mother tells me of my own birth. I feel the presence of old friends. I look at my children and wonder about their future.

The lesson of this particular time has to do with a practiced awareness that there is only this one lifetime in this body and that there is no repeating any moment. Birth has happened and there is no repeating it. Baby and children grow. My son will only be a newborn for this short, precious time. We age. We change. The trouble is that life can sweep us up in a flow so fast that we can forget the sacred markers of being alive. Like signposts on a journey, they are there to be greeted and tended to, but too often the pace of life prevents us from fully slowing down to steep ourselves in awe and gratitude at the passage of time and the blessings bestowed. So how to mark this time? Savor. Acknowledge life’s great transitions.

The experience of pregnancy and birth offers the opportunity to mark a threshold for both baby and mother (and family). Crossing from one side to another in any life transition offers the opportunity to pause, reflect and wonder. We can pay homage to what has been while also gracefully entering into the newness of what is becoming. Most importantly, we can pay homage to life itself…

Despair v. Intimacy With Reality

Some context: I’ve been searching for a new childcare provider for over seven weeks. During my last interview I told the woman (who I’ve since hired thankfully!) that the whole experience has been so uncannily difficult that I can’t help but believe in a greater force at work trying to teach me something. Again and again the women I’d lined up to interview didn’t show up nor did they call (I have had at least 4-5 ‘no shows’). Another called in sick 15 minutes before her interview. I offered the job to another who then promptly changed her mind the night before she was slated to start. Another woman didn’t speak English and asked me to chart out her bus route to my home for her interview. And yet another woman applied from Turkey (!?) and said she wanted the job so she could learn English. It had become a comedy of errors. Meanwhile, I desperately needed to find innovative solutions so I could get my job done. I maintained staff meetings while pushing a stroller. I worked while Braeden slept. I cracked open the laptop at 9pm. It has been *ridiculous.*

The overarching theme in my experience since the turn of the seasons: exhaustion and the feeling of an absence of adequate support to relax into. It isn’t that help isn’t offered (because it is – thank you, friends!) It is simply that I am seven months pregnant and my body is tired and my nervous system is frayed. No help seems enough. Again and again I greet my wall of challenge that has become a familiar friend since becoming a Mother. This time the situation is amplified by my trying to patch together child care amidst failed attempt followed by failed attempt. Some of it bad luck. Some of it perhaps divine intervention.

This particular period has given me the gifts of illness, injury and this strange karma with not being able to find adequate childcare help on top of the baseline of daily responsibilities.  Parenthood has gifted me with feeling my own profound confrontation with the limits of what I can often bear. It isn’t enough for me to just “survive” – and that is what many of my days have felt like as I’ve settled into balancing work, motherhood, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and generally maintaining Home and Family (amidst near constant bantering and rough-housing amongst brothers in the foreground). The responsibilities of being a householder and parent seem to augment as the months go by. There are food allergies to tend to. Emotional outbursts to sit with. Complex feelings and questions to tend to. Meanwhile, the laundry pile becomes the size of Kilamanjaro and dinner needs to be cooked… Then I ushered in a shaky, queasy stomach virus and a showering of vomit. It was a perfect expression of how I’ve been feeling. Nothing to relax into. No rest to be found. Behind in everything. And yet, I write knowing too that none of this is a problem. None of this is “bad.” I’ve little to complain about AND something about vomiting for the 20th time allows me the privilege of being pushed into a realm of choice: Despair (and the accompanying loneliness of that experience) OR Intimacy with Reality, Intimacy with What Is.

Which brings me to the essential question: What is there to relax into when support and safety nets feel frayed along with your own inner and outer resources? The answer: Reality.

Let me explain. The experience of loneliness/aloneness/lack of support/depletion while parenting presents two options.

1. Despair, depression and an exhaustion that annihilates, even pulverizes the capacity for joy and appreciation. Along with this experience comes the specter of moving functionally through life without joy and vitality.

OR

2. A pressing of oneself lovingly into deeper, more heartfelt relationship with Reality (or God/the Divine).

And this revelation is exactly what my recent life circumstance has pushed me to realize. What is there to relax into when all systems are bust? For me it is what I am pressed into  – forced into – when other mechanisms of support are thinned (including my own inner resources). It’s the reminder of the moment of imminent death – where the journey into that new form is mine alone. It’s a reconnection with my capacity to be in love with anything that is arising, and a reminder to stop looking for something “other” – particularly in the form of “help.”

Yes, there is the practical domain of needing help in order to work (not to mention cook, clean, take out the recycling and get some self-care in!). But regardless of “practical” or “external” factors at work, there is the underlying basic relationship with and in Reality/Being Alive: and that is what can truly sustain us. Those exuding the greatest sense of peace are ones rooted in an experience of communion with that which is beyond Self and Ego – an experience of divine submission to a Mystery called by many names. So it is here that I am driven by an essential force in my times of fraying sanity and when I feel alone in my role as a Mother – where body and soul are, yes, depleted, and still: the aches of parenting and all the associated work and emotions aren’t the absolute Truth. They are real and I feel the ache, yet each time I greet these hard places I dip in and out of the choice to become greater bound to Reality and Life as it is, with Love – or not, and suffer as a result.

The key is to move through the pendulum of these spheres with an awareness that the backdrop, foreground, interior and exterior are inextricably woven into the fabric of Reality (or God/the Divine). Despair, depression and annihilating exhaustion can be true – as is the specter of moving functionally through life without joy. If not awake to our experience, we can all of a sudden fall prey to a tendency of habit which marries us to misery and drudgery. Our own storylines can be interpreted as a truth which prevents seeing beyond our limited egoic experience. But, with careful attention we can peel away the layers of loneliness, despair or exhaustion that prevent joyful seeing and press ourselves lovingly into a deeper, more heartfelt relationship with Reality. This is the ultimate gesture of relaxation and surrender. And the beauty of it is that there is nowhere to go, nothing to attain – only Reality itself to greet as if settling into the presence of an old, supportive friend.

 

A Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

 “Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.” – Brene Brown

It isn’t often I am struck by parenting ‘advice.’ My husband sent the below parenting manifesto along today as we grapple with how to parent our children in ways that foster being real as well as being kind. Rather than only nagging our children with the edict “that’s not nice” we’ve been reflecting about the importance of honoring feelings of anger and jealousy that may live beneath the unkind actions or words. We’ve been reckoning with anger ourselves. One morning when my fuse snapped and I yelled that I was feeling angry at my son, I was being hard on myself and feeling like I was not parenting well because I hadn’t responded with patience and kindness as my primary operating principles. It was a moment when Rowan had pushed my patience to the edge and I felt he’d gone too far. I expected my husband, who witnessed my outburst of anger, to agree that I had let Rowan down, that I had not acted mindfully. He instead said, “at least our son sees that it is okay to feel angry. At least he sees what is real for you. He knows the very real effect of his actions. You didn’t sugar coat anything. You were authentic with your feelings. You showed him too that moms also need space and a break.” (After my blow up I promptly said “Mama needs a break” and went into the bathroom and locked the door).

More than anything the incident reminded me that I’m not perfect, but that “perfect” is also not perfect. Nothing is perfect. Perhaps a more useful way to look at any difficult situation with my family is whether I acted authentically. This doesn’t mean letting myself throw tantrums just because I feel like it, but it does mean owning my anger, exhaustion and intense frustration when it arises. It means not turning away or glossing over the complex emotions that surface in any given day raising two young boys. It means modeling accountability by acknowledging what I could have done differently and apologizing if feelings were hurt. It means being present to what is – and truly seeing myself as well as my family through the eyes of authenticity, returning to appreciation and gratitude as soon as I am able. As Brene Brown says below in her Parenting Manifesto, “I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you…”

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The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions–the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.

I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.

We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.

We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices.

You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.

I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude.

I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable.

When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life.

Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.

We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here.

As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.

I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you.

– Brene Brown

What Remains? Heart. What is Constant? Love.

Rowan has been obsessed with dinosaurs. My brother asked me, “what is it about dinosaurs?” And then it struck me: the attraction is ultimately about facing his own mortality. “Where have the dinosaurs gone? Why did they go back to the Earth? Are they coming back? Why not? When do we go back to the Earth?” The questions slowly unfold over a period of weeks and months. We dance around the topic often. His teachers tell me he has taken to reading a book called The Day the Dinosaurs Died, over and over again. “Are you going back to the Earth one day, Mama? I don’t want you to go…”

We are in the Why realm of parent-child interactions. Question upon question. This week Rowan asked again, “When do we go back to the Earth?” Its a mystery, it’s a surprise, I tell him. This time, he isn’t consoled. He bursts into tears and says “I don’t want to go…I don’t want to turn back into dirt…I want to stay here.” Almost immediately I can feel my own reactions to death surfacing and I see him look at me intently, gauging my response. This is a moment when all beliefs and stories culminate. It is a moment of pause. How do I answer? What do I say? My own fear of death and resistance to the true finality of mortality surfaces. I try to relax. I take a deep breath and hear myself telling him that while his skin and bones may return home to the Earth, our hearts stay connected to everything – and that our hearts become bigger than ourselves and our current bodies. “We become bigger than our body, ” I say. “We won’t be alone. We become connected with everything else…” I suddenly see that ‘returning to the Earth’ is likely evoking a lonely, solemn image. Dinosaur bones, dirt, bugs, garbage? I wonder what he is imagining. I hear myself tell him the Earth isn’t a bad place, either: the realm of seeds and soil and the new life of Spring he’s been observing of late. “Our hearts stay, becoming like the sky. Our bodies are like transformers (insert smile) – one minute we are one thing and the next we can transform..Its like magic,” I hear myself say.

It strikes me that this is a moment of profound explanation I’ve known would come but that I didn’t prepare for. It was a spontaneous answer, and maybe one that will shift next time. “Who else is there?” he asks me when I tell him about becoming something different. I wonder to myself: what will I say of Heaven? And what will I say of Nothingness? What about the raw, painful truth of endings? And what if I am not there with him in his passing? I want to tell him I’ll be with him. I want to reassure him, but I find I can’t. Instead, I simply feel our togetherness, now. Our bond, now. This lifetime, now. And then I remember Death: it is indeed the great transformer, a holy surprise.

He repeats it back to me matter of factly, seeming a bit more satisfied. “But our skin and bones do have to go back to the Earth,” he says, holding his own arms. “Yes. And that is why we need to remember the gift of every day and of our bodies and each other,” I answer.

That very night I am up until midnight facing the specter of complications resulting from a routine procedure my dad recently underwent. The complications almost land him in the Emergency Room. I face squarely all my fears of loss, the resistance to change, the grasping for solidity amidst flux, he reticence to letting go of what has been. It all of a sudden strikes me that what I have said to Rowan is true, for me: What, then, if anything, is constant? Love. What remains? Heart. Love can find its way into any crack. Regardless of outcome, love can be present. And the beauty of it is that I can’t grab a hold of it. I can’t grasp for it. I can only practice feeling it. I can only relax into it.

It’s not that any of this erases my shaky anxiety. What if my dad is the one in one thousand who dies from this procedure? All of this is simply a reminder of what I can find at the bottom of grief and sorrow and confusion and uncertainty. It is what I can live into as the glorious backdrop of life. In a sense, it then doesn’t matter what is next or why. All that matters is the present moment experience of Love: and whether we can bring this to our most challenging moments. Can we bring love into our moments of fear and unrest? Can we bring love into our moments of unsettledness and resistance? Can we bring this even through the raw edges of death’s door?

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The next day I stumble upon this quote from Swami Vivekananda, the page open at a friend’s house. The missing words are “He believes that the soul is a circle…………….whose center is situated in the body.”

download

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What to Become, Now?

The years tick by like minutes on a clock. Something about birthing a second child this past year has sped up the reflection process around letting go of the past, the transition more fully into motherhood, the doorway to middle age. A recent yoga practice had me clarifying that it is time to let go of yearning for what was, while more fully welcoming the newness of what is, now.

Age 37 feels like a gateway to the middle kingdom: middle age, middle of life, middle of personal story. My children have been born. My parents are aging. The lines on my face have become a mainstay. I’m stepping across the threshold of middle age: one foot planted in the Summer of youth, the other foot lifted and moving in slow motion to the other side of the doorway into Fall’s, and Life’s, middle kingdom of inevitable aging. I find myself in a great moment of pause, asking more and more often, “What to Become, Now?”

As I muse on this question, the glimpses that emerge are about the simultaneous loss of what I used to relax into while also stepping into a new, more fluid identity: a re-birth into Mystery. I grasp for something ‘solid’ amidst what is ultimately a period of loosening and non-knowing. Just like what is true of the Winter turning into Spring, a seed in darkness doesn’t know yet what the light will bring. And yet, I can feel the calling to root ever deeper to place, to let go of past attachments, to face squarely the emergent resistances to change, and ultimately to surrender to a complete transformation.

In The Middle Passage, author James Hollis says that “the realistic thinking of midlife has as its necessary goal the righting of a balance, the restoration of the person to a humble but dignified relationship to the universe.” He goes on to mention that some experience midlife as a sort of defeat, while others will be moved to ask “What work, then, needs to be done?”

My mother, too, asks these questions. What work, then, needs to be done now? During a recent visit she said to me that her current guiding question is “Who am I, now?” She stands at the doorway to 70, having spent the last few years steeped in care-giving her mother. Together, we tend the hearth: attending to the full spectrum of Life. She tends to my 97-year-old grandmother, the realm of life’s end all too present. I tend to an infant, taking his literal first steps in life. We both are tasked with continually rediscovering ourselves as we swim in the middle kingdom, holding the pieces together for life’s continual beginnings and endings. What work needs to be done now? The care-giving, the tending, the keeping of hearth, yes. But also, the work of Becoming (and already Being), Right Now, a spontaneous and clear expression of feminine grace and beauty, regardless of age. The work of embodying the creative, shifting energy of the feminine form. The work of staying dedicated to the important questions. How are we living and loving? What imprints are we making on this precious world? How are we embodying a humble yet dignified relationship within the order of life? What is the texture of our conversation with the Divine?

As Christiane Pelmas says, “Perhaps now is when we are meant to stop caring whether we are found attractive by other humans, allowing ourselves to answer to something much greater, like the final question – did we lead relevant lives as fierce lovers and servants of this world? Did we hone our skills as love makers, body and soul, in this lifetime, finding an ever-bolder beautifully unapologetic expression of our gratitude and longing? And did we trust that here, in this place, we would become the most beautiful version of ourselves?”

Yes. There is nothing else to become other than this: the most beautiful version of ourselves…

 

That Humbling Line Between Life and Death

My oldest son is slowly phasing out of his daytime nap. For 31/2 years I’ve relied on the daytime nap as a moment to rest and regroup (or clean, launder and generally take care of business!). Even with a second son, I’ve relied on the nap as a period of that which is at least quieter, less juggling, slower. Hence why when today’s nap once again didn’t manifest I needed fresh air and some literal new light on my disgruntled mood. I pulled open the curtains and opened the windows wide (even winter in Colorado still affords warm enough days to do this). The gesture was meant to mark 1.) a letting go of my attachment to “family rest time”/nap and 2.) a letting in of new energy, a shifting meant to help me move onwards in what was feeling like a long, tiring day.

I stepped out of the bedroom after scanning for choking hazards and walked briskly to open the other bedroom window down the hall. Not five seconds could have elapsed before I came back in to find my 3-year-old kneeling, full body, on the slender windowsill, looking pleased as punch, with nothing but a flimsy screen between himself and the potential of falling three stories to the sidewalk below. The moment was like a lightening bolt. In a flash I pull his 30 pounds off the sill and feel tears forming in my eyes as I beg him to never climb on a windowsill again. “But mama, if I fall wouldn’t you be able to catch me?” he says. “Mama, what happened?”

The gravity of the moment is not lost on me. I recognize in an instant that my whole life could have changed with one stride to open another window. Rowan could have fallen to his death. I could have jumped out after him, screaming. In an instant I feel clearly the tenuous line between normalcy and tragedy. A menial walk down the hallway ushers in a reminder of the fragility of human life. “These sorts of things happen all the time,” says my husband forlornly when I tell him. “That is how Eric Clapton’s son died…” he says. We shake our heads and let the reminder of our own absence of immunity settle in. The rest of the day is spent recalling all the stories of random, heart wrenching loss. The list goes on and on in my mind’s eye. How many times I’ve sighed a deep sigh of remorse at what seems like the cruelty of fate – feeling yet far away from tragic events as I live my careful orb. And still, no measure of carefulness, mindfulness, or vigilance can protect us entirely from what are the simple laws of gravity and mechanics. Rowan wanted to “climb something high up” and I wanted to let the glorious outside air in.

So really: what does this all boil down to? The moment was a humbling reminder that even when you are aware of potential risks, you are still not immune to the ever-present potential of loss. Parenting requires a type of vigilance and wakefulness that even precludes a quick exit from the room. How many times have we left our children to quickly do something in the spirit of habit or in the spirit of “getting something done?” Without a second thought we can be off and running, turning our backs for one split second, only to find this momentary spin has revealed our fundamental and profound vulnerability as human beings. We are so resilient and so fragile all at once. We are hard-wired for survival adaptations and so foolish all at once. We can be so mindful or careful and yet still be utterly at the mercy of the forces of life which steer us we know not where, regardless of how hard we try to be in “control.”

A wake-up call unlike no other: to see your child’s life flash before you, to grasp him from the thin line between danger and safety. A reminder that no matter how tired you are and how much you think you need a ‘break,’ the “normal” is actually Bliss. The “normal” is actually what is often unbearably missed after loss. The “ordinary” is a gift greater than we can often tune into, but are ever called to acknowledge. And today, I make a practice of leaning into the gift of this precious, ordinary, mind-boggling Life, remembering that everything can change in a single, fragile heartbeat.

Living Into the Answers

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves… Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903

This passage always struck me. A few years ago a woman asked me about how I maintain spiritual practice since having a baby. I answered her, to my dismay, that parenthood had ushered me into a realm where that question was less relevant. It didn’t matter anymore how much I was outwardly expressing a yoga practice or meditation practice or any practice for that matter. Instead, parenthood was akin to living the answers, giving me the opportunity I needed to live the practice, daily, moment to moment. Of course life itself always presents this opportunity, but parenthood crystallized this revelation. Just as Rilke suggested, I hadn’t realized that it was happening. 10 years ago I was preoccupied with finding a path and acquiring knowledge and learning as if they were commodities. I was searching. Wandering. Traveling. Reading a lot of non-fiction. Going to yoga classes three times a week, spending time on retreats and meeting with a meditation instructor. I was vegetarian, an avid hiker, trying to forgive myself for past mistakes, and altogether incredibly preoccupied with personal growth and transformation. I call it the “spiritually eager” phase. Perhaps I was trying to “get somewhere” other than where I already was.

The New Year prompted me to reflect on how things have changed over the past decade (a psychologist on NPR suggested this is a better measure of tracking change in your life rather than focusing on a new year’s resolution or looking at your life in the context of only one year passing). I made lists of then versus now. At first I was overcome with nostalgia. Wasn’t I a more well-rounded person in my past? Wasn’t I more disciplined? Active? Conscientious? Connected to nature? Wasn’t this current parenthood phase less outwardly manifesting a spiritual practice or ‘study?’ Wasn’t I cooped up inside too much? And then it struck me again: no, wait. Since crossing the threshold into motherhood and embarking on the journey of home and family-making, I’m actually living into the answers of all I’d been asking throughout my life leading up to this moment. Here I am. There is nowhere else to go, no one else to be but myself. And, more importantly, there is no time to worry about it. (What a profound gift!)

As parents aiming to embody values and intention, we can often forget that parenting actually becomes a perfect place where one’s practice can unfold. The canvas of life is unrolled and family relationships become a means through which we live into the answers of life’s questions, searches and invitations. Family life is a culmination like no other: the fruit of practice comes to bear. Patience is tested. Limits are met. With fewer ‘breaks’ and less time for musing and contemplation in the conventional sense, all of the sudden we are thrown head first into a crash course in how to live out the intricacies of one’s values and intentions amidst what is often riddled with great complexity and intensity.

With less leisure and less license to live my days how I want to (for ME), I’ve entered another realm which requires me to be united with something beyond myself. What I do I do for Other. My reserves are continually tested. More time is spent functionally, too. All of the sudden living into the ‘answers’ means moving functionally with joy and intention (even when I may not like the task at hand) and maintaining an inward, centered, present focus even when attention and energy is perennially called outward. The trick is to not separate daily life and family life from practice. How often do we fall into the dualistic thinking of “if only I could exercise more, then…” or “if only I could meditate/pray/practice more, then…” Living into the answers means living seamlessly and without discrimination between tasks;  This is all practice. This is all a culmination: how we show up with others (especially our children and spouses) when we are exhausted and at our limit, how we find a way to get what needs to be done done even when we are at the end of our rope, how we find compassion for our children even when they are driving us to the edge, how we pull dinner off, how we make up our 100th story at bedtime, even when our eyes are closing.

All of the sudden we are living into the great endurance test of Love. What carries us? Mystery. What carries us? Love. No more questions, no more looking. Just here: living, breathing, loving, caring. Just here: feeling the miracle of life while watching our children fall asleep…

Intimacy With Everything

“Enlightenment is intimacy with everything.”

-Dogen Zenji, 1200-1253

Even arsenic in rice?

The report was released in September. Arsenic is turning up in rice samples ranging from organic rice baby cereals to breakfast cereals to white rice and brown rice. Something about the indisputability of arsenic’s profound toxicity catches my heart and hits me with a thud. “There is no safe level of arsenic,” says the FDA. It isn’t that I’m surprised, or even aghast. Quite the contrary. I’m grimly accepting, albeit with great pain. For several days I look at my children through a different texture of gaze: seeing the food on Rowan’s plate in a renewed light. Even rice has become a potential poison and this time there is no disputing, no arguing, no escaping through the denial of endless industry funded studies. Arsenic is a poison and it is turning up in American rice.

How to be intimate with this news? It is ultimately the icing on the cake of a month of activism around the endocrine disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A and the floodgates of knowledge being open regarding the harmful effects of seemingly unavoidable chemicals inundating our daily lives through air, water, food packaging, couches, clothes, baby mattresses, blankets and the like. We’ve turned too much of our world into poison. There is nothing like the precious vulnerability of a baby to help me see the vast cruelty of our society’s experiments and there is also nothing like the unavoidable revelation that there is no escape. I often say being an environmentalist is a hard place to be. It requires open eyes and heart amidst the constant barrage of bad news as well as acceptance of the adage ‘what we do to earth we also do to self.’ We as a species still haven’t managed to get the memo: this too is interconnected. Arsenic in pesticides even 100 years ago comes back to haunt us today, creeping into grains of rice and kids’ juice boxes and infant formula.

My mind turns to the Hindu deity Krishna. When traveling in India I was told Krishna’s skin was blue because he ingested the poisons afflicting humanity and was able to transmute them. (Not only did he transform humanity’s poisons, he also drove venomous snakes away by vehemently dancing on their heads). His power to transform poison points to a lesson in integration: radical integration of what is, even what is profoundly toxic, as a path to transformation and healing. How much poison can we sustain? Perhaps that isn’t the question to attend to, but rather how much can we integrate in our hearts, minds and souls in order to be fully sane? If Enlightenment is intimacy with everything, how intimate can we be with our poisons?

Perhaps Krishna also points to the lesson of radical integration as a path to no resistance. Rather than resist, run from, fight and try to avoid what is ultimately unavoidable, perhaps we can practice a sane, relaxed response. As my husband tells me in the midst of my worrying spells: “Relax into the mess.” This doesn’t mean inaction or avoidance or denial. It doesn’t mean apathy or an “oh well” disposition. This means radical integration of the mess and radical intimacy with the mess. From a place of intimacy, with eyes wide open, we can make meaningful decisions from the heart. We can feel the pain and let it bruise us, and we can try to love the bruise. Instead of a “fight for life” from a place of fear, we can surrender into the flow of life, even life’s messes which cause both physical and emotional cancers.

As a mother I want to protect my children. The heartbreaking truth is that in many instances I cannot. Ultimately I cannot create an island that is safe from the poisons of our mistakes, especially the mistakes beyond my sphere of influence. I can however create an enclave of sanity, a launching pad of the relative health grounded in the understanding of interconnectedness and the accompanying intimacy of this perspective. And, I can choose to not cultivate fear and dread, instead moving beyond fear into the realm of integration, which is ultimately Truth. This situation is just True. This hell bending situation just IS. Pesticides dousing soil with neurotoxins and carcinogens, arsenic laden soil giving life and food but also a dose of wake up America reality.

Still, we are called to action and activism, even in light of living into a practiced acceptance. Intimacy calls us to love! And love calls us to protection and preservation. Beyond fear and avoidance is the realm of Love. So surrender. Let this break your heart. Look at your child and wonder what the future holds. Marvel that lessons of our interconnectedness are served up poignantly on your plate. No surprises. Fully integrated awareness, bestowing a calm authority, we move on, vowing to enact our own gestures of transformation.