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.

 

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Be In Conversation With the Divine

Maybe it is the third child in utero. (What? Yes!) Maybe it is the accompanying exhaustion and nausea. Maybe it the impending move next month and the uncertainty of next steps. Maybe it is the relentless house searching. Maybe it is the simple truth that the householder, parenting dimension of life absolutely devours you such that writing and reflection take a back burner to completing the necessary functions of daily life.

Whatever the truth, my practice of writing and reflection has been harder of late. I’m reminded of a post I wrote several years ago on Practicality and Practice, where I realized that the realm of the practical is indeed also the realm of practice (the words even share the same etymology). It isn’t that spiritual practice, creativity, self-expression or “realization” of any kind is any less important than it always has been and is. It’s just that the practical, logistical domain of life is so all-consuming at times it is difficult to see outwards from this place.

Subsumed. Consumed. Devoured. Annihilated. Submerged. Gone into temporary hiding. Practical life somehow has eclipsed me. It can sneak up on us, and all of the sudden a year (or ten) has passed. Instead, daily life practice becomes waking with some semblance of grace at 5:45am when the stars are still twinkling, making breakfast and school lunch, going to work, closing on the house, changing diapers, mitigating sibling conflicts, getting on the floor and playing legos and dinosaurs, cleaning the kitchen, picking up said legos and dinosaurs, making dinner, cleaning up after dinner, (oh, and dealing with the fruit fly pandemic), bedtime routines and then voila: wake up and do it all again! (Oh, and don’t forget to eat 65 grams of protein a day and take your folic acid, too).

The trouble is without something to come back to over and over again in myself (aka the ballast of a practice, the relief of clarity that comes through reflection and writing, or the act of creativity) I begin to feel groundless and unsettled, missing the restfulness and peace of living from a clarified center of intention and attention. In the midst of The Practical and The Logistical, there is the less rational and less logical realm of soul, psyche and spirit calling, where the home of my dreams is more wild – and I’m called to swim without goal in a vast, deep ocean.

My husband reminds me to “settle into the unsettledness.” There are no problems to solve. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this iteration of our existence. Different than expected, yes. Exhausting, yes. How I imagined mid-life? Perhaps not fully…But regardless, when I finally do sit down with the pen and journal and ask the simple question, “Where to go from here?” An immediate answer arises: “Be in conversation with the Divine.” 

What does this mean? For me it means that it doesn’t matter what I do (or don’t do), where I live, how many hours sleep I get or how late I am for work or that play-date. It doesn’t matter that a month has gone by and the pen hasn’t hit the paper or the body hasn’t met the meditation cushion. What does matter in this light is to be in conversation with the Divine, and to be merely present with what is. Every ordinary interaction in a day, whether it be with dish-washing soap, the garbage can or my precious (but sometimes frisky) sons, can be experienced as part of an ever-present holy portal, always present, beckoning my full-bodied entry. I can be in relationship with this holy portal. I can stand there and feel into it. I can move swiftly to keep my son from tripping and still feel into it. I can clean the drain and still feel into it. Its not a conventional ‘dialogue’ but more a relationship through feeling, from the experience of the whole body. 

Being in conversation with the Divine means that I am paying close attention to what is arising, both internally and externally. And I am paying attention in such a way that my presence is surrendered to an awareness of a mystery at work greater than myself and beyond my understanding. I can choose to submit myself to the present realm of what is required as a mother and rest into a divine abiding with what is. Then I can reside in a truly non-discriminatory state of mind and heart: where bliss can blend in with moments akin to drudgery, and gratitude can dominate the landscape of duty.

Each of us can stake a claim to our own definitions of Divine. But be clear: move beyond the cerebral, beyond Merriam-Webster defining. Then, whatever the task, whatever the situation, we can feel full-bodily our participation in That. We can live fully in the practical, logistical realm of life, but rather than let ourselves be consumed by only this, we can practice making ourselves available to the possibility of being overcome by an experience of a Divine holy portal, always waiting to devour us into an experience of deeper Love.

Joyfully Surrendering to the Mess

Thanks Leigh for offering up Adi Da’s profound insight below in response to my post on the difficulties of adjusting to a family of four.  Yes: there are times to let go of all programs, “solutions,” life rafts, methodologies, philosophies and “answers.” Beneath the ceaseless attempts at “right action,” I can witness and participate in life’s unfolding with a loosening of my grip on any agenda towards particular outcomes. A striving towards and desire for ‘gentleness’ or familial harmony may serve life in some way, but it ultimately doesn’t reflect the raw truth of life’s underlying messiness. And, striving for and desiring anything other than what IS is exhausting, and counter to a deeper calling to simply love what is arising wholeheartedly in every moment.

It is like frying oneself in a frying pan: the quest for ‘perfection,’ the attempts at avoiding messes and mistakes, the labeling of love as one thing and not another. “AH! OUCH! WAIT, THIS SUCKS!” is the mantra that surfaces. What entraps many of us in suffering is a belief that there is a more ‘perfect’ way to be. Until: the reminder that what serves life at the deepest core is love, and who am I to judge what that ultimately looks like? The mystery of a life’s unfolding is far beyond the unraveling of a given ‘difficult’ day in my household. There are lifetimes of karma being wound and unwound…There are eons of contractions and expansions to be lived. Just like the cosmos pulsing its ebbs and flows, we too dance this dance of contraction and release. And what can we do in the midst? Surrender to processes greater than ourselves.  Let go into the pulsing movement of life, and surrender with a joyful disposition – just like the dive into the mud…

——-

“You are disturbed, you are uptight, you are not surrendered bodily, and you are working on internal programs for ultimate surrender. The truth is that you are simply afraid, not surrendered. Those programs are what you do when you do not surrender emotionally, when you cannot see that you are simply contracting and cannot release the contraction and allow whatever is happening to happen. You must trust the process of your own life, whether it is to go mad, to become ill, to work, to succeed, or to die. Be free of fear…Trust the Divine altogether. Give yourself up emotionally to God. Practice complete devotion and absolute surrender. Do not just tread the path of gradual attainment in your emotional and ceremonial approaches to God. Give yourself up completely in this moment. Give up everything at every depth and in every area of your life. Allow life to be the theatre of God, in which what seems to be appropriate and necessary in your case will be accomplished spontaneously. Allow all of life to be God’s business. Whatever arises, high or low, such a life will be simply surrendering to the point of happiness, giving up to God completely…You need not know anything. You need not become convinced of anything except that you are suffering a contracted state of existence. Feel the force of that contraction, its emotional force, its physical force. Feel the quality of contraction and realize it is your own action. Realize you can exist in a totally different condition merely by recognizing your own separative activity and transcending it in each moment. Just surrender emotionally and completely.” 

– Adi Da