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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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.

A Feeling, Breathing Relationship to Mystery

As many of you know, I recently participated in a book group exploring themes of ‘conscious parenting.’  What, you might ask, does this mean?  There are so many solutions.  So many methods.  So many paths.  So many books on the subject.  A baseline from which to start: “Children must learn to live from a spiritual point of view…They must learn how to live ecstatically in the feeling of God (Divine Reality).  Children should enjoy a feeling, breathing relationship with the Mystery.” – Adi Da

Below are several insights on my continual path of translating spiritual practice and intention into parenting a toddler. For me, conscious transcends ‘mindful,’ ‘thoughtful,’and ‘well-educated,’ into the realm of questioning how I can raise a being who is attuned to subtlety, interested in spiritual growth, not bound by the ceaseless churnings of ego – and ultimately interested in living a life of service rooted in the experience of love.

As parents we have the opportunity to help cultivate this capacity for a direct feeling-intuition of the Divine Reality under all circumstances.  Whether you believe in a “God” or not, this is not the point.  The point is to raise children who will become happy, sensitive, responsible, sane and caring adults.  The point is to raise children who will not be addicted to suffering and selfishness, instead attracted to embody qualities of integrity and Grace.

The nuggets below were inspired by Adi Da’s books and serve as small portals for me in making daily parenting decisions.

  • Develop a Feeling Sensitivity.  How can I encourage Rowan to feel, full bodily, into his experience?  How can I encourage him to use all of his senses?  How can I bring him into a profound, felt relationship with his surroundings in the midst of so much cultural and literal noise?  How can I encourage a feeling-based experience of reality versus a material based experience?  In nature, we can use all of our senses.  We can touch, smell, listen.  We can talk about emotional states and the subtle nuances of rain, air, clouds, colors, distant sounds.  At 3am when he is awake and doesn’t want to sleep, we can sit quietly on the porch and register together the different texture of night compared to day.  We can say hello to the birds.
  • Develop A Sense of Self that is Greater than the Physical.  How can I help Rowan become responsible for his energy state or emotional state?  How can I teach him self-awareness and also attunement to others?  He is naturally sensitive to a baby’s cries – how can I encourage that sensitivity rather than distracting him from his discomfort?   Early on we often teach our children to look the other way, rather than sitting with them in understanding pain.  When we notice sensitivity, we can create teaching moments.  We can become more sensitive ourselves.
  • Foster Human Intimacy, Intimacy With Nature and Intimacy with Mystery.  Let these priorities serve as ballasts.  Prioritize relating to people and the natural world more so than relating to objects (toys).  Stay in relationship, always.  When reactivity or anxiety emerges, check in on the intimacy thread.  Make meaningful eye contact over and over again…Widen experience to include other species, and eventually a greater mystery of Life.  How can reverence and a sense of the Sacred imbue everything?
  • Learn to Relax Deeply.  We live in a world where nervous systems are taxed and the stressfully vital is revered as ‘normal.’  How can I teach Rowan to self-regulate amidst constant invitations to spin out into a type of cultural mania?  We can take deep breaths together.  We can slow down.  We can slow down again.
  • Feel Your Body!  We start the day saying hello to the body from head to toes.  I massage him.  When he is frantic, I remind him of his feet and belly.  When he is upset, I remind him to breathe.

We can begin by establishing and maintaining a sense of calmness, equanimity and sensitivity.  And, most importantly, we must continually ask ourselves whether we are embodying the lessons we wish to impart.  What does our state convey (more than our words)?  What parents can transcend creates space for children too to transcend.