A Mother’s Body

A Mother’s Body:

Shapeshifter

Giver of Life

Bone shifter.

Doorway to the next generation of family story-

her body a vessel,

she has become Whole:

Holy,

Irrevocably marked.

 

When it is all said and done,

death calling her to another form

she will see that ‘perfect’ doesn’t matter.

Not “perfect” hips but Birthing hips.

Not dainty light spritely

but feet and legs sunk deep in Earth,

heavy with responsibility:

weighted,

Big.

Vast with circle of Love.

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Master of What?

Of fine tuning

careful listening

slow, steady attunement to another being.

Of recalibrating what bliss means-

with once singing joints now rickety,

tired and aching from carrying a little one –

but redefining ecstasy to encompass new reference points.

No, I am not presently a master of Yoga or the Intellect,

only having plumbed the depths of my own soul.

Master of this:

The Inner realm that is also the Outer:

reflection of divine light

also known as Love,

reverberating in all my cells

and in my slow beating heart-

quiet master of my own loving, aching soul’s journey

through time and space

Nothing more, nothing less.

Just Here, simple, in love in the face of small things.

I am not a master of words.

My particular realization concerns itself with Presence,

that act of grace filling body

coming together to form spine and stomach

and eyes flashing only glimpses of Divine reality within.

Ushering forth new life,

A mother becomes master of

Chopping wood

Carrying water

doing laundry

dishes

carrying

holding

feeding

loving

nurturing-

Some say ‘mundane’

I say beating heart

full of love

resting in simple dance of Being.

Nothing more.  Nothing less,

still refining,

Like the great crucible of life that is

The Womb.

When Greeting the Limits of Strength

For those of you who know me, you can attest that I am not a drama queen: which is why when I thought I was actually dying  a few weeks ago you know that it must have been serious. The past several months have had me dabbling in a complete physical breakdown, immune system and adrenal fatigue, and nervous system burnout. There was the cough, the flu, the stomach bug, the sinus infection, the strep throat, the month of antibiotics. Then there was the 4am wake up with rib pain and shortness of breath. Was this just a nervous breakdown or was motherhood actually killing me, I wondered (literally)? It turns out the rib pain was either stress induced (acupuncturist’s conjecture), or a pulled muscle (doctor’s conjecture). Whatever the cause, the culmination of so many repeated illnesses and physical rarities has shown me the absolute limits of my strength. A trip to the doctor was like a visit with a prophet. “No – I’m not worried at all,” she said, even after I listed the above maladies and she checked my ribs. “I see this type of immune system lapse and extreme stress all the time with mothers of three or more children…Some years are just harder than others.”

What!? This is “normal?” Apparently so, at least here in America. I pondered over and over again how I got to this place of ultimate burnout. I took it upon myself to conduct experiments about whether the 24 hour needs cycle of young children was really true. In 10 minute blocks I began tracking needs, requests and necessary interventions (i.e. for safety). The exercise helped to infuse some humor into the situation and indeed confirmed that burnout is perhaps a predictable response when you are responding on average to 5-9 needs and interventions in any 10 minute period. There is the crying for milk. There are the poopy diapers to be changed. “More nuts!” “Water!” “Help!” Then a head bonk with tears, then the toy yanked from a hand by older sibling, then a smack on the head from the toddler to said older sibling. Today I tracked four needs in less than a minute. It is usually about water, food, sleep, poop, pee, help up or down, comforting a fall or mitigating a conflict. And, it’s all day long.

So yes, some years are harder than others. And yes, this period of motherhood is showing me the limits of my strength. But what to do in the meantime? Beyond rounds of antibiotics, doctor visits and trips to the acupuncturist, how to cope? How to function and do what needs to be done without getting sick every other week? How to enjoy my life again? I’ve looked outwards to what supports I can put in place, but I’ve also recalled the importance of looking internally. Most importantly, I’ve remembered the essentials of practice. Here are a few insights that have emerged over the past few months as I’ve reckoned with my limitations.

First, slow down the whole orientation. This is primarily an internal gesture and requires taking my time responding to everything. I’ve been practicing using less energy talking and moving in general. The degree of exhaustion I’ve encountered has actually been a gift in that each time I’ve been in process of recovering, I’ve been able to assess what personal habits contribute to wearing down my reserves. We as women reach our limits at different times in our lives. I’m learning for the first time what its like to live from a place of depletion, and how unsustainable it is. Slowing down our orientation helps shed light on what we can do with more ease. Where are we unnecessarily depleting our reserves? How can we move and speak in ways that reflect parenting from a calm, resourced center? For example, raising my voice depletes me (and actually when I slow down enough to pay attention to the subtlety of my experience, raising my voice actually hurts). So I’m making it a practice to find a quieter and slower way to parent.

Second, make nourishment a practice. This means drinking enough water, eating good foods, getting enough sleep. For me, it also means lighting a candle nightly, becoming best friends with a heating pad, and making time for yoga and walking. The key here is making time. We can make time for what is important – and as cliche as it sounds, self-care has to be up there. Since the moments of extended self-care and nourishment are scant with a newborn (and during other phases of parenthood at times!), the practice becomes the smaller gestures of nourishment. Relish drinking water. Make sure to drink enough of it. Relish the 2 minutes of lying down. Take time washing your face. Eat slowly…

Third, relinquish desires for anything beyond what is arising in the present moment. I’ve noticed that my suffering is greater when I’m pining for something other that what is. Since I’ve been so short on restfulness, I’ve been grasping for early bedtimes and longer naps. Rather than settling into the work and joys of the days, I’ve been reaching for what lies beyond the moments of parenthood when I can “finally get some peace of mind and time to myself.” Warning: this is a trap! In fact, this habit of assuming something more restful and desirable lies on the other side of the present moment is in fact what slowing erodes us. Instead, in order to be more present and fully surrendered into any given moment I have been practicing relinquishing all desires and ambitions for anything beyond what is arising. This means my personal agenda of what I’d love to do when the kids are sleeping has to be set aside. If I cling too tightly to the hope that I’ll get a moment to read, write, call a friend, finish any of the projects I’ve started, have time for “me” in general, I’m trapping myself into a passing of time that isn’t rooted in the present; I’m succumbing to grasping. So I notice that and come back again and again to just giving myself to the present moment. It doesn’t mean my desires for self care are invalidated. It doesn’t mean that my “ambitions ” to accomplish anything else beyond parenting are forgotten or made subordinate. It means that instead of holding on too tightly to a hope that I’ll get to do any of these things, I can instead just be open to what is constantly arising with my children and let that be enough. When another moment presents itself where my needs and desires can be tended to, I can embrace that too with a non-discriminatory acceptance. If we get stuck in thinking some ways of passing time are “better” or more desirable, this can yank us from settling into what is in front of us. So, I let my personal preferences be true and I absolutely do not forget what fills my cup of inspiration and nourishment – and I hold these preferences and desires in a way that doesn’t interfere with a full giving over of myself to the present moment with my children, with love. If I’m living with a “if only…then…” I suffer. I can’t settle in. And this subtle pattern fosters a restlessness that only serves to further wear me down.

Finally, don’t over-identify with any given emotion or feeling. Yes, some days, weeks, and years are harder than others. I keep remembering gratitude for past spiritual practice and teaching that sustains me always, but particularly during challenging times. Instead of becoming fully identified with any emotion related to challenge or difficulty, I find that resting in a loci of observer or witness reminds me that my Self is greater than any current emotion or experience. The practice of simply observing my breath and observing my thoughts and emotions serves to keep my perspective broad and rooted in possibility and freshness. Depression, sickness, stress, frustration, anxiety, and fear can all can be observed like the passing of slow clouds overhead. We don’t have to become only sick or tired or stressed. We can practice feeling and being these things in their truth – but also witnessing their sway from a part of ourselves that is beyond and before all of the drama of life.

In these hard days this is where I rest: slowly witnessing, still loving, remembering that this too shall pass – but not wishing for it to pass. Instead, this is the present moment life that merits full embrace…

 

Falling Forward, Falling Back: What Nobody Wants to Talk About

“The Women’s Health Initiative found that more than 34% of women in the U.S. with a uterus had significant cystocele (bladder prolapse). The figure of 50% of all women who have given birth (experiencing some form of prolapse) is published widely in gynecologic literature. These statistics show that prolapse occurs far more often than any other women’s health disorder.” – Christine Kent

Let’s put it right out there: I have a postpartum bladder prolapse. Three vaginal births and a 14 inch head coming down the birth canal last month did the trick. A month-long chronic cough also helped pave the way back in January. Don’t get me wrong: Life is good, nonetheless. I’m one of the lucky women with no symptoms and a positive prognosis for healing. And, there have been challenges. The chronic, debilitating cough. The whole family sick again right after birth (including my four-day old newborn). Then there was the stomach bug (mine) in postpartum week three. Then there was another cold this past week (week four). Oh, and of course there was the high blood pressure news delivered up by my midwife alongside the newly acquired retroverted (tipped) uterus revelation. (Perhaps that is why those afterbirth pains were so excruciating?) Oh, and yes, the bladder prolapse. Did I mention the bladder prolapse?

Wow. Did you say prolapse? Yes: “a slipping forward or down of one of the parts or organs of the body.” (Although it actually isn’t a falling forward but rather a falling backwards). WHAT? There was dismay. Confusion. Distress. Even despair. I cried. Was my body failing me? There was worry. My husband tried to reassure me (based on the midwives’ assessment) that prolapse after a third birth is ‘normal.’ (But really, death and disease are ‘normal’ too and that doesn’t make it any easier, right?). Luckily, my midwife handed up sound advice: “Worrying is the worst thing you can do. You are sending negative energy to the very part of the body you are trying to heal.”

But wait: Why hadn’t I heard of this? Why was nobody talking about this? I vaguely recall hearing of prolapse occurring in older women. But 50% of all postpartum women? Me? According to the NAFC, one in five women will go through prolapse surgery in her lifetime. One in five?! NAFC also estimates that the number of women undergoing surgery to treat pelvic organ prolapse will increase by 48 percent between 2010 and 2050. Furthermore, 27 percent will have repeat surgery. And so it appears I’ve stumbled upon a quintessential women’s issue. A motherhood issue.

The emotions accompanying the reality of this experience swing all over the map. Two things I know as a constant truth: This is hard. And, this merits practice. This is about my body, our bodies. This is about shedding light on what wants to remain in the dark: personally and culturally. This is the very literal expression of depth, right here in the organs at the base of the body. First, there is the uncomfortable process of acceptance. Then, there is the confusion about what to do. There is the conflicting information. The surprising revelations. “Kegels are the only thing that will make it better,” my midwife says. But wait! The kegel actually might not work? In fact, it can make prolapse worse? But wait! What do you mean the field of gynaecology is based on a faulty 500-year-old understanding of female anatomy? Wait! Squatting regularly like our ancestors did helps? Oh, and carrying heavy loads on our heads like indigenous women serves the feminine lumbar spinal curve which keeps organs in their proper place? Oh, sitting on couches can make our pelvic muscles weak?

After several weeks of mulling, inner work, research and a trip to a physical therapist, I come away with several insights that I hope will serve the women and mothers reading:

1. Knowing our own bodies is essential. This shift in my body has elucidated how little I really know, and how much I take for granted. Each woman’s body is different. We need to find out for ourselves what is true of our own experiences. Believing everything we are told about our bodies doesn’t always serve us. Cultural patterns of disconnection and dissociation from the base of our bodies fuels bodily complications.

2. It is important to tend to the deeper emotions embedded in bodily experience. Our bodies are home to long-held psycho-emotional patterns and habits, either our own or inherited genetically. Birth too comes with its own imprints and associated bodily ‘traumas,’ even for peaceful, non-complicated births. Prolapse has pointed me to the ways in which my own body has been adversely affected as a result of my three births: pelvic bones out of alignment, tailbone tipped to the side, tissues rubbery from stress…

3. Self-reliance and trying to “hold it all together” is a bust. Tucking the tailbone, sucking in the stomach muscles, overly contracting the pelvic floor and trying to “hold it all together” doesn’t work. One vein of research addressing prolapse points me to the practice of softening the belly, deepening the breath, loosening the tailbone, and reconnecting with the natural feminine curve of the lumbar spine. Apparently the force of our deep breath coupled with good posture serves to maintain the proper position of our organs. As Christine Kent says, “Part of the graceful curvature that makes us women is the pronounced curvature of our lumbar or lower back spine. It is this curvature that allows our organs to stay to the front.” Instead of trying to “pull in,” stay “strong,” or “hold it together,” we can instead let the belly relax (postpartum pooch and all), be okay with ‘softness,’ and let go of trying to overly control situations in our lives. We can practice a relaxed trust in the female body’s natural alignment, even when that alignment is out of balance and things are asunder.

4. “Letting go” is key. My physical therapist tells me to ditch the kegels. “You don’t need more strength here. If you contract the pelvic floor muscles too much you will shorten them and eventually weaken them.” And – you guessed it: this can tip our organs out of place. “What you need is release.” We need to remember lengthening, letting go, releasing and relaxing, just as much as we are told to practice the contracting strengthening exercises. (Of course!) Kara sums it up well: “It’s easy to see how we heard Dr. Kegel telling us to squeeze, but we ignored that bit about releasing…who among us has an easy time “letting go?” That, right there, is what childbirth is all about: letting our body open up and let go. Open up and let go? Huh, what? No, letting go just doesn’t come naturally to us in our society. We can clench and squeeze and get nice and tightly wound, but ask us to let go?…The exercise of letting go is always a good one to practice in any aspect of life.” 

The experience has ultimately led me to ask essential questions about my body and my broader existence. What is true of my own body and experience? What habits need tending so that I can be healthy into my later years? What do I need? Where do I need more support? Where do I need more strength? What is out of alignment? Where do I need to let go?

Once again, motherhood and birth deliver life-altering challenges that ultimately move me to new perspectives and make it impossible to ignore or dismiss the deeper layers of my human condition.

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.

Late Night Inspirations From My Mother, Circa 1978

When I had just welcomed my second born into the world last year I took time to really slow down and relish the first months, truly feeling my place in a long line of mothers and newborns. During my three-month maternity leave (which also felt like a rare moment of human nesting and hibernation) I dug up old journal entries, wrote long letters to my boys for when they are older, revisited my ongoing family history projects and research, organized photographs, began a baby book of memories, and dipped into the myriad folders I have with family memories and keepsakes. How amazed I was when I came across this poem written by my mother, Joan Ellen McNamara, when she was nesting with her second newborn, my most precious little brother. Entitled Late Night Inspirations, here is a window from February 26th, 1978 – as well as a reminder of the unchanging experience of motherhood throughout the generations…

I think that I shall ever be

so grateful if I never see

another diaper wet and soiled,

another day when plans are foiled;

a little boy who is fussy and crabby,

a little girl when not so happy,

those midnight feedings at one and five,

and in-between when I’m barely alive.

This little boy who cries for food

then falls asleep before he’s through

which means that in an hour or so

we’ll have to give it another go.

for another box that needs my touch

to be unpacked – there is so much!

and really now, you can keep

those nights of quiet, peaceful sleep.

Ha! Ha! I say that just in jest.

I’m dying for a day of rest!

But in all truth I wouldn’t give

away this life that I know live:

To hold a babe within my arms

and be beguiled by his charms.

To watch my little girl at play

as she busily whiles the hours away.

Oh sure, I rant and rave, complain

but within my heart, in love, they reign.

For I’m sure there is no greater joy

than found with my little girl and boy…

Five Generations, on Rowan's Wall...
Five Generations, on Rowan’s Wall…

Beginner’s Mind

“By definition, having a beginner’s mind means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything. Beginner’s mind is actually the space where the mind does not know what to do. It is that delicious state when you are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.” – excerpted from Nithyananda Mission’s website

Beginner’s mind suddenly struck me as the perfect practice solution to the troubles arising in my household: a constantly repeating and exhausting cycle of Rowan feeling jealous (his words), Rowan causing mischief with his little brother, his brother getting sad (usually crying), and me (mother) getting utterly frustrated and exasperated to the point of snapping. The cycle continues over and over again. I try patience. I try speaking kindly. I ask over and over again for a change of choice and behavior, and yet – here we go again. And again. And again.

The mantra “Connect, even when infuriated” surfaces over and over again in my awareness. Connect. Even when infuriated. And yes, I do get infuriated. Tripping, flinging any known object to man in his brother’s face, a vice grip to his brother’s neck or shoulders, an “accidental” body slam while pretending to fight dragons… Day in and day out I am constantly saying No. Please don’t. What are you doing? I resort to sending him away for time outs (usually unsuccessfully). I even resort to taking time outs for myself to get away from the madness. (Rowan won’t take space for himself in his room? Fine. I’ll lock myself in the bathroom then and count to ten). In my worn down state I know that none of this is working. Pushing my son away is not what I want to do. Connect. Even when infuriated. I recommit to keeping him close and not sending him away, even for 10 seconds. I amp up the positive reinforcement. I commit to “no more firm talking” (as the continuation of the above mentioned cycle is Rowan then moving from mischief and jealousy to his own aching heart of sadness and hurt feelings. “Can I just sit on your lap, mama? Don’t talk firmly to me. It hurts my feelings!”) How hard it is to stay close to love when I am angry, tired and worn down! The authors of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys say that “violence is the product of an exhausted mind” – and this rings truer than ever. I’m perennially exhausted so my fuse is shortened. I’ve over time come to expect ‘negative’ antics from Rowan towards Braeden. My responses have become painfully stale and ineffective. We’re stuck. I’m stuck. So what to do? What to do…

And then it strikes me one day: Beginner’s Mind! Like a dog barking from the bottom of a very distant well, I hear a crackle of inspiration. What if each day I commit to looking into the moments of angst from a fresh perspective? What if I choose an orientation of inquiry? What if I ask questions? What if I dig deeper into the emotions and actions of the moment? I can choose to be curious. I can practice letting go of any storyline that I’ve created about my children’s behavior. Even though I’ve just been here in this mess of redirection and bubbling familial conflict five minutes ago, what fresh response can I bring now? And now? And now?

Since we’re practicing Beginner’s Mind, let’s encounter this again as if for the first time: “By definition, having a beginner’s mind means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything. Beginner’s mind is actually the space where the mind does not know what to do. It is that delicious state when you are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.”

So how can I be free of this cycle of suffering? Set aside preconceptions when approaching anything. The space where the mind does not know what to do is actually something to celebrate. Rather than scramble for an ‘appropriate’ or ‘effective’ response to any potentially harm-inducing action arising in my household, I can slow down and consider not knowing what to do, then start fresh from that place. I can practice seeing my oldest with new eyes, over and over again. I can accept what is, loosening my own vice grip on my desire for change. I can throw strategy out the window and be spontaneous with my responses. Rather than resist and succumb to our literal wit’s end, we can choose fresh availability to the present moment as if we’ve never experienced anything like it before. Because, truly, we haven’t!

Loosening of Self into Service

Notice what you are up to:

Resisting the intense

(often overwhelming)

responsibility

of caring for another human being.

Resisting sensation:

physical contraction of co-sleeping, carrying, breast-feeding

shoulders rolled forward, tight neck, sore back,

stillness filtered as stagnation

which is

actually Grace, Mystery

Abiding.

Instead: A Reckoning with what’s greater than yourself

while also perfectly accepting limitations.

All of this a huge gesture of love, a relaxation into the grace of giving, a loosening of self into service…

The Great Horned Owl

She is perched on the edge of her nest. Three owlets grow and burrow next to her: pushing her to the edge of her home, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She will wait patiently all day until dusk overtakes the sky, when she’ll silently fly in search of food for her little ones. All day she will sit, with only her eyes and head moving occasionally. She looks at me with one watchful eye, the other closed. Her ears tilt towards me and her babies’ heads bob up to see the commotion of parked car and toddler rustle. Through the binoculars I see myself foolishly through her sharp yet relaxed gaze. It is as if she is saying “What is this? Camera clicking and binoculars mediating, sunblock being smeared on child’s face?” She just watches me. Nothing between us. No lenses, no filters, no film on skin . She is not troubled to move, even slightly.

Long neck, chin drawn in, tall stature, still frame: she strikes me as being akin to a great meditator: drawing herself into one composed line, she sits quietly and observes, tending her babies with the perfect zen-like non-perturbed gaze of a realized master. In this tree top I see a reflection of how I would like to perch: still mother, resting patiently as my children learn to fly…

What About Motherhood as a Spiritual Practice?

The reality settles in that motherhood as a spiritual art and practice has simply not gotten the air time it deserves.  I’ve been delving of late – looking for books, blogs, websites, wisdom traditions… And what of motherhood?  I keep asking.  Where is the plumbing the depths around the practice and act of mothering – which millions of us do and have done across time?  Of course there are outposts of acknowledgement… And yet perhaps only those of us who have done it understand the depths we are taken to as we peak and fall, particularly as first time mothers – facing our own internal limitations, facing our pasts, feeling into the legacy passed down from our own mothers, and choosing (or not) to do the hard inner work of staying present with the often uncomfortable edges our children surface in our days.  It is like being thrown into a great fire of internal cooking, with a constant temperature barometer present through my child.

Over and over again I am struck by the power I have as a mother.   How many mothers have abused this power over time?  And how could this be assuaged should we have the collective community and wisdom traditions acknowledging the feat it is to birth and raise a child?  Even better than acknowledgement, where are the direct spiritual teachings and transmissions that speak to the challenges we face day and night? Something plucks at me around how so many great spiritual masters and teachers are and have been men, and I find myself wryly turning up my lip as I move through my days with so much responsibility and so many moments to practice everything that has been handed to me through spiritual teachings – but none of those lessons directly implying that mothers are the perfect, ever-present students of spiritual art.

For me motherhood has shown itself as viable and relevant a spiritual practice and path as any other.  And what an amazing gift to have chosen this path and to have a constant responsibility to show up in the spirit of practice – a practice that does not rest, actually. There is no room for separation here.  I cannot remove myself from being a mother.  It is now a constant self-identity and and ever-present relationship.

Just as the word religion means to be bound to a path (from religiare) and the root word of ‘yoga’ comes from ‘yuj,’ to be yoked, as in yoked to a path as well as yoked to the Divine, I can also choose to live the path of motherhood as a sacred practice – a practice and path I am now solidly bound to and choose to walk with reverence, intention and mindfulness.

Too often daily responsibilities and particularly the responsibility of parenthood are perceptually divorced from the realm of ‘practice.’  Practice at its root is the practice of your most revered state.  Too often there is the notion that a siritual practice is primarily a yoga practice or prayer pracice or meditation practice – an that it lives separate from the rest of our lives.  Of course the invitation  is for the wisdom arising in  practice space to bleed into the rest of our lives… and so too with motherhood as a sacred practice.  We’re invited to step into a realm of inner world and clarifying for ourselves what our most revered states are – and what we most want to embody in this lifetime – and then, rise to this calling through literal ‘practice’ throughout the ‘ordinary’ moment of rest and responsibility in any given day.  So ‘practice’ becomes alive in every cell of our bodies and every moment in our days and in every interaction.  This is the path of embodiment and authenticity, when we are truly living and breathing our values and our love.  And when we understand that there is no separation between ‘life’ and ‘practice’ we can begin to walk into our days and relationships with more presence, more seamless awareness and a more clarified expression of what we most want to be radiating through our presence.

Too often our responsibility is taken too lightly (not to mention is undervalued in many instances as well). Rather, we can walk into the truly regal responsibility that is raising and caring for another human being with great integrity.  This does not mean that we are perfect.  It does mean we choose to do the work required of anyone on a critical spiritual path:  to practice, to show up fully in any given moment, to come back again and again to our best intentions, and to embrace humility in the face of life’s greatest moments of challenge and testing.