Individualism, Attachment and the Aspen Tree

The changing colors of leaves makes for moments of charged awareness as the beauty of reds and oranges remind me of transition, transformation, shedding and the coming quiet bareness of branches.  As the trees let go of their leaves so gracefully I muse about how difficult it is to let go as  parent.  Rowan at 15 months strides farther and farther away from me, even as he still clings close in the moments when I have to leave him.  I muse on my attachments – and attachment in general (from a psychological perspective) – that force of attraction at work everywhere in the universe, and especially crucial between parent and child.  As psychologist Gordon Neufel says in Hold Onto Your Kids, “Attachment is a force of attraction pulling two bodies toward each other.  Whether in physical, electrical or chemical form, it is the most powerful force in the universe.  It holds us to the Earth and keeps our bodies in one piece… It gives the universe its shape…”

Just as the falling leaves vacillate between holding on and letting go, I walk the delicate balance between staying close and letting go, separateness and relationship (which ultimately never ends), and letting myself fall back into life as a “separate” being free of the body of my son in every moment.  I feel the pull of gravity towards Rowan and home, as well as gravity towards creative inner space, solitude and venturing outwards ‘alone.’  So too Rowan must feel the gravity of staying close contrasted with the gravity of venturing outwards in the never-ending circles of learning and individuation.

The backdrop of this dance for both of us is the closeness of attachment parenting – one of the most beautiful dynamics I’ve ever lived into.  While my culture tends towards calling it ‘difficult’ (co-sleeping, child-led breastfeeding, baby-wearing – all hallmarks of attachment parenting), I find it the most natural, instinctual relational process (and gravitational force) I’ve ever entered.  Within its tenets I feel into the millions of years of human evolution, and feel a part of the 90% of the world’s parents who sleep next to their children and carry them in slings.  Regardless of other pulls, the force of attraction between myself and my child is strong beyond measure and requires my undivided heeding.  Our babies need us close in a world that separates most of us at birth and then again and again through the routines of work and life in an industrialized society.  So many contraptions and systems meant to make life ‘easier’ actually pull us apart from one another.  In many ways, relating closely (and ‘attaching’) with our children (and one another?) has never been more difficult.

The whole cultural notion of ‘independence’ boggles my mind – and I often wonder whether my bubbling inclinations towards my own ‘space’ is a culturally created construct.  From a spiritual perspective, motherhood has expanded my understanding of ‘self’ to include ‘other’ in a way that blows the whole western industrial complex’s fallacy of ‘individual’ so far out of the water I marvel at the multiple cultural strategies in place to hold on to the revered status of Self, Alone. (And isn’t it interesting how we move our babies in the direction of Self, Alone as early as a newborn?)  I dance on the edge of a loosening of the required 100% (literal) Presence with my child – the felt melting of our edges moving from one to two back to one to two and back again.  There he goes, there he comes.  Here we are.  Where I end and he begins (began?) calls me to the mystery of what the Mystics have pointed to for millenia – the One versus the many, interconnectedness v. individuality, the Sacred dimensions of Breath and Life.  At the heart of this dance I am called to not let the habits of culture whittle away at the strong gravitational pulls of Love.  I am called to take the time needed to transition mindfully and gracefully between togetherness and separateness, all the while acknowledging and honoring each of our needs for close connection mixed with sacred wanderings apart.

Our children are born from an experience of profound interdependence and thus need closeness in a way that rubs the edges of our sharply individualistic and independence oriented society.  From the womb to birth to early months and years – they need more than our help; they are absolutely dependent on us to live.  Their needs call us to set the more self-oriented parts of ourselves aside in honor of embodying nurturing, ever-present abiding.  Feeling a tangible part of a web of relationship with Rowan, he teaches me the palpable pull of heart strings and connectivity that I am ultimately rooted in not only with him but with everything.  After all, I exchange breath with the trees I gaze at – the changing colors not only mixing with eyes and mind, but the dance of oxygen and carbon happening in every moment – an intimate dance of life transcending any false notions of I and you.

How quickly we are taught that we can supposedly stand alone, disconnected somehow from all that supports us into sustaining Life.  Instead, I choose to re-learn relaxation into mutually arising needs that never end, even when we grow into adulthood.  I choose to abide closely with my child – mirroring relationship like the aspen trees that learn to stand side by side but with roots deeply connected and mutually supportive of growth – all the while one vast organism in the forest of Life.

Dip Into Realm of Calling

The strange thing today:  all of the sudden the first year of Rowan’s life has passed – and slowly he moves away from me in that absolutely normal process of growing up.  I remember the days when I couldn’t even take a shower because I couldn’t put him down. And now, suddenly: space again – even if just a little – to connect and reconnect, to dip into realm of calling, to wonder at what’s next and to take stock in what is.

I make it a practice to find space in the week to ask myself:  “What wants to emerge?” What images arise in the short spaces between daily tasks?  It is almost always in glimpses that callings and a deeper sense of inner direction surface in my awareness.  For me this week what arises are images of pilgrimage, Ireland, the Earth-based sacred sites of my ancestors, the need to write down my experience, visions of creative projects, a pull to get crafty, draw to home-schooling (!?), desire to create seasonal festivals for family, homemade clothes and tablecloths, wool festivals, Irish dance, yoga asana practice and a soaking in of Summer and paying attention to the slow shift towards Fall.

Something about this phase of motherhood harkens me back to the crafts and wanderings of my ancestors.  I feel more acutely my place in the lineage of humanity’s long line and my responsibility to pass on a heritage, culture, tradition, careful daily routines that have meaning and history.  Much of this I have to re-create, and some days this daunts me, while others I step into this as if certainly stepping into a Calling – a calling from those who’ve been before me to bring forth a next generation with care and attention to detail:  not randomness and the havoc of clogged airwaves and media waves and endless hobbies and comings and goings that mark the dominant way of being of my American culture.

No, instead we can follow the thread of quiet mothering rooted in millions of years of simple but profound gestures.  Really, there is little that is more important.  Embedded in this vision is invitation to slow down and use my hands, learn something of the old arts of cooking and crafting… I write this with a wry smile, feeling how the hormones of motherhood have shifted my attention to encompass the age old vestiges of ‘tradition’ – a pulling longing for place in a line of great Women who know the collective power of small acts of creativity and intention enacted in the canvas of Home.

Do not misunderstand:  This too is calling, inspiration, creative expression channeled into raising another human being.  It is not that other expressions of my calling or creativity or work in the world are less important or less present;  It is just the unfolding understanding that there are few better ways to lend my realization and passion than manifested in the service of daily acts of caregiving.   This is also yoga:  that fine art of applying one’s will to the placement of the body as a gesture of love, openness, service, beauty.  In the same way that I carefully place my hands and feet with loving attention to detail – I can also carefully create Home and Family.  This too is sacred ground – the bleeding of spiritual practice and creative energies into manifesting the sanest, most grounded manifestation of what it means to be human – while also bringing another into the profound light of this experience.

The Beauty of Being Tired

The beauty of being tired is that I don’t even know who I am anymore – like a boat being cut loose in a marsh, I strut around the house with a humor fueled by delerium. I am such a mess and I for the first time in my life feel my mess as a gesture of liberation rather than self-demise.

“The wires in my brain aren’t functioning properly,” I tell Chris, all along thinking I am “losing it” and thinking this is a “bad” thing.  Instead, No.  During a recent yoga practice my teacher asked “feel what part of you is the most open” and like a flash of lightening understanding I answered “the most exhausted part…”

Yes, with certainty, I can now feel that the most tired parts of myself are also the most open and available to transformation.  The differentiating factor:  having no resistance to the tiredness.  The differentiating factor:  letting go into the flow of exhaustion as if it were the finest gift of silk.  “Losing it” is actually what all spiritual masters have been instructing their pupils in for thousands of years.  Losing it equals losing your mind (aha!), losing attachments to egoic structures and habits (aha!) and maybe even losing social personality traits that are like tire skids or fingernails on a chalkboard in their ability to keep you stuck in restless habits that don’t move you where you most want to be.

Exhaustion presents an opportunity to lose the perfectionism and simply abide in what is – albeit even it is only because you’re too tired to do otherwise.  Exhaustion invites loosening of long-held karmic holdings in the body – simply by (literally, physically) wearing them out.

At first, I struggle to hold on to what I think I am in the midst of profound disorientation and frustration…And this is where motherhood busts beyond that holding pattern of “I am tired and I am just going to make all my bad habits worse because of it.”  Motherhood’s exhaustion is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back so to speak – It crumbles you into a million pieces of oblivion where up and down, 2am or 6pm don’t matter – and where Love is the only force of reality that can truly sustain any semblance of sanity.  So when Rowan is wanting milk every 45 minutes at 3am and I jump out of bed screaming “feeding hours are over!” and storm out of the room, rather than trip into a heap on the floor, I can instead take a breath and tap into love that anchors me back to bed.  Yes, a chosen practice, but also a background of grace that somehow dissolves my most irrational behaviors.

The gift of all this is that I can’t spin into self-absorption or even extended self-criticism or doubt.  After all, there’s no time for habits such as these.  Sleep, and the baby, calls.

Get Out of the Line and Back into a Circle

Struggling against the ‘scarcity model’ – I pancake myself into the grass and let loose. Wind blows, trees rustle, clouds drift and air cools my skin.  Summer drifts into Fall, and I try to rub the panic from my face that says things like “not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough space for this or that…”  Instead, abundance!  Age old wisdom repeats itself in my mind, reminding me of slow saunter of gaze and breath – even if I only have these 20 minutes for THIS – this is enough and more.

Really, I want hours of “retreat.” How to make your life a retreat?  Retreat in the best sense of the word:  sacred, following calling, noticing beauty, not living dictated by time or schedule but by whims of inspiration and spontaneity – with time for reflective appreciation of time’s passage and time to connect with those we love… Days keep passing and the great question is whether I am living in alignment with my reverence for this Life – not only relishing life’s moments in all their variety, but also living lightly and mindfully – driving less, cloth diapering more, farmer’s market calls…

Lifestyle. Lifestyle. Lifestyle.  It all comes back to how our values are translated into the ‘ordinariness’ of a day:  Eating mindfully, hugging Rowan mindfully, being present (fully) with what arises.  Chris and I were listening to a podcast last night about the greatest gift you can give your child: Presence.  That is, giving your full, undivided (yes, non-multitasking) presence.  This is what translates into self-esteem: an experience of knowing and feeling you’re worth someone else’s full presence.  How often do we not give this because of the myriad of directions we are pulled in a day?

Today, I am called to reassess what is really important.  (By the way, those dishes can wait).  I am called to take Rowan along with me in moments of relishing and resting.  A question becomes how to bring slowness of gesture into all movements, even with deadlines and timelines?  The trick is to get out of the line and back into a circle. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, but right here:  sitting in the center.

Regard all Dharmas as Dreams – and, Don’t Wait in Ambush

Easy come, easy go.  Let teachings pass through you as clouds pass through sky.  Let yourself transform softly, slowly, without holding on.  Just like dreams, dharmas are not to be grasped or held.  Integrate what comes.  Let the rest go.

Meanwhile, take charge of new life and grab the bull by its horns!  In these moments of profound change, take responsibility for generating structure when needed.  Don’t waste a moment.  Over and over again recognize the preciousness of life’s moments, even those tended to be called ‘mundane.’  All of this too shall pass and death will take us to another form perhaps before we are ready – so what to wait for?  Taking nothing for granted.  Love your life exactly as it is.

First, Train in the Preliminaries

Go within and shatter the old structure of habits that don’t serve your greatest expression of love and freedom.  Shatter habits of restlessness and resistance (subtle longing for something other than the exact perfection of Now).

What exactly are the preliminaries in life right now?

  • What is, is perfect.
  • Longing is a lesson in what to move towards.
  • Connect deeply with those around you.
  • Actively listen, even with my son who can’t yet ‘talk.’
  • Be, not ‘do.’
  • Limit multi-tasking for the sake of sanity.
  • Always, slow down.

Hence, I am invited to slow down as a means to mindfulness, to trust myself and accept that I am enough as I am and to treat my moment of longing for something “other” as a lesson in what to move towards, with intention.  I am invited to keep alive the heart of devotional practice, reverence, embodied love through wide open bodily receptive listening and presence – how I submit myself to divine awareness.

The ‘preliminaries’ call me to radically embrace what IS so whole-heartedly that the penetrating force of love of the present moment exactly as it is transforms what is also called to move – not on my terms, but on Grace’s.

Fatigue Fueled by the Power of Love

While every year brings its changes, this one is perhaps the most radical.  Age 33, pregnancy, new home, walking miles and miles with Rowan in those first months after birth, transformation, physical discomfort, bliss, exhaustion – a fatigue also fueled by the power of love: by that I mean fatigue softened by the bond of parenthood.

I didn’t feel like “myself” for much of this year (reflecting now on my birthday which just passed) – for my sense of ‘self’ was challenged in profound ways:  changed body and new expressions of myself in the face of my limits of patience, exasperated with the overwhelming acceleration of change and the feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

I have discovered a new realm of Love through my son.  I’ve been given a jewel that I carry and care for every day and night – a jeweled reminder of embodying all of life’s lessons and the heart of my spiritual practice in every moment, even when I am at the limit of what I feel possible.  I encountered edges this year I never knew in myself previously – unexpected frustration and wanting to ‘crash out’ or fuzz out of the sustained physical asana that breastfeeding and carrying and soothing a little one is.  Each time I met my edge I did find the heart of my practice.  I did return to Love – and thus I am infinitely grateful for the moments of recognition of practice alive and at work when the rubber of life’s challenges truly hit the road.

Parenthood is a spiritual odyssey like none other.  In many ways, Rowan has become the crux of my practice.  He is a spiritual companion, a reminder of constant beauty and vulnerability – an ache of preciousness, the potential of Loss, all in an ordinary moment every day.

Mother First and All Else is Secondary

I am a mother first now and all else is secondary.  No remorse – total acceptance, and yet: now lives the dance between peace and stillness and embracing WHAT IS coupled at the same time with desire to move, passion for ‘other’, yearning to be and do more, to become what I know not yet.

The practice is to maintain a certain level of self-attunement and flow, and basic self-care. To keep a pulse on what you want to move towards, while most importantly staying rooted in the present moments of mothering and care-giving another.  In this there exists a plateau that also deepens in its acceptance of being a plateau.

Hence, deepened self-identity, letting go of wanting anything other than what is (while still dancing with dreams and goals), practiced acceptance, profound slowing down….And now, crawl into bed with my precious son…

That Fluid Grace of Asana

Practice – finally giving to myself what I need – dipping into that fluid grace of asana that wets the joints and spurs my whole organism to coherence and sync and flow.  Integration of all parts of myself – into each unfolding moment expressed as breath and posture.

Balancing restfulness and strength, feeling gratitude and bitterness of disappointment and resistance all at once.  What I need to do is love every cell of my body and life to a thousand pieces.  What I need is to love every square inch of my life, from toes to shoulders to soft belly and to sore neck.

We as mothers all need recovery time – space for fluid plumping up of body, nervous system and soul.  “Get more disciplined about self-care and time management,” the lesson says… Over and over again there is the opportunity to embrace exactly what is, even the discomfort of weakened muscles from pregnancy and ache from carrying and breastfeeding.  Patience and compassion have been key to surviving the first months of mothering, and now, integration of more structure, discipline and wise discrimination are key.

It is essential to pay attention to how I spend time, and to not get lost in the endless cycle of “getting things done.”  Instead, practice.  Marvel.  Marvel at Rowan, marvel at Chris.  Marvel at the light on the mountains.  Read.  Rest. Move.  Love.  Enjoy overwhelming softness of body and baby…Balance this with the structure of practice and healthy nourishment.  Prioritize quality of relationships.  Say no to soundbites.  Offer the crux as you dive into the day…

Balancing Dedication to Home with Dedication to Practice

Balancing dedication to home with dedication to “practice” – and coming to the full understanding that this (home/motherhood) IS my practice.  There is no separation.  The invitation is to seamlessly flow from there to here- and to give myself the same texture of practice while carrying my son and caring for ‘home.’   Lessons to integrate:

  • Open the body with feeling – feel from the heart while moving through the day’s responsibilities.
  • Love from my hands and feet – let my practice of loving emanate.
  • My anxiety becomes my son’s.  Self-regulation is key.
  • Loose the self-perfectionism and judgement when not living up to standards of ‘perfect’ motherhood.  Instead, grow your nervous system by connecting with how much you care beyond yourself.  Feel into what surrounds you and grow compassion and spontaneous moment to moment giving away.
  • Remember generosity.  And, give away what you most need.
  • My care can be (IS) greater than my fears and self-preoccupations.  Don’t assume I’ll ever “get somewhere” or “let go” of something.  Instead, grow how much you care.  How much I care is never at stake – so deepen this in order to serve.
  • Service is the stream all mothers can flow in and with…
  • Finally, don’t close!  Come back again and again to wakefulness for the sake of service.  To be half given is worse than failing a million times.  It is better to fail than not to give, even if ‘imperfect.’  Just show up fully offered in every moment.

Practice is here, now, at home – no separation.  Motherhood is the greatest spiritual opportunity of a lifetime – to love and give when running on empty – this is the constant invitation.