“Much of motherhood, from the very first hour, carries the early warning signs of ego warfare. I want to sleep. She wants to eat. I need to do this. She needs to do that. Not again. Again. It can feel as though someone were eating you alive. And what is being eaten is your ego.”
I thought I was going to write about discipline and love tonight – and instead I opened my journal to this quote from Karen Maezen Miller’s Momma Zen, a book I finished at least six weeks ago. It hits me in a flash: ego warfare is a practice like any other requiring yes, discipline and love. I just didn’t think I was going to approach it from this angle.
My ego is being eaten by motherhood and it is the most delicious bite of spiritual practice yet. Devoured at 2am. Downed with a drink of water at 5am. Eaten again with breakfast at 9am. Over and over again my needs and my son’s needs bump, and now I realize that somewhere over the past 21 months I’ve surrendered my attachments to what I thought I could never live without (attachment to sleep for one). The crucible of so-called ‘warfare’ has waned into a sudden realization that a huge bite has been taken out of my ego while I was barely looking. Spiritual practitioners spend lifetimes looking to loose self and soften ego, and once again motherhood’s great gifts come in the back door in the form of feeling like you are being eaten alive. It is hard to imagine during those moments of sheer exhaustion and utter disorientation into service that anything other than survival through any given day will result.
But here I am: dark circles written permanently on my face and hair only cut once a year if I’m lucky – and all the freer for it. So what if I was up ten times last night? Now I regard this reality like looking at ripples in water (even if stormy water!). This didn’t happen over night. It is a slow process of devouring – a slow letting go of attachments to “this is good and that is not good,” “I need this and not that,” “not again, again.”
And what’s the big deal about ego anyway? The Buddhist tradition relates the feeling of a separate ‘I’ (sometimes called ego-consciousness), as being related to the strength of ignorance. A more conventional definition is that the ego refers to the self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves. And herein lies why I care about shifts in ‘my’ so-called ‘ego:’ If I can surrender even one ounce of my self-absorption or self-preoccupation into service to another living being, then I’ve allowed Love itself to devour the parts of my existence that don’t serve Life. And the path of Motherhood calls us over and over again to this surrender. Let Love devour the parts of us that don’t serve Life.
The discipline required to become freer in this human life is to make oneself available to Grace by practicing an open communication with exactly what is, even when it goes against what we think we most want and need. The beauty is that when we do this as a practice, we make ourselves more available for Love to work on us – and in turn to give away Love as a constant. Whether its ego that dissolves, or just sinews in the brain that serve to reinforce patterns of separation and resistance, the point is to relax into the flow of letting go again and again into what is, without attachment to what you thought should be. Then, all of the sudden, something in your experience doesn’t grip so hard. Something is softer, more agreeable, more receptive and malleable. You have set yourself free by setting yourself aside in unabashed service of your child.