Laundry, Dishes…Liberation?

“And yet, I can not help but look around some days and wonder; as a daughter of the feminist movement, was this the endgame? Am I living the dream that they held in their hearts? Or, are my sisters working with their babies in daycare living the dream?” Devon Corbet

Devon’s blog post on the rhythm of housework and the ever-present tasks of homemaking got me thinking about my own experience of what it means to be a daughter of the feminist movement. The long days at home, parenting and home-keeping, are hard. The sense of responsibility is ever-present. A toddler seems to have some 3-4 needs a minute, newborns need to be held and fed. There is a poop filled diaper to be changed every hour, or so it seems. The messes pile up. Toys are tripped on. Sleep at night is irregular and intermittent at best. Some days going to work part-time does feel easier. I can self-regulate with ease at work. I can get a drink of water right when I need one. I can choose to be my introverted self for a spell. Parenting young children and trying to maintain a sane order at home alternately tosses me into a cocktail of extroverted, non-stop output, where multitasking is a survival skill. There is always work to be done.

More keenly, Devon’s reflections on housework and feminism get me thinking about how I orient to being a mother and home-maker full time, since I am on a respite from work (maternity leave). I get to thinking about what ‘liberation’ means  – in a day-to-day context (and in light ‘women’s liberation’). Since giving birth several weeks ago I’ve been HOME. Really HOME. In three weeks I rode in a car only once. Since my newborn caught a cold, we received few visitors and avoided all public places. On warm enough days, I took neighborhood walks. But other than these short bursts of air, I have been HOME.

During the long stretches of solitary parenting and tending of hearth I’ve found myself swinging on a trapeze amongst varied emotions. There is the ‘trapped’ feeling; the wanting to ‘get out’ – both literally and figuratively. Then there is the calm bliss of sitting quietly with my new babe. There is the complete overwhelm of looking around and seeing nothing but work that needs to be done. There is the clock-watching which involves anticipating something coming next (and incidentally wishing for something other than what is presently arising). There is then the surrender into the present moment, which comes with a peaceful appreciation of my children. The trapeze swings…Then frustration (“why do my oldest children have to be fighting again?”). Irritation. Acceptance. Love. Gratitude. It all happens, sometimes in a span of 10 minutes or less.

But here is what I want to hone in on: the way in which motherhood and tending hearth can prod us to contemplate escape routes or lose ourselves to the ceaseless task lists, OR settle in to an experience of utter freedom and fulfillment. I don’t know what the endgame of the feminist movement is, but I do know that as a woman I am given a profound opportunity to maintain a peaceful, sane order of my home. I know that there is an ever-present risk of losing myself to mere execution of tasks. I also know that sweeping doesn’t have to be just sweeping; it can be akin to cleaning the temple. The quality of attention we bring to what we do is essential.

If we see the tasks associated with being a householder and parent as “separate” from our deeper passions and yearnings, then we lose an opportunity to have everything we do be a full expression of our (full) selves. Herein lies a first insight about ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation.’ If we are always seeking something else, we are not free. If we assume one expression of ourselves is “better” or more desirable than another (professional work over laundry, a yoga practice over a dish washing practice, or a solo hike over neighborhood stroll to the playground), we miss out on a seamless experience of non-discriminating contentment. If we alternately give ourselves over fully to what is asked of us in the realm of parenting and homemaking (even though cultural forces and even personal preference might deem it less alluring), we can enter the free and clear realm of non-grasping and non-seeking mind.

I am reminded of the etymology of the Sanskrit word moksha: freedom, letting go, releasing, liberating. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, moksha points to freedom from the cycle of life and death, while also connoting self-realization. For me, moksha reminds me to ‘let go’ into the present moment, whatever it demands or offers. I am reminded to simultaneously release expectations of how I think something should be, especially if it looks different that what is. I am reminded that while there will always be social conditions requiring liberation movements, there is also always the possibility of an internal orientation of liberation, in the spiritual sense. Regardless of externals, we can bring a free attention to everything we do. We can choose to rest in the center of acceptance, which is ultimately a great expression of day-to-day freedom. We can embody a wild Love that fuels an experience of expansiveness, even in the seemingly ‘small’ orbit of nuclear family and home…

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Be The Force That Integrates All Sides

The bite I need to chew on today is a reckoning with darkness, insanity and violence. I’ve been wrestling for some time now with a subtle terror: the dark side of reality at bay that someday I will have to explain to my children. It hit me with an unexpected force when I found out my second child is also a boy. A panic fomented as I felt a wave of acknowledgement of bullying, teen suicide (highest in boys), war, gangs, violent video games and violence in the media…coupled with a far away wish that I could somehow protect them from all these forces of American culture.

Being pregnant and raising a 2-year-old provides a new perspective as I navigate the waters of love and aggression, peace and violence. The filters are different now. I hear everything in light of my children. When I hear of women and children dying tragically I feel the sting so much more now that I intimately live the parental bond. Pairing the reality of my circle of bedtime lullabies, storytimes, nature walks, the playground, or cuddling my son after he falls with the snippets of news I do take in feels all the more complex. My child’s world and the worlds of Afghanistan, 9/11 or Iraq seem like parts of a puzzle meant to be one, but not. Not the mention all the efforts at teaching kindness and non-violence to the pack of two-year olds that Rowan runs with – only to turn around and realize the so-called “grown up” world dismantles the lessons we try to teach; Right and wrong blur and explanations become confusing (Rowan’s recent obsession with the Lorax is a case in point. “Why do we cut down all the trees and put gloppity glop in the water, mama? Especially if it hurts the barbaloots and swamee swans?). The dictum of “please don’t push your friends,” “please share” and “clean up your mess” seem extremely compromised in light of war, environmental destruction, opportunistic capitalism and the like.

Just yesterday morning I was laying in bed feeling into the vulnerable miracle of new life moving inside, having chosen to listen to NPR’s Morning Edition. The five minutes of news enlightened me to a lone soldier in Kandahar, Afghanistan setting off at 3am local time on a shooting spree of local people sleeping in their homes (and yes, children amongst). The tears flowing, I feel into integrating this sort of information in light of my hands on a kicking baby in utero…I feel into the understandable insanity of a soldier setting off at 3am to kill civilians and then turn himself in. Did he want to be sent home? Was he at the brink because of all the horrors he’s lived being at war? Did his psyche dissolve into chaos due to mixed messages, competing internal value sets, lack of inner resources or support to deal with the trauma he was living? Sad, sad humanity… I can’t even think “how could he?” – I think “of course he would given these circumstances…”

Hauling myself out of bed I catch the second news piece of the day: the year anniversary of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami and near nuclear meltdown which took some 20,000 people’s lives. The reporter is at a Zen monastery of chanting monks who were at the epicenter of the disaster and who have since lost several brother monks to suicide: having thrown themselves into the ocean from despair after losing so much. I click the off switch, opting for Beethoven (a choice made with my son in utero in mind). Listening to the notes of ups and downs I feel the human complexity behind each serenade, blending with the faint trace of memory of the Japanese monks’ chants. What an unbelievable melange of beauty, pain, highs and lows the human experience is (and it is no wonder the transmission of Beethoven’s music points me deeper into the truth of multifaceted human experience seeing as he is one who was boxed to near deafness by his father; here is an artist who knew suffering first hand and who also so poignantly translated an experience of inspiration and beauty into his music). The screaming mothers of Kandahar and the hurling bodies of self-sacrificing Zen monks swirls into the concentrated notes of genius and wisdom bound in the ancient Zen chants being sung across Japan right now as a gesture of healing and acknowledgement.

In the same moment the complexity of Beethoven’s notes swirl into a memory from last night where my friend and I look at each other amidst mitigating 2 year olds’ conflicts, shaking our heads, saying “I guess we come into this world complicated.” All in a moment the little ones bring forth a perfect mixture of sweetness and aggression. There is the standard grabbing of toys, followed by apologies; the standard accidental head hit followed by tears, the standard push and pull of developing egos, the cruel knock down immediately followed by genuine emotional intelligence and empathy – a concern for a friend even when having just been the perpetrator who hurt this friend. Then there is also the magic moment of cooperation and togetherness shared around the play piano, a cacophony of sounds blaring coupled with giggling.

We are complicated. This world is complicated. The best I can do is to integrate it all as one whole experience and one expression of differing textures of light and darkness. Breathe deep. Keep instilling the values of love, compassion, kindness, non-violence – and be ready to address the basic human truth of hypocrisy. I remember trying to come to terms with “bad” things when small. A first moment of realization came when I was standing right in line of the car exhaust, blissfully breathing in the fumes. My dad understandably freaked out, pulling me away and firmly telling me how bad it is for me. I was utterly dumbfounded. Stunned. “But why do we use it then in our cars if it isn’t good for us?” I asked. My mind was blown open and I was left very confused when my dad answered “that is a very good question…” My mom whipped out the “sweet plus sour equals lemonade” book, which has actually stayed with me as a pointer towards non-dualistic truth. Yes, sweet plus sour makes the delicious combination of lemonade. Sour alone might not taste or feel good, but it contributes to the perfection of the final elixir. Light plus dark equals reality. Violence and love blend into a whole earth of complexity and fullness of human experience. Raising children in this light requires an ability to face the scale of what is with honesty and without turning away. We can keep cultivating our own pockets of ‘heaven’ with our children and communities, where love and creativity have a chance to flourish, while also being ready to sit together in the unimaginable pain of the seemingly unexplainable.

I took all this to the yoga mat yesterday: and after class the woman next to me said “thank God. Another baby born who will be able to do good in this complicated world.” I said “I hope so…” She said , “at least your physical yoga practice will help them  have a nervous system capable of sustaining these traumatic times.” Wow. This stranger had just given me another layer of my calling in relation to all of this; Yes, a first step in responding and acting on behalf of simple sanity and kindness is to have a nervous system capable of not shutting down or capable of not choosing the standard flight, fight or freeze responses so many of us involuntarily embody when faced with dire situations. Rather than turning away, shutting down, running the other direction, becoming immobile in the face of duress, or turning to distraction, we as parents can serve our children deeply by modeling a wide-awake disposition, able and ready to respond to what arises with Love…ultimately serving to balance the forces that be. It doesn’t only mean “do more good” as much as BE the force that represents the integration of all sides; And the heart is the crucible of ultimate integration.

Begin here. Rest here: Beating Heart of Life reverberating in our cells calling us to sit in an all-encompassing experience of wholeness, where service and compassion reign if we learn to carefully listen…

Inadequacy and Love: and Why We Have to do Our Own Inner Work

I had the great honor of attending my brother’s -Zen Master in making, embodied practitioner and gifted teacher Rob McNamara’s -workshop on the “Gate of Inadequacy” over the weekend.  With my mother at my side, we unpacked multi-generational patterns of self-esteem (or lack thereof) and marveled at the power of intention to parent in different ways than we were parented.  We unpacked the potential wounding that a parent’s words can inflict – and sighed deep sighs of relief that neither of us lives in the realm of inadequacy today (even though my mother’s path to healing took some 33 years).

As parents we can often feel inadequate, not enough, lacking, incomplete.  And sometimes perhaps we are.  The most important work we can do for ourselves and our children is to do our own inner work:  delving inwards to feel into our own life story, programming and patterning, and come to peace with all parts of ourselves – even the wounded, embittered, lacking in confidence, angry, shut down, dissociated…all the parts that may translate into less patience or more sharpness.  Those are the very realms of our experiences that most need integrating and tending in the spirit of breaking generational cycles of patterning that don’t serve our greatest capacity to embody openness and love.

Love is the great equalizer.  Through love (and not thinking about it but feeling it, living it, breathing it) – all things can transform.  In my own experience the practice and gesture of being in love with life not only brings me more fully into living my days, but also dissolves over time the sharper edges of my being.

As mothers we are powerful beyond measure – which is all the more reason to burn through obscurities in the spirit of walking the path of parenthood with as much clarity and clear energy as possible.  We can choose to embark on the path of purification that is central to so many religious paths in order to best serve our children (and everyone around us), who we influence so greatly.  For me, this has entailed a profound unearthing over the years of all parts of myself.  It has entailed dancing with perfectionism, which at times was self-destructive, yet which ultimately gives rise to my ceaseless intention to embody ever-widening love and grace.  With delving, I came to understand that perfectionism was (and is) my way of trying to pay homage to the Divine nature of life and being alive.

Plumbing my depths also led me to the vast restfulness possible in directing my loving regard internally to all parts of myself (yes, even those I may label “inadequate” or “imperfect”). Through a simultaneous shedding of light on my entire experience coupled with the force of love (and ultimately being in love and falling in love with my experience of life) – I find myself able to walk further into an uninterrupted flow of love and light.  This means taking the time to, through practice, shed light over and over again on the mysteries of body, soul, personality and habit that make up my particular human form.  It means staying with what is difficult.  It means not turning away from anything – and not trying to suppress or ignore the more complex and uncomfortable parts of self and experience.  All of the sudden I can live more fully in a realm of being that is absolutely okay with what Is, while also recognizing again and again an inherent dimension of incompleteness and ‘inadequacy’ that only propels me further into how I most want to live and give.

The ongoing effort at crux:  We can intentionally choose to follow a path of inner work and personal refinement that ultimately transforms our own particular sharp edges, shadows and blind spots.  Through continual willingness to face ourselves and our experience fully and squarely without discrimination or judgement, and willingness to commit ourselves to not turning away from what is uncomfortable or less than desirable in our experience, we can, through applying a loving regard within and without – become more fully seated in an experience of Love.  This means just being in Love!  With our children, our partners, the leaves on trees, the texture of color of sky and Earth, the changing seasons, our parents, the ground we walk on, and yes – even the more shadowy dimensions of our souls.

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.

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.

Meaning of Parenthood

I remember the moments after my son was born.  I had fainted and when I woke again I had a foggy “so this is motherhood” revelation as I looked around the mess of the birth room to find my son’s face. I felt my part in a long line of women bringing new life into this world through a massive opening of the body, and a sense tat this moment was one of the most profound given to our species; Such a simple yet complex act:  the continued cycle of life, nine months of gestation, births happening hundreds of thousands times a day, and still:  the evolution and propagation of humanity landing in our arms, a gift so precious we often call it a miracle.

And yet, just like mothering, it is what we do over and over again throughout the world:  reproduce, give birth and raise our children in thousands of ways, giving rise to the diversity of human experience.  As mothers, we are given the opportunity to induct a meaningful human experience for our children.  Rather than reproducing only for the sake of reproducing, we can choose to parent in a way that is meaningful and not random.

Some of the meaning I have gleaned in the first months of my son’s life:

  • How remarkable it is to expand the sense of self to include another human being.  I am not just myself any longer, but a dyad moving in the world – my needs blending with his.
  • This expanded sense of self is not a fusing, but an expansion of compassion in that the ability to move beyond Self to Other grows.
  • This loving and giving is the greatest spiritual opportunity of a lifetime:  To love without growing tired, to give even when it feels like there is nothing left, to practice falling in love over and over again, even when the edges are sharp and the patience runs thin.
  • There is an opportunity to parent in a way that moves beyond ‘nurturing.’  Of course we nurture, or have the power to nurture – but more than that we literally give life and in this giving there is the potential to embody the spiritual potential of selflessness, of loving beyond the self.
  • We offer our children the first moments of emotional connectivity through eye contact and touch, through the vegal nerve which connects to the eyes and generates healthy nervous system capacity for compassion and empathy.
  • Children will bless you so much more than drain you when you can access and practice gratitude.