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.

 

The Virtue of Slowness, and Doing Absolutely Nothing

I’ve been thinking a lot about both the virtue of slowness – and the essential practice of doing absolutely nothing. Transferring these things to parenting a toddler is an interesting endeavor, and I have to use myself and my own experience and actions as a starting point. I don’t want to always be ‘busy.’ I want to create time and space for being available to whatever arises, without planning. I want to model just sitting, without always having to ‘do’ something. This feels particularly challenging in light of my little guy who is a non-stop playing, moving, jumping, running organism of energy (who constantly invites me into the fold of play). So – how to balance?

One vehicle I’ve found (at least during warmer weather) is to venture outdoors to the small open space corridor across the street. Rowan and I would go and reframe our lenses to the world of the very small. We would sit still in the grass and simply observe the insects, the blades of grass, the cattail, and the clouds. I’d point out the passing light of the day into dusk, or the shifting patterns of clouds, or the flutter of wings of a bird flying by. I’d welcome him to lay down with me, close his eyes, and listen. In this way we both found a quiet stillness of just being that is not quite as replicable indoors or at a playground or on a walk… Since winter’s wind and chill has blown in I’ve struggled to unveil those moments as often. Even in my endless pursuit of a cultter-free, simple home with minimal stimuli, I often feel assaulted by things and schedules (hmmm…something tells me I’m not alone in this)… And it occurs to me that a gift I want to offer my children is the capacity to navigate 21st century urban, industrialized, tech swarmed reality with some semblance of grace and sanity – where they are seated in a calm center of gravity and can self-regulate even in the midst of an onslaught of things and information and chaotic human energy. How to offer options and an experience that promotes reflection, slowness, thoughtfulness, focus, concentration and the like? It feels like a never-ending uphill battle – and the best I can do is model slow-moving, careful interaction with my surroundings.

Harkening back to my last post: there is no rush. There is plenty of time. We don’t have to do anything. I can model a restfulness and groundedness even in light of swirling toddler energies converging. No need to rush the transitions. The journey down the stairs is equally as fascinating as the impending grocery sore trip. Sitting on the couch and looking out the window with Rowan is just as valid an “activity” as my plans for play dough making or art projects. (Where on earth did the idea emerge that we need to have activities for our kids all the time?) Sometimes over scheduling has become an antidote to my own fear of restlessness that has arisen for me in moments of solo parenting. When the literal playing field is empty, there is a sense of uncertainty for me about how to be. Playing trucks doesn’t come naturally. Nor does jumping off the couch 50 times. How to stay present and authentic even when I don’t want to push the monster tow truck? The invite is to participate in the unfolding moment with a sense of unhurried openness – and to rediscover deep engagement with imaginative play… And, to offer structure and guidance when needed. Sometimes, the best next thing to “do” is NO thing.

Let’s just lay here!

Look at the infinite possibilities in the pattern on the ceiling!

Wow! The wind is blowing the trees outside. Let’s look!

I wrote this several days ago, and I smiled to myself when I heard an exchange between Chris and Rowan tonight before dinner. Rowan was begging Chris to watch the trailer to the new film The Lorax (which is his current book obsession). Chris said, “Rowan, I actually just want to sit here and watch the sunset.” Rowan at first didn’t understand and asked whether it was something to watch on the computer (!???!!!? OH GOD!) Chris chuckled and showed him how to sit on the couch and look out the window at the brilliant oranges of mountain sunset behind our house. While the moment only lasted a split second, therein lies the seed to be planted in this crazy making era of stuff and entertainment: Just look outside and marvel at the colors of the sky…

Equanimity Failing into New Ground of Balance

This weekend I read that “equanimity is the true mark of spiritual maturity.”  What an irony that here I am:  mother, practitioner, “adult” – and losing equanimity more often than I ever have since Rowan was born.  I know what it is about:  finding  and encountering the unpracticed, undiscovered territories in myself that don’t yet possess strength in the face of challenge.  In this way, Rowan – and motherhood –  continue to be my greatest life teachers, offering me opportunities day in and day out to exercise my spiritual faculties and emotional reserves in a way I’d never imagined.

I thought I’d mastered patience and equanimity.  I thought I had an unshakable penchant for showing up in any given moment ready to respond with understanding and compassion (what a joke!).  I thought I’d burned up life’s imbalances through self-awareness, study and dedication to practice.  And then I dove off a cliff into parenting and lost my traditional reserves.  I gave birth and literally lost my shit.

Just yesterday at a book group focused on conscious parenting someone spoke on how when they are well rested and prioritizing self-care the intuition is intact, patience is intact, love impulse is intact… I smiled to myself remembering the luxury of self-resourcing through a steady life pace: sleep, exercise, spiritual practice, connecting with others, the joy of uninterrupted creative process or even an uninterrupted conversation… It struck me that my intuition, patience and love impulse are not as intact as they used to be when I could self-regulate on my own terms prior to motherhood.   All of the sudden I find myself in an unchartered groundless space:  grasping for sanity and centeredness when I need it more than ever, facing the challenges of mothering a toddler in a culture that could use more cooperative community support.  Just when you need balance and equanimity and those resources of self-care the most, it seems they are taken, gone, seemingly unavailable – just like the genie disappearing back into a bottle….

Don’t misunderstand:  I am a victim of nothing.  I simply acknowledge that it is far harder to live in a ‘balanced’ way – where equanimity reigns – now that sleep evades me along with time for ‘practice’ and ‘self-care’ in any predictable or reliable way.  As parents, the baseline of physical well-being through rest, community support and overall sense of health and vitality isn’t a given any longer, and yet the demand to function and show up at our best doesn’t relent.  In fact, it is only amplified.  This is all true.  And, at the deepest level, it doesn’t matter.  This isn’t to say it doesn’t hurt like hell to be swimming this path that is full of physical and emotional challenges when under-resourced;  I am simply clarifying that there are no excuses as to why we can’t still show up at our best.

The calling is one of profound responsibility to serve our children and others through finding a new ground and baseline of balanced surrender into what is.  As parents intending to live the parenting journey as sacred practice and mindful art, it is absolutely our responsibility to find new ways of self-care and self-resourcing even when the conditions are less than ‘ideal’ from a conventional perspective.

When the bottom falls out a new opportunity is presented.  Instead of engaging life from a place of struggle, we can choose to respond in a relaxed way with a non-problematic disposition.  (“What, it isn’t normal to be up eight times a night?” “Oh, you mean waking up to my son’s puke all over me isn’t pleasant?”…”No Big Deal” as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron often says…)  This capacity to respond in a relaxed, non-problematic way blurs into my relations with Rowan (at least I want it to).  Instead of emotionally responding to difficult moments from a place of exhausted reactivity (which happens more often than I care to admit) I can chill out with a deep breath and answer the tug at shirt or throw of egg across the room with a relaxed, non-problematic disposition (after all, young children respond to our state so much more than our words).  I can remember my mantra of ‘nourished surrender’ – meaning that the surrender into my exhaustion or frustration or feeling unsupported can of itself be nourishing;  Just the gesture of sinking into what is arising in the present moment without resistance and without pining for something that was or could be is a way to care for ourselves.  It often requires a reorientation of how one engages the present moment:  a re-framing of what nourishment is or can be in our lives, and a dedication to relax more and crave ‘other’ less.  It doesn’t mean we thwart paying close attention to what we are needing/drawn to/attracted to in our lives.  It doesn’t mean we stop asking for help or moving in new directions to create more sane situations… It just means we are committed to a relaxed surrender to what is arising, even while we move gently towards what we need for support and sanity.  For me, the relaxed surrender points the way towards the elusive realm of equanimity:  that mark of spiritual maturity.

The ground shifting beneath our feet can usher forth the discovery of manifestations of Grace not previously understood.  There is a way to find a resourcefulness that is less dependent on the realm of physical nourishment or ‘comfort’ – and more rooted in subtler realms of feeling.  Smaller gestures of self-care like a cup of tea or a brief hot shower can become more poignant.  It is essential to uncover new ways of engaging each present moment in its unexpected challenges, working with not turning away and not delving into the internal dialogues of “if only this”…”if only that” (“if only I could sleep more, then I’d be saner,”  “if only he napped longer I could finish this journal entry and get back to a more centered place”  “if only I had time to do that downward dog right now without him pulling my hair…” – you get the picture).  At each juncture we can choose not to turn away from the present moment into a fantasy of what could be ‘better’ or easier.  We can instead choose a ‘no excuses’ orientation in terms of a personal responsibility to engage bliss and love in each moment of arising –  hair pulling, moments of contraction, equanimity failing – and all.

Dynamic Juggling, Disorientation & the Present Moment

Taking stock of the transitions of my life over the past two years, a part of me feels utterly untethered and disoriented.  There is a certain chaos of living a new pace that has not been my own – meaning, the pace of motherhood and the pace of my little toddler.  All the rhythms of my days are new.  The pace at which I move is new.  Everything is different now and my task is to find ‘home’ in this new place.  I find the familiar ballast through Yoga, applying my will towards placing my body in positions I trust, not knowing what I need or even what I am looking for – just knowing I need to open something and shift.   All the while, my immediate family showers blessings upon me even in my experience of being astray.

I find my old self through delicate encounters of quietness throughout the day – a quiet moment before sleep, pause in eating, slow steps overlooking Lake Dillon as clouds part.  The existential drama of life is the backdrop of my days – constant gaze at mountains looking for the Sublime, the artful, the spirit-filled, which is ultimately everywhere.  I simply venture into and with it in a new way now that I walk a different tempo with my son.  Now the key is to join gaze and heart with the divine awareness of the Sacred, even when I feel disoriented, moving at mock speed.

When the pace of life moves quickly, how quickly gifts pass with my just barely noticing.  I bury my head in the newspaper as the canyon drifts by (quiet moment in car while Rowan sleeps), aspen leaves resplendent in golden light.  I take for granted that their splendor will remain another day for me to cherish, and now after a heavy rain they are gone – so quickly and so cliche, just like life.  Sometimes the beauty of life’s moments is too much to bear.  Not only the gorgeous colors of a transient Fall, but the astounding preciousness of Rowan’s skips and kisses and smiles.  If we open ourselves to truly honoring the small gifts given in a day’s time, all barriers to living into life’s preciousness can dissolve with a little hand’s touch.  So quickly these moments pass, leaving an imprint like soft pressure of wet leaves on the sidewalk – those temporary yet colorful patterned marks visible for only a short time.

The lesson is this:  rest now, not wanting for anything other than what is.  Drop into whatever pace and rhythm arises, as nothing will look or feel this way again even in a few moments.  It’s all to be cherished, mindfully – feelings of disorientation notwithstanding.  Everywhere the triggers to snap out of stupor lie – and yet, so too a thick blanket of resistance manifested in the likes of heavy eyes too tired for the bidding of seeing anew.  Instead, as parents (and human beings in general) we can resist this trend and choose to live our days with even fuller participation.  We can land into a refined, brighter, more dynamic participation in the Here and Now (especially since we as parents are even more capable than before of juggling multiple hats).  Motherhood invites us into a sacred sphere where we can choose to juggle all that is required of us with dynamic, focused attention to detail, all the while aware of life’s sublime invitations into the splendor of small luminosities of the present moment.  With sharper seeing and a more quickly attuned response time, there is no somnolence here, unless we turn our heart away from the loud claps of wakefulness that chasing a little one beckons.  Awake, juggling, not letting precious moments slip into busy blurred vision minus clarity.  With this clear seeing, may we all walk into our days.

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.

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.

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…