Protecting Inner Resources, Remembering Beauty

Another sleepless spell overtakes me and I churn around in a strange fog of lopsided semi-clarity, trying to hold the pieces of sanity and joy in life together.  Sometimes, the truth is brutal.  This time, the truth absolutely stings.  When I squarely consider my condition, I am akin to a fish out of water or a dying ant on a sidewalk.  (Clearly, I need something to snap me out of this!)

“How far can I stretch myself before dissolving?”  It’s a recurring question for those of us who are tending from pre-dawn to pre-dawn again and again with no reprieve of sleep lasting longer than 2-4 hours at a time.  I often consider what keeps me going: a determination rooted deep in my heart and gut to do what feels unabashedly right for my particular child.  A profound love impulse to not turn away.  A muddling through confusion – but coming out with certainty that yes, this indeed is the right response for my child.  Up again, down again.  Sleep on the floor.  Sleep on the couch.  Midnight. 2am. 5am. 5:30am.  A day never ends.  A day simply blurs into the next day.

Given my parenting choices aren’t lending themselves to the perfect sleeping toddler (and I am not complaining, actually!), it is entirely up to me to delineate the markers of rest and recovery for myself – because they are certainly not a given.  Herein is a great lesson: We as caregivers with multiple responsibilities in life must take heed to delineate the markers of rest and recovery for ourselves.  With this in mind I work to combat the inner fogginess of busy exhaustion and find the following gems feed the spirit of sanity and joy.

Protect your resources.  All that patience and grace and good will and love impulse: those are precious resources to be guarded with one’s life, lest we let them turn into more run-off for an even larger dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s high time to start treating ourselves as the precious resources we are. The dire nature of hitting a wall peels me out of my habitual tendencies to leech my most loving, energetic life energy.  I have no choice but to regroup or dissolve. Without compassionate maintenance of our deepest intentions and inner resources rooted in spiritual practice and self-care, we begin to leech (albeit slowly, sometimes invisibly) our most precious gifts. It does one well to clarify (again and again) what it is we most want to cultivate in our lives – and then, do just that:  cultivate and protect what you’ve grown with intentional care.  

Remember Abundance.  An experience of abundance has a difficult time taking root from a place of depletion.  It feels I’ll never get enough rest, no matter what I do.  I get trapped in a cycle of ‘not enough this,’ ‘not enough that.’  Rather than dwelling from this place, cut back where trimming is in order. Trust the re-growth. Just like a houseplant needing to be trimmed, we can pare down and do less – remembering new growth often emerges only after we’ve cut away what needs lightening.  Abundance doesn’t mean more, it often means recognizing more in less.  An experience of abundance often means simply doing less. It often means shifting how we ‘get things done.’ Even in a simple breath we can experience abundance:  a slow, full breath accompanied by drinking in experience with delight (rather than snatching that sigh as if you can hardly manage to get that in!).

Be aware of beauty.  As Krishnamurti reminds me, “For most of us, beauty is in something, in a building, in a cloud, in the shape of a tree, in a beautiful face.  Is beauty “out there,” or is it a quality of mind that has no self-centered activity? Because, like joy, the understanding of beauty is essential…”

The experience of beauty is a sensitivity born from gratitude, curiosity and awe.  It is a quality of one’s entire experience that can transcend the so-called ‘mundane.’ Find the inner lens that recognizes beauty and practice seeing through it, regardless of external circumstances.  More importantly practice feeling through the lens of beauty.  “Whatever you encounter, join it with meditation,” the Buddhist Lojong cards say.  For me, the meditation is to simply remember to see and feel beauty.  The beauty of this life cuts through my fog like a gentle knife cutting back overgrowth.  It brings me back onto my knees, remembering my place in the divine order of life.  This too shall pass – and how poignant a truth!  So waste not a moment drinking in the contours of color, the sweet little hands eating juicy beets, the foggy wakeful moments in darkened rooms – a blessed chance to feel the hush of silent night and cool breeze bringing the smell of sage… What is the problem, really?  Nothing!  A tired fog is drenched in a beauty beyond comprehension simply waiting to be recognized.


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.