As I turn 65 I find myself reflecting on my life as a mother. So much has evened out since those tumultuous early years. Thankfully, years of practice made my life richer and more relaxed. Meditation and the ancient wisdom brought me through some hard times. In the tradition of paying it forward, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned in 35 years of mothering and a lifetime of spiritual practice.
We’re all messed up in one way or another. Don’t knock yourself out trying to hide your shadow. Remember we’re all works in progress. Know yourself without censorship and develop your practice from there.
I remember being so afraid of passing on my family shadow to my daughter. I was afraid I’d make a mess out of her life and that other’s would see my anger and fear and dysfunction and deem me a bad person and a bad Buddhist. Over the years I’ve met many Buddhist teachers and students and not one of them was devoid of wounding and it’s difficult expressions. Relax, you are not alone in your petty thoughts, jealousies, yearnings and feelings of inadequacy. It’s all part of being human. We don’t become more perfect through years of self development, we become more ourselves.
Practice doesn’t have to be something apart from everyday life.
Buddhism has been handed down to us from mostly monastic traditions. But many of us are not called to be monastics and there are vital flaws in this line of transmission when it comes to the life and practice of mothers. Awakening is a combination of mindfulness and concentration with a sincere, open, ready heart and a touch of good karma. We need to find ways to develop our awakening within our homes. It’s not necessary to be celibate or wear robes in order to have a deep practice. There are many examples of awakening within everyday lay life. Bloom where you’re planted.
Eric Ericson wrote that the key to happiness is a balance of work, love and play.
Work hard, love deeply and don’t forget to play! Set aside time each day to dance, get down on the floor with your baby or go on an adventure. Your responsibilities will be waiting for you when you return with a refreshed mind. We can’t avoid the painful parts of being in a human body so we might as well enjoy it’s delights. To shun one or the other does violence to our spirit. Have fun!
Don’t be afraid to fall into the numinous
After giving birth using vipassana as my focus I was in a state of bliss every time I’d sit down on my meditation pillow. It frightened me. I now realize there was nothing to be afraid of. Don’t let fear of the mystery make you hide from a deeper experience of emptiness. Lean into it. Be curious. Awakening is a journey into the unknown where what you thought life was about is turned on its head. Go bravely into the unknown.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a boardroom, on a stage or in the kitchen. We all die and what is left behind is the love we have brought into the world. All the rest is dust in the wind.
Most of us have bought the line that to be working outside the home is more valuable than working inside the home. That’s just a pile of beans. Cook them, eat them and poop them out. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you spend your time as a teller in a bank, an executive in an office, an artist in a studio or a mother in a home. What matters is that your life is authentically yours, true to your nature, and that you move ever closer to your own personal, unique awakening and live a generous, awakened life.
Cultivate friendships, create your own sangha
Buddhist institutions have the good fortune of gathering people together to support one another’s practices. Homemakers need to find ways to do the same thing. After all, the Buddha said to Ananda that sangha, or community, is not part of the practice, it is the practice. We can’t do it alone. We need to find like- minded friends who will help support our practice and our everyday life.
Everything is always changing. Nothing is permanent
Let go of the past, don’t let it define you. Even your glories and victories are only memories. Enjoy what there is to enjoy in this moment. Cherish your precious time here.
Tires go flat, the body gets sick, appointments are missed, people yell. This is not an apparition, but a natural part of life. Expecting ups and downs, remembering that life is in constant flux and we are always trying to establish our equilibrium amid the flux, makes for smoother sailing. Challenges are just part of life, we don’t need to interpret them as good or bad. Hanging on to the peaceful, happy times or rejecting the storms makes for disharmony. Flow with the ups and downs like a buoy on the ocean.
A child needs both love and discipline
I’ve seen all sorts of parenting styles-progressive, traditional and conventional- produce loving and loved children. I’ve also seen all these parenting styles produce unhappy families. Regardless of your personal parenting philosophy let your love surround your children. Create safe limits that demonstrate your love. More than a beautiful home, more than great food, more than the perfect environment or “best” parenting style, your love and guidance is what sustains your family. This is one of the few things in life you can control.
A family can be any size
There is a difference between relatives and family. A relative is someone who shares you DNA, a family is two or more people who share a lifetime commitment to have one another’s backs, to support one another through thick and thin. When my husband and I separated it felt like I had lost my family. I now have a very small family, but it is a happy family. Some people are gifted with large families-brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. This is a real blessing when the family offers love and support. Embrace and be grateful for the family you have, regardless of how large or small it is or what it looks like. Double down on your commitment to be there for one another.
Take care of your body
I didn’t take good care of myself after having my baby and got quite sick. It’s not uncommon for a mother to take care of everyone but herself. This is dangerous. It can create resentment and ill health. Feed yourself well and enjoy your food, air and water. Take time alone to write, paint, read, meditate, do yoga, run and/or enjoy silence. Prepare your bedroom for holy, precious sleep. When your kids see you take good care of yourself they learn to take care of themselves as well.
Follow your uniqueness
Sometimes you are called to a path that your family or society is uncomfortable with. Be brave. Listen to that little voice, commit to your own unique version of a happy life. Others may be unhappy with you for a while but ultimately, if they love you, they will come around. Even if they don’t, you are responsible for your own happiness, no one can create it for you. Begin to listen to that voice inside you that says you need to paint, or work in an office, or in a forest, or on a stage, or at home. Fashion a life out of who you really are rather than what is expected of you or what you think is good. This is the heroine’s journey.
Strive for excellence
There is real joy in doing your best at anything. Creativity burgeons when we focus in and work to the very best of our ability. A life of excellence is a life that continually moves forward. Focused excellence is a key to success in the world. This is a life that leaves something beautiful behind.
Your pain is not purposeless
Just as the pains of birthing led to your beloved child, the pain in your life will unveil your golden character. Keep moving forward with your dreams, through the perceived failures and unkind words of others. Anyone who has every done something great in this world has gone through many trials and met doubters along the way to their final realization.
Everyone ages, everyone dies. Make the most of whatever the moment has to offer and leave something wonderful in your wake.