I am a spiritual seeker. I am a mother. Are the two mutually exclusive? Can I be on the “path” to enlightenment and still yell at my kids for practically beating each other up on a daily basis? I spend my day juggling my domestic mom duties with my own creative pursuits and spiritual exploration. Sometimes these efforts seem extremely mutually exclusive.
I hear it everywhere I go: mothers discussing the topic of finding balance. In the cafes, on the playgrounds, and at the nursery, I hear and participate in conversation after conversation about how to strike the balance between motherhood and “me.” Our children have many needs that out-trump ours. My emotional needs can seem frivolous next to the need to feed and clothe a helpless infant.
Is there a Divine in all this? Does God exist in the stir-fry? I believe that ultimately the answer to these questions is yes, but I’m still reading the books that tell me how to get there. Mothering very young children with a steady flow of patience and calm is a rare ability, but one I attempt every day. However, my patience is tested time and time again. Sometimes, by the end of the day, I am so frazzled I can hardly speak without hearing my voice crack as I fight back the tears.
How do we strike a balance between their wants and a mother’s wants? As mothers, it is often our natural instinct to put our own needs aside and focus solely on our children. Then we wonder why we feel so burnt-out. Are we surprised when we fall apart?
There is a reason why Jesus Christ was a man, and Buddha, Krishna, the Dalai Lama, and all the best-known spiritual teachers in history. How easy it must be to reach enlightenment if you don’t have little lungs screaming at you from the next room. I often think of those Tibetan monks in their mountaintop monasteries, meditating and chanting from sunup to sundown. It is no wonder they are wise and enlightened beings. They have it easy.
I would like to see one of them come and trade places with me for a day and see how much inner peace he has retained after 12 hours of ninja fighting with a three-year-old while picking up and putting down a one–year-old about 57 million times. My guess is that it would take about four weeks back at the monastery to fully recover from his one day with my two little angels. However, I have read enough self-help books to know that there is never going to be any balance in my life – not lasting balance, at any rate – as long as I see my children as impediments to personal growth.
We are in this together. Buttons pushed are opportunities to learn, to grow, and to transcend what has previously brought us to our knees. However, remembering that in the heat of the moment is entirely another thing, which is why it helps enormously to have some time set aside each day for reflecting, writing, meditating, and giving all the frustrations and struggles over to God. And then, like the turtle who eventually won the race, we realize that we are indeed conquering all that has previously held us back. Well, that is the intention anyway.
My three-year old may purposely do naughty things, but he’s not doing them in order to make my life a living hell. He is motivated by a complex set of conditions that I cannot even begin to fully understand or articulate. It is not up to me to dissect the motivations
behind what I perceive to be negative behaviors. Rather, it is up to me to choose time and time again how I will react to them.
This is always my choice. My fallback reaction is often to yell very loudly. This has not proved overly effective. And so, perhaps his spirit is saying, “Try another way.” If I am going to make this “balance” thing work at all, I have to do it in tandem with my children and the day-to-day demands of motherhood. Just because they may seem like obstacles to my inner peace does not mean they are. Ultimately, the level of inner peace I feel in any given moment is a choice.
I was not born a man. I am a woman. I am a mother. I do not live in a
monastery. I live in a big, noisy city. I am bombarded on a daily basis
with a thousand and one things that tell me who I should be and what I should be doing. None of these conditions, however, means that I do not have all the tools at my disposal to make my life work for me in a way that brings me happiness and fulfillment – at least most of the time.
I am on a journey. So are my children. It is the same journey for a while, but not forever. How can I ensure I do the least amount of damage before they head out into the big, wide world on their own? Will they just remember the yelling?
Spiritual growth is having the courage to examine one’s inner self, and then developing new strategies for living that serve better than the way we were doing things before. We can wallow in the frustration and chaos, or we can search within ourselves to remove the obstacles that keep peace and happiness at bay. Such endeavors, however, do not illicit overnight results.
Perhaps it truly is impossible to live a life of enlightened bliss while rearing the very young. That does not mean, however, that we cannot strive to be the best we know how to be every day of our lives. Even while sitting on the toilet, we can take a moment to remember “Surrender.” Sometimes there is simply no way to survive other than to let go.
I search for meaning every day. All of this self-reflection has to take place around my children – those beautiful bundles of joy. I have to create and then incorporate daily rituals that bring me back to center. Rituals and affirmations serve to take me outside of the drama happening all around me and to refocus my attention where it really counts, within. I can be a victim of external forces or I can be the champion of my own inner domain. I continually strive to choose the latter, and I even succeed sometimes.
I may not be a monk in a monastery, but I would not and could not ever reach any level of “enlightenment” without the help of my children along the way. Despite my shortcomings and theirs, I am grateful for their presence in my life. They make me a better person. The attitudes I have about life are going to make lasting impressions on their beliefs about the world.
I want those lasting impressions to tip to the positive. If I have lost touch with my purpose, then I need to stop what I am doing and listen for a while (however long it takes) until I start seeing more in my life for which to be thankful throughout the chaos. To consciously contribute love and joy, I must foster those attitudes within myself. Therein lays the key to true happiness, a happiness that is at the core of one’s soul and not transitory or fleeting.
“Happiness” is more than a distraction – something to take us away for a little while from the daily rigors of life. Too often, we are either waiting for things to make us happy or waiting for things to make us unhappy. We try to control our lives and the lives of our children so that the balance is tipped in favor of being happy. Then we feel overwhelmed and out of control when the balance is tipped the other way.
I want to embrace everything about motherhood – the good, the bad and the ugly. To do this, I choose to adopt the pragmatic approach of women in every culture and the monk’s preponderance for inner prayer with an ounce of humor sprinkled in everything I do, plus the spiritual guidance of history’s great examples of enlightenment. Together, these ingredients for living my life as a mom, give me the strength and wherewithal to find peace in peas, mashed potatoes and pork chop dumped on the floor by a precocious three-year old.
To bend over is common, but to do it with love in one’s heart as one cleans up the floor for the tenth time that day is Divine. That is why I am a woman, not a man, bending toward benevolent food in the household of “Motherhood-as-a-spiritual-path-to-enlightenment (for beginners).” Jesus may have been a man, but his wisdom works when I take the martyr out of mother, trusting the opportunity of this path to find lessons in love. Now there’s a challenge worth the embracing.