The voice over Ikea's loudspeaker announced that we had 15 minutes left to make our final purchases before the store closed. Ryan and I stood together in the midst of bed frames, mattresses, and pillows; the core of domesticity. I hesitated to agree upon on the black frame we both wanted. I was quietly concerned about the noticeably sharp corners.... (would they be hard to childproof?)
Apparently I've gotten to that age (the one I've been warned of for years) where it seems every month another friend or acquaintance announces her pregnancy.
Last September on my 28th birthday, Ryan and I were visiting our families in Duluth, Minnesota. That day I prayed to surrender control. Shortly after that I stopped pushing away the truth -- that I was unexplainably drawn to Minnesota, a place I never thought I would return. A place I thought I could never fulfill my potential.
Yet before long, there I was - reconnecting with family and roots, finding community, and falling in love with this imperfect but glorious place that I now call home. Shortly after moving to Minneapolis, I got engaged to Ryan, my soulmate, and we bought a king sized bed.
I halfway tried to conceal the reason I was unsure about the black bed frame with sharp corners. There was something so vulnerable about admitting I even had children on my mind. I'm not sure about being a parent.
Ryan is sure -- always has been. He definitely wants children. He's been talking about it for years. And he'll be an amazing father.
And yes, we're engaged.
And yes, I was well aware of all this when I not-so-subtly suggested that I was ready for Ryan to propose. And so was he.
Some people tell me that I need to get clear on this major issue before we marry. Others tell me I should just go for it and if it turns out we aren't on the same page ... (then they insinuate something along the lines of 'you can always get a divorce'.) Some people just smile and tell me to go ahead, like I have "mommy" stamped in big block letters on my forehead.
None of these answers do it for me.
I didn't decide to get married because I'm in a rush to answer these questions. However, I do recognize they need to be deeply considered.
No, the truth is, I want to marry Ryan because I know profoundly, without a doubt that this relationship is my teacher. That to commit to this sacred container of marriage is to commit to something that I trust I can surrender to, wherever it leads. It allows me to give, to love, receive, and be so much more fully in this life.
You don't show up at your teacher's door and say, "I'll commit only if you tell me where this is definitely headed."
Ryan is amazingly accepting of my uncertainty, yet I want to honor the fact that he is certain. So it seems the most I can do is honestly inquire into the question of mothering.
My own father has been telling me for years that I would be a good parent. He says; "If you'd be good at something and you don't do it, you're depriving the world of your gift."
For many people I know this seems to be at heart of the discussion - is it good for the world? Is it ethical to bring more people into a world of limited resources? Is it selfish not to raise children if you are supposedly smart, loving, and conscious?
We could spend all day in this theoretical debate, but I need to be informed by something that hits closer to home.
Like, why, when I received an email from a colleague who is a spiritual practitioner, a writer, is single and traveling the world, in which she opened with "I imagine marriage and babies are just around the corner in your world", I felt an uprising of irritation, even anger churning in my belly?
Was there a problem with her imagining this about me? As though having a home, a husband, and babies were some kind of second rate lifestyle?
It struck a similar chord of irritation that I felt in the Zen center when I heard talk of "lay people;" householders, those with 'regular' jobs, a title I supposed being a mother would immediately qualify me for. My cynical paraphrase goes something like: "For those of you lay people who can't dedicate your life to real spiritual practice as monk, here's a quick meditation you can do to be slightly less of a sleepwalking TOOL."
With great conviction I would think to myself, "I am not a lay person."
So what then? Am I going to be a nun? Yes... I do have a deep calling for what that represents - a life devoted to spiritual practice, and a context that supports it on a day to day basis. Yet I have yet to find any place that resembles what I long for. And the truth is, I deeply enjoy being 'in the world.'
So what was it about the idea of making babies and being a lay person that bothered me?
Was it some doubt about the possibility of combining deep spiritual practice with being a wife, being in the world, and potentially being a mother? I didn't want to believe it, but over the years had received so many messages indicating that I would have to choose between these paths. Though personal experience had already shown me that this is all Mystery, all God, all Consciousness ... I still felt conflicted.
Thus I was extremely grateful when Ryan decided to join me on a week long meditation retreat last spring in Asheville, North Carolina, with a teacher who has had a profound impact on me: Adyashanti. It felt like an opportunity to bring my worlds together--my fiance and I, newly engaged, in silence, with a teacher I deeply respected. I knew that I would be bringing my questions about having children, though I didn't know what that meant.
Bubbly and elated, I dropped into my seat on the train to the Minneapolis airport. I remembered that having a roommate in silence presents it's own strange quirks, so I was excited to tackle this as a team with Ryan before we got to the retreat.
"Let's decide who showers first, so we don't need to communicate at all during the week."
I got the sense that Ryan found this adorably controlling; "I'll just shower when you're not using the bathroom." He smiled and snapped my picture with his phone, set against the skyscrapers behind the train station.
Many hours of travel later, we settled into our small, plain room with two single beds, and said our final I love you's for the week. I wondered if I would be able to set aside the impulse to connect. Being on retreat together without eye contact, touch, or any other communication, highlighted my question - could I be deeply related to someone and also deeply related to silence? I felt driven to know this as I faced the possibility of creating a family.
In the mornings, the sound of the bell brought me to the large meditation hall, the gravel path wet from the night's spring rain. Flowers burst out everywhere.
I listened to the stillness, to the silence, to the space between. I found myself in presence, and from that place I discovered a nagging voice that was intensely concerned about becoming something. Becoming enlightened, becoming successful, becoming of service to the world, becoming a writer. My ego's loud impulse to matter in some way.
I discovered that this fierce identity of becoming 'something' or 'someone' was even fixated on becoming someone who doesn't care about becoming.
It was an insidious drive thoroughly wrapped up into the idea of enlightenment. A perplexing joke on me.
And then something dropped into my mind about being a mother...it appeared so at odds with all that I wanted to become. Enlightened, successful, a writer, or whatever. I suddenly saw that all my reasons not to have children were wrapped up in what I've been striving to become ... and how I believed being a mother would hold me back.
In a humbling moment all these reasons crumbled, as I saw that all this 'becoming' is simply an ego identity, a form of false control. An illusion.
Being a mother could simply be another way for awareness to come into form. Not a distraction ... rather one of the most challenging and sacred forms of spiritual practice I could imagine or engage.
With this shift, I became more available to honestly face the real question - is mothering the form of love that Life is asking of me? Is this how I am called to bring love into this world?
And the truth is - I don't know. This is not yet clear to me. Clearly I am not in control of Life, though I am a deeply engaged participant. I might not know for years.
All I can do is listen.