Five Perspectives on Mothering as a Spiritual Practice

Written by 

The following are five different contributions from five mothers on the topic of Mothering as a Spiritual Practice.

 

miriamNine years ago I found myself for hours on end doing little of what I usually do. I was sitting in a rocking chair, breastfeeding my newborn lassie. I wasn’t working or writing or cleaning or gardening… nada, just sitting, holding, gazing at and feeding my girl.

Flooded with a Love I’d never known, cracked open by a Love so furious, so intimate, so huge and beyond me, all I could do was watch it, crying tears of Joy. There was way too much joy to keep inside, so I let it keep pouring through.

The question that trips me up on a daily basis, “Is this enough? Am I enough?” slowed down, and even stopped being a question. The Love that poured through, cracked me open even further. It touched depths in me I hadn’t known were there. It dug up resources, care and will I hadn’t tasted yet, hadn’t counted upon.

How come? Where from?

“It’s the cracks,” I heard in what felt like a whisper from within. “Didn’t you know? When you become a mother, you get cracked open. You’re not just you anymore. Your body, your heart, your mind get cracked open, nay, even your soul. Otherwise there wouldn’t be space for another, you get it?”

I do. I think I do. Wow, the Grace. I hadn’t known.

Over time, I have gotten somewhat more used to this “cracked openness”, this new level of vulnerability. Breaking open to become a caring container – not just for my own child, but for all children, everywhere – is still not comfortable though. In fact, it freaks me out plenty. It’s not an understatement, that saying, “When you become a parent, your heart walks around outside of you.”

Being cracked open, “vulnerabilized”, and graced in this way… in my experience, is half the gesture, one key ingredient in my experience of mothering as spiritual practice. The salt in the bread, perhaps.

The other half, the other key ingredient?

It’s the challenge. It’s the dough I need to knead myself: My own commitment and willingness to engage in mothering as a spiritual practice. To become, to be that Love. Every moment, the choice.

miriamfamilyWill I step up to meet it? Am I there to live it? Not just in the cute, lovely, endearing moments, but all also when I’m tired. When I’m impatient. When no one cares or sees how much I do as a mother. When my ego just wants to be left alone, to have its own way, to do its own thing. Then and there, do I engage in this adventure of mothering with Presence, with Courage, with Discernment and Curiosity? With Humor, with Compassion and Forgiveness, with Resilience and Commitment?

Am I willing to grow up, am I willing to wake up so that I can help my girl and all other sentient beings grow up and wake up?

We’re all gonna get older; it’s inevitable.

But are we gonna grow up? That part is up to us.

As mothers we’re given generous doses of Grace and Love. We’re ripped apart, and broken open. Angels stand with us. We’re gifted with a Love boost like never before. And we’re challenged to grow up like never before.

Bringing these two key ingredients together: the ‘salt’ of a heart cracked open for Grace to enter, and the ‘dough’ I knead with my own will and rolled-up sleeves, mothering beckons and calls to me, “Here I am, your spiritual practice, your daily bread”.

“You can be broken, or broken open. The choice is yours” – Erika Baumeister

Miriam Mason Martineau is a mother, counselor, parenting coach, writer, and researcher. She has spent the last 20 years studying and applying Integral-Evolutionary theory, educational frameworks, and spiritual practice. She lives near Nelson, BC, Canada, with her husband, Stephan and their 9-year old daughter, Adonia, whom they homeschool. Miriam is offering an 8-week online course "Parenting as a Spiritual Practice", starting Nov. 19. This course is designed to bring to life the full potential of parenthood: a transformative vessel for evolving yourself, your child, and the future  

 

meggSmack! His sticky, plump, little dimpled hand just whacked across my face loud enough to cause half the restaurant to freeze mid-bite and stare. I’m stunned, drop-jawed, and in awe of the sting as my eyes swell with tears.

Shai (pronounced Shay), my two and half year old son, has now assumed the “no bones” maneuver to further his protest. “No bones” is when he drops to the ground as if suddenly bereft of a skeletal frame and somehow magically morphs his already difficult to carry 43-pound body into what feels like double the weight.

We are at our favorite Mexican restaurant, which is right around the corner from our apartment in NYC. Shai is to this place what Norm was to Cheers. Everyone calls out his name when we walk in and takes special care of him. They always seat us at his favorite table in the center of the restaurant and bring us his guacamole and chips without needing us to order it anymore.

We eat out often because it was one of many survival techniques I developed to keep from allowing the sadness of divorce to swallow me. If it ever felt too lonely eating at the apartment just the two of us, I’d talk him into heading over to the low-prices yet fiesta type appeal of Gabriella’s Cantina.

With Shai sprawled out on the floor of the restaurant screaming as if his life depended on it, I knew this was one of many moments when I had a choice. I could let myself feel the weight of being on my own, being a single mother. I could let the situation give me full permission to lose it- I could begin to cry or begin to yell at Shai as if raising my voice above his could possibly reach through to him. I could feel epically alone, trapped, and really honestly terrified of how I am ever going to get through this tantrum much less raising him into a loving human being on my own.

meggshaiOr, I could choose to let myself feel like an indie mom instead. I could choose to feel like a woman who has loved with her heart wide open, well aware of all the risks. Regret-free that she had the courage to take them. I could feel like I am more from my heartbreak, not less. I can trust that every lesson Shai teaches me- in his own wise two year old ways- will add incalculably to my life. I can drop fear of what others think and trust that they’ve seen it all before if not been there themselves. I can choose to remember that this is not about me- this slap to the face- this dramatic display of tears and tyranny. This has nothing to do with me at all.

I can choose again and again to know that as messy and outrageously difficult as single parenthood can get, I am more because of the choices I have made. I am right where I need to be. And as long as I keep choosing love over fear, not perfectly, but as much as possible, Shai and I are going to be just fine. More than fine. This is a spiritual practice, one that takes discipline, pluck, and temerity- to remind myself again and again that despite the pain or struggle the gift of parenthood is to cultivate our capacity to love.

Meggan Watterson is the founder of the REDLADIES, a spiritual community that encourages women to reclaim their bodies as sacred and to be led by the soul-voice inside them without compromise or apology. (Some break bread together; REDLADIES break dark chocolate.) She also founded REVEAL, an event that gathers together the fiery voices of women’s spirituality. She received a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary.

 

sarahEleven years of parenting my sweet boys have allowed for profound emotional & spiritual transformation in my life - they are perfect reflections of the places where I struggle, revealers of where I need to grow.  The roots of my spiritual journey as a mother, however, can be found in my experiences with pregnancy, birth & postpartum. 

Babe #1:  Surrender

I’d heard about morning sickness, but nothing in my training as a birth professional had prepared me for the reality of twenty long weeks of constant nausea.  All the advice I had so casually offered to pregnant women over the years was now irrelevant.  All I could do was sleep, take in what few foods I could, and despair at the seemingly eternal nausea.  Thus, the first spiritual lesson of motherhood:  Surrender. 

I’m not going to pretend that I had a profound spiritual insight over the toilet bowl.  It took some time to offer a new perspective on those early months.  I now see a sort of gift in the experience of morning sickness (hindsight can be so optimistic!), helping us to learn how to be fully present to our needs in each moment, and live with the unknown without any assurance of when things will change - perhaps the best preparation for birth, postpartum & parenthood we could ask for.  

Babe #2:  Surrender (again)         

Yes, I had morning sickness - but not quite as devastating this time.  The real learning came postpartum when our baby boy simply would not stop crying.  Four months of me holding him, no sleeping unless he was next to a heart beat, tears in everyone’s arms but mine.  Having had a first child who almost never cried, and whose name actually means “Calm & Quiet”, this new reality led me to question my capacity as a mother.  Once again, I was given the opportunity to learn how to be fully present to his - and my needs - in each moment, and live with the unknown without any assurance of when things will change (sound familiar?!)

handsarahBabe #3:  Surrender (yes, again!)

Our 3rd child was born before his time, a late miscarriage at 18 weeks.  Despite having had two amazing home births, this is by far my most treasured birth experience.  He too was born at home, and with each contraction I felt an extraordinary sense of gratitude and connection.  This was a new kind of surrender, one that demanded that I be fully present to what was real and needed in each moment, true to my emotions - making space for both the grief of loss, and yes - the joy of holding him in cupped in our joined hands.  A surrender that asked me to live with the known of his loss and the unknown of Why he had died.  The unimaginable, was real, I knew the end of the story this time around - and yet the surrender demanded of me felt almost tender and nurturing, showing me the way to a new kind of love and letting go.

Motherhood is indeed a path, one that we are all walking the best way we know how and being given lessons along the way that are not always easy to accept with grace...  Pam England, author of Birthing from Within, describes the Love Warrior as “She who knows what to do when she doesn’t know what to do.”  When I reach a time when I feel overwhelmed or stuck, I may put up a good fight, but surrender always seems to win in the end...  From the unknown to self-care, to the daily challenges of parenting our children, the path of surrender offers us something remarkably solid under our feet.  We may not know the right choice or what will happen the next day, but we can come back to right here - right now and be fully present to each step forward in our wild journey as women and mothers.

Sarah is the founder of Dancing Star Birth, supporting hundreds of families each year with Birthing from Within prenatal classes, doula care & groups for new mothers.  She also provides business mentoring for birth & holistic professionals with Birth Your Business.  Sarah is an avid student of the “old ways” - spending long hours in the garden on her 5 acre farm and learning the art of food preservation.

 

terriI never actually planned to get married and have children. The well known quote, “We plan. God laughs” certainly applies to my story which began in 1997 when I fell in love with my amazing husband, Victor Juhasz. Vic was widowed and divorced, raising three angry teenage sons alone while managing a successful career as an illustrator. When I met the boys, Max Alex and Ben on our second date, I had a surprisingly spiritual experience. I felt at home in their presence and like I had loved them all of my life. Given that I was already so in love with Vic that he could have had 20 teenagers and I would have failed to see it as a problem, added to this feeling. My love extended to the boys and transcended the fear I could have had, inheriting a troubled system.  The boys lost their beautiful mother, Donna when they were just babies.  I spent that first year crying in private about their loss and feeling conflicted that my joy was born out of such sorrow.

I never needed the boys to treat me as a replacement mother for my ego. Loving them became my spiritual practice and top priority.  I knew that listening, building trust and truly loving their Dad was the only way to create a healthy family unit and it came naturally.  For the younger two I became their mom.  For my oldest son, only 14 years my junior I was more like a slightly bossy older sister (He might disagree on the slightly part.)  My only goal was to be a loving presence and bring cohesion.  I found pictures of Donna with the boys as babies and hung them in the common areas of the house.  I made it clear, I wasn’t trying to replace Donna, whether they remembered her or not.  I wanted them to know they could love us both. Mad love and dharma create family as much as biology and lineage.

terriboysEarly on my mother gave me great advice.  She said, “Don’t let anyone make you feel that you are not a “real” mother.  You are blessed to have found your family and purpose.  Your time to impact them is now. Be the best parent you can, create a real home and shower them with love and understanding.  It is your job.”  I remembered her words through many challenging times when I wanted to scream, THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR. But in reality, it was exactly that. I practiced being the water and not the stone in combative situations. Putting their needs above my own desires, I allowed patience and faith to guide my actions. I never gave up hope that love would be enough.

I don’t use the word “step” because there is no step between us. Loving Max, Alex and Ben and creating my family with Vic remains the single most important defining experience of my life.  I am forever grateful for my found family and love to playfully say to my bio mom pals, “Look girls, NO STRETCH MARKS!” 

Terri Colefounder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom.

 

 

chelaheadThe little old lady ahead of me in the grocery line smiled sweetly at my four year old son then asked me “Are you a full time mom?”

“Yes.” I answered reflexively.

Is there any other kind?

After her regal nod of approval I realized what she meant. I both work and share custody with his father. Does this make me then, a part time mother?

I’ve travelled a fair amount over the past couple of years. Work, school, conferences- a week here, a weekend there. A couple of days in and not only do I start to ache from missing him, I can feel his ache, his missing. Four days are fierce, five become physical. By a week my mind loses clarity for anything that’s not him, like a beacon calling me home. Reunions are soulfully consummate.

So when I scheduled my flight for 10 days in NYC, seizing some great opportunities, apprehension about being gone that long bubbled and lingered. By the fifth day of my trip, before hearing about the hurricane coming, my body screamed for home, my arms and chest pulsing and aching to hold him. His little voice chirped into the phone “I want to snuggle you so bad, I want you to come home.” Heart piercing.

We’d sit on skype singing songs and reading his favourite books I’d packed with me. In moments we’d just sit and watch each other, feeling the distance. “I’m going to fill you up with Love,” he’d say. Radiating out, radiating out, radiating out. I could feel the prickling heat in my arms reaching through time and space, wrapping around him while he sat beaming. Radiating out, radiating out, radiating out. “Can you feel it mommy? Can you feel all my love all the way where you are? I can feel all your love, mom. I’m all full now, mom.”

phinHe was in the NICU for a short time when he was born. For three days we were separated by floors and hallways and buildings. I’d shimmy from my bed to my wheel chair, then to my shaking feet to shuffle from Women’s to Children’s hospital.  I could feel him so fiercely; it was as though his every need rushed through my blood stream, his breath occupied my every cell. I’d be alone in my room and suddenly in my breasts would be an explosion of sensation and my heart would ache so wildly my body would be in motion before my mind would say “My baby’s hungry”. As I’d be moving towards the door, a nurse would come in and say “your baby’s ready to eat”. I know. One nurse touched me sweetly and said “I’ve never seen a mother and baby so bonded while the infant’s in intensive care.” I hope she tells that to all the mothers.

By the eighth day in New York City the surface of my skin hurt, like a throbbing burn. This is too long, too far, never again. So when we heard that a hurricane was coming, I shook and prayed my flight wouldn’t be grounded. I closed my eyes and felt for home, felt for him

Then the text came. Flight cancelled. Subways closing. Trains will stop running. At least three days, maybe longer. And good luck getting on the first flight out. All things in perspective, I wasn’t facing the flooding of my home, the destruction of my city. My safety was never in question and our reunion inevitable. But like those first few days my boy was in the world, my body knew no other priority. On the other side of the continent, through time and space, through desperation and ache, determined to be gone for no more sleeps than I promised I’d be gone, I am mothering. Full time.

I’m so grateful for my friend and fellow mama, Danielle, who stood there, suitcase packed and mother love vibrating the intention whatever it takes. “we’ll rent a car, drive away from the storm. Get any flight out of any airport going west.” So the grand adventure began. That impulse to be with our children, particularly in times of tumult or facing catastrophic possibilities- demands movement. The seven hour drive to Pittsburgh, the restless sleep on the freezing airport floor, the three planes through three provinces and the thousands of dollars spent between us to be home with our children were expressions of love and determination that waiting out the storm in tears and prayer would have left festering and idle. This love needs to be in practice and moment by moment, mother to mother, takes on different shapes and expression. With every move, we’re mothering. Near and far, day and night, mothering is always in practice. Full time. 

Chela Davison is Phoenix’s mom, one of the creators at Beams and Struts and is a professional Integral Coach™.

 

 

Related items

Join the Discussion

Commenting Policy

Beams and Struts employs commenting guidelines that we expect all readers to bear in mind when commenting at the site. Please take a moment to read them before posting - Beams and Struts Commenting Policy

4 comments

  • Comment Link Miriam Mason Martineau Thursday, 08 November 2012 18:44 posted by Miriam Mason Martineau

    Thank you so much, mamas, for sharing your perspectives here... I'm honored to be a part of your circle. I'm sitting in a cafe, reading them, heart blown open and tearing up first sentence in on every perspective shared, trying to keep my tears hidden, aware of others in this cafe... but then, what the heck, that's it, this mamahood trip: your heart walks around outside of you; and when I hear your stories, my heart walks with you and feels the incredible depths, the commitment, the fierce love, the profound teachings, the fully-human-wrapped-up-in Spirit reality of motherhood, and all that feeling bubbles out in more tears. So, thank you, I'm deeply touched to be reading your stories, I'm heartened that this world houses so many wonderful mothers. This world is a safer, better, more wonderous place because of you. All my love, Miriam

  • Comment Link Chloe Dierkes Saturday, 10 November 2012 05:34 posted by Chloe Dierkes

    This compilation is absolutely wonderful!! I love the diversity on the surface of these perspectives as well as the common fierce-mama-love at the heart of all 5 stories.

    I am not a mother myself (yet), but I have the honor as a birth and postpartum doula to walk beside parents as they enter into parenthood. I get to see the moments when women become mothers and look for the first time into their newborn baby's eyes.

    This first gaze is often a moment of palpable transcendence. Birth is sweaty, gritty, and primal and at the same time sacred and miraculous. It stretches women to their limits and challenges beyond what they thought they could do.

    Birth, I believe, is one of the ways that women become 'cracked open' and primed to be fierce mothers....

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article, thanks!

  • Comment Link Rachanabanana Thursday, 15 November 2012 03:33 posted by Rachanabanana

    Thankyou SO much. I loved reading these stories and perspectives and my heart was feeling very touched and warmed reading them. ....

    Today for me, Meegans story has been very empowering for me. I am a single mother to a 2 year old - and what she described about the possible paths where your head can take you when your child has a tantrum felt like it came directly out of my head! Yet with a little more clarity and empowerment! Just what I needed, thankyou.

    Also the way she described 'survival techniques' i.e. eating out rather than being alone at dinner time - made me realise I am not so alone in the feelings I have been experiencing, and these 'survival techniques' we develop are not only necessary but positive. Also I felt after reading this story that perhaps I should connect with other mothers sharing a similar journey - and I feel that this is a good thing.

    xxx

  • Comment Link Kathryn Ehnebuske Thursday, 15 November 2012 22:00 posted by Kathryn Ehnebuske

    Thank you all, such beauty and love. My youngest child is 30 and it has been a long time since I held a nursing baby, but I still occasionally dream of that fierce all consuming thrill that loving beyond my limits brings. That experience is a deep part of me and when my best is needed in any situation, I draw always from the well of unconditional love that my children taught me to rely on. I might not have fallen in so deep if it had only been about me.

Login to post comments

Search Beams

Newest Discussions