I quickly learnt, after the birth of my baby girl, that motherhood is a spiritual path. A path that teaches you a lot about yourself, your cravings, your dislikes, your attachments and love. In the middle of the night when I am pulled away from that deep dreamless state of sleep, when I find myself in all of an instant, holding and kissing, cajoling and singing to my little girl, I know that I’ve once again fought with that deep and eternal craving for “my space”, “my sleep”, “my world”. I moved out of that box into a world of love, of the other, of selfless wonderment. It is not just during these sleepless nights that I realise this, it is during moments of feeding, during moments of shower, moments of cooking, moments of playing with this lovely little being, that I realise I’ve moved away from some perceived version of an independent self, that I have laid to rest that rebellious voice within that demands that my will shall be done.
And how freeing!
But it’s not just motherhood that is a spiritual path. Life in itself is that path. Everything about how we deal with people, circumstances, challenges and joys teaches us about our outlook in life.
Take for instance the retreat day of the 8 week mindfulness program I lead here in Hyderabad. The retreat day is one day in the program where the participants come in at around 10:30am and stay till almost 6:00pm. In retreat. In silence. Practicing mindfulness. The day shifts so much for all of us in the group. We come to realise how much our mind chatters, how much anxiety and uncertainty is present in every moment- as one waits for the bell to ring, waits for instruction to finally open eyes, talk and more. It is a clear mirror showing us how we deal with uncertainities, how we deal with situations we don’t have too much control over. How we deal with life.
And how do we deal with it? With anxiety, with restlessness, depression and resentment. Isnt that how many of us deal with what blocks our “path”?
We create strong labels of what we can tolerate, stay present with and become. We define and confine ourselves in this “I” label we give ourselves, everything else that doesn’t meet this label is met with resentment.
My own struggle to become an independent self has seen a few therapists’ offices, self-help books and spiritual retreats. I did succeed in naming something within as “me”. Then came motherhood tapping at my door, telling me to break open from that small room I imprisoned myself in. To break open the notions of who I am, to dwell in the miracle of oneness with another. To think beyond the wrongs done to me, and to think about the healing present in nurturing a child. And again, motherhood was and continues to be that opportunity for me, in realising this “I” I call myself restricts me when I hold on to it too tightly.
Every moment though is an opportunity in acknowledging this changing, dynamic self. Like some participants in my mindfulness group realise, their new job role is an opportunity in embracing a dynamic changing self, that retirement is a space to embrace this changing self, that chronic pain is a real lesson in who we really are.
This life is that path that constantly challenges us to deal with what comes, with more gentleness than resentment.
If I am constantly fighting with the present and trying to change it to what I think should be my ideal present I only suffer. If I cannot dwell in the joy of soothing my child, if I cannot rest in the quiet of her calm play, then I am not going to be able to work and pursue “my life” come what may. And if at my core I desire peace, mindfulness, creativity, spontaneity and serendipity I cannot be in a state of constant tug of war to achieve it. So to mothers who ask me “what should I do when my baby wants to be stuck to me and not go to anyone else”, to those who ask me some version of “how can I change this present moment that feels so intolearable”, I would like to say:
Stay stuck to your baby (your present moment) and don’t let her go to anyone else. You feel angry, distracted and frustrated that you can’t do other things while you are tending to a needy little baby (your present moment), I have been there, many times and all I can do to is let go and surrender to the moment that is staring at my face.
I let go of my to-do’s, frustrations and attachments and I am there in that need of my child. The world doesn’t come crashing down. I have observed. And my little box of “me and mine” expands thus.
As I see my infant, become a toddler and then a preschooler I see the wisdom in embracing the moments when she wants to just be stuck to me, and not go to anyone else. I think about my moments of complete despair, during times of sickness and fear and I know I could have been there fully if I knew then that these phases weren’t as permanent as my mind made it out to be.
And this is exactly what participants in the retreat day realise too; that thoughts that generate this frustration, anxiety and resentment about our current situation are just thoughts-artificial constructs that don’t need to be acted upon. That in embracing the artificial nature of the thoughts, we can actually act with gentleness in the present moment and in doing so that little box of “me and mine” expands, helping us see everything as impermanent and needing our explicit presence.