written by Morgan Nichols
Spiritual practice and motherhood. Yoga and motherhood. These things can seem contradictory and even impossible to reconcile. As the only mother, I have sat in tears of frustration and grief at sangat (spiritual community) meetings as others talked about working through their issues through regular meditation – because I seemed to barely be able to find time to breathe and go to the toilet, let alone to sit down and devote my full attention to where I was at emotionally. I remember my yoga teacher saying to me: “This is your path. Motherhood is your spiritual discipline.”
Of course, at first I didn't want to hear it. I wanted to escape motherhood: escape the endless challenges of two-year-old tantrums, the feeling of being stuck in an endless Groundhog Day of the same repetitive tasks of nappy changing, cleaning and taking my child to the park. I wanted to fly free and experience the ecstatic oneness I remembered from pre-motherhood, when I had only myself and my own process to focus on.
But as Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn point out in the wonderful book 'Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting', parenting is like an eighteen year spiritual retreat. When you approach it that way, a new opening is created: a way of seeing parenthood as a tremendous privilege which allows for more spiritual growth than possibly any other path.
The concept of 'seva' is one that helps me. In various spiritual traditions, seva, such as cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors or cooking for others, is performed as a way of serving others selflessly and purifying one's own ego. Parenting is the ultimate selfless devotional service – it is a task that never ends, a relationship that constantly tests us to purify what is not real and honourable in us.
Often we think we have to climb some dramatic inner mountain that requires a lot of space, silence, and retreat from the everyday world, in order to reach inner peace. I think there are definitely times and places for silence and getting away from it all, and at least once a month I try to do a half day of silence when my son, now three, is at his dad's.
But I find my current spiritual practice is to do what I can to stay connected, and to be mindfully present with what is happening moment to moment. My formal practice looks very different now: it has gone from 2 ½ hours of yoga and chanting each morning, to a little yoga in the morning if I'm lucky, since my son sleeps and wakes with me, and 15 minutes meditation in the evening. For much of my child's life formal practice has been almost nonexistent.
The broadest intention of my self-development work has always been to operate more from the heart and less from the head, so it was wonderful to hear from a friend in my spiritual community that motherhood had 'opened my heart' and that she had seen so much growth in me. Sometimes, continually struggling to 'be somewhere else' – somewhere more peaceful and 'spiritual', which early parenthood with all its noise and messiness hardly embodies - we can't see where we're really at from the inside, and it takes someone else to point out that we are exactly where we need to be.
As Vimala McClure says in 'The Tao of Motherhood', to really be a mother is to be at the centre and source of all life - and by being in the centre, you show your child how to be at centre. You help to bring them back there when they are not, simply by being that – not by trying to change anything. This has been my practice over the past three years – learning to accept what is, to let go of how I think it should be, and trying to hold myself and my child in a compassionate space. A naturally impatient, goal-driven person, I am learning – slowly - how to slow down and to 'be' rather than 'do'. I certainly still long to devote more time to spiritual practice, but I have come to a point of accepting that I have chosen this path, and even though I didn't really know what I was letting myself in for, I am open to seeing how motherhood can help me to blossom into the human being I was meant to be.