In a Bill Plotkin workshop many years ago, I recall him saying that ” there are two kinds of spiritual practice, one is parenting and the other is everything else!” It took me a while to understand what he meant. But then I got it.
As a mum of six children now adults, I recognise the parts of me touched where no other spiritual practice could come near. The main context of this ‘practice’ that isnt even really a practice, is namely ‘surrender.’
Surrendering to what cannot be controlled, i.e. the life of another human being. Surrendering to the pain this can inflict on our hearts because we just cannot make it right for another or force them into safety for our own needs. We cannot blame another for our feelings or how our life is because of them. We surrender to the deepest of fears and fears of loss, betrayal, insignificance and the fear of not being the most important person in anothers life.
We learn to let go, let be, be present, be detached, love unconditionally and trust deeper than any experience could possibly allow. Our very soul can be trembling and we are forced into a realm of anxiety and inner criticism. Wondering if we have done our best, could have done better, been different, got it wrong, it goes on and on.
I am just talking about motherhood here, fathers have their journey too, but I cannot speak for them, I can only assume it is quite the similar!
Spiritual practice asks us to be present. Try and not be present for a screaming child, baby, one who is hungry or just plain upset and you’ve no idea why! Try and not be present through endless needs and wants and demands, for what can seem the most futile of missions. Walking along narrow walls for the twentieth time, run up and down a garden and play bat and ball when your body aches to sit and relax or even go to the loo! Another story from the favourite book, again and again and again! Off to the park again and again because there is no rest until this is done, and question after question must be answered, and we do it through love and pleasure, because we want to and we give our all, and then those moments wave over us, please go to sleep for a moment, please let me rest for a moment. Bed time and Ahhh, relief, I can now sit and there is time for ME!
My own discipline when my children were small, when it got to the evenings I knew if I sat down, I would not get up again. I made sure I kept on my feet until each one was in bed and asleep. Then I could simply go to bed, too tired to do anything else for the ME. But that was lush and gorgeous, the feeling of just having that ‘me’ to myself. At least until the first waking moment and night time is punctuated by breastfeeding, fetching drinks of water, or that needed cuddle because of a bad dream.
I love/loved my little ones, so much, loved being with them, playing with them, teaching them and sharing our worlds together, I would not change it for anything. And I know what it taught me in the world of patience and grounding. Having to remain centered and together in myself, it was not a time to fall apart, there was always work to be done. I was surrendered in service to the growing up of my little family with all of its challenges, dysfunctions and heart aches. But we loved each other, they loved each other, we were a family that despite everything, the children shared a lovely deep connection. I felt blessed with this.
And babyhood and childhood changes to the grown up kids and the teenagers, where all hell breaks lose and we meet with the rebel, knowing this rebel needs its time to grow to learn about him or herself. To begin that detatchment from the parent, to find out who they are as a seperate being. Surrender, I had to. With each one I had to. To step back and witness this person who I felt I barely knew. What were they becomming?
Surrender and let go, I told myself over and over, they must go through this, they must detatch and find their own way. I have to let go, for sure we hold certain boundaries, but let go at the same time. If we ever try to control a teenager, then for sure we are creating a volcano that is preparing to erupt right in our face, and most definitley in our hearts. Let them go and let them grow!
Let them find their own way into adulthood, because they will return to you much more easily if they are given the freedom to find their own way and walk their own path. Making space for your loved ones, creating space between you takes courage, it takes trust and the most profound and liberating thing, for myself and my children was to say “I trust you to find your own way” Handing over the reins, the control, and the staff of wisdom and knowledge is returned to you and they walk freely, into the unknown territories into the mystery of their life, that is only for them to unfold!
We gasp and hold our breath, breath that is so full of fear, but if we have done our job well, there can only be trust. I did not do my job as well as I would have liked, I knew this. But at the time and with the knowledge that I had at such a young age, to begin with a mere teenager myself, I did the best I could. So the guilt and shame emerged time and time again, it scourged my bones and rubbed my belly raw with anxiety. It taught me to breath deeper, to remind myself this was their journey and now it had nothing to do with me. All that was to do with me was to love them unconditionally still, and to surrender and witness them on their journey. To let go!
And then the adult journey can begin. As they steal that key, as in the tale of Iron John ( Robert Blye ) from under mothers pillow, no matter how she frets, the deed is done and now it is their own personal journey to take and any mature mother knows this, her job is done, but it does not take away the anxiety, the gut wrenching pain as she worries about the little child within her grown man or woman. For the mother still sees that young being despite the pride she feels for the adult walking their path.
Again our work is to surrender, to learn to trust even more deeply. To meditate on our own pain and detachment, to walk our own path and keep letting go.
And I find myself in one of those places, focusing on my own work giving attention to the ‘other’ part of my spiritual practice, yes my work, my offering to the world of my own journey, now holding a space for others. The phone call comes the distress is there and I am in a place far away from the ability to hug, to comfort to try anything to soften some of the blows that life presents. Is it a good thing that mother cannot be there at this time, so the adult can grow and find his or her own way with this? Must I melt into my own abandoned feelings of despair and relinquish any ability to be useful? I feel my redundancy, I feel my stomach churn, I know it is my dance to be danced and I must find that inner freedom for myself by giving them their freedom for themselves.
I switch of the phone with dread and I focus on what I must do. I dance with my own challenge and I learn once more to be totally present with what is in front of me. I am surrenderd to the ‘what ifs’ I am present and held within my own circle of strength and support. And I teach from this very place, my wounded-healer place and we learn and grow together.
And then all is well, no harm is done and I hand over more and more the responsibilty to them, to thier own hearts knowing that the greatest love is there, always, will never be lost no matter what. It is always there. This is my spiritual practice, to surrender, to let go of control, to be present, to love unconditionally, and what better teacher for this than to be a mother to my wonderful children. They have their journey as we all do, they have their challenges and suffering as we all do. And none of us are perfect in this world, least not myself. We simply become more humble and carry our own humility within our own circles and do the best we can.
My experience with my chldren has been my greatest spiritual teaching, I have no doubt of that. Watching them grow with such pride in my heart is an immense and beautiful thing. And it continues, with every day that passes. We are growing together and apart continually, we are learning to let each other go and lose that co-dependancy that lingers. Deepening love, maturity and a sense of spiritual belonging, learning surrender, humility and compassionatly witnessing who we each are.