Mothers and Spiritual Practice
Today I want to be at the sweat lodge. Today I want to be with my kids. I can’t do both. I’m sitting at home writing this rather than driving to the sweat lodge because I chose family over spirituality. How can mothers combine the two?
I hate the word ‘spirituality’ for all it’s woowoo connotations so let me define it in a way that works for me; ‘spirituality – the practice of turning inwards in order to find wisdom, peace, love and compassion; sometimes practiced alone, at other times in groups, organized or otherwise; can be part of an organised system of practice or can be idiosyncratic’.
So here I sit, not on my way to the sweatlodge, with a sadness that I am not going to be connecting with myself and others in a way which inspires, challenges and ignites me. Instead I’ll be spending these last days of the summer holidays going to the library and visiting friends. The quotidian and mundane chosen above ritual, ceremony and community.
I struggle during term time on a Wednesday; do I go to meditation or do I spend the evening with the kids as it’s the only evening when they have nothing on? Do I spend Saturday morning with the kids as I haven’t really seen them all week or do I go to the yoga day locally?
My heart pings. Did I make the right choice not to go today? Did I wimp out of the 6 hour round trip, late night and intense heat? Was staying at home the lazy, easy option? Would I have felt torn which ever choice I made?
Mothers as Spiritual Leaders
And I suspect, that this pull between the family and the spirit is why women and specifically mothers have played such bit parts in any of the spiritual traditions. When I was in Israel; I met a number of female Rabi, but only one with a family. Our current vicar is a young, childless female and the outgoing vicar was another woman, who became a vicar when her children were older.
Pema Chodrun, one of the leading exponents of modern Buddhism, now a nun, married age 21 and had 2 children. After her second divorce she started to study Buddhism in earnest, when her children were older. Louise Hay, founder of Hay House had her only child adopted.
Mother Teresa of course was a nun, but the Pope, that Arch Bishop of Canterbury, the Dalai Lama are all men.
Before I had my kids I went on a week long non-duality meditation retreat which was hosted by a lovely couple with a retreat center and a toddler. Whilst the husband spent lots of time hanging out with the retreat leader; his wife, organised food and looked after the 2 year old. When I joined her on a shopping trip I still remember her sadness, frustration and resignation at her role. She was a long time practicing Buddhist who would dearly have loved to be joining the retreat, but instead here we were shopping.
Combining Spiritual Practice with being a mother
So how do women have an inner spiritual life and practice whilst also being a mother and a partner?
I once met one woman who left her marriage and her kids to follow her spiritual path, only to return some time later, wanting to re-establish her parental role and being faced with a legal situation which made that difficult. Whilst I couldn’t leave my kids for a religious or spiritual calling, one suspects that had it been the father who had left to meditate for 2 years, the courts would not have found him to be negligent or to have abandoned their family in the way they did her.
Where are the mothers in the spiritual world? Cheryl Richardson chose not to have kids, Wayne Dyer had 8 kids but when you read his books it becomes clear that his inner work was only possible because his wives were looking after the kids.
I once had the chance to ask a Hindu Swami this question. He had been talking about the dedication needed to meditate and follow a spiritual path and I could feel myself getting angrier and more indignant thinking about my children at home that night. ‘What about women? What about mothers?’ I blurted out. ‘All this is so MALE, all this single focused discipline, how can mothers do that? How can mothers find their inner path and parent at the same time?’
‘Parenthood is your path’ he replied. ‘it is your practice’.
Which shut me up (for a while).
Because I could see the point of what he said. I chose to have kids and they didn’t ask to be born and so my task is to raise them in the best way I can.
So I weave my inner life around the family. I sometimes get to the sweatlodge, meditation and yoga but daily I meditate and practice yoga at home. I listen to pod casts, I read books and I talk to friends about what we are exploring.
I would love to go on the Sufi retreat in the Alps for a week which my friend tells me about every year, but I can’t go yet. Then there is the month long Buddhist retreat I would love to go on in November in Nepal, but I won’t be doing that any time soon. Another friend told me about an amazing yoga course she had taken for a month in Bali; I’ve added it to my wish list. These are things for when the kids are older or have left home.
The world needs mothers
But there is still part of me that rages. Yes I can weave my inner life around my mother role and yes I can put things I would love to do on hold for another decade but there is a more fundamental roar inside me; WE NEED MOTHER’S WISDOM NOW!
Not only do mothers need support with mothering but the world needs mothers to be developing their courage, their peace and their compassion. How different would the world be if mothers were in charge? Would there be war? Would there be poverty? Would we be taking better care of our world?
We need women spiritual leaders every bit as much as we need female political leaders and business leaders. Not just women leaders, but mothers who lead.
Because motherhood is our path and it is a brutal and all consuming path. Motherhood changes us completely. I have known the fear of watching my child struggle to breathe, I have learned courage through standing up for my kids, I have learned patience whilst watching them tie their laces, I have learned sacrifice whilst watching football matches in the rain, I have learned a tenderness and vulnerability, I have learned to surrender my ideas of how things ‘ought’ to be to ‘how life is’, I have learned burning passion and love in blazing moments as they grow, I have learned to put my ego to one side to let them develop.
I could go on retreats when I was young, and I will again when I am older but there are these years now, parenting when I have energy and power and want to use it positively.
So yes, the Swami was right, motherhood is my path and I need to just accept that and do my retreats in a decade time. And NO, no no. I want it to be different.
Things need to change
Some of this needs systemic and structural change: I want retreat centers for families where I can meditate whilst they have fun with other kids. I want yoga classes for all ages. I want to be at that sweatlodge today and I wish there was a way that my kids could be there too, hanging out with other kids whose parents are at the lodge.
And some of this change is happening at an individual level. I appreciate that the guy who leads the lodge is OK about me not going because I want to be a mum today. I appreciate that he knows that lack of attendance is not lack of commitment. His flexibility and acceptance allows me to feel part of something as well as being a mum.
I still want to be at the sweat lodge today. I still want to be with my kids today. I had to make a choice. I still feel torn. Such is life.
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