“Zen is not like anything else. Zen is the direct realization, the comparable experience of what is. Zen is motherhood. And you already know that motherhood is not like anything else.”
– Karen Maezen Miller
I was talking with a mother who suddenly lost her 4-year-old son to tragic circumstances. As many mothers do when faced with adversity, we seek counsel and peace with the relevance of another mother’s story. We respond. Of course. I hear you. Me too. You are loved.
She asked me “How has your spirituality changed since becoming a mother”? I knew the weight of the question she was asking. I knew that if I were in her shoes navigating the kind of loss she was, my faith and spirituality would be on trial. It was one of those heavy hitting questions that spins you down into the depths of deep personal reflection.
My response was “gosh… how do I even put that into words” and off the top of my head, I couldn’t. The question she asked was one I’d been intently asking myself since our fertility journey started years ago. In its purest form, I was trying to find the truest definition of motherhood, the essence of how this journey has transformed my soul.
I’m someone who believes that we consciously choose to come into human form and live out this life with whatever victories and lessons come of it. Birth, death, rebirth all present opportunities to rewire our DNA, adding depth and layers to our soul’s understanding of it all. So, when a mother experiences such scarring as the loss of her child, there has to be a cosmic reason for it, right?
In hopes of finding some answers, I’ve found respite in studying the spirituality of the sacred window (the first 40 days postpartum) according to the Ayurvedic perspective. Since the Sanskrit word Ayurveda (ai·yr·vei·duh) translates to mean “the knowledge of life”, I thought it’d be a good place to start. During this sacred window of time, both baby and mother are being reborn. The mother is there to be the grounding vessel, ushering the baby earthside, providing the undefined spirit nourishment and ease within its new body. Living between worlds, the mother acts as a receiver of universal intelligence, brought by the baby. Information from the cosmos, translated subtly as the gift of a mother’s intuition.
Maybe this is why the gravity of pregnancy loss, infant and child loss feels so astronomical? With loss, does the thinning of the veil between worlds close back up, leaving you to navigate life without your new found inner compass?
One thing I know for sure is that when my daughter was born, I was also reborn. Two years in and we continue to live between worlds, participating in this beautiful dance of oneness, mother and child. For this lifetime, we are blossoms of the same branch and beacons of light for one another’s journeys. The subtleness and expansiveness of my daughter’s innate wisdom is shocking. So, when asked, “How has my spirituality changed since becoming a mother?”, I look to inner wisdom and then to my toddler for the answer.
This week, I’m bringing you behind the thinned veil of motherhood to share three ways I’ve found zen between worlds.
One – Strengthen The Voice Within:
I’ve learned my zen can be found within the entry level principles of the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and within the built-in compass of my inner wisdom. For me, this centuries-old collection of knowledge is mostly about knowing your mind and body well enough to understand what your personal balance looks like. It gives you the ability to navigate to your sweet spot. It’s about knowing balance isn’t always found in the middle of the spectrum, but understanding how to easily redirect to either end. According to Ayurveda, I’m malleable, evolving, rebuilding, constantly morphing into a new me. With this knowledge, it’s hard not to feel tapped in to a larger cosmic orchestra.
Becoming a mother forces you to live with Ayurvedic principles, whether or not they’ve been labeled as such.
The sādhana (spiritual practice) of motherhood ensures you’re strengthening the voice within, recalibrating with micro movements as you move through the day.
A little to the left…a little to the right…stop…this feels right…for now. It’s an intuitive redirection of flow that can save you from any calamity.
I remember finding out I was pregnant and feeling like I was living in the clouds. My thoughts and movements were wispy, erratic, limitless, just like the element of air. Intuitively, I knew I needed to find a new equilibrium for my changing mind and body. I needed to ground myself with deep connection and nourishment, just like the supporting element of earth. The elemental science of Ayurveda offers these practical comparisons and explanations. When broken down into its simplest form, it’s a collection of tools for tapping in.
As a mother, there are times when your inner wisdom shouts loud and clear.
“Do not let her eat that.”
“She will eventually fall asleep.”
“Drink. The. Coffee.”
There are also times when the messages are more subtle.
“You are stronger than you think.”
“You’re the only expert of your kid. Ignore the old lady in the check out lane.”
And then there are times when your inner wisdom shocks you, revealing what feels like multi-dimensional reasoning.
“It’s not about her. It’s about you, mama.”
With practice, I’ve learned to tap into the subtleness of what my inner wisdom is whispering. The feeling of being connected to the threads of wisdom within feels like a spiritual connection to the larger workings of the universe. It’s a built-in support system, graciously giving you a peek at the playbook. As a mother, all we are really doing is trying to understand the playbook, the rules and instructions on how to do this. Each and every day, the spiritual practice of motherhood provides opportunities to test out the rules of the game and strengthen the voice within. Now, go play.
Two – Detachment and Rewriting Expectations/ Surrender:
It is my belief that my sole purpose in this lifetime is to be awakened to the art of surrender.
There is a reason that my twenty-something year old self thought it was imperative to permanently mark my body with the tattooed words of “Que será, será”. She knew I needed the daily reminder to allow “Whatever will be, will be.”
I came into this world on a mission to control…to hang on with a death grip…to micromanage the shit out of life. I can be pretty gritty and have proved to be really good at death grips. With the help of modern day conditioning, I’ve been manipulated to believe that I have the right and responsibility to define and control life’s sacred recipe. Motherhood and good ole fashion growing-the-fuck-up has made me realize that this is the recipe of pain and suffering. It’s anti-zen.
Pre baby, I was thriving within my career, reaching measurable successes along the way. Acquiring certifications, accolades, celebrating business launches, navigating one milestone after milestone, all providing me invaluable feedback to how much UMPH I could bring to the table. Post-baby, the harsh reality of lost validation and dwindling measures of daily success are frequent reminders that I am NOT in control. Now, success looks different. Manipulate all you want, the dishes are not going to get done today.
It’s taken me the entirety of the first two years as a mother to see the loss of control as the most gracious, unexpected gift from the universe.
Through forced detachment, I’m encouraged to rewrite the expectations of myself and those around me, finding new measures of contentment. These newfound measures are more sustainable and more gentle. I’ll say things like, “Today, we will remember to turn the dryer on..” And things like “If we get to bedtime without a tantrum, we win!” OR, “Let’s go play”. All varying levels of productivity, but all mini forms of surrendering to the original plan, the dishes.
The spirituality of this practice is in the allowing and opening to things as they are…as they go, especially with a toddler in tow. There is something comforting in knowing you can take your hands off the wheel and surrender to the mystery. Watch it unfold for what it’s meant to be…fun!
Three – Practice of Mindfulness, using my toddler as an example of Zen master:
As I walk through this path of motherhood, it’s my job to show up and try to bring the best version of myself along with me. I’m learning to strengthen the voice within, allowing me to show up with more clarity and gusto. I’m learning to rewrite expectations, surrendering to a more sustainable measure of contentment. And on the days when this joy ride falls a bit flat, it’s the practice of mindfulness that resurrects the efforts. Ayurvedically speaking, mindfulness is the vital agni of the whole shebang.
My daughter is really, really good at communicating with her body. She has consciously decided to hold off on using an abundance of words, opting for the more exciting game of charades. Her communication is direct. She shows me what’s needed to be shown in THIS moment and 99.999% of the time what’s needed is my presence. Undivided attention, watching as she flings her body from one couch cushion to the next. I get it, girl. It’s amazing.
As a modern culture, we “manufacture” our children, working hard to mold them into perfect little humans doing perfect little things. We drop in every once in a while with an unencumbered presence and then we’re quickly back to crafting the kid. I’ve come to believe that maybe we’ve got it all backwards. In their call for undivided attention, maybe they know they are actually molding us…bringing us back to center…ready to start over at any moment.
My daughter seems to be very Zen like that. She is so tapped into her heart’s desires that she asks for it. She understands the power in presence and demands it.
She knows that each and every moment can be re-written, so she explores her options without hesitation. She’s not moving through her day, checking things off a to-do list. She measures the day’s success by how long she’s been held and seen. All of this is the essence of motherhood.
When my dear friend, the one who lost her son to tragedy, asked me about the spirituality of motherhood, it is all of this that I know she’s reflecting on. Whether she was able to articulate the gravity of her zen, I knew she was feeling like she had lost it all. All of this is a custom-tailored spiritual awakening.
For me, it’s daily practices in listening to my inner wisdom, surrendering and maintaining presence. For another mama, it may be mostly about generational shifts, self love, or personal identity. Motherhood in its essence is a spiritual practice, offering up daily opportunities to uncover spiritual truths. Without traveling too far outside of ourselves, we’re able to find the answers, insights, and wisdom that we already possess within. You do not need to have a formal meditation practice, go on spiritual quests to the edges of the earth, or even know the definition of zen to reap the benefits of tuning in.
Zen is easy.
It’s all of our doing that complicates things.
Sign Up for the Our Seva Community Newsletter!
Each week, expect a bite-sized personal reflection with accompanying journal prompt. My hope is that by sharing these reflections and prompts, you’ll be inspired into purposeful action and we’ll both be reassured that we are not alone in this process of unraveling.
Once a month, expect a curation of resources intended to inspire a deeper personal practice. There will be Q&A interviews to showcase how other women in this community navigate transformation, articles and podcasts that have made a lasting impression and practical mindfulness exercises to bring about sustainable change. If you’re a fan of mantra…there will be some of that too.