13259mothering as meditation
- Sep 15, 2004From another of my lists, here is an excerpt from an article
in Tricycle (www.tricycle.com). Unfortunately, I haven't been
able to find the link. Enjoy..
Mothering as Meditation Practice
by Anne Cushman
For the first few weeks of my son Skye¹s life,
he would only sleep if he could hear my heartbeat.
From midnight to dawn he lay on my chest, his
head tucked into the hollow of my throat, awakening
every two hours to nurse. In the day, he¹d nap in
my arms as I rocked, a slideshow of emotionsjoy,
exasperation, amusement, angst, astonishmentflickering
across his dreaming face, as if he were rehearsing every
expression he would need for the rest of his life.
If I dared to set him in his bassinet, he¹d wake up
with a roar of outrage, red-faced and flailing. He
cried if I tried to put him in a baby sling, frontpack,
stroller, or car seat. He cried whenever I changed his
diaper. And every evening from seven to nine, he cried for
no apparent reason at all.
When Skye was two weeks old, I ate black bean tacos
for dinner and he screamed until sunrise, his body
stiff and his fists clenched. While I sobbed along
with him, my husband actually called the emergency room,
where the nurse on duty told us, kindly, that it
sounded like gas. The next morning, a nutritionist
friend assured me that everything would be fine so
long as I stopped eating dairy, wheat, yeast, soy,
corn, legumes, garlic, onions, tomatoes, sugar,
peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruit (and considered
dropping fish, mushrooms, and eggs). As Skye finally
fell asleep in the crook of my right arm, I collapsed
on the sofa in my bathrobe, eating cold brown rice
with my left hand and spilling it in his hair.
It was about that time that I decided that what I
had embarked on was an intensive meditation retreat.
It had all the elements, I told myself: the long
hours of silent sitting; the walking back and forth,
going nowhere; the grueling schedule and sleep
deprivation; the hypnotic, enigmatic chants
("and if that looking glass gets broke/Mama¹s gonna
buy you a billy goat..."); the slowly dawning
realization that there is nothing to look forward
to but more of the same. And at the center of
it, of course, was the crazy wisdom teacher in
diapers, who assigned more demanding practices
than I had encountered in all my travels in
India like "Tonight you will circumambulate
the living room for two hours with the master
in your arms, doing a deep-knee bend at every
other step, and chanting, Dooty-dooty-doot-doot-doo,
dooty-dooty-doot-doot-doo.¹" Or "At midnight you will
carry the sleeping master with you to the bathroom
and answer this koan: How do you lower your pajama
bottoms without using your hands?"
Like all great spiritual practices, these were
exquisitely designed to rattle the cage of my ego.
They smashed through my concepts about how things
should be (rocking in the garden swing by the lavender
bush, watching the hummingbirds, while my newborn
slept in a bassinet by my feet) and pried open my
heart to the way things actually were (standing
by the diaper table, flexing one tiny knee after
another into Skye¹s colicky tummy, and cheering when
a mustard-yellow fountain erupted from his behind).
And with every breath of my "baby sesshin," I was
offered the opportunity to cradle my child in my
arms like the baby Buddha and be present for a
mystery unfolding. . . .
As a new mother, I¹ve found myself wondering:
How are other women negotiating the dance between
practice and parenting? How does their practice
affect their mothering? How does being a mother
affect their practice? Are mothers changing the
forms of Buddhism in America?
And the most compelling question of all for me
can mothering really be a path of practice every
bit as valid as the monastic path? Can suctioning
the snot from a sick baby¹s nose have the simplicity
and purity of a nun¹s prostrations? Can wiping out a
diaper pail lead to "the awakening of the Buddha
and the ancestors?"
On one level, this question seems absurd. Nothing
could be further from the regimented march of a
formal retreat than the disheveled dance of motherhood.
The books on my bedside table used to be about pursuing
Awakening in the Himalayas. Now they¹re about preventing
awakening in the middle of the night. There¹s a diaper
changing table where my altar used to be; my zafus and
zabutons have been requisitioned to cushion Skye¹s play
area. Forget about chewing a single raisin for five
minutes and admonitions to "when you eat, just eat"
I¹m on the phone with Skye on my hip, ordering
baby-proof plates for the electrical outlets as I
eat cold veggie potstickers with my fingers straight
from the cardboard box and rub fresh spit-up into
the floor with one socked foot. It¹s hard to find the
moment even to tell myself that this is a spiritual path
I¹m too busy looking for Skye¹s other mitten. . . .
I feel plugged into the world now, in a way that
I never have been before. As I feed my child out of
my own body, I see how I am fed by the body of the earth.
I¹m crocheted to a chain of mothers before me, and a
chain of unborn children who will inherit a world that
I can¹t even imagine. I want Skye¹s grandchildren to be
able to swim in the Pacific, and hike the granite ridges
of the Sierra, and gasp at the blue herons
standing on one leg in Bolinas Lagoon.
Is this "attachment"? Or connectedness?
I don¹t mean to be grandiose. I know these insights
aren¹t the pristine diamond of samadhi. They¹re a sloppier,
stickier kind of realization, covered in drool and Cheerio
crumbs. But maybe this is the gift of mothering as practice
a kind of inclusiveness that embraces chaos and grit and
imperfection. It¹s not based on control or keeping things tidy.
It makes room in its heart for a plastic dump truck
in the middle of the living room floor, and rap music
leaking under a bedroom door at midnight. It doesn¹t
slip away in the middle of the night to search for
enlightenment. It stays home with Rahula the Fetter,
and finds it there.
As mothers, what can we make of that story of the
Buddha leaving his family in the middle of the night?
I asked Fu Schroeder. "Oh, but he wasn¹t the Buddha
when he left his child. He was a young prince, in
terrible pain," she answered.
"If you¹re awake, you don¹t leave your child.
Where would you go?"
For the full text of this article, please see the fall 2001 issue of
- Next post in topic >>