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13259mothering as meditation

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  • Nina
    Sep 15, 2004
      From 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 emotions‹joy,
      exasperation, amusement, angst, astonishment‹flickering
      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
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