I have been trying to get to this post for about a day and a half. I now sit at 7:54 PM, tired and uncertain that I have anything interesting or helpful to say. And so, this is the theme of today’s post.
Ironically, I was trying to finish dinner and housework by 7:00 PM to attend a live call about essential oils and self-care. I have to laugh as I write this; the extent to which I am lacking in the self-care department today is testament to how much I need it. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
These days, how many of us are doing even more mothering than usual in all areas of life? Work outside the home has diminished or stopped altogether. Kids are homeschooled. Extra-curricular activities are no more. And yet, I believe most mothers (and fathers) would agree we are busier than ever. As parents, we are now full-time teachers, creative directors, technology managers, kid-friendly household-job creators, spiritual directors, and counselors, in addition to non-stop domestic servants and large and small animal pet caretakers. It’s not that any of these jobs is completely new; it’s that they are now constant with very little down and alone time.
I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m not even complaining. I’m simply stating what is. And as I have presented in my previous posts, our refusal to witness and confront what is, as well as our constant self-emptying without refilling, are not only exhausting, they are also unsustainable. Feeling overwhelmed or tense or constricted in service to everyone else all the time is NOT a requisite for mothering. The socially accepted declarations, “Now that I have a husband and kids, it’s not about me anymore,” and “it’s all about what’s good for them, not me,” are tired and incredibly damaging. Indeed, too often feeling and behaving as though we matter less than anyone else will cause us to turn against ourselves. And worse, we will be unable, truly unable, to hold and reflect the compassion and love our children require from us in order to form their own autonomous, healthy, self-possessed spirits.
So what to do? When we have days like the several in a row I’ve had (which I know you all have also experienced), how can we return to ourselves to refocus and refuel? A friend of mine posed this very question to me today. “How do I pay attention to myself,” she asked, “and manage my own state of mind when my kids are yelling, the dog is barking, and I have to make dinner AND fold laundry?” Yup. That’s about sums it up. Not easy. But not impossible either.
In discerning how to answer, this quotation from modern-day mystic, writer, and Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, came to mind. She writes, “When the field of vision has been unified, the inner being comes to rest, and that inner peaceableness flows into the outer world [as] harmony and compassion.” In order to move towards a place of peace and wholeness, then, we must find a way for our “field of vision” to become “unified.” How do we accomplish that?
The answer is simple, but hardly simplistic. We must first learn to practice stillness and centeredness before the contrast and chaos and noise arrive. If we are moving through life often feeling barraged with negative stimuli and experiencing the momentum of much that is unwanted, we usually are unable to slow down sufficiently to turn toward the direction of what is wanted. It’s like making a sharp turn driving at 80 miles per hour. It’s very challenging, quite dangerous, and if you drive a big car, you’re likely to tip over and roll. It won’t end well.
However, if we are practiced at calling on, and sitting with, serenity, we are more likely to recover it in the early stages of being triggered when the chaos visits. This is the purpose of daily meditation, contemplation, and breathing exercises. We practice finding and resting in quiet and stillness in order to recalibrate our energy. We can also experience these moments by paying attention to, and appreciating, when conditions make it easy for us to feel relaxed and focused–when the kids are quieter, when the dog is resting, when there is no dinner to prepare, and when the laundry isn’t screaming to be folded. We learn to be unconditional in our ability to self-regulate, and at the same time, we are able to see and feel and have gratitude for the moments when the conditions reflect back to us our inner stability.
One day last week, I was trying to help all three kids start their school day. They had Zoom meetings, work to do, and tests to take. As I stood in the kitchen, attempting to corral the cats, so to speak, one asked, “Can I have some eggs?” Another declared, “I’d like some tuna.” And another requested a smoothie. I took a breath, and said, “Sure,” frustrated not that they were hungry and wanted to eat, but rather, that our morning start felt like wading through a muddy, rain-soaked steeplechase course at Radnor Hunt in Wellies with no tread. We were slipping and sliding and could not get any traction to get to our destination.
And then it started. Each child, in a different part of the kitchen and family room, started humming a tune. Not the same tune, mind you. Three separate ones at high volumes that were anything but harmonious. The playful rogue cats image returns readily here.
For a moment I thought I might just lose my mind. Cacophonous noise on top of the already pear-shaped work schedule? Seriously? But then… I grabbed on to the tail of that cranky momentum and yanked it back. I gazed at my three children, each singing untethered and with joy, and my spirit joined them. I saw them and the whole scene for what it was–fun, a little wild, and free. This is the good stuff, I thought. This is what we get to experience at home on a Tuesday morning with our kids. In other words, I experienced, as Cynthia expresses, a “unified” “field of vision.” My restless “inner being” came “to rest.” And as a result my “inner peaceableness flow[ed] into…[my]…outer world [as] harmony and compassion.” I experienced clarity and calm and profound love.
The question before us right now isn’t, when will this all end? When will life get back to normal? The question, rather, is, what are we doing right now to be present to life with all its moving parts? To witness the messy living room, the kids’ loud music, the breakfast room table full of half-finished crafts, and even the periodic grumbles and complaints.
Yes, fellow mothers, we have a lot to do everyday. A lot. And yet, it is in this mix of frustration and ease, challenge and joy, that we can find purpose and meaning and clarity. Every experience is an invitation to evolve and consider more deeply who we are and who we want to be. To be a mother is to know, almost daily, the pain and the ecstasy of life. This is the ongoing journey of mothering.