I gotta say, I am grateful and humbled to have received such a supportive response from my last post. I have been feeling starved for connection and this amazing world gave me a nice syrupy dose of that yesterday in your comments and emails. Compared to the world in which I grew up, life now seems so much bigger and busier with little time to slow down, compare notes and share sympathies and strategies. I am realizing I need to make that time or space. My sanity demands it.
Today a dear friend came over for some girl time, something sadly rare in my life these days. Her daughter is 2 years younger than Cowgirl and we have gotten together somewhat regularly with the girls playing and us moms snatching moments of conversation while running after them. So it was a real treat to brew up a pot of tea and cozy up on the couch, just the two of us, to catch up.
Naturally, our conversation rolled around to the girls. And I was blown away when this amazing woman revealed her insecurities and misgivings about her mothering skills. I mean, this is a woman who always brings us the most thoughtful treats whenever we visit: flowers in a tiny vase; homemade cookies wrapped in a pastry box; notes typed on shipping cards; a handmade appliquéd and embroidered shirt for Cowgirl. Love is always in her details. And she is so gentle, always present and in tune with her munchkin of a daughter. So it got me wondering whether this phenomenon of Mothering Guilt is a perennial or a recent development?
I remember being shocked to realize so much of my early days as a mother were spent feeling incompetent. No one had warned me about that feeling. I asked my mother about this and she just laughed. I think she understood what I was going through, but it seems (and maybe I’m wrong) that she and her friends did not suffer or stress-out as much as we all do these days. Maybe this is just my perception, but it has gotten me thinking I want to find a way out of this guilt.
We live in a culture and an economy that requires we never feel good enough; that there is always something more we need to have, do, feel or be. And we run after it all, buying the hype that once we have “it”, then everything will fall into place. If I buy the right foods, cook the right meals, introduce my child to the right activities, read the right parenting books, choose the right schools … the list goes on and one. And of course, we are like a dog chasing its tail.
Thinking about all this “feeling bad about myself” as a mother, brings home why the message of Yoga is so vital to my present life. The foundational idea in Yoga is that we are Goodness, we are Whole, we are “Divine Beings who have become divinely human.” (A beautiful discussion of the Yoga Sutras – and the first to be written from a feminine perspective - was recently written by Nischala Joy Devi; I highly recommend it.) From the perspective of Yoga, we are already complete; we do not need to add anything to bring us into Wholeness. We are not the Lack that Modern advertising wants us to believe.
The second sutra of book one (there are 4 books or Padas in Patanjali’s Sutras; when referencing an individual sutra, the form is 1:2 meaning Pada one, second sutra or verse) states the essence or the goal of Yoga. Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah. A common translation is: Yoga is the control of thought-waves in the mind. In other words, we live most of our lives with this chatter going on and that chatter pretty much controls us. It rarely responds authentically to what is present. It is busy reacting out of fear, doubt, thoughts of the past or concerns about the future. There’s a lot of juicy material on this second sutra worth studying. And I find this true: when I get upset, lose my temper, act harshly with Cowgirl, usually my reactions are not based upon what she has said or done, but my fears around the issue. What will others think? Will this behavior cause her future pain and suffering in the world if it continues? Where did I go wrong? If I can learn to watch these thought waves arising, then I might have the space and time to catch myself blindly reacting and I can more skillfully choose my words and actions. Of course, this is no small feat!
And I’ve known all this and still I stumble repeatedly and feel pretty miserable about it. But when I read Devi’s interpretation of this sutra something clicked. She writes: “Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.” She goes on to discuss how the emphasis upon mind control can lead us to being overly harsh with ourselves, making the task more difficult. And I find it to be true that being harsh and controlling does not work with my mind nor is it effective when dealing with Cowgirl. It only makes her feel worse about her behavior and thwarts any real effort towards understanding and change.
The challenge then is to return to the source of my true self, my heart. The thoughts of my mind act like back seat drivers when it is my heart that needs to be in control of the steering wheel. “Consciousness abides in the heart, not the mind …. the heart responds more readily to tenderness, and gentle caring treatment of your consciousness is the best way to liberate it.” I strive to be tender and caring with my daughter, but have I been doing the same for myself? And if I am busy beating myself up, am I able to be a calm, strong, centered source of love and nurturance for my child? Things that make me go “hmmm.”
So this is a place to start. In those moments when I feel my face scrunch up with anger and ugliness, I first need to extend tenderness towards myself for landing in such an emotional pickle. No one else will do this for me. And I can feel my body relax, my emotions soften and the mud of my mind settling. Then the message of my heart can be heard and hopefully expressed to the world, rather than my words of frustration and pain. This is how I want to engage with my Cowgirl … from my heart, centered and whole. Yoga is a remembering of this Truth. There is no lack, we are not deficient or flawed; our problem is that we just keep forgetting. And if there is only one thing I can share with my daughter, it is this Truth.