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Motherhood and Dharma – The Rocky Road To Wisdom

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I’m sitting in bed right now, listening to my sleeping son breathing.

He’s right where he belongs this night. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, there’s a crazy eclipse occurring, and I am wide AWAKE. So I’m thinking about him and the connection I have with both my children. I’m not sure if or when the intensity of that connection will ever change – they are truly part of my heart. I feel what they feel on gross and subtle levels, and when they ask me what my greatest fear is, it’s always the fear of them suffering. This exchange mothers have with their children is so profound and precious. That intuitive connection, when we are present and authentic, is beyond words. A mother simply knows. This precious exchange is sabotaged constantly with my own lack of presence and awareness. And that’s ok – motherhood really hasn’t been a breeze…

I think the stories we can create as young girls fill us with hope and infinite potential. The reality of being responsible for the safety, well-being, comfort, health, happiness, education, life of another human being can only be understood through direct experience! As a fledgling dharma practitioner I chose with purpose and intention to try to bring good people into this world. I really wished for them to make strong connections with my Teachers. I never dreamed they would blast my own world apart and cause me to look so deeply into myself that enormous transformation was inevitable – unavoidable. What terrifying messengers they are.

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When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was happier than I’d ever been – so full of joy, as if I had a rainbow inside. Something far greater than ‘me’ was moving in.

I still clearly remember her scent, and the warmth of her soft, wrinkled skin. The first moment I laid eyes on her I felt a real sense of fear, yet a profound sense of purpose. I was responsible for her life. I loved her so deeply, and I prayed that I could some day love all beings like this. The following months whilst I battled post-natal depression were beyond imagining. One of my best friends had just completed a three year retreat and was staying with us –  my daughter has always had a knack for surrounding herself with the right people at the right time. I was utterly depressed, anxious and afraid. My friend was a strength I really needed when I was not sure I could manage. She was practical and simply loving. That particular state of mind is so completely irrational. You have no idea where it comes from and no way of controlling it. Eventually I swallowed my enormous pride and faced it head on. This terrifying experience became fertile ground for transformation as some tiny seed of dharma that had been planted in my mind found its way into the light. One of those times when I consciously decided, quite willfully, that I was going to change. It helped me develop compassion and understanding for other mothers which I genuinely lacked. It abolished a presumption I had somehow established about the “right way” to do things. It sent me hurtling down from a very high mountain of pride. A huge fire burnt through my world. I had to let go. So, humbled and completely shattered, like the survivor of some apocalypse, I found fresh mind.

Beautiful wisdom Dakini, her terrifying power will not be contained.
She is space, utterly pure and radiant.

kelly-kids-6My son came four years later, into a body and mind slightly more prepared and realistic, or so I thought. I wondered how I could possibly love anyone else as much as I loved my daughter. But it seems a mother’s love is infinite and I fell head over heels with this little boy. Pema was not impressed with this new love of my life and I failed miserably at soothing her jealousy and fear. I’m slightly more conscious now – as years of perfect wisdom from my teachers have poured into this cracked vessel, somehow I have managed to catch a few drops and been wise enough to drink. As they develop and grow I have to constantly adapt, and there is this natural intuitive response, directly from the heart, that just knows. Not all the time of course because ego is always presuming and manipulating my position into a more comfortable place. I guess what I’m finally understanding though is that there is no right or perfect way to do this thing called motherhood. If I hadn’t had such deeply confronting and terrifying experiences I wouldn’t be where I am now – much more present with them, much more patient, kind, and loving without grasping and smothering. I like to watch them become who they are and I’m overwhelmed when I see the enormous influence I am in their choices and behaviour. It’s very confronting! Children are so highly intuitive there really is nowhere to hide, and if we lack inner-strength and conviction in our own actions and words they lose their ground, their main reference point. But we have to have compassion for ourselves when we do. I can see quite objectively an enormous transformation in myself, and two astoundingly intelligent, wise and wonderful children who question their world and continue to challenge me daily. This path is completely unpredictable, totally incomprehensible, utterly ineffable, and yet somehow it is always there once the connection has been made. Motherhood is this wonderful Bodhisattva activity often used as an analogy for our own mind-training, and I didn’t truly comprehend this until I experienced it. It is such a precious gift despite all the hardships and challenges and moments where baby really might have gone out with the bath water!

As I move into the teenage years with my daughter I feel the dharma really taking over in my actions and words. The world is a mess and we as mothers are venturing into seriously unchartered waters. But as I relax a little more I’m reminded why I wanted to have children in the first place – to bring good people into this world of strife. This is a time when I need to be her friend, to put my own views and preferences aside (which I really struggle with sometimes!) and watch her grow. I need to find that balance between healthy discipline and just letting go. Here’s where I’m so grateful for the Dharma. The Dharma is simple, ethical and irrefutable. I can use it skilfully and they don’t even know! Well, my daughter does think I’m a bit of a weird hippie who talks to crows and hangs out with even weirder people, but at least it gives her something to rebel against..

Empathy, mindfulness, compassion, sympathetic joy, playfulness, forgiveness, patience, humour, tenderness, discipline, gentleness… It’s like providing the paints for their expression on a canvas unique to them. What they do with those colours is their choice. Right now we’re going through some incredibly difficult and challenging stuff, really the hardest period of my life, and all I have to offer them is this sanity we all have in our own hearts.

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Motherhood is a precious gift, despite the apparent sacrifices we make at many points along the way. As a dharma practitioner, in this life, it has taught me more about myself than I could ever have imagined. Children are so free and we seem to want to control them and mould them into mini versions of us. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, the flaw is in ourselves in that we cannot see their own Buddha nature. So we label their responses and curb their behaviour to fit into our own ever-changing, unreliable world view. But there’s magic and mischief to be had. A young mind is so beautiful, so fresh, so new in every moment. And once stubbornness and pride begin to be shaken out of mind like dust from a rug, there’s the beautiful realization that my children can and do teach me so much, if I have the sense to learn from them. And any positive influence I do assert is entirely due to my own Teachers’ immeasurable kindness, for without their wisdom & compassion I would be completely lost.

Dakini
You are the welcome breeze
that sweeps through my mind
eliminating clutter
allowing space to rise victorious, unstained.
I am awake again!

~ Kelly, mother to Pema and Tashi

Sydney, Australia

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