When I was pregnant, I had this Hallmark card notion of Motherhood – the front cover picturing a smiling Mama perfectly groomed as she lovingly gazed down at her rosy-cheeked infant. Little did I anticipate what was in store for me.
At my daughter’s birth, I was terrified. My singular, independent life was murdered. I didn’t want her. I was exhausted from sleep deprivation, and felt chained to the breast pump and her. I was condemned to a life sentence of Motherhood.
I only breast fed her for three weeks. A burning yeast infection in both breasts was my ticket to freedom. I didn’t know who this tiny little creature was, and what she could possibly want or need from me with her mixed signals of high pitched cries and spontaneous smiles.
I’m not sure exactly when it was that I started to love her the messy way – prolonged hugs despite vomit and snots from illness and kisses full of saliva that drenched our clothes despite warm sunny days. I loved her as a novice mother did, my skin scratched and bruised from creating my own path and definition of Motherhood.
To make sense of difficult emotions like anger, fear, sadness, and shame which were my constant companions during the postpartum period, I turned to therapy. When therapy could not answer the following question, “How can I be present tosuch emotions with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness, without shame or judgment?”, I turned to the practices of mindfulness and compassion (especially self-compassion) for answers. I worked with a teacher and attended meditation retreats once or twice a year with my family’s blessing and support.
After years of meditation, yoga, writing, and communion with the Divine Mother (Mother Earth), a new voice began to emerge, replacing the old voice of constant criticism and judgment. I discovered an unconditional compassionate presence able to hold the weight of all my experiences without breaking. I no longer felt like an ugly caterpillar begging for the chrysalis stage so I could quickly transform into a beautiful butterfly. I understood that the road to heaven is sometimes paved with perceived pebble stones from hell.
Today, I still feel anger, fear, sadness, and shame. Sometimes the flashbacks from the postpartum period and my childhood are so strong, that I believe I am the ugly caterpillar destined to always be abandoned. Then I remember compassionate presence.
from The Voice
Take all the parts you thought
were broken, ugly, and unlovable,
all the pieces you are trying to
desperately glue back together like
Humpty Dumpty after a great fall.
The High Priestess is calling you
deep into the forest,
the cave of your being.
Eyes lit by flecks of fire,
hair intertwined with feathers and stone,
she lights candles casting eerie
shadows on walls and sprinkles
the sacred water of rivers
on your forehead and feet.
She dances around you to the
distant sounds of coyote and owl,
of hushed whispers through willow leaves
till the mosaic masterpiece of your life
is unveiled for observation, for appreciation.
No wound is too ugly or unworthy
in the light and space of her awareness.
All parts are necessary to
honor and heal the whole.
Over the years compassionate presence has taught me no wound is too ugly or unworthy in the light and space of mindful awareness. All parts are necessary to honor and heal the whole. These practices also ground me when my own daughter experiences big emotions like anger, fear, hurt, shame, etc. It’s as if I am a tree, anchored in the mud of her suffering with my branches close by to catch her when she falls, but not too close to entangle the unfolding of her process.
Psychologist and author Susan Stiffelman encourages parents to be the calm, confident “captains of the ship” in their children’s lives. There is no way I can navigate the turbulent and ever changing weather systems of my daughter’s emotions if I haven’t searched for the eye in the storms of my own experiences. Some days I’m surprised by my calm, and other days I’m shocked at the woman mindlessly yelling at her daughter, repeating the same phrases over and over again like an annoying echo. The practices of mindfulness and compassion grant me the permission to ‘notice what’s happening in the present moment with an openness, kindness, and willingness to be with what is.’ (Diana Winston, mindfulness teacher and author) It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been ranting and raving like a mad woman. Each and every moment unfolds like a new blossom in spring, offering fragrant petals of forgiveness, acceptance, and the chance to begin again.
If you are a mother interested and genuinely curious about mindfulness, compassion, or just meditation practice in general, but have some fears about exploring some unknown terrain, I want to reassure you that this is all perfectly NORMAL. Starting anything new can feel both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Rilke said, “Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves.” In the beginning, the questions with certainly outnumber answers like stars outnumber planets in the night sky. You might experience moments of joy, despair and everything in between. Depending on your particular area of interest in these practices, it helps to have a healthy support network: a teacher, sitting group, even online support if there are no teachers or sitting groups in your area. They help to normalize your experience and can offer useful suggestions when you are feeling stuck. If nothing else, they can help you laugh at the insanity of your mind (like all minds)!
Most of all trust your experience. As you continue to show up time after time for your experiences in an intentional and authentic way, you will definitely stretch the boundaries of your heart. Any place you travel that once felt alarming and unfamiliar will begin to feel like home.
Congratulations on taking the first step! Congratulations on your dedication and willingness to continue the journey if you have been practicing for some time! May you always honor and heal the whole of you. May your journey as a mother, as a woman and vital human being on this Earth, be blessed with love.
About the Author: Kaveri Patel is a poet, mother and family physician diving into each wave of experience to hear The Voice. She resides in northern California where she leads meditation and writing classes, retreats, and believes in gifts from the sea. She has previously published two books of poetry and a guided meditation CD. Her latest book of poetry, The Voice, was just published. Find out more about Kaveri and her work at www.wisdominwaves.com.