In the months after giving birth to my daughter, I often lamented that I didn’t have time for traditional spiritual practice. Between nursing, changing, bathing, laundry, dishes and keeping up with my job, spiritual practice has slipped out of my life. Most days, I wonder how I’ll ever find the time to sit quietly, go on retreat, or work with a spiritual teacher. Other parents assured me that it would get easier to find time for myself as my daughter got older and gained her independence. But nearly a year has passed and I can sense that my pre-parenthood spiritual life is nowhere in sight.
What to do?
For over a decade, my spiritual role models were people who skipped town to go to India to find a teacher, people who took the monk’s vows or who found a spiritual community in which they felt at home. As such, my definition of spirituality has always been rooted in silence, contemplative practice and withdrawal from the world. But my life today, and everyday since giving birth to Ayla, has been just the opposite: It is loud, from the sound of laughter and tears; It is a whirlwind of activity, at a faster pace than I have ever experienced before; and It forces me to be completely attentive to another person’s needs, all day and all night, with no respite.
A few month ago, I asked myself if parenting was, or could be, a Spiritual Path, even though it looked and sounded and felt so different from the path of Jesus, the Buddha, Mohamed, Krishnamurti and so many of the dominant spiritual teachers who guide seekers in the West?
The answer, I hope, is yes. And now I’m experimenting with this alternate path, the Path of Parenthood. As I delve more deeply into this Path, I can see how the seeds of each spiritual practice are the same, but the expressions of each practice, look very different from what I have been taught and learned to practice.
For example, instead of a morning meditation, I’ve learned to meditate in short bursts, throughout the day. I meditate while I’m nursing my daughter. I’ve learned that she falls asleep more quickly when my body and mind are still. Now, when I inhale and exhale deeply, it signals “sleepytime” to Ayla. With each breath, I surrender into stillness and she too relaxes, and eventually embraces sleep.
During my challenging moments, when I feel my body tensing up and enormous frustration building, I go “on retreat.” I might steal away and sit on the toilet, or watch a kettle boiling on the stove. During these stolen minutes, I’ll breathe deeply, still my mind, remind myself that this too will pass.
Mommy (or Daddy) meditation—as I’ve named it—has become a regular practice for me as a work-at-home mother. I sit more frequently now that I’m a parent, but for shorter periods of time. And I’m rarely seated while meditating—I’m more likely to be walking, lying down or standing up. Interestingly, the mechanics of my practice are the same—pause, breathe, go inside, quiet the mental chatter and so forth. The difference with Mommy Meditation is largely external. I used to look like I was meditating while sitting—now, it is hard to tell whether I’m changing a diaper or immersed in meditation.
There are other differences too. Meditation used to feel like a luxury. Something I longed to do because it made living better and more joyful. Now I meditate out of necessity. I need to tap into the universal love and energy in order to sustain me, and my child, during a typical day.
Does this post resonate with other parents who are spiritual seekers but have had trouble bridging their pre-parent spirituality with their lives with children? How are you adapting prayer, meditation and contemplation with your role as a mother or father?