Why Jesus was a Man
I am a spiritual seeker. I am a mother. Are the two mutually exclusive? Can I be on the “path” to enlightenment and still yell at my kids for practically beating each other up on a daily basis? How do I approach such behavior from an enlightened standpoint? What is the purpose of it all? How much of their behavior is due to my influence and how much is just due to their karmic inheritance?
I spend my day juxtaposing my domestic mom duties with trying to fit in my own creative pursuits and spiritual exploration. Sometimes these efforts seem extremely mutually exclusive. I remember God when I remember to remember God. The rest of the time I fall back into survival mode.
I hear it everywhere I go: mothers discussing the topic of finding balance. In the cafes, on the playgrounds, and at the nursery, I hear and participate in conversation after conversation about how to strike the balance between motherhood and “me.” It is not an easy balance to strike. Our children have many needs that out-trump ours. My emotional needs can seem frivolous next to the need to feed and clothe a helpless infant.
At first, our needs don’t seem to matter so much. Tiny infants are so helpless, fragile and vulnerable that it is easy to set our needs aside. We look into their tiny faces and see a miracle. It doesn’t take long before the sleepless nights start to take their toll. If only it were the exhaustion, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it’s not. Having children does not take away all the other aspects of our lives. We still have houses to run, other children to look after, and a whole range of other commitments and responsibilities that eat into our stores of time and patience.
It does not take long for our relationships with our children to become rather complicated affairs. Our children can bring out the best and the worst in us. We love and cherish them. We eat, sleep and breathe for them. We would gladly lay down our lives for them. Their safety and wellbeing is our main concern. They make us laugh. They make us proud.
They also can bring out the devil inside us. They can frustrate, confound, and anger us. They are on their own schedule and it’s often about six or seven paces behind ours (if not more!). My oldest boy, William, can and does do things that he knows full well he should not do. He will even inform me while he is doing them. He will call out, “Mommy, I’m drawing on this wall,” “Mommy, I’m pouring water all over the bathroom floor,” or “Mommy, I’m carrying Oliver over here to the other side of the room (even though I’m a little three-year-old and he’s a big one-year-old).”
His honesty is admirable. If I walk into the room and Oliver is crying, William is quick to say, “It was me” or “It wasn’t me.” Either way, I know he is telling the truth. Knowing that he is testing his boundaries in a loving and safe environment doesn’t make it any less frustrating or upsetting for me.
I can do a lot, but I cannot step inside their bodies and make them do what I want or need at any given moment. I cannot make Oliver sit next to William and stay there just because William wants him to. William just cannot understand why Oliver does not immediately follow his every command. Then he turns to me to make it happen. Sorry, William, does Oliver look like he comes with strings? My children do not yet understand that I am not God, or rather a puppeteer.
It’s not any different with Oliver. I cannot make my breasts available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if that is his bidding. I cannot hold him like he wants and make the stir-fry. I have to tell Oliver that he is going to have to remain unhappy for a minute or two (or more) because I am in the middle of something or have to take care of something that can’t wait.
Where is the Divine in all this? Does God exist in the stir-fry? Can I find the peace of God even as my child cries desperately because I am not meeting his demands? I believe that ultimately the answer to that question is yes, but I’m still reading the books that tell me how to get there. Mothering very young children with a steady flow of patience and calm is a rare ability, but one I attempt to strive for every day. However, my patience is tested time and time again. Sometimes, by the end of the day I am so frazzled I can hardly speak without hearing my voice crack as I fight back the tears.
Children may come into the world making us happy, but before long they are making us happy, sad and a whole slew of emotions in between. However, I believe that they do not come into this world in order to make us happy or sad. It is we who do that for ourselves. Rather, children come into this world to start living their own lives from day one.
How do we strike a balance between our expectations and their innate personalities? How do we strike a balance between their wants and needs and a mother’s wants and needs? As mothers, it is often our natural instinct to put our own needs aside and focus solely on our children. Then we wonder why we feel so burnt-out. Or do we wonder? Are we surprised when we fall apart?
Is a modicum of balance even possible when you have small children running around your feet, tugging at your pant legs? There is a reason why Jesus Christ was a man. And Buddha. And Krishna, and Muhammad, and the Dalai Lama. Correct me if I am wrong, but the great avatars of history all seem to be men. How easy it must be to reach enlightenment if you don’t have little lungs screaming at you from the next room. I often think of those Tibetan monks in their mountaintop monasteries, meditating and chanting from sunup to sundown. It is no wonder they are wise and enlightened beings. They have it easy.
I would like to see one of them come and trade places with me for a day and see how much inner peace he has retained after 12 hours of ninja fighting with a three-year-old while picking up and putting down a one–year-old about 57 million times. My guess is that it would take about four weeks back at the monastery to fully recover from his one day with my two little angels. However, I have read enough self-help books to know that there is never going to be any balance in my life – not lasting balance, at any rate – as long as I see my children as impediments to personal growth.
I have them. I wanted them. I chose them and they chose me. That is what I have come to believe. We are in this together. We are wrapped up in a karmic dance and we will continue to play out the roles we came here to play out. Buttons pushed are opportunities to learn, to grow, and to transcend what has previously brought us to our knees. However, remembering that in the heat of the moment is entirely another thing, which is why it helps enormously to have some time set aside each day for reflecting, writing, meditating, and giving all the frustrations and struggles over to God. And then, like the turtle who eventually won the race, we realize that we are indeed conquering all that has previously held us back. Well, that is the intention anyway.
William may purposely do naughty things sometimes, but he’s not doing them in order to make my life a living hell. Or is he? He is motivated by a complex set of conditions that I cannot even begin to fully understand or articulate. How much of what he does is for attention? How much is motivated by sheer impulse? How much is just karmic inheritance, against which I can do absolutely nothing? It is not up to me to dissect the motivations behind what I perceive to be negative behaviors. Rather, it is up to me to choose time and time again how I will react to them. This is always my choice. My fallback reaction is often to yell very loudly. This has not proved overly effective. And so, perhaps William’s spirit is saying, “Try another way.” My responses to his outbursts may have limited effect, but I must continue to do the best that I can at any given moment. Then, I must remember to remember to give all things over to God.
If I am going to make this “balance” thing work at all, I have to do it in tandem with my children and the day-to-day demands of motherhood. Just because they may seem like obstacles to my inner peace does not mean they are. Ultimately, the level of inner peace I feel in any given moment is a choice. How can that be so? Oliver just dumped a bag of sesame seeds in the foyer and scribbled all over the stairs with an orange marker while I was focusing my attention on an important phone call. Breathe, Leta, breathe. What else can I do?
I was not born a man. I am a woman. I am a mother. I do not live in a monastery. I live in a big, noisy city. I am bombarded on a daily basis with a thousand and one things that tell me who I should be and what I should be doing. None of these conditions, however, means that I do not have all the tools at my disposal to make my life work for me in a way that brings me happiness and fulfillment – at least most of the time.
I am on a journey. So are my children. It is the same journey for a while, but not forever. And it is a journey, not an end goal. How can I ensure I do the least amount of damage before they head out into the big, wide world on their own? The issues I have are mine and are not necessarily things I want to pass down to my children. They learn by example. What will they remember about me when they are adults? Will they remember the yelling? Spiritual growth is having the courage to examine oneself and where one came from, and then developing new strategies for living that serve us better. We can wallow in the frustration and chaos (which I often do) and grasp for moments of pleasure, or we can search within ourselves to remove the obstacles that keep peace and happiness at bay.
Such endeavors do not illicit overnight results. Perhaps it truly is impossible to live a life of enlightened bliss while rearing the very young. That does not mean, however, that we cannot strive to be the best we know how to be every day of our lives. Even while sitting on the toilet and peeing, we can take a moment to remember to remember to surrender everything over to God. Sometimes there is simply no way to survive other than to surrender.
I do search for meaning, everyday. All of this self-reflection has to take place around my children – those beautiful, wonderful, exquisite bundles of joy. I have to create and then incorporate daily rituals into my life that bring me back to my center. Rituals, mantras, and affirmations – they all serve to take me outside of the drama happening all around me and to refocus my attention where it really counts, within. I can be a victim of external forces or I can be the champion of my own inner domain. I continually strive to choose the latter, and I succeed only sometimes.
I may not be a monk in a monastery, but I would not and could not ever reach any level or depth of “enlightenment” without the help of my children along the way. Despite my shortcomings and theirs, I am grateful for their presence in my life. They make me a better person. They demand it of me. In a nonverbal and very spiritual way, their presence in my life challenges me to either face my obstacles to joy or accept a life of fatigue sprinkled with intermittent moments of happiness. It is my own internal desire to be at peace that drives me to look inward, but their antics are the fodder for my daily conversations with the Spirit.
The attitudes I have about life are going to make a lasting impression on my children. I want those lasting impressions to tip to the positive and not the negative. If I have lost touch with my purpose, then I need to stop what I am doing and listen for a while (however long it takes) until I start seeing more in my life to be thankful for than to dread. I want to consciously contribute love and joy. To do this, I need to foster those attitudes within myself. Therein lays the key to true happiness, a happiness that is at the core of one’s soul and not transitory or fleeting.
We often think of ‘happiness’ in terms of a distraction – something that distracts us for a little while from the daily rigors of life. The implication is that those daily rigors are not fun and are not reasons in themselves for happiness. By this definition, if something is making me happy, I am denying (at least momentarily) other aspects of my life that do not make me happy. Happiness is something that happens to us and is not something that comes from within us.
We are either waiting for things to make us happy or waiting for things to make us unhappy. We try to control our lives and the lives of our children so that the balance is tipped in favor of being happy. Then we feel overwhelmed and out of control when the balance is tipped the other way.
What if happiness were something that could come from within rather than through distraction and looking outward? Is it possible that I could be genuinely happy all the time? I want this for myself, because it means that I wouldn’t have to deny any aspect of my life in order to be happy. I want to get to a place where I can embrace everything about modern motherhood – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Our children make us happy some of the time, but other times they frustrate us, embarrass us, make us angry, and so on. It is unfair to expect them (or anyone external to us) to make us happy. Only we can do that for ourselves. If our children sense that it is up to them to bring us happiness, they will either rebel against the pressure or spend a lifetime feeling guilty for having needs of their own.
The key for me is creativity. To feel alive, I need to feel like I can be creative. I believe that motherhood can be creative, but all too often we don’t know how to make it so. My need for a creative outlet, my preoccupation with motherhood (and all that it entails), and my desire to work on myself and overcome some of my deeply ingrained insecurities have led me to write this book.