Motherhood as the Path to Enlightenment
“Love children especially for they too are sinless like angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky
There are many paths to enlightenment. Some people sit their butt on a cushion and meditate, learning to understand how their mind works. Others join a monastic order and take vows. Some go into months-long retreats.
I did not choose one of those paths to enlightenment. In fact, I did not choose my path at all; it chose me. My path to enlightenment began the moment I heard my son’s first cry. I did not know that I had just given birth to my guru, much as the Madonna gave birth to her savior. I only saw this beautiful, slightly blue baby with a misshapen head and thought “My life will never be the same.” What changed that day was not only the direction of my life, but the path that I was destined to take toward wholeness — wholeness that I did not know I didn’t possess.
To become enlightened, we have to set aside our small sense of self, otherwise known as “ego”. When I had my children, I did not recognize my need for enlightenment. I thought I was the one who was going to educate them, giving them insight and understanding into how to “do Life.” Little did I know that it was me that needed that insight. They came not to be taught, but to be the teachers.
Awakening is painful because it means we loosen our grip on our perception of who we are. As we begin to see what is real, versus what is created by our ego’s need for self-protection, we come closer to wholeness. Many people never learn to untangle their ego from their authentic self. I had no choice. No one had prepared me for the way my children would work their way into my heart and split open the hard shell that had been covering it.
My children were little Zen masters, pointing me toward myself, asking me to see myself in a way that has been sometimes painful, but always freeing. From each one I learned lessons that I needed in order to find my way back to what is real within me. I have learned, slowly, to shed the defensive walls I had built around myself.
When my son was a little guy of about 4, one day he and I were out putting a fresh coat of paint on the shed. He was painting silently with a pensive look on his four-year-old face. With a big paintbrush in his hand he was making slow, steady strokes back and forth on the side of the shed.
Suddenly, with an emphatic tone, he said, “So much.” I could tell this was a thought that was a precursor to something important, so I looked over at him and waited. He turned to me and said, almost dreamily, “So much to learn about in this world, isn’t there, Mommy?”
He has never been more right. I did have so much to learn about, and he and his sisters would be the ones to teach me.
Henry Ward Beecher, a nineteenth century reformer and clergyman, said “A mother’s heart is a child’s classroom.”
This may be true, but it is also true that a child’s spirit is a mother’s classroom. It is because my children came into the world that I have become the person I am today. They came to lead me, guide me, teach me and wake me up. If I have any measure of enlightenment today, it is because they took this job seriously. They came into my life with the express purpose of cracking me open, enabling me to shed any idea I ever had about who I am and who I was meant to be.
My children are 27, 31 and 34 as I write this. They are still teaching me. I will be forever grateful to them for leading me into the light.