Thursday, January 19

be the empty cup

Oh, the things I didn't know.

Being a yoga teacher, I pride myself somewhat on having a good knowledge of my body. Without looking down, I know when my feet are parallel to each other, and when they're not. Without the help of a mirror, I know when I am holding my spine straight and strong and in line with the earth. I know what poses, what stretches I need to do to unwind certain knots in my upper back, to ease some tightness in my hips. Being a prenatal yoga teacher, I thought I was heading into pregnancy a little bit ahead of the pack because of all the fancy knowledge I had about a pregnant woman's body.

(Are you laughing yet?)

I didn't know. Not a single blessed thing.

After my dream of a water birth at home took shape as the reality of a C-section, after I spent days sitting cross-legged on a hospital bed, awkwardly trying to get a sleepy newborn to latch and nurse, my hips hurt. A lot. With my fancy yoga teacher brain I figured, My hip flexors are tight from all this sitting! So I would get up, and do very gentle stretches for the front of my hips. It, of course, didn't help. The nurses would ask me, Are you having any pain? I would say, Not really, but my hips are tight. Until, one night, a nurse commented on how I was taking very little pain medication. So I explained about how there was very little pain where I expected there to be some, around my belly, and how my hips were tight. "That's the pain," she said. What I was feeling, she told me, were bubbles of air trapped in my body after the operation. I was having gas. In my hips. What!? She upped my meds, she gave me Gas-X, and I felt better. She will be my angel forever. She healed me; she woke me up.

After my dream of co-sleeping and nursing my sweet babe forever and ever turned into the reality of no sleeping, for anyone,  I was screaming and scared and trying not to think the horrible dark violent thoughts that were pressing into my brain. I thought I was a terrible mother, a terrible person, I thought I would die for sure. No matter how little I slept, when I got up I was functioning. I could dress myself and the baby without stumbling (though not without cursing) and pretty much go through my day without the deep fog I thought sleep deprived mamas were shrouded in. Many months went by, and then he slept. Through the night. For several nights. And then black heavy clouds lifted from my shoulders, the sun broke through, and I saw clearly: I am not a terrible mother. I was a sleep-deprived mother. (Duh, right?) I thought sleep deprivation would forever be like getting up at 3am to catch a flight, when you can barely remember your pants or your name or how to make coffee. I didn't imagine that you could adapt to sleeplessness, and basically carry on with your days, although without the benefit of deeper functions like patience, joy, hope.

When we think we know, we don't.

There is a classic Zen story that goes like this: an eager, learned student shows up to study with the master. He knows so much about Zen, so he thinks he'll be an awesome student. The master invites him for tea. He begins pouring tea into the student's cup, pours to overflowing, and keeps pouring and pouring, tea all over everything, flowing everywhere. What are you doing! cries the student. Can't you see the cup is already full? The cup is your mind, the master tells him. If it's already full, how do you expect to be able to acquire knowledge?

When we think we know, we don't. Better to be the empty cup, open and ready to receive.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. 
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. ” 
                             -Shunryu Suzuki

Motherhood makes beginners of all of us. May we be open and willing to learn.


  1. I finally have to comment on your blog; we have so much in common that I can't NOT comment. I've been reading you, off and on, for several months now; I found you through Karen Maezen Miller's Facebook page (I think, or maybe her blog?). I'm a new mama, too, and struggling at pretty much everything: sleepless nights, an unfinished novel, an evaporated sitting practice, changes in my marriage after the birth of a child, learning how to be a goes on and on. But I am also filled with love for my almost-five-month-old son; it's all a jumble in there. I just have to tell you how encouraged and inspired and just *lifted* I am by reading your words. They make me feel less crazy and less alone. And you remind me of all the good things about motherhood, and that it's okay to not know. It's okay to struggle. I don't know if any of this is making sense, but I just had to say thank you. And please keep writing. Maybe write a book.

    1. hey Amy. Doing some work on blog archives and read your comment again today. I just wanted to say again how much your words meant to me, and still do. Thanks for reaching out. Hope you're doing well. Would love to know how you're doing.


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