Tuesday, October 2
Remembering what we already know is, I think, a unique challenge of motherhood, and also the key to finding grace and ease in the midst of our difficult, ordinary, blessed days. Too often in my tenure as mama the wisdom I possess, my own strength and intelligence, were obscured, buried under a landslide of sleeplessness, confusion, anger. But just as the sun doesn't shine any less brightly for being covered by clouds, so, too, our deep inner wisdom is always available to us, even when it appears to be hidden and, therefore, non-existent. One tool I have consistently relied on, and found relief in, are mama mantras.
I didn't come up with this concept: in fact, there is a whole book dedicated to it, a book which I own, and is excellent. And working with slogans, or lojong, is a well-established Buddhist practice. But over the months I have come up with my own string of pith sayings and comforting utterances, gleaned from the writings of those teachers who keep me afloat--the usual suspects of Karen Maezen Miller, Pema Chodron, Mary Oliver. They do not necessarily speak exclusively to the life of a mama, but boy, they've pulled me out of the muck on many an occasion.
Here is a random sampling of favorites:
This moment is the perfect teacher This one currently graces the chalkboard in my kitchen. It serves to remind me that if I slow down, pause, and take notice, each moment I find myself in contains the exact teachings I need in order to wake up to my life. It's just a matter of allowing said moment to be exactly as it is, and of allowing myself to be exactly as I am in that moment.
Lower your standards, and relax as it is This is a favorite, from Pema Chodron, which I wrote about before. If motherhood had a theme song, this would be it for me. To expect less of myself, of others, of circumstances, and to allow things to be just as they are--that is the secret to fully inhabiting the moments of my life, and to look around with the eyes of love.
Remember to pause I will never find the peace I am looking for in the moment if I do not slow down to realize it is already there. But the frenetic pace of our busyness is so seductive! There is an almost irresistible urge to hurl ourselves headlong into whatever difficulty lies ahead, as if by speeding up, we can hurry through the tough parts, as though we were fast-forwarding the scary parts of the movie. But this moment it all we ever have, and if we can let it, it has a lot to teach us. (See above.) Also, by remembering to pause, we give ourselves a chance to breathe, to relax, and to start over.
This is it This one from Jon Kabat-Zinn. "When we let go of wanting something else to happen in this moment, we take a profound step towards being able to encounter what is here now." I have no other life than this one. Furthermore, I don't want another life--I love my family, my home, my friends, my work. Too often though, I find myself wishing for another moment, for another reality. This mantra reminds me that I am right where I need to be, and that there is nowhere to escape to. Better to abide deeply in what already is.
I can stand this This one comes our of Mommy Mantras, and has helped me on more than one occasion. How often have I found myself saying or thinking, "I can't stand this", or "I can't do this"? Recalling this mantra, changing my self-talk from negative to positive, has reminded me again and again that I have the wisdom and strength I need to rise to the challenge of the moment. As it turns out, almost every time, I can stand it, and I'm already doing it.
The main way I like to use these mantras is to write them down, over and over and over, in my regular journal or small Moleskine, or somewhere I can see them, like on my kitchen blackboard. Writing is the best way I know to commit something to memory, to learn it by heart, and therefore to have it available and ready when I need it to be.
Certain favorite poems serve a similar purpose--this is why I rarely go more than a few days without re-reading some favorite lines by Mary Oliver, whose words "to pay attention, that is our endless and proper work" is my life's mission statement and main anthem. And a whole separate post could be devoted to songs that have that same effect: to pull me out of my misery, recall me to myself, and point me to something brighter.
But wherever they might come from, this remains true: words are magic, words bring comfort, and words remind me of what I already know, so that I can carry on. And on, and on, and on.
Do you have mantras, cherished sayings, worn lines of poetry that serve a similar purpose for you? What is the theme song of your life? I'd love for you to share in the comments.