There's a Buddhist ideology that I've seen present in a few of the contemplative traditions I've practiced. That is that all beings have at one time or other been my mother. This of course assumes reincarnation (to put it simply), but this post is not about religious debates. It's about being a mother. What it also presents in this ideology is that I have in turn also been every other being's mother. Whether the wise master that coined these "all mothers" phrases meant it literally or not, the message is clear: All and everything in the world deserves compassion and love, and there is no other love like a mother's.
Last week, I was talking to a friend of mine who is experiencing some strong challenges in her relationship with her male partner. It seems that these problems of hers are born out of neither partner taking enough care of the other. They are certainly not treating the other as if she has given him life, nor is there any beloved nursling. In our conversation, my mind traipsed into the land of emotional care-taking and I was reminded that what all of our relationships need is intimately connected to those Buddhist ideas (not inherently Buddhist, I'd assert, but that's where I'm coming from personally).
I'm not talking about co-dependence or no-fault acceptance of all actions. But I am noticing that when my heart is soft and open, like when I'm gazing at my nursing daughter, all my relationships are more in harmony. All of them.
Everyone needs a mother.
We needed (and had) a mother to come into this world physically. We needed someone "mothering" us to grow and thrive, even if that wasn't our biological mother or maybe it was someone that was in addition to her. As an adult, those moments of care from another that could still be characterized as being "mothered" are ones I cherish. That gentle, loving care that most mothers offer their children small and tall alike feeds us deeply. I think we are lucky that we have such huge capacities as humans to extend to each other, and thus give as a mother may give, blood ties or no.
I remember a friend once came and did gentle, soothing bodywork on me after a debilitating car accident and in those two hours, I felt deeply mothered - held emotionally, cared for, unguarded, relaxed and embarrassed about nothing.
Being mothered is in the small things, too. When my partner softens his face and rubs my back in response to a moment (or extended tirade) of despair or frustration, he is mothering me.
Even my daughter, who gently wiped a few tears off of my face last week and then looked at me softly while she held my face, can mother me. Strangers who help with my shopping cart or offer me a seat on the metro - they are my momentary "mothers".
Being mothered; is a beautiful gift. Being a mother; is a tremendous gift to ourselves as well.
Biology notwithstanding, I think perhaps our freedom to give unabashedly to our children goes far to help make our bond with our children so strong. That giving, that overflowing generosity moment by moment, is renewing.
The acts of giving may tire me at times (okay, I'm sort of always tired), but in my experience, nothing has been so nourishing as mothering another. That other is not only my daughter. When I give unencumbered to another, I feel blessed. Really. I feel the blessing of sharing and of passing the love. Is that entirely too corny? Okay, call me Mama Corndog, then.
There is no other place where I feel this blessing so strong as when I mother someone (my daughter, my partner, a stranger) when I feel wronged in some way. To feel criticized or ill-treated by someone I love and still choose to offer generosity - seeing them as a person in need of love (as we all are, and not in a diminishing, patronizing way) - is beyond fabulous. So lately, I've been wondering...
What if I treated everyone in my life as if I were their mother?
Of course, I'm not going to baby talk to you all, cut up your food, and spit-clean your faces.
But what if I set my heart to extend the same loving kindness that I do to my daughter?
The same patience I pull from my bones when she's yelling and throwing things?
The same natural flow of keeping her needs in mind even when there's something else I want for myself?
Maybe I'm setting myself up for failing at being an enlightened human. It wouldn't be the first time. This time, though, there's something sticky and stay-worthy about this idea as it rattles around my head and heart. This, held hand in hand with watching all the desires to be perfect (at anything, not just motherhood, heaven help me) spin down the dirty dishwater drain, may be my best go yet at embodying compassion (another Buddhist buzz phrase I little understood before giving birth).
I'll take a little license here and say that I think gentle parenting, babywearing, and the gamut are reflections of this mothering all idea. Freedom. Together.
We all have the freedom to do whatever we want in this world. But we're also all in this together. Maybe we're togethering?
Okay, I digress, and this really isn't just about me and my inspiration of the moment. However, being a mother has changed me. My capacity to love others just may have blown wide open... starting with one little girl. Her name is Violeta and she inspires me to be a better person.
Maybe those Buddhists were right to use motherhood as the example of true love. It sure rings true for me.