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Your Child is a Guru

“Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to Love”

~Virgil, Roman poet and mythologist

Child as teacher

A little over a year ago I culminated the journey of the Maiden and underwent the rite of passage that delivered me onto the path of motherhood. After 51 hours of labour I became the Mother, gifted with a baby boy who was healthy and bright and filled with magic. As all babies are.

This amazing passage was followed by dazed weeks of cuddling, waking, admiring and crying. Yes, crying. Sometimes I wept for joy and awe, sometimes for anger and confusion. There were so many questions, some related to baby, but many related to me. Okay, how do you get bright yellow poop out of crisp white fabric diapers? And, more importantly, WHEN DO I GET MY LIFE BACK?!?!?!

That was it, in a nutshell. Yep, spot the crafty, travelin’ hippie chick, now feeling saddled to a grindstone with no release in sight. No more writing, no more knitting, no more hiking…my life must be over now. Right?

My pregnancy had been all happy, it had been as “Ohm on a Mountaintop” as I could make it. But that was back when I had some control over my own days. This changed once my new baby was actually out of the womb and into the world. Since his arrival, my Motherhood was fast becoming a bit more of a “Silent Tears in the Bathtub” kind of journey. Not very happy at all.

I really thought this parenting thing would be all fun; kids laughing, everyone cooking together, playing hide-n-seek, decorating Christmas trees and reading bedtime stories. I never imagined a 6-month-old screaming bloody blue murder and tugging on my pant leg with snot streaming down their face while I tried, desperately, to make some darned oatmeal. “Am I am failure?” I would wonder. “Do my more pure, attachment parenting friends have clingy, angry babies too? Why can’t he just be humming in a corner, playing with his Ganesha statue or sit calmly and listen to my chant music? I mean, come on! This isn’t how it works, is it?”

Well that’s the truth of it. Babies are people too. They have personalities. They have moods. They have needs and wants and preferences. And they change as they get older. We are all human. Some days we are giggles and fairy tales, other days we are food throwing and temper tantrums. It is what it is.

Now, I wasn’t so much regretting my decision to have a child. We definitely wanted him in our lives, he had been planned and worked for. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was finding my way on this new and surprisingly more complicated path and not being able to find my own inner peace with all the changes. What I wanted was to make peace with parenthood, to not be afraid of it or overwhelmed by it, to be a better parent than had been passed down in previous generations of my and my husband’s families. But I also wanted to still be “me.” I guess you could say that I wanted to be a good parent to all of us, my son, my husband and myself.

But what to do with the tragic, shell-shocked, overwhelmed feelings that were dominating my days? I couldn’t ignore the truth of what I was feeling.

What I had to do was to go back to my base, which for me is always spiritual awareness. The spirit is always free and empowered and optimistic. So, I practiced quieting myself, over many days, taking a few minutes each day to listen within. And eventually my guides, or guardians, spoke, gently and clearly. They reminded me that I (my spirit) and my son (his spirit) had chosen each other as companions. We had chosen this journey of learning together and we had chosen this time and this place to meet up. And neither one of us existed in a bubble. We were to learn from each other. That meant that I am his parent/protector/teacher and that he is my spiritual teacher as well — my Guru. Our life together was to be the temple, or Ashram, of the Guru and it was therefore a sacred place of dedication and spiritual community.

In light of this message from my guides, I began to pause in my moments of anger and frustration to step outside of the moment and look at our relationship, that of Mother and Son, but also of Guru and devotee. “How can I honor my Guru, my teacher, the divine Source and our sacred community in this moment?” I would ponder. And, over the following weeks, I came to understand that letting my tension and worry dissipate, singing happily at our spiritual connection to one another and doing what he needed most in that moment to comfort him or teach him, with true love and compassion and without any resentment or animosity, was my divine service to him, my “seva” within our sacred Ashram.

Seva, or selfless service, is the spiritual practice of doing something that benefits others and doing so without any expectation of recognition or reward. Seva is done to honor the relationship of God with all things, to honour the essence of God/Goddess/Source within all things and all people. The concept of seva works well here because true parenthood is the place where self and other lose their separateness.

This does not mean that it will always be easy to maintain this headspace. Seva, even though in many temples it will be something as mundane as hand-washing the floors or scrubbing toilets, is the hardest work of all. The overcoming of self, of ego — or rather the melding of self back into oneness while still living in a materially manifest body — is the work of all spiritual paths. It is to lose the defensive, over-thinking nature of humanness and embrace, without any plan of why or to what end, the mindset of loving acceptance of all life and life circumstances. It is the most challenging awareness to gain and just as challenging to maintain. But the reward is the task itself. Freedom from suffering, through the process of loving surrender.

Now some people may say this does not fit their vision of parenthood. Parenthood is love and joy and fun and creativity, right? Yes. All that and more. But it is also loss of self, on many, many levels. You maybe hadn’t planned on losing yourself, but parenting with all your heart and soulful intentions will require loss of self, in little ways, over and over again. YOU are not the main feature anymore, you are backstage support staff. And when everyone goes home and the footlights are turned off, you can creep quietly out from behind the curtain and twirl in the spotlight. But being “seen” isn’t your biggest thrill anymore. You may get a starring role from time to time, but directing and clean-up are really what your life purpose is, at least until someone says “Mom, I got this. Feel free to steal some sunshine, my leaves are bright, my roots good and deep now.”

To be able to understand the peeling away of your excess layers and accept changes to your most dearly held beliefs about why you are so special and what makes life worth living, within the framework of sacred service, is very important for keeping positive and upbeat as your new life unfolds and unexpected challenges are faced. Knowing that it is not all about you, believing that there is divine providence at work, that perhaps in past lives this soul was not the child but the parent to your own small soul, can put into perspective the sacrifice of missing date night or going to bed so early that even your 8-year-old self would have felt gypped, or giving up your dream vacation for someone else’s dream bike or offering the last piece of cheesecake without gripe or waking up to soothe an angry, cranky, fever-ridden child when you just worked the late shift and haven’t even had 3 hours of sleep yet. What matters more, patiently taking 5 minutes to teach your child to brush their teeth for the 8th time or snapping at them and tucking them, crying, into bed so you can get that 5 extra minutes of “relaxation” time with a book or a cigarette or a movie?

Yes, you need “you” time and you will know when to put yourself first — no one is saying that neglecting your own physical and mental health is a smart or spiritual way to parent — but taking the “you” time in a peaceful and flowing way and making sure that your children know love and a balanced foundation is not only possible but totally manageable. Put a rhythm in place, in your home and in your thought processes, that builds a support network for your seva and for your “ego,” as well as for the your children’s unfolding and exploration of life and self and the world. Teach them seva as well, so they can appreciate the gift of selfless service. Take one holiday out of the yearly calendar and cancel your family celebrations to instead create a celebration of Earth or of community or of health. Whichever feels most age-appropriate for your children.

Every child is different and constantly changing, which means their needs and your service will be changing as well. Yes, our little one was once screaming whenever I cooked and making me take him to the toilet with me. But that wasn’t “who” he was, it was just “what” he needed. Now our son is calm and curious, talkative and very sensitive to the emotions of others. He is joy. Except when he’s not. Because sometimes they just won’t be. When they don’t sleep good, or are learning new social behaviors or cutting a new tooth, they can be angry and weepy, throwing and shouting. But all that this behavior says is “I need a different Mama today. I need MORE Mama today.” So, in service to the highest good of our spiritual connection, what I do is set aside my plans for that day. I breath one deep, calming breath. Then I open my arms wide and give in. I give everything I’ve got, with peace and love and presence. Because tomorrow he will be calm and sweet and curious again. That child is this child, one and the same. One day he will become a man, and he will have a foundation that says, “Love is given freely. You are lovable on every day, not just the good days.” He will know that service to the ones you love, to what you believe in, is divine even when it is not easy or not fun.

And he is giving me gifts as well. I have learned so much from my son already. I have learned so much about myself, what is true about me and what were just wrong assumptions. I feel that he teaches me even in his sleep.

I like to bow to him, in his calm and in his frustration, and say “Namaste”, meaning “the divine that resides within me honors that which is divine within you.”

It was remembering and including our spirits that helped me to improve our life together, but I can still recall the sharp pain of how it felt before. It all seemed so tragic then, like I had lost myself forever and was doomed to a long, walking death. Many new parents must find themselves in this same, painful mindframe at first. Now I can see how wrong I was.

It’s not that you “lose” your self in becoming a parent, it is more that self is no longer your primary function on this planet. You might say that you have less time for self-ish-ness. You will not always be able to sleep when you want to, eat when you want to or even pee when you want to. Will you see these moments as angering, frustrating, resentful? Resentment is certainly there, lingering on the sidelines, waiting to take hold. But parenthood is the shift from how the “me” feels and what the “me” wants to a new paradigm of “we”, especially for the primary caregiver. You and this little soul have made a pact with each other, to be teachers and learners of each other and of life, together. As a parent, you hope the majority of the lessons you teach will be good ones. Using Seva in your understanding of parenthood is a tool that can remind you, when times get difficult, of your gift to your child and of their gifts to you. Accept service with peace and openness and watch for the little miracles and unexpected joys along the way. Life unfolding is a wild ride and the scenery is extraordinary.

  • Adriana

    Beautiful, insightful article Vera! I can really relate to your experience with your son. :)

  • Laurie

    Lovely perspective Vera! Im so happy to find your website:)

  • Tamaey Gottuso

    I remember all too well Vera being in this very space with my daughter, it was so difficult. BUT today she is 17yrs old, we are so close and I see my life and hers about to begin a new chapter as she graduates high school in May 0f 2014. I have longed to walk the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain and plan to do so that fall, taking 4-6wks just to do what I want to do, for me.

    Your writings are beautiful. Keep shining your light on all of us as it makes our lives a little brighter too. Namaste.

    Tamaey Gottuso, Feb 4, 2013 xo