Mothering as a Spiritual Practice

Why is it that to rise gladly at 4:00 am to meditate and meet one’s God is considered a religious experience, and yet to rise at 4:00 am to serve the needs of one’s helpless child is considered the ultimate in deprivation?

Mothering a child is the greatest act of service one can do. It is an act of surrender, and act of love…

One can learn sitting meditation by rocking and nursing a little one to sleep; one can learn reclining meditation by staying still to avoid disturbing a little one who has been awake for hours; and one can learn walking meditation by walking and swaying with a little one who would like to be asleep for hours. One must learn to breathe deeply in a relaxed and meditative manner in order to still the mind that doubts one’s strength to go on, that sees every speck of dust on the floor and wants to clean it, and that tempts one to be up and about the busyness of accomplishment…

–Peggy O’Mara in The Way Back Home

Zen and the art of baby curl and dimpled finger spotting...

I really enjoyed reading this collection of essays by Peggy O’Mara. I do find that I have a tendency to think about my spiritual practice as something that has to wait until I am alone, until I have “down time,” until I have space alone in my head in which to think and to be still. On the flip side, I’ve also thought and written before about how the act of breastfeeding, day in and day out, provides all manner of time for spiritual contemplation and meditative reflection, but I often find it difficult to stay centered and grounded in mindfulness of breath and spirit during the swirl of life with little ones. I’ve done a lot of reading about “zen parenting” type topics and it seems like it would be so simple to integrate mothering with mindfulness. Then, I find myself frazzled and scattered and self-berating, and wonder what the heck happened to my zen. Today, I read an interesting article about anger and Zen Buddhism that clarified that meditation and zen practices are not about being serene and unfrazzled, but about being present and able to sit with it all. And, it offered this helpful reminder:

I used to imagine that spiritual work was undertaken alone in a cave somewhere with prayer beads and a leather-bound religious tome. Nowadays, that sounds to me more like a vacation from spiritual work. Group monastic living has taught me that the people in your life don’t get in the way of your spiritual practice; these people are your spiritual practice.

via The Angry Monk: Zen Practice for Angry People.

And, then this small snippet from the 2011 We’Moon datebook also reminded me of my 2012 vow to be embodied prayer:

My prayers are

The food I cook

The children I hug

The art I create

The words I write

I need no religion.

–Eileen Rosensteel

I don’t need to wait to be alone in order to be “spiritual” in this life with my babies. This sometimes messy, sometimes chaotic, sometimes serene, sometimes frazzling, often joyful life, is it.

On a somewhat related side note, I’m in the middle of writing an article for a scholarly journal addressing breastfeeding as an ecofeminist AND spiritual issue. I’d love to hear any reader thoughts on the issue!

Previous related posts:

Breastfeeding Toward Enlightenment

The Rhythm of Our Lives

Motherhood as Meditation

How to Meditate with a Baby…


Ode to my nursling

Embodied Prayer

Telling About It…

6 thoughts on “Mothering as a Spiritual Practice

  1. Your entry today reminds me a little of the wonderful book: A Path for Parents (What Buddhism Can Offer) by Sara Burns.

    Yes, I also feel that this is my practice. it’s so easy to meditate alone and feel great about it. What difference to this perception can a few hours spent with a toddler bring!

  2. I find I’m much more aware of those little moments in the middle of the night with my second child. With my first I was stressed and nevous about being alone with her, unsure of what to DO with her! I found it strange to connect with her on a spiritual level until she had more of a personality. But this time I’m more experienced at finding that feeling and I find that looking deeply into her eyes calms and re-sets me. I enjoy waking up with her at night because it’s the only time it’s quiet in the house and it’s just the two of us. The powerful connection you can have while enjoying the nursing experience is wonderful when fully appreciated! I love this post.

    • I swear, breastfeeding–particularly a newborn/young baby–is one of the holiest experiences of my life. It is an amazing touchstone and “still point.”

  3. I love this! I will keep this in mind as I care for my little ones. It can be chaos but I can be present and I can connect on a spiritual level with my children and heaven as I mother them. I wrote an essay about breastfeeding and its gospel symbolism. It may not resonate with everyone because I wrote it from an LDS (mormon) perspective: but you may find it interesting in regards to your plans to write more on this topic.
    Another blog post I wrote on breastfeeding:

  4. Pingback: Chasing the sandman « Mind the Baby

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