A Feminine Path To Enlightenment.
Motherhood and the seeking of enlightenment are, for most people, unrelated.
So, when a woman who is on a spiritual path becomes a mother, the consensus is she has to leave that path or at least take a detour.
Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve realized that’s a nappy bucket load of crap!
I’ve discovered that having a child is like having my very own, live-in, enlightenment-promoting guru.
But, not only that, motherhood has also revealed that the established idea of what enlightenment and spirituality are is mistaken.
Before becoming a mother, I had already been questioning the masculine bias and contradictions of the spiritual traditions I had been exploring, both Eastern and Western.
It seemed absurd that religions such as Hinduism could have both gods and goddesses with equal powers, yet a well-known guru who drew from the teachings of that religion refused to touch me when giving his blessing because I was a woman. He said my femaleness would taint his pure state and ignite feelings of desire, which he had decided to not experience.
And it had always irritated me hearing god or the absolute described as he when surely if god was in fact absolute, then god must be beyond gender.
I also saw that at ashrams and churches, those who became teachers, or were deemed as advanced, were rarely mothers. Fathers were represented, but they had either deserted their families or had wives at home looking after their children so they could pursue their spiritual ambitions.
I had always expected that an enlightened person — someone who is meant to experience everything as part of the same unity — would be free of gender bias and prejudice.
But I still continued to practice the enlightenment-promoting techniques I had learned over the years, such as meditation, chanting and Yoga — no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. And I had some amazing experiences as a result of those practices.
And then I became a Mother
As I went about doing the various tasks mothers do in our day-to-day lives, I couldn’t help but notice that there were many similarities between the things I was doing, simply by playing my mothering role, and the spiritual techniques I had been practicing and learning about previously.
Yet, I had never come across any mention of motherhood as a path to enlightenment. This seemed like an astounding oversight, considering the number of women who have experienced motherhood.
It all begins with pregnancy, which can initiate some profound energetic shifts in women as the life force (or prana or chi) in our bodies intensifies as the fetus develops.
Many women experience enhanced sensory perceptions, just as meditators do, and some a super-charged sex drive — which is, by the way, intimately linked with the energy (kundalini) some spiritual traditions hold responsible for leading to enlightenment.
And then childbirth. This often devalued, and almost universally feared and intervened-with, process can also be a consciousness-expanding and heart-opening experience. It certainly was for me.
The penetrating pain and the previously-dormant inner resources that awoke within me during labor led to an altered state of consciousness where time had no meaning. And, interestingly, during that time, time was being measured vigilantly by everyone else in the birthing room with the passing of each contraction.
After my baby slithered out like a string of sausages, locking her gaze onto mine and her hungry mouth onto my breast, she attached me to the present in a blissful stillness I have only ever experienced before and since during meditation.
And then mothering: A massive, all-embracing and all-time-consuming mission, with consequences I can only describe as enlightenment-promoting.
One of the main consequences is gaining the capacity to feel unconditional love. Every spiritual teacher I’ve heard of claims that being unconditionally loving has become their natural state since their enlightenment.
Given that most mothers feel such love for their children (most of the time), it is also the natural state for mothers. I’ve never heard of any non-parents claiming they feel naturally unconditionally loving of anyone.
Another unavoidable consequence of becoming a mother is the requirement to provide selfless service — another practice many spiritual traditions promote, both for their teachers and seekers.
Seekers give selfless service to their guru and their ashram, by cleaning, cooking, gardening, washing, working in the office, counselling newer seekers as they need help, and other duties as required, all unpaid. That’s exactly a mother’s job description!
Mothers also gain the power to perform superhuman feats similar to those that some gurus have demonstrated in public appearances, such as bending spoons using their mental powers, lifting objects too heavy for most people to handle, walking on water, and suddenly knowing about an occurrence in another place.
I know I could lift or bend any object if doing so would save my child, and mothers regularly experience suddenly knowing something is wrong with their child, who might be in another room.
I have yet to walk on water, but have managed with astounding grace what I imagine is the first step to such a feat — aquaplaning across the kitchen floor on spilled milk.
Then there’s the ability to be absolutely aware, which is how enlightened people describe their state. When a woman becomes a mother, her awareness, too, becomes absolute.
You’re aware of every bowel movement, every cry, every need that needs tending to, where your baby is crawling in case she puts something dangerous in her mouth, and where older children are at the park or any public place.
A mother’s awareness can also embrace many things at once.
I’m often simultaneously aware of what my eldest is watching on television, of where my youngest is climbing, and of where her favorite teddy bear is in case she falls, of how many more minutes of cooking the pasta requires, and of how many more days I can go without doing the washing before we’ll run out of clean underwear.
One of the characteristics of the enlightened state that everyone’s talking about is being able to live in the present. The now. Again, this is something mothers simply cannot help but do. How can anyone switch off from the present with constant demands for food, drinks, refereeing, help with ______?
I’d actually love to escape the present once in a while, and dream about the future or reflect on the past, but because I’m a mother, I have no time! I am always in the now.
And how do spiritual seekers work towards being present? They chant mantras. Mothers chant mantras too. Every day, I chant Pack away the toys, please. Please put the toys away, Dinner’s ready! Dinner’s ready!! Dinner’s ready!!!, Time for bed. Come on, you need to go to bed. Each mantra over and over and over.
And if being enlightened means a person no longer identifies with their little individual ego, but has a greater sense of self, then most mothers qualify for that too (and not only physically). We feel our children’s pain and joy as intimately as our own. We can’t go anywhere (not even the toilet) without our greater self.
And our material possessions are no longer only ours. My kids refer to my car as our car, the house is now our house, and even my personal belongings are our things!
A new Spirituality
Not only have mothers been performing spiritual practices all along, but spirituality itself has been defined far too narrowly, so that only certain kinds of experiences, when experienced in a certain kind of way, are considered to be spiritual.
You don’t have to sit alone in a cave and meditate to experience Spirit — you can certainly do so, but you can also experience Spirit by sitting in a park with your children and watching the delight on their faces when they slide down the slippery dip or find an earthworm on the ground.
You can give service to your god by helping to feed the homeless, but you can also give service to your god by feeding your own children. That is no less a spiritual service than the other.
Spirituality versus Enlightenment
I would like to suggest that enlightenment has come to be identified with spirituality, but that there is a different kind of enlightenment available to us.
It’s an enlightenment where we embrace life fully. And to do so, we must become whole. Embarking on this journey has a spiritual aspect, in that it involves faith and love and surrender to the journey. And it may involve honoring any connection we feel to Spirit.
But the process is not about embracing, and thus valuing, only the spiritual aspects of ourselves. It involves also embracing the non-spiritual. The material, the instinctual, the messy! They are all necessary for life. And isn’t that what enlightenment is meant to be? The embracing of life, in all its totality?
If you look closely at the major texts from the world’s spiritual traditions, even they promote the honoring of all of life. They say something along the lines of: god is everywhere and in everything. Siddha Yoga guru Swami Muktananda spells it out:
“… there is no difference between the worldly and the spiritual, and this becomes clear when you gain right understanding. Before that, the worldly and the spiritual appear to be antagonistic. The world, which appears to be so diverse… is really nothing but the expansion of the one Lord. … the same supreme Being stretches in all directions.
All activities and pursuits, all names and forms, are only different manifestations of the Truth. Because this is the case, there is no work which is an obstacle on the spiritual path.”
I believe motherhood (and also fatherhood when fathers are deeply involved with raising their children) is a perfect vehicle for this more real enlightenment.
It pushes you continually and relentlessly to greater consciousness, to the discovery and understanding and embracing of all that you are — something necessary when raising children if you want to know them and accept them and love them unconditionally and help them grow into all that they can be.
It’s hard to believe I had once thought that when I became a mother I would be taking a step back, or at least time out, from any serious spiritual development. It turns out that I have developed far more since becoming — because of becoming — a mother.
Astra Niedra is author of Enlightenment Through Motherhood as well as The Perfect Relationship, The Greatest Relationship Secret, 3 Instant Relationship Fixes and Which Self Are You? She teaches the personal growth work Voice Dialogue, which is based on the idea that our psyche is made up of many selves, such as the Inner Critic, the Perfectionist, the Rebel and the Inner Child. Check out her blog Voice Dialogue and You! and get a free e-book when you subscribe to her newsletter. If you have kids, you might be like Astra’s upcoming interactive multimedia ebook Catarotti — The Cat Detective. You could connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.