Because I came to marriage and children late, after focusing for fifteen years on my career and spiritual path, I am often asked how parenting has changed my perspective on spirituality, or whether it has taught me anything I didn’t already know. My answer is yes, but not in the ways most people seem to expect. Many expect me to say that parenting taught me how to love, that I had never known such a powerful love existed, or that suddenly my purpose in life is clearly defined. These are the things we often say as a culture about parenting, at least from a spiritual perspective. I have come to think of this as the ‘lion king myth’, based on the Disney movie which begins and ends with the birth of the next generation. Culturally, there is a strong message that our lives are really about the ‘cycle of life’ – that we are not complete until we have created and raised children.
I don’t see it this way. In fact, I see this myth as one of the biggest obstacles to many people’s spiritual growth, especially women, because, like its counterpart the ‘soulmate myth’, it tells us that the source of our happiness lies outside ourselves. It reinforces the conditioning that only in our love for other people, and in being loved by others, will we find happiness, fulfillment, and a relationship with God. If you study any of the great mystics, from any tradition, you find the opposite message over and over – love is at the essence of our being, it is the source from which we are made, it is the stuff of our connection to God, and it is always present within us, regardless of our circumstances or life conditions. Our greatest work, our ‘purpose’ if you will, is to discover and manifest this love. The individual loves we have in our lives – our family and friends – are but refractions of this greater love. Our relationships enable us to experience a piece of this greater love, but they are just a small glimpse of the whole. And only by moving beyond this small glimpse, instead of becoming consumed by it, can we find this greater love.
And so for me, parenthood has provided the opposite lesson of what many expect. It has shown me the incredible power of personal attachments, and how these layers of attachment can actually block love, rather than generate it. Prior to having children, my spiritual journey was all about going inward, and finding the source of love within myself through meditation and other practices. Then, I worked on bringing that love outward, on seeing that love in everyone I encountered, and treating them with corresponding compassion. Now, I find that the drive to protect my children is so strong, it can actually become a hindrance to opening my heart. While my love for my kids knows no bounds, my attitude towards the world can become anxiety-ridden and skeptical, out of a drive to protect them. It is like I am discovering anew the strong ‘tribal’ instincts of the human ego – the drive to protect ‘me and mine’ at any cost, others be damned.
This tribal drive is really counter to the opening of the heart that is the essence of mysticism. How much harder it is to manifest a universal love, an unconditional love for humanity, when we are so consumed by our drive to love and protect our children. It is a delicate balance, learning how to feel this great mothering love, without it becoming all-consuming. I have had many mothers say to me, ‘did you ever think you could love someone so much?’ I can see in their eyes that they are truly filled with a love they have never felt before. And I want to say, ‘go further, this is just a taste, don’t stop there, this is cracking open a door in you that has never been opened, but you need to push it further to get the whole picture.’ I think this is how parenting becomes mystic. And this isn’t just an imperative from a spiritual perspective, it also helps with parenting. Raising kids is a long process of letting them go, and if we make the mistake of thinking they are the source of our love, we hold on too tight, and we risk smothering them. Letting go, opening our hearts beyond our own world, moving beyond our tribal drives – these are for me the essence of the mystic journey.