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Mystic Parenting II: More on Mommy Devotion

July 4, 2008

In my prior post, Mystic Parenting, I mentioned that the main spiritual lesson for me from parenting has been learning to let it open my heart wider, instead of giving in to my ego’s impulse to just protect ‘me and my own’. Someone asked me to write more about this, so here goes.

Lots of Hindu philosophers categorize spirituality in terms of four main paths or ‘yogas’ – service to others (karma yoga), inquiry into truth (jnani yoga), mystic and occult study (raja yoga), and devotional practice (bhakti yoga.) Most people’s spiritual journeys, and most religions, combine two or more of these, but the emphasis is usually on one. For example, most Christianity is very devotional in nature, because the foci is on faith in Christ, although there is often a strong service orientation too. Buddhism and Vedanta are more inquiry oriented, but there are branches with strong service and mystic emphasis. Taoism, Shamanism, Tantra, Kabbalah and Sufism are all mystic in nature, but each also draw on one or more of the other paths.

True devotional practice, regardless of which tradition it is practiced within, is about surrendering the ego through love to a higher power. This higher power is initially represented by a deity or teacher. In Christianity this is Christ, in traditional Hinduism it is often a Hindu deity, and in Buddhist and Yogic traditions it might be a living or deceased teacher. The idea is that the love a devotee feels for this ‘symbol’ of God (or a higher power by any name) dissolves the bonds of his or her individual ego and transports him or her to a new spiritual understanding.

For many of us in the West, the idea of devoting ourselves to a living teacher is very scary, and rightly so, with all the corrupt ‘gurus’ running around. But assuming a teacher is legit, the real danger is that a devotee never moves past their individual, ego-based, attachment to their teacher into the greater love and understanding he or she is supposed to represent. In this case, their relationship to their teacher, or deity, or even Christ, just becomes a personal dependency, subject to all the usual human dramas like jealousy, expectation, hurt etc. In classic Indian spiritual texts, this problem is often described (and you can easily witness it in almost any spiritual community:-)

So this was my model for thinking about motherhood as a devotional practice. It generates such an overwhelming, new kind of love for many parents, and that creates both great spiritual potential and great spiritual risk. If we can use our love for our children to open our hearts to a greater love, for humanity at large and the universe that engenders it all, then that is a true gift. But if we give in to our tribal instincts to just love our own ‘blood’, then it only feeds the ego with more excuses for division from – and judgment of – others.

Of course this is easier to theorize than to practice – maybe more on that in a later post!!

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