Nothing is impossible to a willing heart. – John Heywood

Today in my social media stream, a trending story described a young boy who asked his mother to buy a fast food dinner for a man who appeared wanting for food. I thought, especially given our experience the other day, this was a very poignant re-reminder of the nature of children.

On one hand stories like these should be shared; on the other, anyone who has had the privilege of caring for young kids will not be surprised. Children everywhere, of every race and creed and socioeconomic stripe, possess a wonderful, humane sense of justice. They advocate for fairness, generosity, and measured empathy at a startlingly young age – and keep these qualities far longer that you’d think they could. We’d do well to learn from children, rather than school them in the ways of isolation, fear, deprivation, martyrdom, apathy – well, you know the rest.

I do not find it accurate, nor find much use for, the concept that children are inferior beings, or in some way untenably naive, or “half-formed”.  Adults’ play at sophistication and adult “freedom” is nothing more than a charade, where we wave our arms about and holler in an attempt to pretend, to other adults, that we aren’t afraid of anything. It’s a heartbreaking game, really, but it’s silly too. We only keep up the pretense around other grownups. The story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” takes on quite a bit of meaning when it comes to our inner lives, don’t you think?

Most children are demonstrably in touch with qualities we come to wish we had, the older we get. If one lives long enough, sooner or later we come to a place where we remember something from our childhood, some quality we had – or perhaps a habit we lacked – and we will wonder how we changed, and feel some regret, some sadness. Remember how fearless I was in this regard? Remember how kind I was, without prejudice? Remember how easily I could feel happiness – and how openly I expressed sadness? Remember how quick I was to forgive? Remember how deeply I loved?

The really wonderful thing is, we can return to our childhood. There is no going back, and often there is no forgetting the past. But all the same, we can “become like little children”, as Jesus said, and inherit our spiritual kingdom. We can learn to be fair, to be kind, and to consider the feelings and experiences of other sentient beings.

Ah yes… empathy. Spiritual exercises can restore us empathy – and the restoration of empathy can be quite a wild ride! Fortunately, our adult mind – and the adult virtue of patience – can help us navigate our responsibilities when this new awareness threatens to overcome us. In fact, years ago one of my mentors told me this: that as I progressed spiritually, there would come a time I would behold so much suffering, waves and waves of suffering, and my heart would swell and break. Neither she nor I knew it at the time, but she’d just described the experience of Compassion – which means, “to suffer with or alongside”.

Re-learning empathy has not struck me dead. It has not made me suddenly unable to work, or pay bills, or speak in a social setting – although all of my life has been profoundly affected. Empathy has caused me to look deeper, and deeper still. Can I experience empathy for other peoples, even ones who seem like villains? Can I experience empathy for the animals in my life, and the animals exploited on our earth? What will happen if I open myself to these experiences? How will I clothe myself? How will I protect myself? How will I eat? How will I pay rent? How will I survive?

Remember… none of us survive.

It seems obvious now why so many people actively resist empathy. It can be a very scary path to consider. A “slippery slope”, as they say.

Tonight I ask you: who do you struggle with, when it comes to empathy? Who – an individual, or a class or category of person, or a class or category of animal, do you feel fear, and anger, when you think on them? Write these entities down. Just one or two, to start with.

I’ll do the same – and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.

In lovingkindness,

old friends & old paths

Tonight I ran across my friend Charlie. I’ve only seen him a few times in the last year; we used to see one another several times a week.

It was obvious that both of us were glad to talk to one another. Charlie’s an older guy, and not in the best of health. He asked how I was, very directly, in that wonderful way some people have where they’re really paying attention. He said to me, “You look like you’re doing pretty good.”

I’m amazed because Charlie is one of those guys who can figure that stuff out. He didn’t say I looked great, and I don’t feel like I’m doing great. But “pretty good”? I can cosign that.

Tonight in reading Buddhism: Its Essence and Development by Edward Conze, I am struck by a sentence early in the work:

“The Buddhist point of view will appeal only to those people who are completely disillusioned with the world as it is, and with themselves, who are extremely sensitive to pain, suffering, and any kind of turmoil, who have an extreme desire for happiness, and a considerable capacity for renunciation.”

If any Buddhist finds this entry of mine, they will doubtless mull over each part of that sentence, and ask themselves how they measure up. Whether they weigh themselves with a sense of lightness or despair, seriousness or levity, depends on their circumstances or their mood.

I find myself chilled by the knowledge of how well I fit this list of character traits. There is one criterion I am uncertain of, that I feel on shaky ground. The others fit me like a glove.

“A considerable capacity for renunciation”. I definitely have that. Although now that I re-think, perhaps I’ve rad this wrong. I wonder if a capacity for renunciation means one is good at it – or merely that one keeps getting up off the ground and getting back on the horse. Because, in fact, it would seem I practice renunciation over and over, many times daily. I am forever woefully discovering I’ve been conditioned to think the same unhelpful things. Measuring people up, feeling anger, hurt, and surprise when lied to or abused, mentally abusing myself for my failures and limitations.

Each one of these well-worn thought paths has to be renounced. Even if it means doing this a hundred times a day. What does renunciation feel like, sound like? This path is useless. Or perhaps, I’ve learned all I can from Self/Self-Hate (wisdom arrived the day I began to see Self and Self-Hate are one and the same).

Today, seeing a friend like Charlie gives me a good, hearty dose of encouragement. I know that there’s someone out there who cares for me, and who loves me. It’s easier to commit to a path of renunciation – or self-discipline, or meditation, or patience – when I feel there’s a witness out there – somewhere.

 

the dharma of our limitations

Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts.
Pull yourself out of bad ways as an elephant raises itself from the mud.
– the Dhammapada

Oh… my limitations. At times, it seems I have so much freedom – of thought, of choice. Other times it seems I am as limited as a creature could possible be!

The other day I called one of my mentors. It was a beautiful, balmy evening as I heard her welcome voice over the phone. “Hello! I said. “How are you?”

“I’m pretty shitty,” she responded promptly – with such artless candor we both couldn’t help laughing. Our conversation soon turned to the week we’d each spent, our troubles and our joys. It was my honor to hear her tell me these things.

I could relate to her honest greeting. I’m not always feeling wonderful. As I saw in a meme the other day: “Not great, Bob!”

In fact, sometimes I suffer a great deal, even over some rather small affair. At times like these, Buddhism departs from the gentle, vague (or incorrigibly bland and contradictory) reputation it enjoys with many non-practitioners – and becomes a flaming, slicing sword! Buddhism suggests that if we really want to feel any better, or to do any better, or to help ourselves and others, that we do something quite extraordinary: that we embrace our discomfort with mindfulness.

No, not that! Anything but that!

There are probably only a handful of people on this planet who can do this with regularity through the day. Many of us will do almost anything to relieve this discomfort: we will eat, drink, smoke, shop. It takes incredible bravery and patience to learn mindfulness. So if we could, say, get through the day with a sore knee while breathing gently through the pain, forgoing analgesics, and being compassionate to our injured bodies – well, the kind of mental and emotional anguishes that bedevil us daily, can sometimes seem like an abrupt, anesthetic amputation!

And it would seem that when I’m feeling my most vulnerable – like a crab having molted! – I am often confronted with an individual who seems to be in a place of quietude and power. To wit: in the last couple months, my partner stopped drinking caffeine – cold turkey. He suffered headaches (although he didn’t complain), but now happily takes no liquids but herbal tea and water! He has also restarted his running program – a little over twenty miles a week. He has been handling work conflict, a busy schedule, and financial limitations and setbacks with ease, generosity and aplomb!

But of course: it is a blessing to watch someone fare well.

And one thing I realized, tonight, while I climbed the stairs to bed, is that I have always profited, every time I admit my limitations. I have always found more freedom, ease, and joy when I acknowledge a limitation and let that limitation be, for the time being. Look into it gently, with mindfulness. Paradoxically, when I fully admit my limitation, it is that moment I begin to see a way deeper into freedom.

This might sound strange, but I’ve lived and observed long enough to know that it is true.

May we all make friends with our limitations. They are ours, for the time being, and should be as precious as any other beloved, much-worn thing.

a love for all beings

Shabkar

My experiences as a vegetarian have certainly brought their share of discomfort and joy – and through both of these, many revelations.

It may be argued that in present-day America, a wholesome diet of fruits, vegetables, oils, grains, spices, and supplements, is more diverse, affordable, and available than ever. If one feels short on creativity, means, or even enthusiastic support – the internet has provided free content in all these arenas, and to every taste, lifestyle, and spending plan.

Oddly, one topic that rarely comes up, is that of our personal and cultural addictions to meat. We claim we choose meat and that we could easily forgo it. We cling to arguments that assuage our sense of unease, in an attempt to experience meat-eating as a personally agreeable choice.

But for many if not most of us, we are addicted. In fact, the Western world is not only addicted to meat, it is culturally set in opposition to a meat-less lifestyle in almost every way one can imagine (the Eastern world probably is too). Since eschewing meat I’ve been astonished to discover how very much of it others eat (even and maybe even especially those who claim they hardly take any), how much they talk about it, how they assume everyone else eats it, how willing they are to find it at the cheapest prices, how reluctant they are to look at unedited footage of how it is provided – and how difficult is to avoid meat if one needs to eat while outside the home.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve come across is not one of today’s vegetarian blogs, or an internet forum – but rather the writings of a vegetarian almost exactly 200 years older than I. Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat, based on the writings of Shabkar Natshok Rangdrol, is fast becoming a beloved and influential tome in my walk. The book delves deeper into Tibetan Buddhism than an average reader might enjoy, but nevertheless a great deal of the content is relatable. Put simply: there is no argument in favor of meat-eating, however sophisticated or “new”, that this monk, long dead, did not anticipate or contend with!

Now, I believe when we allow addictions to recede in a spirit of lovingkindness, we open up to more joy, health, vigor, compassion, humor, and ease. If one believes we “detox” from substances we no longer ingest – like alcohol, sugar, tobacco, caffeine – or in the case of meat, the many harmful compounds and carcinogens meat carries – it is possible that over time my brain, my very mind along with my body, will undergo subtle or profound changes.

It already feels as if this is happening. I’ve always loved animals, or thought I did: but this love has been changing. Soon after committing to vegetarianism, a line from Food of Boddhisattvas struck me with profundity:

“To a large extent, the humane treatment of domestic animals, where it exists in the modern world, is dictated by sentimentality and curtailed by financial considerations; it is not based on the understanding that animals are living beings endowed with minds and feelings, whose predicament in samsara is essentially no different from our own.” [emphasis mine]

That word – “sentimentality” – hit home. It is difficult to take a deep, invested look at what my “love” of animals really has been. But I can’t be too hard on myself in this account. I was brought up in an exploitive culture – a culture that exploits animals, other countries and other peoples and all environments – and brought up in a family that ate meat and consumed animal products without so much as one discussion on the ethics of this behavior. Indeed, I remember at age twelve or so arguing with my parents on the topic of vegetarianism. Their attitudes were ones of amusement; my passion for these animals’ lives and suffering was merely a pre-pubescent fad.

If we’re honest, very few of us feel at ease with how we exploit animals, and how we’ve come to rely on their suffering and death for our own comfort. We contort our logic (or try not to exercise it) and we attempt to anesthetize our sense of wrongdoing. It is really wonderful when a compassionate voice reveals our inconsistencies for what they are – and helps us step onto a new path.

As a Buddhist, it is not required that I be perfect in my walk – merely that I get started, in whatever way I can. Even the smallest change, when embarked upon in earnestness and with a desire to lessen suffering, is a profound and beautiful thing.

Since letting go of meat, and eating other foods, I have found myself holding animal life in a different place in my heart and mind. I have found myself connecting with the abovementioned “domestic animals” in a more profound – and yes, less sentimental – way. My relationship with wild animals, and with animals raised for slaughter, is also changing. Is this a chemical result of my dietary change? Is this a spiritual shift? Is this a coincidence, or confirmation bias perhaps?

Whatever it is, I have welcomed the experience. Though not without hardship – Shabkar can speak to that, having lived without meat in harder circumstances that anyone reading here now – it is a change that feels welcome.

And finally: it is helpful to have a sense of humor and yes, a bit of irreverence. The truth is, vegetarianism is just another step for me, in my desire to cause less harm – to the environment, to other living beings, to my body, and to my spirit, and to bring more joy to those same entities. I don’t need to take up criticism: that I am unrealistic, or at risk – or my personal favorite, that if I seek to do less harm in this way that I must be called to task to address all injustices, and immediately so. I have entertained those direct and indirect criticisms enough; I can let them go. I can “know in my knowing place” (as a friend says), that this is a good path. I can be glad I am here, and excited to see what the future holds.

I Don't Eat Meat

on approaching Mother’s Day: a primal longing

This evening, a knock at our front door heralded a splendid bouquet of flowers. “For a Beautiful Mother,” the attendant card read – inscribed by the florist’s hand.

When my partner arrived home, I asked if he’d called the flowers in. And indeed, he had. Ever since, I have been reflecting on how deeply and consistently my partner has honored my mothering. We’ve been partnered seventeen years now, and we’ve been parents a little over thirteen. His support and respect have been consistent.

Now, I know my partner cares more about his children than anything else in his life. The fact he has trusted me as their mother – even despite so many mistakes, and so many troubles between he and I in our marriage – is humbling indeed.

In fact, I can only think of one time my partner criticized my mothering – as opposed to expressed concern about our children’s needs, which he has done in forceful terms on many occasions. The story of his criticism is a funny one (although neither of us were laughing at the time), and I often relate it to women who are either thinking about, or who have embarked upon motherhood.

But tonight, as I think on his support, I realize this: even if my partner had criticized me a dozen times, or a hundred, or a thousand, this could never compare with how many times I have criticized myself. I know there have been many, many days thoughts of self-condemnation and shame have come a dozen times, a hundred. It gives me sorrow to think of how many times I’ve beat myself up. Over time, beating oneself up becomes a habit that is not easy to break.

We are incredibly hard, incredibly exacting, on Mothers. We require they perform femininity and nurturing perfectly; yet we are quick to belittle them if they seem too feminine, too sensitive, too caring. We say hateful things if they neglect us. We say hateful things if they try to control us. We criticize them if they are absent – worse, we act as if they are inhuman monsters. We take them for granted if they are present – again, as if they aren’t human, and don’t need our care.

No woman, no man, can escape the cultural conversations we have about mothers, and fathers. Add to this our own painful family legacies, and it becomes very hard indeed to step into these roles, and fight the demons that rear up.

Yesterday I listened to John Lennon’s 1970 ballad, “Mother”, as I drove through the sunshine to a meeting. I thought of a child’s need – for mother, for father. For a sense of safety and belonging. It seems that no matter how we might try to disguise this, or hide it – deep within us all we cry out, still. We carry with us the fear, the neglect, the abandonment, the moments we were overlooked and the abuses we suffered. I’m not sure this is something we ever entirely heal from, although most people wish this to be true.

But I do believe our childhoods are something we can learn from.

And we can do better – so we don’t have to, at the end of our life, sing Lennon’s words of regret to our own children. To the world’s children. To those we are here to nurture, and to protect.

honoring the form of the goddess

I am a practitioner of yoga. Here in the United States, many if not most of our expressions of this multi-discipline might lead one to conclude it is some sort of New Age fitness regime. Our enthusiasm for the potential physical benefits of the discipline, unfortunately, often strip away the rich historic cultural and spiritual roots of the practice.

Yoga has taken off in the West, with both wonderful results – and questionable ones. For a practitioner, finding direction or assistance is only a few moments away by computer and, increasingly, in studios worldwide. By following or subscribing to yoga journals, Facebook accounts, and yogis’ social media streams, it is easy to find assistance in any physical, mental, practical, or spiritual aspect of the discipline.

I read about yoga a fair amount – a little bit, daily. Much of my yoga asana practice takes place in a studio setting. Several times in the last half year, a few yoga instructors have attempted to correct the hyper-extension of my knees. In several postures I’ve had teachers tell me to do this, or do that – to bend or to straighten or to plant my foot this way or that. The advice has often been at odds with what another teacher has told me in a class just the day before. It’s been a little confusing, to be honest.

Today while reading a book on fashion history (for one of my other interests: bespoke tailoring, and clothing production), I came upon an entry regarding Nefertiti, the Egyption queen and goddess icon. Imagine my surprise when I beheld a clay rendering of this queen – whose beauty is so famed that her image is the most-copied work of Egyptian art – and discovered a full-figured woman – with knee hyperextension!

Nefertiti and Akhenaten

I giggled when I saw this – and became immensely heartened. Why take yoga any more seriously than I take anything else? Why not continue to use the practice to enjoy my body – and gently reject those voices that seek to tell me I’m not good enough, not quite there, not quite “right”?

It is so easy to respond to direct or indirect criticism – to “constructive” or not-so constructive criticism – by immediately believing something is wrong with us. A perfect person would look this way, or act this way. A good yogini wouldn’t fidget, or get bored or irritated. A good yogini would push themselves gently and never under- or over-work. They should be able to do this asana, or that. Their arms, or tummy, or knees – should look like other people’s arms, or tummy, or knees. If a yogini can’t master a pose, she should make sure to comment on it, and to try to get it “fixed”, so the teacher knows she is trying.

You get my drift.

It is wonderful to explore the body and what it can do. Teachers (and doctors, and fellow students, and yoga authors) have much to teach me. But they are in my employ – not the other way around.

I am not worried about hurting my body. Injuries come, no matter how careful we are. I plan to play in my body. To care for my body – to stretch and grow and learn. To make mistakes, and to hopefully heal. I guarantee you no author in a yoga journal, no web-based doctor, no fellow student, and no beloved teacher, cares more about my knees – and my body – than I! I trust myself, and I recommit to trusting myself, another day.

So for today: I figure if Nefertiti could be worshipped and venerated for her beauty for about 2500 years – then my knees are beautiful too!

Just the way they are.

Nefertiti and Akhenaten

on the death of a beau

My first heartbreak – the first boy I loved. He died today; suddenly, due to suicide. The community is reeling from this – as we will, for some time to come.

I had been thinking about him just last Friday, as I sat in the shade with a friend on a bench beside two bright yellow school buses at my kids’ rural school. I have a pleasurable association with school buses singularly due to this young man; on field trips we’d sit together and flirt, and I adored him. Shortly after one such trip he broke up with me at the Aquatic Center because I was too “straight” – late-eighties parlance for not being more willing to kiss, or hold hands, or advance along those lines – and he broke my heart. I was twelve. Later that evening my father picked me up in the family 1984 Cougar and drove me home in the rain; my eyes spangled with tears and windshield diamonds as the Poison ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorns” played on the radio. I was quiet; my father never asked why I was sad. I knew the moment was maudlin but at the same time it was very real. That wouldn’t be my last romance with the young man in question. And in this funny way that breakup toughened me up and we remained friends through the friendship, and more, that followed.

This man left behind many who loved him deeply; none more than, I suspect, his parents, his widow, and his children. I know a little about suicide and it’s a special kind of heartbreak – although any sudden and early death is hard to come to terms with.

Tonight I’m thinking of the times we spent together – from my preteens on through young adulthood. Many memories are too personal to share here. This man was a wonderful man and he must have loved his family very, very much. I remember suicidal thoughts, and the memory is a spooky one: somber, serious, not even full of pain, quite-matter-of-fact. I stood at my kitchen sink and thought, “The world would be better off-“. A moment later I knew I had to call someone. It was the thought of my children: impermissible. I felt numb, but I knew better.

I got through, but many do not.

This news, coming on the eve of my thirteenth wedding anniversary, touches me deeply.

Life, it seems, is not easy, and it is not fair. It doesn’t make sense, not to my mere mortal brain at least – and it doesn’t have to. I am here to comfort, and to understand – not to write the playbook.

Goodbye, dear boy. Know you were loved deeply, and by many.

a poem on humility

Yesterday a man I just met, recited a version this poem. The circumstances and story of his life are such that it was all the more meaningful to me:

It is only a tiny rosebud,
A flower of Allah’s design;
But I cannot unfold the petals
With these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers
Is not known to such as I.
ALLAH opens this flower so sweetly,
Then in my hands they die.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,
This flower of Allah’s design,
Then how can I have the wisdom
To unfold this life of mine?

So I’ll trust in Allah for leading
Each moment of my day.
I will look to Allah for His guidance
Each step of the way.

The pathway that lies before me,
Only Allah knows.
I’ll trust Him to unfold the moments,
Just as He unfolds the rose.

I was so impressed by this poem. It is a reminder that present circumstances are not all they seem; and that I have a good life, as long as I don’t interfere with it.

when the thieves come

One of my mentors first brought my attention to the adage:

“We’re here to build character, not be one.”

This has been a most meaningful concept which drifts in and out of my consciousness, usually at two separate times: when I am facing an opportunity for growth, and about to take that opportunity – or when I’m watching someone else at that same juncture.

I believe most people have a tendency to resist growth. We resist growth and as a result, our lives get more painful and pinched. We become consumed in obsession, or rage or anxiety, our ambitions, our “busy”, our self-absorbed “life isn’t good enough”. Our days can go on this way for years. It’s a painful way to live.

At best we try to manage and direct our growth. “I’ll read this self-help book and then I’ll feel better.” “I’ll pretend everything is okay and then somehow it will be.” “I’ll tell the story about how I’m the victim so everyone will see how Special I am.” “After I get this job/quit this job/get a boyfriend/lose this boyfriend/move/stop moving I’ll feel better.” Ad infinitum.

In rare cases we will see the futility of this life, this resistance. We will feel a pain – maybe a little, maybe the most we’ve ever known. We will give in, give up, let go. We will be come teachable. Perhaps we’ve been wrong about the whole business after all!

Then, and only then, are we able to grow. And wonderful things are ahead.

Let me tell you a recent story from my life.

Almost a year ago now, our family was wronged by members of another household. The painful experience was swift, baffling, hurtful, and confusing. Despite my path of faith, wonderful friends, family, and mentors, I felt cast into darkness.

I relied on my faith as I never previously had. It was the only place I found even a little comfort. I talked with my mentors and trusted friends. I tried to take helpful, sensible action and help my family – and myself. For a long time, I was almost numb to the fact I’d been wronged. I was so busy trying to figure out how to recover our losses I didn’t have time for the people who hurt us. Over time I began to know they had hurt my family in a way that I found difficult to take. My mind began to obsess – how could they do this? Why did they do this? What is wrong with them?

It has been a while now, and my family is doing well. But these memories are sometimes painful. On my drive to and from errands I see the house where these people live. I am reminded of my pain, humiliation, fear, and confusion on an almost-daily basis. Sometimes I see the parties who hurt myself and my family.

What should I do? Should I bring up my grievance? Should I, as so many do, nurse that private grudge and relive my past pain? Should I knock on their door and extend an olive branch?

This is where I have an opportunity to grow.

My old behaviors are not healthy or helpful. They have me wishing revenge, or that harm would come to those have hurt me. Sometimes, my old behaviors have me go the other route – that of denial. Constantly wanting everything to be “okay”. I want to have a talk with those who’ve harmed me so we can sort it all out, drop the ill-feeling. I want them to, if not admit they wronged me, at least tell me they like me and wish me well. I want to manage my reputation – I want people not to know the worst about me (or my family); I want people to hold me in high regard.

These are all attempts to manage my pain, or to make it go away. Plain and simple. When we see we are trying to manage our lives, we can laugh – a little.

“Building character”, for me, means to accept that I’m in pain, that I was wronged, and that I refuse to wrong others. I don’t have to be friends with these individuals. I don’t have to “have a talk” with them where we (supposedly) clear up any misunderstandings. I don’t have to do anything about them except refuse to nurse a grudge, and to extend to them courtesy, my well-wishes – and leave them be.

It can help, sometimes, to take the long view:

The other day I received a thorough and heartfelt apology from someone who believed she’d wronged me three years ago. Her infraction had weighed on her mind. She detailed her wrongs, and apologized thoroughly.

I ask myself this: I must live in a way that I will be okay if I receive an apology in three, ten, twenty years. But I also must live in a way I will be okay if I never receive an apology, if I never know why these people sought fit to hurt us.

I refrain from causing harm to others. I will not gossip, or wish them will. I will not slander their characters (aloud or in my mind).

I refrain from causing harm to myself. I will not constantly relive painful memories. I will not criticize myself for the pain I felt (and sometimes feel), for my best-attempts when I suffer, or for my mistakes.

“Patience, persistance, & prayer”. It ain’t glamorous, it ain’t exciting. But growth? Yes. It makes for growth.

a wish on mother’s day

When I had my first child, people were very kind. They said wonderful things about the joys of caring for children. They honored me with their well-wishes and their respectful words.

Twelve years later, I grieve a little. I wish my place as a mother had always been so honored, but this was not to be. The world is hard on mothers. We are sentimentally sanctified by turns, then torn apart in every way imaginable – figuratively, and literally (the leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide). We are made into angels for others’ convenience, and then raged at when we so often demonstrate human imperfection.

We are told we had too few kids, or too many, or not the right kind of children, or that we have been neglectful – or over-involved. The world is critical of all women, but mothers especially. For when our children err or are hurt, or are simply children, mothers are always criticized as well – usually quite ruthlessly. We have always done too much or done far too little.

Yet no one is so hard on the mother as the mother herself. Doubts pile up, mistakes are made. Envy, anxiety, the stress of providing for children – their clothing, their food, their education, their environment. And yet all this is nothing compared to the distress we feel when the day comes that our children suffer. On this day most mothers will experience a pain almost indescribable, almost beyond the reach of God herself.

I can’t pinpoint the moment – the month, week, or day – that I departed from how hard I’d been on myself, for my mistakes as a mother. All I know is, at some point I knew I had to set foot on a different path. I know I had to first admit – as the saying goes – to God, to myself, and to another human being just what those mistakes were. Maybe that was the hard part. Then once those mistakes were out in the open, I had to do something about them. I had to pluck up my courage. I had to dig deep. I had to let some relationships die (they’d been dead a while anyway!). I had to grown new ones. I had to stretch out my hand for help.

Today I no longer say “had to”. I say, “get to”. I get to let relationships die that are harmful. I get to grow new ones. I get to show courage on a daily basis. I get to love myself. No matter what.

Today my thoughts are with the world’s mothers, and the world’s children – and those who believe themselves motherless, and those who believe themselves childless. May we all be freed from our selfishness, and our self-absorption; our preoccupation with our personal woes and the wrongs done to us. May we open our hearts to others, and more fully to ourselves.

For those with hard hearts, with a spirit of unforgiveness and anger toward their mothers, I offer my soft heart, my listening heart. I know what it is like to hate. I know what it is like to go over – and over, and over – wrongs (real or perceived). It’s a hard place to be. I wish you peace.

For those whose mothers are gone, and who miss their mothers, I offer my condolences. I know these loved ones live on in your hearts.  May your memories bring you peace, strength, and bittersweet love.

My mother, and the mothers in my lineage, taught me a great deal about love – but they taught me even more about toughness, about resiliency.

For my mother, I thank her for the years of service she gave me. I thank her for being a wonderful grandmother to my children.

For my father, I thank him for honoring me with autonomy, and for showing me a little of the way of Buddhism. I miss him, but his spirit lives on within me.

For my husband, I thank him for joining hands with me on this journey. I am proud to call him my husband and I have never wanted another by my side. My love for him grows in breadth and depth daily.

For my children, I kneel at my shrine in the morning and name them, and dedicate them to the Buddha. They are my greatest teachers. I love them more dearly than anything.

On this day I honor Mothers, and I honor the ability of Nurture that dwells within each of us. We all have it; it is a gift no one can remove save ourselves. We should never denigrate it, never treat it with cynicism or apathy.

May we have safety; may we have health; may we have happiness; may we have peace.