BY ELIZABETH WESTERHAUS
I’ve been thinking about monks.
I know, weird. Of all the things to spend my free time contemplating.
But I’ve always been SO enthralled with their seemingly “quiet” and peaceful life.
The solitude that envelopes their serene landscape like a blanket each day.
Their walking meditations along beautiful mountainside trails, wearing nothing but robes and the skin on their feet.
Sitting, breathing and meditating for HOURS on end.
It has always seemed so lovely, so enlightening to me to be able to live that way and devote your life to living peacefully.
You know what’s enlightening?
Being a mom.
At first glance a comparison between the two lives, well, seems ridiculous.
You can’t compare these two worlds that seem to exist on opposite ends of the spectrum.
My life is loud, stinky, chaotic … it’s every emotion you could possibly ever feel, every day.
To feel “Zen” on a Monday is out of the question. Or longer than three minutes at a time, where ANY silence is ALWAYS interrupted by a whining voice, a temper tantrum or someone who needs help wiping their butt.
I highly doubt a sweet Buddhist monk could cross over into my world, and keep his act together.
The first five minutes of the hours between 4-7 p.m. would send him running barefoot back to the hills from which he came, probably tripping over a wayward pink winter boot and catching his robes on the plastic sword of my 5-year-old stuck in the safety locks of the kitchen cabinets.
So what is real and true, I asked myself?
The life of a wandering mother? Pacing the tiles of her cold, sticky kitchen floor?
Or a monk? Padding softly through candlelit Ashrams?
If anything, the life of a mother, minus the robes and bare feet, chanting and all that, seems to me far more enlightening then walking through a Zen garden.
The values of life that monks spend days on end understanding and accepting, we learn quickly, as mothers.
We are forced daily to understand and accept the idea of impermanence.
That nothing lasts.
That the babies we held so closely for so long, eventually leave us and don’t need us.
Motherhood teaches us daily what it means to be patient. Loving. Kind.
Understanding and accepting, in the midst of rage, frustration, anger and sadness.
How to summon up a little more of each virtue, when we feel we have nothing left to give.
The life of a monk, to me, couldn’t be more contradictory to my own life, most days.
I don’t doubt the mountains, the ocean waves, nature in all its glory in those far-off, beautiful, sheltered places, could provide some sort of clarity, answers and love from the universe. That those magnificent landscapes won’t move you to tears with all their splendor.
But you can’t say, as a mother, having watched a baby being born, had one pulled from your own body no less, laid across your chest in all its innocence, that it’s not the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
You can’t deny, as a mother, in that moment, that the focus of your life has changed forever, for good, no matter how rough, raw and pain-filled delivering that one little body into the world may be.
To not, even for a moment, see, feel and believe that God or something SO much bigger than you, really does exist.
If you were asleep at all before motherhood, seeking ‘consciousness,’ be assured, you can count on motherhood to wake you up, in a way sitting cross-legged in stillness could never do.
To truly live, feel and breathe every emotion on earth, comes with being a parent.
Real anxiety in watching your baby girl wheeled away for an X-ray, your son to lay under an MRI scan, to feel the deep physical and emotional pain and suffering of a parent, in the quiet but torturous moments of just WAITING … for a diagnosis, an answer, a phone call.
The all night vigils held in a mothers’ mind, in bedrooms all across the world, praying for a fever to break, the vomiting to stop, the cough to clear up, the seizures to end, peace to be restored in our small, little worlds.
So we can breathe again.
I doubt many monks have fully experienced the undue suffering to a child, even death, that may bring relief from pain to a parent, but an irreplaceable and everlasting hole in your soul.
To feel TRUE grief, TRUE sorrow, TRUE anger and try to accept it all and move forward with it.
Although there is lovely noise to be heard in the sounds of palms flapping in the breeze on an ocean-side cliff, in the soft chime of a bell or the melodious hum of a chanted “Ohm,” I have proof that the life of a mother, the sounds of every day in my world, the simple sounds of a squeaky dresser drawer sliding open in the dark hours of early morn, are equally as lovely.
Small noises of little feet padding to the bathroom, the clink of spoons and forks against breakfast bowls, the deep, guttural belly laughs from tickle time, can beautifully welcome more gratitude and love than you could ever imagine.
How splendid it is, I know, to watch a sunset, a moonrise, a storm roll in, but to also witness little legs and feet splayed wide across fluffy comforters, a healthy, happy, child, sleeping heavily, whose heart beat and every peaceful breath, become your own.
THAT is real. And amazing.
I don’t doubt those peace-filled monks experience beauty and gratitude daily in their quiet surroundings. But they will never experience the REAL beauty in their own sleeping child, the deep gratitude for their small life free of pain, suffering and full of good health.
I don’t judge and really do respect the life of a monk. I’m fascinated by it.
I think we, as mothers, can be equally conscious and “enlightened” in our world of raising children.
Like a monk in the hills, parenting is practicing EVERY day, the art of letting go. Not just of our children as they grow, but a little of ourselves, our beliefs, our ideals about the life we thought we knew. Surrendering to it all the best we can and moving forward to do more good.
I DO believe that clarity, peace and increased awareness can be found in the quiet moments, something we can practice each day even in our harried routines. That beneath the runny noses, doctors’ visits, piles of laundry, dirty dishes, strained marriages, blocks, Legos, Play-Doh and naked Barbies peace can be found. That we find true beauty in lanky limbs, sweet morning breath, Crayola-colored pictures and Santa jammies.
These little people we have as children are the real teachers.
And the life of mothering them? It teaches you all you’ll ever need to know.
I will continue to be intrigued by the quiet life of a monk, but quietly humbled and forever grateful for experiencing life as a mother.