After I had my son a year and a half ago, I drowned myself in spiritual teachings.
Coming from a culture and society in which depression among mothers is particularly common, my pregnancy was clouded by fears about postpartum depression. It is only natural, I thought. I am 35, with a colourful life and shiny career behind me.
So many thoughtful, aware and sensitive women get it as they rack their brains trying to make sense of what happened to their old selves—while they grow all too rapidly into someone new. I prepared my husband for it. We kept it a secret.
When my son came and I saw this fragile, sensitive being cradled in my arms, connected to my heart and my every frown and smile, I realized that despite him no longer being inside me, an invisible cord still connected our inner lives.
I had to take control. I couldn’t be depressed, if I could help it. I began to knock at the doors of wise men and women, mostly metaphorically and mostly online, to help keep me centred as I took care of a little one.
Being with my experience
All except this one teaching: They told me I had to be with my experience, 100 percent. I did not want to be with my experience. It was perched on the precipice of possible darkness. I wanted to be with their experience of light. I wanted to be like them.
By reading Pema Chodron’s bestseller, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, I learned about hope and fear in a new way. Yet, amid her descriptions of Buddhist philosophy, I found myself wanting to know more about her emotions and her journey.
Yes, that’s what Buddhist philosophy is, but how did you encounter that? Yes, that’s what your teachers told you, but what do you think? What did you struggle with? What did you find easy?
The yearning to understand the unprocessed truths of my teacher was new for me. Perhaps it came about because talking about fear, without being able to feel the suction of it, seemed too distant from my experience. My desire of getting beyond the knowledge—which was, in fact, very powerful—to how she processed and digested it all started me off on a second way of approaching teachers.
As I read The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by another bestselling author, Julia Cameron, I met a teacher who was wildly herself on paper. She invited me to be wildly myself on paper, and encouraged what she calls non-tidy writing.
Excited, I told myself, “I’m sure someone would be interested in reading this.” On my good days, maybe even I would be interested in hearing this rickety bridge of my journey squeak, and feeling the tingle in my feet as it’s just about to give way, but does not. Some days, I would like to be present to that.
What I would rather be, truth be told, is a completely packaged person—like the good books by Eckhart Tolle—with a feeling of intimate knowledge of the power that runs through the universe and us all. Instead, though, I’ve had an in-and-out, winding journey.
Thoughts alone don’t produce good music
My music teacher tells me that good thoughts alone do not produce good music. We have to devote ourselves to the less glamorous, tedious work of practice—being with each note, being with the incapability of singing it—and that, I can tell you, I just don’t want to do.
It’s so hard and boring, and worse than all that, it’s not magical or mystical. It flies too close to the burning sun of self-judgment. Yet I know that just being with it, moment-to-moment, without judgment or expectation, is both the process and the destination.
I wanted to take a sabbatical from listening to wisdom. I was gobbling up what my teachers were saying, without pause. There was already too much inside of me that hadn’t cooked yet. I just needed to stop and let it cook. Be with it. Not take in more.
To take someone as a teacher helps us abandon responsibility at some level. We accept our teachers as those who know and ourselves as those who can learn.
But the thought of no more Pema or Ram Dass or Eckhart made me so lonely. It’s like they’re my friends whom I can talk to and confide in. Sure, ’til this time, it had been a one-sided relationship, but maybe I could shift that.
To take someone as a teacher helps us abandon responsibility at some level. We accept our teachers as those who know and ourselves as those who can learn. That is quite comfortable for us, and perhaps even for them. The teacher enjoys power, respect and love, and we enjoy the comfort of slow, incremental change (if that).
However, the spiritual process involves a turn in the road where you have to choose to own your own movement, to stop outsourcing it.
I realized today that I loved my teachers, but not enough. I had to bring them closer to my heart as part of myself. They are my friends, my equals in a way—not in an egoic, who-has-it-better way, but as one part of a soul-family in which we speak the same language, see each other’s worlds and exist in one space.
As I take a piece of myself that is aching and raw to them, they may share some of what they know, as one friend often does with another friend.
To my friends, I say, “I love you. Always be here.” To myself, I say, “Hi.”
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