by Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD
It's the day before Mother's Day. Why not do something totally out of the ordinary this year? What would that be you ask? Forgive her for something that you may unknowingly have held her accountable for, release her of this expectation, and deepen your love like never before.
I stumbled upon this gift of deep forgiveness when years ago, a writing coach asked us to write about one of the simplest and yet most complicated feelings in our human repertoire - a mother's love – which applies even if the love is from a mother who didn't actually give birth to us.
My writing muse must have been in agreement with that observation. As soon as I heard the topic “a mother's love,” my pen instantly teleported me back to an unforgettable experience of utter bliss while fully immersed in a sula, a river rapid in the Amazon rainforest of Suriname.
With the seat of my body firmly tucked in a smooth pocket of rock formation, and warm water softly massaging my shoulders and cradling all of me, I savored being held within this protected, loving womb consisting entirely of tropical paradise.
My bliss crashed and split into feeling both weird and foolish when I heard what everyone else had written. “Normal” people associated motherly love with Mother Mary and Quan Yin acts of compassion and love: offering you a listening ear, bringing you soup when you are sick, telling you the encouraging truth when no one else does, holding you when you need to cry, believing in you even if you made a horrible mistake, seeing the best in you, soothing auwies, not letting you quit, bending over backwards and going the extra mile for you, no matter how much stretching is involved on mom's end.
Motherly love came from real people, real mothers dealing with real life, not a jungle in paradise. Why did I not think of that?
“We look out to nature to comfort us, to help us cope with what's lacking in our human attachments. It's hard to face the truth and pain of less than ideal mothering. I've been there,” my well-meaning teacher said in solidarity, trying to validate what she assumed must have motivated me to avoid writing about my human mother and sadly confuse her with a river rapid in the rainforest.
Really? Is that what I had done? Was my intimate relationship with nature a coping strategy to avoid the pain and disappointment caused by my real mother? By real life?
I stepped into and wiggled myself into this assumption, and I tugged and pulled to make it fit, but it didn't move beyond my hips. I had a fair share of “normal” mothering and a fair share of less than ideal mothering like many others, but making her shortcomings and my assumed pain be the reasons why I felt so closely connected to and comforted in nature felt contrived.
As if guided by a gentle hand, I attended a seminar with Jack Kornfield, who talked about the grieving process of Thich Nhat Hanh after he lost his mother. His heart heavily ached and longed for her loving presence for over a year until she spoke to him one day. She reassured him that she was all around him. In the trees, the flowers, the streams, the clouds, the wind. He allowed himself to open up to this love and for the first time since his mother's death, the crushing pain had lifted and he could feel their connection once again.
Then out of the blue, my neighbor brought by a book, Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama. After describing the Himalayas on the first page of his book, Swami Rama wrote on the next page, “For me, the Himalayas were my spiritual parents and living there was like living in the lap of a mother.” It felt like another serendiptious gift of guidance, hand-picked just for me by a loving presence that was more attentive, omnipotent, and all-knowing than the most ideal mom could ever be.
Swami Rama studied for two and a half months with his “Mother Teacher”, a gentle, but powerful, much sought-after, strong-willed 96 year old yogi who meditated naked at midnight and 3 am in a Shakti Temple next to her humble abode and never lied down to sleep. When it was time to part ways, and she saw his tears, she said to him, “Don't be attached to the mother image in my physical body and personality. I am the mother of the universe who is everywhere. Learn to raise your consciousness above and beyond your mortal self. Be fearless. I am with you.”
High five. Then I realized that my besties, Thich Nhat Hanh, Swami Rama, and this 96 year old yogi who meditated naked in a temple, may get me, but this was not really helping me eradicate the weirdness factor as a 30-something modern woman in search of her true voice, even within progressively-minded Berkeley, CA.
How could I translate my experiences and shiny slivers of knowing into modern concepts that could be of benefit to my colleagues, readers, and clients?
Then I ran into this saying, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience, not human beings having a spiritual experience.”
That was it! I wasn't totally clear yet how this quote related, but it struck a chord. It had to do with a shift in perspective and expectations that felt closer to the Truth even if less painful. The absence of pain didn't necessarily mean the absence of Truth as was implied to me. On the contrary, the deepest Truth was free of suffering.
Isn't life much harder, disappointing, and cynical when we approach it as human beings with limited human consciousness and try to stuff our complex and paradoxical spiritual experiences into thin ego-challenged good-bad files than if we approach it as spiritual beings with an aware mind that has plenty of space for equinimity and can accommodate all of our human experiences and our entire file cabinet with room to spare?
Equinimity is not bypassing or avoiding negative feelings or experiences. Equinimity is like stirring a scoop of mud into the ocean versus a glass of water where the ocean is our aware mind and the glass our human brain.
Diluting the impact of negativity directed at us doesn't mean that we dismiss what darkness is all about or will never know the damage that it can do to us. We do know, and wisely protect ourselves from it.
Similarly, my aware mind knows that receiving love and guidance from nature is not an avoidant coping strategy to deal with the pain caused by our imperfect mothers. It is a realistic and effective strategy to help us accept and deeply forgive our human, imperfect mothers, who will never be able to embody the full grandeur of the divine mother that we deserve, need, seek, and can access long after our infant years.
Our unmet yearnings for perfect motherly love influence us more than we realize. Healing and clearing old disappointments and hurt still stuck in the body can lead to a new day when we are no longer triggered by daily life and relationships that reveal this deep longing for more than mom could ever provide.
As spiritual beings who signed up for a human experience, our unique imperfect human mothers are our chosen catchers and guardians to buffer us from the shock of being born and the shock of discovering that our divine essence and potential are packaged in a helpless human form. Our mother's warm bosom and cradling arms mimic the familiar rolling waves of the ocean, the natural rocking of Mother Earth's arms guided by Grandmother Moon.
Her perfumed scent and doting eyes remind us of Mother Earth's flowers and breath-taking beauty, and her maternal nurturing and nourishing instill seeds of awareness of Mother Earth's regenerative abundance and bountiful generosity.
When we perceive our human mother's main task as some sort of pitstop to help transition and redirect us back to the natural and abundant sources of Divine Mother Love along our journey, we stop blaming the pitstop for being nothing like our dream and imagined end goal.
It may be the reason why my clients with the greatest healing and teaching potential often have mothers who severely lack the patient, wise, and loving qualities that we attribute to mother. Many of these clients figure out at an early age how to receive divine Motherly Love in nature, from surrogate mothers, or from spirit guides.
Some even discover the reasons why they may have picked their particular mothers. They get a headstart in understanding their own power and unraveling their soul's lessons in this life. The tests to pass can be very hard, but they also have great potential and talent in creating their own reality and tapping into deep inner knowing and strength, which may be inaccessible to others who were not cracked wide open or didn't start as young.
Regardless, deep forgiveness for all of us occurs when the extra “charge” that we put on our mothers is neutralized. According to James Hillman, author of Soul's Code, we carry culturally-influenced, unconscious expectations especially in modern societies about our mothers (and fathers), making them solely responsible for activating and sustaining our predrafted blueprint and purpose.
This kind of thinking can severely limit our receptivity to mentors and the Universe ready to guide us. Accepting our mothers 's limitations not only releases them from our grip but releases us from their grip. It also releases us from our own unrealistic expectations of ourselves as mothers.
But not just mothers hold themselves in a tight and unforgiving grip. Anyone who has had a mother and feels jilted by a mother's love could benefit from viewing motherly love differently.
I've seen positive shifts in young childless women and men and their intimate relationships after they learned in shamanic journeys and guided meditations to soothe themselves in tree branches and cozy nests, damp earth and cave hollows, with dogs, bears, deer, dragons, jaguars, and spirit guides, and by camp fires, ocean beaches, and in desert calm.
With their heart cradled and healed, they are able to truly love and appreciate their mothers and loved ones for who they are, and share their own vulnerabilities with greater ease, trust, and resilience.
When we are ready to move on, our human mother is suddenly just another human being with gifts, talents, limitations, and shortcomings like all of us. We love and appreciate her like our best friend's mother, or our favorite teacher, aunt, or grandmother, and feel liberated to outgrow her and not take everything she says or wants to heart even if it will disappoint her.
Those with more challenging mothers also benefit from viewing them with spaciousness. Rather than flying off the handle when mom does that one annoying thing again, you may instead react to her with greater clarity and composure as if she were your bitter neighbor, the clueless, self-absorbed cashier, the bossy, critical landlady, or the draining and always complaining colleague. Or maintain the firm limits needed in realizing that yes, she is truly abusive, and no, she is not going to change anytime soon.
This spaciousness is the tell-tale sign that we have discovered our own wholeness and inner mother. It doesn't mean that we are perfect and no longer need our mothers or others, or stop sharing little gestures of love and attention with another.
On the contrary, our wholeness allows for more genuine sharing of undefended love and authenticity with our mothers and all others. We end up feeling a greater sense of groundedness and confidence in our voice and pursuit of our dreams because criticism and negativity from others are now buffered by our inner mothers and pose no threat to our self love.
Wishing you a love-filled Mother's Day full of forgiveness, release, deep joy, and genuine acceptance for your Mother and yourself!