Motherhood: A Path to a New Kind of Enlightenment
Seeking enlightenment is usually something you do on your own or with other seekers, and completely separate from family life – and so it has been the least accessible to mothers, who are in most cases tied to their family. In my book Enlightenment Through Motherhood I illustrate how motherhood is a path that leads to a new kind of enlightenment, one where we embrace all parts of our humanity – heavenly and earthly, rational and emotional, masculine and feminine. This post is on why I wrote that book, and it appears as the Afterward in the book.
Since early adulthood I have been fascinated by the concept of enlightenment, specifically as promoted in Eastern mystical traditions. What attracted me to the Eastern spiritual systems was that enlightenment was described as an experience or state resulting from a person’s own efforts. It was something anyone could strive for, no matter their background or gender, and you could obtain it during your lifetime. It was a process that involved developing greater self-awareness and understanding, and welcomed the questioning of spiritual teachers in order to find ‘truth’.
This was so unlike the Christian tradition I had grown up with, which offered only incontestable rules to live by, an authority to answer to and any rewards for ‘good’ behaviour attainable only after you had passed away. The way spirituality was presented to me had made me feel very much like a daughter, sometimes good and at other times naughty or even rebellious, in relation to an authoritarian father figure.
And the last thing I wanted to feel, as a young woman embarking on my adult life independently of my parents, was just as I had as a young child. I wanted to explore what life had to offer: to develop my skills, to see the world, to become more aware, to engage in meaningful and equal relationships, to feel confident in my body and about my sexuality.
The Eastern spiritual systems I was exploring seemed to validate all those aspects of a person. But as I discovered through my experiences, they too contained prejudices. They weren’t as blatantly patriarchal as Western religions, which were dominated by the father image of god, and they seemed to value both the masculine and feminine dimensions of human nature, as illustrated in their art which often depicts the absolute, such as Shiva in Hinduism, as having a feminine side and a masculine side and then both those sides united together in sublime union.
Yet even with such acknowledgment of the feminine, and also the (almost) equal valuing of seekers and their teachers or gurus (the absolute is accepted as existing in everyone, with the only difference between a seeker and teacher is that the seeker just doesn’t realise it yet), I still found that the way the spiritual practices were promoted had a distinct masculine bias. And, the daily lives of people in cultures those traditions were a part of, were also governed by rules as patriarchal – if not more so – as in the West, a contradiction that didn’t rest comfortably with me.
But I continued to read materials by various gurus on their theories and experiences of enlightenment, I studied philosophy and religious studies at University, I attended workshops and I met some gurus. I practiced the recommended techniques to promote enlightenment, such as meditation, chanting mantras and yoga, and I had some amazing experiences as a result of those practices.
All seemed well and good, except for my growing irritation at always reading and hearing ‘god’ or ‘the absolute’ described using the word ‘he’. Logic told me that if god was absolute (that which is independent of all relations, perfect and complete, free from any restriction), then god ought to be something beyond gender.
I also had some prickly experiences such as when I met a well-known guru from India who refused to touch me when giving his blessing because I was a woman. He said that my femaleness would taint his pure state and/or ignite feelings of desire, which he had ‘decided’ not to experience any more. I found it difficult to believe that someone who had such prejudices about gender, to the point where he feared contact with women, and was so terrified of his own sexuality, could be enlightened, as he and his many followers claimed.
I had always imagined that an enlightened person would be free of prejudices, especially as such people are meant to experience everything as part of the same unity, as ‘one’.
My discontent grew as I found myself in other similar situations that made me feel uncomfortable, and even humiliated, simply because I was female.
And Then I Became a Mother
As I was consumed by this new role and went about doing the various tasks mothers do in our day-to-day lives, I couldn’t help notice there were many similarities between the things I was doing naturally simply by playing my mothering role and the spiritual techniques I had been practicing and learning about previously. Yet I had never come across any mention of motherhood as a spiritual path. This seemed an astounding oversight, considering the number of women who have experienced motherhood.
It all begins with pregnancy, which can initiate some profound energetic shifts in women as the life force (or prana or chi) in our bodies is intensified as the process of creation takes place, leading to an enhanced sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sensations, as well as to emotions and thoughts, and sometimes even to a super-charged sex drive which is intimately linked with the energy some spiritual traditions hold responsible for leading to spiritual enlightenment, and which I’ve explained in my book.
And then there’s the process of childbirth. Not only is childbirth fundamentally crucial for the continuation of our species, but it is such an amazing and awe-inspiring experience to have, even for those just attending a birth, that it is a wonder there is little talk about it in our culture – except in secret places like ‘Mummy blogs’. It is as though we have all been put under a spell which makes childbirth invisible to us, except during the short time we participate in it. Before and after that, I can see how easy it is for children to believe in storks delivering babies, because adults behave as though such a myth were true too.
And then the life-long task of mothering.
Mothering is such a huge, all-encompassing and time-consuming mission, with far more serious consequences for our actions than for any other type of work, and also, many mothers would argue, far greater rewards than any other work could possibly give. And it provides continuous and constant prompting towards growth in consciousness, awareness and the capacity to love – essentially the requirements for enlightenment as described in various texts.
Yet motherhood is given such little recognition in most cultures, and certainly doesn’t have any status as a spiritual path. Even mothers feel as though we are not doing all that much, rationalising away the significance of the countless challenges we deal with daily and the fact that we have reasonably healthy, developing, achieving, well-rounded children happily asleep in their beds at the end of each day.
Spirituality vs Enlightenment
For centuries, most of the world’s cultures have elevated people who participate in spiritual practices, particularly those who have achieved a state of apparent ‘spiritual mastery’. And because the practices defined as spiritual have been performed separate from family life and so have been tricky for women shouldering the responsibilities of child-raising to participate in, mothers have been unable to take part fully in spiritual endeavours – or so it has always been assumed.