The Rumination of Motherhood

Be still and present to this moment.
Receive the teaching of the mystery held here and now.
Surrender yourself.
Breathe…Pay attention. All truth is found right where you are.

Familiar mantras float through my mind as I find myself sitting, legs crossed, in a comfortable chair in a quiet room. I breathe slowly, intentionally. Although distractions disrupt the spacious silence – thoughts of the chores still to do, grumbles in my stomach, the occasional scuffle of my two dogs playing – I continually return to attention, fixated on the sacredness of this moment. All my life, I have longed for the discipline to make space daily to meditate. At times, I have embraced this practice with dedication; mostly, though, I have half-heartedly tried and failed. However, for six weeks, I have paused a dozen times a day, found stillness, and relinquished the drive to move and act to surrender to the need to be present fully in contemplation.

As I sit, I look down at my miraculous instructor. In my arms rests the mentor I did not know I sought: my son, Oak, who is teaching me this new way of intentionality. I realize that I still have not found an ideal inner alignment that motivates me to meditation. But Oak reminds me, by inviting me countless times a day to stop whatever task seems urgent to my busy mind, to move through my days in a better way. He gently asks, with little cries and wriggles, to be held, to be fed, to be paid attention to. In spite of myself, with deep love, I sit, cradle him in my arms, put him to my breast, and breathe.

Little did I know the sheer demand of breastfeeding, of motherhood, before Oak initiated me. I could not fathom the way time would slide by, slipping into cycles beyond parameters, as his small body simply requested its needs and I fulfilled them.  The hours each week add up to entire days spent sitting, nursing, sometimes reading a book or resting my eyes, but mostly, marveling at the beauty of this earthy act of being present to Oak and his attention to me. Love beyond love. Perhaps that is the first, greatest lesson he is offering: we do not change out of duty or discipline. We cannot transform our life because we feel we should. We alter our lives because we are pushed beyond ourselves; we do it out of love.

The practice is not easy, because it is pervasive. I have not felt resentment, but I have begrudgingly scooped up my son in the early hours of morning and sighed in exhaustion as we sit together in the dark. I have felt anxiety as he puts his fists to his mouth and coos mere minutes after a feeding – he needs to nurse again? I close the book, turn off the stove, and return to the discipline. When is it time to be present? Always, here and now. He smiles as he falls into sleep and lets my breast fall from his mouth. There are no boundaries. This, always this, is a holy moment, the gateway to enlightenment. 

And this is the secret knowledge mothers have held for millennia. Not in temples or shrines, not by kneeling or folding hands or reciting rote prayers, but simply by opening arms and welcoming into our laps the need most present to us do we embrace the sacred. The ancient Roman goddess of Breastfeeding and Motherhood was named Rumina, “she who causes the milk to flow.” The old Latin word for breast is rumis or ruma; to ruminate means to ponder, to wonder, to pay attention to. Each comforting stroke of a cheek is a prayer; each thrill of delight in our child’s growth is an acknowledgment of the divine all around us. Our children are the instructors who illuminate the meaning of life; they create a space first in our bodies, then in our lives and hearts, that empties us of self-absorption. The rumination of motherhood leads us to the knowledge of how much we do not know. It humbles us to the messy, embodied work of true presence. It allows us to forget ourselves so as to remember who we really are.

A mother needs no mantra but the quiet, rhythmic suckling of a child near her heart. She needs no practice but the constant surrender of self to something greater: a small human being who will outlive her into a world she cannot imagine. The mystery is not so hidden, just disguised as the intimate, liminal relationship between mother and baby. Oak shows me, over and over, that no journey to a mountaintop is needed. I only need to be willing to accept his teaching – the invitation to the nourishment that comes in the form of caring for another. Be still, he asks, summoning me with the gentle drop of his eyelashes. Pay attention, he says, grasping my finger in his little hand. Let love transform your life. I breathe in, I breathe out. All truth is found right where you are.