By Jen Lee
HSM: I don't know why motherhood has made me feel so neurotic, but after I read Momma Zen, my shoulders dropped back down below my ears and I could breathe deeply again. I felt relaxed, like I could be gentle with myself and trust myself. I'm sure you've talked to tons of moms by now--why do think we're so tightly wound? What are we missing?
KMM: We are, all of us, already neurotic long before we become mothers, but most of us have adopted some pretty clever coping mechanisms to cover it up. We have defenses, rationales and boundaries. We accumulate information, referrals, explanations, beliefs, preferences and all kinds of devices to give us a sense of control over our lives. None of these things ever work in the long run, but for a flickering instant at least, we think we have our s--t together! And along come the babies and we find out none of those things matter anymore: suddenly we have no idea what we are doing and can muster none of our previous self-certainty. Good! It was only an illusion anyway! The key to unlocking the tension you refer to is in the first three words of your question, "I don't know." When we can accept that we don't know how to parent, and moreover, that no one does; when we can accept that there is no right way to do it, then we can begin to forgive and forget our failures and trust ourselves. We don't have to go chasing answers, so we can rest. Fear is disempowered, so tension is released. The shoulders relax and we exhale. A wise and trusting mother simply observes things as they are, taking cues as they appear, responding intuitively to what is happening right in front of her eyes (whether she likes it or not!), knowing only that it is all about to change.
HSM: Zen has drawn so much attention from our culture in recent times that it's practically become a catch-word. Do you think people are curious, seeking something in particular, or misguided about what the practice of Zen Buddhism really is? Does the trendiness of the word bother you?
KMM: Trendiness does not bother me. Delusion bothers me, and most people are deluded about Zen. This even goes for the few of us who practice it! In the pop culture it has become an all-purpose adjective people use to mean something like "bliss" or "calm" or "simple" or "natural" or something like that. But Zen doesn't mean any of those things. People have mistaken the style of the Japanese Zen aesthetic – the art, the gardens, the spartan simplicity – for what happens in Zen practice. Zen is meditation. And since meditation likewise prompts so much misunderstanding, I like to say that meditation means attention. Zen is nothing but paying attention. To what? Your life! And not life as you wish it could be, but life as it is! A life that looks exactly like your life! And this is truly what we are seeking: Satisfaction with our lives. I just wish that when people said "Zen" they really meant "Zen," because then they would totally transform their lives and the world. But I'm deluded to hold out hope for that!
HSM: People talk a lot about how becoming parents changes their relationship with their partners. Do you think there's an opportunity in this next phase, and if so, what is it?
KMM: Yes, the opportunity is the same one we are presented with at every stage of our life: to give up the past, and to commit to a more mature, lasting, respectful relationship of mutual kindness which is true and selfless love. I know it's easier said than done. Our children grease the wheels for us though. They enable us to go beyond what we thought we were capable of, and then we find the infinite possibilities of love.
HSM: What do you hope your daughter learns about spirituality and truth from you?
KMM: Oh, but if I could only learn everything about spirituality and truth from her! That is what she is here to teach me. To be honest, unafraid, naked, authentic, compassionate and generous. You know the rest. If we could only mirror their faces; if we could only reflect the wisdom that shines from their unselfconscious glee! We are all given this treasure, this perfect teaching, and we make ourselves miserable worrying about how to turn our kids into something else. I for one, have squandered nearly all of my prize, but I'll be paying better attention again tomorrow.
HSM: If you were here with me (or any of our readers) in a moment when I am tired, or uncertain, or weary, what would you say?
KMM: I love you.
View "a piece of peace for mommy" by clicking on Momma Zen video above.
Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, and contributing author of the recent book, The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change. You can read her regularly on her blog, Cheerio Road.
Jen Lee is the author of Don't Write: A Reluctant Journal, and she blogs at jenlee.net about writing, motherhood, and life in New York. Jen lives in Park Slope with her husband and two daughters, ages 4 ½ and 1 ½. Jen is a regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama.