Jungian analyst Marion Woodman said: "One of the problems women have today is that they're not willing to find the river in their own life and surrender to its current. They're not willing to spend time, because they feel that they are being selfish. They grow up trying to please other people, and they rarely ask themselves, Who am I? Rarely. And then life starts to feel meaningless because they live in terms of pleasing, rather in terms of being who they are."
When my life began to feel meaningless, I did not ask Who am I? but rather, How can I find out about myself? I knew I wanted to go on a quest, like the knights of old, but how? How could I, a mother of three, fulfill my obligations and still be true to myself? As a full-time mother and a part-time everything else, I was well into my thirties before I even began trying to find my current. And then it was just one more thing to try to fit in to the schedule. How was I to juggle mothering, part-time job, volunteer work, significant other's needs, friends' needs -- and me? There was not enough time for doing, let alone for reflecting. How would I find time for the sacred when I couldn't even get to the bathroom alone?
The flood of unacknowledged questions was released with the birth of my third child, my first and only daughter. As I looked at this vibrant, lively, unfettered personality, I cringed at the thought of her becoming like me. What sort of woman would she see as a role model? How could I allow her to grow up thinking it was normal to lose one's self in unending busyness? What could I do to change things for her? There had to be a better way. And I had to find it -- for myself and for her.
I set out to discover the river in my life. I determined that being myself was not a selfish, but a necessary thing. Yet, I could not abandon the responsibilities which I had taken on. It was not the fault of these innocents that I had made poor choices. Somehow my sons and my daughter had to be a part of my river.
So I embarked on my quest, although I did not leave my home. I became a hero who did not fight a dragon, a monk who did not meditate, a hermit who could not retreat to the forest. "Full of hindrances is household life," said the Buddha. I doubt he really knew much about it, but at any rate, he left. I can't. Laundry, dishes, meals, squabbles -- I am drawn into conflicts a hundred times a day, and I become a screaming harridan, destroying my own peace of mind and my self-respect. I am forever asking my children, my God and myself for forgiveness. Then I pick up the pieces and go on. I read for inspiration, but ultimately I know that living my spiritual life in my family is something I must learn to do myself.
I progress slowly. But I no longer refuse the experience of living. I can't pretend to be what I am not. There are issues which are important to me, that less-than-ideal me, and for my own health I must identify those issues and try to arrange my life to accommodate them, to accommodate myself. Always remembering, of course, that other people have the same right, including my children.
I begin, anew, many times a day, to be what I must be, to look within myself and say, "Yes, these are the things which are necessary for my personal salvation." Not merely for my entertainment, or my comfort, or some momentary happiness, but for my sanity, my health and my survival. Most difficult of all, I am trying to accept those answers, even when they are not the ones I hoped to discover.
Often, I am not the person I want to be. I am not as strong and brave as that knight. I am not so tolerant or patient as the monk. I am not immune to the needs of the flesh like the hermit.
And yet, I have experienced a miracle. I am learning to live with myself. "I yam what I yam," as Popeye says. I am learning to allow myself to be that person, that terribly imperfect person. For if I don't accept my own limitations, how can I possibly accept anyone else's?
I am the hero, or hera, fighting the dragon of distraction. I am the monk, contemplating the beauties of a dirty child. I am the hermit, fleeing (for whole moments at a time) the chaos of family life. I am embarking on my quest without leaving home, and I will not find a grail.
I can only pledge, to myself and to my children, that I will use all my inadequate resources to be true to my vision and find my salvation. And I pray that my example will help my sons and daughter on their own quests for the necessary in their own lives.
Sue Sanchez is a single parent of three (12, 9, and 6), recently earned a bachelor's in comparative literature, and is now studying to get her teacher's certificate. She is an emerging writer with a book, "Snail's Pace," published at PublishingOnline.com. Visit her homepage at http://sites.netscape.net/suewriteusa/homepage.
Artwork "Mirror Study" by Elizabeth Lyle
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