This chapter of Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children – Becoming a Mindful Parent, is all about how we define ourselves and, specifically, how that definition is challenged when we become mothers. One of the the things the author focuses on is our constant self-evaluation of personal performance. I love how the she reminds us that by “always judging our worth, we block the possibility of joy in our daily life” and that we essentially need to “get out of our own way” to be more happy.
Napthali also points out the tendencies of mothers to define ourselves by the roles we play, be it at work or within our communities, as well as the way others see us in those roles. She deftly points out the flaw in this system, writing that, “most of the time we can only guess at the view of others, but that does not stop some of us from tormenting ourselves with speculations”.
MPMK contributor Kim writes much more eloquently on this topic than I ever could:
The portion of this chapter that resonated with me the most was not relying on others to tell me who I am. A few years ago when I got sick with an autoimmune disease I was forced to question the identity and ego I had created for myself. I had always been an overachiever, passionate worker, social butterfly, and group joiner, with a little bit of style.
But now, in a new town, with a new job, and new friends, and an increasingly debilitating illness, I wondered what people would think of me. I wasn’t sure I even knew myself anymore with my often messy house, dwindling work schedule, boring wardrobe, forgotten commitments, and last-minute canceling of plans. The guilt of not keeping up the standards I had set for myself was an embarrassment to me in front of all of those people new to my life. In fact, I think the loss of the person I thought I was may have made me sicker than the illness. I felt lost.
Then it hit me. It doesn’t matter what they think because I can only be who I am. And in reality, they probably don’t think anything at all. They are probably so busy thinking about their own lives, that they haven’t given me space in their thoughts for a moment. The freedom of this realization was that I could be whatever I wanted to be and really I could just BE and find out who I’d become.
Being pregnant with my second child, complicated by my health issues, chapter three of this book couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve felt those thoughts slipping in, of comparison and self-judgement, thinking “I should have more energy by now,” “People will think I’m so lazy,” or “I should be able to do what other moms do with four kids while they’re pregnant.”
But reading this chapter of “Who Am I?” reminded me to let go of building my identity or self-worth on what others may think. I am who I AM at this point in time in my life and if I worry so much about what others think I’m taking time away from living it. I can just do my best and be thankful that my path has opened me to the freedom from expectations.
Along with encouraging the reader to explore the ways in which we construct a false sense of self based on our ego, chapter three also highlights methods for forming a truer picture. One is to watch our thoughts during meditation (or meditative moments) and notice that they are inconsistent and ever-changing. Basically, Napthali is pointing out that we are not static creatures that can be easily labeled (positively or negatively) and that our constantly evolving feelings and thoughts are just that, feelings and thoughts, they do not define us.
Another strategy is to focus on the part of us that connects us to all others, what the author refers to as “our oneness”. Napthali points out that “research from all over the world on personal well-being suggests that people who are focused on others are happier than those who are self-absorbed”. She also reminds us that as parents we are already naturally learning how to forgo our own ego and focus on the happiness of our children instead.
From there, she moves on to using our easy-flowing love for our children as a model for practicing “loving kindness meditation”. This is, by far, my favorite part of the chapter. The author’s description of the practice made me feel calmer and happier just reading about it and it goes hand-in-hand with the gratitude journal idea I gravitated towards in previous chapters.
Now it’s your turn. What resonated with you in chapter three? Has it made you re-think how you define yourself?
And if you’d like to join in, you have two weeks to buy the book before we discuss chapters 4 &5 on September 4th – that’s right, we’re amping it up and covering two whole chapters next time!