"Banat, Banat, Ban Jai!" ("Making, Making, some day made!") ~Paramahansa Yogananda
I recently posted the above picture of myself on my Facebook page after a particularly trying day of homework with my children. Tiredness from getting back into the routine after a relaxing summer, mixed with new teachers and next level expectations had us all on our knees by the time Friday came after the first full week of school. Those that know me can attest to the fact that it takes a lot for me lose my calm. However, 5 minutes of homework with my kids, all of my yogic training is lost and I am reduced to my most debased conditioned reactions. Although my post was half in jest, I was both surprised and relieved by its response. My experience is like that of every other family with school aged kids as we are all doing our best to traverse the demanding and challenging landscape of a householder.
The Hindu tradition recognizes four different stages of life that we must experience in order to live a complete life. They are known as the "ashramas" and consist of the following:
1. Brahmacharya or student stage (usually until the age of 25, but personal and cultural influences can impact the length of any stage). The particular focus at this time is the cultivation of our dharma or "duty" in this life.
2. Grihastha or householder stage (traditionally begins at marriage) and the purpose of this stage is known as artha or the creation of wealth, i.e. making a living to support our families and pursue our unique contributions.
3. Vanaprastha or the hermit stage is ushered in around the time we become grandparents. The main pursuit of this stage is kama or pleasure. It is the time where we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.
4. Sannyasa is the final stage and is classified as the time of the wandering ascetic, the one no longer attached to the bonds of this world and living completely devoted to God. At this stage, moksha or liberation is the final goal.
Ideally when we pursue our lives in alignment with the first two stages, the others naturally unfold. The problem occurs when, as we often see promoted in our culture, one seeks to pursue wealth or pleasure without first establishing a connection to their particular dharma or purpose for being alive. We spend our lives chasing money, power, or some other outer form of fulfillment thinking and hoping that it will lead us to the holy grail--liberation! All the while, we are suffering from a foundational disconnection to our soul's true purpose in this life.
As a householder, I am acutely aware of the creative tension that arises daily as I seek to be a mother for my growing children, make a living to support our needs, and live a spiritual life at the same time. While the roles and responsibilities of men haven't changed as drastically in the last 100 years (or more!), women's roles have shifted exponentially as evidenced when we compare our lives to that of our mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers. At this stage of life, modern women have marriages to maintain, careers to build, children to tend, homes to hold, and, perhaps, aging parents to sustain as well. So where do we even begin? How do we care for our own souls in the mix? How do we find the time and energy to make our spiritual life a priority?
The last 11 years of my own life have been a giant experiment in living into these koan-like questions that have served as a sacred riddle for my journey as a woman, mother, householder and spiritual seeker.
Here are a few nuggets that I can offer as nourishment for this stage of life:
*Cultivate a practice that will help strengthen, sustain and nurture you. In the yogic tradition, this is the function of Sadhana or spiritual practice. Two elements are key to this process: create a space dedicated to your practice and design a simple ritual that you can do everyday. Having a physical space will help anchor your intention and whatever ritual you choose will, like any habit, begin to forge a pathway in your brain. Place a candle or sacred object or photo in your space. You can practice yoga, journaling, read, or meditate. Let your ritual reflect your deeper heart's intention.
*Connect to the cycles of the moon to develop a conscious relationship to the rhythm of your own creative life as a woman. Just as our menstrual cycles are related to the waxing and waning of the moon, we must honor both times of renewal and release embedded within our lives. If this concept is new for you, begin by simply noticing the moon during its various stages in the night sky to start to connect to lunar wisdom. Notice how you are feeling when the moon is in its full illumination as opposed to its crescent or dark phase. Once you have established a connection, you can utilize the energy of the New and Full Moon in your creative or spiritual life. For example, think about what new, "seed" intentions you would like to plant for a cycle beginning at the New Moon that you will nurture for an entire month. Full Moons are a good time to focus on what is ready to be released or healed within you in order to make room for what you are seeking to create. You can google specific dates for New and Full Moons each month and make a note in your calendar.
*Develop relationships with other women that uplift, empower and inspire you. This can be tricky for some of us because as women we naturally want to be in relationship and give to others. However, very often, we find ourselves involved in interpersonal dynamics that are superficial, draining or one-sided. As a result, we are left feeling less emotionally fulfilled and even more hungry for real connection. Choose your company wisely and be willing to be honest with yourself about which relationships feel mutually satisfying and those that are depleting your life force. Seek to collaborate and connect with women that are open to learning how to support and be supported by other women.
*Make your dharma a priority by taking time regularly to pursue what calls to your soul. Dharma or purpose can easily be misunderstood as our "job" or how we make our living. While some are fortunate enough to make a living by pursuing their dharma, others are gaining their livelihood in different ways that allow them to sustain their lives even though it may not feel like the deeper calling. That's okay! We all need to make money, however, we also must give some time to discover our greater function for being alive. In my own life, I decided to return to school and earn my Master's Degree when when my daughter was old enough to begin Pre-K. Going back to school during the householder stage was anything but easy but the dedication of three precious hours a day/five days a week, devoted to the study of something that was deeply enriching for me, proved to be priceless. It was my way of staking claim to the pursuit of my purpose beyond being a wife and mother. Dharma calls us into action--we must do something on its behalf. What have you always loved to do? What would you do even if you weren't paid? What if, at long last, you had the time—would you do, study, or create? Trust me: if you are waiting for the time, it won't come! Start small, but by all means--START--do one thing that will align you with your soul.
My beloved teacher and spiritual mother, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, offers these “general wolf rules for life” for women like you and I seeking how best to live in harmony with our wild nature. She specifically prescribes number 10 as a starting point remedio (remedy) if you are currently struggling:
Here's to you, woman-warrior-householder, in the trenches everyday. I see you. I love you. I am you.
If you are a woman seeking support in cultivating a sacred practice of your own or are wondering how to make your unique soul a priority in your daily life, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about my private coaching and healing services.
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