Everyone is touched by Mother’s Day because everyone has a mother. No matter what your ongoing relationship is to the person connected with filling the maternal shoes in your childhood, when the second Sunday in May arrives, it shines light on those who have served a profound and unique role in our lives. This day may have been created with good intentions but it often results in an annual mixture of sweet reunions, confused expectations, hurt feelings and uncomfortable interactions. These encounters can be complicated by a history of life experiences that have never been sorted through into a current and complete understanding. For those who have lost their mothers from a literal or symbolic death, abandonment, addiction or trauma, it can be a time when some aspect of grief or longing is re-animated.
Yet nothing touches the heart like mother love. It is one of the most powerful forces in the world. We can see this not only in humanity but also among animals who raise other species as their own or when dogs risk their lives to save their human companions in times of crisis. Many of us struggle with the paradox of seeking oneness with divine love while struggling with a self-imposed shield intended to protect our hearts from the person who brought us into life. So how do we accept, honor and make peace with our exquisitely human mothers while still remaining true to our own journey?
I was given this very task almost ten years ago after having just moved into a new workshop space. I was deep in my “mother phase” of life, busily weaving nests for many forms of community including four women’s medicine circles. One of the processes I used to access guidance and direction for our work was to consult a spiritual council of elders in meditation and prayer. As I asked about what would be the most meaningful work I could invite the women to move into as we blessed this new space, I heard: “you need to honor your mothers”. I found this rather surprising as I had done so much “mother work” personally and we had all done intentional healing around our “mother issues”, including clearing old patterns, cutting dysfunctional cords, releasing toxic emotions, stepping outside of the shadow of our relationships with this tremendously important person in our lives. I meditated and meditated on this but nothing came from my invisible guides.
Finally I got it: we were so busy looking at our journeys from our self-centered point of view that we chasing our collective tail. If we wanted to be free of the restrictive imprint of our mothers’ impact in our lives, we needed to understand our mothers lives! Further, walking a path of the sacred feminine requires that we break the spells of the cultural myths that put mothers on a wobbly pedestal that neither supports or accurately portrays the intense demands put on one person to do the job that requires a village. We needed to somehow be willing to hear our mothers’ stories in a fuller way.
So, that is exactly what we did. These brave and open sisters surrendered the hold that the past had on their point of view and stalked their mothers’ stories. Each month, three women were assigned to share their mothers’ stories with the circle. The daughter needed to tell this story starting from birth and filling in the facts sequentially with pieces found from photos, remarks, interviews with other family members, personal memories and intuitive awareness. Each story was unique but held similar qualities of a generation of women who were expected to squeeze their multi-faceted potential into a one-size-fits-all container. The emotions and reactions ranged from laughter and tenderness to outrage over the difficulties these women suffered through in their lives. We all came to feel compassion, forgiveness and true empathy for each of our mothers as individuals in a full and deep way. We could finally see them as women who had textured lives and we were able to see their wounds, triumphs, disappointments and achievements on their terms, instead of ours. We looked forward to witnessing not only the stories but the creative way each sister chose to bring her mother to life. One of the most heart breaking and touching moments was the song one sister played to recreate the essence of her mom’s journey.
Everyone felt and experienced some degree of transformation and peace as a result of doing this extraordinary personal piece of sharing and witnessing our mother’s stories. Since I was in four circles and we subsequently offered this opportunity in several weekend workshops, I have told my mother’s story many times and it is never quite the same. As I get older I find another nuance to her behavior or decision that comes to light. As I grow and change, so does she. As I face new challenges in my life, hidden dimensions of my mother, aunts and grandmothers all get illuminated as well. Most recently, I was diagnosed with a condition that my grandmother had; and realized that my mother and aunt had passed away before they had reached their wisdom years. It was an “aha” moment of being humbled by the power of our lineage strains while charting a path with no generational groove to follow except the one in the stars.
Take a moment to contemplate your mother’s journey; the light and the dark. This appreciation for her experience does not bind you to her pain, knot you into her expectations or require you to alter your truth for self care and strong boundaries. It simply loosens the grip of fear and provides an opportunity for self acceptance, allowing the human and spirit parts of the self to be re-balanced and re-woven into the greater web of life.