A mother’s lament – life’s unfinished business


There is something fundamentally different in your world view when you become a mum (and from what I can see in my mother, a grand mum.)

I remember being rather cocky, stupidly cerebral and over-confident in the face of illness (especially of course rather cruelly when it concerned someone not so close) and the associated although often unstated thoughts and fears about death.

Now that I am a mum, I relate entirely and horribly completely with my own mother’s sorrow and fear of passing away – too soon (when are we as children ready anyway?); but unlike me, none of her fears have to do with her fear of death itself but the unfinished business of helping me raise my little girl in the wonderful, loving and mindful way that she and she alone has made possible, nurtured and protected; and of being my strongest source of support and irreplaceable, steadfast friend (‘what will happen to my girl when I’m gone, who is she going to have?,’ is what she told her beloved niece, my cousin).

To her face, of course I want to be positive, strong and stoic – I find myself saying we are going to the doctors because we want to know what is wrong – and no matter what they find, even with the heart, there is something we can do to help it feel less strain to help it do its work better.

But after 6 visits to the doctors in so many days in the searing heat, I understand her weariness and exhaustion.

Tests done so far confirm the heart is carrying a load and in all probably will need help of some kind; that the days of being ad-hoc in terms of treatment for various closely related conditions are over. And yet hearing doctors tell her that her heart of all things has been affected is hard to take – for someone who has prided herself in never having to medicate herself for anything other than the flu or minor conditions, I understand it feels like a horrible shock to have to face being told that your most vital organ needs careful and regular looking after.

And yet, I want to believe we are going to come through — for her sake, my sake, my little girl’s sake and the family’s sake – and that this is just the beginning of much deserved, greater attention to her for the first time in our life as a family and her life as a mum and grand-mum.

Celebrating the parent who is present


In having lost one parent much sooner than any of my close friends did, I have spent a great deal of time and heart in thinking about and celebrating my father’s spirit and presence and mourning his passing.

But I have never paid enough tribute to the parent who he left behind, who is alive, here and now, and whose daily and unending labour of love has given my young child and me the rock-solid home, refuge and tireless attention and care that enables and defines who we are and who we have become in our lives together, each in our own person, and together as a family.

Always the seemingly more reticent of the two, my mother was the quiet strength beside my expressive and gregarious father. Far apart in age, from different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds, the two were always one of the best examples to me of a loving and respectful companionship.

During my teen years, when I was drawn a great deal to books and as a result of that drawn to and mesmerised by my father’s formidable intellect, I can never forget how he gently but firmly reprimanded me for seeming to put him on a pedestal writing in one of his letters to me at boarding school that the example my mother set with her effortless integrity, unflinching humility and unconditional humanity were by far the more coveted virtues, no matter how scintillating being widely read or a word he loathed, being intellectual seemed to be.

I have never forgotten that. Both for what it taught me about me and my blinkered view then and for the renewed admiration and love I felt for the way he loved my mother.

Although my mother has of course told me over the course of the years, that the usual, gendered differences existed between them too, she has always said my father was rare in considering her at all times with the deepest respect for being the kind of woman she was and for the kind of mindful, attentive and unbelievably generous mother she became.

I cannot ever be grateful enough to her for having always let me make my decisions, no matter how flawed, and often contrary to her expressed wishes or opinions, for never withholding her support, labour and love simply because I have found myself face down after following some of my mad plans, for having stuck her neck out for my young child and me when I have needed someone to rely on unconditionally and for being the kind of loving, patient and fun ‘present in the moment’ grandma who despite her getting older and frailer never whines or protests or grudges the entire lack of ‘me time’ and who runs this house and home for us in a way that makes the hardest and most invisible work and labour seem like a cake walk.

An unobtrusive, luminous thing


I have never thought of it like this – the special kind of ‘empty’ unstructured time you get to have when you are mainly home watching over a young child – gives you moments that you never expected – or ways of looking at the same, familiar sights, in an entirely new way.

Nearly 20 years ago, when my parents were able to invest in this house and make it their own, they took great pride in giving it personal touches to mark their particular aesthetic sensibility on its walls and interiors – my father would have thrown his head back and guffawed if he was around to read this – ‘sensibility?’ he would have said – ‘what exactly does that pretentious word mean anyway?!’

Both shared an interest in the crafts, both were drawn to simple, earthy design, and both had discovered a wonderful architect at a local Laurie Baker centre not too far from our new, and for the first time, owned home.

So even though resources were tight and a complete makeover was impossible, they found ingenuous ways with the architect, now part of the family as son and brother, to remove the sordidness of a banal, basic flat.

One of the improvements they decided to add was to cut a long room into two by building a trademark Laurie Baker feature – an exposed brick arch – which discreetly announced the separation of two spaces – a dining and living room area – and my father in his desire to add his own flourish to it requested Anna (the architect) to insert asymmetrical marble planks underneath the two half arches adjoining the main structure.

I used to be a tad embarrassed by their incongruity, the fact that they didn’t look like marble and that they were asymmetrical. But I knew better than to argue with my father about it.

Yesterday, as T and I lay in the hall, with our old water cooler blowing lovely cool air towards us and further on down the length of the house, I noticed light bouncing off the marble plank as though it were a piece of glass, and I thought to myself, what a wonderful quirky presence it brings to an otherwise deliberately draped and darkened space to stave off the hot sun; a quiet, unobtrusive, luminous thing.

And that reminded me of my father of course and I thought 9 years after his passing I’m at greater peace with my grief over his physical absence and quite certain in ways that sound ludicrous and mad that he is not and can never really be ever gone.

How to not make a big deal – by Pema Chodron


How to Stop Making a Big Deal About Your Problems:

“Meditation teaches us how to let go. It’s actually a very important aspect of friendliness, which is that you train again and again in not making things such a big deal.

When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal.

Generally speaking, the human species does make things a very big deal. Our problems are a big deal for us. So we need to make space for an attitude of honoring things completely and at the same time not making them a big deal.

It’s a paradoxical idea, but holding these two attitudes simultaneously is the source of enormous joy: we hold a sense of respect toward all things, along with the ability to let go. So it’s about not belittling things, but on the other hand not fanning the fire until you have your own private World War III.

Keeping these ideas in balance allows us to feel less crowded and claustrophobic. In Buddhist terms, the space that opens here is referred to as shunyata, or “emptiness.”

But there’s nothing nihilistic about this emptiness. It’s basically just a feeling of lightness. There is movie entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I prefer to see life from the view of the Bearable Lightness of Being.

When you begin to see life from the point of view that everything is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t “coming at you” or “trying to attack you,” in any given moment, you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into.

Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind up so it walks across the floor, can just relax. So shunyata refers to the fact that we actually have a seed of spaciousness, of freshness, openness, relaxation, in us.

Sometimes the word shunyata has been translated as the “open dimension of our being.” The most popular definition is “emptiness,” which sounds like a big hole that somebody pushes you into, kicking and screaming: “No, no! Not emptiness!”

Sometimes people experience this openness as boredom. Sometimes it’s experienced as stillness. Sometimes it’s experienced as a gap in your thinking and your worrying and your all-caught-up-ness.

I experiment with shunyata a lot. When I’m by myself and no one’s talking to me, when I’m simply going for a walk or looking out the window or meditating, I experiment with letting the thoughts go and just seeing what’s there when they go.

This is actually the essence of mindfulness practice. You keep coming back to the immediacy of your experience, and then when the thoughts start coming up, thoughts like, bad, good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk, you let those thoughts go, and you come back again to the immediacy of your experience.

This is how we can experiment with shunyata, how we can experiment with the open, boundless dimension of being.”
(From Pema’s book-How To Meditate)

The unlikely beauty of being sick


Indigestion is a minor thing. Until it is not. It isnt too hard to see why even the slightest irritation to the body’s fine systems for ingesting and processing food must be severely compromised if you have to be out and about in the heat for some time, especially without cover, and when it is at its very worst in the early afternoon.

And so of course, there is prolonged discomfort, pain, nausea, the successful culmination of nausea, the emptying out of all that one has had by way of food or drink and then just when you think you cant take any more a creeping fever that keeps your forehead quite hot while chilling your extremities – your hands your feet.

Although my GP has told me I should use a paracetemol if there should be a fever, to help an already struggling body, I half decided to not do so and to just lie listlessly and wait and see how my body would feel.

It probably lasted for less than an hour but it was the most fascinating study of the body’s own incredible ways of dealing with a problem. The fever had beat me down to lie helplessly on my back, the nausea and throw ups before had left me feeling trembly and powerless so I decided to just give in and see.

After an hour, that went by in near delirium, there was the relief of sweat and suddenly I felt a tad better.

It is no wonder why mystics and meditating experts ask for a patient watchfulness during illness – it sure taught me the virtue of giving in, in order to recover, regain strength and get back up, eventually, on my feet when I was ready for it.