What a blessing that our lives can become something we’d never dreamed of, that years of fear and confusion can – with some mix of grace, timing, and curiosity – actually metabolize into a new possibility.
For many, many years the prospect of parenthood and the spiritual path were for me mutually exclusive, domains of life that weren’t meant to co-mingle. Somewhere along the way I had inherited a point of view that my “inner growth” would surely be derailed by the confinement and responsibilities of raising a child. Everywhere I looked and felt, inside and out, I found evidence to support this belief. Finally, this notion was divinely confirmed in 1979. I had recently graduated from college and, after several years of practicing yoga, meditation, and various other spiritual disciplines, travelled to an ashram in India. Here, the focus was on one’s own spiritual development and the traditional nuclear family model was seen as an impediment. Case closed. I was right. At least in this life I would not allow the wild blaze of my spiritual fire to be shaped or contained by such an ordinary experience as parenthood.
Fast forward about 20 years and several relationships. You know that annoying feeling - especially among those of us with a spiritual persuasion – when you think you’re done with something, when you feel you’re complete and ready to move on (from a relationship, a behavior, a worldview), but your actual lived experience tells you otherwise? In those moments, we’re caught in the glare of the great mirror of reality. Ouch. Of the countless times I’ve endured the familiar sting of this realization – when what I tell myself in no way lines up with what is actually in front of me – I was especially deafened by the gong of truth about 14 years ago. I had just fallen in love with my wife, and in one of those early heartfelt sharings between new lovers the conversation veered unexpectedly onto the topic of children. As in, HAVING children. Now, like most men with my particular collection of opinions, illusions, and night-terrors about parenthood, I had become quite skilled at sidestepping this particular conversational minefield. Until now. I made a feeble attempt to feign interest in this line of discourse but, visibly shaken, I cleverly guided the exchange out of the danger zone and back to terra firma. But the goose was out.
A few short months into our newly blossomed love affair, The topic began to arise with increasing – and disturbing– regularity. Part of the magic of love is that it tends to bring up everything unlike itself, and extends light to those unlit places inside of us. One of my unlit places harbored much fear and confusion around what it would mean to look, with fresh and honest eyes, at the possibility of being a father. I had never allowed myself to authentically explore this before, to even temporarily suspend my cozy, crusty point of view and listen for something deeper. But the tornado of new found love does strange things to a heart, and it blew mine off the cliff into the unknown. I made a commitment to myself and to my beloved that I would take on this inquiry once and for all. I would get to the bottom of it. No more postponing, time to turn and face the music and listen to what I heard. And we came up with a time frame within which I would declare myself a yes or a no to the journey of parenthood. (Okay, maybe she came up with the timeline). Worst case scenario: We would part ways and I would suffer another heart break, but at least I would be clear and in my integrity that fatherhood was not for me, and she would be free to create what was most important for her.
Something inside broke open, and fresh water began to pour through a new crack in an old dam.
The following months were at times hard, very confronting. I journaled, meditated, did therapy, read, surveyed friends with children, and spent lots of time just trying to see clearly what was true for me. The clock was ticking. Over time some of the inner static quieted down – what I thought I should do, what was the right thing to do, what my Higher Self wanted, etc. What revealed itself was a tender but very palpable sweetness in my heart when I imagined bringing a new being into the world. Behind and beneath all of the noise, accumulated over so many years, there it was: a trembling but clear Yes. Fragile, I came upon a previously untouched part of myself that, when finally discovered, looked at me and whispered, “What took you so long?” Something inside broke open, and fresh water began to pour through a new crack in an old dam.
Mystery often surrounds major life events – how we meet a significant partner, find our way to a spiritual path, and ultimately, how and when we meet death. I’m not sure exactly how my process unfolded in the direction it did, but it seemed to grow out of my willingness to engage with inner conflict in a new way. On the one hand, I felt the weight of my historical identity around the idea of being a parent. It was a story fueled by fear and years of unconscious self-talk that associated parenthood with loss: loss of self-identity, of independence, of mobility, and even financial loss. It seemed that every thought, feeling, and imagining I’d ever had about the prospect of fatherhood told me I would lose something, something would be subtracted from who I was.
On the other hand, there was this newly discovered part of me – a single flute in an orchestra of fear– that was ecstatic about such a possibility. Looking back, the way I grappled with and finally surrendered to fatherhood was quite similar to how I found my way to my spiritual teacher. In both instances, after significant inner tumult, my mind’s fears were simply drowned by the tidal wave of my heart’s deeper desire.
Ablaze with the incomparable love of a father for his son, the river of my heart now moves more generously, more fearlessly into the landscape of my life.
My life has been unimaginably opened by these two experiences. They are, without question, the two most profound chapters of my life, two wild streams of love and adventure that, ten years ago when my son Jonah was born, rushed together to form the greater current of my life. My connection with the guru has taught me deeply about receptivity, about receiving the innumerable lessons of life with some measure of grace and courage. The sweetness of being a father, by contrast, has highlighted my capacity to give in a way I’d not known before. Ablaze with the incomparable love of a father for his son, the river of my heart now moves more generously, more fearlessly into the landscape of my life.
What a blessing that our lives can become something we’d never dreamed of, that years of fear and confusion can – with some mix of grace, timing, and curiosity – actually metabolize into a new possibility. For this I am eternally grateful.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”