Saturday, September 8, 2012

Attached Mom, Detached Yogini



One day this summer, as many of us parents watched our children play in our health club toddler pool, I overheard a mother discussing her meditation teacher's advice.  "She told us that attachment is a cause of suffering and that we shouldn't be so attached to things and to other people," she commented.  Her friend gave her wide eyes and a nod.  But I was disconcerted as she seemed to be talking about her children and I really hoped that she wasn't taking this advice too literally.

Yes, in Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras", Attachment (raga) is one of the branches of Delusion (avidya) along with Aversion (dvesa), Ego (asmita), and Fear (abhinivesa).  Each alone may be responsible for us feeling separate from others in this world and for clouding our perceptions of ourselves.  As a result, we suffer.

And in Buddhist teachings, recognizing Attachment is central to it's teachings of the Four Noble Truths.  If you're not familiar with them, they are:

1) Suffering occurs
2) The cause of suffering is craving (also translated as desire or attachment)
3) It is possible to end our suffering
4) This resolution can be attained by following the Noble Eight Fold Path

I've studied both philosophies for many years and practice the tenets.  Most scholars would say that it's compulsive cravings and attachments to worldly items/materialism that is being described.  By fixating on something, we can become stuck in unhealthy patterns.  In T.K.V. Desikachar's "The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice" he explains, "We want something today because it was pleasant yesterday, not because we really need it today...We want things we do not have.  What we do have is not enough and we want more of it.  We want to keep what we are asked to give away.  This is raga."

Of course we can also become delusional by forming unhealthy attachments to certain people. We can stay in a relationship that is not working because we think we are nothing without this person. Or we may hang out with someone not because they are friendly and cool, but because they represent a certain ideal that we are trying to attain.  Blind followers of cult leaders are extreme and obvious examples of how forming an inappropriate relationship can get out of hand.

So, the problem with Attachment from the Yogic & Buddhist perspectives is that we lose ourselves when we attach to this other thing.  The whole point of these practices is to experience the opposite - intimacy with our true selves.  This is an inner experience, not affected by what we experience on the outside.  Looking closely at our lives, mindful of the choices we have made, surely we can all point out something that we are fixed on that is distracting us from living in an authentic manner.  Then, it would make sense to practice Detachment in order reconnect to oneself.

The amount of appropriate Attachment can be confusing when considering our "normal" relationships.  Of course we want to be close our partner, child, family, & friends.  This is a basic human need.  As parents, we have great responsibility in being there for our children, modeling what we think they will need to develop into loving, functional human beings.

Yet at the same, we should also know that at some point in our lives, we will lose everyone and everything that we love.  No one wants to think about having an accident, getting sick, or dying.  But by simply keeping this in mind, acknowledging that life is short and precious, it can help someone maintain a healthy distance in relationships.  We can accept that our children will have their own lives (but we're still around for support!), our partners can continue to do what interests them (we don't necessarily need to share those interests), etc.  There is definitely a lot to be said about this subject and many yogis have gone there.

Now back to that summer day at the pool -
My inner alarm sounded in response to the mom at the pool because of the parenting choices I've made.  I've adopted a style that would fit the description of "Attachment Parenting" or "Natural Family Living."  My son is still breastfeeding strong at 2.5 yrs old, we co-sleep, I stay home with him during the day, and I have never, ever left him alone to cry in order to train him to sleep or force independence.  Many people think these practices are indulgent, but to me it feels completely natural.  My son is very confident, secure, engages adults, and I can even leave him in the play care at the gym because he knows I will be there in a heartbeat if he needs me (though he hasn't asked for me yet!)  We are very attached to each other and he is well-adjusted.  If I were to have another child, I wouldn't change a thing about my approach to mothering.

I realize now that I was concerned that this woman's meditation teacher's advice could be misconstrued.  Those criticizing "Attachment Parenting" could say that hey, even the yogis say that you can ignore your child, that mothers & fathers should put their needs first, and that maybe my style of parenting is wrong or would cause me to suffer.

Well, I know it's not any of my business how this mom relates to her child.  Many of my friends do not practice Attachment Parenting, and we get along just fine.  I think caregivers need to do whatever works best for everyone, as long as the child is safe.  Stop the mommy wars!  And I certainly can't control how critics of Attachment parenting use the ancient words of Patanjali.

I do know that practicing Attachment parenting, Yoga, & Buddhism are not conflicting endeavors.  I'm doing my very best to show that all are possible.  I actually think that they create a beautiful balance in motherhood.  I can be very loving to my son, yet see clearly how he exists on his own too.  We are deeply connected, but on our own journey.  It will be interesting to see how our relationship evolves as he becomes more independent.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this...