Motherhood and Self-Inquiry

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By Emma Carruthers

As I run a meditation center and mostly encounter spiritual practitioners in my daily life, I am often asked: “how is your practice now that you have a baby?” The answer to this question has become clearer to me through its frequent repetition… “That depends on what practice means to you,” I often respond.

The Path of Informal Practice

After the birth of my son Benzra one year ago, it became obvious to me (as it is perhaps obvious to everyone who has taken the journey into parenthood) that a new mother no longer has much time to herself. Sitting down to meditate for a couple of hours a day was no longer an option. I began to explore the path of “informal practice,” through which my thirst for Truth could be quenched.

What Is a Mother

What Is a Mother?

Coming from an Advaita background, I found myself naturally asking the question “Who am I?”—especially as I observed myself (my “self,” who I knew so well…) suddenly holding a newborn baby all day and night. In the first few months, this introspection was so easy to ride, as all that I had previously identified with was brought into a different light and new labels such as “mother” arose and were witnessed without attachment. “Who am I?” “Am I a mother?” “What is a mother?”

Contemplating Death

As the months went on with Benzra, something that surprised me was a deep awareness of and contemplation on death. I realized that for the first time in my life someone really needed me—if I were to die, this little baby’s life would be hugely affected. And, if he were to die… That thought was terrible, but haunted me at various moments throughout the day and in many dreams. I could feel his fragility, his dependence on me for life, his connection to the source beyond birth and death from which he came into human form.

Psychologically, it was a difficult process for me to face the questions and emotions that arose with the awareness of death. Spiritually, it brought up many attachments and identifications that needed to be seen and dropped against the background of Self-Inquiry. I became ever more grateful for the powerful spiritual catalyst that death is and provides, and also grateful to my son for helping me finally see these things in a clear light.

Deepening in Surrender

One of the luxuries of living in an isolated place like Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is that I don’t have a car, a daily schedule, a job to run to (I live at our retreat center), or a lot of time pressure to accomplish certain things. Many of my friends living in Western countries who had children at the same time as I did shared that life became very stressful and tiring once their babies arrived. This was not my experience.

I have used this time of new motherhood to open again and again to the practice of surrender (particularly at the mental level) and to drop any concepts I have about how the day should look or when certain things should be done. In Benzra’s first three months I would spontaneously be called to practice walking meditation in the garden five or six times a day to get him to sleep! I could be eating lunch, having tea with a friend, or writing emails and Benzra would gently let me know that he was ready for another nap. So, I would drop everything and head outdoors with him for half an hour or so until he settled.

Embracing the Present Moment

Present MomentThis was a great practice in letting go of what “I” wanted, thought was best, or needed, and brought a profound flexibility into my life. I never tried to force Benzra into my schedule, so we began to flow together through each day and night. I never found myself wishing for something other than what was there for me in each moment. Don’t get me wrong—there have been some hard times when this “I” was definitely calling out for attention! But, such challenging moments provide a great opportunity for me to witness and to further develop discrimination and self-acceptance.

Resting in Awareness

What I have been most grateful for in this journey of motherhood has been the constant opportunity to practice Self-awareness and Self-Inquiry. Whereas in my previous “formal practice” there was a tendency to apply myself fervently during my “official meditation hours” and then afterward go about my day, Benzra has asked me to step into this awareness at many moments throughout the day. What else is there to do while breastfeeding for multiple hours? Why not rest in Self-awareness and the question “Who am I?”

The Wonder of Existence

Now that Benzra is one year old and is very much on the move, I deeply cherish playing with him in the garden—quietly watching bugs on leaves, running our fingers through the grass, licking a raindrop off a flower before a storm begins. I am constantly reminded of the wonder of this existence and the joy of simple being-ness beyond the conceptual mind, which Benzra has yet to develop.

Trusting Life

The dawning of motherhood certainly does not mean the sunset of spiritual practice. In my experience, it has been the contrary. I have experienced a richness of inquiry and a deepening of awareness from the many moments in which having a baby in my arms has called me into Presence. Even though I had to stop to breastfeed Benzra twice while writing this post, it has somehow been written. I trust that all that must be written by life will continue to be. My only task is to surrender to it and watch on…

Trusting Life


Emma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the co-founder of The Hermitage Silent Retreat Center, an idyllic spot on the spectacular shore of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. You can read her blog on the beauty of having a spiritual community here.

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