I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be together in this life… like, have each other’s backs… even-while-we’re-spread-all-over-the-world kind of together.
I’m noticing that I’ve been conditioned to think that if I’m in a room alone that I’m alone in life. But the under-everything-truth… we do not do this life alone.
The concept of “together” is starting to take on some nuance for me. I am reminding myself that even though the people in my life are busy, they do love me, they are crossing their fingers for my success, and they do care what I’m going through. This challenges the idea that I’m truly floating unattached in the world. I am not.
The other place I’m thinking about “together” is where actually being in contact truly IS this important part of being able to hold the sense of not being alone when I’m the only person in the room. That is, I need connections… real ones, physical ones, committed ones. As a social species, our nervous systems are organized around connection with others, we find an internal sense of safety through belonging, it’s just how we are wired. We’re wired to need each other.
“Together”, for people who have attachment wounds, is sometimes truly problematic. It’s fraught with lessons we received about not being allowed to have opinions, needs, being too much, etc. And so “together” can be a land mine. And sorting through the landscape of all of it might seem downright dangerous. Honestly, there’s no requirement that you do this kind of work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are allowed to protect yourself in whatever way you feel is right for you.
And, if there’s something in you that feels like connecting, repairing a sense of belonging, and/or taking care of the one in you who feels desperate to be accepted or loved, might I suggest flying with a flock of songbirds?
Songbirds gather in groups in which they somehow manage to balance cohesion with crowding, following with leading, and safety with access to resources. They exhibit a grace of these qualities of togetherness + space.
What does that look like for humans? I think, often, we assume that it’s people we need, and while that might be true, for a lot of us with past trauma, people feel dangerous. I didn’t have what I needed to navigate safe connection with humans.
Instead, nature… the earth, trees, the ocean… they held me. I connected to nature first. I saw in nature so much of what I was trying to figure out. But it was opinion free. It was simply a reflection of one way nature has solved the problem.
So, if something is weighing on your heart, and you want some feedback, but people feel like tricky business… ask a tree, or a river, or the spider building a web attached to your trash can (seriously… some of my best advice has come from spiders).
Be willing to sit and see what’s there. Join the songbirds and notice what you notice about how they communicate together, how they forage together, how they move together.
Sometimes nature conveys her brilliance in a huge understanding, sometimes in a tiny thing we ponder for a long time, sometimes in such a subtle way that you never realize that you received it.
Today I’m imagining my flock of songbirds… the ones who carry and hold and love me… often from afar… and those I carry and hold and send love to when they need strength and I have it to give.
If it feels good to a part of you who needs soothing… know that I care… truly. I am way out on the edges of your flock of songbirds, singing up your name to energize whatever it is you’re asking for today.
We don't know what we don't know. And the things we learn early in our lives, we often don't question because we get taught so much... and so much of it unspoken... about how relationships and love and connection and meeting needs works. We just absorb these lessons and sometimes we don't realize things could be different. Especially if we spent a lot of time alone as kids.
And not only that, we swim in the waters of our cultural assumptions and traditions every day, and many of those reinforce the lessons we learn from our families. Which is why it is important to create spaciousness in ourselves... to back up from the things we think we know... so that here, as adults, we can fact check them with our own senses. Do we believe what we were taught? Do our cells resonate with a gnosis (an inner knowing) that feels like "what we know to be true" really matches our inner felt sense of it?
The Sun and Moon Mother is the archetype in the Landscape of Mothers who embodies this spaciousness. She is the Mother whose gift is Wholeness. She knows it takes a little room to figure out what belongs to us. She can help us find it.
By spaciousness, I mean, creating more room in both time and space. This invites us to slow down, take a breath, and step back mentally from what is squeezing the situation (what is keeping us feeling righteous and right).
Lots of mindfulness focuses on this space... taking a breath or counting to 10. If we use this technique in conjunction with intending to settle into our own values, we make room to see something differently and know ourselves relative to it.
We make room to truly listen, observe, and understand the roots of the issue. And, it so happens, in that space we can also find our truth. I think back to a situation with a friend where we got stuck in a discussion that was hard for us both. In retrospect, I think it would have been helpful if I'd had the spaciousness to step back and formulate in words that my struggle was rooted in some of my basic safety needs. I suspect that hers was too. We never did recover from neither of us having the spaciousness to step back and assess what we were needing.
My "stepping back" practice is Metta. To the best of my knowledge it is a traditional Buddhist prayer that I believe has been modified through the lineage I received it from. Saying the words is only part of its healing properties for me.
The other part of it, the part that knocks around in my bones and creates spaciousness, is that, for me, it is about softening toward myself, wishing myself well, amidst the chaos and mistakes, and nourishing my inner child who fears judgment. The prayer goes on to acknowledge the humanity of everyone around me... and wishing those people well too. It refocuses me on my values of compassion, kindness, and respect.
This is the healing... coming back to myself to meet the difficulties out in the world. Then I can have my own back in any situation. I can know my needs, I can rise to meet any struggle from my own solid ground. And this is what restores trust between me and my inner child. She sees that she can trust me to hold her carefully, to defend her where she needs it, and to always have her wellbeing at the center.
A couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to move onto a big piece of property so that no one could cut down trees without my knowing and approval. I was adamant that this control over my environment was critical. Truthfully, it just makes things feel safer, doesn't it? To think we have control? To be able to predict the possible changes so that you can get used to the idea? To not have things happen that you don't choose?
When we double down on control of the situation, I think that's when we tend to really lose control. Life is made of the shifting and changing of everything. In general I don't like quoting dead white men, but I think it was Heraclitus that said "the only constant is change" (or something like it).
When the world is swirling and feels ungrounded and the emotions are up it seems that the result is usually falling into some sort of distraction... social media, game apps, bingeing on TV. The more tired I am, the more likely I am to use this technique.
And I also know that when I choose myself instead, and turn to the practices that nourish and protect my inner self, that's what really helps me weather the storms. That's what really takes care of me. Those practices make a little more space between me and whatever is going on. I can usually find a breath there... one that soothes my bones and unravels my nerves. A breath that reminds me that I am not what is happening... I am still myself.
From there I can see the ground, I can breathe deeper, and I can tend to my nervous system with my practice. For me it's a way to settle, to remember, to take myself out the fray long enough to reorient back toward my needs (often that's soothing, kindness, and well wishes) and my values (often it's autonomy, gentleness, and respect).
Our practices do not need to look the same to be effective, they just need to tend to the core of things. They need to soothe the deepest of your insides into the "thank goodness" slump (can you just see someone who realizes that help has arrived, or that the situation is about over... and they almost collapse with the feeling of relief?). Like that. When you feel that inside... that's your practice. That's the thing that's new, that takes you out of the chaos, and deposits you back into yourself.
When my daughters were 2 1/2 years old and 8 months old we moved into a new house that had birch trees growing just outside my bedroom window. Over the years, when the trees would broadcast their minuscule seeds over the yard, a seed would land in the garden bed outside the front door and it would begin to grow. This only happened three times in the 12 years I’ve lived here. So I saw the sprouts as magical and I potted them to be replanted in the yard where they could grow tall.
I heard somewhere that, in magical traditions, birch trees were thought to confer protection to children. This made me feel that no matter how many times I felt like a failure of a mother, the birch had my back. The unchanging presence of the birch mirrored back to me the persistence required in parenting... the inevitability of bumping into my own wounds and fears... that I could still keep going in the face of struggle.
The hardest part of parenting for me has been the ways in which I’ve grown up with my children. As they’ve grown, I’ve bumped into the wounds I experienced at those ages. That’s the difficulty... reparenting myself by showing up differently than I was treated when the wound is so active. Oof.
Motherhood (probably parenthood in general) invites us into broaden ourselves to encompass more inner ground, to have more access to ourselves. This is a practice, an opportunity to devote ourselves to this stretching and reaching and gnosis. This invitation to fully explore the inner landscape of who we are and who we can be.
When I first started walking here 10 years ago I was trying to find out who I was. I had left behind my dreams of becoming a professor of biology and decided to be a full time mom. I was scared of the change in my life, and I let the forest hold that for me. It meant I was often afraid here walking by myself.
But, I knew I was safe at the heart of it all. I brought the fears, and I walked with them. And I walked with me. And I realize today that so much has shifted. I'm not at all afraid, I'm so comforted by the trees, the wind, and even the people. I realize, it's because I am at home here. I am wild and domestic, I am light and dark, I am messy and true as a redwood tree. I am at home. I belong.
The Ocean Mother is the one who holds all of the things that we ignore, don’t tend to, or left behind because we didn’t know what to do with them. It’s a lot like throwing things we hope to never see again into the depths of the sea. But, the psyche, and the ocean, don’t work that way.
We get the opportunity to address these things again, the wounds, secrets, and shames of the past. This can make the Ocean Mother feel daunting and enormous. It’s why it can feel like she could swallow you up. But it’s important to remember that we have control of our process (most of the time) and we can simply go to the shore and let the Ocean Mother lick our toes. Small steps… little bits at a time.
The Ocean Mother asks us to learn to make enough room in ourselves to hold all of the complexities and paradoxes of being a real human. In many ways The Ocean Mother is the antidote to the dichotomy of Good Mother / Bad Mother.
How to begin to hold more “this thing” and “that thing” in our lives… even though those two things feel at odds? Step one: acceptance of things as they are. Not in a doormat kind of way, or a collapsed and throw-your-hands in the air way… but as a willingness to be in the tough place of feeling torn between two things. The desired outcome is to let both things be true, even if both of them being true simultaneously defies logic!
The more I’ve let myself stand in this place, two things have happened. One, is that I’ve become much more tolerant of myself and others. And the second, even though I was originally fearful of stepping out of the logical place, as if I was giving up all ability to steer the ship, I actually found a lot of clarity and sense of knowing my own truth when I was willing to stand in the “in-between”.
So, what if, instead of falling into “this side” versus “that side” in daily life, we were able to tap into the rhythm of the Ocean Mother and allow ourselves to just flow back and forth between them until we found what we needed? What if the "answer" more like a bridge than a place?
Welcome to the blog of The Landscape of Mothers and The Mother Journey. These are interconnected ideas about how we can embrace ourselves as human mothers, complete with the messy, the beautiful, the frustrating, the overwhelming, the fierce, and the ugly of motherhood… in short, embracing ourselves as whole beings while we engage in the role of Mom.
So many moms I know have struggled to maintain their sense of identity when small children come along. The job is easily overwhelming, as there is no manual, each kid is different, and “full time” doesn’t even cover the hours. On top of the tasks, there is the attachment, adoration, worry, and constant research to just stay on top of each day.
When I started my mothering journey I thought there were two types of mothers, Good Mothers and Bad Mothers. Most of the time I had baby barf on my shirt, my house was a wreck, and my nerves were thrashed from lack of sleep. After my second baby I had post-partum depression. I clearly didn’t look like a Good Mother. I saw those everywhere… makeup, clean houses, clean clothes… I was a mess. I was sure I was a Bad Mother. In the midst of the difficulty of having two kids under 2 years old, and certain that I was terrible at what I was doing, I had to save my own life.
In retrospect, I wish I’d had a broader range of assessing motherhood. Our culture seems to perpetuate this dichotomous view… but my experience is that it’s not enough. It doesn’t make room for women to be whole beings within mothering. And when we feel like whole, real, messy people surrounded by other whole, real, messy people, then we can find belonging and comfort… which is so rare these days.
So, the Landscape of Mothers and the Mother Journey concepts were developed to help create more space in the dialogue of mothering. It’s meant to be a place where women can figure out where they are in the possibility in the Landscape of Mothers. Where are you now? What are your strengths? Where do you want to go?
And the Mother Journey, is an acknowledgement that we’re always working with different aspects within our parenting. In the (cyclical) Journey we find that we are often moving between mothering as a Personal Practice, a Spiritual Practice, a Political Practice, or a Lineage Healing Practice.
If you like these ideas, if they inspire you to consider your own journey in a different way, if they feel like home even if you aren’t sure what your brain thinks, please consider signing up for my Mother Notes newsletter. There you will hear about blog posts, as well as receive more in-depth information about the Landscape of Mothers and The Mother Journey. I’ll also share more personal stories there.
Thank you for stopping by… I appreciate your interest in creating more spaciousness within motherhood.
The Ocean Mother is an archetypal landscape mother. In general, landscape mothers help us locate ourselves on the diverse landscape of what it is to be a mother. The Ocean Mother, in particular, can be of assistance when we are wondering how we can be with the unknown, unknowable, mystical aspects of parenting. She can help us explore our own depths and find our own hidden potential through the things we are already grappling with in our role of mother.
The Ocean Mother naturally carries the expansive possibility of life, it is where life originated. She contains all of the potential... and so she can inform our process of looking forward and thinking about what kind of parenting legacy we want to leave.
What kind of characteristics do we want our adult children to have? How do you want them to relate to others? What kinds of things do you want them to value? How do you want them to think about themselves as humans... partners... citizens?
And, in light of all of that, what does it mean you need to teach, provide examples of, hold as valuable in your life? This is the real spiritual teaching of being a parent... that it's not what we say, it's what we do. They know when we're saying one thing but acting differently... and it compromises trust.
So, the spiritual practice that is nurtured by The Ocean Mother is the depth... the ability to shift directions toward increasing alignment with what we really believe in and hold dear. So, if we tell our children we value open time to be creative, are we giving that to ourselves? Or are we running around trying to do all of the things and just saying that we want THEM to spend creative time?
Author: Jill clifton
Hi, I'm Jill. My intention with this space is to share how exploring the archetypes of motherhood can make room for us to be whole people within our roles of nurturing our children.