Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I'm back to the original question that spawned this blog: Will I, or wont I, ever have a baby? I'm back to that familiar tension between two fears, one: waiting too long for the right time, finding that the opportunity has passed me by, and two: taking the plunge too soon into water too deep.

On my run yesterday I thought about a story Thich Nhat Hanh relates, of the Buddha sitting in the woods with a group of monks. A distraught farmer happens by, in search of his missing cows. "I am the most miserable person on Earth," the farmer says. After the farmer leaves, the Buddha turns to the monks with a smile, saying, "Dear friends, do you know that you are the happiest people on Earth? You have no cows to lose."

Hanh says we should cultivate the art of releasing our cows by looking deeply at the things in life that we are unable to leave behind, things that we may feel are vital to our happiness and survival. These things, in reality, may be traps, obstacles to our truest happiness, because they cause us to suffer.

As I ran yesterday, I worried that a baby could be a trap for me. I certainly wouldn't be able to release that cow. Or perhaps my reluctance itself is the cow, my fear that I would not be able to figure out how to take good care of myself or be part of the larger world, to feel excited and fulfilled while changing diapers and folding laundry.

Worrying over the future rather than enjoying my present, the record-long run I was in the midst of, seemed a trap in its own right.

Running has not, traditionaly, been my thing. I never saw myself as someone who was capable of much in that regard. I remember how triumphant I felt at twenty, when I first ran one single mile without stopping, and here I was at thirty-six, running more than six. Talk about inflexible vision! I considered the possibility that I might run as many as eight miles in the not too distant future. I don't know if I'll ever do it, and in a way, I don't care. Just the thought made me happy.

Then it occurred to me: perhaps I've become too attached to the traditional white picket fence vision of happiness and fulfillment, in which, if I embrace parenthood, I must confine my life's focus to domesticity, or if parenthood doesn't pan out for me, that I must therefore be unhappy. Perhaps that is the cow, that inflexible vision of my own limitations.

This morning I opened Thich Nhat Hanh'sEssential Writings to the story of the Buddha and the cows, and read again, and finally understood the following:

"The key thing is to let go and free yourself..." Hanh says. "Each of us is caught in an idea of happiness. We believe we will be truly happy when certain conditions are fulfilled. We don't realize that this idea is an obstacle to our true happiness. If we can release our idea of happiness, true happiness is born in us right away."

I felt happy reading this.

Good bye cows.


Anonymous said...

Does this mean that you've given up on having children?

Amy said...

good question, to which the answer is: not at all. What I'm giving up on is trying to conform to a very rigid idea of what is supposed to bring me happiness. If I am lucky enough to be a mother, I'll do it my way, rather than the way I think I'm supposed to. It'll be an adventure, it'll be hard and wonderful and awesome. I'll hire someone to do the laundry if I can't bear it anymore, or else, I'll throw a laundry party for all my friends. The point is, I'll pay attention to what isn't working and be creative.

If I'm not a mother, then I won't comform to the equally rigid idea that my life should therefore be hollow and sad. I'll go out late dancing and I'll ladle heaps of love on others - both adults and kids. I'll give away the energy I would have given to a child. I wont bottle it up...

I'll explore this more in my upcoming blog entries, I promise.

Thanks for the comment.

Celeste said...

The thing is, the diapers and the laundry don't last. They may be obstacles, but only temporarily. I love your idea of a laundry party! You could meet a friend at a laundromat and bring decadent pastries to enjoy in the downtime.

I would also add that some of these chores don't always feel like drudgery. There is a certain beauty in caretaking, and sometimes even sorrow at giving up the accoutrements of a certain stage, or even seeing the adorable small clothes give way to larger sizes.


Amy said...

Amy, I am a 34 yr old who just had a baby. I too felt many of the things you explained in your previous posts and I think sometimes I jumped in to the water too quickly. I was very torn between this unexplainable desire to bear a child and the fierce determination not to lose my sense of self or independence. What I hope to offer you is this: When you are a mother, it is very hard to do things your way, its the part I struggle with the most. I pictured myself as a cool mom, doing my own thing, but it is all very different than what I pictured in my head. Not to say its bad different, but I want to tell you this because I read so much of myself in your post. It is very hard to be fulfilled doing the laundry and the endless list of things you suddenly find you have to do whether you want to or not, but the fulfillment you will fine looking into the smiling face of a child will be sooo much deeper than what you could imagine. After having my baby I spent many days imaging what my life had been like if I hadnt taken this plunge, but with time has come the gradual acceptance and hearfelt gratitude that I did. I wish I had a cool parable to relate this story to, but just know that what ever happens, you will be happy. Im blogging too, check it out if you have the chance or feel free to email. Best of luck in whatever your future holds.