Dear Mother Earth,
Your body is rivetingly beautiful.
So many places on your lap and shoulders, lakes and canyons caress our human limbs and nearly blind us with awe. 🌙✨
What a gift it is to play and swim, climb and sing along the curves of your majestic body!
Humanity is in despair as you well know, and I just want to tell you that Love is rising. Women are rising. We aren’t all hypnotized in fear.
I’m focused on the places where human Light beams. We are doing our best to regenerate you. We want to keep living here in your deliciously moss-laden lap.
I love you Mama,
📷: Andrea Marie, Tetons, North America
A wise friend once said, “Life is sad and beautiful.” Her simple words were eloquent and profound. It’s true, I thought, this is the range of human experience, so wide. It’s not fun living on the sad end of the range, yet no one gets to escape this part. It’s part of the human experience.
Eight years ago I gave birth at home to a baby girl two weeks and three days prematurely. Two hours after she emerged from my body, our midwife calmly told us she wasn’t breathing well and that I needed to get dressed and go to the hospital. I went into shock. Raw and unmedicated, my entirety felt ripped apart by desperate, frozen thunder.
Inside the ambulance, the paramedic flicked the bottom of our baby girl’s feet to keep her lungs stimulated. Her father and I spent day and night after day and night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as her lungs received support to grow healthy. On her 10th day of life outside my body, we took her home.
In the weeks that followed, I fed our precious baby my breast milk and was supported by a well respected Lactation Consultant. When she told me that my milk supply was low because my breasts’ milk ducts were arranged differently than most mothers’, my being felt ruptured again. What? My body could not feed my baby?
A silver lining appeared. I was introduced to a woman named Mary who had an oversupply of healthy breastmilk. Her milk was just right for our daughter as she had given birth just five weeks before I had which meant our babies’ nutritional needs were similar. Mary and I shared a fierce bond. Our daughter was fed largely by Mama Mary, someone with whom I share core values and whose milk I trusted. I’d pick up small, tall glass jars of her milk and stock our refrigerator weekly. My soul’s Village values shone bright and a new human life became fully nutritionally nourished.
Still, the shock and trauma I had experienced after giving birth struck me on deep levels. I entered 13 months of postpartum depression, even in the presence of the greatest Love I’d ever known: our child. Even in the presence of her highly devoted father. Even in the presence of world class friends and an attentive, loving family.
Thirteen months was a long time to feel down. Our daughter received a lot of love and affection, she was held by our arms and in her carrier, I sang to her and we read to her, and her lungs worked great. Still, something had lodged itself within my consciousness that kept my inner skies gray.
Then one day, I decided I wanted to exit. I wanted to rise up. I wanted to find a land where joy was daily, where the songs I’d sing to her filled our home with bright smiles and silliness. This can’t be difficult, I thought.
It was springtime. My little lady, with her toddling new steps, stepped out of our front yard onto the sidewalk with me. Renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle came to mind as his distinct capacity to be present seemed to slip into the fresh April air. The essence of Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, planted itself in my mind.
This moment, now... I thought. What do I want?
I took one step forward and stopped in that position, one foot in front of the other.
Ahh, the sun feels so good on my face.
Another step, and pause.
Goodness, we have a healthy daughter! WOW, wow, wow! How fortunate we are.
Her voice makes my heart do kartwheels. She is a dream come true!
As my daughter toddled along the sidewalk giggling and plucking flower petals off the ground, it struck me that all of a sudden, I felt lighter than I had when we walked out the door. God this felt good. I continued.
I have legs to walk. We have hills in our neighborhood. I love walking up hills!
Another step forward, another pause.
Where we live, the air is clean and feels so good to breathe in… I love this fresh air!
I could kiss her cheeks and belly 1,000 times a day.
As we walked past neighbors’ homes admiring trees, I realized I felt noticeably better. My heart was light, right now. And in the next right now. I was not depressed. Not right now.
Another step forward and pause.
We have fresh food to eat, grown organically. Love for our bodies, Love for the Earth.
It was that simple.
When I could have chosen antidepressants or coping with overeating (which I had chosen in the past), I chose a simple exit into a place of feeling good. Whichever option is chosen does not change whether that person is lovable; I am simply glad that in this situation, I chose a way out that didn’t hurt.
We are all doing our best. Depression is something many people experience and we all make the choices we need to, to cope, process and heal.
Seven years later, I find myself applying this same simple practice as I move through recovery from neurosurgery. Is there pain? Yep. Is there fear? More than I ever thought I’d face. Are the answers complicated and difficult? No, they are not. One step after another, one day at a time, I can choose — as can you — to live in the only moment there is: Now. In this moment right now, I can choose to notice beauty, joy, and all the things I’m grateful for. In this moment right now, I can give thanks for how my body communicates with me so precisely. As does yours, with you.
Alternatively, we can choose to place blame, we can choose to focus on negativity in our physical body or in the world, we can choose to feel bad. Regardless of the circumstances, we are free to choose.
To anyone experiencing depression, fear or anxiety, I share up this simple tool to bring yourself to a brighter state of mind. Your choice. You choose. Step outside and one step at a time, one moment at a time, focus on what feels good. You are the creator of your state of mind, and by the way, you are radically beautiful. Notice that. It’s all up to you.
It's good in an almost unbelievable way.
Our former postal delivery person, Ruben, is the kind of person who wins Positive Attitude awards. He seems universally friendly, like the universe. Goodness beaming from his smile and through the classic, shiny yellow smiley button on his gray-blue U.S. Postal Service baseball cap. He lifted up our neighborhood with his gorgeous glow within. Our daughter got to cherish him. He's got that "presence power" sort of way about him, never seeming to be in a hurry, always wanting to say hello.
Living in a Swedish city for 13 months, we didn't know any of our postal deliverers. It doesn't tend to work that way in the city. Plus the Swedish postal service has significantly declined in quality, having gone to a different ownership model.
Back in Petaluma, California, a new deliverer would await in our new neighborhood. Within the first few days of living in our cozy den home, we were sending love notes to friends big and small. Enter, Sean the Postman. Strong, sturdy smile and legs, with a kind-eyed, swish-rustled breeze in his smile.
Our postal karma is delivering the goods.
Who would have thought -- one of the best things about the USA is our postal service? Beyond fair prices and an excellent delivery record, somehow wherever I live we always get highly charmed postal delivery people.
Letters. They feel so good and they make life feel good too.
Thanks, Ruben and Sean and all the postal delivery workers in the world. Letters are powerful and you deliver ours. We trust you appreciate the way we beautify envelopes, to sing a little on their way over. We sing to you, in thanks. Your work is valued and honored!
This is The Motherhood Letters #11, previously published by Mothering Arts.
Dear Matt and Peter,
Thirteen days ago, the town where we met back in the late 90’s changed drastically overnight. Up the hill, Paradise roasted in flames from the Camp Fire as Chico sat close-up watching, in shock. Thousands of jaw-dropping stories rolled down social media streams. Friends lost their homes as parking lots turned into donation centers and wind blew toxic smoke to Sonoma County where I live.
After eight days of unhealthy air, I’d had enough. I needed to get my child out. We drove up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Friday to find you waiting.
For two nights we stayed with you Matt, and your daughter and son. For the next two nights we stayed with you Peter, and your two daughters.
I could breathe. My child could breathe.
In Tahoe’s fresh air, 7,000 feet above the smoky valley, my heart and lungs felt relieved of the physical and emotional intensity they had been holding for a week. My child and I were gifted “tribe time,” four unexpected days and nights with you and your precious, fast-growing babies, who I adore deep in my Tia Jess bones. I watched my child run, giddy, with your children. My own dull-aired living room more than 200 miles away, I exhaled deeply, gazing out the window at redwood trees as I listened as your child read books to mine, chased her around like a wild tiger, helped her feel like family.
And we are. We are Soul Family. We chose each other. And we still choose each other.
All three of us know we are fortunate to have had those days together. We all know we are fortunate to be alive, with homes intact.
What I mostly want to tell you isn’t “Thanks, Again.”
What I want to tell you is that I’m floored by your fathering.
I’ve been watching you parent for a decade. As your children were born and grew into toddlerhood, I watched you. You have always been good fathers. Yet this time it was different. Somehow, the beauty of fatherhood has seeped into your skin in a way that’s left me feeling really, really fortunate to know you.
You know I revere children. Watching you with yours was like seeing the future treated with the dignity it needs to become bright.
You weren’t like a magazine of picture perfect fatherhood. You did your own thing as they did theirs. But all through those high alpine moments, your voice for them was one of Love. Both of you, in your own ways. How could I not notice that, as a result of a devastating fire, I got to witness two spectacular fathers, one after the other, each for two precious days and nights? This isn’t the norm. Great fathers aren’t everywhere. How could I not be head-shakingly grateful that you are two of my dearest friends? In so many ways, you shone the light of powerfully loving fatherhood upon those days.
When your children needed boundaries, you set them. You named them, you clarified them, you checked in with your children, you listened with your heart engaged.
You didn’t make demands; you made requests. Do you realize you might have prevented a future mean-spirited boyfriend or girlfriend from violating your child, because you’ve shown them that somebody who cares for them will not try to control them?
You didn’t use fear to force them to comply; you used a strong, loving voice to show them the limits.
We’ve had some wild times together, having known each other since college. The men I see now aren’t the same men I met 20 years ago. Your children have offered you a chance to expand into a fuller, more step-up-to-Love’s-plate place within yourselves and you accepted. You stepped right up to that plate. Far fewer fathers do that, than children deserve. Watching you father your children makes me love you even more — did I just say that? Was that even possible?
Deep bow to you both. Thank you for all the stretching you have done over the years to evolve into such beautiful fathers. This is not easy work. Parenting well is high service to humanity — nothing less. What you are doing for your children is the greatest work there is, and I admire you with all my Tia heart for it.
A week after Donald Trump was elected. I walked into the café, ready to order my cappuccino, and there you stood.
Rather than sharing café small talk, you asked how I was doing and I knew you didn’t want to hear, “Fine.” You didn’t want to hear an answer that superficially informed you of where I was going next. You wanted to know how I was really doing, and it showed in the warm presence in your eyes and the spaciousness in your heart.
That’s just your way. You actually, really care.
I had been numbing myself. Until that morning when I saw you, hiding in my own escapist ways from the shock of what had just happened on the national stage. Suddenly, in your presence, the tears emerged. Standing there by the espresso machine, I cried out some of my despair. It needed to happen.
Within minutes, thanks to that moment of opening, I made a decision that led to the biggest adventure of my life so far. My family and I would move to Sweden for a year to be near my husband’s family in his native culture. Your open heart, attentive eyes, and deep capacity for listening were the container I needed to really hear what wanted to happen. Looking back now, almost two years after that café conversation, I see that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I’m not putting you on a pedestal. You wouldn’t accept that from me. I’m not saying you made the decision for me.
I’m saying that in your strikingly beautiful presence, I was able to live my truth in a way I might not have been able to without you. Every mother needs this kind of presence in her life.
Think about it. Right now there is a mother reeling from last night’s drunk abuse, somewhere in America. Right now there is a mother whose child is dying in a hospital bed. Right now there is a mother so lost and lonely she doesn’t know if there is a way out. In fact, there are millions of these.
All these mothers could use a presence as spacious and honest as yours. Thank you for being the way you are. May all these mothers find — now — what you showed me that morning.
And may I be a sliver in life, for others, of what I find in you.
In deep respect,
Originally published in Natural Parent magazine July 12, 2018
Recently in a greeting card mailed to me by a wise and long-time friend, she wrote that I “more singularly identify with being a mother” than any other mama friend she has. My initial inner response was, Oh great, am I weird in yet one more way in life? Does that mean she thinks I’m boring now? Have I gotten lost in the dance of mothering, and given up on my other passions?
Within moments, my little self-doubt voices dissipated. Her words then struck me as a powerful invoking of reflection about the last five years of my life.
Let me call myself out, to begin. Curiosity is powerful in relationships and I have not yet asked this dear friend what she meant by “singularly identified”. Letter writing is a slow exchange, more spacious than talking or texts, and my next letter to her will include a question seeking to understand what she expressed from her bold, loving heart.
According to standard definitions, I could interpret what she said as this: I am more remarkably, extraordinarily, and exceptionally identify as a mother than any other mama friend she has. Sounds like a big, kind compliment, right?
My friend’s bold way of showing me love in her letter left me with a feeling of pride about how I mother. Her words felt like a spotlight on a stage where I am dancing the awkward, passionate, indescribably rewarding dance of being a mama. So that is what I will respond to here, as I know many of you reading this have your own way of shining in your very own mothering stage.
On the surface being a mother is all about playgrounds, naps, tantrums, cuddling and a giving-up of self.
Right beneath it, there appears a mountaintop presenting to a mother some of the richest and most fertile personal expansion terrain available in life.
It has been said our children are our greatest teachers. To actually experience this in life can be fascinating, blissful and grueling at times. We can pay money for meditation retreats and gurus, yet our children offer astounding spiritual lessons for free on a daily basis. Children are the original gurus.
And I’m up for that. My religion is Love. In this life I want to shed all my layers of fear and bloom open to what Spirit, what Love, has to offer. Bring it on, little guru.
So it isn’t surprising that life hasn’t let me detract substantial attention from this opportunity in order to “make” other things happen, since my child was born. While I’ve tried to create a stable income flow, I’ve instead seen a path dotted with seemingly random creative output, unstable income and no clear sign of what’s to come. When we are trying to force something to happen, it is a pretty clear sign that it’s not meant to happen right now. It’s just not time.
In a way, motherhood has swallowed me whole. I have allowed it, though, feeling the briefness of this sacred encounter. Years fly. My guru won’t live with me forever.
My top priority is being the mother I am meant to be. It appears the priority is my child, but equally the priority is me giving her the all she deserves… Me welcoming the extraordinary and unmatched opportunity of being spiritually stretched and widened, that she presents to me. It is about me being the fullest version of myself that I can be, expanded by the presence of a being who I love as much as, dare I say, God. Or so it feels that way.
To the friend whose handwritten words led me to this helpful self-reflection, I extend my deep thanks. You see me from a perspective I value. However clumsy and grumpy I may sometimes be, I like who I am as a mother and as silly ol’, perfectly imperfect me.
This is #7 in The Motherhood Letters, a monthly feature in the Mothering Arts community by Leaning into Light founder Jessica Rios. Rooted in universal themes of motherhood, Jess shares the essence of her unique art of mothering through letter writing.
It’s only been two days since we said goodbye. Our little family of three is jet lagged as expected. Sweden to San Francisco, for us, meant a 26 hour trip. And after every plane I’m in that lands, my heart is wide open. I know I could have died. Life is more lucid than it was the day before.
I’m writing to you because my heart is filled with a bewildered sort of thanks.
It's the kind of thanks that questions why we can’t all be as good at showing up for others, as you are. It is the kind of bewilderment that wonders how I got so blessed to live a life with people like you in it.
Moving to a different continent and culture 5,200 miles away from my California home took a lot of courage. Even though I knew it was the thing to do, the experience presented multiple stretches way outside my comfort zone.
For our entire year there, you lived close by. So close that you saw my first bout with anxiety, when physical circumstances stood my hairs on end because I feared for my daughter Helena’s life. So close that, as her grandfather’s long time wife, you spoke up about it. You felt it, too. You voiced your Mama Bear concern, assuring me that I had a right to be scared. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. You were that mama for me.
Through your empathy I stood stronger in my own mothering skin.
From the moment we landed, you were abundant in the attention you shared with me and Helena. You gave generously with your curious, attentive spirit, becoming her gardening partner and playful companion. I knew I could trust you to be honest with me, and that made me feel more at home even though I was so far from it.
When I accepted that I didn't feel a genuine desire to learn to speak Swedish while there, simply because my "plate" felt too full already as a mother and writer living abroad, you accepted me. I didn't feel judged by you.
That kind of love is really, really helpful to a mother of a young child, who is navigating life in a whole new land.
At dinnertime during one of my horrible multi-day migraines, you asked if I wanted the overhead lamp turned off. I could barely answer; I could barely think. You didn’t wait for me to reply. You stood up and turned the light off. And that wasn’t the first time you noticed something on my behalf, or Helena’s, and took action because…
Village. We had a village together for that one precious year.
In a world so far away from what I knew, your outrageously radiant smile shone through your eyes at me, reminding me that mamas always have each other’s backs.
And I also saw you honor your own limits. When you were tired, you told me you were tired and you told Helena, too. You didn’t force yourself to be something you were not. Through this you showed me and my daughter how women can take care of ourselves. It helped me to give myself full permission to be my true self, too. When I was grumpy about the long winter or my marriage, you were fine with me where I was. Not taking sides, not feeding my complaints, just letting me be me.
When I birthed this child and married her father I had no idea you were coming along with the deal. I had no idea I would gain in my life, a woman who I’d lean on intensively, and who would show up with a spirit of sheer generosity as I lived out one of my life’s greatest adventures.
Mamas need each other. Women need each other. Life depends on other life. You aren’t my mother, and you sure showed me and Helena love that felt as deep as a mother’s love, while we were there.
We miss you with every jet lagged, bewildered tear our eyes shed. OK, she’s not shedding tears. I am. I really love you.
Endlessly, endlessly, thanks.
For today's unusually brief blog post, I share this moment of thanks for the good laugh I get over Earl Grey tea every morning.
Oat "milk" is common in Swedish cafes. Perhaps lots of people here are lactose intolerant or vegan. When we landed last July for our year living abroad, I was ever grateful to discover an abundance of delicious oat milk for cappuccinos.
To top off the palate-pleasing dairy alternative, the people producing these popular oat milk products have a sweet sense of humor. Nothing like a good chuckle to start a dreary winter day!
Here's the side of their oat yogurt carton.
It's been a long winter. Thanks, guys.
It's usually when I walk around in my underwear. On occasion my daughter, who just turned five, chases me squealing, "Mama your legs are so biiiiiiig!" She giggles and wants to touch me and play with me.
The first time she said it was about six months ago and it caught me off guard.
Did she really just say that?
It was one of those semi-shocking moments, when a child blurts something you just wouldn't say as an adult. Women don't want to hear that. But plain truth be told, my legs are bigger than hers. She has a slender build and I am almost twice as tall as her. Plus her body is lean and I spent my early childhood snacking on Oreo cookies and ice cream. Mine's not so lean.
So once I got over the reaction I would have had 20 years ago: Whaaaaaat? Ohhhh this hurts, ouch, she's right, I really need to get more exercise or stop eating sugar or... which took about three seconds to move through me, I simply said what seemed true and loving: "My legs are just the right size for me."
Frankly I almost couldn't believe what I'd said. Was that really me talking, saying words of self-acceptance about my body? Who was this matter-of-fact-I'm-fine woman that I'd become?
Let me answer that question. This woman is a woman who has experienced so much culturally and self-inflicted criticism, yes mostly self inflicted, about my body that I refused to ever, no I have not ever, said one negative word about my body around my daughter. I don't talk about women's bodies as if they are to be criticized. Spending 30-something years in the pain of that world was enough.
This is a woman who birthed a girl child, for whom I want as little of that kind of pain as humanly possible. Magazine ads and peer chatter will be enough for her to pick up on society's sick perspectives about the female body. I will not be contributing to that.
We all get to choose our parenting style. We all get to choose what we say to our children. So many of us want our children to be free of the wounds we lived through in our own childhood.
Will we teach our daughters to focus on their bodies' strength, on how they feel?
Will we teach our sons to respect girls' bodies, by respecting our own in front of them?
As for me, the best I can do is let the outrageously big love I feel for my daughter escalate my own process of accepting that I am fine.
I am just fine, just the way I am, whether it's summertime and my skin is glowing, or a long dark winter where I'm pale as a pigeon plucking snow from the curb. At age 14 I had magazine covers plastered on my walls because I thought supermodels were it, and I wanted to be like them. Now, things are different. Age has freed me up. Something like that.
Yes I know full self acceptance is a tall order. Yet I know it is worth wanting.
Thank you, child, for calling forth my wiser self. May you always know your legs are just the right size for you, too. May you have no idea how many thousands of hours I've spent criticizing my own body, and especially my legs, until someday by the fire while we're camping, it feels like time to tell you that story. Dear child, may your life show you a way that is glorious galaxies beyond the wisdom of mine.
As Christmas approaches, I am being courageous and communicating about something important to me, even though it’s a bit awkward and out of my comfort zone. Being courageous in communicating about things that are important to her is what I’d want my daughter to do — so shouldn’t I model this courage myself?
In giving myself permission to communicate this with you and others who I care deeply about, I ask that you first and foremost keep in mind that: 1) I love you, 2) I value you and all the ways you are generous with our daughter, and 3) this is nothing personal about any one person, including you. It is simply an expression of our family values — something we genuinely believe in — and I trust that you will receive this in a spirit of curiosity, with an open mind and a warm heart.
Here’s what we’ve noticed.
Whenever our daughter receives a lot of presents, she feels overwhelmed. It’s like her nervous system is frayed, and she can’t seem to appreciate or focus on any one thing. It’s as if she would prefer quality time rather than a lot of presents. It’s as if she is — without words — asking us to “step up our game” and show her how meaningful life can be without material excess.
She is fortunate. We are fortunate. And we’re grateful. So grateful that, in fact, we want to extend our gratitude into a family challenge to focus our time and attention more on laughter, music, conversation, cooking together — rather than having a holiday that is swimming in stuff.
We want this for our daughter, so that her holiday memories are rooted in the sharing of love. Yes, presents are usually given with love. Yet — they can also easily overwhelm children, and there is a growing movement among parents who recognize this overwhelm and want to teach their children how to live with less stuff. And less debt.
We also want our daughter to know that this living planet we call home — Mother Earth — is our life support system, and that we honor her future on it. We want her to know that buying more stuff is not good for the planet we love — which is her home.
My wish for our daughter is that she receive one very special gift from her family at Christmas. When we sit around our tree on Christmas morning, we would like her to revel — with attentiveness, presence and joy — in one very special gift her family has come together to purchase for her. We want her to feel what it's like to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy one gift. The magic of presence.
Trust me, if you want to be part of this gift I will be sure she knows that you are, as is anyone else who contributes to make it happen.
This year, we’re still on the case 😉 investigating what one “big” thing she would like for Christmas. Maybe it’s ice skates or a sled, or a day in the snow with a friend. Maybe handmade doll clothes. If you would like to contribute, please let me know.
If there is something special that you want to give her, let’s do it at a time when we can be with you, outside the holiday rush perhaps over a peaceful dinner, spending quality time enjoying the gift of your generosity and the huge blessing of your love in our lives.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Love-based leader, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.