Mystic Mom Revisited

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA

A few years ago I wrote my first post on HuffPo about what it means to be a mystic mom. I described the transcendent experience of motherhood where we connect with someone else to such a degree that we transcend our self-oriented worldview and experience a 'oneness' with another. As my children are now in college or beyond and they meet the challenges of first love, lost love, success and failure, and the joys and sorrows of life, I'm struck by how this mother-child relationship carries over throughout my life and theirs. The joy of transcendence means also touching their feelings of pain as well.

I just visited my daughter in college and experienced this firsthand as I felt the sadness she's feeling right now upon separation from her boyfriend (not at the same school). College often brings with it such separations along with other new experiences that can lead to first semester blues. Knowing that it passes with time does not make the real pain my daughter feels (or others in her situation) any easier; as parents we hate to see our children suffer. At the same time, we know that through such heartbreaks, hardships, and adversity emerges a growing strength of character and increasing knowledge. It is that knowledge, that wisdom, that makes the process bearable, but it is a tough time for any parent to endure.

I'm reminded of how much motherhood (and fatherhood) create such opportunities for personal growth and self-transcendence. Many turn to their God or religion in times of struggle. For others, like myself, I take refuge in experiencing the ongoing process of life itself, the evolution that continues ad infinitum, and in it experiencing what has been called a 'universal unity of being' or 'true nature'. Mysticism is a term that may describe the process. In deep human mother-child love, such mysticism is revealed.

Perhaps more so than any monk, or priest, or religious devotee might experience through a vow of celibacy, a lifetime of meditation, or contemplative isolation, being in a mother-child relationship can elicit 'obstacles of attachment' creating awareness of our wanting, grasping, and striving nature that when recognized can lead to transcendence and a touch with our true nature. Again and again, I am struck by how powerful real human relationships of love push us toward such discovery.

It's times like today when I see how much easier it would be to 'be celibate' 'eat one meal a day' 'maintain a vow of silence' than to re-experience through our children the lessons we learned as young adults. (As any parent knows, the pain of a child is actually greater than a comparable pain experienced by oneself). And, the mystical union with something greater than ourselves begins in such relationships but expands and grows through our lifetimes. Children provide perhaps the toughest tool to hone such mysticism, if we take heart to see it. In the discovery process, we may also gain an awareness of the continuous change that is life and the unchanging reality that is its complement.

In this fairly melancholy day stemming from my daughter's own sadness, I see the beauty again in the mysticism of motherhood.