I was blessed to give birth to two healthy boys in December. Now that I'm emerging from the haze of sleep deprivation, I know that being a mother is the ultimate spiritual practice. Here are some lessons my twins have taught me in their first five months of life -- lessons that are valid for anyone of any age, not just parents.
1. This too shall pass. The nature of life is impermanence. Having a newborn constantly reminds you of this truth.
From troubles eating to waking up an hour too early, my best friend refuses to let me stress about the latest "problem" with my boys. "It won't last," she laughs. And sure enough, the issue soon disappears.
It is valuable to remind ourselves that every sticky situation, unpleasant circumstance, low (and high, too, unfortunately!) will pass. And then we'll be faced with the next great challenge.
2. Eat only what you need to. Sleep as long as you can. My boys drink my breast milk until they're full, sleep a ton and wake up happy and ready to play.
Imagine if our lives were so simple. And yet in many ways, they can be. Eat whenever you are hungry, but don't stuff yourself. Sleep as much as you possibly can. Do work that you enjoy. Make an effort every day to be present.
3. Selfless giving is its own reward. The name of the game with parenting is give give give, with no expectation of return.
Amazingly, this selfless lifestyle is a relief, in many ways, from the sometimes neurotic, obsessive thoughts I used to have about my own needs and wants. I find it oddly freeing.
That being said...
4. Time for your self isn't selfish. You can go overboard with the whole "selfless giving" thing.
It took me three months after my babies were born to do anything for myself. My first yoga class felt like an hour-and-a-half long alleluia. If I want to show up with the kind of love, patience and undivided attention my children deserve, then I need to take breaks.
Giving yourself some "you" time is genuinely beneficial to everyone.
5. Make an effort to feel wonder every day. Every child innately possesses a sense of wonder. It's a delight watching my boys express awe at things as simple as my husband playing guitar or a colorful piece of fabric.
Put yourself in situations that inspire you: go to a museum, a concert, an art exhibit, a national park or the ocean. Feel the "wow!" It is like being reborn.
6. Always be prepared... To throw your plans away. When you have a newborn, you'd better be prepared -- with twins, times that by two. Always have your diaper bag packed and ready.
That said, you can't cling to plans. Baby starts to melt down? We're outta there.
But it's all good. It's a beautiful dance of practiced coordination and letting go... So helpful in everyday adult life, as well.
7. When you think you can't keep going, you can. Even with the blessing of a super-involved partner -- my husband, Kiran -- I have, a few times, been woken up by a baby's cry and thought, I can't do it. I can't get up.
But I did. And I have. And so can you.
It's pretty amazing how we can rise to the challenges that are placed before us. And when we do, we realize how powerful we truly are.
8. A smile is the best thank you in the world. After three superbly grueling months, one of my sons smiled at me for the first time. Wow, those grins take over their whole bodies! Their smiles make every second of sleep deprivation worthwhile.
This applies to all humans: Don't forget to smile. Hugely. Genuinely. Chances are it's the best "thank you" that you have to offer.
9. It's OK to cry. I've always believed in having a good, cleansing cry when things aren't going my way. Now, I watch my babies cry and it pains me. I have to remind myself that it's OK.
As with infants, so too for grown-ups. Sometimes it's healthy to allow yourself to feel dissatisfied, impatient or upset. For a little while. Then get over it. Maybe next time, that little bit of suffering won't seem so bad. Perhaps it will even make you stronger.
10. Sometimes all you need is to be held. When one of the boys cries, I ask: Is he hungry? Tired? Does he need a diaper change or a burp? When the answer to all these questions is no, then I'll just scoop him up and hold him tight. Tell him how much he is loved. And after a few moments, he always settles.
We all just need to be held sometimes. We all crave human connection, the warmth and comfort of a tight, loving squeeze.
It makes everything better.