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Home stretch

If a new human life depends on so much care, attention, energy, and skillfulness, then what may be needed for awakening in spiritual life?

For three months I have had the privilege of letting love come through in ways that I could not have imagined:

Three months of broken sleep, wide smiles, aching back, and continual stretching of the heart, continual revelation of resourcefulness. Wrapping my son in a hand-knit blanket; meeting his shocking, Rinpoche eyes; meeting those same eyes when they wear the veils of hunger, pain, or sleep. Dancing and singing more than I have ever done before, even in the dance-a-thons I participated in 20 years ago. Feeding love to love. For weeks, limping on a numb leg after a long birth; leaking blood and milk.

Delighting in being willing and welcomed to love completely. Love as feeling, and love as action—one action after another—but especially love as power that continually inspires, knows, moves, and fulfills. Even in unforeseen circumstances. Even beyond the personal power to keep going.

Three months of serious wondering about basic human questions. Wondering about babies, about all of us. All of us once that urgent, absorbent immediate, and delicate.

What a wonder: Even with plenty of support, I have never felt more stretched or more at home than in these three months of giving everything that is needed when it is needed. At 2 in the morning and again at 3 in the morning, if necessary.

Wonderful questions about the power of touch, voice, and food to unburden a whole life. My son’s life, and perhaps my life. Perhaps my mother’s and my mother’s mother’s lives.

What a wonder: Doctors, psychologists, shamans prescribe three months of simple touch and gaze and voice and milk. They measure fewer infections and allergies, greater flexibility and intelligence. More dependence now giving more independence later.

I see also: immeasurable potential, unstoppable unfolding. Already, I see a child whose face shines with the joy of being held, being loved. With the fundamental knowing we are made of love, were born to be loved and to love.

Taking seriously the wonder that our first hours, days, and months shape the rest of our lives. Wondering about the shape of a life starved of touch in the early months. Seriously questioning the shape of a culture built of starved lives. Wondering about a culture, currently at the service of adults who travel business class.

Wondering about a culture that could embrace the ones who most need hugs, a culture that is a home we want to belong to.

Wondering about a world with more bright, adaptable, grounded, heartful people.

I knew this before, but now I feel qualified to speak about a question that is basic for all of us—whether we like or want or have children, or not: how can we help more people have the care they need especially in these first challenging months? Meals, massages, laundry, skills, encouragement. Stretching our public spaces and policies. A bodhisattva’s challenge—just giving, knowing the gift will be unremembered.

Urgently wondering about spiritual birth, about making a home for spiritual life inside us. Wondering how spiritual practice can access some of the stamina and delight that pulls parents and babies through the first months of life. What would make us unstoppable; what would deliver that twenty-four-hour dedication? How might we fall out of our tiny willpower and be stretched into willingness, be willing to be stretched?

What would help us to cry out, what would help us to embrace “spiritual needs” in ourselves and others?

The two months after the birth stretched me as much as the birth itself did. What might help us accept that a breakthrough is just the beginning of the challenge in an awakened life? How will we learn the potential inherent in being an “unfinished project”? When will we ask to stay home with our vulnerability? When will we let ourselves love freedom of the spirit “like a mother loves a child, her only child”? What helps us rest into a natural alignment that stretches urgently and openly towards expansiveness and fulfillment?

Let’s find ways to help babies and parents nurture a fragile and powerful birthright. And meanwhile, perhaps they can also teach us how natural it is to let the power of love stretch us into the fullness of life.

P.S. We have just finished the first Open Dharma retreat where Gyan came along. People both on staff and on retreat told me how much his presence helped them—his noises, his butterfly watching, his almond blossom sniffing, his gazing at the fire during the chanting one evening. One woman said that she feels like a baby when she goes on retreat, and that his grunting and cooing for a few minutes in the hall expressed her own nonverbal shifts and openings for her. We have all been babies. We have one retreat per month coming up this year in Spain, France, the US, and India. Perhaps we will stumble on more specific, spontaneous ways that infants (literally, “without a voice”) and inner silence enrich and expand each other.

Jaya Ashmore

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