It was a simple human interest story in the back pages of a New York newspaper, but it really captured my imagination. A train pulls up at a subway platform at New York’s Grand Central Station. A well dressed woman exits the train. She realizes that she only has one glove, and the other is on the train. She can see it on the seat where she was sitting. But the doors of the train are closing. In the quickest of flashes she realizes that she won’t be able to get back on the train in time, so she shrugs her shoulders and throws the remaining glove through the doors just before they close. The train pulls out of the station and the woman shuffles on with the crowds towards the escalators.
The article didn’t say any more than that. I don’t know what she was thinking. Maybe she thought that whoever finds her glove might as well have both of them. Maybe it was an act of resignation. I don’t know. The reason I like the image is because it’s a great metaphor for letting go. After spending so much energy trying not to lose things, gloves and relationships and beliefs, there come certain times when you just have to stretch your arm out and toss your remaining ideals onto a moving train. And I love that it’s a glove. Once you have removed both gloves your hands are free to let go of all sorts of things.
It doesn’t come naturally, does it? We are clingers, not Maxwell Klinger from M*A*S*H with cross-dressing flair but clingers with a “c”. We cling to our gloves as if our lives depended on them. We cling to our children as if our children couldn’t possibly survive without us. We cling to our beliefs as if we are nothing without them.
The challenge is that the train’s about to leave, the doors are closing and you have to decide. Clutch on to the last vestige of the way things were, or release your grip, take a risk and live in the moment. Sometimes you have to toss a glove onto a departing train just to feel the exhilaration of being alive, to remind yourself to loosen up and take a risk. Live a little. It’s all changing anyway. You might as well enjoy the ride.
The freedom of letting go is that you feel lighter, you move more easily, you have less baggage and you discover that most of what you let go comes back to you in some other form anyway if you are open. Why would I be talking about this on Mother’s Day?
Because mothers learn the ultimate lesson in letting go, usually after some struggle. Imagine having to let go of a human life that you carried in your body and still carry in your heart! It must be terrifying. Your five year old son wants to use the men’s restroom by himself for the first time. He’s getting embarrassed about going into the women’s room with you. You are torn between his desire for independence and the dangers that lurk inside. So you stand at the door and talk to him the whole time through the door. It doesn’t matter that everyone in the restaurant thinks you’re crazy. Your protective instinct is stronger than vanity. Your thirteen year old daughter wants to go on her first date, alone with a boy. She’s getting embarrassed about being seen in public with her parents. You are torn between her desire for independence and your understanding of sixteen year old boys. So you send her off with a cell phone GPS tracker and wait by the front door in a rocking chair. Your eighteen year old son wants to join the military. Your twenty year old daughter wants to get married. Your adult children want to move across the other side of the world, taking your grandchildren with them. Now you see why you need to practice on easy things like gloves and beliefs. You have to prepare yourself for life’s big surrenders.
Mothers and Gods
Here is an idea to think about. Gods and goddesses through the centuries have been created in the image of mothers. Mothers have had their creative and protective instincts in all cultures, so religions created goddesses to match.
Do you know the three proofs that Jesus was Jewish?
1. He lived at home until he was 33.
2. He was sure his Mother was a virgin.
3. His Mother was sure he was God.
A group of second graders were asked some questions about mothers.
What ingredients are mothers made of?
1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.
It seems to me that it’s no accident that religions have always described gods and goddesses with parent imagery. Gods and Goddesses model the same balance between holding on and letting go that parents learn.
In The Hebrew Prophets, God is described as being like a mother bear protecting the cubs she has just fed. “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open.”- Hosea 13;8
No matter how calm and forgiving you think you are, when you see your child getting hurt, you will be become a warrior on the warpath taking no prisoners. Comedian Dave Barry once said, “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” A parent’s passionate opposition to war and drink driving will multiply after having children. The protective instinct is so strong.
My Mum was always my most loyal supporter on the sports field. She was known to pace the sidelines while I played football, calling out “reminders” to referees and shall we say “suggestions” to opponents. When I was knocked unconscious one day, she had to be restrained from running onto the field. One of my teammates was Julian McMahon who is now famous as the Nip/Tuck Doctor. His father was the Prime Minister of Australia in the 1970’s. My Mum almost came to blows with the former Prime Minister because he was in her way on the sideline. My Mum was cut in the mold of the God of the Hebrew Prophets. Don’t be fooled by her size and gentle demeanor. She is incredibly nurturing, and also a mother bear protecting her cubs.
In the 8th century BCE Israel was at a crossroads. The northern and southern kingdoms had split. There was political unrest and scandal. Jon and Kate plus 8 is a walk in the park compared to Israel at this time. Israel had six kings in twenty years and four of them assassinated their predecessors. Israel was like a rebellious teenager, experimenting with a lot of different religions and lifestyles desperate for peace in the midst of so much change.
Hosea himself, at the command of God, married a pagan temple prostitute who eventually left him for another man. Life was confusing. God is described as being like a mother who uses all her guile to keep her teen on the straight and narrow. Hosea puts some words in God’s mouth that sound like a speech you would hear from any parent. “After all I’ve done for you! I named you and fed you, and then you go and do this! Don’t you forget that I brought you into the world and I can take you out of the world!”
What is your image of God? Many of us have left behind the wrathful, war like God. That doesn’t mean you need to leave behind a God who has passion and feels the pain of the world as if it was her own. Many of us have left behind the interventionist God. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for God to see us at the brink of independence and NOT intervene. It’s no accident that God is described with mother imagery. It’s the nature of creative living and loving to seek the balance between holding on and letting go.
The ultimate risk of all time is captured in the Hebrew creation story. Imagine creating the world and then giving people free will. Imagine raising children to the brink of independence, then setting them loose to make their own mistakes and find their way in the world.
Spiritual Risk Taking
Mothers learn about risk taking the hard way. But it’s a lesson we all learn one way or another. It ultimately comes down to your expectations. Do you expect guarantees or are you in this for the adventure of being alive? Is spirituality an exercise in risk assessment or a fearless freefall into the rabbit hole of what is? One of my favorite American philosophers, William James, said “It is only by risking that we really ever live at all.”
Without risk, you would never escape from the prison of who you think you have to be to satisfy the critics into the fullness of your true self that always was. The irony is that you need to take risks in order to move beyond the small self that keeps itself alive by believing there is too much at stake. There isn’t. There is more of substance in a single glove than in the ego’s delusions of permanence. At your essence you know that it is worth the risk because on the other side of the risk lies freedom.
In your quietest moments you know that it is no contest. As Anais Nin said, “The risk to remain tight in a bud is more painful than the risk to blossom.”
As you blossom, you realize that there are no risks because there are no mistakes. When you are grounded in inner peace, whatever you do is appropriate and if you have to adjust your course, you do that and move on without self blame or judgment.
Risk Taking and Mother Earth
Now relate this issue of risk taking to the massive oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico? Was that a mistake? Did BP fail in their risk assessment? Has offshore drilling finally been shown to be too costly? Is this another illustration that mindless human consumption is the greatest mistake of all time, and to continue unabated would be to risk our very survival as a species?
A spiritual perspective on the oil spill cuts to the heart of the issue – which is misplaced human desire. As long as we pad our lives with rapidly disintegrating and elusive comforts, we will create an over eager oil industry which will in turn be forced to take risks to meet demand and make profit. Whether it is Chernobyl in 1986 or Chandeleur Island off Louisiana’s coast in 2010, industry will take risks to meet insatiable human demand. Let’s not be naïve. Why would we expect BP to tell us to stop being so needy? The oil spill is a greasy indictment on human greediness. Every one of us should hang our heads in shame at the devastation WE are a part of. The deaths of eleven people, the threat to the fishing industry and the devastation to wildlife and beaches all rest squarely on our heads just as much as BP’s.
We need an inner and an outer resolution. The outer resolution will include a risk assessment that matches human desires. We can’t have the lifestyle without the risk. Whether its nuclear plants or drilling sites, there will be risks. Our risk assessments need to include damage to habitats and cultures as well as workers and markets. It’s all related. We are all related.
The inner resolution has its own risk assessment. When we learn to skate on the perfect imperfection of the present moment, then human desire will slide into the ice grooves of what is. We will bend our desires until nothing but reality will satisfy them. The oil slick will be cleaned up from the inside out – our insides. We will drill deep into our inner resources and realize that nothing of any significance is lacking in our lives, and then the BP’s of the world will follow suit and adjust their obsessive drilling into earth’s resources.
Once we realize that nothing of any significance is lacking, then we will realize that there is nothing of any significance to lose and risk will find its rightful place once again.
Let me tie this all together – mothers, risks, and eco activism.
Another image that is used of God in the Bible is that of a parent who wipes the tears from their children’s faces. You will remember that Jesus had an encounter with a woman who bathed his feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair. Relate this to the suffering of the earth.
As well as inner and outer awareness, we should DO something practical about the oil spill as well – something that only a mother or a god would think of, something that involves our bodies. If the oil on the gulf is the tears of the earth, then use your hair to mop up her tears. You can actually send hair to help clean up the oil. Check out this organization-
What a great way to be the change. Make an inner resolve to stay open to the adventure of life. Put the desires of your small self in their rightful place. Adjust your lifestyle according to your new consciousness. Put your body where your heart is the way a mother does, Respond to the desecration of the earth by all of us like a mother bear protecting her cubs.
All of life is a delicate balance between holding on and letting go. Toss a glove in a train this week just as practice so you are ready for big things like sending your kids off to college and surrendering the limited beliefs of your ego. It will be worth the risk.
Glove tossing warrior in me greets glove tossing warrior in you. Namaste.
For Further Reflection-
How do you find the balance between holding on and letting go?
Do you agree that people create Gods and Goddesses in the image of people/ mothers?
How do you find inner peace in the midst of chaos and change?
Do you think our consumption and lifestyles bears any responsibility for the gulf oil spill?