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As May rolls around each year, I often find myself thinking of my mother. Not only is Mother’s Day in May, but her birthday as well. This year, I’m reflecting on my relationship with my mother, the ways it’s changed over the years, and the ways I’ve changed as well.

Baby in the water

As a child and a teenager, I often had a hard time getting along with my mom. I didn’t understand her choices, and I felt trapped by the powerlessness of being dependent on her for all of my needs. Her husband, my father, had passed away when I was very young, and my baby brother was even younger. I resented her for being sad, and I was focused on my emotions rather than trying to understand the pain that was in her heart. I also lamented that my life wasn’t as calm, peaceful, or full of certainty as the lives of the other kids at school (as I imagined them).

As a young adult, I rebelled and sought to venture as far as I could away from Appalachian Tennessee and from my family as well. I moved to the Northeast, to South America, and even to Europe for a while, but I settled in Oregon. In Oregon I have felt at home as an adult and as a part of my community in ways that I did not as a teenager growing up in the South. As a member of the Corvallis Zen Circle, I have embarked on a meditation practice, and I’ve begun to explore what family means to me more deeply. And, interestingly enough, when I sit to meditate, I’m sometimes struck by the richness of my inheritance. I realize that I’m not alone on the cushion; my mother, my father, my brother, my grandparents and all of my family are there with me, forming the rhythms of my breath and receiving the kindness in my heart.

Rachael with flower

I try to talk with my mother as often as I can these days. I think about the events and conditions that have shaped her life, and I wonder at her strength and the power and resilience of the light inside of her. I also realize what a joy it is to be able to share my life with her, to ask her about her days, to offer her my love and support, and to receive hers in return. When I consider what’s most important lately, it isn’t making right all of those injustices I have felt about the conditions of my own life or what I have had or haven’t had. Nor is it having adventurous experiences, being successful in my career, or even enjoying the company of many friends and acquaintances that I long for when I reflect. What gives me joy now is knowing that this moment is a moment that I could be contributing to love and well-being in the world. My relationship with my mother is now a sweet gift of opportunity to give and receive this love. It has opened my heart and taught me to see beyond self-cherishing to the vast ocean of inter-being upon which we all sail. 

Beach Sunset