It was lashing outside and we were all, my three brothers and I, cooped up in my granny’s tiny terraced house in a village in County Clare. I don’t remember how much noise we were making, but I’m sure it was plenty. And I’m sure my grandmother was starting to wonder how long we’d be staying. After all, she was used to having the small house to herself by then, and having a group of energetic children, even if we were her grandchildren, racing up and down the stairs was sure to have been grating on her nerves a little.
My mother, with her natural intuition, gave us the option of playing outside in the rain – and, of course, we jumped at it. How many other children got to put on their swimsuits and play outside when it rained? And with their mother’s blessing?
Rain is not unusual in Ireland (!) but I still remember that rainy afternoon and that memory, along with many other similar ones, have stayed with me right through my adult life. They still bring a smile to my face when I have to strip my own daughters out of their muddy clothes at the backdoor and I remember where I learnt to be so comfortable with mud and rain.
Like most mothers, many of the things my mother ‘taught’ me were done from a place of love and understanding rather than a place of obligation or duty. Now, as I travel that path of motherhood myself, I am more aware and grateful of all that I picked up from her as a child.
So, in honour of Mother’s Day (on the Irish side of the Atlantic), here are some of my favourite ‘lessons from mum’.
- Walking barefoot. From an early age, my mother always encouraged me to ditch the shoes whenever we had a chance and to simply feel the earth under my feet. It wasn’t a lecture in health or shamanic grounding, though – it was just a natural gesture. Later, as I began to formally look into spiritual and healing practices, I realised how important it is to be in physical touch with nature and to connect our own energetic systems with those of the earth. By showing me how much fun it was to walk barefoot, she had given me a very early experience of that natural connection which I have never forgotten. I think this connection is something which can only really be properly assimilated at an early age, before the mind has had a chance to over-rule the body’s natural instincts. And, once the connection is experienced, it is not easily forgotten. Now, thistles permitting, my children are barefoot on the ground as often as they can be.
- Enjoying the rain. Apart from the little story above, I also remember other times when I got to play outside in the rain with my mother’s blessing. After all, why not? What’s so awful about rain that we have to shut our children up inside and treat the day as lost when it’s wet? Why can’t it be an opportunity to create some special memories? It’s all part of a broader lesson, though – a lesson which, like the one above, helps us to be comfortable with nature, whether that’s the nature of our own physical bodies or of the earth and her weather-systems.
- Being creative on a shoe-string. This has turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons I picked up from mum and I’ve applied it in nearly every area of my life. I’ve created wardrobes for myself as a teenager from second-hand clothes, bits of material and some of my dad’s old shirts. As a young adult, I could create meals out of ingredients left in the cupboard and fridge while others said there was nothing to eat in the house. And still, I can pull together a workshop from a load of old magazines, some fabric stashed in the attic and other miscellaneous items around the house. The essential ingredient? Imagination. Mum was – and still is- wonderfully imaginative. And I’ve found out that it can be much more fulfilling and fun to create things from scratch than to simply go out and buy something that another has created.
- To be open-minded. One of the core shamanic teachings – which is also common to many spiritual disciplines – is to approach everything with ‘beginner’s mind’. This means not making assumptions or judgements about people or circumstances, and allowing the possibility that there may be more to a situation than seems to be the case. When I was first introduced to this concept in a formal way, it seemed very familiar and now I understand why. My mother was never comfortable hearing gossip or having us pass judgement on others, and her willingness to be open-minded, even when it was difficult for her at first, has made a deep impression on me. I hope it is something my daughters can carry forward to future generations.
- How to fight fair. Mum showed me, by her own example, that it was okay to feel and express anger, and also showed me how to move on once the argument was over. I still remember vividly having huge rows with her when I was a teenager and yet being able to move past them quickly and cleanly, without bearing a grudge. Anger is so damaging when it’s bottled up inside, and yet it is something that many adults still struggle to express and release healthily, and to accept in others. With three fiery daughters, I hope that I am adequately able to transfer the skill on.
As I write this, I wonder what my own girls will say about me as a mother in the future. Will they remember the times I filled the paddling pool in the middle of the sitting room for them on a cold winter’s day so they could pretend it was summer? Will they remember the night I dragged them out in the dark to see the lighthouse when we were on holidays by the sea? Or will they remember me stuck to a computer? Or arguing with their father? All of it, probably. There are few secrets between mothers and daughters in the long run. Being a mother is such a tricky business sometimes, as we walk a fine line between just getting through each day and yet wanting to being the free-spirited soul we all are somewhere deep inside. We want our children to be free, self-expressive, individuals but we also want them to be able to put a roof over their heads and food in their mouths without stress.
One thing we can all do, though, mothers and children, is to cheer eachother on as we sometimes fly, sometimes stumble, along our journeys.