On the second day of my retreat to Costa Rica one of the students asked me if I missed my kids. My heart sped up. It was only Monday. I wouldn’t see their sweet faces until I arrived home Saturday and even then it would be by the feint glow of their nightlights as they slept. Had I made the wrong decision? Was I just being selfish? I did miss them, but it was the idea of missing them that made me panic more than the actual experience of being separated. I told myself that it would go by quickly and that even if they cried the whole time I was gone, even if I cried the whole time, it was only a week. We would survive.
The next morning I decided to channel the energy I would have spent taking care of my kids into showing up for my students and taking care of myself. I lingered at mealtime, asking questions and getting to know the brave souls who made the arduous journey to this remote jungle location. I learned so much about each person and I appreciated that opportunity so much more than I did before I had kids. At home I spend most of my time trying to squeeze everything in around my main task of parenting. My days in the jungle felt long and spacious. In between classes I had time to do my own yoga practice, get a massage, take walks, and swing in a hammock.
Sometimes as parents we think there is no room in our lives for self care. There is no space for us to pursue our dreams. We are so busy making sure our kids have amazing lives that we forget to create our own amazing lives. One of my friends with two small children said she can’t remember the last time she sat down and ate a whole meal without picking up forks from the floor, wiping up spills or making spoonfuls of food into airplanes.
Yet another friend recently confided that due to a serious autoimmune disease, there came a point after she had her son that she realized if she did not start taking care of herself, she wasn’t going to be around to care for her son. She decided to start putting herself first, which dramatically improved her health and gave her much more energy to share with her family.
The founder of the Four Winds Society, Alberto Villoldo, said that when he started trekking to Peru to study with the indigenous shamans, his children were very young. His mind told him that in order to take care of them he needed to stay put, and keep his secure job as a scientist at a University, but his heart told him that he needed to go to the jungle and learn to become a healer. If he hadn’t listened to his heart not only would he have missed out on his calling, but thousands of his students would have missed their callings too.
He refers to the life circumstances we use as reasons not to do what our hearts tell us as “sacred cows”. Rather than sacrifice the sacred cows by spending a week away from our families or leaving a job that doesn’t inspire us, we often hold on tight, telling ourselves that we must fulfill our duties. It’s the responsible thing to do.
This summer when my daughter was only two months old, my husband went to Greece and Edinburgh for three weeks. Many people thought we were crazy. Even though I was scared to be without him, I knew that he needed to go to feed his hungry soul. And when I decided to lead this retreat and leave my 8-month-old baby at home, he knew I needed to go to live my dreams.
Our families can become our sacred cows. We can use the people we care for as reasons not to love ourselves, and excuses for not doing the things that are scary, yet crucial to our work of fulfilling our destiny. But they don’t have to be. Our children can be the ones who inspire us to do the things we love. While it may mean we are not home every single night to tuck them in, when we do return, we will be less irritable, more refreshed and equipped with much better bedtime stories.
Our work can also become a sacred cow. We tell ourselves that we will look for a new job once things slow down or we will start our own business once we save up enough money. The truth is there is no better time than now to step forward and live our dreams.
My friend works as a learning specialist. For years she kept a part time job at a school to supplement her income from private tutoring. Even though the job was unfulfilling and didn’t pay very well, she was nervous about letting it go. On a yoga retreat she had an ‘ah ha’ moment. It was time to step out of that role and fully embrace a life of her own making. Within months she had made more money from a few hours of private sessions than three days a week of working at the school. Now she has more time to pursue her passion for travel and yoga and far less stress.
As we sat around the dining table on the last night of our retreat we shared what we were grateful for and what we would take home with us. I was infinitely grateful to my husband for being an amazing dad.
When I arrived back home on Saturday night, my son was waiting up for me. I told him about the fire we made on the beach, how we zip-lined through the tree tops and climbed up a mountain to watch the sun rise. I told him that I got to do the thing I love best outside of hanging out with him, his little sister and his daddy.
“What’s that?” He said.
“Help people remember how to be happy.”
“That sounds fun,” he said, and drifted off to sleep.
I whispered in his ear, “May you live a long, healthy, happy life, doing exactly what you love and knowing that I will love you with all my heart forever and ever.”