When the pandemic first began a few years ago, I remember one meme, in particular, that said something like, “We finally have an internationally recognized reason to slow down and look inward. But instead of doing that, we’re all learning how to bake sourdough bread.”
The message in the meme resonated with me, and I remember laughing out loud the first time I read it. I too was trying out my sourdough bread baking skills with my newfound spare time in quarantine.
I too was avoiding looking inward, trying to convince myself that the global pause we were experiencing would soon lift and that the looming invitation to slow down and look inward would pass.
At the time, I found comfort in the illusion that I could endlessly put off that spiritual reckoning. I trusted there would always be more sourdough recipes to try.
So I kept busy as long as I could, until I experienced a life-altering transformation that even global pandemic quarantine restrictions could not rival: I became a mother.
In my new identity, I found myself face-to-face with the spiritual reckoning that I had been trying for a very long time to avoid. My identity as a highly productive, mature and successful enough young woman suddenly felt plagued by crisis. Pushed to the brink of exhaustion in new motherhood, my time-tested coping mechanisms were no longer serving me.
I tried, again and again, to push through the struggles of new motherhood without changing, but I was receiving, again and again, the message to finally, really and truly, slow down and reckon with all that was not right with my spirit.
As I reflect back now over this first year of motherhood, I continue to ask what it was that made what feels like a miracle finally possible. I am struck by three ingredients that seem to have created a recipe for spiritual reckoning and growth in ways that I had never before been able to access. Those three ingredients are simple living, silence and surrender.
Years ago, when my life partner and I first began to live with one another, we made the decision to live without a television. We also chose to live without WiFi. What many would call a sacrifice, we understood as an investment in our spiritual growth. Without easy access to Netflix, Spotify or endless hours of YouTube, we opened up space to spend more time in conversation with one another and our surroundings. Eventually we also moved out of the city and invested in the process of creating our home as a family in a rural area.
In motherhood, the decision to live in a rural area without a television or WiFi has meant living far away from the convenience of easy distractions, surrounded instead by the sound of silence.
I have never experienced silence as regularly and as often as I have in early motherhood. The overwhelming silence I sit with, day in and day out since my daughter was born, has become my only constant in a sea of change.
As a now self-employed mother, I can no longer compulsively overwork myself in my pre-parenthood ways, because my baby demands — quite literally — my quiet, calm presence, every few hours, to accompany her transition into sleep. Despite my efforts to the contrary, my days have become filled with moments, even hours, of silence.
In the silence, my spirit could no longer hide. The pain and grief that I had been working over for so long finally surfaced. My often debilitating anxiety no longer had the distraction of constant productivity, and I’m reckoning with the emotions that had been weighing my spirit down. I accepted, unwillingly at first, that it was finally time to surrender.
Honestly, surrendering hasn’t been glamorous. I just didn’t have it in me to resist the changes motherhood was demanding of me any longer. I gave up and let my tight hold on my old identity and habits of being finally unravel. But I didn’t give up without a fight.
I spent months waiting for my social life to go back to “normal,” so insistent that becoming a mother wouldn’t change my relationship with friends the way it seemed to for so many other new mothers I knew. Stubbornly I waited and waited for a return to normalcy that never came.
I also waited, desperately, for months for the magical day where my baby would suddenly become independent enough for me to “return to work” unaffected by my new full-time job of motherhood. That day has yet to come as well.
So little by little, as I learned to surrender and in ways that I could have never predicted, my spirit finally started to feel at home.
Beyond the pretenses that once shielded me from my own humanity, my spirit finally feels able to rest. For that I am eternally grateful.
What factors in your life are preventing you from slowing down? What changes can you make in your life to open intentional space for spiritual reckoning? How are you being called to surrender?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annemarie Barrett grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of Indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.