While I was in college, I took a class on Zen Buddhism. At the time, the class was definitely not my thing, especially not my way of thinking. Despite my resistance to the material, there was one story that hit a chord and stayed with me through the years.
The story was about a man who wanted to better the world. His Zen Master told him he would help him get started. With these words, he gave the man a beautiful statue. The man was confused with the Zen Master’s actions but took the statue home anyway. Once there, he decided to put the beautiful piece of art up for display on his mantel. When he went to do this, he realized the mantel was dirty. He decided to clean it up. Then he looked around and saw that the room was messy. He cleaned that up as well. Then, looking outside to his yard, he saw it was cluttered and poorly maintained and decided that it also must be cleaned.
The man in the story effectively began to change the world when he changed his environment to suit the piece of art. Little did I know that my own beautiful art would come in the form of a child and I would turn out to be a bit of a Zen mama myself.
My son, my first child, came into the world on a beautiful fall day. Prior to giving birth I had heard a lot of people say that having a child changes you. After he was born, I found my life to be fairly similar with a little less sleep. Yet, with this little baby in my life, I began to think about the world and how I wished it were a better place to grow: safer, healthier, kinder. I figured the only way to ensure this change was to make the world around him better.
My first project concerned my spiritual life. I lacked faith in my up-bringing and wanted my son to have more of a foundation than I did. I thought perhaps this would help him get through the difficult challenges we all face. At the same time I was focusing on this issue, I tuned into how full the world is of harmful chemicals. I wanted to protect him from these dangers, so I began to examine how our family ate and where we purchased our food. I began buying from the local farmers’ market and cooking meals from scratch. Then he started to crawl and I realized I needed to clean my house more often.
Time after time I saw how the world was impacting my precious child, and I tried to make the necessary changes to make his world better. From switching to cloth diapers after I noticed strange particles on his skin from the disposables, to making our baby food when I saw that I could make a much fresher/natural product. Little by little, I was rejecting the way I was told I should raise my child and instead, I was developing a philosophy that actually suited my family. I saw that breastfeeding was good and that there was no reason to stop just because my son turned one. I saw that my son, and therefore I, slept better if he was in the bed with us. I kept him there until he was ready to move on (something that happened naturally despite all the objections from family that he would never want to leave.)
Still Not Enough
During the process of transforming my son’s world to a better one, I had another baby: a beautiful little girl. As I looked at her, I realized that my job as a role model would continue in new and important ways. She would take on all my attitudes about my body and would turn them inward. I had always been insecure about being overweight but had never had much motivation to change. When my daughter turned one, I started a diet and eventually lost 30 pounds. I took up jogging and went from barely being able to run for a minute to running my first 5k race.
Having a child forced me to better my life, my home, and my body step by step. While it didn’t happen over night, it still happened. Much like the story about the man and his Zen Master, I found that if you put things in order, one thing at a time, in the end everything will be in its rightful place.
Photo Credit: ndlw
Karen Chynoweth is a wife and a stay-at-home mother of two. While not taking care of her husband and kids, she can be found making foods from scratch, learning new knitting skills, or finding some other addictive hobby to learn.