This being a mother’s day talk, perhaps I should begin with reading a poem about my own mother whom I loved dearly.
your face is parched
your eyes are tired
your hair is losing its wealth
you look like a candle
that has lost its shape
with constant burning
your faith is brighter
than any furnace
than any candle’s flame
than any rock face
The poem merely touches the surface of a son’s love for his mother. Daughters, no doubt, love their mothers just as much. And of course, sons and daughters love their fathers too. Incidentally, we know that a mother creates a child but never consider that a child creates a mother as the mother is creating the child! Furthermore, since we are divine in essence, every mother in giving birth to a child, may be considered to be giving birth to the divine!
We are vast in our spiritual nature as well as in our potential. The universe is small, infinitesimal, compared to who we are! Yet we consider ourselves infinitesimal compared to the universe! But this potential can only be completely fulfilled and our divine identity fully experienced if we surrender to love, letting go of everything unessential. In a sense we help God establish His identity as He helps us establish our identity – for in loving others we form a loving relationship with God that makes God’s own existence complete. Hafiz, the Persian poet says that God says: ‘Each soul, each soul completes Me!’
We complete God not by becoming more but by becoming less! We cannot be more perfect than we already are; all we can do is restore our innate perfection by being less, giving up our attachment to the identity we have created through our thoughts, fears, beliefs and habits so that ultimately we know God through Himself, not through ourselves: we can never know God through ourselves for the Real can be known by the Real alone.
Letting go of our fixed identity to experience a divine identity is a radical transformational change! There is no change greater than this, more difficult than this, more valuable than this! It is a change that removes the veils of light and darkness separating us from one another and from the Divine.
When a mother gives birth to a child she is not just giving birth to a child but to divine potential! Every child’s potential for expressing the Treasure of God within him or her is unique! It is this uniqueness that is God’s greatest gift to us! She is bringing into the world a unique Ayah of the Qur’an of Existence, of light upon light!
Now that we know who a mother really is, we can focus on day-to-day existence and examine what is required to translate this spiritual possibility, this divine potential, into day-to-day existence. What does it mean for how we are to live in the world and help shape and transform the world? And why are mothers so well placed to guide this process? As in everything, we are free to choose at what level and in which way we would like to be divine – to what level we wish to transform what is within us and help others transform themselves, find their purpose, empower themselves, learn to influence, deal with change, complexity and paradox, thrive under uncertainty, and achieve their goals – learn to lead!
In a nutshell: it is not enough for us just to live – we need to lead – for unless we lead, unless we fulfill our potential we can never be at peace, never be happy. How can we if we are disconnected from others, the world, ourselves and our Essence! Mothers, in their everyday living, not only exercise many of the demands of leadership, but teach their children leadership skills without being aware of it! Unfortunately, since they are not conscious of this, they neglect to impress upon their children that they were born to lead!
Many women, sadly, fail to recognize their true worth. Here are a few reasons for this: gender bias has existed forever for historical, cultural, social or religious reasons. Women are often exhausted, lacking support of their partners; they are so busy caring for everyone else they do not have time to think about themselves. Financial constraints and the challenges of a daunting socio-economic environment further count against them.
And yet, this is who women are almost every day of their lives: Most importantly, a woman is herself, a woman; but she is also any number of the following: a mother; a wife; a sister; a daughter; a partner; a gardener; an employer; a nurse; a colleague; a counsellor; a stylist; a dressmaker, a designer; an interior designer; a DIY person; a shopper; a saver; an investor; a story-teller; a chef; a waiter; a dietician, a physical instructor; a guide; a coach; a mentor; a teacher; a friend; endlessly executing her tasks in time – with results that are verifiable! The list is endless. Of course, men play many varied roles too.
But returning to women generally and to mothers in particular, each of these roles requires different skills – nearly all, the skills of leadership! Imagine: what extraordinary potential and training ground for leadership! And yet so often women are not given the opportunity or do not take it upon themselves to expand their leadership role into wider, public spheres! At the very least, mothers daily teach the children how to be flexible and adaptable, how to take the initiative in making friends, how not to be selfish but share what they have, how to focus on their work and be responsible for their possessions, how to be creative and innovative and develop their self-belief, a competitive spirit and a desire to succeed against the odds, every one of these a task a leader performs! They are patient, loving, supportive, inspiring their children to succeed in areas where they themselves may not have been able to venture for whatever reason; encouraging them to dream, to fulfill their potential: not only being leaders themselves in the process but encouraging their children to be leaders!
Leadership is not a privilege – it is a right. We were born to lead and unless we lead (in whatever way we choose to lead) we will not be fulfilled. We do not just have a right to be leaders, we have a duty to be leaders! And to inspire others to lead. In us is to be found the cadences of the Divine; the music, rhythms, songs of the Divine; the presence and power of the Divine! But first we have to believe in the importance of who we are; be nourished by a purpose that becomes a lifelong guide; want to test ourselves so that we discover ourselves, and take concrete steps to achieve our goals, monitoring our progress.
How do we become leaders: through awareness of ourselves, others and the world around us, through a desire to change what needs to be changed and doing so with integrity, making sacrifices, inter-connecting, managing, being balanced, Doing, in short, everything that mothers do every day, that we all do, that all leaders do! Mothers, moreover, are wonderful at dealing with failure and imperfection, a key attribute of a good leader.
Another key attribute of leaders is that they are always learning. And who learns more from children than their parents – so much so that ultimately our children teach us far more than we teach them! Leadership requires conscious continuous self-examination and personal improvement. Furthermore, leaders are not afraid to be wrong. And they can act quickly and decisively when they need to. They also know when to compromise and when not to; when to be hard and when to be soft; when to be proactive and when to wait and see. Leaders know how to make the most of their resources – especially human resources. They possess the ability to say ‘no’ if required, essential for asserting authority. Does this not sound familiar to every mother? Do mothers not do this – all the time?
Now to change the focus: too often, men do not enjoy their families, live their whole lives without ever enjoying their wives, unable to let go of their fixed ideas and outlook, worn-out views and beliefs. So to men: before you lose the ability to – make a commitment to enjoy your family! Do not neglect your partners! This applies to women too: do not let emotional neglect of your partners define you either. Do not become so functional that you cheat your partners and yourselves out of life!
And as this is a time of giving gifts to mothers and wives, men, especially, may do well to remember this: Often, the gifts we give are not the gifts those we love really need! we gift watches but not time; advice but not respect; mobiles but not conversation; holidays but not stimulation; flowers but not tenderness; meals but not companionship, not intimacy; financial support but not freedom, not equality.
When we short-change our partners we short-change ourselves! To be blunt: we cannot invest inattentive selves in a crucial relationship and expect attentive, loving partners in return! Our biggest problems are our fixed identities, our inability to moderate our culture, our habits, our sense of superiority and our love of control that suffocates and destroys the potential of those whose potential we should value even more than our own! The biggest improvement we can make is to respect our partners, honor them, learn to communicate honestly and negotiate as equals – become true friends! All that is required to live with integrity is a determination to act in accord with the highest within ourselves!
We all know or have known mothers, occasionally or perpetually misunderstood them or known them to misunderstand us, but whether we realize it or not, we learn or have learnt from them and they from us. But mothers are vulnerable and can be conflicted too. The stresses and hardships they have to endure daily can take their toll on them. The demands of motherhood are so unrelenting, mothers may not be able to cope with them! Mothering is not just birthday cake and joy! Being a mother involves sacrifice and working hard, often so hard and being so focused on her children that a mother’s own life is neglected or lost and she becomes unrecognizable to herself in the process! It can therefore include deep sorrow or resentment at the loss of her freedom – or dreams of who or what she wants or wanted to be – as she strives against a nature that may simply not be suited for mothering.
Despite these challenges, whatever their capacity, mothers tend to possess a resilience that allows them to stay with a task as demanding as bringing up children, getting on with it, writing the manual as they go! They are constantly confronting and transcending boundaries while helping their children to confront and transcend their own boundaries as they strive to fulfill their unique potential. For invariably, underlying all that a mother does, seen or unseen is an extraordinary remarkable love.
This is why when a mother passes away a son can write a poem for her that goes like this:
it’s done now, this love, its life is done now
she’s gone now
i don’t know why she left
she’s gone now
if every step i took
were to bring me to the horizon
i’d still not find her
she’s outsped time
she was always so quick
thought of late she’d slowed, i thought
sometimes i see her
she smiles; i can’t
my sisters say she’s happy; i’m not
i judged the change of seasons by her eyes
i traced the mystery of life in her hands
i learnt by listening to the beating of her heart
her warmth has no substitute
her love was fierce
her light was light
if i could i’d say to this poem ‘be’
and she’d be again
this dark is dark