"My dad began a daily meditation practice when I was five; he loved to travel and attend long, usually ten-day silent meditation retreats. I remember my mom getting angry when he left to attend one of these right after the birth of their fourth child, my brother Sean. My dad studied the world's great religions and spiritual traditions, and he sat at the feet of swamis, priests, therapists, authors, and theologians — but the more he went outward, the more he missed what was right in front of him the whole time: the achingly mundane but sweet, vast, and profound landscape called family.
"Conscious parenting is some of the most intense spiritual work I've ever done. Many parents find that having a child is a profound wake-up call to explore their own spiritual nature and to ask questions they may have never considered. This was clearly the case with my parents. . . .
"Over the years I've heard from many men and women on the spiritual gifts they've received from parenthood. These include
"• AN INCREASED CAPACITY TO LOVE. For many, love expands, deepens, and widens after becoming a parent — it's as if we have a Grinch moment and our hearts swell!
"• A DEEPER SENSE OF COMPASSION FOR OTHERS. I remember one day talking to a gruff, tattoo-covered convenience store clerk who was having a hard time and thinking, as Jonah cooed in his sling, This man is someone's baby boy.
"• INCREASED UNDERSTANDING FOR THE CHALLENGES OTHER PARENTS FACE. Often we tap into more empathy for the challenges and issues single parents, low-income parents, and parents of children with special needs face.
"• AN APPRECIATION FOR THE NOW. There is nothing that brings you into the present moment like a toddler who wants to stop every two feet to look at caterpillars or blades of grass.
"• A RENEWED SENSE OF JOY IN LIFE. Now available on the menu every day — if you choose. Just watch your baby's eyes light up when she sees you walk into the room or gets her first balloon.
"• A SHIFT IN PRIORITIES. What's really important in life often become crystal clear: we see what's essential, what would be 'nice to do,' and what needs to fall off our list or wait until later.
"• A NEW SENSE OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY. Our desire to model our best selves, and even our sense of integrity, often increases as we become teachers to our children. I remember visiting a museum when Jonah was a toddler. As we paid for our admission, the woman behind the counter said, 'Oh, two-year-olds are free.' I started to move ahead without thinking, when I realized she was talking about my son. Feeling the 'angel of ethics' on my shoulder, I plunked two dollars down on the counter. 'Actually, he just turned three,' I said, smiling.
"• FINDING YOUR VOICE. Many women claim they first found their voice after becoming mothers, perhaps because we're required to state our children's need to others when they're not yet able to speak. Do you find it easier to speak your truth after having kids?
"Regardless of your beliefs, spiritual nourishment and renewal are essential to your overall emotional well-being. 'Soul food' helps us nurture our essence, feel centered, build inner strength, live in integrity, trust life, experience a connection to a higher power, feel a sense of purpose, and experience meaning in our lives. Spiritual nourishment is like compost; it's the super-charged, nutrient-dense soil for our 'inner world.' When we don't get this, we wither on the vine.
"The road to awakening — and the spiritual journey — will look different for each of us. One night while cleaning out my clothes closet, I listened to a radio interview hosting a panel of experts talking about spirituality. A recurring theme the panel touched on — which I hear many parents discuss — is how a religious upbringing sometimes scares people away from talking or thinking about God or being part of a spiritual community. Is this true for you? How has your upbringing affected how you view religion and spirituality now? As a parent, do you feel a new (or renewed) desire to explore your spiritual nature? Do you want to integrate spiritual practice more fully into your everyday family life?
"There are many different ways to explore and nurture our spiritual lives on a day-to-day basis. Some of the paths or teachings that most deeply feed my soul include what I call the 'six portals' to spiritual nourishment:
"PORTAL 1: Creating ritual
"PORTAL 2: Cultivating stillness
"PORTAL 3: Developing acceptance for what is
"PORTAL 4: Practicing service to others
"PORTAL 5: Living in the present
"PORTAL 6: Choosing happiness
"I invite you to explore these six portals in greater depth. Keep an open mind and see which ones call to you."