Updated: Jul 13, 2021
This blog post's image is very close to my heart at the moment. Partly because it's the cover image of my recently published book Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind (Kamalamani, 2016), partly because it conveys the message of the book and my life at present; a longing that we cherish this living earth and the life it holds with the same love and care we have for our new-born children.
I love this woman's soft gaze; transfixed by the world in her arms. She holds it close to her heart and breast, as we intuitively hold babies close to the drum beat of our heart and warmth of our skin. The image is one of connection and love. The story of its creation was like that, too. Having seen this image in my mind’s eye, with my book's cover in mind, I texted my step Dad, an artist. ‘Do you still do water colour pictures?’ I asked. ‘Yes, of course’. He replied, ‘why?’ I explained the image in my mind's eye by text and within hours he had lovingly and accurately created this image - which, for me, speaks volumes.
When I look at this image afresh I am reminded of words from the ‘metta sutta’, a teaching on loving kindness from the Buddhist tradition. I'll quote an excerpt from these ancient verses:
"...May everything that lives be well!
Weak or strong, large or small, seen or unseen, here or elsewhere,
present or to come, in heights or depths,
may all be well.
Have that mind for all the world –
get rid of lies and pride –
a mother’s mind for her baby,
her love, but now unbounded.
Secure this mind of love..."
(Vipassi, date unknown).
I love that phrase: 'a mother's mind for her baby, her love, but now unbounded. Secure this mind of love'. Since I first heard the metta sutta, more than 20 years ago - taking my first steps in practising Buddhism - these lines have never ceased to thrill me. I imagine the awesome, boundless power of all the unconditional love of all the mothers - and let's say fathers, too, in fact, anyone and everyone who cares about the next generation and new life - being detonated like a love bomb, a force for unstoppable good in the world.
Sometimes it can be hard to stop and look at the wider world, can't it? Hard to watch the news, to witness the suffering. In stopping and looking we most likely feel a rich mix of many things: sadness, empathy, horror, joy, hope, terror. It can even be hard to stop and look at what we hold dear closer to home, imagining we are the woman in the picture, holding what matters to us close to our hearts. It can be difficult to admit that as a species us humans - particularly the 'westernised' ones - aren't doing a great job at caring for the planet. Even if we 'do our bit', it can be overwhelming to witness the destruction of the environment, the sixth extinction crisis of other-than-human species, and the untold suffering.
But look at the world we must. Not least because in gazing at the world, in drinking in its beauty, in surrounding ourselves by trees and sky, or sitting before the majestic rising and falling of the tide we give ourselves the chance to be immersed in beauty and awe for life on earth. Maybe it is that immersion which keep us connected, keep us motivated in acting in ways which will lessen damage to the biosphere. Remembering our connection and striking balance in our lives, whilst still feeling the urgency of the situation in hand and responding to our cries and the cries of the world.
Kamalamani (2016) Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind. Earth Books.
Vipassi (translator, date unknown) The Karaniya Metta Sutta. The original karaniya metta sutta can be found in the Suttanipāta (Sn 1.8) of the Pali Canon.
NB this image was painted for the front cover of Other Than Mother by the artist Paul Crummay.