“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” I can hear Nina Simone singing this in my mind. There’s a aching so deep, so palpable, the heart just feels the weight of despair. It’s a voice so forlorn, we’re drawn to it, even though most of us listening aren’t motherless children. But there’s something we recognize as our own in the song. There’s something that rings true for us in the words, in the melody, in the pained expressiveness.

A month ago, a friend that I had known since I was a small girl was killed. She was murdered. She was one of the girls that everyone in school knew. She had two older siblings that to us younger kids seemed so cool and fascinating. Her parents were so central to our small town. Everyone knew them. In high school, my friend was the one everyone called to see what was going on. She lived on the lake, and my memories are inextricably linked to being on her dock, in her boat, hanging out with her crew in the lazy summer evenings at her home. My growing up is connected with her, her home, her family.

Her name was Amy. And Amy had two little boys: 18 months old, and 3 years old. And I spent the funeral in the “family room” with them. I brought my 11 month old son Liam home with me. He’s still breastfeeding and not very good at taking bottles. So, he went to calling hours with me, and the funeral, and the reception. He’s vocal now, cooing, laughing, making motor boat sounds -not sounds that are very appropriate for a somber event. So Liam and I went to the family room at the church- an enclosed room with a window to see and the sound pumped in. And Amy’s two boys were there. I think it was an uncle that was holding the little one, who was inconsolable. He didn’t have words yet. And no amount of hugging, holding, or kissing was helping. His grand-aunt came in. He would take the bottle from her, and it somewhat calmed him. But the wailing continued. It became very clear to me that what he wanted was his mama. And she not only wasn’t there, but she would never be there. I don’t think he knew that, but the immediacy of his unhappiness just broke my heart. Here is a motherless child, desperate, aching, longing. And there was a recognition inside of me. It triggered a recognition of a primordial human ache and sense of loss, so deep and hidden that we often don’t even perceive its presence.

At some point, all of us will lose our mother. Some, like Amy’s children, experience it early, which I can only guess makes it that much more excruciatingly painful. But the loss and future loss of this human relationship, I think, is felt on another level of consciousness as well. Our sense of being a distinct and separate individual is vital to what it means to be human. And yet, the cost is a powerful, often unconscious sense of loss between ourselves and the supportive nature of our life itself. There’s a point, and sometimes many points, where we have a  sense of being separated from not just other people, but from Divine Love, from the Collective Unconscious, from God, from the Mother Shakti– all words for a similar concept: the great energy that birthed us from the formless into form, from possibility into reality. When we experience a sense of isolation, purposelessness–a sense of life as only that which the eyes see and the senses perceive–it’s as if on the spiritual plane, we’re orphans, separated entirely from the great nurturing, sustaining, inspiring, unconditional loving energy that birthed us from its existence. The heartbreak is so achingly wretched that people go mad. We see people try to balm the pain with drugs, additive behaviors, endless distractions like TV, movies, video games. We try to assuage our pain with shopping, thinking if we just get this one thing, it will ease the ache of our heart that doesn’t seem to be assuaged, ever. Some even try to escape the misery and pain by taking their own life. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. 

There’s a deep human existential need to experience ourselves as connected. Connected to others, yes. And also to something bigger. Some people identify that bigger thing as Love, as Nature, as Meaningfulness, as Happiness. The yogis called it many things as well: Paramshiva, Paraprema/ Supreme Love, Siva, Shakti, Anuttara/ The Absolute, Brahman, Hridaya/Heart. When our parents leave us, what holds us? Who holds us? When our families pass away, when the structures that we so assiduously fasten in place fall away, crumble, what supports us, nourishes us, comforts us? I would say it’s The Mother Shakti, which is another way of saying: the vibrant energy of everything that is everywhere and in everything, including ourselves. And the practice of deep yoga is to remember, reestablish, abide in, and know palpably, ineffably, truly, our relationship to that, and as that.

May Amy’s boys know how loved they are- loved by all her friends, her community, her family. And may we, as children of the Infinite, know that whether our mothers are with us or have passed, whether our lives are as we thought they might be or not, whether we are successful in the world or not, may we know at some level the beauty of Life, of Love, of Love bigger than just: “I’ll love you if you do what I like, if you behave, if you are pleasant, if you xyz…” but Unconditional Love. May we find a way in our Yoga Practice, in our Life Practice, to know deeply our True Heart, to know the great Shakti, the energy that sustains the universe and ourselves. May we know ourselves as part of something vast and loving and sublime and glorious. From motherless children, may we feel loved as if the world, everyone and everything, were our mother, taking care of us, nurturing us, watching over us, supporting us. And may we grow into adults, mothers and fathers ourselves, able to love well, love generously, love without conditions.