Blog Archives

Body-centering Babies (and Mommies!)

When babies cry “for no reason”, people usually try to distract them. I had the realization the other day that doing this might encourage habits of dissociation + escapism when they get older, instead of being present with their feelings (“I’m upset, oh I’ll go into the next room and look at the computer for a while”, etc).

Today I was caring for a 5-month-old. Right after a nap, bottle, and diaper change, the baby started to cry. I knew it wasn’t one of those three things she needed, and she had that glazed-over look that babies sometimes have when they are crying “for no reason”, so I thought she might like me to help bring her attention back to herself. I moved her legs and rubbed her belly and said “here you are!”, and she IMMEDIATELY stopped crying and regained focus in her eyes. She looked at me with a deep, fully conscious look, and let out a delighted laugh.

How awesome is THAT?

I also sometimes need help coming back to myself. My husband (who conveniently for me, is skilled in teaching various body-centered somatic psychotherapy practices) is an awesome resource for me when I am stressed and want to just go on autopilot instead of confront those feelings. When I am lost in thoughts, he’s there like a light in the fog to tell me “here you are!”. And here I am, needing nothing in this moment other than what I have already.

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Being Controlled by Being ‘In Control’

I am a person who likes to have a plan. I like efficiency and cleanliness. “A place for everything, and everything in its place”, as they say. I usually think that having everything clean, organized, and well planned will make me feel “in control”, and therefore safe and happy… but in reality, it DOESN’T. In reality, I often become uptight about “the plan” and end up becoming very upset if (and when) things don’t work out exactly as I think they should. When my husband leaves a dirty dish in the office, it is a travesty. When I am running late for a casual lunch with a friend, the world is surely about to end.

Today while taking a walk, I was planning out how when I got home, first I would clean the dishes while Brian watched the baby, then make a specific dinner, and so on. But I suddenly realized that this kind of thinking (which I often do) doesn’t add to my happiness, or even make things happen more efficiently. In fact, this kind of thinking just makes me rigid and less able to handle change. I squeeze myself around the thoughts of “it NEEDS to be this way” and I become a prisoner. So I said to myself: “I release you”. And it felt pretty good. In that moment, I was freeing myself from the NEED to know how the rest of my day would turn out. I was not giving up control– I was refusing to BE controlled by my thoughts!

Of course, this is something that you need to do repeatedly, in every new moment, for it to make any real difference at all. So I kept saying it all evening: “I release you!”, while unclenching myself from whatever new thought I had decided was important in that moment. And remarkably, the dishes still got washed, dinner still got made, the baby still got fed + washed + put to bed. Everything that needed to happen happened the way it needed to happen. I did not have to plan the sequence out beforehand. I did not have to be in control of the details. Certain things happened that I would have normally interpreted as happening “wrong”, but I did not mind– I was having an amazing time!

I am still a person who likes cleanliness, and efficiency, and plans. I am still a person who writes lists that reference my OTHER lists. But in this moment, I am realizing more deeply that I can DO all of that with joy instead of rigidity!

Cosmic Marriage

Shavuot is thought of as a cosmic marriage between G-d + humans. It is a time for us to renew our vows with G-d, but what are those vows? For me, I experience G-d not as a separate superior, but as an all-enveloping living love. And my marriage with THAT has vows that can be best expressed through the following Rumi poem:

This Marriage
Rumi
May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcome
as the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.

This time of year can also be a time in which you renew your vows with your romantic partner, and rededicate your lives to each other. Today, I rededicate my life to my partner, Brian, and together we strive to create a container of consciousness + delicious heart-exploding love in our home.

On the Sabbath, I Smell Like Jasmine

I remember reading a story about a mother who would welcome the Sabbath by wearing a special perfume on that day. I don’t know where this story came from, but I really liked the idea and it stuck with me. I envisioned the woman’s family recognizing that sweet scent, and knowing that the warmth of Shabbat was there. At some point, I decided to take this on as a personal practice. I picked Jasmine oil as my special scent because it felt peaceful and also wasn’t a scent that I normally used (normally, I smell like lavender, cinnamon, or just plain old patchouli hippie).

When my husband and I lived at Twin Oaks (an eco-village of 100 people on 600 acres), we would celebrate the Sabbath together by camping out by the river and praying/meditating all day. I loved how the jasmine scent that I wore gradually faded throughout the day and by sundown was mostly gone. Now that we are living together with a baby in a “normal” neighborhood, I put on my Sabbath jasmine oil and remember those beautiful days by the river. It also brings my attention back into the present moment, as a reminder that this day is not about doing, but is about BEING.

I came across the following description of the scent:

Jasmine fragrance is associated with inner feelings and aspirations. It is intensely floral but with a feminine modesty. Jasmine is a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac. Jasmine is a scent so unreserved that it purifies the emotions. It has been known to relieve melancholy. As a well-used scent, Jasmine provides strength in matters of spiritual love. It has a soothing effect on the inner-self and lends its scent well to meditation and contemplation.

Seems appropriate.

Plushie Seder Plate!

While thinking of ways to make Passover more fun for kids (and babies), I got the idea to make a festive seder plate that is entirely made out of plushie toys, paper mache, and other crafts. I made a paper mache “shank bone”, cloth lettuce bunch + yarn “parsley”, plushie “charoset” (the pink ball things), squeak-toy “horseradish” (the yellow thing) and a plushie “clump of horseradish”. I had a decorated wooden egg rattle-toy that I used as the roasted egg. Then I made a couple pieces of matzoh out of cardboard (probably tastes similar to the real stuff!) + decorated them with crayons. The plate itself was a plastic serving tray that I painted. Everything was made from recycled materials and my 1-year-old LOVED playing with it when I was done!

Birthing as Awareness Practice

I was the type of person who would immediately dose up on pain killers at the first sign of a headache. But when I became pregnant, I knew that I wanted to have an “all natural” birth without any drugs or interventions. How could I possibly prepare for such a thing? I mean, I was headed toward the most physically intense experience of my life and I couldn’t even handle a little headache! I watched “Birth As We Know It” and “Orgasmic Birth” (both excellent films), and read “Birthing From Within” from cover to cover. These things were very inspiring, but I knew that in the heat of the moment, there was no way that I’d be thinking about that “inspirational thing I read about inner strength that one time”.

At some point I realized that there was actually nothing I could do to make myself have an ideal birthing experience. Everybody’s birth is different, and you can’t know beforehand how it will all unfold. I realized that I would have to learn how to be ok with whatever happened, even if it happened in an unexpected way. I started practicing being ok with THIS MOMENT, in every new moment (without a story about what happened before and what might/should happen next). I just kept noticing my body sensations, what I was hearing/seeing, etc., without focusing on my thoughts about any of it. And something awesome began to happen. I noticed that my experience of reality was largely based upon my interpretations of what was actually happening.

For example: In the past when I would get a headache, I would immediately start thinking something like “Oh no! This is a headache and it is gonna suck!”. But I noticed that without that description, there was just the sensation in THAT MOMENT, and it changed from moment to moment. When I started to think “This is pain, and pain is BAD!”, I would start to tense up my body and mind, and THAT was what actually made the experience so horrific. Without the story, it was just a squeezing sensation, and eventually it passed.

Ok, sure. But can that really work during CHILDBIRTH?

Yes! But you might have to practice it a lot beforehand for it to become second-nature. All throughout the last couple months of my pregnancy, I spent most of my time noticing my body sensations and what I was hearing/seeing/experiencing, and noticing that my thoughts about all of this profoundly altered my experience of it. I practiced being aware in every new moment that I remembered that I could. I had no real background in meditation, but I have come to understand that this is what I was doing. I was basically meditating for 2 months.

So when the time came to give birth, I felt a calmness and a trust in my body. I experienced every intense sensation that came along with labor, without a story of “pain” or “suffering”. And thus, I did not experience any of it as pain or suffering! I went into a deep trance, and envisioned being in a cave with drums beating. I felt a powerful spiraling energy moving through me, and I trusted that it knew what to do. All I had to do was to let it move through me, without tensing up or trying to stop it.

A “contraction” is that intense spiraling energy pushing through you, and people experience it as pain when they try to fight against it by clenching down on it or “being tough” to get through it. It is like huge waves in an ocean, and you can either try to fight them (and lose), try to ignore them (and they will hit you anyway), or you can RIDE them!

I was surprised to find that I didn’t need all the hysterical screaming like you see in movies. I made some low groaning noises when I felt moved to, as the energy was moving through me. Much of the time I remained silent. The midwife said that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a woman with such focus during labor. To me, it felt effortless because I was not DOING something extra; I was merely letting myself have the experience. At one point I made a noise and she said something like “was that a contraction?”. Her speaking brought me out of the trance and I realized that perhaps I should let everyone know that I had already gone into the final (pushing) phase some time ago. My nurse, midwife, and husband all swooped over as soon as I told them. I thought it was funny because I felt like their presence was totally unnecessary. I was doing fine on my own, and feeling powerfully awesome. Moments later, little Ariana burst into the world.

Later, I realized that just because I had already gone through the intensity of labor did not mean that I had to stop using this meditation practice. Now, when I am experiencing each new moment, and noticing how my thoughts change my experience of it, I have so much more enjoyment from life. Some people have esteemed gurus as their “spiritual teachers”. I had pregnancy as mine.

Skinny-Dipping Rainbow-Haired Orthodox Jewish Chicks

I have a fantasy of becoming a fully observant Jew, following all the “rules” in a way that is meaningful, bringing awareness into every action I take, and dressing the part (covered hair and all). I like this idea partly because I think it is sexy, partly because I have a perverse sense of humor, and partly because I imagine that living that way actually WOULD be extremely fulfilling emotionally + spiritually.

Sometimes I think that what’s stopping me is that the main people in my life aren’t observant whatsoever. I end up doing things like going out on Friday night with friends because I don’t want to miss out on the fun. I end up cooking my step-son breakfast on Saturday morning because he’s only with us on the weekends and I don’t want him to think of me as some weirdly religious evil step-mom who refuses him hot breakfasts. I don’t like the idea of hanging out with my alternative progressive feminist friends and them looking at me like I’m a loser while asking “so… WHY are you wearing that scarf thing on your head?”. I picture my husband in the background rolling his eyes while I attempt to dress modestly, making comments like “Hey but aren’t you that chick that I met on a commune, skinny-dipping and insisting we be polyamorous? Isn’t this a little out of character for you? Aren’t you just playing dress-up?”

And he’d be right. It would be totally weird for me to cover my hair out of “modesty”, because I don’t really get the whole modesty thing. I pretty much prefer to be naked or wearing a bright multicolored tutu and fairy wings at all times. I don’t see nakedness as inherently sexual or something that needs to be hidden. I’d also have a lot of problems with other Orthodox viewpoints (on subjects like gay marriage, gender roles, etc).

Because of my alternative/radical views on most subjects, I end up doing “Jewish stuff” with the more “open-minded” Jewish crowd. But my problem with that is that these groups are often small, unorganized, meet irregularly, and are less observant than me (with everyone driving on the Sabbath to go get more bacon-wrapped shrimp). I want to find a temple that feels like a home, and a group to worship with that feels like a family. Reform Synagogues feel too watered-down + “churchy” to me. I want the prayers to be in Hebrew. I want the people to be REALLY REALLY INTO IT and not just waiting around or reading along together in monotone voices. I feel like the passion is being hoarded by the ultra-Orthodox folks, and that I’m way too weird to hang out with them. When will I reach the end of my Blind Melon video and find my tribe of skinny-dipping rainbow-haired Orthodox Jewish chicks??

I realized today that the problem is that I have been imagining that there is only ONE correct way of being observant. I often think of the orthodox folks as having some sort of “magical authority” over what Judaism “IS”. But I also really like the quote “I practice my religion exactly the same way my ancestors did: I make it up as I go!”. I find absolutely nothing wrong with changing rituals to make them more meaningful to me. So now what I have to do is start being more observant, in a way that works for me, in a way that MEANS something to me. I will start by keeping the Sabbath EVERY week. I’m not sure what that means yet… but I am excited to find out!

“Eco Kosher” Artwork

The idea of “eco kosher” emerged within Jewish Renewal circles, inspired by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. People have begun to ask questions like “Is it kosher to eat something that uses tons of non-renewable resources in packaging + shipping?” or “Is it kosher to use plastic plates that end up in landfills?”. Supporters of the idea of eco-kashrut realize that instead of taking G-d’s gifts for granted, we can live more sustainable lives and be in sync with nature.

I had been incorporating this idea into many aspects of my life beyond eating, and eventually realized that it also needed to merge with my artwork. I have begun using only recycled materials, to create “eco-kosher artwork”. Combining elements from embroidery, painting, quilting, and collage, I’m now creating unique pieces of art that invoke a feeling of divine energy and sacredness. For me, creating artwork is an intensely meditative and spiritual experience, and this feeling is only heightened for me now that I know my artwork is helping instead of harming the planet.

Mother Poetry and the Jewish “Divine Feminine”

There are many reasons that I love Rachel Barenblat.  I have been following her beautiful Torah commentary and poetry on The Velveteen Rabbi for years, and was delighted when she became pregnant at the same time that I did because her poetry began to follow the amazing journey of pregnancy and motherhood as I was having similar experiences.

I co-lead a workshop recently with Rachel Galper, about connecting with the ”Divine Feminine” (in a Jewish context) through art and storytelling.  My experience of divinity as female is directly linked to the intensity of my body bearing, birthing, and nourishing a child.  The following poem by Rachel Barenblat really captures this experience.  The poem is based on Psalm 126 and on her experiences of her first year as a mother:

ONE YEAR

A psalm of ascent

When the doctor brought you

through my narrow places

I was as in a dream: tucked behind

my closed eyes, chanting silently

we are opening up in sweet surrender.

The night before we left the hospital

I wept: didn’t they know

I had no idea what to do with you?

Even newborn-sized clothes

loomed around you, vast and ill-fitting.

I couldn’t convince you to latch

without a nurse there to reposition.

But we got into the car, the old world

made terrifying and new, and

in time I learned your language.

I had my own narrow places ahead,

the valley of the postpartum shadow.

Nights when I would hand you over,

mutely grateful to anyone willing

to rock you down, to suffer your cries…

But those who sow in tears

will reap in joy, and you

are the joy I never knew I didn’t have.

I have paced these long hours

bearing a baby on my shoulder

and now I am home in rejoicing,

bearing you, my own harvest.

http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/mother-poems