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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.

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Conscious Parenting

Judging requires effort.  Anger requires effort.  Believing and reacting to thoughts about what “should be happening” requires effort.  Believing and reacting to thoughts like “this is more than I can do” or “people are asking too much of me” requires effort.  These are the things that are actually draining, not what is happening in the moment.

If people imagine that they are needed to do more than they think they are physically able to do, this can be a very stressful thought.  But often what is actually happening in those moments is that they are either not realizing what their capabilities are, or they are misinterpreting what is actually needed in that situation.

I experienced this early on when my infant daughter would cry, I would put out a lot more energy than was necessary as I tried to “fix the problem”, and would feel exhausted and nervous about not being able to calm her.  Then my husband had the insight that all the baby ACTUALLY needed in that moment was for me to be present, and hold her while looking at her with love and acceptance.  And it was true.  I realized that I obviously couldn’t calm her while believing the stressful thought that I HAD TO calm her.  Without that thought, what naturally happened was just experiencing being true love, and this is what is actually needed when there is no obvious physical need.  Everything else requires effort and becomes draining.

Being infinite love requires no effort.  It is not training yourself to have “positive thinking”.  It is what happens before thinking begins.  It is surrendering and letting everything happen through you instead of being done by you.

I used to think that this experience of complete surrender into infinite love and consciousness was something random, ephemeral, and sporadic.  But I have learned that consciousness is actually a muscle that can be exercised (by doing body-awareness and thought-questioning exercises, or by praying in a way that invokes real surrender instead of just feeling safe).

In any moment, you can choose to fully embrace believing your thoughts, or choose to fully embrace consciousness/G-d/surrendering.  I think this is what that “Jesus” guy was talking about when he said to give up all possessions and follow him (I like the idea of reclaiming Jesus as a cool Jewish dude, instead of thinking of him with the mythology/concepts that Christians came up with)… Anyway, I don’t think he was talking about morals or afterlife; I think he was talking about having freedom from suffering NOW.  I think he was talking about giving up all of your baggage (in every moment that you remember that you can) and embracing what is happening in THIS moment instead of believing that you know better than the universe what SHOULD be happening in this moment.  Such sweet bliss is available in every moment, but we often pick “being right” over it.

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

 

Inspiration + Advice for Artist Parents

Being with a baby 24/7 can be pretty overwhelming.  Even if you somehow manage to find the time to create art, you may feel like you completely lack the energy to DO anything about it!  For the first year of my daughter’s life, I tried out all sorts of different art-making strategies in attempts to find something that worked.  As a SAHM of the “attachment parenting” variety (with a daughter who tends to only take naps while nursing), I have discovered a few tricks to help me continue making art on a quasi-regular basis…

1. Keep it simple, keep it small
Now might not be the best time for ambitious, gigantic, or super-messy projects. If you feel like you need to get momentum going to make something really awesome, you will be disappointed when you have to stop every 5 minutes to play with the baby, nurse, clean up some poop, etc… Instead, see if you can figure out projects that take less time, and can be done in little spurts without needing a lot of preparation or cleanup.

2. Accept that your art will be different now
That might sound scary, but it is not a bad thing! As mentioned above, you may only have 5 minutes at a time (or less!) to work on your art, and this will definitely have an effect on the outcome. This game of musical chairs might end up giving your artwork an interesting new flavor.

3. Try new mediums
I was primarily a painter in my pre-baby life, which has totally not been working out for me in the past year. But I am now discovering the joys of illustration, collage, and fabric art.  When I’m working with baby-safe materials (like fabric), she can even play alongside with me while I work!

4. Make a plan while nursing
I prefer spontaneous, unplanned, messy art-making. But I have discovered that when every half-second counts, it is better to begin making artwork when I already know what I’m going to make. And what better time to plan it all out than when trapped under a nursing baby?

5. Let your baby teach you how to appreciate everyday awesomeness
Babies are amazed by simple things like mirrors, bubbles, or seeing a flower that is PURPLE. Instead of thinking this is cute and then focusing on “important stuff”, take a moment to really investigate the awesomeness that your baby is pointing out to you. See it for yourself as if YOU are seeing it for the first time… and notice that it really IS amazing! This is a great opportunity for art inspiration.