Childbirth as the Ultimate Transformation & Why Painkillers are Robbing Women of their Rite

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Artwork by Alex Grey.

Motherhood.  Childbirth.  These are daunting subjects, especially for those who have experienced them, in whatever variety.

Much has been said, and written, about what it means to give birth — and further what it means to be a woman.  However, I find especially significant what famed mythologist Joseph Campbell has to say on the subject.  In his interview with Bill Moyers entitled “The Power of Myth,” which was a TV special aired on PBS in the eighties, he says,

(speaking of primitive society traditions)

Campbell: The girl becomes a woman with her first menstruation.  It happens to her.  Nature does it to her.  And so she has undergone the transformation and what is her initiation?  Typically it is to sit in a little hut for a certain number of days and realize what she is.

Moyers: How does she do that?

Campbell: She sits there.  She’s now a woman.  And what is a woman?  A woman is a vehicle of life.  And life has overtaken her.  She is a vehicle now of life.  A woman’s what it’s all about.  The giving of birth and the giving of nourishment.  She is identical with the Earth Goddess in her powers.  And she’s got to realize that about herself.  The boy does not have a happening of that kind.  He has to be turned into a man and voluntarily become a servant of something greater than himself.  The woman becomes the vehicle of nature, the man becomes a vehicle of society.  The social order and the social purpose.

If a woman is identical with the Earth Goddess, then she is identical to the Earth itself — out of which the Goddess operates and manifests.  So, what are we, as women?  We are nature.

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A woman sits in nature.  A woman is in nature.  A woman is nature.

So if I, as a woman, am nature incarnate (I am also a mother) then my eyes must be the eyes of nature.  Campbell goes on to deduce the same about humanity as a whole.  But we are looking squarely at the process of becoming a woman, and of becoming a child-bearer. If my eyes are the eyes of the creation, then I am the creation, seeing itself.  But what about a creator?

If you accept that there is a creator, then you must also accept that there is a destroyer.  The creator must also be the destroyer.  Why?  To destroy what the creator has created, then the destroyer must be equally as powerful.  Or, that’s to say, equal.  This brings us full circle because what creates and destroys, at the same time, indiscriminately?  Ah.

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Nature.

Why is the acknowledgement of the destruction inherent in nature (and thus women) necessary to understand childbirth?  Well, that’s a violent and bloody reality.  Because childbirth — bringing forth life — is a destructive process.  This is the paradox of life.

As Roanna Rosewood describes in her book, “Cut, Stapled, & Mended: When One Woman Reclaimed Her Body and Gave Birth on Her Own Terms After Cesarean,”

There is nothing flowerlike about this.  It’s not soft or gentle or sweet smelling.  This is a stretching torture machine complete with a wrecking ball ramming into my bones, forcing apart sockets that have been firmly in place for my entire existence.  It’s rearranging my innards with complete disregard.  My pelvis is breaking open.  I am an obstacle.  My body is irrelevant.  I could not have imagined this violence, this betrayal from nature.  Birth is happening through me, in spite of me, and with complete disregard for my being.

Even though her words aptly illustrate what birth is like, words do ultimately fail it, so great is its magnitude.  In our most basal and primitive experience, an ode to the thousands of generations that just happened to form a direct line to us, to which we must thank for our existence, we connect to something beyond words.  The pain ensures that words will fail it.

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Artwork by Alex Grey.

Death is so intimately tied to life, it could be no other way.  To deny death, is to deny life.  For nine (or ten depending on who you ask) months we were the vessel of life.  It grew within us and we were the creation…creating.  It can only be brought forth with a death… our death.  Tragically, sometimes that means a literal death, but more often it’s a psychic death.  Death is violent, death is abrupt, and death can never, ever be avoided.  It must be felt — with our entire being… only then can new life come forth.  This is the lesson of womanhood.  This is what it means to birth a child.

Rosewood continues,

I see Death in the corner of the room, grinning gleefully.  She is waiting to see what will become of what was once my body and is now nothing more than Creation’s obstacle.  There is no warm light, no tunnel, no loved ones waiting to greet me.  There are blood and guts and shit and pain and the destruction of a woman’s body.  My body.  Deep inside there is stinging.  This is my skin ripping open with each downward movement.

She then goes on to detail how the only way out of the pain was total and utter surrender.  To the pain.  To the process.  To death.  Indeed, the only way out is through.  That’s when the bliss started for her.

Is this what we signed up for?  If we women had individually been given the choice to be born as a man or a woman, perhaps some of us would have chosen the former.  But this sort of preoccupation with imaginary scenarios of choice over nature isn’t helpful in any practical way.  Let’s stay grounded here.  Because childbirth certainly does.

Campbell contends that each of us must go through certain maturation points, in order to live our lives with purpose.  To be in harmony with the Divine.  These are commonly referred to as rites of passage.  Motherhood and childbirth could be considered the ultimate rite of passage for women (and ultimate sacrifice).  Because death is transformation, when we die, we also transform.  So now we get to the crux of the matter…

To be in step with nature, to be in step with our own power — do we walk through the pain?  Or do we dull it?  If we do dull it, are we then robbing ourselves of the alchemy of childbirth?  A fundamental step is skipped over — relief.  We can now birth our children without feeling a thing.  So what then, becomes of the vital cycle that birth and death bestow upon a woman’s journey towards wisdom?  Towards maturation?  Are we giving up our transformation, our ultimate rite, our greatest lesson… for comfort and ease?

This is a personal question, and I only mean to pose it.  It is up to you, to answer.


A video created to accompany this blog entry


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Sunday’s Reflection (Thought of the Day)

from Codependent No More by Melody Beattie:

The people who look the most beautiful are the same as us.  The only difference is they’re telling themselves they look good, and they’re letting themselves shine through.  The people who say the most profound, intelligent, or witty things are the same as us.  They’re letting go, being who they are.  The people who appear the most confident and relaxed are no different from us.  They’ve pushed themselves through fearful situations and told themselves they could make it.  The people who are successful are the same as us.  They’ve gone ahead and developed their gifts and talents, and set goals for themselves.  We’re even the same as the people on television: our heroes, our idols.  We’re all working with approximately the same material — humanity.  It’s how we feel about ourselves that makes the difference.  It’s what we tell ourselves that makes the difference.

Reaction vs. Response: What’s the Difference?

Well, quite simply, the difference is everything.

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If you envision a body of water, and it’s deep enough, then a reaction would be akin to the surface of the water.  It’s constantly rippling, moving, and changing — it’s rather chaotic.

Whereas the depths, the water down below, is calm, stable, and quiet.  This would analogous to a response.

When you think about where each comes from, there’s another facet of this analogy.  A response requires depth, patience, and diving down into the calmness of being.  A reaction is quick, unpredictable, and uneven.

It is always better to respond when you find yourself in situations where a quick reaction is the easiest.  Sometimes a reaction is required — but overall, the goal should be to get to a place where a moment of calm… then a response, is your automatic go-to.

Letting Go of the People Who Can’t Hear You

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There are many, many things to learn in life — lessons abound in this wonderful playground.  Some lessons we get, early on, and we don’t need any further reminders.  You know, the simple ones.  Brush your teeth.  Look both ways before crossing the street.  Put on underwear.

Others, well… we take our time.  We may have to be hit over the head a few dozen times before we get it.  Before it clicks.  And we can’t even get too comfortable then because those lessons can sometimes unclick on you.  The lesson I’m talking about today may be one of those.

And yet, I think it’s quite a special one.  Because I don’t think everyone gets this one.  And it is:

Having the wisdom to speak to those who can hear you.

See, funny thing about this thing we call life.  We come into it essentially all on our own, and when we leave it, we leave it all alone.  And during the in-between, we have this urgent desire to fill it up with the poignancy and meaning only another human relationship can bring.  We are fundamentally social beings.  We must be careful and aware of the real danger of codependency — but there is a healthy measure of person to person interaction we are compelled, no fervent, to seek and maintain.

Naturally, those who are around us and closest to us in our childhoods and immediate surroundings seem to fit the bill.  Even as young adults, when we are braving our first shot at independence away at college or in the work force, we make connections and build relationships with those who just happen to be around.

This is perfectly normal and natural.  But…

A staggering majority of the people we encounter, hang around, love, and live with won’t be able to hear us — not really.  This is especially true if we’ve always felt like the odd one out in these social structures (deeply at our core).

Again, I don’t think everyone gets this particular lesson in life.  Many people are happy to just share their time with those around them and they don’t ever have the isolating experience of not feeling heard.  But then there are those of us who do.

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So this is for you, my friend.  If you’ve often felt that you have something to convey, express, or share with the people in your life, but they just aren’t interested — it can become a very discouraging and disempowering experience.  Until you realize that those people, those particular people, may not be the right ingredients for your life.  Ultimately, you get to concoct your life.  You get to dictate your time here.  You have the final say.

And it’s hard.  Believe me, I know.  Letting go of important people in your life, or those who you’ve had important shared experiences with, can be one of the hardest things you face.  It doesn’t mean you kick them to the curb, it doesn’t mean you completely shut them out… no, it’s more about picking and choosing what to share, and with whom.  You let go in the sense that before they weren’t able to hear you, now they don’t get to hear you.

If your time here needs to be spent doing a specific something, don’t deny that.  Don’t repress your beautiful self because those who happen to be around can’t hear what you’re saying.  Save your energy, and moreover your time, and stop trying to “reach” certain people about the things that truly matter to you.

There’s more than one audience out there. The first step is to fully recognize when you’ve been speaking to the wrong one.  So… stop.  Gather yourself.  Honor yourself.  And honor what it is you have to say.  Because it’s important.  And then find the audience who can hear you.  They’re out there, I promise.

The Over-Identification with the Death of Celebrities

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USA. Chicago 1966. Muhammad Ali, boxing world heavy weight champion showing off his right fist. © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos

With the very recent passing of boxing champion Muhammad Ali, and not long before, the sudden passing of the musician/visionary Prince, the collective has been abuzz with sorrowful mourning over “great” celebrities who have died.

To be totally honest, I don’t know much about Ali, except for the very basics.  And while I did enjoy a few Prince songs, I was not an avid fan.  Though, in January of this year, a celebrity that I did greatly enjoy died — and that was David Bowie.  When news of his passing hit the internet, I found myself momentarily shocked and even saddened… but then I snapped back to reality.  A reality in which all of Bowie’s work could still be enjoyed.  I still have the music I so loved, and I can still watch the handful of movies he starred in that I really like.

In essence, I don’t identify with the personal tragedy of his loss of life — because who he was, as an everyday human, wasn’t a part of my personal reality.  His art was.  The art remains (a great thing about art, eh?).  And I am thankful for that.

What I’m seeing the trend becoming when a “great” dies (what is great anyway?) is this widespread over-identification with the personal tragedy of their death.  There were several people who legitimately mourned, as they would mourn if a close personal friend died, when Prince passed.  I’ve seen tributes and long diatribes about how much he would be missed, and how hard it was hitting those people, personally.  A quick scan across social media and online news outlets confirms that this is now the rule, and not the exception, in how people react to celebrity deaths.

The psychological implications, on a mass scale, are a touch concerning.  Yes, people like to identify with greatness.  When that greatness, which is subjectively defined by requirements of the society at large by the way, passes away and is gone, individuals can easily substitute those lost lives in for their own personal tragedies — that have either gone denied, repressed, or fragmented; spread across and divied up amongst different aspects of their psyche.  So when that useful mass tragedy occurs (in these instances, celebrity deaths), they can disperse the energies that have been long pent up inside of them and moreover, they have a reason to.  All the while, unaware that reason is reason enough and that their own personal lives should matter more to them than a person they never knew and never will know.

I believe it’s indicative of a mass ill in our society that we don’t know what it means to connect with our own tragedies.  I’m certainly not denying the significance or gravity of David Bowie dying… to his wife… or immediate family, or close friends.  A single tribute at most, to his art, should have served as ritual enough to commemorate his life as a talented musician.  Same with Prince.  And same with Ali.  Generally, these are known as funerals or memorials.  And while that is clearly not enough for the public, I would dare say let us now ask the question of why.

Besides, what is death?  I don’t mean this particular post to venture into the esoteric and symbolic questions of life and death, except to suggest that people begin to wonder… does it have more or less impact for a celebrated talent to die if they leave behind all manner of mementos of their time here, available for mass consumption on the whim of any person in the developed world?  What about the children the world over who die in deplorable conditions, every other minute?  What is left behind of them?  What is the value of a life?  Is gross over-identification with the deaths of celebrities symptomatic of belief systems built upon lies?  Built upon, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others?”

It’s time to ask these questions.  It’s time to face our own pains and losses with the reverence and attention they deserve.  And it may even be time to assess whether greatness is somewhere out there, or if it’s been right here all along.