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I am very moved to be part of this book.  It is a collective creation about birth written from a doula’s perspective.  It will be going to press soon!

As doulas, we have an intimate experience of love in the purest sense of the word.  Love as the force that brings us here and binds us as one.  We bear witness to this force and to the obstacles that are put in her way.  Our way.  Life’s way.

Fellow doulas Lisa Doran and Lisa Caron edited and authored and nurtured this work.  More details to follow!

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Body Cartography
Alicia Grant and Cara Spooner

Feb. 25 & 27, 8pm

What happens if you slow-dance with a skyscraper?

Tickets on sale now! A performance mixing disparate details of balancing on rooftops, walking home alone at night, raiding secret swimming pools and feeling too close to strangers employing installation, dance and question and answer periods.

Created in collaboration with visual artists Simon Rabyniuk and urban theorist Alex Marques, Body Cartography emphasizes and distorts the idea of a city within a city within a city within a city. Experience the places you think you know in a new way.

Link to Harbourfront info.

visionLife is one.  That’s the message I got from Ina May Gaskin last Friday night in Ottawa.  It’s the message of Yoga too.  The action of Yoga is to surrender your breath to the Whole/Ishvara.  Your whole body participates in the flow of Life.

It was a clear fall day when Isabel Perez and I drove from Toronto to Ottawa.  Blue sky touched red and orange leaves and the pink stone cliffs beneath them.  The vivid colours reminded Isabel of the great quantities of brightly dyed sawdust she helped her family make when she was a child in Guatamala.  People bought the material at Christmas time to decorate their handmade nativity scenes.  Isabel’s memories have merged with the Canadian landscape and have added another layer to my perception of it too. 

Isabel and her family came to Tennessee in the 70’s so that she could train as a midwife with Ina May.  Our journey to Ottawa was a brief reunion.  Ina May was the final speaker at the Breech Birth Conference.  It was billed as a storytelling event.  Ina May is a wonderful entertainer.  I spent most of the evening laughing.  Her stories were of the link between childbearing women and other mammals.  How we share the one process of Life.  

Ina May said she loves old books.  They are often sources of lost knowledge and alternate frames of mind.  In an 18th Century medical textbook , she found suggestions for relieving milk engorged breasts that included an “intelligent maid” and a cooperative goat.  This was in an era before the invention of the breast pump.  Intelligent, cooperative husbands were the standard solution on the Farm, she said.  In the weeks before his baby was able to latch onto the breast, Ina May told of one skinny vegan man who blossomed in his efforts to build and maintain his wife’s milk supply.  Breast is indeed best.

In order to give birth, the primal brain stem, the part of the brain we share with all living creatures, must be freed from the tyranny of the modern, rational brain.  In order to give birth, we must surrender to our animal selves.  It is in this surrender that we experience love.  Images of the direct connection between animals and us are in the media now.  Perhaps we are remembering our link with Life.  Ina May mentioned the photo of Tori Amos suckling a piglet.  I happened on the less provocative but very beautiful mixed media exhibition of Gregory Colbert, entitled ‘Ashes and Snow’ which opened in Venice in 2002 and has been touring the world since.  The photo of the boy and the bird at the top of this post is one of Colbert’s. 

The audience for Ina May on Friday was a young one.  I felt quite ancient in its midst and quite delighted.  I have hope.

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Keeping my daughter company last night as she packed for a canoe trip, I began reading aloud from a book that was on her camp’s reading list, The Tao of Leadership.  This is what I read.

Tao means how:  how things happen, how things work.  Tao is the single principle underlying all creation… All creation unfolds according to Tao.  There is no other way.  Tao cannot be defined, but Tao can be known.  The method is meditation, or being aware of what is happening.  By being aware of what is happening, I begin to sense how it is happening.  I begin to sense Tao… The method of meditation works because principle and process are inseparable.  All process reveals the underlying principle.  This means that I can know Tao.  I can know God.  By knowing Tao, I know how things happen.¹

I stopped and shouted, “This is Yoga!” Substitute Shakti for Tao; they are different words for the same thing.  Shakti is the single principle underlying all creation.  By being aware of what is happening when you give birth, you will know Her.

Practicing Yoga before you give birth will make it easier to feel what is happening during the intensity of the birthing process.  A practice isn’t essential but it is very helpful.  I think “being aware of what is happening” is a great way to describe meditation.   Any preciousness associated with the concept is dropped.  When you are aware of what is happening, you are meditating.  It is that simple. 

I also love how Lao Tzu says, “There is no other way.”  He isn’t worried we’ll misinterpret his clarity.  The painting of  Tzu that accompanies this post is a co- creation of Huang Xiang and William Rock.  Xiang is “one of the greatest poets of the 20thC and a master calligrapher.” He was imprisoned for twelve years in China for his advocacy of human rights and now lives in NYC using his art as a bridge between the East and West.  Rock is an Irish American artist who has studied with Tibetan and Chinese monks over the last fifteen years.  Together, Rock and Xiang are a voice for freedom, the only way.

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¹ John Heider, The Tao of Leadership, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age (Atlanta: Humanics Limited, 1985) p.1

Every time I get off the elevator on the seventh floor of Mt. Sinai Hospital, I’m greeted by painted chipmunks and bunny rabbits frolicking on the walls. Usually I’m with a woman who is deep in labour. When we pass this Disneyesque scene, I’m always struck by the absence of imagery that is relevant to a woman’s experience. If we as a society can’t imagine giving birth, how do we expect to? 

Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst and author, speaks about the re-emergence of the Feminine in the dreams and lives of the men and women she works with. The image is the means for energy to express itself in the world. In the natural impulse for wholeness, dreaming is the first step. Receiving our dreams and nurturing them, we become what we imagine, what we move, what we speak. Marion says, “The images we assimilate…are as important to our well-being as the food we eat…” 

Hungry for visions, I made my way down to the Textile Museum one recent rainy night. I was eager to see what I witness in the ordinary course of my life be reflected in art. It was the opening of  ‘When Women Rule the World: Judy Chicago in Thread’ and ‘She Will Always Be Younger than Us’. The exhibit runs from February 11th to September 7th, 2009. Judy is an artist best known for her groundbreaking sculptural installation, ”The Dinner Party’ , a revisioning of women’s place, quite literally, in Western civilization. ‘The Birth Project’  continued her exploration of  female iconography. She used the traditionally female skills of needlecraft to create work shown within the male context of “high” art. It was these pieces which drew me. 

To be present with her work is a sensual experience. Having seen much of  it reproduced in books, I wasn’t expecting the play of texture that is absent in photographs. Hundreds of women did the stitching and crocheting of the pieces and I could feel this. The technical precision was exquisite and through it, the passion of so many women was woven. But it was the light that moved me most.

I walked into a room where ‘Earth Birth’, an enormous tapestry, hung. It was made of quilted black velvet and silk, subtly painted in shades of midnight blue. It showed a woman lying on the ground as waves of vibrations moved through her, the earth, the air and the rising or setting sun. What resonated through her was light. It shone out of her mouth and vagina and the ends of her nipples. In her flesh was light. In the earth was light. In the darkness was light.

Was this an image of Death or Life? In the Feminine, they are one. When we give birth, we pulse to the rhythms of the universe.  When we’re sitting at our laptops, we do too; it’s just not usually so obvious. Birth is Yoga and Yoga is Tantra. The root of the word means ‘to stretch’ or ‘to continue without a break’, and refers to the warp in a piece of fabric, the threads that run lengthwise through a piece of cloth. Tantra understands that the light of life runs through everything. Judy does too.

Orly Cogan  is one in the current generation of artists who merges the medium and the message. In ‘She Will Always Be Younger than Us’ , Orly uses embroidery techniques found in old nursery and household linens to portray issues in contemporary women’s intimate lives. Her work is a strong and layered statement on the power dynamics in domestic life and the infantalization of women’s sexuality.

Which brings me full circle to Bambi and birth. If you are pregnant, or hope to be some day, let the light of your imagination lead the way. To give birth is to participate in the greatest transformation of energy possible. In birth’s shadow, nuclear physics is child’s play.

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