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wp3b965a7e_1b Having attended a long birth a few nights ago, I’ve come back into daily life where I’m living by the rhythm of the sun again.  I’ve been writing today, winding my way through a logical sequence of thoughts and images, moving through a vinyasa of words.  Writing is Yoga where the invisible takes shape, where silence becomes sound, where thought becomes vibration.  It is a creative act that mirrors the original one of Birth. 

 The sensation of following the thread of my thoughts reminds me of the Greek myth where Ariadne holds onto the end of a ball of thread that her lover, Theseus, unspools as he enters into the heart of a labyrinth.  There he meets and kills a half- human beast.  The thread guides him back out.  He begins and ends his journey in love.  On the way, he loses his fear.

Giving birth  is like this.  You go to the centre of what you are. You touch the heart.  In fact, there is an ancient yantra (a Tantric symbol of cosmic unity) given to labouring women that is in the exact form of a labyrinth.  It’s called a Chakravyuha but it is identical to labyrinths drawn for thousands of years on the walls and floors of caves, temples and churches worldwide. The pattern is woven into baskets in South America. It is carved into the grassy ground in England.  It is built out of stones in Scandinavia.  

In a Hindu birth ritual a yantra is traced in saffron.  The birthing woman mentally walks through the yantra and then the saffron is washed away with water.  The water is collected and given to the woman to drink.   Her body absorbs the substance of the  rhythmic pathways of her mind and she is free to move into the uncharted territory of Life.  There is no difference between her and love.

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Anger. Women’s anger directed at other women. The emotion was so tangible, so raw, I can taste it still.  Memories of my own experiences of female aggression were triggered when I surfed through some of the popular childbirth websites online this past week.  Common to the comment threads was an antagonism directed towards women whose birth experiences were diametrically opposed to their own. There seem to be thick walls between the 25-30% of women who have given birth through caesarean sections, the 80-95% of women in urban areas who have given birth within the parameters of epidural anaesthesia and women who have birthed with full sensation and little or no intervention. Why do we feel so threatened? Why do we lash out at each other? 

I think we are individually and collectively expressing the fragmentation of the Feminine. It is painful.  In the denial of the Feminine that is the structure of all contemporary societies, medical knowledge is divorced from wisdom. In this separation, both aspects are weakened and neither can receive or support the other. The current situation for women in India is an example of this. I happened on a website based around the work of Janet Chawla who founded the NGO, Matrika. Its mission is “the linking of indigenous skills, attitudes, diagnostics and therapeutics with modern allopathic medecine.” Most births in India are still in the hands of dais, traditional midwives who are often illiterate but who “read the fertile female body.” Matrika now has “ample data demonstrating a radically different understanding of the world and of bodily processes than that underlying modern medecine and public health.” This understanding is common to the Feminine the world over. In listening to the video interviews of dais on the website, I was moved by the universality of  their experience. Moved too by the heart breaking position they are in of not having the medical skills, the resources or the respect essential to provide complete care. It is a tragedy that these two aspects of knowledge are separated by caste, class, money, institutional education and government policy.  The polarized situation in India is highlighted by the fact that the “best hospitals” there have a caesarean rate of 80%!  Both the wealthy and the poor are suffering.

Both the east and the west are suffering. Midwifery in Ontario has the medical aspect firmly in hand but  the connection to the sacred understanding of birth that individual midwives may have is not tethered in a collective spiritual tradition or in a practical training in the technologies of breath and sound that are the pathways of the Feminine. Initiation into the “radically different understanding of the world” is not a given.

The radical realization is that we are already whole. There is nothing to fight for. I just learned from Matrika’s website that the Sanskrit word Yoni, referring to a woman’s vagina and womb, shares the same root as the word Yoga. Yuj means ‘union’. A woman is Yoga. In her, everything unites. Her yoni is the place where male and female merge. Where life is renewed and therefore where death is born. Where the past, our genetic history, and the substance of our cells, form the vehicle for the future. Where the unmanifest becomes manifest. Where the hidden is revealed. Where the power and the mystery of life are sourced. Connecting to our bodies brings integration, wisdom. It is only in this state of wisdom that our intelligence can function, that we can make decisions and take action based on the clear discernment of love rather than the haze of fear. 

In the Sri Yantra, the ancient visual expression of the totality of existence, four upward pointing triangles, the male principle, merge with five downward pointing triangles, the female principle. The Sri Yantra tells us that the female principle is a slightly stronger force that the male principle surrenders to. The yantra is not a political statement in the war of the sexes but an illustration of how Life/Love comes into being.  The work of Matrika is to honour the Feminine by listening to what the dais know and understand before giving them additional medical skills, skills that can be integrated into their work rather than be the means of its destruction.  What is our path here in the west?  What will be the bridge between the masculine medical model and the feminine wisdom that is buried more deeply underground here?  What will heal womankind?  To know we are union and the peace inherent in it is a sweet taste on the tongue.

fiercelightpostcard_9Babies and young children know deep in their bodies, and therefore deep in their hearts, that they are loved when they feel our love in its physical expression. How and how often we touch, hold, carry, sing and speak with our children is vital to their well-being. “Spirit in action” defines mothering and the Feminine force.  She is the movement of life that brought us into the world, sustains us and enables us to penetrate  the world. She is not separate from us but is in us, as us.  She is utterly tangible. She is our power. 

‘Fierce Light’ is an exploration of our individual and collective power. I saw a rough-cut of the film last spring. In “these times of turmoil and transformation”, as Velcrow Ripper describes them, he has made a film which celebrates the instinct we all have to put love into action. His subjects have merged fearlessly with their desire. They embody the Mother force.

 “Fierce Light’ will be screened at this year’s Hot Doc’s Festival running from April 30th to May 10th in Toronto. Van Jones, who has just been named an advisor to the White House on green initiatives, says in the film that we have the opportunity now to “midwife” the birth of a new wisdom essential for our survival. Birth imagery in Washington?! His words signal an embrace of the Feminine, a recognition of the power of life. It must come.

These words were written at the turn of the 18th century by Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), an early German Romanticimg_2748 writer and philosopher. They speak though, to a universal experience. We feel the beauty of life when we touch another.

Cindy McNeely, a massage therapist who specializes in working with women and children, sent me an email about the opportunity for pregnant women to get a free massage. On Sunday, March 29th, a supervised training session for massage therapists will be held at the Canadian College of Massage and they need women to work with!

A newborn is utterly receptive, soft and open. Everything you do to increase your own receptivity will further your abiliity to receive life and give birth. Heaven indeed!

Trimesters: Massage Therapy Education presents Free Pregnancy Massage, Sunday, March 29th, from 1:30pm to 3:00pm at the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy (Dufferin and Finch).

If interested, call Cindy at 416.803.7092 or email at cmcpicton@sympatico.ca

The shockingly cold wind that pushed against me as I scurried for the subway yesterday vied for my attention with internal images of water, earth, wood and flesh. They had penetrated my core and stirred emotions that were more compelling than the force of a Canadian winter. I had just seen Rodrigue Jean’s film, Lost Song. I suggest you do too.

Never have I seen the internal world of a new mother expressed so clearly. Jean’s camera is in intimate relationship with everything. Its vision bears no judgement. In its love, the truth of a woman’s life pours forth. We join this intimacy. Her experience becomes ours. This dissolution of boundries and unity of experience is the union the word ‘Yoga’ refers to. Sa’ham: I am She. She is me. The power of art to move us is the power of Yoga. In the emotional and psychological isolation of current yummymummyhood, Jean’s public exploration of what a woman encounters in giving birth and being a mother is crucial to our collective sanity. In the UK, the leading cause of death for women in the first year of a baby’s life is suicide. The grief and despair this statistic points to needs to be seen and heard. We need to know that the pain we experience is not a cause for shame but is a personal expression of our society’s repression of the Feminine.

In an interview with ‘The Globe and Mail’, Jean said that it took him five years to make the film because “it was almost impossible to finance because of the subject matter.” His persistence paid off with Lost Song winning the Best Canadian Feature Film prize last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. The panel said Jean, “has crafted a spare and uncompromising film- rife with humanity…” The destruction wreaked in the lead character’s instinct for wholeness and connection strikes a visceral chord in me. Like Kali, her chaos is in the service of rebirth. The lush fertility of Quebec’s lakes and woods draws her towards union with life. In the shelter of the roots of a fir tree, she is able to nurse her child again. Empty formula cans leave a trail like Goldilock’s bread crumbs. The question of who is the Witch is left hanging. 

Jean said he has spent the last twenty-five years exploring his interest in the myth of Medea. He said, “Canada got a blame from the United Nations about how we treat our children and our poor…When the child is actually there, and it needs all that a child needs, the society, the couple, are not there. That’s the big picture that informs the film.” The actual film is made of little pictures. The ripples made on water when a naked man dives in. The curve of a woman’s belly on summer rumpled sheets. The words of a mother-in-law and priest. The sounds of wild animals under the roof. Jean doesn’t answer why, amidst such beauty, disassociation and the yearning for union occurs. He shows us how and leaves us simultaneously sweating and chilled to the bone.

Lost Song is playing at the Cineplex Odeon Carlton (416.598.2309). The film is in French with English subtitles.

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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