We just passed the Winter Solstice. The day of the year where the night is the longest and the day is the shortest. It's a beautiful time of the year, physically, metaphorically and spiritiually. It is the time of midwinter - where conditions begin to become harshest. Where the long nights can affect productivity and emotions. I've read in stories that in many ancient cultures this was a time for big celebration - before the real hunkering down to make it through the famine times of deep winter. In these celebrations, they used to sow crops - preparing for the growing light and warmth to come after the day of the Solstice. They used to slaughter cattle, so as not to have to feed extra mouths during the winter's famine. And so, it was the time of year when the best and most abundant meat was available. Oh, they partied - big time.
As a metaphor to our mental activity the Solstice provides us a wonderful example of taking time to be introverted. To explore the rich inner world of our existence. To leave the social pressures for a bit, and dive into what is true for us internally. As the "darkness" is long and deep - so can be our self-exploration - without regret for entertaining, or expending our reserves for others. Darkness here does not imply depression, but rather a slowing down, a turning inward and a permission for self-care and attention payed. I have a yoga teacher who sometimes refers to the "fertile unknown" - this mental, emotional and spiritual ground within ourselves that remains a mystery even to our own minds. It is where ideas and creativity come from - it is where we go for renewal in times of difficulty. When you get on your mat, or sit in meditaiton. When you take a walk and zone out, or soak in a hot bath without ruminating - just soaking, and come out feeling better and refreshed. We visit this fertile unknown all the time - mostly without knowing it. This is what is so amazing about this time of long darkness and deep introspection. We get to sow seeds in the fertile unknown ground of our minds and our hearts. We get to shape our lives and silently voice our dreams.
So I encourage you to take this time, of midwinter, of long, deep darkness, and look inside. Dream your dreams. Plant the seeds of what you'd like to foster and grow with your intention in the fertile unknown ground within yourself. Nourish and feed those seeds with your attention, your mindfulness and practice. Get on your mat and just move. Move because it feels good. Because every moment spent mindfully helps these seeds of intention grow into your life. Because, inevitably, what is to come are longer days and more hectic acitivity. The summer is wild and free - like wild flowers - those seeds have grown by then. They grow anyway, because our thoughts and fears are also planted in the fertile unknown ground. So lets take this opportunity to plant something intentionally, and grow our lives in a way that feeds us rather than diminishes. Lets have a reason for a big time party!
In light of the recent tragedy at an elementary school in Connecticut, I feel there is a particular sentiment that must be brought into the equation, that hasn't been discussed too much thus far - compassion. Of course, I have heard many calls to have compassion for the families of those who have lost loved ones in this monstrous act, and they deserve more than compassion. They deserve kindness, patience, love, nurturing, access to counselling and coping methods for the rest of their lives, space to grieve, and many more things. No, what I'm talking about (and I'm not trying to become a social pariah, just to be complete in my offerring of compassion) is compassion for the young man who committed this act of senseless violence. Has anyone stopped to think about how much this kid was suffering to lead him to do what he did? Has anyone thought to look past their own reaction of hate, and try to find an answer in love? I am IN NO WAY condoning what he did, but what I am asking you to consider is why?
We often get so caught up in the world outside of ourselves, that we believe all of it is real. We buy into the fear and hate mongering of the media, and of social groups who also believe that everything they say is truth, and we tailspin into fear and hate ourselves. And it takes a great act of self-awareness to stop and look, and examine where that fear is coming from. That, maybe we just haven't spent enough time in relationship with the truth of this moment. We fail to understand that we create our reality and that how we participate with the world is our choice. That we are only victims of circumstance if we choose to see it that way. That having compassion begins with ourselves and extends to others. There is only one way to love others, and that is to love ourselves - those who can't find a way to love themselves have no well to draw upon, no source to access to grow love for others. It is a show; an act - to behave as if we love mankind so much, but act with self-depracation and self-loathing inwardly.
It seems to me that this kid in Connecticut was very cut off from the deep love within himself. It seems that maybe he didn't understand that this world flows together when we love each other and falls apart at the seams when we think that hate rules the day. He must not have felt the fabric of connection and compassion that underlies our interactions with each other. Maybe he didn't feel understood or loved by those around him or the world - even if they thought they showed him. And instead of looking inside to ponder "why do I see the world this way? can I see things differently?", he chose to turn his fear outward, unleashing a tirade of violence on innocents. Do I have to hate this boy of just 20 years, that he didn't understand how the world really works? Do I have to rant about gun control and other symptoms of a greater cancer that is invading our social and cultural body? Or can I have some compassion for his misunderstanding of how things are - his taking for reality what he just thought and felt himself?
I'm so sorry that no one told him that just because he felt like a victim, does not mean that that was absolute truth. That because he didn't feel the love around him, that there was none. That because he thought he had to show the world something in a gruesome and tragic way - that there were other ways. I'm so sorry that people lost their lives for this man's misunderstanding. That is a real tragedy. And those families that lost loved ones will have to grapple with this for the rest of their lives. I'm sure for many of them forgiveness is far in the future, if at all, and I probably seem ignorant and insensitive saying so, but I do hope they can come to it one day, and see that the man whom they hate was so lost and so deep in his own grief, that he was also his own victim that day. Maybe we can see him as someone who made a huge mistake in his searching for truth and love, but it was a mistake. Taking another's life can never be other than an outward show of an inward struggle and misunderstanding. Can we find compassion for this lost soul? And beyone that - can we begin to search ourselves more deeply and truthfully? To search for that well of deep love that connects us all - even those who act questionably on the outside - and teach others the way of love above the way of violence? Of peace and of quiet connection above the shouting and platitudes of self-rigteous politics? It does take a village - it takes a village to understand ourselves and teach the ones who don't understand with great compassion and patience, to trust in love. To shape our culture into one of love, not hate.
I'm not afraid of labor pain.
I think nowadays, or even many years ago, this is kind of a crazy thing to say. I'm sure many of you won't believe me, with all that's out in the cultural background about the extreme pain of pushing a baby out, but all I can do is put it out there in the truest way that I feel it. I am not afraid of being in pain delivering my child. That is not to say that I don't believe there will be pain - or intense sensation, lets call it, for lack of my knowing the sensation in my body already - but I am honestly not afraid of it. I almost look forward to it in a kind of sick way. What I look forward to is going the distance...is making it through the endurance round and having the greatest gift on the other side of the finish line. I imagine it's going to be a little better than any medal I've gotten running a race. The true well of deep love.
I do have to credit my prenatal yoga trainer and my doula here for introducing me to Ina May Gaskin's work, as one of the most, if not the most respected midwife in recent American history. At Ina May's farm in Tennessee, they have created an atmosphere of home-birthing that celebrates the process and holds women up as powerful, creative beings who trust in nature and in their bodies, and the process then takes care of itself. Nobody is saying it's easy, and that is not what I'm implying - in fact, I'll venture a guess that it'll be the hardest work I'll ever do (outside of actually then parenting the result of this miraculous process!), but also, no one from this mindset is insisting on this whole thing being traumatic either. Life changing, empowering and amazing, yes, but trauma, no.
There is a difference in aknowledging that there will be a certain amount of intensity and discomfort in the birth process, and being afraid of it. It seems as though, over the years, our medical community (in general - I know there are exceptions within this population) has created an atmosphere of pathology around pregnancy, making it an abnormal or scary state to be in.
pa·thol·o·gy /pəˈθɒl ə dʒi/
noun, plural pa·thol·o·gies.
1. the science or the study of the origin, nature, and course of diseases.
2. the conditions and processes of a disease.
3. any deviation from a healthy, normal, or efficient condition.
-excerpted from www.dictionary.com
That is crazy-talk to me. There are, certainly, things that could go wrong with pregnancy, labor and delivery, just like things can go wrong with normal living - we could get cancer or heart disease or have a stroke for no known reasons like Malcolm in the Middle. Things happen sometimes. But the numbers of normalcy around pregnancy far outweigh the cases of "deviation from a healthy, normal, or efficient condition". Yet, in our culture, we've made it seem like the cases of abnormalcy should be expected, and in-fact, we might as well pre-empt them with a cesarian, just in case. ... Are you crazy?! Why wouldn't I trust in the process that for millenia has been serving women just fine? And, again, I'm not saying that in those cases where intervention is absolutely needed, that people should rely on fairy dust and glitter and hope they and their baby survive - no, by all means, utilize what is here to save a life, sister! But, why fix something that ain't broke? Out of fear? ...No thank you. I refuse to buy into the fear. I choose to trust in my body and my baby to do what is a primal instinct of all mamallian females. I want to feel it. I don't want to hide. I want to push and know that my baby is doing what she can too, and in this way work together and make this thing happen.
Personally, I don't fault anyone who makes another choice for any other reason. It's easy to judge. In the end, I don't stand in anyone else's shoes but my own, and can only speak for myself. I am a glutton. I work really hard and I like it. When I practice yoga, I relish those poses that make me feel like I'm gonna throw up sometimes - not all the time, mind you- but there is great benefit, both mental and physical in hard work and commitment. And of training the mind to face a challenge without turning away because it seems ugly, painful or otherwise unpleasant. What an amazing life lesson gained from yoga and meditation. And here I thought I was just doing it cuz it's trendy ;) But in all seriousness - it's huge, this lesson. Life doesn't always give you tidy, sparkly, easy and fun situations. The hard ones are usually the ones we learn and grow from the most - but only if we invest the time and effort to face them, to work through them and not to run away - even if we can, even if running is an option. If we don't learn coping skills somehow, somewhere along the way, then one day, there'll be no option for an epidural and we'll have to deal with the situation at hand. Let's try to invite some grace in to the process, shall we? Let's maybe give it a practice run-through once or twice, or many thousands of times on our yoga mat or meditation cushion before D-Day. What do you say?
Sit and breathe, and when challenging things come up, do yourself a favor and look. The next time you're on your mat and you start shaking - don't give up! Don't move until you've given it your very best! That's the golden ticket. That's the training ground, and, at least for me, labor and delivery is where it all will be decided. What's your proving ground?
As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!