Once Mullah was riding a donkey and the animal left the main path and started traveling the wrong way. One of the Mullah’s friends passed by and inquired where he was going. “I do not know,” said Mullah. “I’m going to the same place as this donkey.”
And that is exactly the energetic experience of expectant and new mothers (and fathers) who embody the mystery of life and birth--who might begin with the intention of celebrating their pregnancy and motherhood, and even birthing normally—but upon entering the chaotic, cluttered, often metallic environment of the medical clinic, they unconsciously begin following the donkey.
When we enter a space, the “space” enters us. Ambiance in clinical settings are an underestimated factor in our well-being, in our feeling welcome, perhaps even in our wanting to return to the space.
Years ago I worked in a public health clinic. It was a maze of long, winding hallways leading to cul-de-sacs of waiting rooms leading to examining rooms. But it was the blood draw room that sent me on a query about the messages clinic space sends patients, and also, whose space is it anyway (the patients or the birth peeps)?
Every inch of the walls of the little lab room was plastered with magazine cut outs of actor Tom Selleck (starred in Magnum PI); it seems the middle-aged lab tech was in a delayed adolescent crisis. The rest of the clinic was clean but drab; the cinder block walls were a uniform drab beige color. Old metal framed chairs lined in up in rows; a television in the corner blared. “Health” posters on the wall warned of dangers in pregnancy and oddly… promoted birth control. Women carrying life, about to give life, came to sit for hours on end, in this lifeless place.
My deepest question became, “Whose space is this anyway?” The state owns and maintains it, employees come to work in it, custodians keep it clean and in repair, parents visit it as patients. Probably many people think the space is cluttered, clinically “sterile,” even run down—wishing someone else would spruce it up. No one owns the clinic or takes ownership of its feng shui, yet everyone in the space is shaped by it.
“Feng shui brings the environment, and the people in it, into harmony.
Atmospheric ch’i molds human ch’i. Ch’i must flow smoothly and near a person
to improve his [or her] ch’i. It must be balanced in yin and yang.
If the current is too strong or too weak,
it can have negative effects.”
Parabola, Summer 1993
I decided to make the corner clinic where I worked beautiful. I got permission to paint murals on a few of the walls. I brought paints from home. On one dingy cinder block wall I painted a big red healing momma bear carrying medicine and feathers on her back. On another wall I painted a sweet mother and baby. We hung a few plants. Immediately parents and co-workers noticed and smiled when they entered this space.
There is endless talk about changing the medical model of birth. How to do it? Can it be done? What can each of us do today, this week, that won’t involve a lot of red tape in the labyrinth of bureaucracy? What can each of us do for under $10, and little free time, that will make a big difference?
In the bureaucracy of corporations renovations cost thousands and millions of dollars, and there is miles of red tape to get it done. So we, the little people at the bottom, wait for someone else to initiate it and do it. Change #10 requires you to "think small:" the smallest change can make a difference.
If you work in a public space, make an effort to spend a few minutes each day reducing clutter, restoring order, and adding a touch of beauty.
Add a single living flower, a spray of aromatherapy, a beautiful picture on the wall.
Play soothing or happy music.
Notice messages sent by “teaching” posters or other images on the wall; make a change if you want to send another message.
If you don’t have an office, but you travel to appointments: create a small, simple ritual for creating harmonious space for the session. By doing this little ritual every time you make a visit, the recipient and you shift into a new space—together.