Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the Ordeal or Underworld

Dear Birth Peeps,
I am traveling today to lead a few workshops, but I want to send you another image and another step of the hero's journey.

When considering birth as a hero's journey, we begin to think in terms of "tasks" for the initiate or the "traveler." What are the Tasks of the Ordeal? What are we to do in the "underworld?" What is the "underworld?"

When a human being is living through an Ordeal, they are in the body, eating, drinking, washing clothes, making decisions and phone calls... they have one foot in this world, working, functioning, and often look ordinary... and another foot stepping over an invisible Threshold into the Underworld.

The Underworld can represent our vast unconscious. One of the Tasks of the Ordeal is learning, and learning occurs in the unconscious, it is a search for new knowing, it is a process of constructing new knowledge by reassembling bits of old learning stored in the unconscious in a new way. The Underworld is also where we have buried and forgotten parts of ourselves, our dreams, longings because we learned that doing, saying, and feeling certain things made us unloveable, or outcast, ashamed... So for a long time, while still in our Child, we have long denied ourselves certain ways of being buried in the Underworld, and at some point this unlived part Calls to us because it wants to see the light, to be lived... This Call, from Love to Love, is calling us to become more something, more whole, to live what we came here to live.

Every human being (and every family, religion, culture).... has a vast Underworld where things that are not acceptable are buried, forgotten, out of sight out of mind. When we learn (mostly as children, but at any time) that doing, saying, or being a certain way means we are not loveable, we do not belong, we will not get certain desired rewards... then we put that behavior or feeling in the Underworld.

One sure sign that something is in your Underworld is not only can you not do, say, or feel a certain thing, But! Nobody else can either! When THEY do, say, or express a feeling that is your Underworld, THEY remind you of what you have cut yourself off from, your own numbness, your own longing, curiosity, desire for personal freedom...So THEY are excluded from your circle, dissed, and used as examples, etc. Seeing someone manifesting what you have denied yourself is painful, and it is a Call to know this part of yourself.

The Ordeal takes place in the Underworld, which can be synonymous with the Heart or the secret recesses of our minds. And it is in this Underworld, this Ordeal... we may at last come face to face with something buried, it is here, perhaps in Laborland or postpartum.... we can finally be, do, or say, what we have never allowed ourselves. And this is one reason birth is empowering, and why it is indeed a rite of passage.

It is a passage from living an agreement or Rule we made or learned as a Child... and suddenly passing from the Child (archetypally speaking) to the adult, to a Mother-self, and one step closer to the Hero-Warrior.... still not a Warrior!!

In an oversimplified outline, overlaying the childbearing year as a hero's journey, labor would be the "Ordeal." And in many ways this makes sense because when a woman enters Laborland, from the first contraction... she begins a descent into her intuition, sensing, as she gradually becomes increasingly "mindless" and wordless. In this Underworld, we know what we know from the belly brain, we know in our guts what is happening. And yet, in our present culture what is in the Upper World is a different kind of knowing, evidence-based, rational, outcome focused, and so the woman learns even before labor not to trust or even tune into her gut. It can be said that it is not an individual woman who has put her intuition into the underworld, but a whole culture has done this.

Once again the Muses moved us forward in the Mandala, so I will take you back through some of the earlier stages the Ordeal.

So, the lower right corner, a cold black underworld corner.... wanted to be filled with an imaginal animal, and Underworld figure. Borrowed from the fantastic Toltec art at Teotihuacan in Mexico...

In the Underworld Ordeal I cannot paint images that make sense, that are concrete... I cannot paint images that might represent one person's birth Ordeal but not another, and besides, it is not an IV, or a cesarean, or any of the typical symbols we might associate with birth as an Ordeal that make this part of our journey an Ordeal. While these things are supporting actors in this Great Play of life, the true Ordeal is happening in the psychic realm, in our minds, in our Hearts.... and we are using labor, postpartum.... to take us "home," to break an old agreement, to grow up, to learn self-love. But this does not come easy. The closer we are to giving birth to the baby and to ourselves... the more psychic resistance we encounter.

But... if mothers knew this was part of the journey, they would have a much better chance of understanding their mental Ordeal during and after.... and this understanding would change everything.

So much more to say about all this, but travel preparation takes me away. I will write from Canada.



  1. Great post! Lots to think about, but the part that I keep getting tripped up with is my inner self saying that I didn't do the work and I didn't get to have the journey because I had a scheduled c-section (for breech twins).

    What a long journey this understanding requires!

  2. Then the scheduled ceasarean IS your journey, IS your ordeal (or part of it). I know what you mean tho. :). I'm so glad to have Pam's insights to help reframe things.