Saturday, July 23, 2011

BWJ continues: SEVENTH GATE and the DRUMMER

Dear Birth Peeps.

Today you see the SEVENTH GATE, an ascending ladder, ascending toward personal freedom and a place that allows for far-seeing  (on the right half of the circle, you may recall, there is a descending ladder into  the unknown); a RED PATH, and a DRUMMER, calling the storyteller out of the underworld.

After the storyteller’s dialog between her wounded or prideful Victim and Judge has been heard deeply by herself (and possibly by a story-listener),  her mind,  exhausted and relieved, experiences a pause in  thinking and searching.  This blessed pause is often filled with a new question, her Heart's Question.

Until this point on her journey “home,” the earnestly seeking-storyteller was seeking  answers, approval, apology, or forgiveness from others. She has been gnawing on a moment in her story where she was caught in the polarity of right and wrong, fair and unfair, expectations and failure to achieve her expectations. Her ego could not begin to entertain the thought of letting go or “forgiving” herself or others for what happened or did not happen.

On one side of the revolving door are the first five Story Gates. If she steps out of the Sixth Gate on one side, she will keep telling the Medical. Relationship, or Social stories, or try to have no story, try to forget it.

If she steps out on the other side of the Sixth Gate, she steps toward the Seventh Gate where she will get a glimpse of that something new that she is seeking: the embracing, the "forgiving," the new story. 
I am trying to find the right name for this Gate.
Clearly the Victim Child and Judge Child  cannot forgive or find new words for her story. So something has to happen to allow the storyteller to step out of the revolving door story, some inner shift that allows a moment of "forgiveness." For some, forgiveness is a loaded word, so I hesitate to use it. And yet, for "forgiveness" to occur, there has to be a moment where the subject-object story dissolves (e.g., that Someone did something wrong To Me or If I had not done [x] this wouldn't have happened).  In this moment of openness or the absence of subject object, cause and effect, the ST has a glimpse of something new; she can see the humanness in herself an others.

When the subject object mindset is suspended, the storyteller can "forgive" or embrace the positive intention, or the fallibility in herself and all humans and systems. It is a profound clarity of acceptance. Not the acceptance of defeat, resignation, or saccharin spirituality. Something else.

After this glimpse, she is never the same again. Her story finds new words, often metaphor. Thus, the Poet.

After spinning around int the Revolving Gate, after a tiring battle with the ego, finally the storyteller climbs the ladder out of the underworld of her Story, rung by rung, she begins to see her story in new “light.” She is experiencing a lightness of being, a true change of heart.

What happens if the Storyteller does not pass through the Seventh Gate?
If she does pass through this Gate, a part of her will remain in the underworld. This is true whether her Descent is in birth, divorce, illness, or any injustice or hardship in childhood or life. She can always find the company of others who also suffered a similar Descent with whom to commiserate (incomplete) wounded stories.  But the fruit of personal freedom and true wisdom she earned through her Descent is not accessible to her until she passes through the Seventh Gate. One of the things she has to leave behind at this Gate is the old desire to "be right" and blame.

When does the Storyteller get through this Gate?
No one can Make someone be at, or pass through,  the Seventh Gate, no therapist, Birth Story Listener, or loved one can talk someone into forgiving or embracing what happened. The storyteller cannot make herself get there. Perhaps it is a moment of Grace after a long search for new meaning, even truth (if we can define truth). Her heart may long for this Gate, but her ego cannot pass through it.
   When a storyteller is seeking for a way out of the underworld and the revolving door, she may be more receptive to the solution-focused questions and the Medicine of metaphors and Great Stories.

* Remember, this is an organic process, it is not contrived or forced upon ourselves or another, especially not your trusted Story-Listener! If so, then it is the Judge doing the “encouraging,” not the Love Warrior, and we are back at the Sixth Gate of Shoulds and Shame.

Did you notice the white and yellow path has turned red? The red path represents the path with Heart, the way of the Love Warrior.


What Calls us to the Ordeal? What Calls us Home again?
Is it the ego or willpower?
Why do some people get stuck in the underworld of their Ordeal for a decade, a life-time? Why do others find their way “home?
Ponder these Questions with me.

In the myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, a story from ancient Sumer… we are given an image, an idea. I will introduce you to the Warrior Queen in the midst of her Ordeal: Inanna is hanging on the Hook in the underworld. She is dying, she is in a great soulful transfiguration. Her feet cannot touch the ground, she cannot walk away from this. She is so far in the underworld, no one can hear her cries. A woman of power in the upperworld, she is now in need of Grace. In mythology, Warriors are often sent Allies; two Allies come, take her down and give her the Water of Life and the Food of Life. Inanna is a woman of power… and here she might be tempted to take up the power of the underworld, to rule the underworld. We all face this temptation.

This story is not only about Inanna, it is about human nature; it is about us! After a profound Ordeal, it is tempting to continue identifying with the trauma, the injustice, or the triumph. Living in the past, retelling the story, trapping others to respond in a certain way (pity, shared-anger, guilt, awe, etc,) or to engage in the “get even” or “get it right next time” games. Almost everybody has one Story thread still tethered to the underworld; keeping it tethered makes you feel safe (a reminder so you don’t do That Again!), or allows you a reason not to move forward…
So here the human being has a struggle. I do not call it a choice. I don’t think the human being “chooses” to stay in the underworld. In fact, I do not think she has a choice based on what she has experienced, learned up to that point. So how does she get out?

The Drummer might represent the Heartbeat of the Mother, comforting and calling us “home.” She might represent Ninshubur, Inanna’s maidservant who drummed around the temples of Sumer while finding help to bring Inanna back (another story, not for today!) As a woman (myself) who loves and trusts her independence a little too much, I love this part: Inanna, a woman of power required assistance to get “home.”
In this image…. You can see the Drumbeats represented by white dots penetrating the underworld, passing through all of the Gates of underworld… reaching the Ear… our inner-Ear. When we Hear the Mother’s Drumbeat we are compelled to keep moving our feet, to continue finding our way “home.”


Friday, July 22, 2011

Seventh Birth Story Gate:: the Poetress

Dear Birth Peeps,

Seventh Gate: The Poet

There is a time and place for everything. The Poet cannot be awakened in us, before it is our Time. If we try to “fake” it, our poems will be superficial, shallow, sound byte affirmations that sound good, but do not truly resonate in us.
When a birth story is told too linearly or objectively, the storyteller and story-listener may not tap into deeper feelings, images, bodily sensations and poetic metaphors that capture the heart of the story.

There is irony in this part of ascent homeward. While the woman is ascending out of her underworld, suddenly she finds herself in a private descent, turning her attention inward. Instead of looking to others to affirm, validate, approve, or explain her experience, she finally begins to listen deeply to her own Heart’s Questions and to her own counsel.

Almost parallel to the Poet is the solitary figure of a mother walking, carrying her infant on her back. She represents the storyteller's journey into new territory as she searches for her scattered story bones and bits. This she does even as she goes about caring for her baby and other activities of daily living.

Golden Paper
The folded stream of paper upon which the Poet writes is a continuation of the electronic fetal monitor paper.
Gold represents balance and the sun; the moon is associated with the Feminine, and the Sun with the Masculine. The woman returning home from a profoundly Feminine—almost wordless experience—is finding her words (often associated with the masculine energy) to describe—for herself—the meaning of what happened and what she now knows about herself.

Two Snakes 
When I was in Peru, I visited a small hidden cave. The entrance to the ancient cave had been known to the ancients who painted, on either side of the cave’s opening, two snakes; a black one and a white one. Snakes often get a bad rap nowadays; the mere mention of snakes elicits a squeamish response. But the ancients made positive associates between the attributes of snakes and human psyche. Snakes shed their skin after they grow. When the Poet writes and speaks from her belly and heart, she too is shedding a former story for a new one that has been growing in her.
Two Ducks
“Getting our ducks all in a row” needed to be painted in the Preparation Quadrant of this mandala. That’s what novice initiates try to do and to maintain during their Descent. After the shattering and during the Return, we try to get those scattered ducks back in a row. We want things to go back to “the way they used to be.”

Ha! After an initiation, after the old self dies and the new self is born, things will never be and can never be the way they “used to be.” Hence, you can see two squawking Ducks in close proximity to the Sixth Gate!

* * *

If you want to be a Birth Story Listener and healer, become comfortable with solitude. You must be able to carry your own Deepest Question into new territory. Only then can you reach your yet unspoken Words, your personal myth and "poetry," and be able to write and speak your own truth on Golden Paper.

If you want to see the images better, click on them They should open. I look forward to your comments and responses.

In-Love & Solitude,



Thursday, July 21, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
It's a long journey back! Let's continue crawling out of the underworld and watching the Story and Storyteller evolve.

The initiate has arrived at the Sixth Story Gate, the Gate positioned at the dividing line between the underworld and the upper world, between the undigested, chaotic material of the Ordeal and soon will begin to reap the benefits of the integration work well underway… This is the Revolving Door of the Victim and Judge.

When do we arrive at this Gate during the Return? In some way we could say we visit this Gate Daily, maybe several times a day! For this is the Gate of the archetypal Victim-Judge. These characters or voices are part of everyone’s makeup, so you will quickly recognize them.

The Victim says, “It’s not my fault,” or “There’s nothing I can do about it (it’s someone else’s fault).” She tries and tries to get it right, but doesn’t quite; she feels helpless and powerless to get her needs met.

The Judge is pictured carrying his "Book of Rules," he likes to tells us we should be different, or should have done it differently, or what to do to get it right next time. He is telling us to do more, be more, try harder. The Judge tells you you should be like someone else (and ironically, that someone else’s Judge is telling him/her they should be like you!) Allan said another name for the Judge is Liar because it is impossible to be someone else, and it’s not true that to be good or loveable that you have to “get it right.”

Try this: Listen in on your mind-chatter: First your Victim will try to explain why you can’t do something, or why it’s someone else's fault… Then, your Judge will answer, telling you what you could’ve or should’ve done, or what you must do—next time. Keep listening: Your Victim will answer the Judge, the Judge will should the Victim. And round and round they go…. Thus the Revolving Door!

This same conversation happens between people too, and it happens between birth storyteller and birth story listener or childbirth “teacher,” i.e., anybody who is advising a parent anytime, about anything, during the childbearing year. In this case both storyteller and story-listener go round and round in the Revolving Door, and both leave feeling “that did not go well,” or “she just doesn’t get it.”

I learned about the power of the ongoing dialog between the Victim-Judge when I studied the Toltec work with don Allan Hardman (in 2004). And after learning about this Revolving Door in my own mind, it began to change how I listened to stories, and how I taught others to listen to stories.

You will notice the Wolf Eyes behind and above the Revolving Door. Wolf Eyes represents the third potential voice, the archetypal Love Warrior. The Love Warrior (LW) does not enter the Revolving Door. Rather, LW continues to talk to both the Victim and Judge (part of the pantheon of Child archetypes) until, upon being heard, they can get ouyt of the Revolving Door and take the next step on the Journey.

* * *
You will notice a seated Greek figure holding a staff, and a dog, in the mandala frame gate. This is ASCLEPIUS who represents divine healing and healing through dream invocation. As legend has it, Asclepius was born by cesarean, at the last minute, when his mother was placed on the pyre. At the Sixth Gate and Seventh Gate, the storyteller is preparing to “dream a new dream” of her birth experience.

Asclepius is typically sculpted/pictured holding a staff wrapped with a single serpent. What do the staff and serpent symbolize? From Edelstein and Edlestein’s scholarly book and collection, Asclepius, the symbol is explained:

“Those who avail themselves of medical science undergo a process similar to the serpent in that they, as it were, grow young again after illness and slough off old age.” The Serpent here represents a sign of “attention,” because attention is required in medical treatment and healing. The Staff represents the same, and also that the Greek physician’s life was a long journey of healing… he walked far and wide to heal.

Sometimes Asclepius is shown with a Dog. I considered painting a “hunting dog” as a symbol for the hero’s journey, but I decided to paint an Aussie. Aussie’s are herders; we must herd our thoughts on this journey, or perhaps as elders/storylistener's we can help herd wondering initiates to make sure they are heading home to personal freedom after their Ordeal. (My “best friend,” Gracey, is a beautiful Aussie. I painted her in this mandala.)

Later in 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture, we will catch up to Asclepius again as we explore a model of a healing sanctuary I am thinking about.

This week, Rahel, who was on Skype in the Birth Story Listening course, saw the painting and realized that it is bigger than she had imagined. It is 36" x 36", and the image I sent to you today is about 6" high.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,

The Medical Birth Story is the dominant birth story in our culture.  It is considered the most valid story and therefore is the most validated story. It’s the story of medical diagnosis and management peers ask new mothers to tell. It’s the story elicited by birth peeps during an intake interview for prenatal care; the briefer the better. (“Just the facts m’am, nothing but the facts.”) Women are prepared to participate in the hospital birth culture through medical research (which is another medical birth story) and anecdotes in books, classes, lectures, internet, and television.


When telling their story at this Gate, the storyteller can be emotionally charged, detached, or objective, using medical jargon to justify, explain, or debate their labor “management.” When a birth story is emotionally traumatic, the storyteller can become attached to the meaning she has given the story and to herself because it happened to her. As a result, many get stuck at this Gate, which means that this version becomes their final version. If a woman never progresses beyond the Fifth Story Gate, something will always be missing for her.  If she stops here she may never know a deeper, more spiritual meaning—or story--that is waiting up ahead.


What is the Medicine for this Gate?

A coherent birth story is comprised of lots of moments strung together in a certain order. At first “what happened” in a mother’s mind is fragmented and not in sequential order. The endorphin haze of labor clouds her linear memory.  One clue that she is approaching the Fifth Gate is when she begins to ask others who were witnessed the labor what happened, when, and why?”

Her story before this gate can be likened to beading a necklace on a string. Before the knot is tied, the beads can slip off the string and scatter.  At the Fifth Gate your tasks are to gather up the beads and string the story beads together into chronological order.

 It may be difficult for others to hear the storyteller struggle to find missing pieces, sort them out, and put the bits together again. A storyteller should not be rushed through this Gate or offered advice for a do-over birth; it does not help heal to vilify the medical model.  



Sunday, July 17, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,

If you saw my Nine Birth Story slide show a few months ago at ICAN or Doula Care, you would have seen a Butterfly Gate. You can probably follow the logic of the former butterfly symbol: we are like the flitting butterfly landing here and there when we tell our birth story, partially and quickly, to strangers, acquaintances, friends. The Butterfly Gate is no more: one day the Muse took my brush, wiped out the Butterfly, and I waited for another order. . . Late one night . . . the new Fourth Gate appeared in the symbol of ripples of Teacups to represent the Social Birth Story.

Check it out! Teacups… in ripples… giving us the feeling of a rock skipping over the top of a lake. The Social Birth Story begins to emerge immediately after birth with the first phone call or visitor; it is a brief story used to share the highlights. It is also used for bonding, story-swapping, bragging, and “competition” between women. When we begin to pay attention, we begin to notice that the Social Story is far from fixed! What is emphasized or left out, as well as the emotional meaning, changes a little each time it is told depending on who is listening. That’s why the symbolic Teacups are different colors, shapes, and sizes.

The “ripples” around the Teacups are speckled with dots. Sometimes the colors on either side match (to represent rapport and being heard by the story-listener), and sometimes the colored dots don’t match (to represent a lack of being understood). Not being heard, understood, or validated, while telling our story in those early weeks and months can be hurtful, and cause secondary trauma.

The Social Story is not just “social” chit chat, it is an underestimated, powerful force in creating the collective story of birth. Because it is a story told quickly, often to half-listening listeners who are swapping their own stories… all listeners potentially leave with their own meaning, inferences, even distortions… then pass them on to others, like the rippling rock creating endless waves in the collective story of birth in our culture.


Saturday, July 16, 2011


HI Birth Peeps,
You have arrived at Story Gate Three!

Fairly soon after the birth, the mother-storyteller* begins to approach the THIRD GATE: RELATIONSHIPS. She is examining who was there, who wasn’t; who showed up in unexpected ways; who, if anyone, abandoned her. She may be examining the change in her relationship with her own mother, family, husband/partner, friends, birth peeps, the new baby or older children, other mothers, and most importantly—to herself.

This Gate is heart-shaped, an ambiguous symbol, which means you might see a heart that opens or … a broken heart. The outlines of women- and men-figures represent any relationship… not just the couple-relationship.

Sometimes when we share birth stories, we want to tell and we want to know, what happened medically, interventions, outcome… but we often overlook the importance of the more subtle sub-story of various relationships before, during, and after the birth.

In recent years when listening to birth trauma stories, I began experimenting with trying to “name” the trauma source; I thought it might be interesting to be able to document the incidence of birth trauma related to particular interventions or complications. I expected the traumas would be “caused by” the “epidural,” “cesarean,” or “breastfeeding problems.” As I listened more deeply, I was very surprised to realize that the most frequent “cause” of birth trauma was related to relationship. It would be easy to overlook this because the events and dramas of labor, i.e., induction, long labor, cesarean, etc., overshadow the subtle story of relationship.

In our Birth Story Listening online course, you will learn more about what to listen for and how to respond in a way that may help the mother pass through this Gate with understanding.


*I am referring to the mother as storyteller for simplicity sake in the main body of the blog, however, the storyteller could be the father/partner or birth peep.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
One of the ways each of us can change birth in our culture is to listen deeply to birth stories, to understand and embrace the postpartum journey through a mother's story. Let's continue.

Within the day or two of giving birth, most mothers are chatting circles-around,or gushing through, their second birth story Gate, the GATE OF RELIEF AND GRATITUDE. This is usually a short, repeating, litany of praise for anyone and everyone who helped in anyway; it is probably fueled by endorphins and adrenalin, as well as genuine and overwhelming relief and joy. In addition, in the early weeks of postpartum, a new mother is falling in love with her baby; her
attention is naturally directed toward learning to care for her baby, getting enough sleep, and hosting a flurry of visitors. There isn’t time for reflection, yet.

For many years I used to be confused when a woman—who had just endured a terrible labor ordeal, often with excessive interventions —would be gushing gratitude and giving fruit baskets. Did I miss something? Why isn’t she traumatized, asking questions, blaming or more upset?!

Unfortunately, hospitals collect patient evaluation surveys from parents while they are still in this Gate of Relief and Gratitude! So administrators pat themselves on a job well done, verified by “patient satisfaction.” I wonder if the survey were given (or given again) three to six months later, if the satisfaction ratings would be the same. I think this timing on the part of administration is probably a combination of not being aware of how the evaluations (i.e., birth story) might/would change over time and convenience: get the paperwork done quickly.

But then weeks, months, or years later, when this mother had time to reflect on what she lived through, she would begin to put the fragmented pieces together, learn more about birth, and question what happened. It was then that her story would spontaneously change, at a time she had the time or emotional reserves to sort it out.

Any Second Gate stories to share? If you were to draw your second birth story Gate, what would it look like?


Thursday, July 14, 2011

BHJ: The Return Begins, FIRST GATE

Dear Birth Peeps,
There is more that could be said about the Ordeal, but finally, it is time to begin exploring the third phase of the hero’s journey: the Hero’s Return, the Ascent. During the next week I will be explaining some of the tasks of the Return… focusing on the evolution and the resolution of the would-be hero’s (no she is not yet a hero!) Story about her Ordeal.
There is never just one birth story because the birth story evolves, organically, over time. After years of listening deeply to birth stories I observed an almost predictable order of appearance, I began to categorize “types” of stories—there are nine—and began to think of each of the nine stories as rungs of a ladder, a ladder the hero must climb all the way out of the underworld. Follow me as we climb out of the underworld on the story ladder. (Tonight is the first time I’ve ever used the ladder metaphor, it just came to me! Until tonight I’ve referred to the nine stories as Gates, in reference to the myth of Inanna who must pass through Seven Gates to enter and exit the underworld.)

First Gate

It was difficult to conjure up a symbol or an image for the First Gate, the No Story Gate. But finally this image came to me: An infant being cradled in a hand; the infant represents both the baby and the newly-born parents. Because this story arises in the deep underworld—within minutes or hours of giving birth—where everything is falling apart, the symbol is painted in dots with a swirl of dots, like steam from a hot drink, to represent the feeling of just being without a story.
In the hours surrounding giving birth, a mother is immersed in living the birth. It is not yet a story: there is no timeline, there are no words, there is no audience to hear the story.
Other people witnessing the birth, or visiting shortly after, do have words, opinions, and a story about her labor, birth, or baby. They begin to tell their story of her birth to her, and around her, and their story inevitably colors what her story will become.

But in those first hours, the mother and father are still spinning, stunned open in love or stunned by the intensity of what they have lived… they haven’t formed a story yet.

Above the First Gate you see TWO LITTLE EAGLE CHICKS IN A NEST.
There is a common belief that by giving birth, mothers and fathers instantly become full-fledged parents; that parenting is predominantly instinctive. For most humans this is not true; parenting is more than just caring for the baby, it’s also involves a complex and profound social, psychic and spiritual transformation.
When a child is born, the parents are also newly born; we could say that (archetypally-speaking) the new parent is a Child-Mother or a Child-Father.
The eaglets represent the Child-Mother and Child-Father. The eaglets, who will one day be great hunters, for now must be fed eagle food to survive and grow their wings. Might the same be true for newborn parents? For parents to make it all the way out of their underworld of labor, and to complete their initiation and the transition to parenthood —they also need to be fed “eagle food,” the Food of Life and the Water of Life by their village. It takes patience and time to grow parent-wings.

In-Love on the Ladder!

Monday, July 11, 2011

BHJ continues: Shaman-artist and Spider Woman Labyrinth

Dear Birth Peeps,
It has been easier for me to paint than write of late, so the painting has progressed. This week you will see many new images. Thank you for your patience.

Yesterday I showed the mandala painting to my friend Alberto (for the first time). We exchanged few words as Alberto looked long at the painting, taking in all the details. Later he said that this painting was not meant to “hang in a gallery. It is a power piece… for healing.”

Yes, it is meant to invoke a turning in of the mind, a healing; it is meant to be a psychic map. Even the painter’s mind is turned inward and taken on a daily journey.

Some years ago I happened upon an exhibit (at the Albuquerque Art Museum) of about four to six intricate pen and ink drawings by an African shaman. If memory serves me correctly, the shaman-artist would sit with a patient and patiently draw an incredibly elaborate, detailed drawing for hours; judging by the detail, it seemed a drawing might take days… The shaman’s “medicine drawing” was a wildly labyrinthine visual journey, including many intricate “Celtic-like” knots, and what drew me in to the drawing were the almost hidden little faces and tiny figures. I wondered who were these characters throughout the drawing? Were they spirits or ancestors peering out from within the loops or little windows and caves? What were they doing? Perhaps they were trapping, taking, healing whatever illness had taken over the patient’s body and mind.
I sensed how healing and calming the presence of an artist-shaman, who was absorbed in his/her own drawing trance, might be to a patient watching the drawing emerge.

One of the Tasks of the Ordeal is to confront Change, Death, and to anticipate and prepare for "Rebirth," i.e., one's new role as mother or father, all the changes that follow giving birth. The Great Myths, rituals and initiations are rooted in reenacting the inevitable tragedy, fear of, and Mystery of Life and Death.

Part of how we can change birth in our culture is to dare to prepare parents for this inevitable confrontation and change within themselves, perhaps within their relationship as they transition from being a "couple" to being parents.

In my new book, The Labyrinth of Birth, page 81, I describe Spider Woman's Drawing in the Sand. It is partially visible in today's image...

"When death comes to the stone-age people on Malecula, an island in the South Pacific, the dead person's soul approaches the entrance to the underworld and finds it guarded by Le-Lev-Lev, the Spider Woman. Le-Lev-Lev draws a single unbroken line in the sand, then erases half of it. The dead person's soul has to complete the drawing to be allowed to enter. If she (or he) cannot complete the drawing, she will be eaten by Spider Woman. If the lines are successfully drawn, the dead are allowed to enter the underworld where there is a beautiful lake representing the Water of Life."

Initiation involves preparing for and experiencing symbolic death and rebirth. This initiation myth and ritual of the Malecula points to conscious Preparation for Change, for Death (death of a belief, expectation, how the relationship was, and sometimes death of the baby, or the mother, or a loved one during the time of birth). In this mature way of holistic preparation, the initiate learns the pattern of Spider Woman's labyrinth before death or the trial comes.

Birth attendants are trained and trained to know what to do when the unwished-for happens in birth. Even if a birth attendant has not encountered a certain complication before her training is complete, her role-playing, tests, and conversations about that possibility have allowed her to memorize the path she would take should the emergency arise. So when this complication arises, like the half-drawn labyrinth in the sand, a well-prepared birth peep can do her part, she can complete the other half of the drawing.

In a similar way, parents deserve to be prepared before their Ordeal, so they have a clue how to "complete their drawing in the sand."

How is this done? This is the Task of the new Elders, Birth Peeps and birth mentors, to figure this out.


PS... You can order a copy of the beautiful Labyrinth of Birth book from our online store. This makes a wonderful gift for anyone you know who is about to give birth, and any birth peep who wants to learn how to teach this process to parents.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

BHJ: The Ambiguous Gatekeeper Within

Greetings Birth Peeps!
Last week I told you we would take another look at the Gatekeeper, the Guardian of the Threshold. It has taken me longer than usual to compose this posting, partly because I am possessed by the Gatekeeper of my Kidney, and everything takes longer these days. Tonight, I had a window of clarity and am eager to write you.

GATEKEEPERS are ambiguous, archetypal figures in myths, fairytales, and most importantly within our psyche. A Gatekeeper might be represented as masculine or feminine, human (e.g., Bidu in the myth of Inanna) or animal (e.g., Cerberus, the three-headed dog in the myth of Psyche). It may be protective, benevolent, or fiendish, and ultimately has the power to turn away the journeyer who is not ready to pass, or let through the one who is.

Meeting the Gatekeeper at a Threshold represents a psychic confrontation with an unconscious force that has previously held us back; it represents the embodied, almost ritual, experience of a mini-death, a mini-initiation.
You do not have an ordinary conversation with the Gatekeeper; the Gatekeeper is not your pal and will not be swayed by small talk and bargaining. The Gatekeeper must be given Something—something symbolic and specific, something hard to come by—that represents Knowledge, Sacrifice, and Readiness. This exchange is the Key that allows the journeyer to pass, e.g., the small cake Psyche gave Cerberus.
Or, perhaps as in the story of Inanna’s Descent, the Gatekeeper, Bidu, “takes” Something from Inanna--without bargaining and without her permission—not once, but seven times! At no Gate does Inanna ever “get it” and willingly “give up” her attachment to her identity, power, protections, and treasures. She believes she can have it all because she “believes” she is special, the master of her destiny, and uniquely deserving. Power and time have confused Inanna; she has misidentified what she knows and what she does with who she is. So, each time Something valued is seized, Inanna’s sense of self and the order of things is deeply confronted, and she shouts, “What is this? Give it back, that is mine, that is me…!
Each time Inanna is further disrobed and walks away from a Gate, she must inquire, “Who am I without my ‘crown of beliefs’?,” “Who am I without my birth plan [being followed or honored]?” It is only when things fall apart and we are confronted by the illusion of “choice” that we find out who we really are.

As the initiate, the would-be hero, travels deeper into the Unknown, into the Ordeal, she will pass several, Seven, thresholds. Seven represents hardship, endurance, and determination.
In modern day birth as a hero’s journey, an essential part of the would-be hero’s preparation includes gathering up seven Things and Beliefs she believe will protect her in the Unknown of Labor. On some level, mothers, fathers, and birth peeps all must do this.
When the Child, the would-be hero, Prepares for her Ordeal—for her long-awaited Day—part of that preparation involves daydreaming, creating an “intention,” a do-able fantasy of how it is, will be, or should be; this is how the “birth plan” fits in. This fantasy, imagining, role-playing is part of the Preparation.
We cannot try to be superior to other hapless would-be hero's (who planned and brought all their stuff and ideals only to lose them) by not gathering our seven Things and Beliefs of Protection. Even having that thought, that self-important strategy, to outsmart the Way is the gathering of at least one prideful Belief… “I” am so clear and fearless, “I” do not need to bring along any intentions or secret hopes, or beads, or anything.” Hmpf.
If there is a "plan" to not have any such “plan” that means there is still a bargaining “I,” an identification with “I,” and an idea of what it means to be a good enough, smart enough, strong enough, loveable enough “I.”
Can you see that the power of the hero’s journey is here… in the “disrobing” of our illusions and masks at these Thresholds?

Can you see that the Thresholds we are talking about here are not built by the institution in a place “out there?” No! These illusive Thresholds are constructed, and maintained, by our own minds.
We have all spent time, often years, being “locked out,” left out, waiting at a Gate for the Gate to open, for someone to open it, waiting until we knew enough, made more money, until the time was right … and then one day, in a moment of Clarity… we laugh to realize that all along it was a Gateless Gate, it was open all along. We laugh and weep: the cosmic joke is on us. Then the inquiry begins: What kept us from passing through? Something “out there?” No! The mind. The heart.
This week the soul elves and Gates began to float between the two worlds, naturally blending into the background as layers of dots appeared…but the Question Marks remain, the Deep Questions are still being asked, whispered…..

And with a genuine change of mind, a change of heart, suddenly the Gate does not open, it literally disappears. There is no leap across the Threshold, it’s just that the illusion of a separation disappears and we are of new mind, of new knowing, new stature, role, or service in society.

Some people think of the underworld as dark, cold, cruel, or punishing (and they don’t want to go there, not in their imagination, not even with me in this painting), but I do not find it so. In the underworld/ innerworld our sense of perception heightens and priorities shift. When things are not as they seem, when we play a game where we are blindfolded, suddenly we hear more acutely—not only with our ears but with our body, too. The rare light in the underworld allows some things that had been in the foreground of our plans to fade into the shadows while mysteriously illuminating, enlarging, and making to sparkle small things and moments that would go unnoticed in our hectic, have-it-our- way lives. In the altered state of Laborland and other underworld journeys, time changes, the future is out of reach, and we cannot mentally or physically function at full speed. Suddenly, cracked open, we want to, and we must, see and to hear deeply, take in and savor the moment whether it is one called bliss or one …. completely and digest each bit slowly. Here we see and feel what we overlook in our ego-driven, full-speed-ahead lives.
I was thinking about all this when I covered parts of the underworld in dots the same color as the “underpainting”—so you could see the object or figure, but if you look closely, it is all held together by separate dots.

If we look only at our problems, our inner world dissolves; if we look only at the world, it begins to dissolve. If we want to create art, we have to stitch together the
inner world and the outer world.” –Robert Bly

OUR TASK, BIRTH PEEPS, is to prepare women and men for birth in our culture. This taks is unique and complex; both parents and professionals desperately need soulful preparation and initiation by those who have done their work, who have been scattered and mended, who know Great Stories and who have come to know their own hearts and stories during their own Return. There is a great need for mature childbirth mentors and birth story-listeners who can simultaneously embrace and present the physical/medicalized worlds of birth and, at the same time be immersed in, and grounded by, a rich inner world.

A personal note about the process of painting in the last two weeks: When I began this mandala painting, I was not well, but I was not yet immersed in the “underworld” (or my inner-world) of uncertainty. Before last week, I had been feeling that the underworld figures, colors, symbols, and images in the Ordeal phase were initially flat and too rational. In recent weeks, inspired by a new descent into my own health/medical underworld, I am sourcing from my immediate experience and painting more authentically, not so much from what I know but what I am feeling into.

In-Love, in Celebration of your Personal Freedom,

2 Bly, Robert (1986). The Winged Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. Pp. 3-5.