Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Embodied Teaching & Learning with Paulo Freire (#23 cont'd)

Good Morning Birth Peeps, Welcome New Peeps!

When I was in Seattle, my good friend, doula, and one of our beloved mentors, Carrie Kenner gave me a book she values. And I now value it; I read most of it in two sittings! Some of you have read it; it has sold 750,000 copies since it was first published in 1970 (by Continuum Publishing International).

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

In the Foreword it is noted that initially Freire's thesis was thought of as "a contribution to illiterate adults in the Third World. If we take a close look, we may discover that his methodology and his educational philosophy are as important for us as for the dispossesed in Latin America..."

...and I put forth that we may find his philosophy and approach will help us understand childbirth "education" and guide our paradigm shift. The book Carrie gave me is tagged with twenty stickers of favorite passages that parallel birth education in our culture. I'll share just a few to stir our change-embers this lovely spring morning.

"The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized. the conflict lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting them; between human solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world. This is the tragic dilemma of the oppressed which their education must take into account

Friere's next observation describes the dominant method of childbirth preparation which largely orients parents to the medical model! Of course, we have a dilemma here; we must weigh the emotional cost of not orienting them to that model when they are mere weeks away from entering it. Again, I push for year long classes as a model that allows time for the uninitiated to embody the paradigm shift.

"Indeed the interests of the oppressors lie in 'changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them;' for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to the situation, the more easily they can be dominated. ...

"The truth is, however, that the oppressed are not 'marginals,' and not people living 'outside society. They have always been 'inside'--inside the structure which made them 'beings for others.' The solution is not to 'integrate' them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become 'beings for themselves.'

I could excerpt another dozen observations, but perhaps digesting excerpts slowly is better--to allow you to make connections to what you see (or even do) in birth in our culture. Friere refers to Lenin's belief:

"Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement."

Paulo Friere interprets this to mean that "revolution is achieved with neither verbalism nor activism, but rather with praxis, that is, reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed. The revolutionary effort to transform these structures radically cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the oppressed as mere doers."

If we, Birth Peeps, are truly committed to changing birth in our culture, everyone must reflect and take part in a new dialogue that includes deep listening--and more reflection. We cannot wait for a spokesperson or leader to bring about this change on our behalf. Change is at once an individual effort (subjective) and a collective effort when change ultimately occurs for the people, by the people. We do not necessarily all need to act together under an organized plan, but as more individuals reflect and act, momentum builds and collective thought changes.

It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the change process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as Subjects of the transformation. If they are drawn into the process as ambiguous beings, partly themselves and partly the oppressors housed within them... they will merely imagine they have reached power."

Please write your reflections and actions.


cite: Lenin, "What is to be done?" in Essential Works of Lenin by Henry M Christman.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Birth as Hero Journey Mandala in Progress

Hi Birth Peeps,

This week I've been working slowly on a new mandala painting of Birth as a Hero's Journey. I thought it would be fun to share with you.

It is my belief, when we begin to see and live the childbearing year as a hero's journey, birth for women and caregivers will change in profound ways. More on this soon,


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Change #22 HOPE

Dear Birth Peeps,
It is too easy to become jaded, righteous, or hopeless as we consider the state of the world, and birth in our culture. If we become hopeless, who will dream the healing, who will take action? A friend of mine shared the following excerpt from Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit.

"Causes and effects assume history marches forward; history is not an army, it is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later, sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like change of weather.

"I say this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door; because it will take everything. All that the transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope.

"To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

"...Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable."

In-Love and Hope,


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Embodied Teaching & Learning, continued

Dear Birth Peeps,

I am swirling in the Tao of Embodied Teaching and Learning. One cannot exist without the other. One feeds the other.

A friend of mine told me she overcame her fear of snakes by going through a guided process with live snakes and a "snake mentor." It was not a cognitive (thinking/talking) process. There were no affirmations on her fridge. It was not about exploring her feelings about snakes. Her relationship with (and feelings about)snakes changed through living a hands-on experience with snakes. Now that she is "One Who Knows," she cannot simply help another person who is afraid of snakes overcome this fear by telling what she experienced and learned. However, because she has drunk from this Well, this Water of Knowing is in her body and mind now, and she is more capable of guiding someone through an embodied experience of changing fear into being able to respond--not just with snakes, but in other areas of their life!

Embodied learning and teaching is manifested when we go to the edge, when we take a risk and DO the thing we had not yet done, or thought we could not do. We must live (not theorize) a new relationship with our environment, people, or ourselves.

I am inviting all Birth Peeps to consider what you would do, could do, perhaps have done, to bring birth preparation back into the body. You might not ever do it (I have some ideas that this culture would never allow for) but it is in thinking freely that we get out of the box, and perhaps we find a new task or process the culture would allow for.

Here's the thing. Embodied teaching is not a "tool box." We don't have a "kit" to bring to class. We must become so alive in this approach that, while we may rely on some standard embodied teachings (like the ice contractions for pain-coping practices), we can see what the specific task is for the person we are teaching, and co-create a way for the learner to take a small risk or experiment to experience it.

There can be no attachment to outcome when we undertake embodied teaching or learning. We cannot know ahead of time exactly what the outcome will be, i.e., what the learner will know or do differently, or that in learning they will make "better choices" or have a certain kind of birth/life.

Embodied teaching and learning is rooted in relationship; a sensory and visceral relationship with our immediate environment, emotions, breath, humans, and the chaotic sea of thoughts and assumptions.

When we ourselves have not dared drink from a Well of a certain kind of experience or Knowledge, that knowing is not yet ours. In this case when we want to help, we are inclined to source from the knowledge and experience of others and give cliche advice (or we may lead others to attempt to avoid the thing we ourselves have not yet faced and integrated). It might just be that we can only take others as far as we ourselves have dared to tread, or have been fated to tread!

Time is a great teacher. I think this is why Taoists valued longevity... not because living on earth in itself is so great, but that it takes a long time to have and to integrate experiences that gift us with wisdom and personal freedom.



Monday, March 7, 2011

Change #21 Embodied Teaching

Dear Birth Peeps,
I am in Seattle, on my way home to Albuquerque today. I gave a talk at the REACHE conference, the Regional Association of Childbirth Educators, and also a few small talks to the public on Birth as a Hero's Journey and Birth Story Medicine. It was great to spend time with Carrie Kenner, Angie Dobbins and all of the BFW Mentors in the Sea/Tac area.

At the REACHE Conference, I talked about Embodiment, and that it has its own intelligence. Embodied learning is that which cannot be learned from a book, video, power point, or the internet. Embodiment is a way that allows the Word or Image to become Flesh.

We live in our bodies. We birth in our bodies and our emotions. We express and access our knowing through our bodies, non-verbal expression and movement. And this kind of knowing is more direct than any other kind of knowing or learning.

To be an embodied teacher, we must live what we teach, not download it from someone else's knowing (evidence-based information). Although this may be a piece of the inspiration or motivation to learn, it is not the terminal gate of embodied learning!

To be an embodied learner, we must be alive in our emotional and feeling body, and in our imagery. Rather than being in a hyper, note-taking, tense state, (that of rapid beta brainwaves), we must be in a relaxed and receptive state, that of the alpha brainwaves (slow).

Western culture (from kindergarten to professional training as adults) is primarily focused on "disembodied" learning and teaching. Learning to be an "embodied teacher" and to present material in such a way that the receiver is "embodied" is not something we know in our bones. This kind of learning and teaching has literally been "bleached out" of our bones. But anything learned can be unlearned, if the motivation and vision sustains us long enough.

When I began midwifery school, I started in my heart. I had a vision, hope, and trust that filled my being. Of course, every journey begins in Innocence, Trust and as the inner Child, and and some of the initial naivety and innocence is modified in any worthwhile journey. But it was beyond a wholesome modification and maturation. By the end of my training, I was midwifing from my head, disconnected from intuition, and, over time, far from being intact in body, mind and spirit. From my own disembodied being, I taught childbirth classes to parents, from my head to their head. I gave them mixed messages about trusting their body, but separated them from their body with all the heady information. It makes sense that I gave birth the first time from my head, "evidence-based" all the way to the operating room.

It took almost a decade, with constant effort, experiments, and attention to bring my attention, trust, and knowing back down into my body. And to unite what I knew and trusted in a rational way with what I knew and sensed in my body.

The essence of the hero's journey is about learning; it is about embodied learning. It is not about adventures, or getting something.

We begin learning (or begin the Hero's Journey) lop-sided. We are either too much in our Feminine, or too much in our Masculine; we begin too much in our heads, or too much in our senses; too independent or too dependent. As we go through an Ordeal that often takes years (not a three-day weekend, or an "aha" moment, or a few months), we must cultivate and utilize the intelligence, qualities and energies of the "undeveloped" aspect of our self. This is a long, meandering process. Most of it occurs beneath consciousness, beyond conscious intention, and we may not see that it is happening until it "has happened." And then we are "suddenly" able to do things we could not do before, or think in a way we did not understand before.

Through the hero's journey of embodied learning, we do not forget the first learnings, or even abandon them. Rather, our knowing, learning, and capacity for learning, teaching, and problem solving is expanded.

I will continue this thread. But I have not connected with you--my Birth Peeps--for a week, so I wanted to send you my thoughts before I board the plane.

To really change birth in our culture we must prepare parents and birth peeps in a completely new way, which means all of us must unlearn and learn a new way of being, teaching, and learning.

In Seattle...