Sunday, June 26, 2011

BWJ Continues: Meet the GateKeeper of the Descent

Dear Birth Peeps,

This week I painted the GateKeeper of the Descent. She is not quite finished, but close enough. Today I am uploading two images. First, a small updated image of the center of the mandala so you can see that Asclepius, a Greek healer and Masculine seated figure, occupies the “Gate” on the Ascent, or Return (left side). So, the GateKeeper of the Descent on the right, had to be Feminine, standing, and not “human.”

I don’t know her name. The GateKeeper of the Descent emerged from layers of loose paint. … and we “talked” as she made her appearance. She kept moving her hands, she was a difficult "model" to paint! She said,

My Eyes are wide open, to See you, to See through you, to See Who You Are and what you don’t need any longer. My Mouth Sings to you the Deepest Questions in a Golden voice, ever-asking, “Who Are You? … Why have you come to this place at this time? ... What must you do? .... What price are you willing to pay?

My Hands are big because their Job is to Give and Take. Sometimes they will Give you a Gift you need on the Descent. Sometimes they Take from you an old habit, a burden, a belief … My Feet are big, they have wondered all over the worlds and underworlds… it’s a long Way. I have a Key. But you do not need My Key. The Door is Open whenever you are ready…

We need to prepare innocent, trusting, planning parents (if their labor/birth is meant to initiate them)--before they meet their GateKeeper in Laborland--that Life and Laboland GateKeepers don't bargain with you or let you "choose" or trade what will be Given or Taken. When it is time, it is just taken. Poof! Then you get to find out Who You Are Without that thing, relationship, belief...

The inverse is also true: we don't always ask or beg for the miracles and gifts that suddenly appear. (Yet we like to take credit for these!)

The GateKeeper concept part bothers a lot of people who want to believe that they will be in-control if they just believe the right thing, and believe deeply enough, or if they eat the right food, or whatever! In examining my own life and important Descents, I must confess I did not consciously, willingly, or graciously Give Up what was to be Taken; it had to Be Taken from me. (I did not "give up" my natural birth; I did not "give up" my Dream of Marriage; I did not "give up" my kidney!)

If you live long enough, you are likely to make at least one Great Descent in your life (and it may not happen during your childbearing year). I hope Life will Gift you with an eye-opening, heart-opening Descent. Many women experience a profound descent between the ages of 28 and 30. Sometimes this First and profound initiation comes in childhood, or much later in life. When it comes, we are in a battle between ego and soul, and it is often the fight of our life. The following passage from Robert Bly, The Winged Life, (with minor changes to fit our audience):

When we fight for the soul and its life, we receive as reward not fame, not wages, not friends, but what is already in the soul, a freshness that no one can destroy….
This soul truth (which is inherent in young people) sustains them. It assures the young man or woman that if not rich, s/he is still in touch with truth; that their inheritance comes not from their immediate parents but from their equals thousands of generations ago; that the door to the soul is unlocked; s/he does not need to please the doorkeeper, but that the door in from of [her] is his, intended for [her], and that the doorkeeper obeys when spoken to


Tomorrow I will tell you more about the GateKeeper within you, and the ones in your life.

Happy Summer Solstice (this week)!

Monday, June 20, 2011

BHJ Continues: Seeing in the Underworld

Dear Birth Peeps,

It seems in our mundane, comfortable lives we can look but not see, or we are content with what we see on the surface. Sometimes we only see what we expect or want to see instead of all the vibrations and colors that are actually present. We often look carelessly in such a way that our seeing bounces off the surface instead of seeing through and seeing deeply into the matter.

In youth, ancient and modern women paint their eyes with eye shadow to be seen and adored by men. In preparation for a rite of passage or a descent into the underworld, ancient women ceremoniously painted their eyes in a symbolic gesture and prayerful anticipation of seeing what they had not yet seen… or for the Veil to be lifted that they might get a glimpse of the Holy. One of the Gifts of our descent into the Unknown, into the Ordeal, or underworld, is that in the seeming long, dark “night of the soul,” another Eye opens and we might begin to see what we have not yet seen.

So, when we begin to see birth as hero's journey, we also understand that one of the Tasks of Preparation and the Ordeal is to learn to see. How do we train young women to see both within and in the world? Once they see, and want to see, we might ceremoniously paint their eyes to acknowledge that their Mother Eye, their inner Eye, their Eyes are opening.

Eyes and learning to see are powerful symbols and tasks of this initiatory Ordeal. So yesterday I painted Eyes that are open and seeing in the Ordeal. The Eye is a universal symbol of illumination. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Eye was a motif representing holiness and a desire to see the Holy. In Egypt, the sacred Eye is called a wedjat. I like the Egyptian wedjat which resembles the marking around the eye of the falcon; I enjoyed painting this graceful symbol. Do you know the Egyptian creation myth that includes the wedjat?

The Creator, Atum-Ra created the First Children: Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture). Shu and Tefnut got together and produced Earth (Geb) and Sky (Nut). Earth and Sky then begat nine children (one of whom is Isis). In one of the stories, Shu and Tefnut were lost in the primordeal Sea. So Ra sent his Eye to search for them. When the Ey
e returned, she was so very sad to see that Ra had replaced her with a new Eye, she cried; from her tears were born human beings.

When I think about seeing in darkness, I always think of how Jacques Lusseyran** described “seeing” as a blind man in his book, And Then There was Light. Here is a passage (I recommend you read the book):
I could feel light rising, spreading, resting on objects, giving them form, then leaving them. Sighted people always talk about the night of blindness, and that seems to them quite natural. But there is not such night, for at every waking hour and even in my dreams I lived in a stream of light…

“As I walked along a country road bordered by trees, I could point to each one of the trees by the road, even if they were not spaced at regular intervals. I knew whether the trees were straight and tall, carrying their branches as a body carries its head, or gathered into thickets and partly covering the ground around them.”

This kind of seeing Lusseyran describes reminds me of the seeing associated with the Third Eye, sometimes called the “Eye of the Heart” or the “Eye of Knowledge.” Seeing with the Third Eye is about direct perception, intuition, imagination, inner visions and out-of-body experiences: the perfect Eye for Laborland where women are likely to have one or more of those experiences of seeing. So I painted the Third Eye.

The third eye on the forehead of the Hindu god Shiva is usually closed to gaze inward, but opens when there is need for destruction. This is a powerful symbol to contemplate.

In Love,

**Jacques Lusseyran (1924-1971) was a French political activist and a remarkable writer. He was blinded in an accident at school when he was eight years old. When Germany invaded France, he was 17 years old; he formed a Resistance group (with 52 boys), was captured and lived in a concentration camp for about 2 years until the liberation. His book and story are remarkable and inspiring.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Deepest Questions in the Ordeal

Dear Birth Peeps,

In the Ordeal, there is always a time (or two) when what will happen next is uncertain and not entirely in our control (which is often true in life, but in the Ordeal we know with certainty we are not in absolute control). When we face uncertainty, powerlessness, or our mortality, Deep Questions come to us, e.g.,
Where did I come from?
Who Am I?
Why am I here?
Where am I going?

In this painting whimsical figures (soul-elves?, is there such a thing, it just came to me!) begin to emerge, each with a question mark coming out of his mouth. The soul-elves are positioned near the Gates, dancing, showing the way, chanting their Deepest Question. The one by Diving Woman mirrors her--he is upside down asking her, “Who Are You? Why have you come here?”

Who Am I? is the fundamental question of every quest. If you’ve heard the story of Inanna’s Descent, you know Bidu asks Inanna this Question, and he asks her, "Why has your Heart led you to this place from which you cannot Return unchanged or unscathed?." He does not ask this just once, but seven times as she passes through each of the seven Gates. If you know the old Testament, you know the question "WHO AM I?" is in capital letters (I was told it is the only phrase in the Bible that is capitalized because it is so important). If you’ve ever been in a great descent or a dark night of the soul, you have heard this questions as you tossed and turned, as you wept, and when you tried to find a quick way out of Fate.

Soul Questions or Heart Questions are not meant to torment you, they are meant to awaken you, to free you. They are Medicine Questions.

In the painting soul-elves are asking these Questions, but really... it is You who must be in perpetual Self-inquiry. Instead of following and believing the mindless chatter of the Victim and Judge in your mind, enter into Silence and keep asking these Questions as you cross invisible Thresholds, when you feel lost, despair, fear, abandoned, in pain, and even when you feel certain and proud of yourself.

Like this:
Who is Proud?
I am.
Who is the "I" that is Proud?
(Then Listen deeply, don't answer with ordinary mind, reason, and words.)

Who is afraid?
I am.
Who is the "I" that is afraid?

And so it goes with every possible emotion or belief you can identify with. You don't have to be in an ordeal to practice Self-inquiry. You can do this all the time, it's a wonderful practice. But in an Ordeal, it is especially potent.

I had a thought, or maybe I saw an image... of the initiated traversing a labyrinthine brain in the underworld...No matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the physical environment of our Ordeal or Quest, the true Descent we make is into our own Mind.... our beliefs and assumptions. I will just have to paint another hero's journey to express this image....

I will do my best to keep up with the blog and painting. My Golden Kidney is in stress and I am not quite myself these days. Not even a stressed kidney can keep me from painting and sharing with you, it may just be less frequent! Regretfully, I am cancelling the July Advanced Doula Workshop so I can focus on getting well. "I will be back!"


Friday, June 10, 2011

BHJ Continues... The Crocodile Goddess

Dear Birth Peeps,

At some point during the Ordeal, the unexpected happens and things fall apart; expectations and best-laid plans fall apart; relationships shift or split altogether; our “mask” falls off and our strategies fall away. The would-be hero feels real terror as she spins around and faces her deepest fear, the very thing she tried her best to avoid or prevent--and in that moment--she loses control of that moment and of her future. The initiate finds herself--if only for an hour, perhaps for days, weeks, even months—spinning in circles trying to make decisions or find a way out. She might literally be brought to her knees or curl up in fetal position, convinced she can go no further.

This is not a sign of weakness, nor is it time to pull herself up by the bootstraps and keep going. If she has given it her all and is cracking open or falling apart, she is in an important part of the rite of passage; the necessary slow dying of the ego-mind. In this darkness and stillness, after the resisting and spinning, she begins to “gestate” so she can be born anew into new understanding, a new role.

A few days ago, my friend Lyn sent me an email introducing me to a little known, ancient Hindu goddess, Akhilandeshvari. In Sanskrit, “akhilanda” means “never not broken” and “ishvari” means “goddess” or “female power.” So, Akhilanda is the Always Broken Goddess; she is also called the Crocodile Goddess (link below).

A goddess riding a crocodile! . . . What could be more fitting during our trip through the underworld! I’ve never painted a crocodile before… but I set right to work. Painting this fearsome creature allowed me to enter into the power and essence of this animal archetype.

Crocodiles are present in many Hindu myths. The predatory crocodile plucks its prey from the banks of the river, drags it in its powerful jaws into the water, and spins it until it is disoriented… and breaks.”(1,2) Perhaps, Stoneberg suggests, the crocodile represents our reptilian brain, which is where we feel fear.

What does the Crocodile goddess represent in our daily lives and journey through our hero’s journey mandala?

When you are spinning and disoriented after your partner does the unthinkable or leaves you, or you lose your job, your home, or your health, in this moment you feel “broken” your future dissolves in front of you. Since this is mandala is primarily about birth as a hero’s journey, we need to consider circumstances when parents or birth peeps are likely to feel “broken” or lose sight of their future. For example, mothers who envisioned birthing normally anticipate “loss of their future” when, in pregnancy, they are warned or told an intervention (induction, cesarean, etc) may be in their future. When a baby is born premature, sick, or dies, parents experience a profound “loss of future.” You can recall or think of many examples.

When the Crocodile plucks us unawares from the banks of our comforts and routines, we experience sudden loss of control and certain uncertainty—not only of this crisis-moment but of our imagined future, too. In the croc’s spin, we can’t think what we would do next or even think to find a way out. We may try to protest, but shortly go to “pieces” (literally!) Unmoored from our steady idea of the future, we have no idea how to go forward; we are either indecisive or impulsively quick to decide. . .

Ancient mythology is ambiguous, so here’s another take: Akhilanda is not the fearsome Croc’s prey; she refuses to avoid or reject her fear; instead, she rides on it’s back.

Today I spoke with two mothers who had truly gentle, straightforward labors, births, and postpartum transitions. They did not encounter a crocodile or tiger on their journey. Although not every woman will need to ride her “crocodile” through one of the Gates of Laborland, no one knows that to be the case in advance. For this reason, mothers need to learn how face their tiger and ride their crocodile so that if they need to during their Ordeal, they know how!

Most birth peeps are prepared to encounter the unexpected in labor, they are trained to know what to do when the unexpected happens. Taking action during a crisis is one way to avert trauma, because when we take action we feel less powerless—in that moment. The trend is to inform mothers and fathers about what Ones Who Know will do in various crisis, but they are not prepared themselves to envision what they—as parents—will do or can do to help or to cope—i.e., ride their crocodile!



(Croc of Trivia for the Day:
A croc’s bite comes down with a whopping 5000 pounds of pressure per inch!

Mama crocs lay eggs in nests on the banks of rivers. Then they leave. Baby crocs have a special tooth to crack their egg. They make their way to the river, and find their mother, who then carries them in her mouth.

1 Stoneberg, Eric (2011, Jan). retrieved from:

2 Peters Julie J.C. (June 6, 2011), “Why Lying Broken in a Pile on Your Bedroom Floor is a Good Idea.” Retrieved from:

Friday, June 3, 2011


Good Morning Birth Peeps,
We are returning to Change #2, Teaching Parents Prenatal Nutrition. Here is a brief, special announcement. Make sure every woman who is planning to get pregnant, is pregnant, or who may use soy formula, knows about the research regarding soy and the health of our babies.


We typically think of soy products (e.g., tofu, soy milk and cheese, soy-meat, soy-based formula) as “health foods.” Soy is nutritious in small amounts, however it is nearly impossible for us to eat small amounts anymore as 55–70 percent of all processed and packaged food in supermarkets have some soy product in them! And, 79 percent of oil or fat in processed food is soy (in United States).1 Soy in one form or another is in your salad dressings, chips, cookies, crackers, breads, cakes, and chocolate. It’s injected into meat and cereal, gum, and organic food. It’s a main ingredient in power bars. Ironically, people on health food diets eat the most soy.

There is growing concern that a pregnant mothers ingesting excessive amounts of estrogen from the amount of soy in our diet (plus the phytoestrogens present in pesticides which are built into gmo soy and other foods), especially in the first trimester, may be contributing to health problems in the baby:
* low birth weight,
* malformation of the baby’s sex organs,
* thyroid function,
* the timing of the onset of puberty and fertility later in life

Why are soy products a particular problem in pregnancy?
Soy contains isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen found in plants, i.e., plant estrogen. Phytoestrogens mimic estrogen, block human estrogen and luteinizing hormone, and suppress testosterone in the human body.

Estrogen Overload on Fetal Development and Children’s Health
For the developing fetus, excessive estrogen during crucial stages may lower birth weight, affect subtle neurohormonal and behavior changes, sex organ development, and timing of the onset of puberty.

Girls: Before they are three years old, 1% of girls in the United States are growing breasts and pubic hair, by eight years of age, 14.7 percent of white girls and 48.3 percent of African American girls are in premature puberty. It is speculated that these girls are more likely to have been fed soy formula.2

Boys: Where as girls are experiencing premature puberty due to high levels of estrogen, more boys are experiencing delayed puberty, small penis growth, undescended testicles, and some are even growing breasts. Excess estrogen decreases the male hormone testosterone and luteinizing hormone (which signals the testicles to work). Pediatricians see so many boys with these symptoms, they have coined a name for this: “Developmental Estrogenization Syndrome.”3,4

There has been an increase in the incidence of a malformation of the penis called hypospadias where the urethral opening is on the underside of the penis, instead of at the tip. Correcting hypospadias may require up to ten surgeries. A British study (2000) showed vegetarian mothers are five times more likely to give birth to a boy with hypospadias than mothers who ate a varied diet.5

Let's all do our part to protect the next generation. Spread the word.