Saturday, August 20, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
(BFW Facebook has just reached 8000 followers! We're going to celebrate: follow this!)

Before we can understand the Birth Warrior Story, we must first know the archetypal Warrior. Who is the Warrior? What are the characteristics of the Love Warrior, the Birth Warrior?
The archetypal “Warrior” is often misunderstood. I’ve noticed that the mere mention of the word “warrior” can trigger instant resistance if the listener’s mind conjures up preconceived, oversimplified, negative associations with “war” or a destructive male force (e.g., a Hollywood “Rambo-like” character). Instead of trying to understand the archetype, these people often try to (get me to) rename this archetype with something more tame, nice or and Disney-sweet.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who barely hear my introduction of the archetypal “Love” Warrior before they turn this powerful archetype (enamored by the word “love”) into saccharine jargon befitting an emotional “cheerleader” or “savior” greeting card character. In general, sappy idealism about anything invokes simplistic, absolute, or dogmatic thinking and behavior (manifested by the Innocent, Magical, Victim or Judge Child archetypes).

So far I’ve given you hints about what the Warrior is not.
What does it look like when our Warrior is active?

I am challenged to describe the rich complexity of the Warrior in a brief blog. I will do my best, but will probably leave a little confusion.

In traditional societies, warriors must first learn patience and “seeing” to track and Hunt. When mothers prepare physically and mentally for labor, they are activating and cultivating their Huntress-Warrior qualities so that in the "battle" of labor/postpartum challenges, they are ready to use their skills in response to situations that arise.

Rather than having an attachment to a preconceived plan, when we are in our Warrior, our moment-to-moment action is guided by a deepest Question, such as, “What does this moment need?” This Question keeps the Warrior awake, ever-looking to “see” what needs to happen next, and then she does it. She takes care of business in the world and household, and she takes care of (rather than abandon) her “inner Child.”
When the Warrior archetype (healthy adult ego) is absent or asleep, we must defer to the Child archetypes to try to do make “adult” decisions, have “adult” conversations, and take actions that a child or Child not equipped to do. For example, just as (most) children are conditioned not to question or defy authority to avoid consequences, when an adult is in one her Child archetypes, she also cannot ask a big, busy doctor hard questions. This is why so many informed parents who are in their Child archetype will meekly nod their heads and do whatever the doctor says is best. The Child archetype cannot questions, or challenge or defy authority. But, later, when she is back in one of her “adult” archetypes is back on the “job”, the parent will muse over what happened, “Wow, I fell under the spell during that visit. I didn’t ask the questions I knew to ask, and that I meant to ask.”

The Warrior is the part of us that sees what needs to be done, and does it, but does nothing extra. The Warrior acts. She is deliberate. Whereas Child archetypes (Innocent, Magical, Victim, Judge) wait for others (with more knowledge, skill, power) to know what to do, to tell them what to do, or to act on their behalf. The Child archetypes act from the past, from habit-mind, in order to achieve a particular desired future.
Child archetypes can be impulsive; they also tend to engage in over-planning and strategizing trying to: get it right, please others, and achieve the outcome that will make them belong, be loved, be praised. Later, they use the outcome and the reactions/approval/disapproval of others to determine whether they “did the right thing,” whether they are “good,” “strong,” “worthy,” etc. This then leads to second-guessing, promising to get it right in the future, and moving the individual further from self-love and self-acceptance. You may already be able to see how this might not be helpful during the childbearing year.
But a Warrior neither lives in the past, nor strives for a specific kind of future. The Warrior is immersed in the moment. Naturally she draws from Knowledge gained from her past, but this is different from following Rules and Promises and Plans made in the past. A Warrior would never take a rigid "Battle Plan" into battle and try to get everyone to play their part so she will have it her way.
When we are in our Warrior, we are “awake,” aware, decisive. We are flexible, spontaneous, creative, AND at the same time, we are focused, with direction and purpose.
Toltec Master Allan Hardman defines the Love Warrior as one who “lives passionately without attachment to outcome.” This idea of being passionate without attachment to outcome is very difficult to grasp and it requires discipline to embody! But, it is the defining quality of a Warrior and worth cultivating, especially during the childbearing year.

Another defining quality of the Warrior is one who “sees” what needs to be done next and acts, doing only what needs to be done and nothing extra (and, of course, without attachment to outcome).

Now you are beginning to see how, by the time the Storyteller becomes a Warrior, she has “no story”?

A woman cannot be a Birth Warrior before her labor; she cannot even be a Birth Warrior in the midst of the intensity of birth. She is not a Birth Warrior (nor does she have a Birth Warrior Story) because she birthed "normally" or without drugs, or got everything on her birth plan. I hope you are beginning to see that to become a full-blooded Warrior, every woman must complete the Return and integrate her experience on every level.

I am enjoying your responses and enthusiasm about the birth as hero's journey entries. We are almost finished ...


Monday, August 15, 2011

BHJ cont. Ninth Gate: Gate of the Elders and Love Warrior

AUGUST 12, 2011

Dear Birth Peeps,
The Ninth and final Story Gate is the Love Warrior Story, and like the First Gate—it is also a Gate of “no story.” I also call this Gate the Gate of the Elders.

In this mandala, you see this Gate represented by two symbols: (1) a buffalo and her calf, and (2) a group of Elders who, having followed the Red Path all the Way, have completed their hero’s journey and their destiny.

The Buffalo and her Calf
Native Americans of the plains were dependent on the buffalo. With its sacrifice, the buffalo’s body and blood fed them, its hide provided shelter and clothing, its sinew became thread and its bones became knives and needles to sew the hide. The buffalo sustained them and so they equated the buffalo with Spirit that gives and sustains life, and on which humans are dependent.
One evening a few years ago, an old Oglala Lakota, Delbert Charging Crow, knocked on the door of my office. He was a quiet man with long grey braids and a box. We had never met, he was walking through the neighborhood and wanted to show me his animal carvings. I invited him in. We sat in the teaching room and one by one, he carefully took out small fetishes he had carved; for each animal he told me a story.
There was a horse, an eagle, a goat I think, and a “turning bear.” “Turning bears” have their head and neck turned sharply to represent turning one’s life in a new direction, a more positive direction. On the animal’s backs were tied a bundle of beads, a small feather, sometimes sticks, and a tiny leather pouch of sage (spirit food).
All of the animals, with the exception of one, the Buffalo, had a bundle. I asked Charging Crow why Buffalo did not have anything tied to her back. He explained that Buffalo does not need to carry food for itself because the buffalo is “food” for humans. The buffalo sacrificed its life to feed us, so it represents Spirit.

By the time the Storyteller reaches her Ninth Gate she has been fed by many listeners, advised by authors, and inspired by poets and spirit. She has deconstructed and reconstructed her story, given it new meaning, and “digested” it. Finally, no longer identified with the story, it no longer needs to be told or healed.
From that moment on, the now “elder” Storyteller becomes a bit like the Buffalo. An Elder Storyteller-Storylistener never tells her whole story to anyone. She keeps in her heart, knowing what and when to share a specific bit of her story—as Medicine. She doesn’t tell her story, or even a part of it, to get something back from the listener (e.g., sympathy, advice, assurance, praise, bonding). She may draw from her story-experience, without having to refer directly to it; Story Medicine comes in the form of a mirroring, validation, metaphor, or myth.
The little calf wanted to be there to remind us that our children are little story-listeners learning through our stories. Casual stories, judgments, and gossip, inform the young how to eat, love, give birth, and parent in such a way they will belong to the “herd.”
Grandparents used to be storytellers; children learned through oral history, family stories, fairytales, and legends. Hearing a story told (and animated) is much different than a story read or acted out on television.
If a child knows even one elder-Buffalo Storyteller, she will be given buffalo-story food. Later, even though she must go through her own hero’s journey initiation and ordeal, and climb her way out of the underworld, she will forever embody the story Medicine of the Buffalo Storyteller(s) in her youth. This kind of story becomes part of her internal map and thinking; it ensures her spiritual survival.
. . .

It is not likely an initiate will arrive at the Ninth Gate soon after giving birth, even if all goes well. There is a misguided notion that women who birth normally are not traumatized, or that they automatically attain some kind of magical Knowledge and can now teach others the “secret.” I would disagree.
It can take a long while to get to the Ninth Gate; there are no short cuts. We cannot get to the Ninth Gate by merely re-affirming positive affirmations, or by declaring we “learned a lesson,” or by just “letting it [i.e., the negative memories] go.” It is a deep descent, a steep climb. As Sufi Master Irina Tweedie once told me, “You have to want this as badly as a drowning man wants air.
The Key that opens this Gate is not one our rational minds can come up with, and certainly, no one else has the Key to our Ninth Gate.

The Elders in the North. The figures are small and few in number. In the scheme of this painting, you might not even notice them. In my own search for Ones Who Know, they were not easy to find. They don’t boast about their Medicine. They mind their own business, watching and waiting patiently for the initiate-Storyteller to arrive. They do not go down after the initiate-Storyteller, but perhaps Call to her from time to time.
Imagine birth in our culture when the numbers of Storytellers who complete this journey increase. This will happen when we begin to participate in birth as a hero’s journey, when we learn how to tell and how to listen to birth stories. This will happen when elders share their Birth Story Medicine with the initiates.

Today I have explained the symbols. In the next posting I will explain this Story, the pitfalls and tasks of this final Gate.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Another Change: Teaching Parents to "Hunt" during Pregnancy

August 8, 2011
Dear Hungry Birth Peeps,
Nobody is always “one” archetype. No matter how much we want to identify with one particular role/archetype, we cannot say of ourselves “I AM ‘A Hunter’” (or I AM the Innocent Child, Magical, or Victim/Judge, etc). We cannot think of another as “one” particular archetype either, e.g., “She IS a Victim.” This is because within all of us is a cast of characters that come and go playing their parts depending on the situation, relationship, and our conditioning. If in a particular moment we are immersed in “hunting,” then, in that moment we are manifesting the essence of the Huntress; we are Huntress. But … in the next moment, if we tire of the hard work and want to give up… another archetypal energy may become active; in that moment we are Victim! And so it goes.

So, in any given moment, the Hunter/Huntress/Seeker essence is either active, dormant, or at best, still embryonic waiting for life experience and apprenticeship to bring it forth. For example, the Huntress is not yet awake or cultivated in a small child. Why? Because a young child or (an adult, who in a particular dependent moment, is in a Child archetype) is being “fed” or is waiting to fed by others, be it food for their body or the “food” of being told what to think, what to do or not do, or what to do next. So long as the child (or an adult who is in a Child archetype) is comfortable, secure, and being fed by others, there is no Call to Hunt. Hunting is for the Hungry…. and for those who have learned how to hunt.
Hunting does not come naturally to modern humans, it must be learned. Traditionally, youth apprenticed to learn the skills of Hunting. Pregnancy is an ideal time for new parents to apprentice with an elder Huntress or Hunter.
Traditionally, Hunters shared the bounty of the hunt with others; s/he fed the village, each member given according to their need and custom. The Hunt begins with personal hunger, but it ends with sharing the food with everyone; Hunters do not hoard the “food” for themselves. BIRTHING FROM WITHIN mentors are learning to Hunt themselves so that they can teach “hungry” new parents to hunt.
In BFW classes parents learn to stalk their own mind with mindful pain-coping practices, day by day, not leaving this skill to chance during the upcoming Hunt/Ordeal!
Are you beginning to appreciate the difference between teaching new parents to Hunt, versus the old model of teaching them a technique or a dogma, or giving them their answers. Once any of us "knows" and are assured, our hunger to know is sated and we become sleepy. We complain of being dominated by patriarchy, but this model of birth will not change with more information and knowledge served on different plates. It will not change until and unless childbirth teachers become mentors who know themselves had to hunt, who know how to Hunt, and who can teach this skill to the next initiates.

Coming up to the Last Gate! The Long Journey is almost over.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

BHJ: cont. Eighth Gate: HUNTRESS

Dear Birth Peeps

I’ve been away for a few weeks. . . hunting! I missed you. Today we meet again at the Eighth Story Gate: Gate of the Huntress. You can see the Huntress or Seeker standing before a golden Eagle who’s wings are spread. The Huntress is looking out, looking far and wide, to see patterns and the whole picture, to “see” and to understand her story in the context of her past and future, how it relates to stories from seven generations past, and within the context of birth in her culture. She has moved from her personal story to her story within a collective story.

What brings a story-teller to the Gate of the Huntress, the Story Hunter?

Hunger. A gnawing hunger to know Who she is, Who birthed?, and how her birth experience relates to her past, her future, and in general to the larger picture of birth in our culture. When she becomes Hungry for personal freedom, soul food, and “truth” she either starts learning to hunt or finds a mentor/elder/story-listener who knows how to hunt and “apprentices.”
As the story-teller approaches this Gate, her questions move away from “Why did this happen to me?” or “What should I have done differently?,” or “What should I do differently next time to prevent or avoid [fill in the blank]?”.

A new question, a deeper question, a soul-question, begins to form; it’s a question that no one “out there”, no book, no research, can answer for her. Hunger awakens the inner-Huntress and the story-teller begin to stalk her mind, her habit thinking, beliefs, her heart, her story. Finally, with her attention turned inward, with her Ear turned inward, she may begin to hear the answer within.
In due time, many story-tellers feel the pangs of hunger and begin to “seek,” but . . . if they don’t know how to “hunt,” or if they get distracted by life, or perhaps confuse “hunting” with gathering more information (a task of the Medical Gate), they never pass over this Threshold.
Not every story-teller makes it to, or through, this Gate. Many birth stories arrest, for years, even a lifetime, at one of the previous Gates. This happens because:

(1) The wounded story-teller either believes that the birth is now in the past and it’s time to move on, or, she turns her attention to gathering information for the do-over birth (either her own or every one else’s!!). Either way, she quits self-inquiry not knowing what delicious insights lie within reach and thus, settles into a previous Gate.

(2) The story-teller is proud as a peacock for making correct choices that brought about her desired birth experience; she is no longer in inquiry. She knows, therefore, her search and her journey are over.

(3) Our culture has few “elder birth story-listeners” who know the Gates, the tasks at the Gates, and the Medicine for story-tellers. In the absence of elders, the floundering half-initiated, who is trying to make it all the way “home” on her own after the Ordeal. . . often believes what she “knows” is all there is to know, and she quits searching or she meanders between the former Gates, losing her way.
Of course, with sustained self-inquiry, a story-teller could do this on her own. But without a birth story process, ritual, or story-listener, it may take more timeto get through the Eighth Gate. It took me eight years to get through this Gate—trying to figure it out on my own. Perhaps with One Who Knows, it could happen sooner.

Here’s why it matters: Culture, including our birth customs, in this generation and the next, is shaped and reinforced by stories and story-tellers. When the majority of birth story-tellers (I assume it is a majority, but who has counted!) are still in Gates 2 to 6 or 7, they are actively, though unwittingly, teaching and conditioning the next generation of parents and birth peeps from stories with “incomplete understanding.”

Why a birth initiate need a story-listener, One Who Knows, during her Return.
Imagine a child, abandoned suddenly in the wild. Alone and hungry. Very hungry. Every attempt to hunt fails because s/he doesn’t know the terrain, the habits of the prey, how to use the tools of hunting. But hunger persists, and so the young hunter keeps trying and learning, until finally (unless starvation wins out first) s/he understands in a grand way. . . and finally succeeds.
Ideally, in traditional cultures, youth were taken to the wild by an elder hunter and taught, in a systematic, holistic manner about the terrain, the habits of the prey, the tools of hunting, and an inner awareness of themselves as hunter in relationship to the prey and environment. Within a much shorter time the child gained skill and the risk of starvation in the process was minimal.
This is one of the models I am proposing to change birth in our culture.

Only a Huntress can teach another to hunt.
Hunting is not a theory, it’s not something you learn from a book. It is embodied knowledge, and it’s knowledge that is passed on. And this is what Virginia and I are offering in BFW Birth Story Listening course. We believe that when our culture has “trained” birth story-listeners, more mothers, fathers, and birth peeps will make it all the way “home.” When this happens, the personal and collective birth story in our culture will change.

Are you hungry for more?