The female body holds sacred mysteries. She offers up teachings on cycles, pleasure, nourishment, release, gestation, blood, emergence, involution and dare I say she holds secrets about the great beyond; she can take us to the precipice of wild no-mind and spit out new life.
These observations rest on the good fortune of finding myself in a female form and on many years of witnessing the ways of pregnancy and birth. With or without giving birth or being present at a birth, or even living in a female body, the lessons are rich and available to all.
We all conceive. The word itself shares root meaning with the word accept. Conception is the alchemy that transpires when seed meets fertile matrix. When an idea is sparked and begins to proliferate and find acceptance in a fertile psyche, like the thought of building a bridge, writing a song, going to school to learn plumbing, beginning a relationship or even a desire to liberate oneself from bondage. Where does the spark come from?
We all gestate. Seeds are planted, sometimes aborted willingly or lost with great sadness. Most often seeds are planted and then take on their own life. When “pregnant,” we feel the draw of energy that is demanded by our seedling. We ride waves of excitement, nausea, anticipation and doubt. And at some point, inquiry arises as to why we are doing what we’re doing. What’s this all about? Who’s in charge here?
We all give birth. New seasons of our lives, art, relationships, projects, careers, even freeing ourselves from caught places all come into being. Yet before they emerge there must be an opening. When observing human birth, one is drawn into the dance between contraction and expansion, the rhythms of yielding and efforting. How many times have I heard myself say to a birthing woman there’s no controlling this process, it’s all about letting go. Yet there is a call for strength, endurance and labor in this shape-shifting experience. These qualities arise naturally to meet the moment in which they are needed.
With each contraction the uterine muscle thins and opens below and gathers strength at the top until eventually there is a passageway for descent and emergence. A generous amount of muscle has collected at the top of the womb for bearing down on the baby. Most folks who aren’t in the birth world are surprised to learn that the uterus does a significant amount of the work of pushing a baby out. The mother’s amazing body involuntarily begins pushing when she needs to add her own efforts. I’ve assisted with hundreds of births in which the mother was never coached to push …. pushing happens when it needs to happen. Giving birth requires no fancy thinking or doing and in fact is often hindered by these very assumptions. The dharmic principle of effortless efforting is on full display when observing a mother give birth instinctually. She is transported into a wild flow. Analysis and discursive thinking give way to surrender, release, intuitive knowing and often rapture. It’s just unfurling all by itself and resistance to what is happening only creates more discomfort and suffering.
Can you feel these truths as you move through this experience of being human? Myself, it helps me to remember that contractions are also expansions, that stretching is uncomfortable and sometimes even excruciating, but essential to opening. That natural urges to put forth effort can be trusted. Also, that I can honor my urges to pause, to yield, to groan. And that ultimately letting go is not optional.
Naki (Kim James) is a retired midwife and retired Buddhist who is currently devoted to practicing the art of flow.