Honouring the rites of passage in motherhood

Through the “Walking the Celtic Wheel” course with Roseleen McNally of the Thirsty Soul, my Reiki teacher and mentor, Shamanic Practitioner & Ceremonialist, I learned that there is power and renewal in taking time to express gratitude for what has been and set soul-centered intentions for what will be. Roseleen supported me with beautiful bespoke ceremonies for some of the most important events in my life. The healing of my birthing story, the start of a new decade, and the celebration of the birth of my son with a wonderful naming ceremony. For each ceremony, I experienced a huge shift in my energy and the capacity to step into a new cycle of life. I felt supported and guided during a powerful time of passage.

“Les Rites de Passage” a book published in France in 1909 by Arnold van Gennep a Dutch–German-French ethnographer and folklorist, introduces the notion that an individual’s life consists of a series of transitions and that these consist of three stages - separation from the old role, a liminal period between roles, and the assumption of the new role.

Van Gennep opens the book by noting the universality of rites of passage in the life course: “The life of an individual, regardless of the type of society, consists in passing successively from one age to another and from one occupation to another. E.g. pregnancy, delivery, birth, childhood, puberty, initiation, engagements and marriage, funerals, etc. Such rites, he argues, are also to be found accompanying the regular passages that take place in time and season: rites of the full moon, festivals celebrating seasonal changes, and New Year’s celebrations."

In her influential 1966 book, Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas, a British anthropologist, draws out theoretical implications from van Gennep’s concept of the sacred nature of the liminal stage, the merge, giving special attention to the dangerous quality that this state often has. Without a ceremony, or social recognition that the passage deserves, stepping into this new terrain may not feel like a homecoming but more like a death, or a disorienting shift into feeling lost.

“The person who must pass from one state to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time, and then publicly declares his entry to his new status.” Writes Mary Douglas. "The lack of rites of passage leaves individuals in a marginal state."

"Every ancient culture has rites of passage for pubescent youth, rites which transform girls into women and boys into men. Without it, young people self-initiate. The media tells them how a man or woman should be and our youngsters create their own ways of proving their adulthood through feats, dares, and adventures. They try to appear like adults in what they do and how they look: using clothes, make-up, drink, cigarettes, cars, and sex."

William Bridges, American author, speaker, and organizational consultant, in his book "The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments" (2001), in which he chronicles his wife’s dying process and his own parallel transition says:

“Whatever its details, an outer loss is best understood as a surrogate for some inner relinquishment that must be made, but one that is difficult to describe. What it is time to let go of is not so much the relationship or the job itself, but rather the hopes, fears, dreams, and beliefs that we’ve attached to them. If you only let go of the job or the relationship, you’ll just find another one and attach the same hopes, fears, dreams, and beliefs to it.

The danger is that the person will fail to grasp the inner message and conclude that the outer change is the whole story. I myself had done that by believing that 'moving country' and 'finding my new career' were ends to themselves. Fortunately, my struggle took me long enough so that I had time to discover that what I had to let go of had far less to do with vocational activity and geography than with the programming that had carried me through the first forty years of my life.

In the West, we associate development with learning and adding to what is already there – as I realized with my meeting of consultants during the winter after Mondi died. But there is an older (and, I believe, deeper) wisdom that tells us that it is by unlearning and stripping away what is there that we grow”.

Think of your whole motherhood journey and the passages that you have already gone through such as pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, post-partum, never-pregnant, menopausal, empty-nest…etc. while possibly navigating at the same time other fundamental passages such as weddings, change of job/career/country, separations, losses etc.

Have you taken the time to honor and celebrate these transitions? To deeply connect with yourself and understand how you want to show up in your new identity and phase of your life?

The intention of Mothers Moments, my monthly circles for mothers is to support you during these transitions. A space where you can heal, listen to your inner self, learn from other women’s experiences, and transform.

“Life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be reborn. It is to act and to cease, to wait and to rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way. And there are always new thresholds to cross: the threshold of summer and winter, of season or a year, of a month of a night; the thresholds of birth, adolescence, maturity, and old age; the threshold of death and that of the afterlife, for those who believe in it.” Says Arnold van Gennep.

The alternation of letting go of an old world and beginning a new one is the rhythmic pattern underlying life itself. The heart is nothing more than an organ that does that with our blood. Our lungs do the same thing with the air we breathe. The air does the same thing with blood – leaving it behind when we exhale and reentering it again when we inhale. The earth lets the fallen rain go back into the atmosphere and then reincorporates it after it falls again. There is a time for living and dying, a basic alternating current of the universe that drives the blood, the breath, and the weather.” William Bridges.

"Where are your western women?"

The process of birth is a shattering experience. For the mother and the baby and the father if he witnesses it. But it is also a catalyst such as many other shattering experiences. Something new is trying to be born, to be created. There is a need to expand, to go back to our wholeness, made of masculine and feminine energies. The same wholeness and energies needed for the spiritual creational act as well as the Big Bang. A wholeness vital for both our well-being and the well-being of our planet.

The outer focus, predominant in our modern society, is a masculine approach. An approach that we have grown more focused on, in the last 100 years, at the expense of our inner world, our feminine side. As a result, we see in the world, an imbalance of masculine and feminine.

The masculine, the light, the sun, tends towards structure, law, rules, and static. The feminine is more fluid, dynamic, and chaotic. It represents the darkness of the womb, the moon, the reflected light.

There is a clear effort to restore balance but it often seems that this effort has become corrupted by confusion of what really is masculine and what is feminine.

Author and environmentalist John Perkins writes about the Shuar, an indigenous ethnic group of the Amazon. He describes their gender differences and how they segment their society along gender lines. The men hunt, fish, and cut down trees to build huts and canoes and the women take care of the children, and gather wild edibles. Both men and women are represented on the tribal council and there is no battle of the sexes going on. Men and women understood themselves in a larger context going through a lot of qualitative aspects of being a man and a woman. They play to each other strength rather than their weaknesses.

But there is one job that only women can do and the survival of the tribe depend upon the woman for doing this one job. The Shuar tribe understands that the masculine nature tends towards being goal-oriented, directed, aggressive, competitive, pedal to the medal and that woman’s nature is much more intuitive, community-oriented, grounded in relationships. Whether is the needs of the tribe or the needs of their relationship with the earth. So the men absolutely depended upon the women to tell them when to stop. The men will fish until there are no more fish. They will hunt until there are no animals. The women tell them when to stop and they listen.

The shaman in the tribe asked Perkins “Why aren’t your western women telling you to stop? You are taking the world over a cliff, depleting resources. Why? Where are your women?”

We have been busy making a living, being just as aggressive as man, having no clue where the stop button is, probably more than any man. Because we have more to prove because we often feel that we have to fight for our place in the world, to get credibility and validity.

To reconnect with our wisdom we need to pause and look inside. To see the outer shift we need to move inward. We need to heal the imbalances within and restore a state of wholeness.

It is possibly not about equality. Masculine and feminine are different and we need to respect those differences. We are meant to be different not the same. But that doesn’t mean that we are not equally valuable and important. We need to move towards embracing differences and equally valuing both masculine and feminine qualities. And that is going to start by valuing the feminine within ourselves, within all of us both women and men.

The value of the feminine is the beauty of what is inside of us. It is innate. It doesn’t require demonstration or achievement in order to be deemed worthy. It is already worthy. It is what gives us the power to birth things into the world.

We need to bring masculine and feminine energies within ourselves to balance.

Trying to be in the masculine energy all the time is depleting and makes us sick. We can clearly see an imbalance in the world around us and that is a reflection of what is happening within us.

The useful and the beautiful are equally essential. If we think only in terms of what is useful and what is not, we have to get rid of all the flowers and grow only vegetables.

The feminine needs to shift and women in particular can lead the way. How?

Practices such as yoga, meditation, breathwork, and reiki, are my tools to shift me out of doing and relax into being. When I give myself permission to simply be:

  • I am reminded that it is ok to let things unfold, instead of always trying to direct and control them.
  • I am able to listen to my inner intuition beneath the chatter of the mind.
  • I can deeply connect with my body and its signals.
  • I nurture the feminine energy within me, its creativity, beauty, joy, passion, and power.

In the last few years, I have also been focused on exploring how to infuse the energy of being into the doing. Instead of taking time outs during the day to be and then falling back into the productivity grind, I am trying to unlearn concepts and ways of acting so ingrained in my system. I am learning to be more intentional about how I work, to be able to run a soul-centered business.

It is a continuous and fluid process. Listen to your intuition, constant trial and error, and have fun along the way!

Decision making and Well-being

Mothers are influential leaders who provide the foundations for future generations. As any leaders and decision-makers, they often have to make challenging decisions that can make or break their own well-being and the well-being of their families. Exactly like the decisions of a leader can make or break the success of a business. Think of choices such as plans after maternity leave, childcare, education… and the list goes on.

Three crucial qualities that leaders develop to become great decision-makers are I) emotional intelligence, II) the ability to handle uncertainty, and III) the ability to weigh evidence with intuition.

  1. Emotional Intelligence, the ability to understand and manage your emotions and those of others, is one of the most important qualities a leader must possess. When you are aware of and you can manage your own emotions, you make decisions that are not influenced by feelings such as anxiety, fear, anger, or even overexcitement. You first enter a place of calm and clarity to understand what you are experiencing and why. You don’t want to take feelings out of the decision-making process but you want to be aware of them.
  2. So often we need to make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Uncertainty creates discomfort and analysis paralysis but if we are able to accept the uncertainty that is truly unresolvable, rather than investing limited time, energy, and resources to try and resolve it, we can focus on making the best decision in the face of an uncertain outcome.
  3. Excellent leaders often say that they go with their gut to make decisions. They are able to trust themselves and their expertise and not get stuck in the cycle of overthinking.

How do we develop these skills?

Inner connection is an infallible guidance as it provides us with awarenesstrust, and intuition. It leads us to respond perfectly in all situations. The more and more connected we are with ourselves the more we become our inner gurus.

In our non-stop, busy, technology-filled world, it can be easy to get stuck in our minds and not be able to listen to our inner wisdom. By making time in our daily lives for meditative practices, such as meditation, yoga nidra, and breathwork, we reconnect with our being and consciousness.

We become better decision-makers and the decisions that we make bring us a sense of joy and well-being simply because we decide according to our values and vision. Indeed there is typically no right or wrong answer. In the worst-case scenario, we decide for the wrong option but even if this happens we can learn how to handle the outcome and make the best of it. You may even find unexpected opportunities by going down the “wrong” path.

Do you have an important decision to make? Can you take three days for yourself? Sit in silence. Simply be. Away from phone, television, Internet, books, external noise, recommendations, and opinions.

You may find yourself claiming your own wisdom and knowing, even against self-doubt, external pressure, and criticism.

And if you can’t escape for your own retreat, shoot me an email. A few well-being sessions may be what you need to connect you with that soft little voice inside you, that too often goes unnoticed.

Mothers' spiritual circles

Spiritual well-being has lately become a huge and impactful wellness trend. But what is it? And how do we get spiritually healthy?

Spiritual well-being relates to our sense of life meaning and purpose.

Spirituality involves the recognition that there is something greater than ourselves, something more to our sensory experience, something that goes beyond our biological needs that drive selfishness and competitiveness. It means knowing that we are a significant part of a greater whole which is cosmic or divine in nature.

Spirituality is not to be confused with religion, even if the two can overlap for someone. While spirituality is “a sense of connection to the universe and to a higher power” religion can be defined as “an organized system of worship that gives a framework to the relationship we have with the universe and with a higher power.”

Spirituality involves exploring themes such as love, compassion, altruism, generosity, life after death, wisdom, trust, and truth.

Gabor Mate’ a Canadian physician and author, specializing in addiction, trauma, childhood development, and the relationship between stress and illness, discusses trauma and spiritual awakening with A.H. Almaas. Author, spiritual teacher, and founder of the Diamond Approach, a spiritual path that integrates contemporary psychology with spirituality.  They agree; when trauma is not treated, is on the way to spiritual development.

The spiritual journey involves first healing. When we work on healing our trauma, small and/or big, we give ourselves the possibility to experience positive states. We are less constrained by ego defenses and able to develop secure self-esteem, belief in self-worth, and a capacity for love and compassion.

The development of spirituality generally requires practice and discipline in order to make ‘progress'.

Traditional Yoga practices such as postures, meditation, breathing exercises, chanting, connection with sacred texts, ceremonies, and rituals are spiritual practices.

A beautiful way for women to do healing and spiritual work together is through women’s circles.

These are spaces for women to sit together in a circle, to practice, talk and listen. It is not therapy, other women don’t offer advice or pass judgment. It is simply a safe space to show up fully as themselves. A place to feel held, seen, heard, and witnessed. A space where to take a break from the demands of the outside world, free of judgment, competition, expectation, pressure, or noise. A space to go inwards and reconnect. A non-judgmental space to share or not, anything that might be rising. A non-hierarchical place, where all the participants are teachers and students, learning from each other.

When women sit in circle, they connect to the universe so that they reinstill faith and nourishment in their journeys and the power of the feminine which is in ourselves but often forgotten.

When women sit together they don’t simply create space for their own healing, spiritual growth, and overall well-being. They hold the space for the spiritual growth of their children, families, and society. A healthy society where the feminine aspect of life (music, art, aesthetics, love, joy, creativity..) is as important as economics, science, technology, rationality, and achievements... Where the useful and beautiful are equally valued and all women and men can harmoniously tap into these dualities.

Dr Lisa Miller, a professor, researcher, and clinical psychologist, best known as a research scholar on spirituality in psychology, found that "when mother and child were both high in spirituality, the child was 80% protected against depression, compared with mothers and children who were not concordant for spirituality, or mothers and children who were not high in spirituality. In other words, a child was 5x less likely to be depressed when spiritual life was shared with a mother".  Her research shows that spirituality not only was a huge protective factor, but it was the biggest protective factor over the course of an entire lifetime.

When we practice spirituality we enhance our mental health, immune function, and longevity. We take greater care of ourselves, our children, families, society, and the world at large. 

Your breath is your anchor!

“Does he breathe?” was the very first question I asked as soon as my son was born. Straight after a very loud crying wouldn’t have let me hear any answer. I knew then that he safely made it earthside.

The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā II:3, a classic fifteenth-century Sanskrit manual on yoga, says “As long as there is breath in the body, there is life; when breath ceases, death follows. Therefore learn to master (prolong) breathing”.

The Sanskrit word pranayama consists of two words: prana and ayama.

  • “Ayama” means stretch or extend and describes the action of pranayama.
  • “Prana” refers to “that which is infinitely everywhere” or life-giving force.

Training the breath has many benefits for mothers, before, during, and after giving birth.

When we are pregnant we are literally breathing for two. The mother provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby and removes waste products from the baby’s blood through the placenta. Shortness of breath can be common especially during the third trimester due to the restricted movement of the diaphragm.

Through the regulation of the breath, the movements of chest muscles and diaphragm enhance the function of the lungs allowing greater oxygen uptake, essential to building new cells, strengthening the immune system, producing energy, and detoxifying the blood. We massage bowels and kidneys, aiding good digestion and elimination of toxins, fundamental for the growth of the fetus. We also stimulate the liver, spleen, and stomach, supporting a good absorption of nutrients for the mother.

When we regulate the breath we relax the body as it stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the fight and flight reflex while activating the relaxation response, which reduces the heart rate and blood pressure. The body is then able to relax and rest.

Relaxation has enormous benefits for the fetus as it prevents low birth weight, improves developmental and obstetric outcomes, and reduces postpartum complications.

Pranayama practices are a powerful way to build a bond and connect more fully to the baby from the womb. Babies recognize relaxed breath patterns and the rhythm and sound of the mother’s breath which will be key for the mother-infant dyadic regulation.

Breathing techniques are extremely useful to manage fear as birth approaches and pain during labor as they facilitate the handling of sharper contractions.

Training the breath allows us to relax, concentrate, rest, center, improve our vitality, access inner strength, and give us a great sense of embodiment. All key elements for mothers dealing with tiredness during pregnancy, postpartum depletion, toddlers' tantrums, and throughout the entire motherhood journey.

When a woman is calm, joyful, and in good health, this is the world her baby enters and in which it learns how to live.

And as Tich Nhat Han, the father of Mindfulness, said “When you hold your child in your harms if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold”.