The Lightness of Being Organized

by Holly Keich   (originally published September 2011)

This past month, I’ve been trying to clear out dsc06821the mess contained in our basement to make way for a wonderful new useable, living space in our lives.  I was forced into cleaning by the heavy rains and subsequent flooding of our basement in this past April.  And finally I’ve scheduled the time and have started to get to work.  But every time I traverse into the depths of our basement, I wonder “Where do I start?”

Ironically, in the midst of clearing out magazine clippings that I’ve saved, I found an article on The Lightness of Being…Organized by Marilyn Paul. Paul is the author of It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys.  In an attempt to find a link to the article online, I stumbled across the FlyLady.  I’ve been told of her, even took steps to ‘like’ her on Facebook, but had yet to implement any of her suggestions to make my life flow easier.  Possibly both of these findings are signs that now was the time not only to revamp the basement, but to organize and supercharge my personal and spiritual growth as Paul’s article suggests.

Really, it could happen.  Don’t you feel more centered and focused in life after cleaning and organizing?  They say it’s in the mundane where spirit truly lies. By bringing awareness to the details of life and finding joy in them I’m certain I can bring sparks of holiness to my life and fill my every day tasks with bliss.

But the question still remains…”Where do I start?”  The obvious would be to work on the physical task of decluttering and purging, but clearing your mind must work synergistically with physical clearing.  Paul says, “Developing a spiritual practice can help you see with greater clarity the areas in your life that need cleaning up, literally and figuratively, and will help you accomplish the everyday organizing that we so often avoid: folding the laundry, washing the dishes, paying the bills.”  Here are some ideas taken from the article by Paul found in the March/April 2003 issue of Body&Soul about where to begin:

Meditation can help you to clear your mind and stop grasping for happiness through acquisition.  It can even help you cut back on the obligations in your life as you pare away what is necessary and what isn’t in your life.
Try this:  Your meditation does not need to be formal. When you have kids, it’s hard to find time for a formal meditation practice.  Instead, you can “sit” behind the wheel of your car when you are stuck in traffic, or pause at a coffee shop and close your eyes. Taking just a few moments to get lost between the thoughts typically governing your mind.

Mindfulness, bringing one’s attention to the present moment, to the direct, sensual, tactile engagement with your surroundings, rather than paying attention to the often negative chatter in the mind, can help you to get past the resistance of the mundane.  Making the bed, doing the dishes, picking up toys, scrubbing a burned pot can all be a way to directly engage with the world around us.
Try this:  Perform an ordinary everyday chore, maybe one that you typically dislike, with a quiet, attentive mind for just three minutes, as if this were the first time you ever performed this task.  Pay attention to your sensations – the feeling on your skin, what you see, the shapes and the sounds.  Notice your breathing. Observe the results. Consider incorporating this into your routine so you can do more of your daily tasks with a better attitude.

Sabbath, creating a time to deliberately do nothing on a weekly basis as a retreat from the everyday world of work, chores and obligations, gives you a time for renewing the soul.  Breaks are essential for your wellbeing and long-term productivity.  When you are refreshed, you can bring great insight and energy to bear on tasks and problems that seemed insurmountable just the day before.  For those of us who feel we are too busy for a Sabbath we can work towards it slowly by setting aside a few hours in the morning or evening to start and let go of the world of deeds.
Try this:  Pick some activities that are spiritually renewing for you. Perhaps you like to walk or meditate, Perhaps it’s time to play with the kids or to read.  Maybe you take out those watercolors that have been drying up in the closet. The important thing is to break your normal routine. This time will give you life if you give it life.

With a fresh mind, you can work towards purging and letting go of material objects that you may no longer need to possess.  Often we substitute things to obtain a spiritual connection with the world and once we’ve found that elsewhere we are better able to be free of possessions that are weighing us down.  You’ll have more ability to create your physical space with harmony and balance.  Finding a place for everything and putting (and keeping) everything in it’s place.  Clearing spaces allowing more spaciousness internally. Now, rather than engaging in a constant battle against the external disarray that is a reflection of your internal struggles we will be able to clean with ease.  And as we become more organized, we’ll find gaps in time that previously seemed chaotic and rushed.  Rather than filling those gaps with action, you can choose to use this time to deepen your soul-nourishing awareness.  Take that time to ask your soul what wants to emerge.  This creates sacred intervals throughout your day where you can tune into the abundant, rich qualities of life and truly enjoy each moment.


Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor and the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.

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Blessing the Way to Baby

Alison Cranford BlessingwayCompiled by Holly Keich

You may be asking yourself, what is a Blessingway? A simple definition is that it is an alternative baby shower for mothers. But Blessingways are so much more than that. A Blessingway is celebration given to a woman who is soon to give birth to honor her passage into motherhood, whether her first child or her last. It is centered on the mother and is intended to weave and strengthen a support network for the woman, reaffirming her inner strength, skill and intuition to be a role model and caretaker for this child.

While baby showers can be commercial in focus, a showering of gifts for the baby, a Blessingway is about honoring the woman, our friend, sister, daughter, mother-to-be. This is a sacred time in the mother’s life and deserves more than gifts of car seats, baby wipes and a sea of pink or blue gifts. A Blessingway acknowledges that the birth of a child, the becoming of a mother is a rite of passage that the woman is about to go through. It is a wonderful way to honor motherhood and provide the mother with a true show of support from her loved ones. The memories of this experience will last much longer than those newborn sleepers received at a shower.

Blessingways are steeped in a much more solid tradition than baby showers too. The Blessingway is reputed to derive from a Navajo people. The story of the creation of the Navajo people and their emergence onto their sacred homeland is recounted in a ceremony known as the Blessingway, which is the foundation of the Navajo way of life. The Blessingway is an important aspect of the Navajo religion and is not specific to pregnancy. It can be used for anyone expecting a baby, adopting a baby, or just in need of a celebration of life in general. Any life transition or celebration will work: divorce, move, career change, remarriage – the ceremony can be creatively adjusted for other life events. And it needn’t include only women. Yes, there are co-ed parent or family blessings. The father is included and treated to the same blessings at the mother.

The Navajo have a saying, “whatever happens here on Earth must first be dreamed”, and that’s exactly what a Blessingway does. When traditionally performed in it’s entirety, the Blessingway is a two-day ceremony whose purpose is to obtain peace, harmony, protection and to help realize the goal of a long, happy life.

 

The Basics of a Blessingway

Pre-Planning – Involve the mother-to-be in the planning process. By doing so, you empower her to make the ceremony her own and she can pick and choose what activities appeal to her. Some of the more traditional rituals may not be comfortable for everyone, so think of some modern alternatives like a day at the spa or “paint-your-own” pottery.

Invitations – Invitations are similar to any other invitation, but should have a positive woman centered theme. You may want to explain the purpose of a Blessingway – to bless the woman’s way into childbirth, so she can remember all women who have gone before her in childbearing and allow you to pledge your support as she enters into her birthing experience. Here is where you will want to indicate if you require the guest to bring something for an activity. You may also want to mention that gifts are not requested.

Attendees – Keep it small. 6-15 guests. Don’t invite anyone out of courtesy, but rather invite guests that really mean something to the mother and will positively contribute to her birthing or parenting experience and is supportive of her philosophies.

Location – Somewhere that has a calm, peaceful and relaxed feel about it. At your home or one of the other guest’s. If this isn’t an option, a park or an alternate serene setting can work.

Atmosphere – The atmosphere should be akin to a candlelight dinner. Relaxing music playing in the background, candles or incense burning, all things helping to trigger a wonderful response by the guests and leave them with a sensory memory of the occasion. Turn off the phones and pagers. This is a sacred moment that shouldn’t be interrupted.

Food – Typically food at a blessingway has meaning behind it. Everyone could bring a dish that reminds them of their mother or a comfort food. Or everyone could bring a dish that represents the mother’s favorite food. For example, have everyone bring a chocolate treat if mama is a chocoholic. The point is that it is something from the heart.

 

Blessingway Rituals

Whatever you do at a Blessingway, it should serve to strengthen and uplift the mother-to-be. Be open to customizing activities to suit the mother’s definition of being uplifted.

Foot Washing – symbolizes readiness for a journey or new beginning, and handwashing will clean away fears. The feet or hands should be dried and can be smoothed and massaged with cornmeal, or anointed with oils. The midwife or mother is usually the one to honor the mother with these aspects, but it can provide a wonderful time for guests to bestow quiet words of love and encouragement.

Hair Brushing and Braiding – is another way to nurture and pamper the mother. If there is a brush that is, for example an heirloom this can act as a way to connect the mother to her female ancestors. Adorning her hair with flowers can also help connect her to Mother Earth.

Necklace– Each guest brings a special bead to string on a necklace for the mother to wear until and through labor. A nice way to approach this ritual is by sitting in a circle and passing the cord, each guest adding a bead, or beads for each number of children they have, then the mother can add a final bead after the birth to represent her own child. The necklace or bracelet symbolizes the strength of our shared experiences as mothers and women.

Bracelet – Similarly, a ball of beautiful string is used to connect each woman’s wrist to one another’s in the circle – a web of womanhood. When the cord connects all of you, explain that this unites you all as sisters and represents the circle of sisters and the circle of life. Then you cut the cord, leaving enough length to tie the ends into a bracelet. Explain that thought it appears we were then separate, the bracelet reminded us as women, we were all gut from the same ball of yarn, You may suggest that the woman wear the bracelet until the birth as a reminder of the same strength a group of women can hold for a birthing mother.

Candles – Either making them as a group or giving them as a party favor. The reason being is that all the guests will be asked to light the candle when they are notified that the mother is in labor and will leave it lit until the baby arrives.

Smudging – Taken from the Navajo origins of the Blessingway, if the Blessingway is taking place in the Honoree’s home, a bundle of dried sage is often lit, then the flame burned out and the sage is allowed to slowly burn down. This is to symbolize a cleansing of the woman’s home, either for a homebirth or for the arrival home from the birthplace, purifying of her soul and blessing for the birth and baby.

Belly Casting – is another ritual that can be very fun. Either to have the guests cast the mothers belly and chest, or to have the cast already done and ready for the guests to paint or decorate.

Painting the Mother’s Belly with Henna or Paint

Song – Such a wonderful way to invite a loving spirit. Many women like to have each guest sing a lullaby their mother used to sing or one they have used with their own children. If all the guests are familiar with one particular son, say a lullaby , spiritual hymn, this can also be sung together as a group.

Sending away your trouble or fears – by having guests voice them, write them on paper, and then burn them from a bowl and sending them away.

Storytelling – Each woman’s personal birth stories (but beware if you think horror stories will be passed around. Remember you are strengthening and uplifting the mother!), or stories of how each guest knows the mother or inspirations stories of each guests relationship to the mother – how they met her, what drew them to her, why she was important to them. This can be done during the hair brushing or foot washing or during candle lighting. This can also take the form of poetry reading or reciting an inspirational story or fable, and either have just one read or invite the guests to bring a poem or story of their own to read.

Quilting – Probably one of the oldest forms of female rituals. It’s very meaningful to ask in the invitation for each guest to bring a customized quilt square that tells of a certain quality the mother possesses. Either assemble the quilt at the Blessingway or assign a friend to complete the quilt and present it to the mother and baby after the birth. This will become an heirloom that tells a story about the mother.

Keepsake Journal – This can be passed around during the foot washing or hair brushing for the guests to write down inspirational thoughts and poems. After the birth, the mother can write of the baby’s birth story.

Nurture Basket – In the invitation, instead of baby gifts, instruct the guests to bring a gift that would uplift, inspire, or nurture the mother. This can be gift certificates for a massage or restaurant, bath goodies, books or journals, framed quotes, drawings or photos, luxurious robes or pajamas, teas or chocolates, etc.

Prayer Flags – Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, these are strips of cloth that are cut about 3”x18”. They are handed to each guest to write a birth blessing or positive message on it. When the guests are through the mother is given the flags to read and take with her to her place of birth. Messages can be anything. Some examples include: “You are a strong woman.” “Your baby will be born at the right time.”

 

Make sure to take pictures of the event!

For more ideas about Blessingways, be sure to look in Jennifer Louden’s, Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book. Another great resource is Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers – Celebrating Pregnancy, Birth and Motherhood by Shari Maser.

No matter how you choose to celebrate the birth of a new baby, it is a special occasion. For women, a Blessingway can be an opportunity to show our spirit and support for another woman we love. She can garner our collective experiences and power and use it to solidify her own strength to follow her new path. It is a time to celebrate and rejoice in new life.

 

An Ode to Faith

-by Patrick Overter

When you have come to the edge

Of all the light you know,

And are about to step off

Into the darkness of the unknown,

Faith is knowing that

One of two things will happen,

There will be something solid to stand on,

Or you will be taught how to fly.

 

Resources:

http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=667

http://thebirthsource.homestead.com/blessingway.html

http://www.mothering.com/beads-and-blessings

http://pregnancy.about.com/cs/blessingway/a/aa102202a.htm


Holly supports mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2009.  Om Baby is located in Camp Hill, PA and is available for Blessingway rentals.

Respect the Nest

Respect the Nest
by Linda Louise Henry

Linda after the birth of her baby, Zara.

Linda after the birth of her baby, Zara.

What is the “Nest”?
 
It’s a 40 day “laying in” period immediately following birth where the new mother does nothing but love her baby and herself. She accepts food from others, she basks in the sacred space that naturally follows a birth, while others tend to her needs as well as the needs of her household. Traditionally and historically, this practice has been adhered to as part of the birth experience. But for some reason, we don’t practice it anymore in our culture and I’m beginning to wonder if there is a connection between this loss and the epidemic in postpartum depression.
We all agree that the postpartum time is HARD for EVERYONE. We all agree that the new mom needs endless amounts of support, emotionally and physically. And yet, this nesting period still fails to receive the type of attention we all agree it needs.
After giving birth 6 times, and working with birthing women for many years, I began to have a “hunch” about the importance of an optimal nesting time. I was also able to experience it first hand as I prepared for the birth of my 7th child a couple of years ago I write about the experience and how I created my nest in more detail here
 
The short answer is that it changed who I am. While living it, I realized how huge it is, and started doing research about it and writing about it. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
 
With the advances in technology – we now have never before known data on how an infant’s brain and emotional intelligence is formed from the beginning of its life. In a nutshell, during the prenatal time,  the birth experience and the first few months of life, there is extreme “plasticity” of the brain. The neural connections are just beginning to happen and are firing at a phenomenal rate, a constant explosion of brain activity never matched again in life (these trillions of connections exceed those that you and I adults have, and will subside connecting at around 3 years old – after that, the existing connections are either strengthened or pruned away). These neural connections form the beginning of how this baby will think and feel about life, the world, and itself. During some of these times, there are also “windows” of opportunity that will never be open again after they close. For example, if a baby is born with congenital cataracts, successful surgery allowing the baby to see clearly can be done effectively only if performed before 3 months old. After this window closes, the chances of that person seeing clearly decrease significantly.
 
This makes me wonder what other things in the brain are so vulnerable and then so cemented at such early ages. The eye/vision thing is easily measurable. But what about things that are not so easy to measure such as the ability to love at a certain level, or the amount of trust that person will be capable of in its life. It is extremely possible that many of these foundational building blocks that are essential for a healthy fulfilling life, are formed during this sensitive time. It just makes sense. The first experiences a person has, shape that person. The epic question “Nature or Nurture” has now been answered fairly well in that these first experiences have a significant impact on shaping a person’s brain wiring. Scientifically speaking anyway (for more great information on “Primal Health”, visit Dr. Michel Odent’s website WombEcology where he explores the lifelong impact of early fetal life experience).
 
Historically, most other cultures have recognized the importance of the nest, where an honoring of a 40 day “laying in” time seems to have been the norm – the women within the tribes or villages would tend to and care for the new mother by feeding her good healing foods, massaging her daily, taking care of her household needs and sometimes, conducting public ceremonies that introduce motherbaby back into the group for the first time. In many cultures now, these practices still happen. Some countries have even instituted within their government systems, a fully supported postpartum care time both physically and financially. Within the systems that this policy is in place for, sometimes up to 3 years time, it’s not surprising that they have an economic superiority over the rest of the world, as well as an overall superiority within their infrastructure (quality education and social programs, lower mortality rates, etc.).  Rainne Eisler writes about this topic in “The Real Wealth of Nations” – where she discusses the many benefits of instituting a “Caring Economics”.
 
The experiences a person has at the beginning of their life are critical in the development of that person, and on a mass scale, we need to realize that these experiences have a significant impact on a society. It’s important. To everyone.
 
What I found for myself as a mother during my nesting time, was such a huge loving space that seemed endless. I was able to really process the previous 9 months, I was able to assimilate the whole experience of labor and birth, of my changing body and my changing life. At the end of it, I really felt very prepared for my responsibility as Zara’s mother – and after such a long time of being in my nest, I felt ready to “get out” into life again. Even after going back to regular life, I kept my nest intact for as long as I could, loving that I had a safe, comfortable space for me and my baby anytime I wanted to go back to it. I felt for the first time after all of my other births, that I had fully completed the birth process. I never understood why I had felt so “empty” and vulnerable during the first few weeks postpartum all the other times I had given birth. It all makes sense to me now!
 
It also makes sense that a happy mother equals a happy baby – and what better way to have a happy mother than to give her a large block of time to do nothing but enjoy her baby and gently adapt into her new mother role. I saw the phrase “honoring confinement rituals” recently and love how this phrase conveys the spirit of this special time.
 
It’s a huge answer to the loss that so many women feel following a c-section or a birth that didn’t go according to the birth plan. Unlike the birth experience itself, a mother has total control over the creation of and the time spent in the nest. If these mothers had the nest to retreat into, it would be significant in helping them process their experience – not to mention giving them the recovery time they really need. Breastfeeding gets the very best start too and we all know how important that is.
 
By bringing back the Nest – we give the best to motherbaby.
 
Mother is honored, respected and revered in a very real practical way. Baby is respectfully welcomed and given the best possible start in its life within a safe loving nest that optimally, follows a safe, peaceful and empowering pregnancy and birth.
 
Just because this practice has been lost somewhere along the line (maybe when birth started moving into the hospitals?), that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t still respect this time as much as we can. In fact, for all the same reasons so many of us birth workers have committed our life’s work to birth issues – the nest time deserves the same attention. It’s been the “missing link”, I believe, in our work as birth women and it’s time we start instituting it within our maternal care work. We’ve tended to separate prenatal care, birth and postpartum as different events. I’d like to offer that we begin to move towards a place of CONTINUITY of care where we treat the whole process as one event. Including a 40 day standard postpartum nest time. I can see many people blowing this off as impossible in our modern culture. But, sit with it for a while and see what your inner wise woman says – then start talking to HER about it! My guess is you’ll start seeing this in a new light. Soon, we can all begin to create a dialog about how we can creatively and realistically start instituting the Nest.
 
By honoring the Nest, we are giving our future a strong advantage in feeling secure and loved, which, compounded, may very well be the thing that will shift humanity into a true civilized state where all  living things are treated equally and with respect, ushering in the evolution of our species that we have all been waiting for.
 
 
Author Linda Louise Henry is a Maternal Care Specialist, a birth rights activist – a mother of 7 and a grandmother.
 
Linda shares her stories with new mothers at her blog“Nest”.