Pregnant in Paris: that was me in 1970, with not a female relative in sight.
How could I prepare myself to give birth to my baby?
I took refuge in books on natural childbirth. And that’s when I discovered that ‘transition’ is a critical phase in the birthing process.
When the time came and after twenty-eight hours of hard labour I plunged into transition, everything went haywire. I no longer knew who I was, where I was, or what was happening. The long process of dilation of the cervix had come to an end. The stage of pushing had not yet begun. I was told that to push too soon was the worst thing I could do. So here I was, tossed around in the space between. I felt distressed and disoriented, completely lost despite all my preparations.
‘This is one of the most difficult phases of labour’, said Sheila Kitzinger, whose book was my favourite. She added, ‘This is the point in labour when you may forget that you are having a baby.’
What a remarkable thing to say! Do you know that feeling —of being so disoriented by change that you lose sight of what it’s all about, and the promise of delivery?
Fortunately, half an hour later something shifted, I began pushing hard, entering into the next stage with great relief. But in transition I felt completely out of control.
This bumpy spring
Do you ever wish that transitions could be less bumpy — more gentle and predictable perhaps? Here we are in the midst of a seasonal transition, and it’s anything but smooth.
It’s hard to tell. Now you see it, now you don’t. In this dance, or rather prance, winter seizes the ankles one day, pulling spring back into chilly blasts, and then a few days later, here is spring shaking off the interruption like a wet puppy and bouncing forward with a wagging tail.
Transitions, whether rough or smooth can be unsettling, bringing vulnerability and disorientation. Just as you become comfortable with one state of being, you are asked to move on. And you don’t know where you are any more. Your patterns and habits have been disrupted. Sometimes you just want to dig your heels in and stay put.
One woman posted this response to my last newsletter, ‘Waking up’:
I find I want to hide away at this time of year. The cycle of spring can be so powerful as nature emerges with her energy, the light so bright. . . My energy can be slow to rise from the solitude of winter and cosy fire warmth.
Do you ever feel like that, reluctant to step into the brightness of spring? On the other hand, maybe you are eager for newness, but just as you leap forward, you are knocked back and find yourself reeling like a newborn lamb in a snowdrift.
Transitions, whether we like it or not, are always happening. Transitions are part of life.
There are processes that can help. Childbirth instructors give breathing techniques. Another excellent strategy for any kind of transition is mindfulness: staying present, whatever the moment brings. And there is something else, that has supported people since ancient times.
Ritual provides structure, safety and solidarity. People have always ritualised the major transitions of life—and that includes the shifts between seasons: from planting to growing, harvest to fallow, or awakening to planting once more. Rituals bring families and communities together to dance, sing, join hands and cross the challenging thresholds of life.
I describe such rituals in detail in my book Celebrating the Southern Seasons, which some of you know well. At Matariki, Maori welcome in a new year. At Te Koanga they plant kumara with rituals of chanting and offering. At Samhain, the Celts lit bonfires to light the way into the dark of winter. At Winter solstice, communities throughout Europe enacted fire ceremonies to align with the birth of the sun, almost as if not to notice, not to welcome in the sun’s return, might make it go away.
You too can ritualise seasonal change and personal transitions. If you can embrace these times rather than fighting them, you will find that transitions teach resilience.
Resilience, from Latin re, meaning ‘back’, and salire ‘to jump’, means to jump back into shape, to recover strength quickly. But, as I say in Dancing with the Seasons:
We don’t just spring back into unfounded optimism; we also spring forward into new responses and creative solutions, and discover qualities that may have previously escaped our notice. . . . Resilience is about flexibility, and the ability to ride the rhythms of life.
Rituals are the sacred holders of your times of transition.
Why ritual is important
Ritual can ease disruption by attending to your need to release, honour and move forward. In addition, ritualising your losses, joys and transitions opens you up to the spiritual dimension of life. To be held in sacred space during times of grief can bring comfort, safety and a strengthening of trust. In times of joy, sacred holding allows the heart to open to the heights of ecstasy and wonder.
To learn to create your own is to empower yourself, and to enrich your life immeasurably.
Keeping rituals alive
For ritual to be life-affirming, it needs to remain alive, and move with the present moment. Too little structure and a ritual can quickly lose its power. With too much structure, as in some prescriptive enactments, a ritual can become rigid and deadening.
With a balance of structure and creativity, rituals can express great wonder and create a profound bonding between group members. How do you achieve this?
In my online course, The Sacred Art of Ritual, I will guide you through the seven stages of a ritual, so that you can become grounded in the principles and learn to create simple rituals for yourself and others. Click this link to read more about finding the balance that works.
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