Whilst preparing my presentation for the Homebirth Australia Conference (see Part 1) and recalling my partner’s pregnancy dreams of the frog, the turtle and the rock (see Part 2), I unearthed further aspects of myself that assisted me in supporting my beloved in the birthing zone. After reading my birth story I became curious: was there indeed a male birthing god in any of the historic records?
Without much difficulty I found a male god from Egyptian mythology called Bes. Bes was a beastly dwarf like creature, ‘at once jovial and belligerent, fond of dancing and fighting’1. His main role was as guardian and protector of sheep, marriage, family, children, women’s toilet and expectant mothers, amongst others2. ‘He often appeared at birth’ along with the female birthing divinities; Taueret, Heket (a frog headed goddess!), Meshkent and the Hathors3,4. His role was to fight off evil spirits5.
Bes seems to be one example of the male protector, he can be belligerent at times but can also dance with joy. He is a fighter, therefore a protector and guardian. This energy manifested for me perhaps whilst keeping the boundaries strong for Bronwyn and the baby throughout the pregnancy and birth. Mainly making sure that the negativities and fears of others didn’t reach them. Which was certainly a dance of diplomacy as well as slight belligerence in keeping our boundaries strong – not letting in any ‘evil spirits’. However, there was more to this role and I feel Bes doesn’t have it.
In the birthing zone as well as throughout the pregnancy I felt a huge amount of love and gratitude generating out of me for my wife and child. I felt very much that this love I was pumping out in great waves filled the house. And it served as protection: protection generated from love rather than fear. This might sound like a contradiction, however the ability to protect without fear is in fact the ability to nurture. Nurturing still has the element of protecting but it is fused with love rather an fear.
Months after the birth I saw a small figurine of baby Jesus nursed by Mary with the protective arms and cloak of Joseph around them both. It wasn’t at all as kitsch as most of these pieces are, so as soon as I saw it I connected completely to its symbolism, expressing exactly my experience; the capacity to love and nurture my burgeoning family through the nine months of pregnancy, birth and after. Bes may be ‘base chakra’, but Joseph is all heart. I realise now it was a fusion of both these energies that I imbued.
Another important energy that surfaced for me in our birthing zone was that of the warrior. But no ordinary warrior. The birthing zone has no place for weapons and armour. The warrior in the birthing zone needs to lay down his spear and take off his amour. He needs to become naked, leaving him with nothing but raw courage. However, raw courage on its own can be reckless; but infused into the nurturer, the lover, the protector, the rock, the ram and any other energies that were present, a dynamic self-empowering force was created for the process. But that’s only half of it. Don’t forget the energies that supported my beloved: the turtle, the frog, the lioness, all the birthing goddesses in history, her own naked warrior woman, plus all the other uninvoked energies that helped empower her!
I need to briefly clarify that these energies are not a difference of gender, because both men and women possess both feminine and masculine energies. It is more a difference of awareness and integration of these energies within each individual.
In times of emotional crisis (which is an opportunity for new insight and inner change) the contents of the psyche that are needed to help move through it will automatically come to the fore. The process of ‘surrendering’, or letting go, is to allow the other contents of the psyche that are not needed during the crisis to recede; or they will bar the way. To surrender, to let go of the energies that are not useful, is to become naked. Surrendering is not a weakness, but a strength that needs great courage.
Birthing is no different. Just as the body knows what to do to give birth, the psyche also knows what to do to help us psychologically move through the experience. Mentally we need to get out of the way of ourselves for this to happen, as Bronwyn did when she ‘lost her head’. I had a similar experience in that I was so present, so in the moment with her and myself, that the ego took a holiday and the qualities or aspects of myself that I truly needed came forth, automatically. All I had to do was get out of the way of myself – become naked. My beloved’s ‘crisis’ demanded my absolute full attention of mind and full presence of heart. The emergent energies within both of us were leading the way, doing what they needed to do to help carry us through.
In the birthing zone I found that I moved beyond empathy for my beloved. Beyond empathy there is a phenomenon called ‘attunement’. Attunement doesn’t ‘connect’ two subjects, as empathy does, it ‘enfolds’ them. They become one. Jung called this the metwelt – ‘that which holds neither, but holds both’. In our birthing zone I believe my beloved and I unconsciously drew upon the emergent energies of the other. We were held by them, led by them, moved by them. It was an ‘attunement’ of energies between the two of us, doing what they needed to do to birth a family. Ken Wilber writes about ‘harmonic empathy’, which he explains is, ‘the interior equivalent between two sentient beings: a type of felt resonance or mutual prehension’6, similar to a piano who’s vibrating string resonates in the same string of a neighbouring piano. When two people who resonate on the same level are present they are in a ‘duel field’, which, ‘in its purest sense… is a resonance that occurs without exchanges, just direct co-presence’7. In our birthing zone we were not just physically in each others presence, but with all these energies that had come to the fore, we were in this ‘duel field’. Not just two resonant piano strings, but more; from bass to treble clef.
I learned about the attunement of souls (the full keyboard) from my three month old daughter. Several times in the first three months after her birth I found her staring at me in a most unusual way. Her face was expressionless, but not blank. Her eyes were wide, yet soft and still, simply looking at me without want or need. The second time I saw her in this state I stopped everything I was doing and matched her gaze. Within seconds my egoic thoughts dropped away and I slipped into a space of stillness and spaciousness where pure and total love rose up through me. ‘I’ disappeared and the two of us become one. The moment this happened my daughter laughed, as if she had felt it too, and/or seen it in my eyes. I am sure she did. I got excited, which got me back into my head, but I quickly dropped the thoughts and easily slipped back into complete presence. At the exact instant when stillness and spaciousness filled me and soul rose within me, she laughed again. Around us I felt a greater force of energy holding us both. In this space we held each others gaze for some time.
This experience was the metwelt, where neither of us held each other, yet we were both held. The ease of our attunement was due to her having no ego driven fears that were resisting connection. Indeed, she is already ‘connected’ so there is nothing to resist. As I had also not developed any substantial egoic resistance towards her it was easy to step down, quite quickly, through three very subtle levels of fear to where there was nothing except pure divine love – so full and total in those moments. Complete nakedness. A priceless connection with this little treasure who will be this father’s daughter, forever. No matter what.
Please now excuse me as I switch metaphor from ‘harmonic resonance’ to dance.
In mid-spring 2008 Bronwyn and I were married upon the tiled mosaic of a labyrinth, set amongst the apple tree blossoms of the Blue Mountains Community Gardens, witnessed by close friends and family. We’d been together almost three years. Alina was then 21 months old. The day was exquisite. Requesting nothing from our guests except their presence, my dear friends, Hilary and John James, who felt compelled to give us something, gave us a simple postcard that they had picked up on a recent trip to Bali. The picture on the front was of a painting of a Balinese woman and man dancing the ‘bumblebee dance’, a flirtatious love duet, supported by musicians and surrounded by the rest of the village looking on. With their own experience of more than sixty years of marriage the words Hilary and John wrote for us on the back of the card resonated with wisdom:
“Marriage is a dance. The movements you each make are unknown and exciting, strange and uncertain. Only total love will maintain harmony.”
Looking at the painting you notice that the dancing couple aren’t touching, but their eyes are in constant embrace. And even though they dance to the same rhythm, the ‘movements’ they each make are unknown to the other, sometimes strange and sometimes uncertain. Yet they are present, with harmony, in love. And it’s not just love: as John and Hilary point out, it’s total love.
Marriage is the symbolic ceremony of union between the masculine and feminine. It’s the movement of opposites coming into harmony, attuning to the universal life-force of love. With absolute trust and the ability to let go of all fears, two people become united in love. The Birthing Zone is about the masculine and feminine movements in the dance of relationship and the deep undercurrents of love that binds and maintains harmony between the two during the process of becoming parents – particularly for the first time. Becoming a parent creates a tremendous opportunity for the masculine and feminine dance to unfold even further, allowing the couple to fully feel the usually invisible foundations that support their union. This foundation supports everything, and most importantly the children who may come and the enormous psychological/emotional challenges that will arise. The health and strength of our children relies totally on the health and strength of our own relationships – and ultimately our own relationship with ourselves. As the dance of courtship changes through marriage it also changes when becoming a parent: significantly.
The nine month transition into fatherhood allowed me the greatest opportunity to trust and surrender myself to all the fears and anxieties that I felt about becoming a father. Fully experiencing what lay beneath those energies, seeing them for what they really were, enabled the heart to emerge; increasing intimacy, deepening relationship, and bringing relative harmony to my being. It is my dance, consisting of movements that are unknowable, un-seeable, unattainable until the moment they arise, changing and transforming as the present moment constantly unfolds before me.
I used to dance with my attention solely on myself, which only kept me isolated and lonely, unfeeling and resentful. Sometimes I would dance with my attention completely on my partner, but I would lose myself. I had no idea who I was or how I was supposed to dance. Modern man in general is a mixture of both of these; lost in confusion, deeply lonely, isolated, and greatly frustrated. It is to the detriment of society that modern life supports this disastrous situation men have put themselves in. Unable to seek support, unable to talk, listen and to feel what lies in each others hearts is the saddest situation imaginable. But it is changing.
We are at a point now in society where men are becoming more open in allowing their feelings to rise and their hearts to speak. This inner awareness develops the vital relationship we need with ourselves. This inner relationship is also unknown, uncertain, strange, scary, and, if embraced and experienced, unbelievably exciting and transforming. It’s the dance of the inner man, which then creates the spontaneous dance of the outer man who is able to be himself, living authentically in the moment as much as he can. We are at a time now on this planet where we, as men, must do this dance. On a global scale, in a world where our planet’s ecosystems are dying and so many people are hurting, we men have been emotionally absent and out of step with the women, the children, the earth and ourselves for far too long.
1. New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, (pp39), Hamlyn, London 1959.
4. Tresidder, Jack. The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art and Literature (pp70), Duncan Baird Publishers, London 2004
6. Wilber, K. (2007) Excerpt C: The Ways We Are In This Together, Shambala Publications.
“The Bumblebee Dance” painting by Anak Agung Gede Sobrat of Ubud.