Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All the Gifts of Life

I borrowed two books from my church last week and read them both over the weekend (both were quick little books). The first was Notes to Myself: My struggle to become a person by Hugh Prather. It was so-so. In keeping with my previous post about identity, selfhood/selflessness, personality, etc., I marked several relevant quotes to share:

"While I am worrying about what you think of me I am not open to you, I am not letting you in; in fact, I am not letting you exist as a person--I am making you my mirror. While I am concerned with what you are thinking about me I am not even thinking about you."

"I learn most about myself by observing myself in relation to others. When I examine myself by myself I am actually examining the results of a previous encounter. Perceptions are not of things but of relationships. Nothing, including me, exists by itself--this is an illusion of words. I am a relationship, ever-expanding."

"People in cars passing by my car, people walking past me on the street, someone leaving a shop as I enter, Gayle coming through the door from work, Willie getting his mail as I get mine, and with each one of these little brushings-against, these encounters big and small, I leave something behind. If I can feel what I pick up from them, certainly on some level they can feel my state also. What, then, is the trail behind me composed of? Does not this 'gift to the world,' by its very enormity, outweigh all others?"

I have a particular interest (and a complicated partially written essay) about gratitude and "you're so lucky" type comments, so I also marked a quote about that:

"The thought, 'You're lucky, it could have been worse,' is the kind of gratitude I can do without. It also could have been better, or actually, it couldn't have been any other way than the way it was."

The second book was All the Gifts of Life. It was a collection of short essays/meditations by a couple of different UU authors. One was about "detachment" and whether it is desirable or not:

"It is only through our detachment that we are able to rend the ozone layer, poison the air and the seas, exterminate whole species of animals, and burn the rain forests. There are times when some detachment is appropriate and necessary. But the greatest source of evil in our time may be that we are too detached from people, and too detached from the earth. If we meet everything objectively, then there is no sacredness and no mystery."

I thought this was an interesting twist--people are often urged to "be objective" and it is interesting to consider what kind of detachment that promotes.

The second page I marked was kind of a take-off of the classic Ecclesiastes "for everything there is a season...":

The Light can represent the light of Spirit that ebbs and flows inside us as we feel sometimes drained and dusty, and other times energetic, enthusiastic, and supple. Some times in our lives are spirited times and others are dispirited times. As we contemplate the meanings of the dark times and the light times, the earth-based traditions would caution us against using The Dark as a symbol for all that is negative. If we use 'darkness' to speak about ignorance, depression, and evil, we speak as if it would be best to have no darkness at all, to have light all the time. That would be awful. there is a season for dark and a season for light.

Is it possible then that there is a time to feel energetic and a time to feel drained in the rhythm of life? A time to let life and energy flow outward from you, and a time for it to flow inward? Maybe the ebb and flow of Spirit is a rhythm that is good to feel. Maybe in our growing into wholeness there is a time to feel dusty and dry, 'hard as iron' like the winter ground, and stony as winter water. Maybe instead of worrying and suffering over those feelings we could settle into them, knowing that there is a time for cold and time for warmth, a time to be energetic and a time to rest, a time to grow and a time to stay where you are, a time for the light of reason and a time for other ways of knowing. Maybe we could walk in beauty and balance more easily if we could welcome the dark time, trusting that when it reaches its full strength, things will begin their tilt back in the other direction. Nothing stays the same in the flow of things. All things seek their balance and their rhythm. The wheel will always turn...


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Zen Quotes

I'm gone this week, so I've set up to post some saved quotes from my trusty $1 Shop Zen calendar from last year:

"It is not length of life, but depth of life."

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

"A contented mind is a hidden treasure, and trouble findeth it not."


"Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question."


And one that makes me think of the birth culture in the United States:

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Other Recent Reads

I am accepting that I will not have time to write about every book I've read. So, I just wanted to mention some recent ones (two of them I plan to blog about elsewhere).

Birthwork--this was a masterpiece of a book. Took me ages to finish, because it was very complex. I've never read a book like it. It was really extraordinary. I've already written a bit about it on my birth blog and I will again. Plus, I will be writing a complete review for CfM.

Women and Doctors--this is an older book written by a doctor and covers the anti-women attitudes that many doctors have bred into them in medical school. Also talks a lot about hysterectomies and how they are extremely overperformed. I'm going to be writing about this one on the CfM blog for sure.

Innovative Teaching Strategies Handbook for Birth Professionals
--this was a quick read and I got several good ideas from it. I think I will use one of the breastfeeding demonstration ideas for an LLL meeting soon.

The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods--I read this after I finished Birthwork. I was immediately going to jump into another heavy read and realized I needed a quick break. This is a young adult book about an 11 year old girl in rural WI the 1950's. For some reason it made me cry several times. I read it in an hour.

What Do Buddhists Believe?--This was a short book about "meaning and mindfulness in Buddhist philosophy." I was familiar with most of the ideas already (but that kind of makes me an empti-full cup!).

A quote from this one I liked when talking about various turning points in the history of world thought (like Newton and gravity or the Buddha and his enlightenment under the tree): "...these seekers after truth did not find anything that had not been there before. Theirs was a discovery not an invention. Their genius consisted in realizing for the first time something that had been in front of them all along. It was as if they perceived a deeper layer of reality, a glimpse of the underlying structure of the phenomenal world." This kind of thing makes me wonder about the ideas and concepts yet to be discovered--what is in front of us right now, that we haven't yet figured out, etc. As reading Buddhist stuff always does, I went into a bit of a tailspin about "what is the nature of reality" and "who am I" and "what does no-self really mean" and "if I have no-self then who the heck am I." All questions I've asked before, no answers! I read somewhere else: "if someone says to me that they don't know who they are anymore, I say, good!" So, maybe I'm making progress by feeling like I don't know who I am! (by that, I mean I don't know who I am "ultimately" speaking--is there a core "me," a real reality, or is it just shifting, changing collection of personality traits. I think it is difficult to ever say with any certainty that you know who anyone *really* "is" and the same for yourself. However, this then depresses me somewhat...)


The Fox Woman

Just a few minutes ago I finished reading The Fox Woman, our book club read for May (should have waited a little longer to read it, because I may possibly forget it all by the time the end of May rolls around!). Short version: this book is a retelling of a Japanese fairy tale about a fox that becomes a woman in order to sort of "trap" the man she loves into being with her (the "fox magic" creates a sort of illusory world that he lives in with her for 10 years, but to the outside world it is only 3 months and he is living in a fox den that is all dirty and so forth--the magic makes him think he is in a fancy house). It was unclear to me at the end, but I believe she was staying a woman at the end of the book. It was very engaging, though I didn't really bond with the characters specifically--a lot of the book was about identity and knowing oneself and as such, you didn't really get to "know" the characters (because they didn't really 'know" themselves and their relationships were based on illusion and lies or "masks" that people present to try to be perfect, not reality). The story shifts back and forth between three narrators (the fox, the man, and his human wife).

A couple of quotes I marked from it:

"...when I am so alone, I do not have to be any of these things. For this moment, I am wholly myself, unshaped by the needs of others, by their dreams or expectations or sensibilities. But I am also lonely. With no one to shape me, who stands here watching the moon, or the stars, or the clouds. I feel insubstantial, as if the wind might suddenly dissolve me, like a weak mist."

Of course one about birth :) (this is the fox woman while pregnant):

"...I knew in my blood and bones that pregnancy was not supposed to be a complicated thing. One got pregnant and continued to hunt and sleep and eat. One prepared several dens, and when the time came one crawled into one of them, and after a small amount of pain, one delivered one or two or three or four kits..."

After she becomes a woman and marries the man: "A woman's life is shadows and waiting."

After the man is found my his human wife and goes back to that world/life: "Life is better lived as an adventure than as a work of art, I think."

When the fox woman is talking to a goddess about "but what will happen?" in the future/to her, etc.: "'Live and find out. Life guarantees nothing, not even itself.'"

And the conclusion: "None of us...are human unless and until we claim it for ourselves....and our lives become the poems we were born to tell."


Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Pink Kit

Last week I finished reading all the written materials for The Pink Kit (Common Knowledge Trust, New Zealand). I also listened to the CD and watched about half the DVD. (I have trouble making room in my life to watch things--I ALWAYS have time to read things, but things to watch sit for months without being looked at.)

I enjoyed the materials overall and got some ideas of things to use in classes. The emphasis is on pelvic bodywork and the focus is primarily on getting to know your pelvis--both the bony pelvis and the "soft pelvis" (the soft tissue structures connected to the pelvis). The Pink Kit teaches you how to "map" your pelvis and explore the structures. It also covers material on breath work, touch, and communication. As I mentioned there is a DVD and a CD. There is also a short book (that is basically an overview of the program--it isn't really a stand alone). Plus, there are three more pdf books on a CD: New Focus: Breath, Language, & Touch; Managing Skills; and Companion Guide. New Focus was my favorite and the most useful, I think. I printed each one of these out and used my burgeoning book-binding skills to "perfect bind" each one into a real book, instead of putting them in a binder. I even took a picture to share :)
My only complaint was that there was a heavy emphasis on "managing birth well" and "staying in control" and "using your skills." I have a more "organic"--"do what feels right to you" philosophy, instead of a "there's a right way to give birth and if you 'train' properly, you will do it right." (I did appreciate their stance that these "skills" can be used by all women in all circumstances and all types of births--they are not only for one specific setting or type of birth. i.e. knowing about how the pelvis works and about how to calm yourself with your breath, is still valuable with a cesarean birth experience.) There were comments made about not "moaning or groaning" or "wasting energy" by making noise--I feel much differently about noise in labor! Moan and groan all you want! It is useful! To be clear, the Kit does frequently mention that birth is not controllable and things like that, but I felt an overlay of "prepare properly"--there's a "right way" to work through birth and manage yourself well...

I shared some quotes from the book on my birth blog about birth as a rite of passage.

This is all I have time to write about this week (I did read two other books, but alas, they will have to keep waiting!).


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Homebirth Books

"Be sure to share your story. There is no shortage of fear-mongering and simply unhelpful advice when it comes to birth. As fathers, we need to make birth a part of the masculine dialogue."

So concludes the new book I just finished tonight called The Father's Home Birth Handbook. The book was published in Scotland and is a nice addition to the information available to fathers-to-be. It was written by a woman, but contains ample quotes from fathers (like the one above) and has a lot of interesting birth stories all written by the fathers. It was a quick read and a good one.

This week I also read Midwifery Today's short book The Heart & Science of Homebirth. This book is a collection of reprinted articles from Midwifery Today, The Birthkit, Birth, and the AIMS Journal. So, I'd read a couple of the articles already, but not all of them.

I've run out of time this week to blog properly, so this quick entry is all I'm going to be able to post!