When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was determined to have a drug free and very conscious birthing process. My son had been 10 and a half pounds. Giving birth to him in a handful of powerful pushes both tore up my body and freckled my face with broken blood vessels. I was half dazed with pain-killers, and I was certainly not fully present to the experience.
How, I wondered, am I going to navigate this better? So I read a bunch of books – on meditation and visualization as well as birthing. One of the relevant things I learned is that we often respond to pain with fear, which makes us contract. In childbirth (and in the body in general) this means that the muscles tighten up. Which leads to more pain, which leads to more tightening… just when we need to be most open and relaxed. We go against ourselves.
I had learned, as a young horsewoman, to relax my body. To send a message to the animal that it can relax too. So I had some small sense of what this was like. For childbirth, I had to ramp that up significantly. I practiced relaxing every part of my body. I did breathing and meditation exercises. I did yoga, hoping to make my body more supple. I wasn’t one of those highly structured people that did things at set intervals, but I kept at it in my meandering but persistent way.
I succeeded. I thought of the pain as warmth, turned it in my mind into warm light. My daughter was born on this ray of light. I do not think of it as pain at all, although you might say my neurons were firing that way. I was very aware and present to it. I was grateful for the gift of her and treasuring each moment (without judgment, for what it was).
Now I use this process in other domains of my life. When I feel fear and want to contract, I intentionally open and release. When I feel my needs are not met, rather than shutting down or closing up – or telling stories about it – I become more direct and precise in making requests or sharing my experience. Sometimes it takes a little time to turn around, but I always get there.
I get that it seems contradictory. Yet, I have to say it works so well so consistently. That doesn’t mean I don’t experience fear or contraction. I do. It just doesn’t stay around very long. Usually within hours if not minutes, I can shift to being more wide open, curious, and direct.
How do you navigate contraction in your life? How do you transform it? How did you learn how to do so?