I have stellar friends. To call them simply “friends” seems trite. Friends come and go, but true sisters remain. There are no words I have at the moment that could fully embody how simply precious – how irrefutably perfect – they all are.
(My girls: MB, Jeanette, Brooke)
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anais Nin
My tribe, my women, my sisters with goddess energy and gentle-warrior honesty are my stability during precarious times. They are providers of chocolate (i.e. stress relief) and deep belly laughter. They are the precise advice you needed at that very moment, or the honoring silence you crave when there are simply no answers. These women have traveled the country and the world, leading both the offbeat lives of bohemians and the orthodox lives of everyday citizens; sometimes living both lives at once, finding ways to fulfill the free-spirit that soars in them while raising families, establishing careers, or pursuing their bliss. They are colorful and witty, sensitive and witchy, healers and seekers. They are teachers, connectors, guides, nurturers, huntresses, watchers, learners, gatherers, and protectors. They are mama-bear strong and child-like vulnerable. They are succulent and juicy, messy and real, tangy and sweet like the most nourishing fruit on the planet. They are the chefs of my heart, always brewing and cooking up new recipes for love, friendship, and healing.
(Brooke and Maisha)
So, when they all came together to execute and host my Blessingway, I knew it would be unique. All plans were kept secret, except the location and date. And then, on Memorial Day weekend in the cool pines of Payson, they all gathered around me in sisterhood for 24 hours of ardent preparation and magical connection.
A Blessingway is a Native American tradition that functions as an initiation ceremony during important phases in life, such as birth or the send off of a man to war. “In a traditional society, initiation marks the end of your old life and the beginning of something new. And when the initiation ordeal is over…you come back with a gift of knowledge to share.” – Hector Aristizabal.
In our culture, we seemed to have lost the important of the ritual of initiation. We make decisions, make choices, run, run, run and never seem to take the time to honor the process. My friends planned this Blessingway as a means to initiate me into this experience of birth, into becoming a mother again. By taking the time to gather, they were welcoming me in this path, preparing and strengthening me as a warrior going into a battle of a different kind.
The only word I can use to sum up the experience is intense. Intense, intense, intense. Like the intensity of fire-breath and adrenaline that encases your body during life-shifting moments.
As I assembled my birth vision board, Brooke meditated while cooking up a deliciously hearty pasta meal (How can you not adore a woman who reminds us that “food knows the intentions of heart and hands” and therefore doesn’t cook when she is upset or angry or stressed? Only love and peace goes into her food. And you can tell!). The rest of the crew spent a few hours preparing the space outside for the moonlit ritual later than evening.
After sharing Brooke’s meal on a big blanket in the living room, the girls gathered me on the wood-planked porch of the cabin to begin the ceremony. Before I would be asked to wander down alone to sit on the grass by the altar they had created, each of their hands gathered a piece of a blanket and together they cloaked me in it to symbolize that I am indeed not alone in the journey of birth.
As I slowly walked down the slope of the grassy hill, I inhaled deeply. Chills ran down my body, the moon bright and bold, the wind whipping through the trees in song, the stream gurgling with anticipation. All around me were signs of the abundance of life; how did these woods know I beheld in me growing life as well? As I lowered myself onto a pillow atop a blanket, I took in the beauty of the altar and offerings in front of me. Candles flickered and rested on a large cut of stone that had been gifted from Mother Earth. The stone rested against a tree that would host the ritual underneath its canopy. All around, placed neatly, were offerings and gifts. Tears welled as I gently touched each one, knowing intimately already the energy contained within. I was to use a drum to signal once I was ready to have my tribe join me; and thus a rhythm began from my fingers, and a soft beat rose from the stretched and worn skin of the conga – quite like the skin of my pregnant belly.
As each of my six friends found their comfy spot in the circle of pillows, MB began by invoking the directions, linking us all to the power of the elements. Next, we all honored our mother lineage by sharing our recent ancestral ties: “I am Leigh, great granddaughter of (I didn’t know, shame on me), granddaughter of Margaret Ann, daughter of Rita Mae, mother to Kaia Marin”…It was powerful to hear the voices of these women celebrating their heritage, recognizing the divine intertwining of goddess and mother, honoring the cycle of birth and life and death. We acknowledged the women/mothers who had inhabited the very land we sat upon, thanking them for their wisdom and for providing us with beauty.
It’s the blood of the Ancients
that runs through our veins
And the forms pass,
but the circle of life remains
– Ellen Klaven & Charlie Murphy
With the moonlight radiating above, and the amber glow of candles warming our faces, Brooke shared the compelling Sumerian myth of Inana and how her decent into the underworld mirrors our journey through labor and birth. Just as Inana was asked to release and give up something of herself at each gate, so too are we asked to surrender our fears and judgments during birth in order to be fully aware, conscious, and prepared to meet our baby – and to meet our awesome, powerful selves. Even our physical body seems to separate as our entire being gives way to the sacred initiation of birth.
Then came on of the most profound moments of the Blessingway, in which I was asked to mirror Inana’s descent by walking seven “gates”, all areas marked by luminous lanterns and candles places in the dark woods. Two of my friends functioned as gatekeepers, leading the way with their lanterns. The remaining women followed slowly behind, beating drums. I could only hear their footsteps, the tribal call of the drum, the verse of the wind, and the flow of my own nourishing blood. At each gate, I stopped and the gatekeepers asked “What will you surrender at this gate in order to birth your baby?” The answers rose from me – eyes closed, breath even, my fingeres gathered around the blanket still cloaking my body -, my friends echoing my responses in quiet, acknowledging chant: fear, limits, boundaries, failure, judgment, inadequacy…
At the last gate I walked to the stream alone, kneeled on the cool rocks, and asked the moon and the water for an affirmation. I felt renewed, whole, and ready as I heard the words: “Metamorphosis”. The weight had been lifted, and I was indeed as light and transformed as the butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Where would I fly next?
As we returned to the circle, we began a version of the Quaker Listening Circle. Using a very special owl feather as a “talking stick”, I opened the circle by briefly sharing some insight into the journey I had just taken. When I was finished, each woman gently picked up the feather and spoke words of advice, love, and offering to me. To look into the eyes of these women as they spoke – women weathered beautifully and perfectly by life’s trials and triumphs – profoundly humbled my spirit. Truly, even in these vulnerable moments, they stood as solid and formidable as monuments, their words etching themselves upon my heart. These were words carefully chosen, spoken softly; for nature knows all of our intentions. Never – except during Kaia’s birth journey – have I been in the midst of such pureness.
The listening circle transitioned into me sitting in the middle and being asked to contemplate what I needed to birth this baby (from myself, from others, etc). The women gathered close, their hands touching my body, holding me safe, as I closed my eyes once more and uttered words like strength, trust, healing, openness, softness, fire, water, breath, support, quiet, peace, space, and joy …And again, each of them uttered phrases, chanted, spoke loving words to me after each affirmation, a symphony and vibration of sound. The tears streamed down my pregnant cheeks as felt their energy pervade my body in the most brilliant way. I felt firm and loving hands on my forehead, my heart, my shoulders, my belly, my back. I felt the warmness of heads leaning against my back in sweet embrace. My body was alive; my baby aware and dancing.
I heard a mix of voices, coming at once from everywhere – from throats, the sky, the core of the earth, the water, and the stars – to form a prayer. Suddenly, in the quiet passing of a few moments, I could sense every woman’s presence but it was as if they had left…had traveled. Or perhaps I had traveled? I couldn’t be sure if we were all in the same realm at that moment. Gone but present, away but always near. They had become light beings. And when I felt them return, I said with a hopeful smile: “I’m ready.” My healing had come full circle.
We concluded the ceremony by joining together in a birth song about “opening up” and then by sharing in a few, powerful OM chants. I released a huge, cleansing exhale. I swear the resonation from those collective OM’s has remained with me.
It was done. And just beginning. The mood began to lighten as each of my friends explained the significance of the gifts and offerings they had placed at the altar for me. Each gift held so much meaning and sits now on my birth altar here at home to help guide me and inspire me during the adventure of this baby’s birth.
Two of the women had to leave us shortly thereafter, birth workers called to support women in labor. As for the rest of us, we headed up to the cabin for a night of fun and partying. They became mere mortals again and I watched with glee as my friends boogied the night away; their moves both a sensual and energetic release (my pregnant body too tired to sashay and sway and groove). Their dancing, another offering to all of us, a celebration of all that is feminine and divine. We laughed and joked and feasted on chocolate. And when it was finally time to relent our bodies to the call of sleep, we were like teenagers at a sleepover, unable to decide where everybody should crash…wanting to be close together.
And so, we all shared one room: five women, three beds, and an immeasurable amount of total love. I drifted off – hand on my ripe belly – feeling protected, rejuvenated, and exhausted. I drifted off feeling “blessed along my way”.