The Second Time Around

as if first

Posing as if it’s the first…

What has been most notable about this second pregnancy is how different it feels from the first.

The first time around, I prepared myself for what I anticipated would be the life-changing and spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth. My friend Michael fed the fire, commenting on how spiritual it must be to have life growing within you and to be in such a powerfully creative place. I wanted to feel that way.

And, I wanted to be fully prepared for everything. We took every single birth class.  I mean every single one.  Not just the birthing and breastfeeding and first-year parenting classes, but also the infant CPR/first aid classes and infant massage classes. I even convinced Liz to come with me to a ‘prenatal partners’ yoga workshop.

Working with the midwives, my birth preferences were extensive. They articulated a plan for natural labor and reflected weeks of research on how things might go best. By the time I went into labor, I was ready in every way – spiritually, intellectually, logistically – to be transformed by this experience.

Thirty-hours of labor later, on August 2nd, 2016, Elliott joined us. The midwife said I looked surprised there was a baby at the end of childbirth, and she was correct. So much of my preparation had focused on me, my experience of birth, and what I would learn from all these things that I couldn’t clearly see how this was the start of so much more.

There is so much which is different this time around, both in my circumstances and in myself. I wish I could say it’s because I’m infinitely wiser, but instead I continue to learn from every new experience.  Here is what I’m seeing this time around:

It’s Actually About the Baby

but its two

…but it’s number two

The most important difference between my pregnancies is that it has shifted between this pregnancy being about me to this pregnancy being about the baby. I know the punchline now; God-willing, childbirth ends in parenthood. The whole point is bringing this little man into the world in a safe and healthy way. So, instead of being curious about the experiences I’ll have, I’m just excited to meet the little man. There’s far less interest in “What am I like in this situation?” and more interest in “What’s he going to be like?”

Who Has Time for That?
I realistically don’t have the time to be so self-centric this time around. I could point to a whole portfolio of demands on my time, but the ultimate cause is my daughter, Elliott. Two-year-olds do a remarkable job occupying every available minute of time, and I am (mostly) happy to give her those moments. As a result, pregnancy looks different. Last time around, I prioritized weekly acupuncture, gentle but diligent workouts, and frequent prenatal massages. This time, I sit in the closet while Elliott delights in opening and shutting the door or lay together on the floor waiting for imaginary deer and lions to come visit. (Elliott requires Liz to do much more active play for some reason.)

I Know I Don’t Have Control
Even if I don’t always act as if it’s true, I know through experience that I have nearly no control over all of this – from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. The most important processes – physical and otherwise – unfold naturally. While I still struggle to act in accordance with this insight, I realize I am less in a position of control and more in a position of surrender. No birth plan, only birth preferences. A recognition that birth will come when it comes and go how it goes. And, most importantly, no expectations that the lessons learned caring for Elliott as a baby will translate into any better ability to care for number two.

And so…
Sometimes I step back and reflect on all this, wondering if my different emerging relationships to my two children – starting with even these early months of pregnancy – are simply the first manifestation of birth order conditioning. Though still in utero, Elliott had attention and focus throughout my pregnancy.  She’s maintained much of that while this little man has developed inside of me. For his part, the little man has either enjoyed or suffered through a pregnancy with far less of a maniacal focus on him. At times I’ve blamed myself that I have not been more pregnancy-focused during this time, but my wise friend, Nema advised me that “the baby will make sure he draws in what he needs.”

Little Man, I hope that you have everything you need. We can’t wait to meet you.

Meredith

 

We Wish You a Merry… Ritual

This December, I find myself reflecting upon a holiday many years ago when I played the role of an angel at my church’s Christmas pageant. I remember receiving instructions to gently cradle my offering of plastic grapes for baby Jesus and to approach the nativity scene slowly, deliberately, and in step by my fellow blue-robed angel. I was not to look at or wave to my family members as I passed them.

This was the first time I was charged with the solemn execution of ritual duties, and I followed through with a level of commitment absurd for a six-year old in a tinsel halo. I was stone-faced and serious, committed to the importance of the ceremony and my role.

Over time, my interest in ritual only grew. As a child and teenager, I served as an acolyte, carrying the cross in processionals, lighting and extinguishing candles, and helping prepare the Eucharist. Later, in college, I was the sacristan at my college chapel, a role which had me arriving early to arrange chairs and candlesticks, staying late to disassemble the ritual space, and learning how to get wax stains out of altar linens in my dorm room (Hint: an iron and newspaper do the trick).You know, typical college kid activities.

Though the church was an obvious focus of ritual life, my ritual devotion extended elsewhere, particularly to the intersection of ritual and food. Family dinners were sacred to me, and I would insist we turn off the television every night. I threw my first formal dinner party before the age of ten, immersing myself in cookbooks, napkin folding manuals, and etiquette books to get all the details right. I started the first of many dinner party clubs in high school and wrote my college thesis on parallels between the Eucharist and other ritual meals. Today, we ritualize our family meals by sharing gratitudes before eating.

And this Christmas, we celebrate it with all sorts of rituals – those from my family, those from Liz’s, and those we have created together. We open the advent calendar with our chocolate-ravenous child each night. We think about loved ones around the world and send Christmas cards with well-wishes. We, like Liz’s grandmother, burn bayberry candles. And we make ‘miracle loaf’ – a truly miraculous combination of refrigerated crescent rolls, bacon, eggs, and other artery-clogging items that Liz innovated. Each ritual sanctifies the season and makes our wintry days feel special.

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What is it, exactly, about ritual?  To me, there’s something incredible about how you can intentionally invest meaning in some of the most mundane, tangible aspects of life – movements, words, objects, food, and space – and thereby create something transcendental. It is a way of bringing the holy (however you may define it) into the everyday. I see it as the alchemy of meaning: by enacting ritual, you take everyday life and make it special.

And so, this past fall, I started classes to become a celebrant. A celebrant is someone who creates and performs rituals for others. This can include anything from the weddings and funerals you might expect to baby blessings, divorce ceremonies, business openings, and seasonal rituals. Celebrants do not bring any particular religious bent to their work, but instead focus on crafting meaningful experiences to fit the needs, values, and beliefs of the ceremony participants. Come spring, I’ll be certified and look forward to bringing more ritual into my life and being of service to others.

Whatever you believe and however you ritualize it, I wish this holiday season is transformed into something special and meaningful to you.
Meredith

To learn more about celebrancy, check out the Celebrant Institute and Foundation here.

 

Doing “Very Normal Things” with Gandhi (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Doing “Very Normal Things” with Gandhi (Part One of Two) here.

In Part One I talked about how 80% of Gandhi’s autobiography is about “Very Normal Things”, including eating, getting dressed, and moving around.  Here’s what else he spends most of his autobiography talking about:

Very Normal Thing #4:  Housework
Counter to the outsourcing trends of his milieu, Gandhi spends time hand-milling his own grain, starching and ironing his own clothes, and cutting his own hair.  He learns how to repair shoes and helps figure out how to spin thread and work the handloom.  Gandhi is big on cleanliness; not only does he clean his own latrines, he volunteers to inspect other peoples’ latrines to make sure they’re up to snuff (and sweeps them out if found lacking).  And Gandhi even spends a lot of time on interior decoration:  first on making his pad swank and deserving of the status of a barrister, later on disposing of all that junk.  By the time I got to the end of his story, I was convinced that Gandhi was very handy around the house.

Very Normal Thing #5:  Getting Sick and Getting Better
Gandhi variously contracts and recovers from ringworm, dysentery, constipation, headaches, and pleurisy.  He is constantly nursing others, within his family, when the black plague hits town, and as a wartime medic (Boer War, WWI).  He learns how to become a compounding pharmacist and volunteers at the local hospital.  He also becomes a bit of a quack doctor (as he admits) when he gets into earth treatments (apparently applying a poultice of dirt under a bandage?) and hydropathy (some sort of obscure water treatment?).  At one point Gandhi even calls in an “Ice Doctor” who cures him of dysentery by packing him in ice.  Like his obsession with food, there are many tales of sickness, health, and his related philosophies.

Very Normal Thing #6:  Annoying Administrative Work
In every group he’s a part of, Gandhi volunteers for many of the annoying tasks most of us would avoid doing – and then describes them in extensive detail.  He translates correspondence from one language to another, answers other peoples’ mail, collects dues, raises money, hand-cranks the printing press, leases buildings, folds newspapers, passes around petitions, serves as secretary, scribes documents when he can’t get them copied, you get the picture.  Even Gandhi tires of administrivia though; at one point, he bribes children to help him fold pamphlets with used postage stamps.  Score.

The most interesting point, however, is that in the midst of these “Very Normal Things,” you see the greatness of the Mahatma emerging.  He approaches the most annoying administrative work with a sense of servanthood.  He strives for simplicity in his clothes, his surroundings, and his speech.  He pursues brahmacharya (self-restraint) by limiting his consumption and swearing off sex.  He seeks purity in keeping his surroundings clean and instructing others to do so.   He practices ahimsa (non-violence) through his staunch vegetarianism.  He advocates for Hindustani identity when he refuses to remove his turban, translates papers into accessible Indian languages, and insists upon wearing his khadi dhoti.  Every “experiment with truth” he runs is enacted in the petri dish of his life.  And the way he approaches the mundane realities of everyday – from food to clothes, from housework to administrative work – reinforces or undermines some ‘lived value’ he holds.  Ultimately, in Gandhi’s case, those lived values – the ahimsa, brahmacharya, servanthood, identity, purity that he cultivated – became the same strengths which he brought to bear later in his toughest political trials.

There are a couple of moments when you can see the grand trajectory of the political movement in something small.  For example, when Gandhi starts a vegetarian kitchen at his ashram and engages the students to cook in it, it becomes an object-lesson in self-sufficiency.  When a friend comments:  “The experiment contains the key to Swaraj” the links between the most mundane (e.g., schoolboys cooking daal) and the most ambitious (e.g., India achieving political independence) start to come into focus.

Gandhi teaches me that “Very Normal Things” and “Very Big Things” are ultimate one and the same.  But I struggle with this.  I love thinking and writing about the big, the grand, the ambitious, the intellectual – the “Very Big Things.”  There’s some part of me that thinks that I will do my part in solving all the world’s problems by coming up with deep insights and articulating them in a compelling way.  And yet, when I focus on the “Very Big Things,” I don’t necessarily see the change I seek.

Given this, I’m trying to focus on the “Very Normal Things.”  Great things are the result of small, everyday actions, lived with intentionality, improved upon by reflection, and accumulated over time.  Even the most inspirational leaders live their lives day-by-day.  So I am building faith that if I do my “Very Normal Things” well, they’ll build into something weightier over time.  That feels happily accessible, but also a bit daunting.  It makes me realize that I’m indeed doing “Very Big Things” with every small action.

The small contains the key to the big. 

Off to do “Very Normal Things” with my Sunday,
Meredith

One final fun fact:  Gandhi also just took away my excuse for not going to the gym:  “. . . I believe even now, that, no matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for one’s meals.  It is my humble opinion that, far from taking away from one’s capacity for work, it adds to it.”

Doing “Very Normal Things” with Gandhi (Part One of Two)

When I travel, I often select my reading material based on something appropriate to my destination.  Headed to Johannesburg in May, I read Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories, a collection of vivid vignettes of South African life after apartheid.  Headed to Seoul in September, I picked up Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom to get a view into everyday Korean life.  And over the last thirteen days in India, I read Mohandas Gandhi’s autobiography – or, as he titles it The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

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Gandhi was one of the most effective and influential advocates for Swaraj (Indian home-rule) and his accompanying tactic of ahimsa (non-violence).  His name is known the world over.  As I loaded him onto my Kindle I expected to read about the story behind the “Very Big Things” he accomplished:  Articulations of high-minded ideals.  The narrative of an epic political movement.  Sweeping insights into leadership.

Do you know what I found?

Instead of hearing about Gandhi’s “Very Big Things” I was struck by the mundane, the minute, and the everyday.  Gandhi spends his life doing what most of us would recognize as the same “Very Normal Things” we ourselves do, but with a heightened sense of morals and meaning.  Here’s 80% of what Gandhi talks about in his autobiography:

Very Normal Thing #1:  Eating
If Gandhi has one lifelong obsession, it’s food.  In his teenage years, Gandhi starts running with the ‘bad boy’ crowd and sneaks away to eat meat.  He later repents of his rebellious ways and becomes a relentless advocate for vegetarianism.  Over time, he pushes this even further, swearing off salt, lentils, and dairy.  At one point, while sick, he drinks some goat’s milk at a doctor’s recommendation and then beats himself up for the rest of his life about it.  He ends up as a fruitarian who eats five or fewer types of food each day and finishes dinner by sundown.

Very Normal Thing #2:  Getting Dressed
Gandhi talks extensively about his Anglicized clothes in London.  He buys a chimney-pot hat for nineteen shillings and an evening suit for ten pounds.  When he moves to South Africa, he’s still consciously distinct from other Indians in his attire, in his hybrid frock-coat and turban.  In fact, there’s an entire turban-wearing fiasco when he joins the courts.  Over time, however, Gandhi dresses more simply.  He moves to a shirt, coat, and dhoti combo and later resolves to wear only khadi (locally produced hand-woven cloth) – a highly politicized fashion statement in keeping with the Swadeshi movement.

Very Normal Thing #3:  Moving Around
In the years he travels between India, England, and South Africa, there are long recounts of boat trips.  We learn what he ate on the boat (fruits and nuts), what he did on the boat (played chess, learned Tamil and Urdu, accidentally visited a hooker in Zanzibar), and who he hung out with on the boat (the Captain, a couple of English guys, a Puritan).   Later in life, Gandhi takes a lot of trains, particularly in third-class.  There is plenty of drama about train ticket cancellations, whether he gets bedding or not, how dirty and crowded the trains are, and the difficulty of getting on the train when people block the doors (it’s true; it’s happened to me as well).

In short, Gandhi’s autobiography is filled with extensive descriptions of “Very Normal Things.”

With that, I’ll pause this post given the length and continue with Part Two.  Look forward to “Very Normal Things” #4 through #6 as well as how it all comes together.  Continue in Part Two of Two here.

Also, if you have not yet done so, hit the ‘subscribe’ button on the right of the page to ensure you get other upcoming posts.  (It makes me really happy.  Seriously.  Like macaroni-and-cheese-happy.)

Glad to be home,
Meredith

Fun facts about Gandhi:

  • Gandhi thinks the Eiffel Tower is ridiculous.
  • Gandhi ends up in a brothel a couple of times, but always by accident (oops!).
  • Gandhi was all about home-schooling for his kids.
  • While living in England, Gandhi took dance lessons.
  • Gandhi was a married as a child at the age of only thirteen.

Love Is All You Need

It seems a bit strange for me to write about prayer.  I don’t identify with any religious group.  I don’t pray to any particular God.  And I don’t ascribe to any specific prayer rituals (e.g., kneeling, bowing, crossing myself).  Instead, I am one of those so-called spiritual people; I feel it strongly, but I don’t fit into any box.

To be honest, identifying as ‘spiritual’ is neither easy nor fun (and a bit like identifying as ‘queer’).  People are adverse to ambiguity.  And when you add ambiguity to spirituality (which is already an internal, nebulous topic) it becomes that much tougher.

But I digress.

Because even though I’m spiritual, I pray.  And just today, I observed my prayer evolving is a fascinating way.

Years ago, I prayed for things.  I prayed for happiness for my family.  I prayed for friends to get better.  I prayed for forgiveness for me.  My prayer fit a typical format, one that you could almost write as a Mad Lib:  I (Meredith) ask a higher power (God/Heavenly Father/universe) for some sort of spiritual or worldly good (forgiveness/health/happiness) on behalf of some recipient (myself/my family/my dog).

Over time, however, I stopped praying for things.  My prayer kept its directionality but lost its intention.  It seemed presumptuous to think that I knew the best for someone and wished that for them.  At a soul level, is it ultimately better that someone suffer financial difficulties or feel financial ease?  And how would I know?  So I started a practice of simply ‘holding them in my heart’; I hoped for their own best interests while acknowledging that I didn’t know what those were.  Similar to the Vipassana tradition of metapana meditation, it was a bit like sending other people love, peace and happiness.  This love-orientation moved beyond prayer and bled into my daily life, where I went through my days wondering how I could be “the most loving person possible.”

But earlier today, a strange shift happened.  I was sitting in meditative silence when I realized how very ego-oriented that whole approach was.  In the past, I was praying.  I was sending love.  I was being the most loving person possible.  But today, there was no I in it.  Instead, I was love.  I held love.  I felt love.  I would say that I became a better amplifier of the love that was already latent in me, but that would put too much of myself in it.  Instead, the prayer felt more like simply radiating:  Love.  Love.  Love.  Love.

Now, to be clear, I don’t walk around exuding “You, you, you.  There is no me.  There is only love.”  I’m not that much of a hippie and I’m definitely not a saint.  Mostly I walk around thinking really normal things like “I want this.  I want that.  I wonder if the muffins from that bakery are any good.  Don’t step in that gum.”

But when I do put myself in a prayerful mood, I like this new way of approaching it.  Less me, more you.  Less ego, more existence.

And so, most of the time, my ego remains:
Meredith

evolution of prayer