One of the guiding principles of Birthing From Within is that the essence of childbirth preparation is self-discovery, and that active, creative self-expression is critical to the birthing journey. The Birthing From Within mentor guides parents through self-discovery by listening to them mindfully, engaging them in solution-focused dialogue, and bringing their awareness to the stories they are living out. Activities such as meditation, storytelling, ritual, and art activate and connect different parts of the mind, allowing parents to access more of their own inner knowledge, bringing those insights from the fleeting realm of thoughts and emotions into the physical realm of action and matter.
“Listen to your body.” “Follow your intuition.” “You’ll just know.” How often have you heard this advice in regards to birth? For some this may come easily, but for many of us, domesticated to look outside of ourselves for approval – to family, teachers, books, social media – that sense of inner knowing has atrophied. Why would we expect it to start working on cue, under pressure? When intuition is ignored, it stops speaking. When the Muse is not allowed to express herself, she becomes the Critic. And she is angry. Angry at being exiled and forgotten in the dark, while you enjoy the accolades and the sunshine. The things she says to you are not nice, at first. The path to re-establishing a relationship with her is creativity.
Humans have engaged in intentional creativity since the first marks were made with red ochre on cave walls. Until relatively recently, all things were made with intention. Bowls, furniture, clothing, houses, food, adornments… imagine a person creating one of these items while thinking about the function it would serve and the people that would use it, imbuing it with prayers for abundance or healing or protection, decorating it with colors, symbols, and images that tell a story. This is intentional creativity. Now imagine the people using this item, possibly generation after generation. What would they feel or think about when they use this item? How might it become a part of their story?
In a Birthing From Within class, parents are engaging in intentional creativity when they respond to a birth art prompt and make images with chalk pastels.
When they draw “Seeing Myself as a Mother,” they start with an inquiry about their relationship to motherhood. Thoughts, images, stories, and emotions arise within them, and, with all of this activated in their mind and body, they move the pastel on the paper. By allowing the drawing to unfold as it will, they are acknowledging and honoring their intuition – their Muse – and beginning to re-establish that relationship. The thoughts, images, stories, emotions, and inner promptings organize and integrate themselves on the paper in new and surprising ways, leading to increased clarity. By bringing forth their inner knowing from concept into matter by means of the physical action of their body, they embody it and claim it.
The Intentional Creativity®️ movement, founded by Shiloh Sophia, is a part of a legacy that includes Shiloh’s teacher, Sue Hoya Sellars, and Sue’s teacher, Lenore Thomas Straus. Like Birthing From Within, Intentional Creativity®️ is not a method, but a framework for engaging in a life of curiosity, discovery, compassion, action, and co-creation. The canvas becomes the intersection between the logical and the imaginal, which is the realm of the mythic – the myth that you are co-creating out of your own life and the story that wants to live through you.
The thirteen-step painting process, which I guide birth workers through in my Birthing From Within workshop, “Embodying Inanna’s Descent,” is simply one doorway for entering into this experience of intentional creativity. The central image of these paintings is usually a face, which becomes an icon representing the sacred feminine, or your muse, or another archetype. This kind of painting can be described as contemporary symbolism, although every painting will be original and you will have your own style.
In Birthing From Within classes, we intentionally use chalk pastels and paper as our art medium. This creates a low-pressure sense of experimentation, and, like childbirth, it’s messy, and you can’t get it wrong. For a thirteen-step painting, you’ll use acrylics on a big canvas. Using these “serious art” materials can definitely up the intensity of the experience – both the terror and the joy. (Imagine that feeling of dipping a big brush in red paint and sweeping it across the canvas!) It will turn up the volume on your inner dialogue. I guarantee there will be ample opportunities to communicate with your inner archetypes – Victim and Rule Keeper, Critic and Muse – to practice listening and responding bravely (what have you got to lose?).
The benefits that you will get from this process have nothing to do with talent. It’s all about what you do when you don’t know what to do – when you don’t know how, when you can’t see the path in front of you. So much of the work we do with birthing people, and, indeed, so much of our own suffering, has to do with feeling stuck: an inability to choose, feeling out of options, or being trapped in the revolving door of blame.
By taking it to the canvas you just get unstuck. You claim your ability to act and you create a new path with every step you take.
Giving birth and parenting are archetypal acts of creativity, so it makes sense that there are so many parallels between that journey and the journey of making art. What ideas do you have for bringing more intentional creativity into your childbirth classes, or into your own preparation for birth? The way you set up your classroom, the way you prepare a meal, the clothes you wear… these can all be intentionally creative rituals. Beginning a module with a quick doodle or meta-cognitive drawing usually leads to a much juicier dialogue. Could your students create their own map, set of cards, or journal that is a work of art? What could they create and add to each week to contain all the layers they are taking away from the class? How could their art create a sense of belonging and connect them to each other? Not sure yet? Take it to the canvas.