Life and the Tao

My wife is pregnant and soon to give birth to our baby girl. This has included many doctors visits and recently a class covering the birth process. Thankfully many things have changed in the last few decades, and giving birth is no longer seen as a medical procedure, but as a natural act that needs medical supervision. At least, as long as the doctor is willing to give up control and let Nature guide the process.

Three issues keep coming up that reminded me of the lessons of the Tao; movement is life, Nature is wise, and the vertical as the central axis of our lives.

The birthing process is all about the fetus moving into position. The baby is active within the womb. In fact, she guides the whole process by the position that she gets herself into. Even the birth itself is an act of will on the part of the new-born. She tucks her head under the pubic bone to “dive” under and out of the birthing canal. At no point is she not moving and active.

Similarly, the mother gains by being as active as possible. Despite decades of misinformation and forced bed-rest, women are now starting to reconnect with the natural impulse to move during the birthing process. There are astonishing stories of women having easy, almost pain-free births and what they all shared in common was a history of movement, of dancing. Women with belly dancing training did the best. Some women  even spontaneously started dancing and shimmying in the hours before birth because movement was the only thing that relieved the pain. Movement is literally life; it is what distinguishes the living from the dead, and is the engine that propels all the natural processes around us and in us.

Nature, in her wisdom, has provided us with most of the answers we need. We often get into trouble wen we add a layer of Ego to our lives. In the birthing process, doctors decided that they should be in charge. They positioned the mothers-to-be in unnatural position because it allowed the doctors to be comfortably seated, no matter the added discomfort to the mothers. They made the rhythms of birth change to fit their schedules. In the doing this they made birth longer, more painful and more traumatic than it needed to be.

But Nature had her own way of doing things, where one step led to the other, where the movement of the baby led to a quicker birth, where the body knew what and when to do its thing. All we have to do is be guided by the natural rhythms of our own bodies and Nature’s logic is revealed. It is awe-inspiring and humbling to see the intricate mechanism of life as it proceeds apace, our ego an upetty guest in the whole process.

And finally the whole process is a search for the vertical. The baby aligns herself for a dive out of the womb into the air. The birth itself is greatly eased if gravity is allowed to help, and yet we fight it. We tell mother to lie down. We recommend bed rest, immobility, horizontality when life around us says move and stand up.

Gravity is the vertical line going through our life. It defines our bodies – they are built around that vertical. It defines our movements – we move forward by falling from foot to foot. It defines our mental world – above is good, light, Divine; down is bad, dark and Infernal. In ancient Babylon they built ziggurats to rise up to the Heavens. The Egyptians built pyramids, the Buddhist stupas, the Christians their cathedrals. Everyone looks up to find the Divine.

We must engage the vertical in ourselves because it is the only way to know we are engaged correctly with our bodies and our lives. Think of the ways we express dark emotions, how we are warped and bent by guilt, fear, trauma. We are upstanding citizens when we can stand tall and keep our chins up. We can deal with our fears, our shyness, when we pull the shoulders back, when we realign with the natural vertical of the spine. Drop the tension we carry and the shoulders drop, the hands fall and rest by our sides.

We are fully ourselves when we express the vertical line that connects our head to our feet. The old Taoist masters would say that we ARE the ziggurat, the pyramid and the cathedral. We stand along the vertical line that connects Heaven and Earth because we stand as the connection between them.

So pull those shoulders back and help keep up the roof of Heaven above our heads.

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