Kindred Media Sharing the New Story of Childhood, Parenthood, and the Human Family Tue, 24 Nov 2015 21:34:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Loving-Kindness At Thanksgiving Tue, 24 Nov 2015 21:04:38 +0000 As we move into the Thanksgiving season, the vibrant energy of loving-kindness offers true sustenance. The importance of delicious holiday food pales in comparison to the love of family and friends. The presence of loving-kindness constitutes what matters most around the Thanksgiving table. However, some of us arrive at Thanksgiving celebrations with trepidation in our […]

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As we move into the Thanksgiving season, the vibrant energy of loving-kindness offers true sustenance. The importance of delicious holiday food pales in comparison to the love of family and friends. The presence of loving-kindness constitutes what matters most around the Thanksgiving table.

However, some of us arrive at Thanksgiving celebrations with trepidation in our hearts. Family discord, addictions, secrets, anger, or sadness often turn the potential beauty of this holiday into an unhappily attended obligatory event. Can the experience of such difficulty be transformed?

Relationships with emotionally unhealthy people are challenging. Their difficulty is compounded by the fact that no matter how much we may wish to transform another, we can only change ourselves. While difficult people may remain unaltered, we can choose to strengthen our capacity of extending positive and loving energy towards them. In doing so, we transform.


For many of us, we naturally feel the emotions of loving-kindness towards those closest to our hearts. American philosopher Nel Noddings refers to this as “natural care.” While we may need to refine our expression of care, the emotion of love for those nearest and dearest is instinctive. But what of those with whom we struggle? What of those we dislike, or even hate? Through conscious effort, we can direct caring energy towards people with whom we experience negative emotions. Noddings calls the intentional extension of natural care “ethical care.” It may not arise instinctively, but we can become more ethical. We can become more caring.


One way to strengthen our capacity to love is through the practice of “metta” or loving-kindness meditation. This is an ancient Buddhist technique of training the mind and heart to respond to both pleasant and challenging relationships with clarity and kindness. In “The Metta Sutra,” Buddhist adherents are given an inspiring illustration of what it means to truly open the heart. “Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life, cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos.”

While we may not experience “boundless love” so fully in this lifetime, we can certainly cultivate it. As we work to genuinely wish loving-kindness to all beings– not just those gathered around the Thanksgiving table– we benefit tremendously.

Cutting-edge research at Stanford University reveals that even a few minutes of metta meditation increases the sense of “social connectedness,” a feeling central to human wellbeing. A 2008 study at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill highlights how a daily metta meditation practice significantly increases positive emotion and decreases both “depressive” and “illness symptoms.”

At its best, Thanksgiving nurtures, celebrates, and centers on positive social connections and emotion. In preparation for the holiday, consider setting aside 10 minutes a day for metta meditation practice.


If you sit down at the Thanksgiving table experiencing only natural feelings of loving-kindness, the practice of metta will deepen this experience. If you pull up a chair next to a difficult relative, loving-kindness meditation practice can be a very helpful support. Certainly, we all benefit by celebrating fall’s bountiful harvest with expansive hearts.

In presenting the following instructions for metta practice, I’m indebted to the work of senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Aruni Nan Futuronsky, creator of the CD “Life Works.” I’m also grateful for the insights of American Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, author of “Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.” Many versions of the loving-kindness blessings– used in metta meditation– exist. Feel free to draw upon the blessings offered below or modify them to best inspire your own cultivation of good will.

Sitting Peacefully

To prepare for loving-kindness meditation practice, sit comfortably either in a chair or on the floor. Find a spot in your home where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off your phone. You may want to set a soft bell or chime alarm to signal the end of the time devoted to practice. Set an intention to sit still. Yet, avoid being rigid about this. Let yourself move mindfully if needed.

If it feels comfortable to do so, close your eyes. Take a few minutes to settle into awareness of your breath. Notice your inhale and exhale. Let your belly be soft as you breathe. Let natural, easy, and mindful breathing calm you.

Return to mindfully focusing on your breath as you transition from one stage of metta meditation to the next. In fact, do your best to be aware of your breath throughout the experience.

Metta for oneself

Kindred New Story Ad Child Pointing V2Begin metta meditation by focusing on yourself. See yourself clearly at this point in your life. Perhaps this is a challenging time for you. Perhaps this is a time of great joy. Regardless, embrace all aspects of your being with a non-judgmental attitude– even if only for 10 minutes.

The heart of metta practice involves the repetition of blessing phrases. At first you may not feel connected to these sayings. That’s fine. Just watch your reactions without judgment. Continue to return to the blessing phrases and imagine what it would be like to genuinely embrace their wisdom. You can repeat these phrases out loud or silently in your mind.

May I be happy.

May I be healthy.

May I be at peace with whatever I’m given.

Wishing your own self happiness, health, and the inner strength to be at peace throughout life’s vicissitudes is a powerful practice. You’ll be able to extend these blessings to others to the extent you can offer them to yourself.

Metta for a beloved one

Bring to mind the image of a person you love. See this individual clearly. See her smile. Notice how you feel when you imagine being near him. Feel your heart expand with the sense of natural care. Repeat the words of blessing, the words of metta, and direct them to this individual.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at peace with whatever you’re given.

Notice how it feels to extend these blessings to a beloved person in your life. Notice what emotions arise as you wish this person happiness, health, and peace. Focus your attention on offering these blessings to one you hold dear.

Metta for an acquaintance

Bring to mind a person that you see on a regular basis but don’t know well. You could pick an acquaintance at work, or someone at your local grocery store. Perhaps pick the person who brings your mail, or distant family friend. See this individual clearly in your mind. Repeat the loving-kindness blessings and direct your attention to this person.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at peace with whatever you’re given.

We cross paths with so many, yet come to deeply know only a few of these people over the course of a lifetime. Metta meditation practice helps us cultivate a spirit of goodwill towards the many acquaintances we encounter. Loving-kindness meditation helps us to remember the common hopes and dreams shared by humanity.

Metta for an adversary

In the beginning of your metta practice, you may not want to pick the most disliked or hated individual in your life experience. When it comes to directing loving-kindness energy to someone who is a negative influence, it’s best to start with one whose legacy isn’t completely full of pain. This way you can develop the skill of offering blessings to those you dislike without being initially overwhelmed.

Bring to mind a person who dislike. Perhaps pick someone who has injured you or caused you harm. See this person clearly. Notice details. Breathe deeply and repeat these blessings as genuinely as possible.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at peace with whatever you’re given.

It may be helpful to remember that you are not condoning the behavior of unhealthy or negative people. Rather, you are wishing them well knowing that if such people were healthy, happy, and at peace then their behavior would profoundly change. Remember, negative and hurtful behaviors are rooted in disjointed, traumatized, and unhappy lives. Through the practice of metta, you free yourself from habitually responding to negativity with a knee-jerk reaction of condemning the offending person. As you offer the disliked person a profound– even if unmerited– blessing of healing, you work to transform the root of negativity itself.

Metta for the world

Finally, before you conclude your metta meditation practice, bring to mind an image of the human race as a whole. You may want to imagine the earth spinning in space. Consider the complexity of billions of interactions linking our human family as one. Direct your loving-kindness blessing to all.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at peace with whatever you’re given.

At first, offering the metta blessings to countless individuals can seem daunting. How to extending goodwill so far and wide? Trust your own power of creative imagination and heartfelt knowing. Remember you are practicing metta, not needing to perfect it. Even your intention of wishing goodwill towards all transforms your sense of connectedness, positivity, and love.

May an expanding vision– and deepening experience– of loving-kindness enrich your Thanksgiving Day. May the practice of metta enrich every day of your life.

Photo Shutterstock/Nikki Zalewski


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How The Microbiome Destroyed The Ego, Vaccine Policy And Patriarchy Sun, 22 Nov 2015 19:49:02 +0000 The relatively recent discovery of the microbiome is not only completely redefining what it means to be human, to have a body, to live on this earth, but is overturning belief systems and institutions that have enjoyed global penetrance for centuries. A paradigm shift has occurred, so immense in implication, that the entire frame of […]

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The relatively recent discovery of the microbiome is not only completely redefining what it means to be human, to have a body, to live on this earth, but is overturning belief systems and institutions that have enjoyed global penetrance for centuries.

A paradigm shift has occurred, so immense in implication, that the entire frame of reference for our species’ self-definition, as well as how we relate fundamentally to concepts like “germs,” have been transformed beyond recognition. This shift is underway and yet, despite popular interest in our gut ecology, the true implications remain unacknowledged.

It started with the discovery of the microbiome, a deceptively diminutive term, referring to an unfathomably complex array of microscopic microorganisms together weighing only 3-4 lbs. in the average human, represents a Copernican revolution when it comes to forming the new center, genetically and epigenetically, of what it means in biological terms to be human.

Considering the sheer density of genetic information contained within these commensals, as well as their immense contribution towards sustaining basic functions like digestion, immunity, and brain function, the “microbiome” could just as well be relabeled the “macrobiome”; that is, if we are focusing on the size of its importance rather than physical dimensionality.

For instance, if you take away the trillions of viruses, bacteria and fungi that coexist with our human cells (the so-called holobiont), only 1% of the genetic material that keeps us ticking, and has for hundreds of millions of years, remains. One percent isn’t that much for the ego to work with, especially considering it now has to thank what were formerly believed to be mostly “infectious agents” for the fact that it exists. Even more perplexing, the remaining 1% of our contributed DNA to the collective gene pool of the holobiont is at least 8% retroviral (yes, the same category as HIV) in origin!

Us Against Them?

Once the object of modern medicine’s fundamental responsibility – the human body – is redefined and/or perceived with greater veracity, and “germs” become less other and more self, a challenge for germ theory which seeks to differentiate between the “good” germs we are versus the “bad” ones out there that we must fight with antibiotics and vaccines.

As many readers are already poignantly aware, today’s political climate and agenda is unilaterally pro-vaccination on both sides of the aisle (conveniently funded by the same industry lobbyists), with a tidal wave of bills across the U.S. set to eliminate exemptions against mandatory vaccination. The rationale, of course, is that deadly germs can only be prevented from killing the presumably germ-free host through injecting dead, weakened or genetically modified germ components to “prevent” theoretical future exposures and infection. This concept is of course intellectually infantile, and if you do some investigating you’ll find it was never quite grounded in compelling evidence or science.

But the intellectual implications of the microbiome go even deeper than undermining germ theory, vaccine policy, and the culture of medical monotheism that upholds these constructs…

Maternal Origins of Health and Ultimately our Species Identity

Kindred New Story Ad Child Pointing V2Deep within the substratum of humanity’s largely unquestioned assumptions of what it means to be human, the microbiome has also fundamentally displaced a latent patriarchal prejudice concerning the relative importance and contribution of the man and woman towards the health and ultimately the continuation of our species.

It has been known for some time that only women pass down mitochondrial DNA, already tipping the scales in favor of her dominant position in contributing genetic information (the seat of our humanity or species identity, no?) to offspring. The microbiome, however, changes everything in favor of amplifying this asymmetry of hereditary influence. Since we are all designed to gestate in the womb and come through the birth canal, and since the neonate’s microbiome is therein derived and established thereof, it follows that most of our genetic information as holobionts is maternal in origin. Even when the original colonization eventually changes and is displaced through environmentally-acquired microbial strains as the infant, child, adolescent, and then adult, develops, the original terrain and subsequent trajectory of changes was established through the mother (unless of course we were C-sectioned into the world).

Put in simpler terms: if 99% of what it means to be human is microbiome-based, and if the mother contributes most, if not all, of the original starting material, or at least the baseline and trajectory of future changes in the inner terrain, then her contribution becomes vastly more important than that of the father.

Moreover, the conditions surrounding gestation (important because of maternal-to-fetal microbiome trafficking in utero), her general health, and the way in which she gives birth (home, birth center, or hospital) now take on vastly greater importance than previously imagined. In other words, being born in a hospital via C-section and vaccination, will produce, genetically and epigenetically, a human that is so different – qualitatively – from one born at home, naturally, that they could almost be classified as different species, despite sharing nearly identical eukaryotic DNA (remember, only 1% of the holobiont’s total).

Given this perspective, obstetric interventions are the archetypal expression of a male-dominated paradigm that seeks to manage a woman’s birth experience with largely unacknowledged consequences for the health of our species. Protecting health and preventing disease has now been traced back to the origins of the microbiome, best expressed through natural birth in the home, which has been estimated to be as much as 1,000 times safer than a hospital birth despite propaganda to the contrary.

In light of the new, microbiome-based view, the male role in protecting the health of women and children will be irrevocably downgraded in importance, not just professionally and medically, but biologically.  First, it is interesting to look at the ancient roots of the biology-based psychospiritual disparities that exist between men and women, and which still influence today’s practice of medicine.

PAHJ Freak-of-Nature GraphicIt would appear that men have from the beginning of time envied the creative role of women in conception, pregnancy, birth and caretaking. Erich Fromm also described the pyschospiritual implications for men of this biologically-based existential disparity in terms of the phenomena of womb-envy, exemplified by the biblical passage where God takes a rib from Adam to “create” Eve – an obvious reversal of the natural order of things, reflecting the inherent impotence men feel knowing their creative potency is secondary importance. It has been said, rightly, that the most powerful thing in the universe is to create life (is this not why we attribute this to “God”), and the second most powerful thing to take it. It is no coincidence that history, since it’s inception as recorded, is largely a documentation of the history of wars, of men “creating meaning” by killing men, and establishing symbol systems intended to capture by proxy the creative power latent within every woman’s body and experience.  And so, 10,000 years later, the world ruled by monotheistic, male-principled religious and cultural systems, both in secular and religious form, it seems that the facts of our biology are now intervening to shake up these largely subconscious belief systems in favor of an ancient truth: women are superior to men, fundamentally. (Though it is not a type of superiority to be used against the “weaker sex”: men, rather but to denote a higher responsibility, and perhaps greater need to be supported by men to get the job done, together, as inscribed in the natural order of things and its inherent design.)

The birth process, also, has been described as the closest thing to death without dying (it is ironic that anesthesiology, which could also be described in the same way, makes obstetrical interventions like C-section and epidural possible, at the same moment that it negates the spiritual experience of natural birth/women’s empowerment we are describing), offering women a window into the ‘in between’ and a direct experience of Source that men, less likely to experience it naturally would later emulate and access through the various technologies of shamanism.

Clearly, protecting the microbiome is of utmost importance if we are making the health of our future generations a priority. Indeed, ensuring the health of our offspring is perhaps the most fundamental evolutionary imperative we have.  How do we accomplish this? What is the microbiome but ultimately a selective array of commensal microorganisms that ultimately originated from the environment: in the air we breath, the soil we interact with, and the water and food, of course, we ingest. This means we can’t simply live in a hermetically sealed bubble of shopping for organic, non-GMO certified foods at Whole Foods, while the entire planet continues to go to post-industrial hell in a hand basket.  Our responsibility becomes distributed across everything in the world, and every impactful choice then becomes relevant to the fundamental issue and imperative at hand. With the microbial biodiversity in Big Ag, GM-based agricultural zones fire-bombed with biocides, by the very same corporations that either own or distribute the “organic brands” we all love to think will save our bodies, if not the planet, we need to step deeper into our activism by stepping out of the diversions and palliative measures that don’t result in lasting change.

When we work with the natural world, when we honor and acknowledge what is unknown about the complex web that we all share, we will bring back a vital health that now seems so far out of reach. When we engage technologies positioned in the war against germs and organisms, however, we are doomed to fail and to cripple not only our species but our home.

Photo Shutterstock/arloo

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How Attachment Helps Us Make Sense Of Terrorism Thu, 19 Nov 2015 14:05:46 +0000 Paris has again been targeted by terrorists. The loss and fear that travelled its streets in January has been renewed. It was after those January attacks that I last wrote on the topic of terrorism, inspired by the refusal of the people of France to give in to fear. Yet, the human response to terrorism […]

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Screen Shot PENCIL 2015-11-14 at 12.58.41Paris has again been targeted by terrorists. The loss and fear that travelled its streets in January has been renewed.

It was after those January attacks that I last wrote on the topic of terrorism, inspired by the refusal of the people of France to give in to fear. Yet, the human response to terrorism inevitably says that is not enough. We want to do more than simply stand up to it. We want to know what causes terrorism and how to stop it. My own view is that understanding the science of attachment is central to achieving a lasting solution.

The most common explanation of Islamic terrorism focuses on religious extremism and ideology. The colonial history to which the Middle East has long been subjected is often traced. Poverty, racism, tribal identity and jihadist promises of heaven frequently feature. This week on the radio, I also heard jihadist terrorists explained as “thugs and murderers”, “psychopathic nutters” and “simply born evil”.

I agree that most of these are contributory factors to terrorism. But I want to add another to the list, one that usually goes unnoticed and unacknowledged: childhood trauma. Terrorist acts are often the result of unresolved childhood pain. Fear early in life warps your mind, your heart, your sense of self. Early pain that remains unresolved re-emerges later in life, easily taking on a form that is dangerous to others, especially if the cultural context is one that legitimates violence.

How do we know that? Countless empirical research studies have now tracked this link. Toxic stress in childhood leaves a mark — whether the stressful fear stems from family violence orloss or community violence or war.

Yes, children are resilient. We need to celebrate and work from that place of resilience. But resilience does not mean that children move on from a period of trauma unscarred. The neuroscience is forcing us to recognise that early distress always leaves a child changed. Even their DNA is left scarred. What we need to do, for ourselves as well as for the children, is work to ensure that those scars are healed, rather than left as open emotional wounds. Festering wounds are dangerous –- for self and for others. So my motivation for writing this piece does not arise merely from a sense of altruism for traumatised children, important as that is. I am trying to help keep the rest of us safe too.

One of the best known contemporary trauma studies is the ACE Study, published in 1998. It has robustly linked a whole range of adult health problems (e.g., heart disease, liver disease, smoking, drinking, suicide) to traumatic childhood events including abuse, neglect, parental mental illness or incarceration, and even parental divorce. In a very real sense then, many terrorist acts can be seen as real-life examples of the ACE Study.

There are other commentators drawing attention to the link between childhood trauma and terrorism. Unsurprisingly, their voices often get drowned out in the frantic debate we’re all having. One of the most vociferous is the psychotherapist Robin Grille, who had this to say in 2003:

“What social forces give rise to the fanaticism that leads to terrorism? The key lies in the perpetrators’ childhoods…. We [may] give such hatred a religious rationale, but always what underlies it is childhood pain.”

More recently, this link has been discussed in a research brief written by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.  Their findings, based on interviews with former members of violent extremist groups, reveal a catalogue of childhood traumas:

Nearly half reported having been the victim of childhood physical abuse or neglect; one quarter reported being the victim of sexual abuse. Parental incarceration, mental illness and abandonment featured prominently in their life histories. In later years, attempted suicide, mental health problems, substance abuse and academic failure were present in a majority of those interviewed.

This very week, journalist Joan Smith picked up on the link in her column in The Independent:

“For the most part, terrorist attacks in western Europe are not being committed by young men (and a handful of women) who have grown up under the Middle East’s brutal dictatorships. The perpetrators are often individuals like the Kouachi brothers, who were born in France and appear to have gone off the rails when their mother killed herself.”

paris-suspects-kouachiI too talked about the Kouachi brothers in my January article. As children, they spent time in the French care system. But the care provided by that system was clearly unable to sufficiently heal their emotional wounds. The draw of inclusion within the jihadist family of terror proved more comforting for them.

These examples reveal that terrorism is indeed all too often a terrible real-life example of the ACE Study’s findings. Terrorists’ aims of shattering communities are, ironically, driven by an attachment need: the search to belong, the search tomatter. Joan Smith says that explicitly at the end of her piece:

“Young men, sometimes with pre-existing psychopathic tendencies…are offered an identity and a sense of importance by extreme Islamist organisations….Once we get past anger, reason dictates that we set about breaking the hold religious extremism is exerting on young men with low self-esteem and a propensity towards violence.”

Although Smith’s argument is not framed through a scientific lens, she is offering us a viable solution for the fear our society faces. She is saying we should pay attention to children’s emotional pain. That is a solution based in attachment.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.13.32In times of austerity, however, it is precisely such solutions that become harder to achieve. Support services for families and children are amongst the first to be cut. Decision-makers treat them as if they are a luxury. An analysis by the Children’s Society in July 2015 revealed that between 2010 and 2015, funding for support services in England had been cut by 25%, with further reductions expected. In Scotland, a recent report, published jointly by the NSPCC and Barnardo’s Scotland, explored the impacts for vulnerable families of £4.5 billion being removed from the Scottish welfare budget over the same 5-year period.

These cuts are stupid, even in a time of austerity. We place ourselves in jeopardy when we make them. Recall Joan Smith’s observation that, for the most part, terrorist attacks in western Europe are being committed not by young people raised in Middle Eastern countries, but by Europe’s own citizens and residents. Like all early intervention, de-radicalisation is most effective when achieved during childhood, not during adolescence or adulthood.

When I try to highlight the link between childhood trauma and terrorism, I am sometimes accused of excusing violence. It makes some listeners uncomfortable to hear I have not gone immediately to a place of blame and outrage, but rather to a place of grief and acceptance. It is hard for them to comprehend how I can stand calmly, if mournfully, in acknowledgment of what the science is telling us: suffering breeds suffering. When childhood pain goes unresolved, it festers, grows, mutates, spreads. If we want to stop that spread, we must nurture healing.

It is only by understanding this link that sense can be made of other things I’ve recently said in public. For example, on the Saturday when the terrible news of the Paris attacks broke, I was scheduled to speak at the Annual Conference of an organization called Sign and Sign. I told the 100 women gathered there that by teaching parents to sing silly songs with their babies, they were fighting terrorism. If you don’t understand the link with attachment, then my statement sounds facile and insulting.

Yet my statement carries the same intention as the tribute penned this week by the father of a toddler, whose wife was killed in the attack. His powerful message to the terrorists carries these lines: “Melvil is waking from his afternoon nap. He’s just 17 months old. He’ll eat his snack like every day, and then we’re going to play, like we do every day. And every day of his life, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom – because you don’t have his hatred either.”   It is play and joy and laughter and connection that keeps us emotionally healthy, Screen Shot PLAY 2015-11-19 at 10.36.12sane and caring. We take these qualities for granted at our peril.

Therefore, let me be very clear. The acknowledgement of pain is not equivalent to condoning violence. I do not think that the deaths of 129 people in Paris is defensible. Nor do I think that the terrorist deaths of people in other countries last week, including Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria and Syria, is excusable. We now know that the 224 lives recently lost on a Russian jet are due to a bomb. The taking of these lives is abhorrent, heinous, reprehensible.

And I completely understand the emotional response of blame and anger to such murders. Blame is excellent as an emotional defense against loss and fear. Blame helps us to feel safe again. It prompts a sense of action — action that feels legitimate and justified.

Screen Shot TURBANS 2015-11-14 at 13.07.17The trouble is that blame is not so excellent as a strategy for preventing future loss. The intensity of its immediacy prevents it from offering anything more than a short-term solution. Blame is an emotional solution, not a practical one. In refusing to turn to blame as a way of making myself feel safer, I have chosen a more difficult emotional path: I have chosen to become curious about the experiences of people with whom I disagree, people who have hurt me, people whom I dislike, people who scare me. I have the emotional space to do that; unlike the father of Melvil, I haven’t (yet) lost anyone I love to terrorism. So figuring out how to prevent terrorism is a better use of my energy than figuring out whom to punish.

I don’t even have to be aiming – as an individual, an organization or a society — to prevent all terrorism in order for my efforts to be worthwhile. If the two Kouachi brothers had had enough support when their mother committed suicide, then perhaps the families of the 11 people murdered by them in January would not currently be suffering the loss they are enduring. Perhaps we would not now be coping with the seismic ripples those losses unleashed on our world.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.20.06I accept, though, that fighting terrorism cannot be achieved merely by focusing on the life histories of individual terrorists. Daesh is a movement, a culture, a large amorphous group of treacherous people set on causing death and disruption. I am not saying that I believe that negotiating with Daesh would solve the current crisis of violence we face. So how, then, does the lens of childhood trauma still help us in thinking about what is happening?

Robin Grille’s answer is that an attachment lens leads us to face up to the fundamentalist nature of Daesh and extreme Islam. More accurately, he argues we should beware the nature of all fundamentalist groups and religions – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or others.

“Fundamentalist religions engender oppressive, even abusive, family environments. Fundamentalist communities are typically the harshest, most authoritarian and most violent toward women and children. The children of violence and repression grow up to embrace violence, with grave consequences that can ripple across a nation and throughout the world. To look at the impact of religious fundamentalism on the world stage is to study the effects of mass child abuse on society at large. Fundamentalism in all faiths is a danger to humanity – first and foremost because it is a declaration of war against children.”

If we need a test for the accuracy of Grille’s argument, we need look no further than the photos released this week to the media by Daesh. The images show children enrolled in a Jihadist school, some apparently as young as 6 years old, wearing balaclavas, marching with assault rifles, and training to become militant fighters. I have chosen not to include those photos in this article, as a small act of resistance against the self-publicity strategy of Daesh. If you wish to see the images yourself, you can do so in The Times’ report on the photos.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 10.49.13I know we are scared. I am scared. That is exactly what terrorists want. They want us to be afraid. When we are afraid, we are more likely to resort to blame, division, retribution — precisely because action makes us feel safe. All of us human beings are searching for a sense of safety. That is a basic attachment drive. We feel safer when it seems that we have a chance of slaying the sabre tooth tiger bearing down upon us.

To be strategic, though, we have to be smarter than this. We have to be smart enough to realise that creating a sense of safety does not mean that we are actually safe. Figuring out who to blame – and thus whom to make the target of more violence – will not solve the problem. It will merely shift it to another place, to another generation.

Instead, we need to be as smart as the father interviewed this week on French television, sitting calmly with his young son, near to the scene of the Bataclan massacre. “No,” he says to his little boy, “You don’t have to be afraid.” Looking at his worried child, he goes on: “Yes, bad men have been in Paris. And there are bad men everywhere. Yes, they carry guns.”   Looking around at the setting of mourning within which they are sitting, he adds, gently, “In France, we are fighting guns with flowers and candles.”


Featured Photo Stacey Newman/Shutterstock

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The Blind Leading The Blind – A Reaction To The AAP’s New Screen Time Policy Mon, 16 Nov 2015 22:01:58 +0000 Kindred’s Contributing Editor and FCL board member, Michael Mendizza, responds below to the American Academy of Pediatric’s new screen time policy statement, Beyond “Turn It Off”: How To Advise Families On Media Use.  Normal isn’t necessarily healthy or natural,  or the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is so much more demanding […]

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Kindred’s Contributing Editor and FCL board member, Michael Mendizza, responds below to the American Academy of Pediatric’s new screen time policy statement, Beyond “Turn It Off”: How To Advise Families On Media Use. 

Normal isn’t necessarily healthy or natural, 
or the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It is so much more demanding for parents not to substitute virtual for real experiences; no wonder a recent essay applauded the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for softening its position on screen time. This essay is the latest edition of the blind leading the blind, looking at water from inside the fish bowl and not at the true nature of the child, that is, after all, nature, not FaceBook, Sesame Street or the criminally misleading Baby Einstein. The arguments go like this:

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has adopted an on/off switch mentality when it comes to children and screen time. It used to recommend that children, ages two and under, have absolutely no exposure to screens. For older kids, the AAP recommended limiting ‘screen time’ to just two hours a day. Now, the guidelines have been changed so that they reflect a more nuanced approach…

Last month I wrote, Parents Don’t Need To Worry About ‘Screen Time’ Anymore In that post, I argued:

Screens are now a ubiquitous part of our lives. It is a technology that has been completely integrated into the human experience. At this point, worrying about exposure to screens is like worrying about exposure to agriculture, indoor plumbing, the written word, or automobiles. For better or worse, the transition to screen based digital information technologies has already happened and now resistance is futile. The screen time rhetoric that accompanied the television—when this technology was still in its formative age—is no longer relevant.

The AAP now seems to agree. “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’” the update reads, “our policies must evolve or become obsolete. The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.” Of course, that’s exactly what most experts in children and digital media previously thought, that the AAP guidelines seemed like they were the result of familiar technophobic paranoia that always accompanies new technologies.

“Familiar technophobic paranoia that always accompanies new technologies.” Really? I guess that’s me. I’m old enough to remember when bell bottoms were new and TV was going to revolutionize education. Referring to television, Jerry Mander noted way back in the 70’s; no invention or technology is neutral. Each seduces the human body and nervous system to adapt to its new norm. The new norm may be normal but that doesn’t mean it is healthy, natural or optimal.

For millions of years the human body adapted to the natural environment. There wasn’t anything else. As the imaginative and creative capacity of sapiens grew they altered the environment with their tinkering and the human body and brain mutated to stay in balance with these creations. The greater the tinkering the more the human body and brain adapted to mirror the new normal. To catch the enormity of our hubris, remember that nature has been creating us for billions of years. Rather than expanding our potential Joseph Chilton Pearce maintained for decades that each new technology diminishes our innate and near infinite capacity. Technological counterfeits are not substitute for the development of our vast human potential. The issue is the development of capacity, not content.

As many now realize BPA and other plastic molecules are dead counterfeits of estrogen. When present these counterfeit molecules displace natural living estrogen thus disrupting normal and healthy development. The same is true of screen technology. Remember, screens are dead but mimic living systems. Compared to a living face the same face on a screen is sensory deprivation, containing a distorted fraction of the information and meaning of the living system it mimics. The more we interact with the dead counterfeit the less attuned, sensitive and empathic we are when relating with a real face.

Our nature is nature, not FaceBook, InstaGram or World of Warcraft. Ideally the dominate environmental influence that shapes human development during the most formative years, preconception to around age eleven, would be alive, in a word ‘nature.’ The more the developing child interacts with dead counterfeit screens instead of living systems, the less aware, sensitive, connected and empathic that child will be to living systems. Less sensitive and less empathic translates into more aggressive and violent towards themselves, other children, or girlfriends and wives (domestic violence and rape come to mind), birds, bunnies, fish and trees. And this developmental pattern translates into culture and society. A perception-behavior system that is highly connected and empathic to living systems will respond differently, less selfishly and aggressively than non-empathic body-brain, and all this is established very early in life. First person shooter games do little to open and expand empathy.

Developmentally appropriate is another factor. Experiences appropriate for a twelve year old are not necessarily appropriate for a three year old. Well-duhhh, but why? Each stage of development rests on the previous, developed fully or not. When technology is concerned we tend to look at content or the program and ignore how interacting with the device itself impacts a child’s development and when. This has been a major blind spot since the development of television in the 50’s. Most damage, developmentally, is caused by interacting with the device and not its content or programing.

Plus we have the compulsive-addictive nature of the device, something well established, in fact a dominate force driving sales. The device literally grabs and holds the child’s attention years before they have the discrimination to make informed choices, similar to tobacco companies pandering to teens. The addictive-compulsive time invested in consuming commercial and culturally conditioning messages displaces the natural experiences nature expects young children to have: making up stories, playing with trees and grass, just being alone, quiet, staring at nothing at all, learning to listen, being aware of each sense, day dreaming, feeling the feelings others are having. Displacing these natural and organic experiences with dead counterfeits profoundly alters the way the brain and body develops. That is the point.

During early development the brain is packed with unused neural potential waiting to form connections based on experience. Use it or lose it is the law. The nature and quality of the experiences determine and shape how the brain grows and the capacities that are developed. After a few billion years of trial and error nature expects by age eleven that brain-body has experienced all that nature has to offer and washes away the unused neurons, neural-pruning it is called; bring the house to order where the child of the dream gives way to new forms of abstract logic. The question is: what is the nature of the house that is being pruned? Has this child spent appropriate time with complex living systems? If not, that brain will not have an empathic relationship with its own nature. Has he or she spent appropriate time reading the faces of other children and adults? If not their emotional intelligence may be stunted.

The central argument for limiting as much screen time as possible from birth to age eleven is to fill that body and brain with as many natural, non-technological, self-generated imaginative play experiences as possible therefore building what for millions of years would be considered a natural-normal sensory-emotional foundation for the more abstract processes that develop later.

We have two possibilities. The early sensory-emotional foundation for adult forms of abstract thinking and feeling is naturally and fully developed – or not. How that brain-body will react, meaning the nature and quality of perceptions, how that person interprets his or her experiences and therefore behaves is sculpted by the quality and quantity of experience with living systems or dead technology.

Technology has also placed unbridled and undisciplined human imagination on steroids, turning everyone it touches into the Sorcerer’s Apprentice without having a clue what they are doing. The social-cultural images we have about ourselves and others that social media amplify is not who or what we really are. We can say that the intent of true spiritual practices is to first recognize the exponential self-inflicted dangers of ‘not knowing thy self.’ Media-technology is an extension of this ‘not knowing’ and deeply conditions the individual brain and by implication the culture that brain creates to deepen humanity’s identity with false images and the murderous behavior these images induce. To think that early exposure to technology will provide a remedy to the increasing isolation and disassociation virtual reality is, is a perfect example of the blindness induced by our increasing and compulsive identity with virtual reality.

The second intent of true spiritual development, which is simply mature development free of narcissism and ego, is to dissolve all the false images, false beliefs and false identities we have miss-created, returning the cognitive, emotional and physical body-brain to its natural order with its billions of years of unimagined sensitivity and vast unknowable intelligence. Accessing and expressing this unadulterated, sensitive, awake and aware empathic intelligence depends on the experiences children have very early and extend to age eleven.

The less screen time before the great neural pruning around age eleven the better. Fill their life with safe, challenging natural living experience, open, develop and expand their capacity to imagine by immersing them in story and rich descriptive language, and model empathy for all living things; with this as the dominate influence during the early years let them have all the technology they want as teens and watch them soar.  Retard the development of rich, deep empathic intelligence by substituting techno-counterfeits of living experience as the early brain grows and the narcissistic mass egos that result will eat themselves.

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A 21st Century Manifesto For Parenting Fri, 13 Nov 2015 00:21:39 +0000 Pre-order your on-demand virtual retreat with John Breeding Now! Available December 2015 – What Is A Virtual Retreat? Subscribe to Kindred’s E-Newsletter to Join Dr. Breeding’s LIVE CALL In December as well.   “We were reasonably successful in freeing ourselves from the four besetting evils of a competitive, industrialized social pattern: from greed for things […]

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“We were reasonably successful in freeing ourselves from the four besetting evils of a competitive, industrialized social pattern: from greed for things (including money and gadgets) and from power to push around our fellow human beings; from the hurry and noise connected with the drive to get ahead of other people; from the anxiety and fear which are inevitable accompaniments of the struggle for wealth and power; from the multiplicity, complexity, and frustrating confusion which result from the crowding of multitudes of people into small areas.”

                                    –Scott Nearing, 1972. The Making of a Radical

Scott Nearing was a man, born in 1883, who devoted his life to challenging the destruction caused by Western Civilization and its attendant primary value on profit for a few via systematic inculcation of competitive, acquisitive and consumptive attitudes. Scott and his wife, Helen, also observed in their lifetime that the American urban and suburban family had virtually disappeared as a social unit and a social force. With everybody busily working in the system, and children turned over to the forces of compulsory education, the rhythms, routines and regularities of home living have become much less significant in children’s lives.

I agree with the Nearings that Western Civilization, with its clear and consistent emphasis on militarism, competition, industrialism, materialism, and profit for the few at the expense of the many is costing us all. Clearly it is hurting our children. If health is an indicator of the quality of an individual’s relationship with its environment, then increases in chronic illnesses in children clearly reflect our society’s failure. If literacy and psychological well-being are indicators of the quality of children’s development, then growing numbers of illiterate, “learning-disabled” and otherwise “psychiatrically afflicted” children clearly show the failure of our civilization. If relaxed confidence, trust and safety are indicators of the quality of a child’s development, then we are failing many. If fraud and deceit, and drugs and violence and imprisonment of adults are indicators of failed character development, then the way we raise young people in Western Civilization is a disaster.

Wildest Colts CoverA definitive indicator of the quality of a civilization is in the care of its young. Since mothers do the most care of children, a rational civilization must, by any measure, value mothers over militarism. Since the care of children depends on available caring fathers, a rational civilization must value the health and well-being of its men over militarist expansion and corporate profits. These two values are not and never have been true of Western Civilization.

Since the care of children depends on adequate availability of basic needs, the financial well-being of working families must always be a priority over excess wealth of the few and excess military might; this, too is not and never has been true of Western Civilization. What is true is the reality of what I call parental oppression, a state of hardship due to systematic neglect and mistreatment of parents and families for the sake of the power and greed inherent in an exploitative approach to people and the world. Parenting is always a difficult challenge, but it is especially hard because of the lack of real support in our society, and because of the deleterious effects on community, in the form of alienation and separation, which were wrought by the priorities of militarist, industrialist, capitalist civilization. Parenting is hard not because parents are doing a bad job; in fact, parents are doing heroically well under the circumstances. As an example of this, we may for the first time have a small, but significant cohort of young people who are being raised with an attitude of complete respect from their parents. This is a wonderful and remarkable thing. Nevertheless, the decline of Western Civilization as we know it may be seen in the tremendous stress and neglect from which so many of our children are suffering. Denying such effect only supports its perpetuation. Facing it allows for the possibility of real help for our children, in the form of everyday heroic action by parents.

In his latest book, Bo Lozoff, director of the Human Kindness Foundation, makes a statement that puts into perspective the apparent negative orientation of so many religious precepts. Here is what he has to say:

In fact, most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts, and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should stop. Most of the ten commandments start with “Thou shalt not”; the Buddhist precepts and Hindu Yamas and Niyamas start with “non-,” as in non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying. Contemporary people have often complained that the ancient teachings are too negative, but the reason they are phrased negatively is that there really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural Holiness life offers. We merely have to stop thinking and acting in ways that are harmful or selfish or off the mark.

The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there’s no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we already are—as soon as we stop pretending we’re small or unholy.

I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place on ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are. Tat Twam Asi, Thou Art That.

The following manifesto is strong. Remember that its intention is merely to protect and uncover the truth that it is good to be alive and to be with children. It may be seen as a spiritual practice, supporting us to identify and stop that which obscures the glory of our children’s, and our own, true nature.



A 21st Century Manifesto for Parents


I recognize that our society is seriously disturbed and dangerous to the well-being of my family and my children in many ways. I recognize that our society has institutionalized many obviously harmful practices as acceptable tradeoffs for the perpetuation of the status values of Western Civilization. This is not acceptable to me. Therefore, I vow to keep my eyes open, to educate myself, and to provide protection for my children to the best of my ability against the most grievous harms, some of which include the following.

I will provide protection against…

Kindred New Story Ad Child Pointing V2 unnecessary prenatal trauma. We have now verified scientifically what aware mothers have always known—that babies are enormously affected by their prenatal experience. It is the responsibility of parents to see that mothers are well-nourished and protected from all forms of stress overload. It would be well to remember that some cultures actually use the prenatal time to contact the soul which is incarnating in the baby to find out its purpose for this life. Taken literally or metaphorically, this is a wonderful reminder of the perennial spiritual wisdom, reflected in the immortal words of Kahlil Gibran, that “your children are not your children.” We parents are the protectors and guardians of an awesome being during its years of physical and psychological development. What a glorious task!

unnecessary birth trauma.  We also know that the birth experience is a most powerful determinant of well-being. While much has been done to reclaim this natural process from mid-20th century extremes of medical technological control, it remains true that unnecessary drugs, use of force, and other harmful birthing practices unduly hurt many mothers and babies. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure as natural and benign a birthing experience as possible. This includes protecting against separation which can disrupt the bonding of mother and infant.

the trauma of circumcision.  This harmful, cruel and unnecessary relic, justified by cultural, religious and pseudo-scientific superstition, should be avoided.

the trauma of in-arms deprivation.  In-arms deprivation is a term coined by Jean Liedloff to characterized the effects of a very specific unmet need, the need to be carried in arms, to be held virtually all the time in the first six months of life. Many older children and adults suffer anxiety and irrational dependency because of this unmet need from infancy. Alternatively, many are somewhat detached and shut down, and don’t even think they need physical touch and affection. What a gift for parents and children to delight in close touch and affection all the years of their lives!

the trauma of unnecessary immunizations.  Vaccine proponents are recommending more and more immunizations, including vaccines for diseases not particularly dangerous for children (e.g., chicken pox) or for which children are not generally at risk (e.g., hepatitis B). Furthermore, governments are pushing for more coercion in this area. Much is known about the dangers of various vaccines. Parents should be completely educated on this subject before making decisions affecting their children’s lives. Those who decide some immunization is good should be especially well-informed about the vaccines they elect to have administered to their children and should be able to discern reactions. All children should be protected from postpartum immunization, and extremely wary about immunizations during infancy.

the trauma of toxic and unhealthy foods. America’s food industry is a callous and mercenary exploiter of children; the horrible effects of massive intake of processed foods, sugar and toxic substances on our children are enormous. Parents must resist this damaging influence and do everything they can to see that our children are well-nourished. At the least, this means restriction of sugar (in all its disguises), chemical additives and preservatives, fast foods and processed foods. For many, perhaps most children, this also means restriction of dairy and, for some, of other common allergy foods such as wheat and corn. This also means restriction of fast foods and processed foods, and reliance on fresh, whole foods, preferably organic. Plenty of water is essential, as is adequate intake of the essential fatty acids.

the trauma of separation from nature.  What a great tragedy it is to deprive a child the experience of hours in the natural world of earth and sky, grasses, flowers, bushes, trees, water, bugs, birds and animals of all kinds. It is so much more important that children play with dirt than gameboys.

the trauma of screen time (television, computers, phone). The average American child watches hours of electronic media every day. The deleterious effects of such practice are enormous, directly in effects on central nervous system function and programming of consciousness, indirectly in the sacrifice of time spent in more wholesome activities.

the trauma of computers.  Conscious professionals are now challenging the unconscious assumption that this technology is good for young children. A useful guideline is to protect preschoolers from all involvement, to preclude use until children are fluent in reading and cursive writing, and to limit elementary age children to ½ hour per day.

the trauma of a sedentary lifestyle.  Movement, activity, physical play and exercise—these are essential to the healthy development of a child’s body and mind.

the trauma of compulsive busyness.  Fast (and furious) may be the trend of modern western civilization, but it is not healthy. Our children need lots of relaxed down time to be with themselves and with friends and family—not to be constantly entertained and stimulated, but to discover themselves and the world, and to create and produce their own initiatives. A related problem is the tendency to deny children necessary experience and opportunities to learn and contribute because it is easier and quicker to do it ourselves. Parents must take the time to let children help, even if the dishes take two hours instead of the 10 minutes in which you could get it done. Finally, my own and others’ observation is that 90% of punishment incidents take place because of time pressure. Do yourselves and your children a favor by arranging life as much as possible at a slower pace.

the trauma of sleep deprivation.  A large percentage of Americans, including our children, are sleep deprived. Parents must protect children from being forced to accommodate to adult needs and schedules. Likewise, parent must resist the lure of permissiveness as a justification to avoid the need to set healthy limits for a child. Rhythm, routine and regularity are keys for a well-ordered life, and especially for a safe, relaxed, healthy environment in which a child can develop. The greatest effect that parents have on their children is not in the direct interventions, but in the indirect effects promoted by creating a family life that is a safe haven, a rich relational world, and a healthy influence ordered to meet the basic needs of children.

the trauma of adultism.  Adultism refers to the systematic mistreatment of young people simply because they are young. The key indicator is disrespect. One of the best ways for adults to assess whether they are perpetrating adultism on a young person is to ask themselves whether they would say the same thing in the same tone of voice to another adult that they just said to a young person.  It is crucially important for parents to challenge adultism because the effects of this oppression (hurt, fear, shame, and the internalized pattern of disrespect) are exactly the reason why other forms of oppression (eg., racism, sexism, gay oppression) are allowed. Without being systematically hurt and psychologically conditioned to be mean and disrespectful, adults would not stand for the mistreatment of themselves or others.

the trauma of emotional suppression.  This one is enormously important, a meta-key of protection. Humans are incredibly intelligent and relational by nature, but when physically or emotionally hurt, the resultant distress causes us to appear less so. As parents we must protect our children from interference with the natural healing mechanism of emotional expression. Society at large and too many parents still confuse the hurt (e.g., loss of a toy) with the emotional discharge or release of the hurt, in this case by crying or tantruming.  Some parents try to teach their children that crying does no good since no action is accomplished, and may even shame a child for crying. The truth is that even well-intentioned efforts to soothe or distract the child from crying, while perhaps successful and even necessary at times of stress as a temporary diversion, does harm in the long run. Our children recover from hurt and loss by crying, frustration and insult by tantruming or storming, and frightful experiences by shaking, trembling and sweating. The job of parents is to stay close and help them with their hard feelings. An added value is the blessed knowledge that they do not have to go through the hard stuff alone.

the trauma of condescension.   This is related to adultism, but specific to the common degrading and debilitating practice of treating children as cutely inadequate, and minimizing or underestimating their enormous intelligence. Adults tend to confuse lack of information and experience with lack of intelligence. To patronize children is an enormous insult. To deny them excellent information about how the world works is a great disservice that sets them up for unnecessary harm and failure. Similarly, to deny them the opportunity to be useful is also a disservice. Parents must ensure that children get regular opportunity to make real, meaningful contributions to family life.

against the trauma of chronic hopelessness. A huge pattern of many adults in our society is chronic hopelessness or apathy. This is a persistent feeling that things are hopeless, that one cannot make a difference, that it is useless to try. Excitement and enthusiasm, like passionate outrage, are seen as the stuff of naïve childhood, or perhaps as possibilities for remarkable others, but not myself.  While the world is indeed in rough shape in may ways, the feeling of chronic hopelessness is nothing but a mental and emotional distress recording left over from early experiences of being hurt without help or recourse to healing. It is vital that parents challenge this pattern in themselves in order to convey a more realistic and healthy attitude to their children.  Diane Shisk, an international leader in the Re-evaluation Counseling Community, recommends that the following message be frequently conveyed to our children: “There are many problems to be solved. Many people are hurt and unable to treat each other well. But many people are thinking about what should be done to fix things and are joining together to make things right. We will be able to set everything right, and you will be able to help us.”

against the trauma of competition. This is another meta-key and a reason that primary values of western civilization are doomed to failure. The truth is, substantiated by considerable research, that we do better on all levels (including learning, performance and productivity) with a spirit and practice of cooperation. We need to model and support our children to take delight in and celebrate others’ successes, and accept and understand the value and necessity of making mistakes.

against the trauma of militarism. Our society invests a predominant amount of its available resources in war-making endeavors, sacrificing the real human needs of its people even in times of apparent peace. The propaganda and practices emphasizing violence as the penultimate solution to life’s challenges and conflicts can be overwhelming. Conscious parenting must be thoughtful and persistent in contradicting such conditioning to violence, and providing young people the information and attitudes necessary to contribute toward a world without war. The rapidly growing prison industry is a related place where more and more lives of our youth are sacrificed; this institution of chronic hopelessness and retributive justice must also be challenged.

the trauma of unnecessary medical interventions. Iatrogenic (medically induced) illness is almost a household term today. Examples include problems caused by medicalized birth, unnecessary antibiotic use, unnecessary suppression of fever, and vaccine reactions. The common cycle of antibiotic use and tubes for the inner ear for recurrent ear infections, when nutritional changes such as elimination of dairy would solve the problem in most instances, is another good example.

the trauma of all psychiatric drugs. It is a national shame and disgrace that an estimated 8,000,000 school-age children in the United States are on toxic psychiatric drugs, all for alleged illnesses that are scientifically unproven. This is a social and medical scandal that should disabuse all conscious parents of any remaining illusion that it is safe to blindly trust your medical or educational authorities.

against the trauma of compulsory factory schooling.  Everyone should read the work of John Taylor Gatto, who is the most informed, thorough and eloquent writer on the subject of education today, to learn about the enormous problems of our compulsory education system. His advice to parents, after 30 years of public school teaching and twice New York State teacher of the year, is as follows: “Breaking the hold of fear on your life is the necessary first step. If you can keep your kid out of any part of the school sequence at all, keep him or her out of kindergarten, then first, then second, and maybe third grade. Home-school them at least that far through the zone where most of the damage is done. If you can manage that, they’ll be OK.” (The Underground History of American Education, p. 383)  If you can’t do that, I have two pieces of advice. First, stay close to your children, be their vigorous ally, and let them know that you and they together will figure things out and have great success. Second, protect them against taking on shame from the inevitable experiences that something is wrong when the imposed schedule and structure of school inevitably and routinely violates the self-directed learning tendencies and styles of your children. Let them know, at whatever level they are capable of depending on their age, that when this happens it is not because they are wrong or inadequate or defective. Rather, the schools have some problems, but you and your children can figure out how to handle it in a way that will work for them. Whatever happens, don’t let the spirit of your child be crushed by debilitating shame.

the trauma of illiteracy and labels such as learning disabled (LD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is an ongoing shame that the literacy rate of Americans has systematically declined with increased governmental funding and control of education. The truth is that learning to read is not a great mystery. The average 5-year-old can master all of the 70 phonograms for reading in six weeks, and is then able to read just about anything. Understanding, of course, comes later. There are methods available to help children who missed the so-called pre-reading skills. It is regrettable that the schools are not doing the job. Even more regrettable is that they blame the children, label them as defective, remove them form their peers, and give them drugs. Parents must protect children from such assault, and make sure that their children get the support necessary to learn to read and to grow up without stigmatization and an identity as defective.

against the trauma of a flawed view of human nature. The harmful practices of our civilization which this manifesto encourages parents to resist are rooted in a grievous misunderstanding of human nature. The schools are designed on the assumption that there are dumb children, and that children are like empty machines needing to be programmed and filled. Punitive or shame-based or controlling child-rearing practices are legacies of old fashioned fundamentalist views of fallen, sinful human nature. Our greedy, profit-driven, militarist, consumerist culture is based on a view of human nature without soul or spirit. Psychiatry is based on a worldview which reduces human beings and human experience to biology and chemistry. All of this is motivated by fear that flawed human nature will win out, or that we will be eaten before we can eat. I believe the truth is that human nature, at its deepest, is benign and wonderful, that we are inherently intelligent, resourceful, zestful, affectionate and relational. By protecting our children from harm and cynicism, by giving them accurate information at the level they can comprehend, and by allowing and encouraging them to express the pain associated with the hurts they do suffer, this true nature will blossom. Perhaps the greatest gifts we can give to our children are to see them through he eyes of delight, and to be with them in an attitude of relaxed confidence that they, with our abiding love and support, are turning out very well.

the trauma of  parents unwilling to face their own traumas. Perhaps the most fundamental law of parenting is that we are forced to face the places where it is hard for us to remain thoughtful and loving about our children. We parents have to choose, again and again, between personal transformation, on the one hand, and suppressing our children, on the other. The only reason we punish or reject our children is because pain associated with our own past traumas is upon us and we are unable or unwilling to face ourselves and take personal responsibility for our state of mind. There are no bad or disgusting or hopeless children, only children who are having a hard time and need good attention and support. Giving this to them requires facing our own stuff, and sometimes getting help for ourselves, in order to come back into a thoughtful place about our children. The alternative is to shut them down so we are not uncomfortable.  A commitment to the attitudes embodied in this manifesto means something like this:

I recognize that our society is seriously disturbed and dangerous to the well-being of my children and my family in many ways. I also recognize, however, the glorious true nature of my self and my children; therefore, I have complete confidence that my children will turn out well. I will not blame my children for how I feel. I take full responsibility for my actions and my state of mind. I am willing to change and continue growing up all the days of my parenting life. I promise to remain close and affectionate with my children all the days of our lives.


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The Dangers Of Refusing To Answer The Call Of The Hero’s Journey Thu, 12 Nov 2015 00:47:18 +0000 Pre-order your on-demand virtual retreat with John Breeding Now! Available December 2015 – What Is A Virtual Retreat? Subscribe to Kindred’s E-Newsletter to Join Dr. Breeding’s LIVE CALL In December as well. Dear Kindred Reader, I am honored to be included in Kindred Media and Community’s nonprofit educational series on Parenting As A Hero’s Journey. It […]

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Dear Kindred Reader,

I am honored to be included in Kindred Media and Community’s nonprofit educational series on Parenting As A Hero’s Journey. It is wonderful to be a part of Lisa Reagan’s terrific work in support of parents who realize not only how important it is to care for our children well, but also that it is very hard, and we all need as much help as we can get.

I am blessed to be the father of three emerging adults, two by my blood and one by virtue of having taken on another epic, though common, challenge—a blended family wherein I met my youngest, now twenty-two, when he was nine. My own, main credential is 30 years of being a parent. My feeling of privilege in being a part of this series is that this is a group that understands that the biggest challenge of parenting is not our children but ourselves. We are better parents to the extent to which we are willing and able to face that fact and work on ourselves. I call it “parenting as emotional healing,” and the great myth of the hero’s journey most definitely applies.

In this essay, and the accompanying podcasts, webinar and email nuggets, I will do three things. First, I will briefly summarize the hero’s journey; perhaps I should use shero, or s/hero, but I am using the term hero for simplicity’s sake and to be consistent with the ancient telling—hero is intended as a gender-neutral term, and obviously in general women do a great deal more parenting than men. Next, I will address the danger of refusing the call to be heroic, and will present three areas in which that regularly occurs in our modern society—drugs, education and technology. Finally, I will present a few of the gems, referred to in this series as wisdom nuggets, that have been particularly helpful to keep me on course.

— John Breeding, PhD, author of The Wildest Colts Make The Best Horses


The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is an age-old mythology. In 1949, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces was published. This remarkable book documents the fact that cultures throughout our planet’s geography and history tell a story of the hero, a story with universal similarities. It is what Campbell refers to as a monomyth, a story that reveals profound truths about human nature. All of us are called at times in our lives to face some great challenge, usually seen or felt in both our inner and outer worlds. The hero is one who answers this call and undertakes the arduous hero’s journey. The truths of this journey are as relevant for each of us today as they ever were in any ancient culture.

Withdrawal-Initiation-Return: this is the hero’s journey. As with, for example, Hades yanking Persephone by the ankle into the underworld, we are forced to withdraw from outer world demands and go through an intense initiatory ordeal before we are allowed to return and use the gifts we have gained for the good of our community. One of my books is called The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity.  In our society, an overwhelming value is placed on productivity, and “madness” is anxiously suppressed, mostly with drugs. Hence, the space for withdrawal and initiation is minimal at best—doubly so when you have children, as any parent can attest! Yet unproductivity is exactly what is necessary to undergo a hero’s journey, or in plain speech to take a step back and look at yourself, and do a little inner work. Unproductivity is necessary to step out of the rules of productivity and move into personal transformation.

What about madness? Carolyn Myss, medical intuitive and best-selling author, begins her tape series, Energy Anatomy, with the provocative assertion that madness is an absolutely essential stage in the attainment of spiritual maturity. The reason for this has to do with the fact that we are all necessarily, inevitably and thoroughly initiated into the beliefs of our tribe, or culture, from the time of our conception onwards. These beliefs thoroughly impregnate our body and our psyche, largely at a non-verbal level. We are all tribal members, loyal to tribal law, way before we even begin to approach the idea, much less the experience, of becoming an individual.

When we question and contradict the beliefs and values of our family of origin, for example—the ways we were parented—and decide to do it differently, we are betraying our tribe and that is judged as “madness.” It is also often experienced as madness in that we go through periods of anxiety or depression in the face of our uncertainty and insecurity.  When we take a close look and realize that our parents did nor really see us in some ways, or treat us very well, we may be left with the troubling feeling that we ourselves were betrayed. Madness and unproductivity are necessary ingredients of deep change, yet they are discouraged and often punished in our society, very often with labels and psychiatric drugs.

Another writer, P W Martin, amplifies Joseph Campbell’s teachings through the works of Carl Jung, T.S. Eliot, and Arnold Toynbee. Martin makes this transformational journey very real for anyone who cares to undertake the arduous task of self-realization today. These two works, by Martin and Myss, are useful to consider our true nature, especially as it applies to the process of personal transformation in general, and to parenting in particular. I will use their teaching to illustrate a little of the journey below.

“The hero is the waker of his own soul.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

This teaching is about responsibility. Most of us are confused about responsibility, conditioned to feel it as a burden and a source of guilt and pressure. I believe this is because our parents and teachers were themselves conditioned to believe in a view of human nature as flawed, defective, sinful, irresponsible. If we view children as naturally irresponsible, our job becomes that of teaching them to be, making them, responsible. This attitude leads inevitably to efforts to control and shape the target of our concern, to guilt, shame, pressure. This is, in fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents. How do I teach, get my child to be, “make them,” responsible?

Psychology and education tend to answer this question by supporting the basic position of this last question; various subtle or not-so-subtle versions of behavior modification (reward and punishment) are offered. This validates the underlying assumption of children as naturally irresponsible, similar to the way a yes or no answer to the question “Is my child ADD?” validates the erroneous assumption that there is such a “mental illness” as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Instead, I respond first by probing the question and leading the parent to consider that there is no need to “make” their child responsible. The child, as all humans, already is responsible. It’s her inherent nature.


I often demonstrate this with two arguments, both of which involve looking at young children. The first point comes from what we know about the effects of child abuse. A child who is abused inevitably carries a heavy load of guilt and shame that comes from the certainty that “If I am abused, I must be bad. It is my fault (responsibility) and I deserve it.”

Children naturally conceive of themselves as responsible centers of the universe, when abused, they take responsibility for it. This point is well understood by anyone who has worked on healing early traumas and explored the depths of their own conditioning; those who do not know themselves at that level often have difficulty comprehending this truth. They may, if they have observed young children, still be able to consider my second point, which is simply that little ones absolutely love to help out and be given responsibility. They delight in it and are so enthusiastic. We are born responsible. It is our nature.

We do not need to “make” our children responsible. We do need to provide appropriate opportunities and guidance for how to express responsibility at different levels as they learn to master themselves and the outer world. For the interested reader, I discuss this issue at greater length in my book, The Wildest Colts Make The Best Horses.

Psychiatry undermines responsibility by labeling those who embark on the hero’s journey as “mentally ill” and then duping them into accepting, or forcing upon them soul-crunching, brain-damaging biological “treatments,” such as psychiatric drugs and electroshock. The usual result of this approach is a demoralized individual whose capacity for self-awakening has been seriously impaired. Genuine support respects and encourages the truth that no psychiatric authority can do for others what they must do for themselves, that when it comes to transformation, everyone is her or his own authority. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Only those who have helped themselves know how to help others and to respect their right to help themselves.”

“The first stage in the process is the realization that ‘there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand.’ Without this realization, nothing happens.” — William James

Generally speaking, as long as we are comfortable and happy with where we “naturally stand,” we will tend not to undergo the rigors of transformation. False pride and the need to avoid self-examination can be an obstacle; until we experience humility we will resist change. Simply put, the teaching is that we are motivated to change mostly through frustration and dissatisfaction. The thought or feeling that there is “something wrong about us” is a catalyst for growth. Psychiatry calls it a “symptom,” and by “diagnosis” and “treatment” enforces an understanding of this as literal, concrete evidence of defective biology or genetics. Genuine support responds with appreciation and encouragement for the discontent that signals the beginning of the self-renewal process.

“The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

PAHJ John Breeding QuoteThe conventional unwisdom being what it is, my perspective is that retreat from the world scene truly can be a heroic act. Retreat is a betrayal of our society’s prime value, namely productivity. For example, we still tend to follow the fast-food school of grief where one is encouraged to get over it in a weekend and get back to graduate school. The truth is more like in fairy tales where the widower covers himself in animal skins and ashes, and lives in a hollow tree for seven years.

Psychiatry is more and more geared to support society’s demand that people should and need to be always working. Not only do people on the “journey” not work, but they consume much less. None of this is good for the business of psychiatry or the economy. What would the effect of “withdrawal” on a large scale have on the stock market? A large part of the work life of corporate America is boring, repetitious, not at all inspiring and purposeful to those who do the work. The ubiquitous use of coffee to get going and the coffee breaks to keep going are essential to the enterprise. And now we give stimulant drugs to millions of our school children as well. It seems to me the rat race is getting rattier.

What would happen if America decided to face its addiction to stimulants, and the workers gave up coffee? Slowing down means having space and time to think, ask questions, explore your life. This is dangerous and threatening to the demands of an economy based on incessant “growth” and productivity. And it feels very scary to those who keep their own inner demons and dragons at bay by constant activity.

To quote Wes Nisker, a writer for the Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind, “Slowing down in this culture may be the most difficult tantric exercise ever conceived. Mindfulness may be the ultimate speed bump.” 

I realize this must sound like a discouraging Alice in Wonderland pipe dream to people in the throes of intensive parenting—hence the basic, fundamental truth that parenting is hard not because we are dong anything wrong, but because of the harsh reality that our society is not set up to support parents and families—I call it parental oppression. So my goal is to call forward compassion for ourselves as parents. I do think that on a small ongoing scale, we must find ways to slow it down and to step back and do a little inner work. Many of the teachers in this series have methods for doing this. I will offer one below in the section on parenting as emotional healing.

“There are those who go searching for an artesian well and come instead upon a volcano.” P.W. Martin, Experiment in Depth: A Study of the Work of Jung, Eliot and Toynbee

Many of us are moved by inspirational writings or sermons that tell us of the beauty and glory of God’s kingdom, of the joy of “walking in the Light.” Perhaps we get an experience, a glimpse of greater love and joy, and we naturally want more. So we become seekers, and we tentatively follow the teachings to go within, that the kingdom is within. And we look for the light, and we fall into dark places inside of ourselves. One client of mine tells me that she lived for ten years in what she calls “the cleft in the rock,” experiencing joyous connection with the spirit, through Jesus, in her prayers and meditations.

Her life circumstances changed, and she fell into what she calls her “bloody pit.” Suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations, drugs galore, and electroshock followed in the next two years. She found me years ago and has done enormous, intense personal work; it has been a profound ordeal. Her life remains challenging, but on a most definite upward trend. She is now beginning to feel that spiritual connection again.

There are many others, of course, who come upon a volcano without any searching. Regrettably, many of us, including myself, have come upon that volcano in the context of parenting. It s tragic to me, for example, to see a new trend of pregnant and new moms taking antidepressants (Breeding & Philo, 2011). The point is that great difficulties do, indeed, reside in the deep zones of the psyche.

Psychiatry has abandoned these very zones from which comes its name; Psyche means soul; a psychiatrist is by root definition, if not in practice, a doctor of the soul. Instead, they favor a belief that life experiences calling for a “time out,” a period for reconsidering one’s place in the world and the meaning of life, are the result of a biological defect. Genuine support for someone going through a transitional period can only come from those who know and respect the opportunities and risks inherent in this process, have confidence that positive growth can result, and stand ready to help if help is wanted.

“The parent is in the role of Holdfast; the hero’s artful solution of the task amounts to a slaying of the dragon. The tests imposed are difficult beyond measure. They seem to represent an absolute refusal, on the part of the parent ogre, to permit life to go its way; nevertheless when a fit candidate appears, no task in the world is beyond his skill.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Just as a basic teaching about dreams is that we are not only our dream ego, but all the characters in the dream, so we are not only the hero in our parenting journey, but play all the parts at various times. Holdfast is the archetype of the parent or any entity whose prime directive is to maintain the status quo. According to Holdfast, resistance is pathological and cooperation is insight. Genuine support, however, validates the individual’s struggle for self-realization always and in all ways, even when he or she challenges society’s core beliefs and practices, so long as in doing so the rights of others are not violated.

“The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Just as withdrawal and inner work are fraught with peril, so is the return. Newborn growth and awareness carries with it a great vulnerability, and our society can be harsh. Those who are satisfied with their place in the social order perceive the returning hero as a threat. If the hero is right, they must be wrong. And if they’re wrong it follows they should change. And that is when the sparks begin to fly because people don’t like change. It may be the product of eons of conditioning, just plain inertia, or a combination of both, but people will do just about anything rather than undergo a change, especially one that involves self-examination. To paraphrase the great philosopher and writer, Hermann Hesse, for most people, nothing is more distasteful than taking the path that leads to oneself.

The presence in the community of a hero, a self-evolved individual, has that kind of effect on people. Psychiatry plays the role of keeping out or removing individuals who are shaking us up. If they are able to return to the community after being labeled and treated by psychiatrists, they return as damaged goods, unlikely to frighten or inspire others about the need to change. Genuine support entails easing the way of the hero upon his or her return. This might mean offering moral support, camaraderie, material assistance, or political protection (e.g., just be known as having some local friends can help prevent private or governmental sanctions). And if one is unable or unwilling to help, then the important thing is to stay out of the way.

“The deeds of the hero in the second part of his personal cycle will be proportionate to the depth of his descent during the first.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

“Madness” is necessary for the process of transformation, necessary in order to become spiritually mature. This quote further emphasizes that the “descent” is not only valuable to the individual, but also a treasure to the community. Many believe that “dropping out” of external work is dangerous because they profoundly distrust human nature. Genuine support starts with an understanding that it is part of our nature to be responsible and to be of service to others. There are times, however, when because of unresolved problems or owing to the dictates of a higher imperative, inner work is the priority. Respectful, above all respectful, and compassionate attention and assistance can be crucial to the individual so engaged, and can lead ultimately to important benefits to the community once this phase of the renewal process has been completed.

Refusing the Call

The idea is that we are called to do the hero’s journey. Very occasionally, the call is epic and has all the drama and flavor of the ancient myths. More often it is not so dramatic, but even then the basic model of withdrawal and return applies. I think that sometimes the intensity of the ordeal is proportional to the extent to which we have, consciously or not, resisted the process of stepping back, and taking the time and the responsibility to face ourselves and do some inner work. In the dedication to my book, The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses, I wrote:

To my children, Eric and Vanessa, for the intense demand of their spirited natures which has forced me, kicking and screaming to transform myself and my life in ways I could never have imagined, again and again and again. . .

I have learned that, when I get triggered, I either face myself and work on it, or suppress my children. In this section, I will take a short look at three institutional forces that play the role of Holdfast, suppressing our young people, and creating, promoting or allowing opportunities for parents to refuse the call to parenting as a hero’s journey.


There are a number of great writers on the subject of education as a suppressor of children’s true nature; my own favorites are John Taylor Gatto, John Holt and Chris Mercogliano. The main idea for me is that children are inherently brilliant, imaginative, zestful self-directed learners, and that the schooling system works as an institutional force to dampen their spirit and render them more submissive and obedient. I will just briefly refer to three aspects of the educational system as illustrative.

One, the environment is set up mostly as a competitive enterprise, consistent with our society’s claim to virtue about the great goodness of competition.

Two, young people are often put under extreme pressure that is quite detrimental to learning, joy and well-being. Parents all too often get caught up in this as they become worried about their children “falling behind” and such nonsense. Coming from a place of fear, we parents then all too easily get caught up in further machinations that actually make things worse, such as the third institution of biopychiatry that I address below.

Third, it seems that schools have moved more deeply of late into a posture of “zero tolerance,” another face of fear, and one that echoes a general trend in our society, which may be construed as part of that general disastrous epic called the war on terror. In any event, what it means is rather than young people enjoying the attention of relaxed, thoughtful adults who help them when they are having a hard time, the response tends to be police-like, harsh and punitive.

To stand back and allow this, even worse to actively collaborate or support this kind of attitude and behavior toward children is to refuse the call to be a hero and face your discomfort around challenging school authorities, or your fear of emotion, or failure, or judgment, or your internalized feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness. The hero’s journey is a call to face both outer authorities and inner demons and dragons, and dealing with our education systems is one that no parent can avoid, without paying a very heavy toll.


We are no doubt in uncharted waters regarding technology whose role in our lives, and our children’s lives, is incredible. It did not take long from the advent of television for thoughtful adults such as Jerry Mander with his Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, to send out warnings about the dangers and deleterious effects of TV. Since then, the uncharted waters have become tsunami waves of screen time for humans, most definitely washing over the lives of our precious children with not only TV, but all kinds of computer, video games and telephone screens.

As a society we are clearly refusing that call to be heroes and protect our children, especially our young children.  As individual parents, this is another huge place where we are called to defend the natural adventure of life and resist the pseudo or virtual experiences that are offered as entertaining, stimulating, yet pathetic substitutes. As a counselor, I have too often seen what happens when parents yield to the convenience and quiet that comes from allowing children to sit in front of a TV or video game or other electronic screens, and thus refuse the call to set strong, proper limits on screen time for their children.

The consequences of this short-term benefit typically show up when the parents realize that their child is avoiding responsibilities missing social and outdoor experience and play, isolating from the family and such, and decide they need to intervene.  Such efforts to curtail their child’s screen time are usually met with resistance and sometimes the parents end up feeling like they have “created a monster.”  I have seen occasions when it really was horrific, ending in violence. More often it is a lesser form of conflict and unpleasantness, but the outlines of a hero’s journey are always present as there is a necessary withdrawal from the “productive” activities of life into an initiatory struggle involving all kinds of emotional and relational ordeals. For those who endure and survive, the return to the natural adventures of family life and living is a gift.


Biological psychiatry, biopsychiatry for short, is the model that drives our mental health system. The theory is quite simple, and goes something like this:

  • Failures in adjustment (a child’s problems in school, for example) are due to mental illness.
  • Mental illness (such as ADHD) is due to a biological (chemical imbalance theory) and/or genetic defect (bad gene theory).
  • Therefore, biological treatment (drugs).

The theory can be expanded, but that is the gist, which provides the claims to virtue that justify using toxic and addictive drugs to control children’s behavior by calling it the prescription of medicine to treat an illness. To offer just one illustration, parents who resist stimulant drugs for their children who medical or educational authorities want to label ADHD are made to feel guilty with statements like, “If your child had diabetes, you would give them insulin wouldn’t you?” The end result is that millions upon millions of our children and adolescents are taking powerful psychiatric drugs, many of them taking a few or several at once. I have written extensively on this topic, much of which is available on my website at

One recent article describes some of the many difficulties in working with an adolescent boy on a pharmacological cocktail (Breeding, 2015) Just three of these difficulties are the fact that being on psychiatric drugs tends to suppress emotional expression, undermine responsibility of all involved, and add an array of complications related to drug effects and withdrawal. As a hero’s journey requires free expression, a high level of responsibility, and all of one’s wits, I hope this provides a small glimpse of the problem.

Here is a last glimpse into this terrible domain, a brief decoding of the three-part theory of biopsychiatry presented just above:

  • Failures in adjustment are multicausal. Sometimes it is because there are inherent problems when one is asked to adjust to a situation that is oppressive to our true nature. See the topic of education as one of our three examples of institutional forces of Holdfast.
  • Mental illness is a metaphor. As hard as it is for many to accept, no problem routinely seen by psychiatry has been scientifically demonstrated to be of biological or genetic origin. That is why there is no objective test or indicator for any so-called mental illness, including, for example, the ubiquitous ADHD. “Mental illnesses” are diagnosed strictly based on behavior, and, simply put, behavior is not a disease.
  • Psychiatric drugs are toxic and addictive, and have a wide range of deleterious effects. For example, the stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall typically used on our children, controlling for dosage and form of administration, have an effects profile virtually identical to methamphetamine (crystal speed) and cocaine. Psychiatry calls it medicine for mental illness. I call it poisoning our precious children.

Parenting as Emotional Healing

The hero’s journey begins when we are yanked into the underworld of the deep psyche, and parenting definitely has an ordeal aspect in this regard. A wide array of our children’s behaviors can be excellent triggers for unresolved feelings of hurt, fear, shame or anger. Disrespect, disobedience, defiance, aggression, whining, crying, lying, almost anything that somehow touches a place where we were hurt as children can be such a trigger. Many of the teachers in this series have methods they recommend to help, and here is a simple formula I find useful as a way to begin working with this idea of parenting as emotional healing; K. Lavonne, author of Tomorrow’s Children, taught it to me.

Step 1) Recognize that you are out of your loving with your child. This does not mean out of your permissiveness, but out of your loving and neutrality; it means that you are emotionally triggered. This usually looks like either an urge to punish or to give up and withdraw. It generally means that you are not able to think well about your child, and have forgotten that they are doing the best they can, and that their “bad” behavior is an effort to get your attention on a place where they have some distress and need your help.

Step 2) Ask yourself, “Who am I in this situation?” This means exploring your internal state when you are triggered. It might be, “I’m an angry woman who wants to throttle my child.” Or “I feel like a hopeless, defeated little boy who just wants to curl up and disappear.” It might be one of those humbling situations where you recognize, with a sinking feeling, that the precise words that just came out of your mouth were those of your own mother’s, in just her tone of voice: words you had promised never to use with your child.

Step 3) Ask yourself what behavior or quality in your child are you reacting to. Perhaps you can’t stand his whining or her defiance, or lying.

Step 4) Ask yourself how you are in relationship to this quality inside of yourself. This is the inner work of self-discovery and emotional healing. One place to work on this is in the area of lying. The work of personal transformation requires great honesty; my friend, Brad Blanton, has a bestselling book called Radical Honesty: How To Transform Your Life By Telling The Truth. His whole premise is that your personal growth is limited only by your incapacity or unwillingness to be honest. He says that we’re all liars, and getting honest is a big work for all of us. The great task of parenting is to do our own work because we can effectively help our children only in areas where we are relatively free of distress. If your child has trouble making friends, and you have a similar pattern, the best way you can help your child is to go make friends for yourself. Similarly, the bottom line with lying is that if it is a problem for your child, the very best way you can help your child is to do the courageous and difficult work of getting honest in your own life.

We need to be absolutely honest with our children and especially with ourselves. Blanton talks about three levels of honesty, in ascending order of both subtlety and difficulty: honesty with the outer facts or circumstances, honesty with how you feel about these circumstances, honesty with the deeper conditioning (distress) that lurks behind all this. I would say that a necessary first step is to completely surrender the illusion that there is any justification whatsoever for you to blame, punish, or otherwise be out of your loving with your children; it’s all your distress, your responsibility.

Step 5) Do the inner work related to the difficulties you have in the area of distress. This might mean personal counseling, talking with friends, journaling, whatever support helps and is necessary.

Step 6) Be grateful to your child for being your teacher and pointing out to you the place you need to grow.

Any place where we get restimulated and reactive becomes another portal into the fires of personal transformation, and our children are the catalysts who provide both the stimulus to feel the fire, and the motivation to stay with it and endure the ordeal of countless ego deaths. If we are fortunate, these are deaths of those negative memories, feelings and habits which keep us out of our loving, and awakenings into greater space for acceptance, tolerance, compassion and clear thinking about our children and ourselves. I wrote about one of many personal examples in a chapter of my Wildest Colts book; the chapter was titled “About Eric,” but in retrospect and consistent with the teachings herein, I am clear that the title should be “About John!”  A short version of the story is that my son was angry much of the time between ages 4 and 7, or so it seemed to me. No doubt he had reason, but it is also true that young children do get angry a lot as they face inevitable insults and injuries to their big desires and great imaginations. And if they are given free reign to express themselves, they are often quite dramatic. In any event, Eric was young and powerful and expressive, and his mother and I joked that his ego was so much bigger than ours. I certainly felt and thought that his personality was very different than mine; fact is back in my mid-20’s I had been tagged by at least one good friend as “the ultimate rational man.” I was logical and stoic, and in fact pretty shut down around anger.

So faced with my son’s intense anger, I was faced with one of those big points where, as I said in the dedication to my book, I either suppress Eric, or distance myself and withdraw, or…. allow the intense demand of his spirited nature to force me, kicking and screaming to transform myself and my life in ways I could never have imagined, again and again and again. . . One great thing about being a parent is that having a child is about the strongest motivator on the planet toward overcoming resistance to look at ourselves and change. I was determined to do whatever it took to hang in and stay close with my son, and so I did the hard work of facing my anger, and hanging in there with his. I went to counseling, I did men’s groups, I did play groups, and I changed, and I stayed close with Eric. I brought back the gifts of being more powerfully in touch with my own righteous anger, and more relaxed and confident in the face of my son’s.

Eric’s mother and I accepted the call to resist the three potentially oppressive institutional forces cited above. Our boy was not interested in reading until after he turned eight. He loved to be read to, but when I tried to get him to read Hop on Pop, he threw it at the wall. Imagine how that would have gone over in school! We enjoyed an occasional video, a favorite being Lady and the Tramp, and he was into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a while, but mostly he played, indoors and out. I imagine that many of you readers can imagine some of the judgments we got about ourselves, and our boy, during those tumultuous times of attachment parenting and free expression. More than a few folks were on occasion of the opinion that I ought to consider a psychiatric consultation for both Eric and myself.  We were operating largely on faith and principle at the time, so I offer my own now emerging and young adult children as encouragement to those of you still in the fires of intensive parenting. Eric is living a big life in the epicenter of the art world with a great job in a premier Manhattan gallery. Vanessa, now 25, is in graduate school at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Our youngest is 22, back in Austin after graduation in May from Hampshire College. He is a writer, among other interests.

Three Parenting Keys

Part of this Consciously parenting includes a series of “wisdom nuggets,” which will be sent out regularly during the three weeks of my segment. I will conclude this initial essay with a small sampler of three ideas that have been of value to me. The first is in my view the big kahuna!

To see your child through the Eyes of Delight is the greatest gift in the world you can give to your child and to yourself.

This should be our lodestar by which we navigate the great sea of parenting. If we see through these eyes most of the time, all is well, and we can handle the rough spots. When we are seeing this instead through eyes of judgment, rejection, hopelessness and such, we can know we are off course and do whatever it takes to reclaim our eyes of delight. That would be the work. Here is a valuable corollary:

Remember NOT to trust the thinking of anyone who sees your child through anything other than the eyes of delight. There really are no “bad” children. Your child is completely good and delightful.

Here is a humbling and important teaching about respect. Adultism is the systematic mistreatment of children and young people simply because they are young. The overall conditioning against emotional expression is laid down through adultism. The pattern is one of massive disrespect. To test whether or not you are acting as an agent of this oppression, apply the following question to any action you take toward a young person: Would you treat another adult the same way? Since we are all thoroughly conditioned to treat children a certain way, we must make every effort to challenge our conditioning. Complete and unqualified respect is and must be the foundation stone of any mutually satisfying relationship, and must be the basis from which we enter into relationships with our children. Without it, we all inevitably end up in humiliation and disgrace. The way to teach respect is to give it. The only way your child will learn the true meaning and experience of respect is through being consistently treated with respect.

My third and final offering for the moment is a reminder about perspective. The environment that matters most is not the one we construct for our children; it is the one given them by nature. Nature contains us and, borrowing a Native American expression, each of us is born with a capacity to experience awe and wonder for “All my relations.” Our task is to reclaim or redevelop this natural capacity and to protect and nurture its reality for our children. From this place flows an enduring and abundant spring of clear, clean motivation as we live in our natural state of connectedness, of caring, of compassion, of love and reverence, knowing beyond any doubt that all life is sacred. Take some time now, and later, to play and explore outdoors with your children


Featured photo Shutterstock/AlpaSpirit

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Ireland Bans All Corporal Punishment Wed, 11 Nov 2015 22:16:18 +0000 Kindred’s Contributing Editor, Robin Grille’s response to the announcement that Ireland has banned all corporal punishment: “Ireland has joined the list of countries outlawing all corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home. On 11 November 2015, the Irish Parliament adopted legislation explicitly repealing the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” of children, […]

The post Ireland Bans All Corporal Punishment appeared first on Kindred Media.

Kindred’s Contributing Editor, Robin Grille’s response to the announcement that Ireland has banned all corporal punishment: “Ireland has joined the list of countries outlawing all corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home. On 11 November 2015, the Irish Parliament adopted legislation explicitly repealing the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” of children, making Ireland the 20th European Union state to achieve prohibition of corporal punishment, the 29thCouncil of Europe member state, and the 47th state worldwide. The achievement of law reform comes after more than a decade of mounting human rights pressure on Ireland to repeal the defence and give children equal protection from assault.”


The Announcement From The Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment Of Children

Ireland has joined the list of countries outlawing all corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home. On 11 November 2015, the Irish Parliament adopted legislation explicitly repealing the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” of children, making Ireland the 20th European Union state to achieve prohibition of corporal punishment, the 29thCouncil of Europe member state, and the 47th state worldwide. The achievement of law reform comes after more than a decade of mounting human rights pressure on Ireland to repeal the defence and give children equal protection from assault.


Speaking during the report and final stages debate in the Seanad, Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who tabled the original amendment, stated:

This ancient defence of reasonable chastisement is not an Irish invention. It came to us from English common law. Through its colonial past, England has been responsible for rooting this legal defence in over 70 countries and territories throughout the world. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the reasonable punishment defence still allows parents and some other carers to justify common assault on children. In Scotland, there is another variation, namely the defence of justifiable assault. In this action being taken today, the Government is putting children first and providing leadership, which will hopefully give confidence to the Government at Westminster, the devolved UK Administrations and other countries across the globe to discard these archaic and disreputable defences and give full respect to the dignity of children…. With this amendment we have a way to unite and agree that all citizens are equal. There must never be a defence for violence against children.”

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly, confirming the Government’s support for removal of the defence, stated:

The amendment before the House provides for the total abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement. It does not create a new offence but rather removes something that has its roots in a completely different era and societal context. The measure asserts: that there is no circumstance in which it may be seen to be in order to hit a vulnerable person, in this case a child; that from a child’s perspective there is nothing reasonable about being on the receiving end of corporal punishment; that Irish parents are no less protective of their children, nor less progressive in their parenting practices, than those in the other 19 European countries where a statutory ban on corporal punishment is in place; that the Government, by its laws, will protect and vindicate the rights of children; and that Ireland is diligent as regards meeting its international obligations in the area of human rights. The measure represents a significant advancement as regards the protection and rights of children. It reinforces the developing impetus in parenting practices in Ireland to use positive discipline strategies in upbringing of children which reject the use of corporal punishment.”

The new law will now go to the President for signature and is likely to come into force shortly. For further information, see the page on states which have achieved prohibition and the detailed country report for Ireland. For the latest facts and figures on global progress towards prohibition, see our countdown to universal prohibition.

Analysis by the Global Initiative has identified almost 80 states and territories worldwide where the law provides a legal defence for the use of corporal punishment in childrearing derived from English law on “reasonable chastisement”: a preliminary list is available here. Explicitly repealing these defences is critical to the realisation of children’s rights to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity, protection from all forms of violence and equal protection under the law.


Photo Shutterstock/Wave Break Media

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Integrating Our Worldviews: It’s No Longer “Conform Or Die” But “Evolve And Live” Thu, 05 Nov 2015 02:21:14 +0000 A year ago in October I sat on my husband’s bedside in a Duke University Hospital cancer ward waiting for lab workers to identify the fast growing mediastinal tumor in his chest. The tumor had ballooned from 9 cm when it was first discovered by local Williamsburg, VA, doctors to 13 cm in 30 days.  […]

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A year ago in October I sat on my husband’s bedside in a Duke University Hospital cancer ward waiting for lab workers to identify the fast growing mediastinal tumor in his chest. The tumor had ballooned from 9 cm when it was first discovered by local Williamsburg, VA, doctors to 13 cm in 30 days.  After failed biopsies and frustrating doctor’s office visits, no one in our home town could identify the “type” of aggressive cancer. A local hospital lab’s diagnosis of “gray zone” meant a crap-shoot plan for treatment, which was needed quickly before the heart failed under the pressure of the tumor.

It was a cardiologist – who kept asking Keith, “Are you okay?  How do you feel?” while staring incredulously at the echocardiogram and the sack of fluid around the heart – who finally ordered him into an ambulance for a three-hour ride to the medical center in Durham, NC.

Duke Cathedral from hospital window
Duke’s Collegiate Gothic-style cathedral standing over 200 feet tall from Keith’s hospital window in October 2014.

Like any spouse, I sat on the edge of the hospital bed looking out over the campus and Duke’s famous cathedral trying to decide which action steps took priority when the sound of squeaky wheels passing through a long corridor of severely ill cancer patients broke through my frantic train of thought.  The squeaking stopped and a candy striper opened the hospital room door and pushed in a cart full of junk food before happily pointing out all of her wares – potato chips, cookies, candy – were free to Keith as Duke’s cancer patient.

The colorfully packaged brands on her cart all originated from the ubiquitous, revered industrial food companies Americans were raised on as children and happily gobbled up for decades, even as mainstream medical doctors now caution against regular consumption of inflaming junk foods that contribute to the nation’s epidemic of chronic disease, obesity and even cancer. (A new study out this week by the Federation for American Societies for Experimental Biology is entitled, Even a little is too much: One junk food snack triggers signals of metabolic disease.)

“We’re good, thank you,” Keith replied as I slipped out my phone and searched for a local grocery store. There it was, first priority identified: bring in our own nourishing and non-inflaming “whole foods.”

Five minutes from the sleek, hi-tech medical university campus I found the Whole Foods of Durham, NC, located in an ancient strip mall with a parking lot designed for a pre-SUV era.  The parking lot and store were packed.

I blame my own state of shock on the overloaded cart on my first trip to Whole Foods in Durham.  The offerings of organic fruit, probiotic drinks, whole snacks for Keith and natural energy boosters for me felt like a gift, like someone above was looking out for us and helping us to find what we needed when we needed it.

Standing back at the hospital’s front entrance revolving doors, the weight of the recycled shopping bags threw me off balance, with my right leg tenuously propped up in the bulky support boot enabling me to stand on my broken leg and dislocated ankle, an injury from a family day hike five months earlier.  I eyed the row of wheelchairs lined up near the curb and wondered through the seeping exhaustion at the pronouncement of DUH DUH DUH they all declared on their stenciled signage.  I can’t remember when I finally realized the pattern meant Duke University Hospital, duh.

I sent our 16 year-old son home on a train the day before when I caught the look of paralysis and overwhelm on his face standing among the streams of hairless, skeletal cancer patients and realized this was too much to ask of him.  With his new driver’s license, and my right foot in a boot, he bravely drove the two of us to Durham the morning after Keith’s emergency room ambulance transport. I took the boot off and on to drive, mostly with cruise control and Advil gel caps.  Without my son to push me up to the ninth floor, I prayerfully asked for strength for all of us and made my way to the elevators.

Over the next seven months, we returned to Duke bi-monthly for Keith’s chemotherapy treatment that was designed for the Hodgkin’s lymphoma the DUH! researchers easily identified, not the death sentence of “gray zone” our local hospital inaccurately dealt. In the beginning, friends and family members offered to help with the drive, but deep into chemo, it was clear that Keith would require more than we could ask of our loved ones.The worst of the treatments came this past spring when one of the chemo drugs contributed to a lung infection,  a known side effect.  In true television medical drama-style, the Duke doctors rushed Keith for a series of tests to various departments throughout the vast medical campus.  The infection was caught and stopped, along with one of the four chemo drugs contributing to the infection.

Last week, on an every three month visit now, we returned for a follow-up that included blood work and CT scans.  The cancer is still gone, but the damage to Keith’s heart and lungs from the chemotherapy treatment is still there, prompting the oncologist to caution against Keith picking up seasonal bugs that could quickly lead to pneumonia. What is the recovery plan for the damaged tissue? What is the wellness plan going forward? We wondered.  And here’s where we stepped off a cliff and out of the paradigm of the medical model: There isn’t one because this isn’t what Duke’s world-renown Cancer Center does – but the oncologist DID offer a flu shot.

“No thanks,” Keith replied before we headed off to Whole Foods for a lunch buffet that included organic, cooked collards with garlic and a feast of nourishing, colorful living foods surrounded by aisles of labeled products that allowed consumers to know, and therefore take responsibility, for what they were putting into their bodies.  We knew the wellness model and knew we would find our way through it with lots of help and support in the coming days.

Daily Beast Whole Foods Propoganda Piece 11-15Today, November 4, 2015, Keith forwarded to me a smarmy Daily Beast article posted on Facebook pronouncing – specifically – the Whole Foods in Durham near Duke’s campus, the one we frequented during seven months of chemo, as “America’s Temple of Pseudoscience.” I winced reading the high-horse parading piece by Yale religious studies graduate, Michael Schulson, whose bio featured pages of smug status quo defender rants on all the usual favorite topics for trolls and corporate shills: fluoride, GMOs, vaccines, etc.

The outright desperate leaps in logic the freelancer attempted to make in cramming the square peg of his faultily constructed points and cherry-picked product examples into round holes of zombie head-shaking agreement included comparing Whole Foods’ Organic Integrity efforts to Jewish “kosher law.”  His intentionally outrageous and purposefully inflaming claim that there is no difference between believing in Creationism and choosing to make a conscious, informed choice to eat a healthy diet was a painful to witness self-immolation of a devoted corporate disciple. “If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?”

One Facebook commenter called Schulson out and quipped, “Maybe get someone with a background in nutritional science to write the article, not a B.A. in Religous [sic] Studies from Yale.”

Still, the article, written in 2014, received hundreds of likes and shares today, over a year later.  And this is where the real issue lies: columnists like Micheal Schulson who case subjective observations and comparisons in the inflammatory language of religion in defense of status quo beliefs, consistently and effectively distract us from the real and needed discussions around the limitations of a medical model system that has no wellness and recovery plans for its patients once they walk out the door, and home to their mountain of medical bills.

Schulson’s claim that Whole Foods is a temple of pseudoscience begs the obvious and missing comparison: what science supports the human ingestion of unlabeled biotech products (now banned in 38 countries), additives, herbicides, high fructose corn syrup, pesticides, processed and factory farmed meats found gracing the aisles of most American grocery stores?

More critical to recognize in Schulson’s predictable shaming and bullying “religious” approach is the echo of a very age-old war cry, one that for centuries has been refined to publicly threaten and socially alienate freethinkers (Cultural Creatives) while demanding that we pick our god, the right one mind you, the one that demands we war with ourselves – abandon our intuition, common sense and wisdom – in exchange for social acceptance and access to a higher power (science) available only through its high priests (like Schulson) who are better able and qualified to steer the course of our lives for us.  As a religious studies major advocating for real science, Schulson forgets, or perhaps as a freelancer is paid to forget, that all true scientific “conclusions” become the next study’s hypothesis.  When a scientific study’s conclusion is presented as a religious tenet, rigid cultural bias or a billion dollar marketing campaign, it is no longer science at all.  But let’s not quibble with the basics.

Perhaps the real question is: Do you really think those of us, most of us, without parading high-horses and Daily Beast columns should allow intellectually indefensible, status quo defenders to bully and shame us into bowing our heads and waiting for their revered corporate engineered “science” to tell us what shiny, fried, high fructose corn syrup product we should purchase from their corporate-sanctioned candy cart?

The answer, for those of us who have found ourselves both grateful for the big guns of medicine and those organic, healing greens at Whole Foods, is this: Why not accept our humanity?

Why not accept the humanity of the Duke doctors and local researchers – that they have limitations in their fields, training and worldviews? Why not accept the humanity in ourselves as individuals, who deserve the protected right to make informed choices across the board for our own health and bodies?  Why not accept the humanity in ourselves collectively? That human beings always and will only ever evolve, not by abandoning our Old Story lines, but through integrating them and their insights into our emerging worldviews?  This is how the human brain evolves: by biologically enclosing the old animal and reptilian brains and INTEGRATING their insights, not by discarding millions of years of intelligent creation and experimentation.

Could acceptance of our humanity provide a needed bridge between what is now perceived as two disparate worlds, even though, as Schulson notes, Durham’s Whole Foods borders the edge of the world-renown medical university campus, the health food giant may as well be on another planet?

Perhaps we’re not ready to express the depth of humility, compassion and gratitude needed for accepting our individual and collective humanity.  I think we’re moving in this direction, in the direction of integrating our worldviews and discarding an outdated war cry of “Conform Or Die” in exchange for the affirmation “Evolve And Live.” At least, that is my family’s wellness plan for moving forward.



Our Year With Cancer And Recovery

Reagan Duke Gallery


Featured photo of the interior of Duke’s Cathedral by Lisa Reagan

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The Birthing Zone: A Father’s Birth Story Mon, 02 Nov 2015 11:42:25 +0000 The Graceful Turtle Our pregnancy was fantastic. My wife was fit and healthy and had no complications in the nine months. The baby active and well positioned. Only in the last month did Bronwyn experience some discomfort as the baby began to engage, which is normal. The nine months for me was different. I found […]

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The Graceful Turtle

Our pregnancy was fantastic. My wife was fit and healthy and had no complications in the nine months. The baby active and well positioned. Only in the last month did Bronwyn experience some discomfort as the baby began to engage, which is normal. The nine months for me was different. I found myself going through waves of fear about whether I could provide enough for the future and meet expectations. However I dealt with these as they arose through self-inquiry methods and realised that these fears were ill founded. I really had nothing to worry about.

As I cleared each fear that arose and made sure I didn’t take on other people’s fears, I found I was able to stay close and be more intimate with Bronwyn and the baby during the pregnancy instead of being distracted by unnecessary fears. I was frequently in a space where I could just simply be with them, with my heart, in love. I felt I was energetically supporting them, my love radiating out from my heart enveloping them in a transparent bubble. In fact the bubble seemed to wrap around the entire house. In this bubble of unconditional love that I was consciously holding, Bronwyn and baby were able to simply be with themselves knowing they were safe and held on their journey. This was where I discovered the deeper levels of the traditional male role of supporting and protecting.

I’ve read other men’s birth stories where they couldn’t connect with the new child until perhaps six months after the birth. I am grateful that I connected with our baby almost immediately. Upon finding out we were pregnant I lit a candle, symbolising the baby’s soul, and welcomed it into my heart. I cried deeply with love and gratitude for hours. From that moment I felt the baby’s presence almost always.

The pregnancy was brilliant in helping us realise, again, how much society is run on fear. We were absolutely confident that all was well with the baby in utero, and we trusted deeply in the process. We wanted no interference, no ultrasounds nor any other electronic gadgets. We trusted that everything was as it should be. We didn’t need to know that there might be a one in five hundred thousand possibility of something or other happening, and we weren’t interested in testing for it.

We began our pregnancy support at the local hospital. Our first appointment was the compulsory meeting with the obstetrician, which was a nightmare from the start. When we told the doctor that we didn’t want any ultrasounds or other electronic testing he launched into a half hour rant telling us that we were putting our baby’s life at risk and that we, ‘weren’t living in the real world’. There was no room for discussion. I managed to get a couple of reasonable questions in but this fuelled him up even more. I also witnessed Bronwyn slipping quickly into the role of becoming a, ‘good girl for the doctor’, nodding at everything he said and ready to hand over her entire birthing power to him and the system. At the end of his tirade, very quickly and quite arrogantly, he lay Bronwyn on the table for a check up. Palpations we thought. But before we knew it he was holding a dopler machine on Bronwyn’s stomach and the beat of the baby’s heart filled the room. I was irate and could have hit him. There was no way I wanted this man anywhere near my labouring wife.

We left the hospital stunned. Walking home we ran into a friend who was eight months pregnant with her second child, who told us of her first home birth experience. We had been thinking about a home birth but still hadn’t decided. With renewed enthusiasm, we raced home and began finding an independent midwife. Sonja visited us and in a few weeks we made the decision to have her support us in a home birth. We quietly extracted ourselves from the hospital system.

Kindred New Story Ad Child Pointing V2A month before the ‘due date’ the baby’s head began to engage into the pelvis. One night at around this time Bronwyn had a dream. The dream involved a turtle. A turtle symbolises slowness, strength, patience, endurance, and stability; just the qualities that are needed for labour. I recognised that Bronwyn’s psyche was preparing her for the labour and the birth – as it should. She had another dream a few nights later where some men were carrying around a huge rock. This symbolised a different type of strength to that of the turtle. A male strength was being brought into the process. To help integrate these energies into her consciousness more I bought Bronwyn a slab of clay and she made two turtles from it; one a mother turtle and the other a baby turtle which, for some unknown reason, didn’t yet have a head. Un-fired she mounted them both on the alter in the living room in front of where the birth pool would be. She placed the mother turtle on a rock she had found at the beach. A few days later the mother turtle’s head fell off. Unaware of the symbolism Bronwyn then transferred the head onto the baby turtle. The baby was now fully formed. The mother had unselfishly given a part of herself to the baby for its own sake. Soon after this our labour began.

I had an idea that the energies of the turtle and the rock would be useful during labour, but I didn’t know how useful until we were deep into the process.

The contractions began on the stroke of midnight as Capricorn gave way to Aquarius. Slightly at first, like period pains, then they became steadily stronger. Bronwyn lay curled up in bed and held my hand tighter with each increasing pain. By 3am I was timing the contractions at 50 seconds long coming every three to four minutes. I inflated the birth pool and began filling it, then called Sonja our midwife, and left a message for Janet, Bronwyn’s mum. They would be with us in a couple of hours.

By 4am Bronwyn had entered the pool. I kept filling it with buckets of hot water to bring the temperature up. I stayed on the outside of the pool for a while, then got in when I felt I needed to be closer.

Bronwyn’s contractions were getting stronger and stronger. She repeatedly breathed out long breaths. Janet arrived at around 5am and made herself busy in the kitchen. Sonja arrived at twilight, checked we were OK and simply sat near by, observing. From the sidelines Sonja supported us in our process, clearly it was going to be the two of us, just as we planned, with Sonja coming in when needed. She gave us our space to do what was needed, which is rare, and from our viewpoint, valued. Our main plan for our birth was for as little intervention as possible. We were confident and trusted in the process. No checks were necessary. All the natural signs were good. Everything was going accordingly. The sunrise out of the lounge room windows was amazing as it filled the room with golden light.

It was some time early in the day that the contractions all of a sudden slowed, then stopped. I massaged Bronwyn’s Spleen-6 points on her legs but the contractions kept stalling. Sonja suggested that her and Janet’s presence was interrupting the process, so they excused themselves from the house. Bronwyn said later that she had felt some pressure to ‘perform’, particularly with her mum’s presence. So the subtle stress of having to perform upset her natural rhythms and halted the contractions.

With only the two of us in the house now, Bronwyn could relax. The contractions returned and became stronger. Her long breaths now turned into moans. Each new contraction was more intense than the last. Her moans became louder and deeper. Throughout, Bronwyn squeezed my hand more and more tightly. For the entire labour I was just simply there, next to her, being 100% present in the moment with her. The nine months I’d spent looking beneath my fears and being in the moment prepared me for this moment. In this space of stilled mind I could intuit what needed to be done; massage her lower back or head, gently stroke her face, pour warm water over her body, offer her a drink of water, but mostly just be there with her. We spoke very little, however, occasionally I would offer encouragement with words that came from my heart, not my head. I know when I’m talking purely from my heart because in the next moment I can’t remember what I said. What I do remember is the feeling that the words and intent were just right. What I offered were words of belief and trust in the natural unfolding of the process, and words of praise and admiration. I became her rock to which she could hold onto to stay grounded in what ever she was experiencing. I trusted so deeply and was so immersed in the process that I never took on her pain or felt I needed to ‘fix’ anything. This helped her to trust in what we were doing just as deeply and to lean on me 100% when she needed to.

In turn I drew on Sonja’s strength and experience. All I had to do was look at her and see in her confidence and calmness that everything was as it should be. This supported my own confidence and calmness. I trusted Sonja and through this Bronwyn trusted me more.

Sometimes between contractions, when I was alone with Bronwyn, I had to get out of the pool zone and do domestics; boil pots of hot water, fill the drinking cups, or grab some bananas. Through the entire labour Bronwyn lived on bananas, yoghurt, and water mixed with Gastrolyte, a glucose and electrolyte powder I bought at the chemist, which is far better than lollipop water like Gatorade or the like. It was a bit frustrating not having the backup of the others, but I did the domestics fast enough that I could be back in the pool well before the next contraction.

Sonja and Janet came back in a few hours. Again the contractions slowed and stopped. After a while Sonja suggested I do some more massage to get things going again. I massaged the Spleen-6 points and stimulated the nipples a bit too. Within a few minutes she was back in the flow.

The day progressed slowly. Twice more the contractions stopped and twice more we got them going again. Although Bronwyn appreciated a break from the pain, for me there was a fine line between her resting and her avoiding. When she was avoiding and not wanting to go back into the pain she would ‘disappear’. She’d have a distant look on her face as if she wanted to be somewhere else. We both knew there was no way out except to go straight through it. I had to remind and encourage her to stay with it.

At about 1pm Bronwyn was losing energy and becoming upset. She sobbed deeply and wanted it all to be over. The pain of the contractions wasn’t what she expected. The contractions stalled for the third time. After a while Sonja gently asked her if there was some fear about anything in particular. Through tears Bronwyn soon admitted that she was afraid of the changes that would come. She didn’t know if she was ready. Soon after this fear was aired the contractions began again, becoming stronger and stronger.

In the mid afternoon Bronwyn wanted to know how far she had dilated. She wasn’t interested before, but now she wanted to know. Sonja checked with Bronwyn to see if she really needed to know. What would she do if she hadn’t progressed as far as she’d hoped? Bronwyn decided to take the risk of being further demoralised and asked Sonja to check dilation. Sonja reported that she was between 7 and 8cm. This was pleasing news and gave her more confidence.

The fourth and last time the contractions stopped, about five in the afternoon, Sonja and Janet left the house again. Bronwyn had split to some other planet and I coaxed her out of the pool to get her moving. ‘We’ve got to get active darling’. She reluctantly laboured out of the pool, staggered to the toilet, emptied her bladder, had a contraction, squatted in the shower and had another contraction. Her moans were getting louder and louder. I thought she might give birth there and wondered if I should put the plug in and fill the tub. The hot water on her back was good. After half an hour or so she stood up and staggered back to the pool.

I can’t remember exactly when Bronwyn began to make the really loud sounds but it was probably about now, in what was to be the last third of labour. She was moaning the roof off. Always placid and serene I watched her layers slowly come off as she moved to a deeper space inside herself to let it all out. Bronwyn later told me that making those sounds was more helpful than the breathing. Even though breathing was good at first it was the sound that got her through the peaks of pain. It was an anxious and excruciating hour and a half for the last two centimetres.

Since Sonja and Janet had left for the second time I had a deep feeling of abandonment. I thought there was nothing in the kitchen to eat, as labour had started when we hadn’t expected it (eleven days before the ‘due date’) and I hadn’t done the shopping. Now Bronwyn was going through hell and needed all of my attention I felt angry that I had been left to do everything. I got out of the pool to get some food for us and found the fridge packed full of all the food we needed for a month. Good on Janet. I laughed and felt foolish. They knew what they were doing and Sonja trusted me to support Bronwyn. I cleared my projection and got back to the job.

At 6.30pm we finally reached full dilation. We’d been going for 18 and a half hours. Bronwyn was exhausted. I had found two hours sleep somewhere in the mid morning but Bronwyn hadn’t slept at all. In fact she hadn’t slept since the night before last, almost 36 hours ago. I felt some relief in reaching full dilation. Bronwyn felt the need to push but was still uncertain that she was fully dilated and worried about an anterior lip. I called Sonja. She and Janet had gone to get some sleep. She was back in the house in ten minutes and reassured us that all was good and to go with the urge to push. During this transition time Bronwyn looked to Sonja for some confirmation that the pain wasn’t going to go on for much longer. Not wanting to discourage her Sonja wisely answered, ‘it’s up to you sweetheart’.

Bronwyn said to me through sweat and tears that she now understood why women take pain relief. This was as close as she came to asking for any. She knew that there wasn’t any in the house, not even an aspirin and heading to hospital didn’t even enter our minds. I remember telling her that I knew she could do this. These words look a bit weak on the page, but from the heart said with love it was the thing that picked her up and helped her carry on. I was the rock supporting the turtle.

Bronwyn pushed, and pushed, and pushed. For four hours she pushed. And of course the contractions were more intense than ever.

She needed something to push against, to help her push the baby out. The edge of the pool was too soft, so she used me. Before, in our moments of intimacy in between contractions we would put our foreheads together, as if our third eyes were kissing. We always do this. It is our habit of affection. Now, in the pool with our foreheads touching another contraction arose. Bronwyn began to moan and push her head against mine. I had to push back with equal force. Stripped bare of all dignity she heroically bore the pain in all her primal rawness and sounded herself out to the world. She was using me for physical, emotional, and energetic support and I had to give her everything I had.

For over three hours we were connected at the forehead. The energy between us was incredible. She was in the height of labour pushing against my forehead with a strength generated by all the birthing goddesses in all of history. I had to match this by tapping into my own universal male energies. I needed to draw upon an equal amount of energy to support her through this. I not only brought in the energy of the immovable rock but I also brought in the energy of my Aries ram. My forehead locked onto the forehead of the lioness. If there wasn’t a male birthing god in existence before this moment, then one was created that day in our living room.

After three hours of pushing, Bronwyn could see no end. Both Sonja and Janet were now fully present, closer to the action, and helped with encouragements. Bronwyn despaired that she could feel the baby move forward through the canal and then move back. One step forward, two steps back. Sonja confirmed that this was normal. It eases the vagina open and helps to stop tearing. But for Bronwyn it was compounding frustration.

After three hours of pushing there was some fear that something might be wrong with the baby. I don’t remember how it started, perhaps by some talk that the baby was not moving. Bronwyn couldn’t remember the last time she felt it move. I remember visualising the cord wrapped around the baby’s throat and it was being strangled and it couldn’t get out. Fear rose up inside of me for the first time in the whole process. I suggested to Sonja in a weak and uncertain voice that perhaps we should check its heartbeat. I meant that she use her dopler machine, but, as she knew our sensitivity to them she thought I meant the pinard and said that the baby was too low in the womb to hear anything. I was too much in fear to notice the misunderstanding. What seemed like half an hour went by and the tension in me only escalated. Finally Sonja suggested strongly that we should use the dopler machine. We all agreed and Sonja placed the probe in the pool, next to Bronwyn’s pelvis. Nothing. I felt horror as my heart leaped into my throat. Then she moved the probe a few millimetres to the right and there it was, loud and strong. There was no stress, only a beautiful rhythm telling us that it was patiently waiting for the gates to open. We all cried a sigh of relief. The sound of this precious heartbeat lifted us all and motivated us back to work.

In the fourth hour I felt it might be best to get Bronwyn to stand up, to let gravity assist the baby’s descent. All fours in the pool wasn’t working so we tried standing several times. She didn’t have much strength left so I held her up by the arms. Janet then lifted her skirt up and stepped into the pool, standing behind Bronwyn to help hold her up. This was working. The baby was progressing more easily, two steps forward, one back. After a while we couldn’t hold her up much longer. My brain began to think. I said that we needed a birthing stool. Sonja replied that we didn’t have one. I thought laterally for an alternative. ‘A bucket, grab a bucket’. To my surprise Sonja grabbed a bucket and submerged it beneath Bronwyn. She sat with part of her weight on the bucket and the other part still held up by Janet and myself. It was working and Bronwyn was pushing. Three pushes later we were encouraging her into the fourth when she exhaustingly said, ‘I think the baby’s out’. We lifted her off and there in the bucket was this little blue grey alien thrashing around like a fish. She had come out all at once in that one last push.

Sonja reached into the bucket and lifted the baby onto Bronwyn’s chest as she fell back exhausted against the side of the pool. As it came out of the water we heard it take its first breath, a quick small cry, and it rapidly turned pink. It was 10.29pm. In shock and amazement Bronwyn exclaimed, ‘it’s a little human!’ I noticed Bronwyn immediately change. All the pain she carried of the last 22 and a half hours simply disappeared. Now she expressed shock, joy and amazement. I was amazed and full of joy myself. We’d done it!

We sat in the pool looking at this little pink slimy creature staring back at us with its huge clear black eyes, glancing between mother, father, and the dimmed light on the ceiling behind us. It was silent and attentive, fully aware and fully awake. It was so incredible and precious these first few moments of discovery, for all three of us, and granny Janet too. Despite all the commotion going on outside the womb it was as if the baby had entered the world with absolute patience and grace.

It was some time before we realised we hadn’t looked at the baby’s gender. During the pregnancy we intuited that it would be a girl, but weren’t fussed what sex the child would be. We had no attachment to one or the other. This non-attachment to gender helped us to fully appreciate and love this little being that had made such an incredible journey earth-side. It helped us connect to its soul, which is deeper than gender and beyond all social expectations. When we remembered to look we lifted the baby up. In the dim light I mistook the umbilical cord for a penis and announced, ‘it’s a boy!’ On the second look it had none. My brain had to work a bit harder but it finally figured out that no penis = girl.

We soon climbed out of the pool, dried and lay down on the futon next to the pool. The next few hours were spent marvelling at this little miracle, letting mother and daughter bond, and waiting for the placenta to birth itself. Three hours after the birth there was still no placenta. It was now 1.30am and we all needed to get some sleep. We agreed that we would sleep on it and Sonja check first thing in the morning.

When she checked at 7am the placenta was still inside Bronwyn. There were two possibilities. One, that the placenta had let go and was just sitting in the birth canal, and a gentle pull would help it out, or two, it hadn’t let go and we might have to go to the hospital to get it surgically removed. This second scenario would have been a complete downer after such a beautiful and successful homebirth. Just in case the placenta was still attached to the wall of the uterus Sonja injected syntocinon into Bronwyn’s thigh. Then she pulled ever so gently on the cord. The placenta easily plopped out and at the same time the baby farted. Sonja affectionately said to it, ‘so it was you who was holding on’. More sighs of relief.

During the day we agreed the baby’s name would be Alina Grace Caganoff. She weighed in at 6 pounds 3 and a half ounces.

We proceeded with our planned lotus birth. Salting the placenta after 24hrs of draining it, then re-salting it every 24hrs until it came off four days later. We were sitting at the dinner table that evening chatting away, Bronwyn had Alina and the placenta bag on her lap. All of a sudden we heard a thump on the floor and a cry from bub. The bag had fallen onto the floor and pulled the cord off at her belly. After the three of us got over the shock of it we then doubted that the bag had simply fallen. Perhaps at that moment Alina discovered that there wasn’t room for the two of them anymore and kicked the placenta off? She had a perfect belly button.

A week or so after the birth a friend read Alina’s palm. Oblivious of our turtle story she calmly explained that Alina’s characteristics would be strength, patience, endurance, and longevity. I laughed; so it was Alina in the dream, making herself known in the form of a turtle. Indeed, mother and daughter had worked together harmonising with the same turtle energies to ensure the least traumatic (but still quite dramatic) entrance into the world. Bronwyn gave so much of herself for Alina to be so complete. She is a calm, content, happy, active and aware little girl.

Despite the stalled contractions and the late birth of the placenta, we had a very successful, uncomplicated home water birth, which gave us the opportunity to go where couples rarely go: beyond ego into a place where you can both surrender to love, surrender to pain, and surrender to the magnificent creative and destructive forces of the universe.

I wish to thank Sonja for the dedication she has to her profession and offering us her experience and guidance during our process. I wish to also thank Janet for the dedication and support for her daughter and granddaughter and for taking a risk and following us out of the cultural comfort zones in order to birth our child on our own terms.

As a man, and now a father, I wish to express my love and admiration for Bronwyn and baby Alina, for passing through this momentous ‘rights of passage’: Alina’s graceful passage earth-side and Bronwyn’s courageous journey through the unknown darkness into the sunlit, and sometimes thunderous fields of motherhood. It was an absolute honour to be the main support for my beloved. It was truly the most incredible thing I have ever seen and been a part of.

Lastly, I would like to gratefully acknowledge all mothers throughout history for baring the pain of childbirth, and to all midwives for their experience and knowledge handed down through countless millenniums of birthing ritual.

Read Gary’s other articles on The Birthing Zone

Photo Shutterstock/Vitalinka

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The Birthing Zone (Part 2): The Frog, The Turtle, The Rock. Mon, 02 Nov 2015 09:09:32 +0000 Read Part 1 The Frog and the Turtle At 34 weeks the baby’s head began to engage into the pelvis, causing some pain for my wife, Bronwyn. That night she had a dream of trying to gather a frog and a turtle into a small cage, but she was having trouble catching them – particularly […]

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Read Part 1

The Frog and the Turtle

At 34 weeks the baby’s head began to engage into the pelvis, causing some pain for my wife, Bronwyn. That night she had a dream of trying to gather a frog and a turtle into a small cage, but she was having trouble catching them – particularly the frog that was very slippery and bouncing around everywhere. This dream is extremely interesting. The frog is a foetal symbol; a symbol of transformation, particularly the transformation from the water based egg and tadpole to a land-going creature. Bron’s psyche is telling her that the baby is getting ready to move from her watery womb out into the air filled world as it positions itself for its journey through the birth canal; ‘transforming’ from foetus to baby.

The turtle symbolises strength, patience, endurance, stability, slowness, longevity and fecundity. The first five of these qualities a woman needs to take her through the process of labor and birthing; particularly for the first child. ‘Slowness’ though, is a human judgment. Without interference the turtle takes her own good time – just as a woman in labor does.

API Support Ad (1)In the dream Bronwyn is trying to get the frog and turtle into a cage. Perhaps this is her way of bringing them into consciousness, so she can draw upon these particular qualities when she needs them? I felt that it would be good for her to explore these energies a bit further, to see if she could advance the dream story a bit more. After all, she hadn’t yet got them into the cage; hadn’t yet ‘grasped it’, so to speak. What might happen next? I bought Bron a slab of potter’s clay. One day I came home to find that she had formed from the clay a mother turtle and its baby. However, the baby turtle didn’t have a head. I asked about this and she said she didn’t know why. For some reason she just didn’t give it one. Unfired, she placed mother and baby turtle side by side on the shelf. A week or so later, when I again came home, I found that the mother turtle was now headless and the baby turtle suddenly had a head. ‘What happened?’ I asked in surprise. Bron told me that, during the day, the mother’s head fell off, so she attached it to the baby! This blew me away. Here we can see that the mother turtle has given a part of herself – her head no less – to the child. This shows what is needed from her to birth the baby; her head needs to fall off. Or, put another way, she needs to ‘lose her head’. On any hero’s journey, something in the hero needs to die before they are ‘re-born’. In the context of becoming a mother, something in the woman needs to die before the baby is born. In our modern understanding of the hero’s journey we know that what needs to die is the ego; which is usually associated with the mind, in the head.

Becoming conscious of what her psyche is expressing through her dreams serves to connect Bronwyn more deeply with her body and the baby in order to surrender, or to let go, as much of herself that is necessary to the process. In this dream and the subsequent process of bringing form to the turtles, Bronwyn’s psyche is bringing to the fore particular qualities that will be needed to help her ‘lose her head’, allowing for the emergence of something new.

The fact that my beloved is dreaming of turtles also tells us that she is truly standing on the shoulders of every woman in history that has given birth before her. It shows us the symbolic truth that the entire history of humanity rests on the sturdy back of the turtle and all those beneath her. As we already know (but in a parallel mythical context), ‘it’s turtles all the way down’!

Our birthing zone was a blow up pool in the living room of our house. A perfect ‘crucible’, holding the space for labour and birth. My beloved in the centre, forced by the contractions and expansions to focus inwards, into her sacred ‘inner zone’; at first trying to surf the waves of pain then turning round and diving under as they came. Myself on the outside, in the pool, supporting her through the process, backed up by our midwife and Bronwyn’s mother. From the first contractions to the birth took 22 and a half exhausting hours (and more for the 3rd stage).

During the 18 hours of 1st stage labour, Bronwyn’s contractions stopped four times. Twice I used acupressure points to successfully get them going again. Another time getting her out of the pool and walking around, peeing and showering – getting her active – got the contractions going again. However, one time when the contractions stopped and the acupressure had no effect, our midwife beautifully and gently came forward and asked Bron if there was anything she was afraid of? Bron burst into tears and exclaimed that, “I’m not ready yet!”. Labor had begun ten days earlier than expected and caught us unawares. She still needed that brief time to complete the mental and emotional processing of becoming a mother. Soon after these words came out of her, along with the grief, the contractions started again. The unconscious fear of change and ‘not being ready yet’ had a subtle influence. Simply bringing the fear to the surface positively effected the process. Bron was now less inhibited in her unfolding. Here is where she has finally caught the frog and got it into the cage. She has finally ‘grasped’ the psychological depth of this transformational process.

Throughout the day, I witnessed my beloved slowly surrender, moving deeper and deeper into herself, overcoming self made pressures, expectations and doubts. She truly drew upon the turtle’s strength, patience and endurance. At the height of the 1st stage contractions, in the hour or two before full dilation, I wrote in our birth story that Bronwyn;

‘was moaning the roof off. Always placid and serene I watched her layers slowly come off as she moved to a deeper space inside herself to let it all out’.

This was the stage that her head began to fall off. Her mind was gradually letting go of some of the concepts and beliefs she had about herself, which are part of her everyday personality, and put them aside because they weren’t serving her at this time. In doing so, she became the very opposite of placid and serene. She was in the process of losing her head. It was wonderful to watch.

The Rock

Bronwyn had another amazing dream the night after the frog and turtle dream, which was to also have a major influence in the birthing process. In this dream a group of men lifted and proceeded to carry a huge heavy rock. This, obviously, represented a masculine strength that would be needed during the birthing process along side the feminine strength of the turtle. A week or so after the dream we visited the beach where Bron spent her childhood, so she could swim in the surf and feel once more the power of the ocean. She felt she needed to do this before the birth. Whilst walking around the headland she found a rock she loved so much we took it home. She placed it on the shelf and then set the turtles on top of it. With a couple of candles our birth alter was complete.

During 2nd stage, the pushing stage of labor;

Bronwyn said to me through sweat and tears that she now understood why women take pain relief. This was as close as she came to asking for any. She knew that there wasn’t any in the house, not even an aspirin and heading to hospital didn’t even enter our minds. I remember telling her that I knew she could do this. These words look a bit weak on the screen, but from the heart said with love it was the thing that picked her up and helped her carry on. I was the rock supporting the turtle.

Bronwyn pushed, and pushed, and pushed. For four hours she pushed. And the contractions were more intense than ever.

She needed something to push against, to help her push the baby out. The edge of the pool was too soft, so she used me. Before, in our moments of intimacy in between contractions we would put our foreheads together, as if our third eyes were kissing. We always do this. It is our habit of affection. Now, in the pool with our foreheads touching, another contraction arose. Bronwyn began to moan and push her forehead against mine. I had to push back with equal force. Stripped bare of all dignity she heroically bore the pain in all her primal rawness and sounded herself out to the world. She was using me for physical, emotional, and energetic support and I had to give her everything I had.

For over three hours we were connected at the forehead. The energy between us was incredible. She was in the height of labour pushing against my forehead with a strength generated by all the birthing goddesses in all of history. I had to match this by tapping into my own universal male energies. I needed to draw upon an equal amount of energy to support her through this. I not only brought in the energy of the immovable rock but I also brought in the energy of my Aries ram. My forehead locked onto the forehead of the lioness. If there wasn’t a male birthing god in existence before this moment, then one was created that day in our living room.

In this process my beloved’s head finally fell off. Giving it all she got she gave everything of herself to birth our tiny turtle – complete with head.

In Part 3 we’ll look at the other energies that supported me in supporting my wife in the birthing zone, and how we unconsciously ‘attuned’ to each other – creating deeper intimacy in total vulnerability. To get a more complete picture of our birthing experience please read our birth story (without the dream analysis).

Photo by Jen Shipston, with permission.

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