Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spirituality and Birth in the News

Just this week Lamaze International published a press release with the headline: New Data Show Connection Between Childbirth and Spirituality. They cited a study co-authored by Lynn Callister R.N., Ph.D., who happens to be a professor in the College of Nursing at BYU.

Lynn is a fantastic writer and has been studying the spirituality of birth in different cultures for more than two decades now. A few months ago, one of my collaborators discovered an article she wrote and made contact with her. She is a friend to this project and will hopefully be involved in our documentary on the spirituality of birth throughout the world. I can't wait to read the whole study, and I am glad that the Childbirth Education Community is taking notice. Hopefully the medical community will, too. Here is a quote from the Lamaze press release:

The just-published research shows that women across diverse cultures correlate having a baby with “growing closer to God.”

The study, published in the spring issue of the Journal of Perinatal Education, found that understanding the spiritual dimensions of childbirth is essential in clinical settings. As such, authors of the study recommend clinicians include the question, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs that will help us better care for you?” during their clinical assessment.

“Childbirth and motherhood provide many women with an ideal context in which to recognize the spiritual aspect of their lives,” said Lynn Clark Callister, R.N., Ph.D., FAAN, a professor of nursing at the Brigham Young University College of Nursing and study co-author. “Our research illustrates that for most women, childbirth is a deeply spiritual experience. As healthcare providers, we need to recognize and support this evidence, and listen to women’s voices to guide their care.”

In their study titled “Spirituality in Childbearing Women,” authors Callister and Inaam Khalaf, R.N., Ph.D., dean and professor of nursing at the University of Jordan Faculty of Nursing, discovered five themes in a secondary analysis of the published and unpublished narrative data collected over the past 20 years from about 250 culturally diverse women.

“This study is both insightful and intuitive,” said Sharon Dalrymple, president of Lamaze International. “It’s no surprise to see a woman’s spirituality is an important part of her well-being, but it’s interesting to consider how this information can be used by women and their healthcare professionals to enrich and further empower women when they are giving birth.”

The themes that emerged in the study included: childbirth as a time to grow closer to God, the use of religious beliefs and rituals as powerful coping mechanisms, childbirth as a time to make religiosity more meaningful, the significance of a Higher Power in influencing birth outcomes and childbirth as a spiritually transforming experience

To read the entire release, visit here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


“Don’t get so busy that you don’t have time to meditate. Take the time…. Christ may be nearer than we have knowledge. ‘I am in your midst, but you do not see me.’” –Harold B Lee.

Meditation is one of the most important and sacred things we must learn how to do in this life. President David O. McKay taught: “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”

Virtually every living prophet since then has said the same thing in different words. But what is meditation? How does it work? How does one meditate? And how can a practice of meditation assist us as we conceive, bear, nurture and raise children?

There are many different understandings of what meditation is, such as calming the mind, releasing ego, etc. Meditation can be all those things, but according to modern and ancient prophets, meditation is something more. Simply put, meditation is seeking and communing with the Spirit of the Lord.

Meditation is a form of prayer, but prayer is not necessarily meditation. In the Bible prayer and meditation were often written synonymously, but today most of our prayers are more like a monologue, or as President Hinkley said, like we are ordering groceries.

I believe that the reason so many prophets have had to remind us of the value of meditation is because we not desperate for Spirit. Many of us feel the Spirit somewhat regularly and spontaneously at church, and because of this, we think all is well.

Philip McLemore, a retired LDS Institute director and meditation teacher shared this in his article Mormon Mantras: “I was having periodic, if not regular, spiritual experiences, which had to mean that I was on the right path and progressing. It took a long time before I realized that having spiritual experiences often has little to do with spiritual transformation.” (p. 20)

I came to the same realization a few years ago. Despite all I knew and all my spiritual experiences, I was not becoming more Christ-like. I was not able to call forth compassion or other Christ-like behavior in difficult circumstances. However, when I was led to and started a practice of meditation that worked for me, I slowly transformed.

I believe the difference between prayer and meditation is the attachment to an end result. We are so used to praying and waiting for the answer to our problems or questions. This is because we believe and know that God answers prayers. That is right. But meditation is not about answers, per se. As Jesus taught, attachment to outcomes or goals only causes suffering. A better word is intention. Let’s say your intention is patience, or compassion or greater understanding of answer or enlightenment you have already received. If you meditate every day with openness to that intention and to whatever else may come or not come, over time you will find that you have more patience—or whatever your intention. Other benefits of meditation include: radiance, better health and happiness, increased capacity to love, increased unity with God and others, and much more.

How does it work?

Neuroscientifically speaking, every time you think a thought, or do an action, it creates a neuropathway. The more times you do it, or the more energy you attach to certain thoughts or actions, the deeper that pathway becomes. Think of a hose left one, cutting a deeper and deeper rivulet in the dirt. Let’s say that deepening rut is your negative thoughts. Pretty soon other related thoughts and feelings start to fall in that track—which means that you increasingly get into a similar state. Meditation creates new neuropathways which will eventually become new feelings and thoughts.

Hypnotically speaking, it works on the same level as hypnosis. By pondering on a loving God, regulating the breath, repeating a mantra, holding a mudra (or however you meditate), the mind accesses the Theta state and the new thoughts/intention are able to bypass the critical mind and reprogram the unconscious scripting without resistance. See last week’s post for a detailed explanation of this.

Spiritually speaking, it is the power of the Atonement. The neuroscientific and hypnotic findings are just proof of the mind/body/spirit connection.

How does one meditate?

There are many different ways to meditate. Even in the scriptures there are many different words that describe meditation (ponder, consider, study, treasure up, muse, rest upon your minds, think, pray). Elder Chauncey C. Riddle said, “meditation can not be taught, because it is something personal and private: it is the venturing of the soul into the unknown.”

Thus, you can see the challenge of writing about meditation. What works for me may not work for you. I like manta meditation, Rebecca prefers mindfulness, President Hinkley’s father used to sit on a wall in the thinker position. President Hinkley has recommended pondering the stars, or enjoying good culture. These are all good, and we might write a blog post on each different kind of meditation that we can think of at some point. No matter what you chose, however, there are several elements that meditation should include.

Desire/Faith –This seems obvious, but I still need to mention it. Faith can be as simple as a hope or a desire to believe.

Intention or Selective Focus – Remember the hose cutting a trench. It’s easier if you stick to one spot for a while. Examples of intention might be openness, patience, understanding, peace. When you meditate, continually bring your mind back to your intention. This will get easier.
“Focused attention begins to build new neuronal circuits that, once established, will automatically activate those parts of the brain that involve motivational activity. And the more that activity is repeated, the stronger those neural circuits become.” (Newberg, p. 32)
Repetition – Daily repetition is important. Think about doing exercise. I used to be able to do 3 pull ups, but I stopped practicing and now have to build back up to that. Cognitive studies show that you need to exercise your brain daily to maintain the benefits achieved. It is the same in hypnosis. The more you do it, the faster you can get there.

Regulated Breathing – Our breath is our life. In some religious metaphors, breath is equated with spirit. So when we deepen our breath, we increase our spirituality. Also, regulating your breathing decreases metabolic activity in different parts of brain—such as the brain’s center for fear and anger. Thus, but regulating our breath we can control our mental and emotional states, which is essentially the core of our spiritual pursuit.

A Sacred Grove - Joseph Smith set the pattern. President Monson taught,

“Every [person] needs a sacred grove to which he can retire to meditate and to pray for guidance. Mine was our old ward chapel. I could not begin to count the occasions when on a dark night at a late hour I would make my way to the stand of this building where I was blessed, confirmed, ordained, taught, and eventually called to preside. The chapel was dimly lighted by the streetlight in front; not a sound would be heard, no intruder to disturb. With my hand on the pulpit I would kneel and share with Him above my thoughts, my concerns, my problems.”

Does it matter how long or what time of day? - Yes and no. Most yogis rise early. And the same schedule is followed by the general authorities of the church. Elder Kikuchi recommends rising before 6:30. Scientific and behavioral studies back that up. It is a naturally hypnotic time, as is just before bed. But any time of day can work, especially if done at the same time every day. But I have been known to fit it in whenever and however. Just as long as I don’t miss a day. The longer you do it the better (I’m talking minutes here), but I would start small and gradually increase. Start with three minutes a day and add one minute every few days. Some say the magic number is 12 minutes. Some say it is 18-20. But 3 minutes of focused meditation has more value than 20 minutes of unfocused meditation. If you can't get time alone, you can even incorporate your child into it. Babies and toddlers love meditation. My daughter often lays with her head in my lap while I meditate.

How can a practice of meditation assist us in pregnancy, birth and motherhood?

I listed some of the benefits of mediation above, including an increased capacity to love and increased unity with God and others. It also lowers anxiety and depression, enhances social awareness and empathy, improves cognitive and intellectual functioning, buffers you from the effects of aging and stress and gives you better control over your emotions. I can attest to this. It has enabled me to have compassion in unlikely circumstances, which has helped me in motherhood. Meditation also helps us find answers to daily problems. Even though I said we should not get attached to finding the answers, insights often come when our minds are calm. Meditation can also heal and fill in any residual emptiness in our hearts that come from being mortal. Here is a story about a mother from an August 2009 Ensign article by Elder Kikuchi:

“I know a good member of the Church who has a successful marriage and six beautiful children. She is trying to be the best companion she can be to her husband and the best mother she can be to her children. She is an effective Young Women leader in her ward. But sometimes she feels she isn’t good enough. She becomes discouraged and feels an emptiness of soul.

She came to me one day with her husband and described the powerlessness she feels at such times. She had discussed her concern with her priesthood leaders and especially her husband but had yet to find relief. I suggested that after her husband left for work and their children were in school, she find a place in her home and there reverently and humbly visit with Heavenly Father. I suggested that she express her gratitude to God for her blessings and then wait for His holy inspiration. She committed to do this daily.

Sometime later I received a letter from her. She said that as she went to her knees in those quiet moments each day and dropped her burden at Heavenly Father’s feet, He took her concerns away. She felt of her great worth to Him and learned more of “the healer’s art”4 as He healed her soul.”

A 40 Day Challenge

Most studies on meditation and the brain have been done on long time meditators, but in a recent scientific study, researchers took people who had never meditated before and gave them a meditation to do for 12 minutes/day. They gave them baseline tests and brain scans and then scanned and tested them again after just 8 weeks. The results surprised them. They saw marked changes in the scans as well as the motor skills and memory tests of the subjects. In just 8 weeks! That is fantastic. I suspect that they would have found the changes as early as 40 days. As anyone who has read my Babymoon post knows, 40 days is a significant number. It is the number of change.

Romans 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

I challenge everyone reading this to start a 40 day meditation today. Pick a meditation—or if you are totally at a loss, email me about what’s going on in your life and I will help you come up with one. Then do it every day for 3-20 minutes per day. If you miss a day, you have to start over. Be open to what comes. I can’t tell you where it will lead you. As Nephi said, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Nephi 4:6.)

Call for Stories

I would love to hear about your experiences with meditation, past, present and future. You know where to email them to me. I am especially interested in stories for the book, so if you have any that relate to conception, pregnancy, birth or mothering, please send them my way.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Conscious Pregnancy Begins with the Unconscious Mind

Below is a circle. Or at least an attempt at one. For our purpose it is going to represent your mind.

When we come into the world, our minds are much like this circle, and open blank slate. We are born without any fears (some people believe that babies are born with a fear of falling and loud noise—but even that is being proven wrong by some studies). We have one innate instinct and that is the Fight/Flight/Freeze mechanism—think survival. We call the part of the mind that operates the fight/flight response, the primitive mind.

From conception to about age 8, everything we learn by seeing, hearing, touching, etc., gets written onto that big blank page of the mind. Some things we learn might be positive, some are negative. For example you may learn to like chocolate cake and dislike spinach—or the reverse. You may learn to love dogs or fear them depending on what experiences you have.

So, your mind begins to look like this:

From 0-8 all information gets accepted by your unconscious mind—regardless of the source or quality of information. Around 8 years old is when the conscious mind and critical minds form (see picture below). The critical mind is very important. It is a protective filter through which all information must pass before it can get to the unconscious mind. Prior to 8 years old, if a person told you that you were stupid, it went right into the unconscious mind. At around 8, when the critical mind forms, all information gets evaluated first. The critical mind might say something like, “Wait a minute. My mom says I’m smart, and I get all A’s in school, so I am not going to accept that statement.” It then vents out that message unit because it doesn’t find anything to match it in the unconscious mind.

We estimate that the conscious mind makes up about 10-12% of your mind (although I think that is generous) and that the unconscious mind makes up about 88% of your mind. The unconscious runs most of your systems (nervous, circulatory, respiratory, etc.) and most behavioral processes (i.e. driving, walking. Once you pass the learning period, it becomes unconscious).

The conscious mind is where reason and logic live. It is what you are using right now to evaluate whether what I am telling you makes sense or not. It is what you use to make decisions, and also where your will power resides. Have you ever noticed that will power doesn’t work when you want it to? For example, let’s say you are trying to stop eating so much chocolate. You may know consciously that eating a big piece of chocolate cake isn’t going to make you feel better later and it will blow your diet and maybe make your nursing baby cranky, but you do it anyway, almost as if you had no will power at all. Almost as if it wasn't your choice. Have you ever wondered why that is? Or have you just felt guilty and tried harder? Still didn't work? I'll tell you why. It is because in your unconscious mind there is a huge plus sign around chocolate and when 88% and 12% take a vote, 88% is always going to win.

The unconscious mind is driving your truck. Frustration comes when they are at odds. But the unconscious is not trying to thwart you. The unconscious mind does not actually think. It identifies, associates, and responds according to its script.

Here is an example: If a dog walks into a room with two people who have opposite unconscious scripting, one person might run up and start to hug the dog and wrestle with it. The other will back away slowly and look for the nearest exit. Neither party thought through his or her response to the dog, they just responded. This is why it feels as if you have no free will when it comes to breaking a habit or trying to form a better one. Even though you may consciously, intelligently understand what makes better sense, intelligence has very little to do with behavior, as history shows.

So what does this mean if you want to live or birth consciously?

I once defined conscious pregnancy as consciously thinking about what you do before you do it, rather than letting the fears, beliefs, and ideas that are your unconscious script dictate how you will birth and mother. But according to the Theory of Mind, as I just presented it, this would be impossible.

Luckily, there is more the Theory of Mind. If God truly give us free agency, there must be a way to change unconscious scripting. And there is. Accessing the unconscious mind and rewriting or adding new information to the unconscious is actually quite simple. In fact, it happens all the time without your knowing it. But often times, what is getting in at those times is negative.

Remember that that the critical mind is a filter. If you have ever used any sort of filter, you know that it only works so long as the flow coming through it is consistent and manageable. If the filter gets overloaded everything begins to spill over the sides. Your mind is that same way. When your conscious mind gets overloaded with message units (lets say it has been a particularly stressful day), it opens that filter, and everything starts to get it. We call this anxiety state hyper-suggestibility. And if you get overloaded enough, the flight mechanism (primitive mind) is triggered and you escape into a hypnotic state.

Most people experience the hypnotic state several times a day. If you have ever been driving on the freeway and spaced out and missed your exit, that is hypnosis. If you have ever been to a movie and suspended your reality and got so into the movie that you laughed or cried or felt scared, even though you knew there was no danger to you, that is hypnosis. When you wake up in the morning and you are awake enough to know you are not asleep and you could get up if you want to, but you don’t. That is a hypnotic state. Thirty minutes before bedtime is also a naturally hypnotic time.

Becoming more aware of when you are hyper-suggestible is the first step in blocking negatives from getting in. That’s why you should never watch the news before bed. I also tell all my yoga students to avoid listening to birth horror stories. In fact, as much as you can, remove all negative influences from your life while you are pregnant. Most pregnant women are hyper-suggestible all the time because of all the extra message units coming from inside their body.

The Pain/ Pleasure Principle

Blocking negatives is the first step. The next step is changing negatives that are already in there into positives. This is tricky. The unconscious mind only wants one thing, and that is to stay the same. This is because of the "pain/pleasure principle." This is not the pain/pleasure principle as you know it. To the unconscious mind, all knowns (the pluses and minuses) are pleasure. And all unknowns are pain.

Lets say that one of your knowns (minuses) is emotional abuse. Being emotionally abused may not be pleasurable, but to the unconscious mind, it is a known and therefore, pleasure. That is why many people repeat the same patterns, in relationships even though they consciously don't want to.

Having a painful, traumatic birth might not be pleasurable, but if that is all you have ever witnessed or believed in, your unconscious mind views this as pleasure and will reject the idea of a peaceful, gentle, birth as pain.

We have plenty of examples of this and also the reverse. Several of the most famous stories come from Grantly Dick-Reed’s Childbirth Without Fear. Dick-Reed was a physician in London in the early part of 1900’s and saw a lot of upper class London women crying and screaming and begging for the drugs they had at the time. Later, when he was serving as a military physician in the World War, he attended a couple of births by poor country women who showed no signs of discomfort or pain. When he asked them why they hadn’t asked for pain medication, one responded, “It didn’t hurt. Was it supposed to?”

You have to hand it to your unconscious mind for trying to protect you from “pain.” In fact, as a hypnotherapist, I often thank the unconscious for its positive intention, before I attempt to go in and change those negatives to positives, (or positives to negatives in the case of smoking or another bad habit).

I have just mentioned hetero-hypnosis, which is one very effective tool for behavior change—I highly recommend it for everyone—but it is not the only way to reprogram the unconscious. There is another way, and it is something that every modern prophet, and plenty of ancient ones, has counseled us to do: meditate.
“We pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship there are two elements: One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable…is the meditation.” ---President David O. McKay

Simply speaking, meditation is seeking the spirit of the Lord, with an intention, and there is no right or wrong way to do this, so long as it achieves that purpose, however, there are several elements that mediation should include in order to be successful at reprogramming your unconscious script.

And this is where I leave you hanging until my next post on meditation.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Happy mothers day to all the mothers and allomothers in Israel out there.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bending the Will of God

A few weeks ago my neighbor, who is a theology professor at a local private university, asked me what I thought the purpose of prayer was. I told her the standard answer. Something like: God knows what we want already, but we have to show faith by asking.

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "That's the standard answer. But do you think it possible to bend the will of God?"

I had to think about that one for a while, but the next day I remembered the story of Joseph Smith and the loss of the 116 page manuscript. For anyone who doesn't know the story, you can read it here. Basically, Joseph goes to Lord several times to ask for permission to do something and the answer is no. After the third time or so, the Lord finally says okay, but gives him some strict conditions.

When I was younger I really liked this story because it taught me what I had been hoping all along: if you bugged high powers long enough, you could sometimes get them to change their mind. It wasn't till much later that I realized there was more to it.

As we all know, the results of Joseph's decision were bad. Those 116 pages, which contained the book of Lehi, were lost and God would not allow them to be re-translated (for reasons we can speculate about but don't totally know), but amazingly, God already had a back-up plan (or maybe the real plan. Who knows?). A back up plan that he had put into place almost 2400 years prior. In 1 Nephi 1:17, Nephi says:

"But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life."
For some reason Nephi was inspired to make an abridgment of his father's record. He didn't know why, but he trusted there was a wise purpose behind it. I have to remind myself that this was not an easy task. Making plates out of ore and engraving them takes a lot more time than journaling in ballpoint on the perfect bound journals that arrive to me in the mail bulk from Amazon.

I like to plan ahead for some things, hence the ordering in bulk, but this blows my mind. 2400 years ahead of time, God was planning ahead so that the Book of Mormon would not start en medias res.

So, while this story illustrates that we may be able to bend the will of God on occasion, it will never frustrate His plan. "Remember remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men."(D&C 3:3)

So is it wrong to keep asking God for something? No. In fact, in the Parable of the Widow and the Magistrate, which Jesus tells in Luke 18:1-9, He is instructing us to persist in asking for what we know is right. If we do this, we will be blessed.

How does this all relate to pregnancy and birth? I have some ideas, but I'd like to hear yours.


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