stitching the womb


Self-effacement – the act of keeping oneself in the background, withdrawing oneself – has been suggested to be a characteristic of certain types of personalities. Mine, for instance. Certainly, this is something I recognize in myself. I can even pinpoint the moment in my life when it became something useful. All those years ago, becoming invisible in response to having been spotted by a predator was a valuable trait.  That maiden spring before the attack, I had been so clearly full of myself, flashing my colors, puffing out my chest, singing exuberantly, I was caught off-guard. The adjectives I’ve often used to describe myself during those coming-of-age months prior to that life-changing one are full of life – vibrant, vital, vivacious.

These exact words, which I grasp for today, describe the feeling of aliveness that compels me now. They compelled me to lose 1/3 of my bodyweight, to become fit and strong so that my body could carry me to the places where I feel them. They compel me to build a canoe so that I can return to that place in me, re-vive that feeling of empowered potential. They compel me to separate, individuate, become something brand new. Paradoxically, something in me, perhaps the same part that withdrew itself into the background, now struggles powerfully to be seen, to become fully human by ‘becoming visible’.

Yet along comes this disparate word, self-effacement. It makes me think of labor and birthing, of how it is that the cervix must efface, make itself thin, before it can open in response to the child’s pressing, or the uterus’ urgently powerful contractions. The cervix, as a thin place, becomes a veil that is lifted between this world and the Other, where the sacredness of life is palpable. As with all thin places, it a place of ‘indefinable mysterious power’ where something life-changing passes across, naked and raw, newly awakened.  I recall how it was in my own childbirth experiences, during that second, mother, stage of my life, that my cervix effaced too soon, before the child was ready, aborting fetus’s unready for life, birthing gasping-for-breath infants prematurely. How we learned to suture the cervix to keep it intact and prevent it from effacing and failing to bring forth, full-term, a brand new life. So perhaps this thin place in me is both a blessing and a curse. Something profoundly sacred is often intuited, just beyond that thin veil, but rarely brought to life and embodied.

It makes me wonder what I can do to keep this fullness of life from withdrawing into the background again. Metaphorically, what can I do to suture this place in me,  let this new life in me grow until it can breathe on its own, be delivered into my arms, fully alive- vibrant, vital. Stay the course of awakening.

the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
don’t go back to sleep.
you must ask for what you really want.
don’t go back to sleep.
people are going back and forth between the
door sill where the two worlds touch.
the door is round and open.
don’t go back to sleep.

Along come some women, carrying baskets of multicolored thread, offering some stitch work– Kristen, Cheri, Denice – sisters of a certain age (just past the childbearing ones) each also longing to give birth, to bring forth something they experience quickening within themselves, some struggling to hold on before it slips away again, some scrambling for breath . The longing in each of us is the same, ‘Who am I to be now?’ Our journeys have been vastly different, yet each one of us peers into the other’s experience and perceives it as gifted and graced, while finding our own story to be lacking.  Not one of us experiences the fullness of ourselves except through the other’s eyes, but there in those mirrors of the soul, at last, sometimes for the first time, we are seen in our fullness, naked and raw, gifted and graced.  I walk to the top of the mountain with Kristen, find myself strong and supported in her presence. I see in her a self-assured sensually vibrant, earthy woman living a life of meaning, able to connect and see beauty with a depth of understanding. She sees in me a similar depth I do not know in myself.

Along come some authors-of-a-certain-age offering some stitch work of their own –  Katrina Kenison, Karen Maezen Miller, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Katrina, who speaks of this soul-searching that comes with the territory of mid-life, this wanting to be seen, to bring one’s true self out of hiding and into the world, which often begins with an imperceptible movement deep inside those invisible dormant layers. Katrina, who speaks of an aching, restless feeling like a ‘current pulling her beneath the surface of her life to go in search of something deeper that she has no words for’, who speaks of wondering if she will have the stamina to allow the ‘meaningful-next’ to reveal itself rather than grasping too quickly at some new distraction. Katrina, who speaks of desiring to pursue her passion and stretch herself, believing that what strengthens her body will also fuel her spirit and who is learning to respond to the invitation for passionate aliveness, the joy and pain of living fully.

Karen – who reminds me to have faith in myself as the Way, that I don’t have to find anything at all, simply be myself where I am as I am. No more searching, no need to fill a hole that doesn’t exist. No more imagining the moon is missing, waiting for the day it will be full. Karen, who reminds me that my life is always complete, there is no fix because there is no problem; I just have to remember to see it that way. Karen, who encourages me to cease my restlessness because I already am what I am searching for; I just need to wake up and the meaning of life will come to life through me. Karen, who  teaches me to settle deeply where I am, let the mud sink to the bottom and let my life rise up and bloom on its sturdy stalk,

Elizabeth, who reminds me to follow what makes me feel most alive, who tells me that the world will spread out a feast of possibilities with which to fill, but that they are not all mine to partake. She cautions that they may fill me to distraction unless I learn how to listen for, follow, and trust my own path of aliveness. ‘What makes you come to life?’, she asks. ‘Ask yourself this question, whenever you are given any choice or opportunity. Ask: “Will saying YES to this path bring me closer to the source that brings me to life? Or will it take me further away?” Follow that, stubbornly.  Do not say YES to other people’s dreams. Live your own waking dream.’

Twice last week, I heard this sentiment echoed by voices on the radio…. tailors in their own right. Yo Yo Ma in an interview with Krista Tippet speaks of the ‘infinite possibility’ in the cosmos or in a piece of music, that vast potential that lies in the spaces between the notes, in the choices one can make in how to move from one to the next. In that choice, following one’s heart, one expresses oneself, makes of this music of life something brand new and unique. Sherwin Nuland, surgeon and rapt student of the human body, sees the same potential within the cells of our biology and our brains, atoms choosing amongst the infinite array moment by moment for what brings the fullest life. Evolutionarily, we select for both survival AND pleasure, for aliveness!, and thus, over time, we become. The cosmos and this moment, in the spaces between atoms and breaths, infinitely full of potential, draw us by our choices toward the fullness of life.

In the meadow, the seeds are seemingly infinite, in both variety and quantity. Prolific. Which one will make it through to the spring, find soil fertile -wet or dry, sunny or shady- enough to inspire blossom, to grow into the potential embedded within itself? Set free at last in their letting go, in their dying to old life, some falling close to home, others cast afar, I wonder what will become flower and fruit.

It may be true that I am called to root myself and bloom where I am planted, but I have also seen that certain plants cannot be convinced to blossom in inhospitable conditions. No matter how much attention is given, they will grow to be less-vibrant versions of themselves. Given a propitious environment, the same plant prospers…is taller, greener, fuller, abundant in blossom and fruit. I expect in this, as in most things, there is a both/and. I am called both to places of awakening self-nurture here where I am planted, to wake up to the rich life that is blossoming in me here and now AND  to seek out and fall full-heartedly into the soil that nourishes me best.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

At times, I have judged as frivolous this yearning in me, slandered what may be a pilgrimage as mere quest for adventure. Though I’ve known it was much more than that – love will speak to the heart on such matters as this – I’ve doubted its legitimacy. Perhaps in this resides my fear of self-effacement, that I will condemn the child as a bastard, abort it too soon, refuse to bring it to life. These women, authors, voices, seeds, come to stitch up that thinning cervix in me, affirm my right to give birth to something vibrant and whole-bodied. It is not thrill that I seek, I am seeking a fullness I lost somewhere along the way, a fullness the fills from within.

There are ways I can practice this at home, of course, in my own backyard. There are ways I can practice this within my own body, in my own skin, breathe in this fullness of being alive. There are ways I can move right here where I am. I can skip. I can jump. I can bow. I can walk. I can sing. I can pay attention. I can real-ize that I can choose to make my life whole by embracing it wholey, by being fully myself where I am as I am.

But I can also follow this longing to something outside of myself, follow the pilgrim path upon which my heart leads me to the places where it rediscovers itself and comes alive, even if only to re-member to myself what that feels like.  Out there, away from old habitual ways of being and belonging, shaken free of the stalk upon which I have clung, stripped of old self-identity, of role, of definitions of success or failure, I can land on fresh soil, learn again who I am, re-embody myself.

And I can trust in these sacred, transformational persons and places and spaces to place securely the stitches that might hold fast this enwombment, where I am given the time and the vision to give myself back to myself. And when the time comes for the crone-in-me to crown, may this competent cervix of mine open fully to greet her.

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing….

—From “Saint Francis and the Sow”

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tammy
    Nov 12, 2014 @ 21:45:56

    Vicki, where did you get the above piece (peace) of art? She is beautiful and calls to me strongly.



    • emmaatlast
      Nov 12, 2014 @ 22:38:39

      tammy, this is an image I found on google. I don’t actually own the piece, thought I’d love to! I tried to track it down to give credit when I posted it, but its a pinterest image and doesn’t link to the original image. isn’t she amazing!



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