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Birth MandalaThe Power Of Visioning For Childbirth
By Nancy Burns
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Nancy Burns
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is A Mandala?
"It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths.......... I
knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate." - Carl Jung, from his book Memories, Dreams and Reflections
The word "mandala" means circle and wholeness. The circle is a symbol for the continuity of life. Mandalas are often found with repetitive geometric shapes. Mandala drawings are used for meditation and to deepen awareness, reminding us of our relationship to the infinite and to everything that exists within and without. Mandala art is used for healing and to bring comfort and insight to people with illness. They are also used for protection as in the Native American medicine wheel.
Mandalas are found throughout nature. The circular mandala shape is in flowers, seashells, tree trunks and molecules of water. In the human body they are blood cells, fingerprints and the pupil of the eye.
The ovum is a single cell mandala, and when fertilized, begins to expand its mandala form geometrically. The fetus grows in the mandala of the mother's womb.
From the trillions of cells in your body to the planets that make up the solar system, mandalas are found in all of existence.
I visited my friend's daughter in labor with an offering of a bouquet of large, black-faced sunflowers. After the birth my friend informed me that her daughter said that focusing on the sunflowers helped her visualize her cervix opening.
In his book, Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt reflects the words of Black Elk, a holy man of the Ogalala Sioux, "You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. .......Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and they were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children."
For over 25 centuries mandalas have been found in cultures around the world. From the Native American medicine wheel to the window rosettes in Greek and Roman churches.
In the remote and isolated village of the Huichol Indians, I was astounded by the array of beautifully colored mandalas in their artwork. The Huichol Indians are pre-Columbian people who live in the Sierra Madres Mountains of Mexico.
Arriving at their village after a full days journey from the river to the top of the mountain, I was visually immersed in the exquisite art. Mandalas decorated the brightly colored beaded earrings, woven purses, clothes and yarn paintings. One yarn painter depicts a birthing story with (kipuri) life force coming down from the Eagle (messenger from God) into the newborn. Many of these people do not have any contact with civilization, and yet the universal mandala design is present in their art. The symbols and the mandalas weave a story about their life and creation.
Another journey to a distant land took me to the ancient civilization in Peru. Overlooking the city of Cuzco, in the ruins of an Incan fortress of Sacsayhuaman (the native people translated this as sexy woman), there is a massive stone calendar in the shape of a mandala.
This stone mandala, known as Muiuparka, is said to be a special vortex of energy. The inner circle represents the Sun, then the Moon and the outermost circle represents the constellations. To this day, the Incan people perform sacred rituals and dances to connect with cosmic energy.
Although I have never visited India, I have often said that India came to me. For more than 30 years I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in yagnas, ancient Vedic ceremonies from India. A yantra is created from colored sand on a wooden plank and is placed in the center of the ceremonial area. A yantra is a geometric mandala, often representing a deity. A fire is built on the yantra and participants offer seeds symbolizing undesired negativities into the fire along with mantras (words considered capable of spiritual transformation).
The Sri Yantra is formed by nine interlocking triangles that radiate out from the central (bindu) point. Four of the triangles point upwards, representing the Masculine. Five of these triangles point downwards, representing the Feminine. Together with the 43 smaller triangles, the Sri Yantra represents the union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine in a womb symbolic of creation. The sound or mantra for the Sri Yantra is Om.
Tibetan Sand Mandala
With tranquil devotion, the Tibetan Buddhist monks spend days creating a mandala using colored sand. The mandala is a representation of aspects of their spiritual life. Mandalas have been used in various cultures for meditation, to connect with one's wholeness and one's unity with self.
The Tibetan sand mandala is created with the intention to purify and heal all sentient beings. Upon completion, the mandala is dismantled, and the sand is released into a body of water to spread the healing energy throughout the world.
Personal mandalas are created for many purposes, including healing and inner peace. Personal mandalas are often created using geometric designs.
I made this mandala during a time in my life when I was experiencing a personal crisis and transformation. I call this mandala Phoenix Rising.
The images appeared from deep within. There was no planning or conscious thought about what I was going to draw. The phoenix is symbolic of ascending from the depths of emotional waters. My connection with all of life is represented by the elements of earth (mountains), air (the sky), water and fire (sun). The birds (spirit) are returning to me as I come back into wholeness with myself and all of nature.
What Is A Birth Mandala?
The Birth Mandala is a magical doorway through which the inner world is made conscious. It is a symbolic womb, gestating your vision for childbirth. – Nancy Burns
Although mandalas are used for various purposes, the intention of the birth mandala is a tool for labor and birth. A birth mandala is layered with significance for childbirth. At the most basic level, the 10-centeimeter circle supports labor through visualization of the opening of the cervix. On another level, the meditative and creative state, like a key, unlocks the door to the unconscious. Tapping into your inner wisdom, images reveal personal meaning for the mother-to-be. And finally, symbols, images and designs are consciously placed on the mandala to represent what you want to experience during childbirth. Using black drawing paper, the mandala appears from the dark background, like the baby emerging from the darkness of the womb into the light.
Your birth mandala is a visual affirmation of the qualities you aspire to embrace for childbirth. The symbols on your mandala can help you remember to stay present, to focus on your breath and to relax. A picture of a clear lake can instill a feeling of calmness; a mountain can be a symbol for determination; a picture of a heart can be for courage and intuition. A tiger can represent power and female sexuality; a lioness for victory and stamina, and a bird in flight can represent joy and freedom.
A birth mandala is sacred art for childbirth. It is a creative process of self-discovery as well as a visual expression of your vision of labor and birth. Making a birth mandala is a sacred pause of reflection during pregnancy. Women have expressed that creating their birth mandala is a mindful practice. Intuition and a deep sense of peace are accessed when the focus of attention is inward.
The root of the Sanskrit word mandala is "manda," which means essence. The suffix, "la", means container. Consider the center of the mandala as the eternal presence, the Now. The point in the center of the mandala is called a "bindu" in Sanskrit and metaphysically represents the unmanifest coming into creation. The mandala, a container for essence coming into creation, presents a dynamic metaphor for pregnant women. Mandala also means wholeness. Your essence is always whole and without fear. From the place of wholeness you give birth with courage and completely trusting your intuition.
The creative process of drawing is a very personal experience. Some people resist expressing themselves through art for fear of negative criticism from self or others. Creating a birth mandala is especially important for anyone experiencing resistance to this process. It is a wonderful preparation for labor to move through resistance and become more self-empowered. More than an art project, it is a creative medium to reinforce the positive qualities and childbirth experience you want to embrace.
Birth Mandala with Designs
To make a mandala using designs, a circle is constructed around a central point, using a compass or a 10-centimeter template. The circle represents the cervix fully dilated. The mid-point represents the place of stillness within. Designs and shapes are symmetrically formed and expand out beyond the 10-centimeter circle.
Birth Mandala Collage
A birth mandala collage is made from images found in magazines, calendars or other visual media. The collage also begins with a mid-point and a 10-centimeter circle drawn around it.
Although the ten-centimeter circle is a constant for each picture, the images drawn or placed on the mandala are not limited to the diameter of the ten-centimeter circle, and expand out from the inner circle. Other images and words can be added to your mandala to visually support birthing your baby and placenta, for nursing and mothering. Symbols and words can be used to represent positive qualities you want to embrace. A shape, a color, words or designs can be used to stand for something that has a significant meaning for you. Images for confidence, courage and strength can be inspiration during labor. A picture of a bear can represent strength; the image of a person in meditation can be a reminder of inner peace and calmness; a butterfly for transformation into motherhood, and a tree as a reminder to stay grounded. Symbols are the language of the subconscious. Just as the conscious mind uses words, the subconscious uses images and symbols. Symbols are revealed when the mind is quieted or in deep concentration. Therefore, the process of making a mandala taps into the subconscious.
The process of drawing or collage is contemplative. A quiet, sacred space is important for you to relax, go inward and concentrate. The mandala is fueled with the energy of your intention. Approach your mandala from a place of love. Love is the highest vibration and connects us with a higher source.
Your mandala can be made in a day, or over a period of time. Collage is often a lengthier process of looking through magazines and finding the pictures you want. The few weeks it took me to complete the Mother Nature Mandala felt like a special time of contemplation.
Upon completion, meditating with your mandala can strengthen your intentions and bring new understandings. Creating a birth mandala is like making a vision board. A vision board is a collage of images depicting what you want to attract in your life. The vision board was popularized with John Assarof's story of how he manifested his mansion. His story can be found in the movie and book called 'The Secret'. Your birth mandala is a symbolic picture guiding your way through labor and birth.
In the east, yantras, both simple and elaborate geometric designs, are used for concentration and meditation. Yantras are mandalas and are made while reciting specific mantras (prayers). Yantra artist and author, Harish Johari, states that in India a yantra is made by the husband (or partner) of the pregnant woman. The yantra is made in secrecy and presented to her at the time of labor. The women use the yantra for concentration and energy. It is said the birth yantra helps for an easy labor. The design of the birth yantra is a labyrinth and symbolizes the path the baby takes out of the womb. Creating a birth yantra is a wonderful way for the partner to participate in the pregnancy.
The Science Behind The Scene: Mirror Neurons
How does making a birth mandala influence labor and birth? One explanation may be found in mirror neurons. Neurons in the brain are activated and fire when we see images about childbirth. Beliefs are formulated and feelings follow what we see. The science behind a birth mandala helps to understand how visual stimuli affect our perception of childbirth.
The name "mirror neurons" is given to neurons that are activated in the brain when you are observing someone or something, as well as imagining something happening. The birth mandala guided journey activates neurons in the brain by imagining the process of labor. The positive beliefs and feelings along with the visualization further imprints as memory. Imagination helps the learning process. It's a way of telling the body this is the way I do it. When it is the actual time to give birth, the body has the information it needs. Mirror neurons were first discovered around 1996 by neuroscientist, Giacomo Rizzolatti, during a laboratory experiment with monkeys. The monkeys were wired to a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (FMRI). The researchers found the prefrontal cortex of the monkey's brain was activated not only when the monkey picked up an object, but also the same neurons were activated when the monkey observed someone else picking up an object. "Monkey see, monkey do!" Hence, those neurons received the name "mirror neurons." More recent laboratory experiments with monkeys demonstrated the activation of mirror neurons in monkeys imagining the researcher performing an act. In one of the studies the monkey was shown a bowl of fruit. The bowl was placed behind a screen, out of view. When the researcher placed his hand behind the screen, the monkey's mirror neurons were activated by its imagination! The birth mandala guided journey activates the imagination and therefore stimulates the mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons found in humans are more elaborate because they are connected to the amygdala, the brain's region that is involved with emotion. These cells enable us to empathize with others and to directly experience their feelings and emotions. The studies indicate that when we watch our favorite athletes, the mirror neurons in the premotor cortex light up as if we were the ones competing. It also demonstrates how observing impacts learning. We learn by watching and imitating what we see. Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma, Italy, tells us "We are exquisitely social creatures; our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."
Modern women are exposed to birth scenes through the media. One extreme example is a dramatized version of childbirth on T.V. Upon sensing the first twinge of labor the pregnant woman and her partner frantically rush off to the hospital. The couple appears frenzied and anxious. They look and act distraught and helpless. Another modern possibility is viewing a video of a woman in real labor (not acting as on television), immersed in the warm water of a birthing tub surrounded by loving support and birthing fearlessly, with focus and concentration.
Excerpted from Birth Mandala by Nancy Burns Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Burns. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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