Amongst online studies around the term topic Courage, prenatal Yoga teaching and workshops on Nonviolent Communication, I unexpectedly became pregnant. The news marked the beginning of a crisis, as it appeared at the wrong time – where I felt unable to provide my child with a safe and stable home and financial abundance.
Upon becoming pregnant, the meaning of roles and responsibilities shift. It is not solely about myself, but about a child so fragile that he cannot effectively take responsibility for himself. My body has become a temple, a precious vehicle to carry this new little being. While it appears easier to treat myself more gently and with more self-respect now that I am tasked with this responsibility, I am astonished that it never occurred to me pre-pregnancy to take better care of myself. The need to cultivate more love for myself is a red thread that runs through my life and keeps repeating its call. Maybe the wonder of life that I carry within myself is my opportunity to take and embed this lesson and to appreciate the Divine within me.
Here comes a little, beautiful soul that inhabits my womb and challenges me to let go of plans, expectations and romanticized fantasies. One so precious and life-affirming that it reminds me of the beauty that lies in surrendering to life, even if it doesn’t accurately resemble the blueprint I had envisioned. One that challenges me to reflect upon, embody and apply the peace tools that I have learned and continue to learn every day. It is in the everyday challenges of our lives that our capacities as peace workers become relevant, tested and eventually strengthened.
While it appears easier to treat myself more gently and with more self-respect now that I am tasked with this responsibility, I am astonished that it never occurred to me pre-pregnancy to take better care of myself.
This contribution is about a personal, intimate journey through pregnancy that is drawing lessons from Elicitive Conflict Work which is, first and foremost, inner work. Acknowledging that every pregnancy is different, I see the journey itself as a potential for peace and transformation. As with all transformations, the pregnancy journey leads to another stage of life, that of motherhood. These are journeys of surrender, with profound spiritual wisdom being hidden in biological processes.
Pregnancy: Encountering Ourselves
A peace and conflict worker needs knowledge of the Self, as the totality of her intrapersonal layers are actively influencing the setting she enters as a facilitator, albeit to different extents. Awareness without immediate judgement or rejection relates to not only my personality, with my shadows and golden sides, but also to my limits. All the students and alumnae of the Innsbruck School for Peace Studies know the importance of facing our own shadow aspects before committing to work in the field. Otherwise, and this is particularly true for shadows we are not fully aware of, the conflict worker can quickly become an energy-draining force within the setting herself. The principle of correspondence reminds us to consider not only relational energies among the conflict parties, but also the intrapersonal layers, needs and contradictions that influence each of the parties, including the peace and conflict worker as a third party.
In this sense, my pregnancy has been a journey of self-discovery through ongoing attempts at self-acceptance. There have been lots of failures, throwbacks, self-doubts, but also the urge to get back up with more resilience, strength and determination. Not only for myself, but primarily for this beautiful soul, who is fully aware of my behavior, my struggles, my feelings and my thoughts. It is known that maternal stress can affect the baby’s development. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to control my stress levels and maintain a positive attitude throughout. Not only has my life plan been turned upside down by the simple fact of pregnancy itself, but my emotional world as well. My partner, the father of my baby, is residing in Rwanda and is not in the financial position to accompany me through my pregnancy, which I have decided to spend in Germany. When it became clear that the visa challenge would exceed our capacities, I immersed into helplessness and mourning of my dreams of a romanticized, happy young family. Although I knew that these were my own mental barriers that withheld me from accepting the challenge that demanded me to move forward even in the face of uncertainty, I was not willing to surrender to this flow of life. I refused to detach from the idealized image of what pregnancy “should” look like. I spent weeks mourning over my dreams and expectations, and burst into tears when I saw happy, young and pregnant couples together.
With growing dissatisfaction came shame for feeling too much, particularly towards my baby. I noticed guilt and self-pity, rather than being responsible and protecting him. But with him being part of me, biologically and spiritually connected to who I was, this baby growing in my womb gave me the possibility to open up and become more compassionate with my own feelings. I sit in bed and talk to him, explaining that my feelings are just visitors, that come and leave, and that it was not a good idea to serve them tea. I tell him that these feelings have nothing to do with him, and change nothing about the way I love him. This is where crisis becomes potential for growth, in which I realize that everything I need is there within myself. In which the situation as is leads me to abysses I haven’t explored and worked through in detail, reminding me that every relationship is a mirror of my own fears. The sad periods of my pregnancy have reminded me that unhealed wounds from my inner child are at work, stronger than ever, triggered by current circumstances, and that these wounds need healing instead of judgement.
Anticipating Motherhood: Holding the Space
The awareness of my shadows lead me to another aspect of the journey – how to deal with this awareness. A substantial part of pregnancy has been the continuous worry about whether I will be able to be a good mother and what actually makes a good mother. In ECW, the principle of resonance particularly relates to coherence of inner and outer aspects of being, so that the peace worker is aware of the resonances that vibrate through the layers and can create a resonant space for the conflict parties. This kind of coherence informs my ability to create an inner structure free from fear and thus enables openness and change. It is an inner structure that allows me to stay rooted and grounded within myself, so that nothing that shakes me from the outside can bring me to fall. A structure that I can rely on, because I am aware of my Self, and I trust myself to an extent that I do not abandon this inner structure.
My pregnancy started out as a crisis, but it turned into the embodiment of a human journey, holy and spiritual in its nature.
How can I cultivate the tools to find strength and grounding in myself, yet remain open and vulnerable to the world? How can I let vulnerability shine through the masks of my persona, yet have the resilience to stand up after deep pain and do what needs to be done in order to move forward?
As a Yoga teacher and practitioner, I am familiar with the healing power of embodiment and visualization. The postures (asanas) we practice on the mat often translate into lessons we can integrate off the mat into our everyday lives, and vice versa. Losing balance in a specific sequence can be for a variety of reasons that may be rooted in imbalances off the mat. In the literal and metaphorical sense, this easy loss of grounding is often among the roots of peacelessness. Embodying and physically practicing this by settling down in the pelvis is a powerful tool to visualize the grounding on an energetic level. Grounding, standing tall and strong, is a quality we need not only in embodied practices such as Yoga, but also in our full-time jobs as peacemaking mothers. This way, not every disruption, not every little earthquake can bring us to fall and we are able to stay grounded despite anxiety, stress and worries. Many mothers I know of apply this knowledge without actually being aware of it.
There is a direct connection between upholding the inner structure and holding space in terms of applied peace work. Elongating my spine, opening my chest and upholding my inner structure translates into full presence in the outer world. It encompasses awareness related to the full universe of the here and now, rather than to my inner world.. Only through loving and nurturing myself can I be present, aware and compassionate for you. This inner structure is at the base for our work as peacemakers and, of course, as peacemaking mothers.
Embracing the Journey
My pregnancy started out as a crisis, but it turned into the embodiment of a human journey, holy and spiritual in its nature. Even if going through this process now has caused me to suspend my formal studies, it has opened up a whole new world of learning and growth I had not dreamt to be able to explore. The circumstances of being without a partner during pregnancy, or having no stable income and no real place to call home surely added weight to multiple long nights of desperation.
Eventually, pregnancy teaches me that peaces are not destinations but pathways on which we creatively explore our possibilities to build inner structures for peace, rather than relying on the outside. The outer peaces, even more than the inner ones, are never stable, because life happens while we are making other plans. Peaces, in all of their forms, inner peaces in particular, are not to be found in the absence of conflict, but in our abilities to transform conflictive energies.