The kids all banged on their drums and shook their rattles, following me on the snaking path into the center of the labyrinth and back out again. It was a noisy, sloppy, joyful, sunny couple of minutes.
Rewind one year to find the scene of me leading a group of adults in a slow, contemplative evening walk through the labyrinth’s twists and turns.
Having a baby has really changed my spiritual practice.
Purgation, Illumination, Integration
In Walking A Sacred Path Lauren Artress writes about walking the unicursal (one path, no possible wrong turns as in a maze) labyrinth in terms of three mystical stages: Purgation, Illumination, and Union (I prefer to substitute the word Integration for the latter).
First, “Purgation, the walk from the entrance of the labyrinth to its center” is an opportunity “to release, to empty, to quiet.”
Then, Illumination happens at the center of the labyrinth when “people find insight into their problems.”
Finally, “Union begins as we leave the center of the labyrinth, following the same path back out that brought us in. As Artress writes, “Many people who have had an important experience in the center feel that this third stage of the walk gives them a way of integrating the insight they have gained.”
This framing works well for me in walking a labyrinth, and it also makes a nice metaphor for the childbearing journey. Toward the end of my pregnancy I experienced Purgation as everything that wasn’t bringing my baby into the world seemed to lose its importance. My activities and even major pieces of my personality slipped away.
Birthing my daughter was the center, the Illumination.
Since then I’ve been slowly experiencing Integration as I add back into my life the pieces that I dropped but still really want, and fit them together with the reality of motherhood and my daughter’s needs.
This process of Integration shows up in my spiritual practice where the meditative labyrinth walks of the past few years have transformed into raucous kid time, so that I can still lead the walks, but now include my daughter. It also shows up in my work, my relationships, and my hobbies. Really, my whole life is the same but different, moving back out the same spiral path I traveled in, but integrating the revelation of my daughter.
Note: This is reposted from my blog Reproductive Rites.
Sarah Whedon teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary and is the founding editor of Pagan Families: Resources for Pagan Pregnancy and Birth. Sarah’s teaching, research, and advocacy work center around topics of spirituality, feminism, and reproduction. She makes her home in San Francisco with her partner and their children.