THE WOMB IS A SACRED and powerful place in a female body.
It’s the source of potential life and also a place that, for many women, monthly sheds its lining, creating anything from mild discomfort to excruciating pain. It’s a place where conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome can wreak havoc on our body systems. It can grow from the size of a pear to a watermelon in pregnancy, and then it can return right back to its original size. It can be a place of miscarriage, abortion, child loss, or child birth. It is the location of the second chakra, an energy center related to pleasure, creativity, joy, and passion. It can also be a place where we store our trauma. The womb is the center of both death and life.
Many of us don’t think too much about our wombs until something happens there—or doesn’t, if we are waiting for a late period to arrive. Some women don’t have physical wombs, but instead a space that may be felt energetically or imaginatively. Whether you have a good, bad, complex, or neutral relationship with this part of your body, how often have you thought about it?
I thought about mine the most, perhaps, when I was newly pregnant after having had a miscarriage. I had a hard time understanding that this was a place of both nourishment and growth for a new baby when it had felt like a graveyard just a few short months ago. I sat with it, meditated with it, placed my hands over my belly and tried to feel and breathe and understand this part of me. It felt very strange to be creating life in a place that had so recently brought me death and devastation.
Though we do not see them together very often in our culture, death and life constantly feed into each other in the natural world. Wild animals must kill in order to find life-giving nourishment. A tree that dies in the forest becomes a nurse log. One way to think about cancer is that it is a disease of too much life— cells refusing to die properly, causing them to overgrow and threaten the body.
In the Hindu worldview, death and life are constantly intersecting cycles: One cannot exist without the other. The three main godheads are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Destroyer. In one famous story, Shiva’s great love has died, and he carries her body across the skies, grieving desperately, his wails threatening to throw the universe out of balance. In order to restore that balance, Vishnu uses a special weapon to cut Shiva’s wife’s body into pieces, allowing them to fall on different sacred places across India. Instead of snapping back to work (and who would, after an experience like that?) Shiva retreats to his meditation cave and refuses to come out. That means he isn’t doing the vital work of destroying things so that new things can be born. This allows new demons to come to power in the world of the Gods, and Shiva must be coaxed out of his meditation and into relationship with the world again so that he can continue to cause appropriate endings so that beginnings can be possible.
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MIRABAI BUSH is the author of Working With Mindfulness, co-creator of Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program, cofounder of the Center for Contemplative Mind and Society and a founding board member of the Seva Foundation. She teaches contemplative practices, and has facilitated retreats, workshops and courses on spirit and action for over 20 years. To commemorate International Women’s Day, Mirabai spoke with PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN on March 6, 2021.
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