Volume 7, Issue 1
I took a nap the other day and woke up thinking about the Four Gifts. Curious. You see, in Buddhist teaching, a monk may receive the Four Gifts-food, medicine, clothing and shelter. And what constitutes an appropriate gift within these four categories is a meditation unto itself. They become very fuzzy categories. Giving chicken soup may or may not be a wholesome gift. What if the monk is from a vegetarian order? And what if the monk already has more than enough to eat, but is starving for spiritual inspiration? Would the gift of a sutra be an even more appropriate food? After all, consciousness requires its aliments. Well, you see what I mean.
Funny thing was, I woke up thinking about the Four Gifts in relation to fetuses, not monks. I know. I can imagine you going all Freudian on me. Monks in caves and fetuses in wombs and all that. Right, and the one is not a bad metaphor for the other, is it? Now that I think about it, maybe it was a kind of transductive, "lateral" logic that made the connection for me. And once made, it becomes an interesting meditation. We know that the food consumed by an unborn child may range from wholesome to unwholesome, and we know that what the fetus consumes is related to what the mother consumes. So what constitutes an appropriate gift of food for the mother will in part involve what is an appropriate gift for the child.
And so on through the Four Gifts. In the East, the word that translates "medicine" is really much broader in meaning than its contemporary, narrow pharmacological denotation. It's more like the original Indo-European meaning of "medicine" which contained the same root as our words "meditation" and "median," a root that meant "to center." Medicine in this sense means to remedy fragmentation and disharmony by centering and healing (same root incidentally as "whole," "holy," "hale," etc.) the energy in the being. Which of course is also the sense of the Latin root of our word "religion" (related to "ligament") which meant to bind together that which is separate. Same meaning as the root of the Sanskrit "yoga" and our more contemporary "yoke." So, what can we give to the mother and child that will wholesomely bind them together, to remedy the traumatic conditions that produce eventual alienation and emotional discord in the child?
Then there is clothing and shelter. Like food and medicine, they are categories having obvious members. You can give a monk a coat if he or she requires one. You can build a monk a meditation cabin. But what constitutes clothing and shelter for the fetus? In a sense, the womb is both. But as we all know, the womb is not impervious to the environment. It is neither always a warm, loving place for a child, nor does it always shelter the unborn from the ravages of a violent and hate-filled world. What can we give the child that will clothe it in warmth and protect it in safety?
I said my dream-thoughts were curious. They raise meditations that are not inappropriate for our journal. Perhaps those who participate in pre- and perinatal psychology and related disciplines are actually involved in an ongoing meditation on the Four Gifts. And perhaps our journal helps to disseminate understanding about what constitutes appropriate aliment, remedy, raiment and abode for the wholesome development of the awakening child.
And speaking of wholesome aliment, Jeannine Parvati Baker returns to our pages to discuss the spiritual aspects of childbirth crossculturally. She discusses the role of the shaman and presents a description of the Navajo Monsterway ceremony as it relates to midwifery. Then your editor presents a survey of cross-cultural research pertaining to the puerperium, that most critical period from birth to the full return of the mother to normal physiological and social status. He covers topics such as infant feeding patterns, the phenomenon of infant-mother separation, seclusion of mother and infant after the birth, acceptance and rejection of the infant, the post-partum sex taboo, etc.
Mary F. Straub discusses the fetus' relationship to its umbilical cord. She feels that the cord becomes a "consoling presence" within the fetus' very limited space. Finally, we present another in our "golden oldies" series of articles that have significantly influenced pre- and perinatal psychology, but that are hard to find for most of our readers. This time it is a piece by Kelduyn R. Garland, originally published in 1978, discussing the impact of the physical handling of newborns to their long term wellbeing.