Have you ever experienced going into a crash or a fall when time seemed simply to stand still and then there was no mind reaction, even for just a nanosecond? The above haiku speaks to such an event. What is the mind doing? Is the mind experiencing its very own nature? Awareness looking at (experiencing) itself?
Buddhist literature speaks to this awareness with many metaphors such as a mirror or a crystal. Our awareness can be likened to a mirror that reflects with complete openness while unaffected by the reflections whereas a clear crystal sphere takes on the surrounding colors of the materials (e.g., red cloth, refraction of surrounding light) with the sphere, remaining unchanged.
Another way of understanding the nature of our mind is to note that the images on our digital display (e.g., iPhone, iPad, TV) are made up of miniscule lights that are similar to our unexamined experiences as “solidified” light energies in a dance of awareness. Except for one thing, we have not allowed our cognitive senses to notice this phenomenon. Yet, every moment in our life, we are the natural, primordial energy state of being as a sentient being. However, in a lifetime of conditioning, of instilling preferences and aversions, our mental patterns engulf our sense of being. We form attachments to our feelings and become enslaved or addicted by these experiences. Yet, they are merely reflections without any inherent permanency. Once you change a channel or enter a query into GoGoDuck, the images change instantly. Such are our experiences; they fade away into space. Yet, the heart of reality—the light of the natural mind—remains present.
Basically, we are made up of three types of energy:
The first one is like the mirror. Though the voidness of a mirror is essentially endless and formless, the mirror can fill itself with any content. This is also true of us — our energy has the capacity to adopt any form and to emanate radiantly.
The second energy is like the clear crystal ball. External forms appear as though seen with the “eye of the mind.” In other words, it sees the form internally as if it were seen with the “eye of the mind” when, in fact, the appearance is neither inside nor outside no matter how vivid the internal image of the form may be.
The third energy is explained by the properties of a crystal-prism. When the light falls on the crystal-prism, the light is refracted and decomposed by it. Though the appearance of rays and forms in colors seem separate from the crystal, it is the actual function of the crystal-prisms own nature. Thusly, when it comes to our own energy, which experiences the world dualistically — the illusion of a self-existing individual separate from the external world — our fragmented dualistic consciousness takes the projections of the senses to be independent and separate from oneself. At this level of experience, one accrues karmic traces, contained in the one’s stream of consciousness that gives rise to two kinds of forms: forms that the individual experiences as his or her body, voice and mind and forms that the individual experiences as an external environment as described earlier. Everything that manifests in the individual’s field of experience is a continuum.
As one Tibetan master summarily wrote, “our ultimate nature is said to be pure, self-existing, all-encompassing awareness. It intrinsic nature has no form or its own. Yet, it has the capability of perceiving, experiencing, reflecting, or expressing all form. As such, it is being without being affected in a permanent way.” Other evocative phrases have been used by wisdom masters to describe this state of being as an ‘effulgence’, an ‘all-pervading fullness’ or as ‘space that is aware’. When an individual is able to maintain the “rdzogs chen” (perfection) state continually, he or she no longer experiences dukkha(i.e., feelings of discontent, tension and anxiety in everyday life in samsara). Experiences can become nirvana in this lifetime. The opposite of dukkha is sukha that means happiness, pleasure, ease, joy, or bliss, which has authentic states of being that are lasting. Such life pursuits of well-being can be achieved in one’s life time if pursued.
Imagine that you are the eyes of the world but unaware. It is always now to wake up. The protagonists of both novels, DAUGHTERS OF THE DANCE and CHOIR OF CLOISTERED CANARIES, attempts to bring this awareness to mind. The protagonists sought to remain open to the creation of beautiful spiritual experiences while understanding the workings of samsara that flows from birth, illness and death to rebirth (also known as the Wheel of Life based on the Law of twelve Interdependent Origination (co-arising)). There is a world of being imbued with loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity – non-dual and generous.
As for the image above, it is the Wisdom Eye of the Awareness Consciousness surrounded by a circle (the Enzo) that represents the wholeness of experience in non-duality.
In chapter five of Daughters of the Dance, Mata Hari is referenced in connection with when Madame Dara was introduced into the high society of the elite of Panama in Colon. Mata Hari was her stage name, a Malayan term that means “eye of the day (sun).”
The well-produced 2017 Russian-Portuguese television series, “Mata Hari,” portrays her as a Roman Catholic. Be that as it may, her father was a Zelle, a very Jewish surname. Unfortunately, in the novel, the surname is misspelled; erratum “Zeele”, a likely missed error in print. (Other derivatives of the root name Zell are Zeller, Zellner, Zellerbach, Zelnick, and Zellniker.)
Mata Hari was born in Leenwarden, The Netherlands, on August 7, 1876, as Margaretha Gaertruida Zelle under the sign of Leo. Her father was Adam Zelle, and her mother was Antije van der Meulen. Though Adam was a haberdasher by trade, he made investments in oil that allowed his family of three sons and first-born daughter to live lavishly. This may explain why Margaretha had expensive tastes, for at an early life, she was known to be flamboyant. However, the Zelle’s world changed drastically when ther family went bankrupt in 1889 and her mother died two years later. She was sent to live with her godfather Mr. Visser (another Jewish surname) in Sneek where she, at 15, was sent to a preparatory school specializing in teacher training. A scandal broke out when the headmaster of the school obsessed over her, causing Margaretha to live then with her uncle, Mr. Taconis, in The Hague. (The origin of the name Taconis is unknown, but he was married to a Faber, another Jewish surname. There were other Jewish surnames associated with the family tree–De Roos and Rosendaal).
At age 18, Margaretha responded to a newspaper ad of matrimony from officer Rudolph “John” MacLeod who was stationed in the Dutch East Indies (currently, Indonesia). After eleven years of marriage—seven years in Java and the latter four years in The Netherlands—the MacLeod’s went separate ways.
Margaretha moved to Paris where she reinvented herself, drawing from the Javanese dances she had learned from one of her servants. She arrived at the height of the Paris Belle Èpoch (1880-1914) when all things “oriental” were very fashionable in Paris, allowing her exotic looks to add to her mystique. She danced at various venues—private salons, later at large theaters (ballets and operas), and large parties. She also traveled extensively. She was known for her number of lovers (often military men from various countries) who were willing to provide her financial support in exchange for her company.
In the ending of the Russian-Portuguese TV series, there is another detail about her that needs adjusting: her arrest–the currently known version of Mata Hari’s real-life story is that she was actually arrested in England by Scotland Yard at the behest of the French police. She was not kidnapped by the French police in Spain. This detail was only declassified in 2017, a century after her death and after the production of the TV series was completed.
The notion that Margaretha Zelle was an exotic dancer who used her seductive powers to extract military secrets is also false. She was years past her prime as a dancer by the time she agreed to serve as a spy for France—and possibly for Germany—while maintaining her innocence up until the time of her death.
One of Mata Hari’s surviving quotes is, “Death is nothing, nor life either, for that matter. To die, to sleep, to pass into nothingness, what does it matter? Everything is an illusion.” She must have gone bravely before the French execution squad.
CHOIR OF CLOISTERED CANARIES is more than just the use of consonance alliteration. There is a critical “C” employed in the novel, and it is “Chlorpyrifos.”
What is “chlropyrifos?” Common commercial names are Brodan, Bolton insecticide, Chlorpyrifos-methyl, Cobalt, Detmol UA, Dowco 179, Dursban, Empire, Eradex, Hatchet, Lorsban, Nufos, Paqeant, Piridane, Scout, Stipend, Tricel, Warhawk, others. Identifiers. CAS Number. 2921-88-2. But what is it, really? But, but, but?
Chlropyrifos (aka chlorpyrifos-methyl) is as an insecticide, a kind of pesticide, that attacks the nervous system to eliminate insects and worms on a range of food crops. However, extensive scientific studies over years have concluded that it also attacks the nervous system of young children’s brains as those of farmworkers and animals.
In fact, the European Union recently voted in December 2019 to ban chlorpyrifos. Their scientific experts concluded that its use affects human health, in particular in relation to genotoxicity and developmental neurotoxicity. The World Health Organization banned it in 2000 for most household uses but still allows it to be applied to dozens of crops on over 40,000 farms. Due to economic trade-offs, it has been difficult to wean countries off the stuff. However, the allowable Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) of both EU food products and imports are being lowered to become effective in October 2020.
Instead of following the science, the Trump Administration is rejecting all scientific evidence of poisoning to humans, particularly, children’s brains, fetuses, and farmworkers. Accordingly, the anti-science Administration refuses to ban the use of this neurotoxin. As toxic as it is, there is no apparent mitigating the harm it causes. In September 2020, the U.S. Environmental Agency has released its risk assessment calling the toxic pesticide’s effects “unresolved” and allowing its continued use in a wide variety of agricultural products. A final decision on its use is pending. Meanwhile, will American food products be banned from entering the European Union?
(CHOIR OF CLOISTERED CANARIES mentions it in pp. xv, xvi, xvii, 79, 80, 83, 141, 281.)
Not many admirers of Leonard Cohen’s artistry know that he was a Zen Buddhist monk for five years even though he kept ties with the synagogue affiliated with Ashkenazi Orthodox Judaism throughout his life. His Lithuanian mother, Masha Klonitsy, was the daughter of a Talmudic rabbi. His Polish father’s surname, Cohen, was a strong influencer that was at the core of his faith. Throughout his life, Cohen (1934-2016) received a “Messianic childhood” because his Kohen surname (in Hebrew for the “priestly” class) came from a hereditary caste descending from Moses’s brother, Aaron. Among the many song themes of Cohen, he explored loss, religion, romance, and sexuality. “Hallelujah” is an overmind mix of those listed themes, both religiously and secularly, and are explored below. Without a doubt, his songs tapped into the universal human condition.
Through the eyes of Nona, one of the primary spiritual dancers in the novel DaughtersoftheDance, the protected and spiritually evolved Nona knew (chapter 28), as did Cohen, how everything in life is impermanent, including her tantric union with Ariel. Leonard touches on that in the sixth stanza. Oh, the secret is out! In her case, the Hallelujah feeling was unbroken, for hers was an internal practice she took with her wherever she went. For Nona, her tantric practice was a ritual act that integrated her body, speech, and mind.
On the surface, we can agree that Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is about a mourning of a broken but true love and a journey of pain, suffering, and fleeting joy. “Hallelujah” is a metaphor for his journey. What we may fail to see is the mysticism that he brought into the words as phrased, including the count of the word Hallelujah.
Hallelujah appears 24 times in TheBookofPsalms, which is attributed to King David, although not all modern scholars agree. After all, he was king and had scribes to write songs for him. Hallelujah has always been a term to invite songs of praise. However, having a history of liturgical prayer among Jews and Christians alike, Cohen did not necessarily use Hallelujah (which translates into a joyous praise to boast in the Hebrew God (Jah) of the Israelites) in that manner exclusively. The Buddhist Zen monk in him explained, “This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘hallelujah’.” Cohen had learned to work with his human condition, not against it.
Cohen did not let hallelujah be just a sound validating dubious praise; he was invoking the feminine, not just sexuality, both of which are fleeting. For him, the song was a form of existential crisis, a deep emotion of something broken. Was it about the broken shards referenced in the Kabbalah? An artist and mystic often see multiple dimensions whereas non-artists only see two. Cohen was a poetic mystic as well.
Briefly on the origins of the Kabbalah tradition—the kabbalistic knowledge was traditionally transmitted orally by sages (hakhamim in Hebrew) and other influencers, and was eventually interwoven into religious writings and culture. It is held that there was an open knowledge of the Kabbalah, which literally means reception, by the people of ancient Israel (10th century BCE). Due to foreign conquests, the Jewish spiritual leadership of the time hid the knowledge and practices, fearing it would be misused in the wrong hands. It resurfaced in the 10th century C.E. Thus, the esoteric and mystical aspects of such knowledge lends itself today to many flavors of interpretations as it has become popular in these times.
More to the point, the Kabbalah tradition views the infinite God—OhrEinSof—as having contracted from His/Her creation to design an empty space for humans to have free will, thus creating a dynamic crisis-catharsis in the divine flow of light, a divine light of influence that fills all existence. One view is that God created the material world as vessels (HaKelim) in the empty space that was full of His/Her light. But these material vessels of light were not strong enough to hold His/Her powerful light. Thus, the vessels of light shattered into many shards also made of light. With divinity still in the light, it was up to the humans to repair the broken shards, energizing the light once more to become whole and at one with God. That is why Cohen makes reference to the “light” twice and to “broken” thrice. For a lovely reading on this topic of kabbalistic light , visit https://architizer.com/blog/practice/details/architecture-plus-kabbalah/https://architizer.com/blog/practice/details/architecture-plus-kabbalah/
There are many attempts at interpreting Cohen’s lyrics. Remember that Cohen was deeply versed in Judaic scripture and teachings. A key point, I believe, is that Cohen was grappling with a quote from the BookofIsaiah 45:7: “God says, ‘I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.'” So, why did God create duality?
Now for another interpretation of Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” written in 1984, as follows:
Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord That David played, and it pleased the Lord But you don’t really care for music, do you? It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth The minor fall, the major lift The baffled king composing Hallelujah … Hallelujah (4x)
Cohen implies that the person he addresses does not care for the technicalities of music making, especially about the esoteric secret chord; but he does explain the complexities of creating music as he is hinting the song is multidimensional.
In the Book ofSamuel, prophet Samuel is also the last judge of Israel, who records that David is a skillful lyre (harp) player and the sweet psalmist of Israel. As baffled king, David had his highs and lows with his God. Some of his psalms reveal his depression, too, when he feels he has lost a connection to his God. In Psalms 43:3 , David beseeches God to “send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.”
I would be remiss if I did explain the ancient symbolism of the Star of David. As a hexagram, the base equilateral triangle represents the masculine, and the inverted equilateral triangle represents the feminine. When combined, or equally matched, the Star of David represents union, similar in meaning to the Yin-Yang symbol.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof | You saw her bathing on the roof | Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you | She tied you to a kitchen chair | She broke your throne, and she cut your hair | And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah | Hallelujah(4x)
In this stanza, Cohen conflates two heroes, first King David and then the strongman Judge Samson. Both of them, as was Cohen, loved the company of women.
We know the story of King David and Bathsheba. David’s involvement with Bathsheba broke his rule/throne. He had garnered disfavor before his God’s eyes for coveting another man’s wife; thus, he had to hand over his reign as punishment to his son Solomon with Bathsheba when Solomon became of age.
Though Delilah, possibly a Philistine prostitute, may not have tied Samson to a kitchen chair; but she did attempt to bind him three times and failed. She was after a lucrative monetary bribe by Philistine chiefs. On her fourth attempt, she managed to get his secret of his source of strength. His seven tresses were cut off his head while he slept. In so doing, she finally succeeded and turned him over to the Philistine chiefs who captured him and gouged out his eyes. His tresses represented the power of Israel among enemy nation. The Samson story is about him having a relationship with a non-Jewish woman and having a decline in his spiritual state by violating his Nazarite oath, mainly, refraining from cutting the hair on one’s head and allowing the locks of the head’s hair to grow (similar to uncut hair by men who practice Sikhism).
In any event, stanza involves two women who brought about distress or downfall in the rapture of embrace with these women. To draw from King David/Samson’s lips the hallelujah is a very strong metaphor, an ennui toward depression and not wanting to condemn womanhood.
You say I took the name in vain | I don’t even know the name | but if I did, well really, what’s it to you? | There’s a blaze of light in every word | It doesn’t matter which you heard | The holy or the broken Hallelujah | Hallelujah (4x)
Whether or not Cohen felt he took God’s name in vain, he is making reference to a name which is so holy that it cannot be pronounced—YHWH and El, Eloah, Elohim, Elohai, El Saddai, Tzevaot, Jah, Yah, Ein, Ohr Ein Sof, Eternal One, Elyon, Yaweh, Jehovah, including the Shekhinah, to name a few. He wrote, “I don’t even know the name,” because there were many in his tradition. But I think it is the Ohr Ein Sof that intrigued him.
I did my best, it wasn’t much | I couldn’t feel so I tried to touch | I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you | And even though it all went wrong | I’ll stand before the Lord of Song | With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah | Hallelujah (4x)
Cohen had many relationships with women. The known ones he loved and who loved him back were Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Marianne Ihlen, Nico, Suzanne Verdal, and Suzanne Elrod. Sharon Robinson, however, was his platonic muse during the period this song was written. With all these goddesses in his life, how could he not sing Hallelujah? Nonetheless, there was an overriding numbness—had to touch—because he could not feel his mind-body connection.
Baby I’ve been here before | I use to live alone before I knew you | And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch | Love is not a victory march | It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah | Hallelujah (4x)
I may have solved the mystery of the line, “And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch“. He was referring to the Fascist flag. The woman he called the “perfect Aryan ice queen” is one of his known lovers: Nico, a German singer whom he seemed to have been batty over, following her all over New York. Her real name was Christa Päffgen. One day she told Cohen, “I like young boys. You’re too old for me.”
The incurable Cohen said in 1990, “I loved her.”
There was a time you let me know | What’s really going on below | but now you never show it to me, do you? | And remember when I moved in you | The holy dove was moving too | And every breath we drew was Hallelujah | Hallelujah (4x)
It is in this stanza where Cohen gets very honest in describing his sex with a special woman, literally or figuratively. There was a break in their sexual contact. He was feeling no heat of desire that caused him to ask, “What’s really going on below.”
He was remembering their ecstatic moments—tantric in nature—when he conjoins the sexual act to the holy dove. Likely this holy dove is not the Holy Spirit of the Greek scriptures but the Shekinah herself of the ancient Hebrew scriptures—the glory of a divine presence.
Sexual orgasm, as short-lived and evanescent, is a reason for enjoying the act, because that is when the glory of divine presence is felt. Not being able to take it beyond is to admit the “Hallelujah” would remain broken. There would be no permanent union of the energized consciousness and the conscious energy of existence—the Shakti. In the Kabbalah, the Shakti is Binah and resides opposite to Keter, the masculine in the Tree of Life.
Unpretentiously, Cohen spoke of the height of tantric achievement, but unfortunately, with clinging. It would remain a broken shard of light.
Maybe there is a God above | But all I’ve ever learned from love | Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you | And it’s not a cry that you hear at night | It’s not somebody who’s seen the light | It’s a cold and a broken Hallelujah | Hallelujah (18x)
Like many agnostics, there is doubt either way about the existence of a benevolent God. For him, as was King David’s plea to see the wisdom light again, Cohen is saying that existence is muddled and that dissatisfaction and suffering are due to lack of trust in others and an inability to know knowing.
So why 18 Hallelujahs at the end of the last stanza? In numerology, 1 and 8 are blended to the higher frequency of nine. Nine is considered a cardinal number and a complete, perfect, and divine number. It is to harmonize the development and creation of the will of God. To reduce it to its essence, it symbolizes wisdom and spiritual energy—what Leonard Cohen was searching for throughout his life—through song, relationships, sexual ideation, and his flavor of Judaism.
As for repeating Hallelujah four times after each previous stanzas, it could be another way that Cohen honors the mystery of womanhood and gives tribute to the four ancient Jewish matriarchs—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael, and Leah).
Five years in a Zen monastery as a monk, he was given the name Jikan (it means normal or ordinary silence) that was to become his spiritual achievement to combat his depression of existential angst. When he left the Zen monetary, he wrote some of his amazing work, including being inducted to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) in 2006.
IN MEMORY OF A MAN WHO FELT TOO MUCH
“Never lament casually but within the constraints of dignity.”
Is Daughter of the Dance a curiosa, erotica, erotic fiction, or literotica? In answering the question, in a roundabout manner, indulge the author’s under girding reason for dealing with sex as she did while seeking to tell the story.
There was a curious moment the author had about twenty years ago at a Buddhist retreat when a young man went before the lama, asking if he has to visualize himself as a deity with his consort in union. When he was told that it was essential to visualize them in union, the young man was alarmed and left feeling frightened by the prospect. It was apparent among those who understood the practice that the young man was experiencing a strong aversion to it. Curiosity left the author wondering what had just happened, for she was a novice on Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. She felt compelled to meet the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying when, what she read, rang true to her core. Beforehand, she did have an understanding of tantra, the art and skill of sexual bliss whose mystery, unfortunately, is lost by many because sex is still considered taboo with a titter or disgust or hypocrisy.
Tantra is highly misunderstood
Yab-Yum Weaving Energy
Tantra is highly misunderstood because the energy surrounding it is subtle but also powerful. In ancient Sanskrit, the term means “to weave energy” that makes a web. The definition seems to rise to the level of the quantum realm of the Unified Quantum Theory. In practice, to be in union is to weave the energy in such a way that the bliss experienced transcends both the sexual and spiritual planes without attachment in particular. It becomes deeply meditative, spontaneous, and intimate. As such, the couple is engaged in immeasurable sex in a tunneling vortex. Ancient Sanskrit defines it as Maithuna, the Grand Ritual of Tantra, not to be confused with ritualized sex or the Grand Unified Theory (the duality of the fields into a single physical field). Our quantum physicists and neuroscientists have catch-up to do to understand how spirit (consciousness) and matter work together to bring harmony when the couple become “excellent or divine.” For cultures which did not consider that sex is the original sin, the minds of their scientific sages explored what, how, why, where, when, and how the sexual energy of attraction is weaved to recreate matter into a wave or to transcend its dualistic material away from the samsara realms of matter.
So, why did the author deal with human sexuality as she did? Was it for shock value? Perhaps. The historical nature and romance of the novel are counterpointed by the sexual relationships of love and rape, dignity and humiliation, partnership and slavery, pleasure and pain, reciprocity and domination. It is blatant as well as clever. The tension and drama sadly comes from one person dominating another.
When romance novelist Judith Krantz introduced her winning formula of mixing sand and shopping, she opened the door for other genre novelists to deal only with sexual and sensual subject matter. The author of Daughters of the Dance takes dancers of a spiritual tradition made erotic for the sole purpose of sexual arousal within the historical contexts from the 19th and 20th centuries. Five women are featured whose sexual struggles with high-powered men give a new dimension on how to heal sexually. But more importantly, the novel intends to arouse sexual desire to drive home how important, without substantially deal with the subject matter, it is to weave its energy that will break the wheel of birth-death-rebirth-death back into dualism that divides the sexes from knowing true harmony and bliss. The answer comes from the tantric Guru Rinpoche, a master of Buddhism during the 8th century. The union of his “divine parents” he described as “My father is the intrinsic awareness, Samantabhadra; and my mother is the ultimate sphere of reality Samantabhadri of non-duality of the sphere of awareness. I am from the unborn sphere of all phenomena and act in the way of the Buddhas of the three times.” The act once mastered breaks the chain of dualistic realms of rebirth.
Daughters of the Dance is not erotic fiction; it merely expresses sex in explicit language to prove a point and a goal–have neither attachment nor aversion toward the healthy sexual act.
South Pacific Islanders, legend has it, gave birth in shallow seawater. (It was Hi’laka who gave birth to the ceremonial and sacred Hula dance and who carried to Hawaii from Tahiti an embryo egg in her arms as a child.) Even Egyptian royalty was born in water. In certain areas of the world today, women still give birth in special aquatic places like rivers. This is true in South America, the Caribbean, and Antilles for example. A practice at the time of labor in some Middle Eastern cultures was for the tribal women to undulate in a circle before the laboring mother-to-be to remind her to sense her contractions like the waves of the sea as a way to surrender to the contractions, allowing their energy to flow through her body. Ceremonies after birth help the woman both physically and emotionally to reintegrate her back into society and to integrate the newborn into the tribal community. These activities were designed to help her from falling into postpartum blues, depression, or psychosis. In some cultures, pomegranates, rich in antioxidants, are eaten as a ritual to symbolize fertility, prosperity, abundance, knowledge, and wisdom—attributes bestowed upon women to pass on to posterity.
According to folklore, one can construe that belly dancing is synonymous with the celebration of having a healthy birthing experience for the mother and child. Through observation and experience, women came up with a sacred, birthing wisdom (prenatal and postnatal) that was passed on from generation to generation. In the novel, Ayana’s mother, Dara, brought her tradition with her from Algeria to the New World.
Habika became annoyed and told Dara, “Shoo . . . shoo! I control.”
The story of DAUGHTERS OF THE DANCE (pp. 167-169) lends itself to having a main character, Ayana, give birth to her daughter in a shallow cove. The midwife, Habika, lovingly talks her through the natural process Ayana is to undergo. There was no traditional ritual and ceremony to be had; however, Habika took it upon herself to tell Ayana to dedicate her newborn to the transplanted male and female spirit deities of the Yoruba tribe of Africa. The whole birthing event is to be a part of nature, sanctified by the visiting cloud over the crater of dormant Mount Quill of St. Eustatius. Ayana, is the cloud, adding to the experience of connectivity to life.
Usually, the first experience of a woman’s labor can be terribly arduous and long. Being placed in lukewarm water, however, seems to gently speed up delivery and to reduce discomfort, which helps to deliver a happy baby, without all the trauma that modern birthing techniques can offer. Less likely to cry than babies born into the air, water-birthed babies are found to be calmer, eager to have eye contact with mother, and to breastfeed easily, according to doctors, doulas, and midwives. Going from womb (uterus) into the hands of a midwife and then into mother’s arms provide a peaceful journey. A newborn goes from a water environment (the amniotic fluid sac), through a moist birth canal of her vagina, into another water source, H2O, as it is then freed from his/her mother’s umbilical cord. These conclude stages one and two of giving birth—labor and delivery, respectively. And, it is amazing how a newborn does not inhale until exposed to air!
Moreover, timing is essential to the rhythm of separating the newborn from the placenta and the mother’s cord. It should be noted that it is erroneous to think that the baby comes from the placenta. The placenta exists outside of the baby and in the uterus. The final stage of labor, after birth, is the passing of the placenta, which happens between 15 minutes to an hour after the baby is born. It is checked thoroughly to ensure that it is intact, making for a healthy baby. If a piece of the placenta is left in the uterus, it could lead to serious complications for the mother and could even be toxic and lethal.
Nonetheless, if the baby experiences stress in the birth canal or if the umbilical cord becomes kinked or twisted, the baby might gasp for air with the possibility of inhaling water.
In Ayana’s case, she has an advantage over other women. All her life, she was engaged in strengthening her ventre (her womb), her pelvic area, and her legs. She danced, which involved doing slow, undulating, and rolling motions—such as hip circles, figure-of-eight movement, and the “camel” that facilitates the stomach to undulate. Such moves develop the fetus to move in a clock-wise fashion. With all this exercise comes proper deep breathing, which should be a daily habit. In any case, during pregnancy, a belly dancer is encouraged to move in slow motion and is discouraged from doing shimmies until she is near the time of delivery.
Muscular contractions that are strong and flexible are needed enough to expand and lengthen the muscles so as to help the labor along and to ease the birth. Placental blood flow is increased with such moderate movements, allowing the growing fetus to get more oxygen and nutrients delivered throughout its uterine life.
The birthing journey requires us as women to get back to a sense of life basics where intuition and instinct are normal (rather than abstract) means of expression. When implemented in pregnancy and labour, the birth dance enables a woman to connect to her feminine source without fear or shame. | Maha Al Musa, a Middle Eastern woman and belly dancer
Sadly, women with medical problems such as thyroid disease, heart disease, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, placenta previa, a history of premature labor, and gestational diabetes should not have a water birth.
Also sad is that many women throughout the world are still exposed to abuse and high levels of disrespect that do not help a woman in childbirth and that do not ensure a positive psychology to bring up a child. In fact, such treatment can heighten the amount of pain experienced in childbirth. Just imagine what women, who are raped, forced to give birth of an infant by rape and/or incest, must endure! These events are unbearable to a woman, and her pain and trauma can psychologically impact the rearing of the child.
A new mother should be given her rightful place in her society as a goddess and deliverer of life. A quote from an educator on a proper birthing experience tells it all. Marie F. Mongon says—
All natural birth has a purpose and a plan. Who would think of tearing open the chrysalis as the butterfly is emerging? Who would break the shell to pull the chick out?
Cultural sensitivity and awareness are a must to have a healthy society. By way of example, an immigrant woman needs to feel very special during this time; her cultural beliefs need to be taken into consideration by western health practitioners instead of being frowned upon (another form of abuse). For example, there are various rituals surrounding the umbilical cord of the new-born and the placenta. The novel points out this needed respect and certainty. One of the simplest rituals that can be adopted is to practice full-body massage on both the mother and infant for well-being. Most important is to keep the mother and child together—from birthing channel into arms and breasts for maximum bonding purposes.
The whole point of giving birth is to bestow the knowledge that a woman is the power source to birthing. She may need, and deserve, help; essentially, it is the childbearing mother who has had that power. Welcome her and her child; embrace and empower them! Equality for and between both sexes (both opportunities and rights) will likely promote good health for most of humanity. Until then, there will only be anger, anxiety, shame, cruelty, fear, sadness, distrust, war….
Why not opt to help change the world, beginning with the source (you and us) for a fulfilling, helpful, and happy life for all homo sapiens with a sense of certainty, expectation, contribution, love, connection, and growth to name a few needs we all have in common.
As a species, let us learn all the ways to nurture each other.
Not everyone will glean from the novel that the matriarch Dara, a fictitious granddaughter of Ferdinand de Lesseps (a French diplomat and developer of the Suez and Panama Canals), has Sephardic roots
In reading The Path between the Seas, by American historian David Gaub McCullough, it became more apparent to me that one of the reasons the reputation of Ferdinand and Charles de Lesseps was tarnished was due to their Jewish (Sephardic) origins. Édouard Adolphe Drumont, the French propaganda journalist, spread antisemitism via his “elephantine tract” of over 1,000 pages—La France Juive (Jewish France)—at the Universal Exposition of 1889 in France when antisemitism was rare. He claimed that “the sickness of modern France…was [caused by] the nation’s most treacherous human foe..the Jew”. His conspiracy theories of financial thievery by the de Lesseps family led to investigations, distrust, and perpetuated the persecution of Jews throughout Europe.
In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Suez. With a team of engineers, the Suez Canal Company was formed in 1856. In 1859, construction began and was completed in November 1869. In an attempt to repeat this success, he ventured to build the Panama Canal at sea level during the 1880s, but the project was devastated by epidemics of malaria and yellow fever in the isthmus, as well as beset by financial problems due to unforeseen delays. Consequently, the planned de Lesseps Panama Canal was never completed; and Drumont was partly responsible. Eventually, the project was bought out by the United States, which solved the medical problems and changed the design to a non-sea level canal with locks. It was completed in 1914.
The Sephardic bonding between Dara and Andres can thus be seen as almost inevitable.
As a reader, only you can imagine what Dara would have looked like at the turn of the 20th century.
A Lost Factoid in History
The U.S. Statue of Liberty was formally presented to the United States by Ferdinand de Lesseps, At a banquet, on June 11, 1884, given in honor of the Franco-American Union, he, as head of that Union, gave the following speech, saying:
This is the result of the devoted enthusiasm, the intelligence and the noblest sentiments which can inspire man. It is great in its conception, great in its execution, great in its proportions; let us hope that it will add, by its moral value, to the memories and sympathies that it is intended to perpetuate. We now transfer to you, Mr. Minister, [Levi P. Morton, the Minister of the United States to France] this great statue and trust that it may forever stand the pledge of friendship between France and the Great Republic of the United States.
De Lesseps traveled to the United States to speak at the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, attended by President Grover Cleveland in October 1886.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The characters were well developed and I felt a good understanding of each. It is obvious the author did research into history of dance,and especially history of Jews in the Islands which I found most interesting. The romances were interesting and did lend themselves to the story line. The author’s descriptive passages were well written. There was nothing I disliked about this book. I picked the book up because I liked the cover. I enjoy dancing, including belly dancing! The author did a wonderful job, and the book is unique in its historical content. I was pleasantly surprised. I do recommend this book highly!
I finished the book. Very good. I was right about Nona, I think.
By the way, you did capture the journey of life, its intricacies, its ups and downs, feelings, etc. Well done. I loved the inclusion of dance, history (including of Jews in the Netherlands Antilles), and philosophy (Buddhism).