Mothers' Psychospiritual Growth in Matrescence with Dr. Aurelie AthanNov 22, 2021
Dr. Aurelie Athan, clinical psychologist reviving the developmental approach to motherhood known as matrescence, shares her expertise on a mother's psychospiritual growth in the transition to motherhood and how that intersects with our work articulating mothers' psychoecological growth.
Dr. Athan is a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University. She revived the term Matrescence through teaching and writing. Her graduate-level courses and certificate program in Reproductive Psychology are the first of their kind.
She studies mothers' development holistically, both their thriving and distress, and offers an empowering, strengths-based approach to normalize the transition to motherhood. Since we lack language and theoretical paradigms for the psychology of mothers, she's worked to change that by reviving matrescence to provide a developmental framework for the transition to motherhood.
She originally applied the term to mental health in 2008 from anthropology to normalize mothers' experiences and offer us a nonpathological description. She's in private practice and consults with women of all ages and professionals working to improve the wellbeing of mothers.
Today, our conversation focuses on her psychospiritual research within matrescence, which looks at how motherhood and psychospirituality can be a force of integration, linking mothers to our interconnection to the sacredness of life.
Based on our work together in which we're exploring ecopsychology's application to matrescence, we dive deep into the second part of our conversation about how motherhood can initiate a greater connection with one's ecological self. Dr. Athan also reflects on some of the liberatory implications of this growth.
- Overview of matrescence as a developmental perspective
- Deep dive into the spiritual domain of matrescence
- How psychospiritual growth can result in mental health risk
- Intersections with ecopsychology and a psychospiritual approach
- Possible catalysts and liberatory implications for this growth
- How we can support this growth in ourselves and other mothers
Dr. Aurelie Athan's website : www.matrescence.com
Matrescence: The Emerging Mother article: https://medium.com/@ama81/matrescence-the-emerging-mother-69d1699ff0cc
There's A Name For The Ups And Downs Of New Motherhood: It's Called Matrescence NPR article: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/08/1024674033/theres-a-name-for-the-ups-and-downs-of-new-motherhood-its-called-matrescence
The Process of Becoming a Mother Has a Name: Matrescence NPR Lifekit episode: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1021262452
Dana Raphael background: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/21/magazine/the-lives-they-lived-dana-raphael.html
Please excuse typos. Created with AI.
The time it takes to become a mother it has yet to be researched or define how long it takes for a mother to reconcile that she's now moving in a completely different direction than her previous mindset. And how does she feel about that? And how is she valued as a result? And how can we empower her to see these set of values as positive because by the way, everything I just said, not being self, not being self less, but maybe not being self centered, or being interdependent or compassion are more vulnerable, maybe weaker values or or behaviors than what maybe the dominant culture celebrates.
Dr. Orly Athan is a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Teachers College Columbia University, where she revived the term mattresses through teaching and writing. Her graduate level courses and certificate program in reproductive psychology are the first of their kind. She studies mother's development holistically both their thriving and distress, and offers an empowering strength based approach to normalize the transition to motherhood. Since we lacked language and theoretical paradigms for the psychology of mothers, she's worked to change that by reviving mattresses to provide a developmental framework. She originally applied the term to mental health in 2008, from anthropology to normalize mother's experiences and offer us a non pathological description of our experiences. She's in private practice and consults with women of all ages as well as professionals working to improve the well being of mothers. Our conversation today focuses on her psychospiritual research with a mattress which looks at how motherhood and psycho spirituality with a special emphasis on eco psychology can be a force of integration, really linking mothers to art and her connection to the sacredness of all life. Dr. Athan, I want to thank you for being here today, sharing your work and some of the implications around motherhood and growth through the transition to motherhood.
Well, thank you so much for having me here. Please call me Orly. How would you like to be named Dr. Davis? Oh, you can call me Allie. Okay, so Allie, and Orly having a good conversation. Yeah.
And I should maybe intro also that we have a relationship where I consult with you on some of these topics, especially the ecological application to match reasons, which we'll talk about. So I just wanted to put that out there, too.
It's been great speaking to you about these subjects. And thank you for inviting me to see what we can, you know, open up for your listeners.
So just diving into the developmental theory of mattress since this idea, the concept, the stage process has become vital to understanding mother's health and wellness. So as the authority who brought this emerging field to us over the last decade, can you give us just a brief overview of the theory and how you came to revive and apply it?
Sure. So it's kind of a short story now, but it felt like a long one, which was that I was studying psycho spiritual development, adult psycho spiritual development. And because there wasn't a whole lot of writing on that in terms of the transition to motherhood, I certainly, as a clinical psychologist had to leave my field. And in general, I really like that I like taking things from different disciplines and pretty interdisciplinary in my thinking. You know, there's silos in universities, you know, this is this department, that department, but how humans live in the world, we're whole people. Right? So I crossed you know, the hall into anthropology and came across Dana Raphael's work, who largely the material that I found was around her work on lactation nursing, and birthing. And so the certainly the birth community knew her work, but I didn't. And luckily, I was at Columbia, and she was also a medical anthropologist at Columbia University. So I was able to find many of her original works and even got to have chats with those who mentored her who were still alive. And we have a strong Yeah, it was it was cool. We have a strong anthropology department at Teachers College and And in, you know, reading her work, found the word Metra essence, a lot of her work was around the bio social reality of birthing, you know, becoming a mother and a physiological sense within a social group. That's anthropology, right? How culture shapes us and how we see ourselves. And, and her work was powerful it just alone in what he was saying. But the it was the word that sort of had the lightbulb click on for me.
I think first because I misunderstood it. Because I was teaching on psycho spiritual matters, I thought it was like transcendence mattresses, like transcendence. And I was studying the awakened mind of mothers, the spiritual aha was the existential meaning making a house that they were having. And so I thought my true essence was, like transcendence. And it wasn't until sitting around a conference table with my students in my lab, where I remember a student going, you know, no, Dr. Ethan, she was a developmental student. It's, it's Metro since like, adolescents, I think, right. And they went, Oh, bing, bing, you know, the light, the light bulb went on, or the penny dropped. And I said, Of course, it was as if I hadn't read her work closely, because she literally pointed to that term, in a small passage that she had, and it was quite clear, you know, the rite of passage work around adolescents and helping them become adults and become people in persons, you know, not just young minds, but integrated back in the world. So, you know, it was always there in front of me, but it's sort of like, you know, when you're looking for the milk in the refrigerator, and it's right in front of you, and you don't see it. So, so that was the phrase for me when I went Metra since, like adolescence, and as a lab, we started to create a kind of public health mantra or slogan, my trust is like adolescence, so that we could quickly get other people to see it, you know, kind of quit chiropractic, because we didn't have a lot of time to help people, women, as mothers reframe this, and it took 10 years, and I'll stop after that, to really kind of pilot it and work it out. And I did that in my classroom. So before I started, even really writing it or writing about it, or taking it on the road into lectures that then got picked up. And that's when it started to get popularized. It was first in the classroom where I would have, you know, like 50, students show up to my class thinking they were going to learn about child development, because it was a class on the Mother Child matrix was the original borrowed name. And I would start the lecture off saying, we're going to reframe this, we are going to put the empathic thrust not on the child, but on the mother, and her interiority. And inevitably, I would lose half the class. Right? They would just leave after the ad, you know, during the add drop period. And, and then there are these, you know, really interesting folks who stayed. I think the most interesting ones were the ones who didn't believe it, but stayed anyway, because they felt challenged. They said, you know, what, I'm going to stick around because Never before had they've been exposed to a mother centric teaching, you know, they had really largely been raised academically on what say, an attachment model, as was I on a, on a clinical, maternal mental health psychopathology. So not only were we going to put the mother in the center of our empathy, we were also going to understand about her developmental reality and how it was that she was maturing, and individuating and becoming more of a person herself, you know, and this was also the time of increased writing around adult development, we had emerging adulthood being a thing. It was also an emerging time of wellness and positive psychology looking at not only what went wrong, but what did well. And so together, you know, I felt emboldened to really talk about an empowered growth producing developmental, psycho spiritual, feminist informed way of looking at the psychology of mothers and launched the maternal psychology lab. That is
such an amazing origin story, and I haven't heard it. Thank you for sharing that. I wanted to ask you, we've talked about developmental frameworks take off because they are more true and they resonate more than what came before. And so you talked about this rite of passage. And that's kind of what I see sticks with mothers when they hear About mattresses, and coming from an eco psychology perspective, right, uh, passages are huge, but they've I've never seen them applied to mothers transition. I wanted to know if you had anything else to say about that, and, and what you're bringing with that framework to mothers and mothers supporting systems.
So my first thought is, what a shame. What a shame that they weren't there. I mean, part of the uncovering of literature outside of my clinical psychology framework. So just to be clear, a lot of some of this is already elaborated and been elaborated in other places, I think my contribution or extension was bringing it into them into the psychology of others or into the mental health domain, right, so to think about, you know, how they're doing suffering, and changing. So from, you know, an sociological point of view, you know, the institution of motherhood. And of course, there's a long line of writers and thinkers in thinking about the sociology of motherhood feminist writers, and there, there's a quadra of developmentalist maternal developmental thinkers, largely in the 70s, through 90s, who started to try and create sort of a stage model, it's simply that it hasn't gained enough visibility. So part of this is also to push it out of the margins, right, where a lot of this work often has been held, or even derogatorily thought of as a pink science, you know, even Dana Rafale herself was a tip scientist or something, don't quote me on that, per se, but it was, you know, quite terrible. So, so for example, like the fourth trimester, we're thinking about how to hold a mother, right after the postpartum period, you know, many cultures and traditions do have prescriptions of how to do that. However, in my clinical work, when I worked with diverse mothers, of lots of different backgrounds, you know, they didn't always enjoy that time. And right, and passages in sort of the way, the biosocial construction, the way these structures are created to help people go across are so needed, you know, when they're absent, we see mental health decline. But sometimes when they're too rigid, right, and not able to bring in the individual voice of the person who's going through the experience, they can also suffer meaning, you know, that's not how I might want to do it. So I think we're in an interesting intersection of, you know, reviving the old technologies, I like to call them ancient technologies, because they are technologies, they're their techniques, their tech techniques, their practices, of way of helping a person traverse and become developmentally older and a member of their group in a way that's supported and not alone, you know, you have elders at the gate, and you help them break down and become a new psychic structure. Having said that, though, we're also in a modern time of the rising of individuality and identity and voice and being able to be heard as a person. And so how do we reconcile those two things. So I think mothers are really interested in this, I'm going to guess, because they feel so alone, and isolated in many of their cultures. Don't do that, let's say in the Western tradition largely said, or because of dispersion of kin. And we've moved far away from our original homes and cultures, modernity. I mean, there may be many ways in which there's a nostalgic longing, or a real need for these traditional ways of being held. I mean, frankly, the only way to alter consciousness is to go through a crisis being held by a wise and loving group of people who've been there before, to safely cross you over. And I think mothers are putting modern mothers in contexts that don't have this or putting this into their own hands and creating what they don't have. And frankly, that's what I did to trying to create frameworks that didn't exist or that weren't visible or immediately accessible. As a lot of reproductive health, by the way, inaccessible, visible.
Is it true trying to create framework for myself to understand something and to your point and align there? You know, new frameworks, explain it. What do we mean by that new explanatory frameworks basically, ways to explain what's happening, whether it's to me psychologically or physically to an object like in science, explanatory frameworks, rise to ascension, when they do a better job of explaining the world than the one before it, and the other one goes, gets sunsetted out or gets integrated within the kind of more larger infrastructure of the new framework. So I think a developmental frame, the developmental framework of Metra essence, is holistic and can, in a way under its umbrella, it's so roomy, can bring into a lot of the domains of change and processes of change making can fit under Metra essence, meaning bio, psychosocial, political, spiritual, you know, let's put that ecological one in there too, because of your work, right? So bio psych, you know, the bio psychosocial model says, it's not just happening in my body, it's also happening in my mind, in my relationships, in my institutional affiliations, in the way in which I awaken to the injustice of the world. And my re linking to a sacred reality. Just like a teen who develops, gets rocked their world is rocked by all of the changes in all these domains. So you know, depending on who I talked to, like adolescents and veterans, some of those domains hit them harder than others, and are more growth producing than others. So if we look at it in a holistic way, then I get to really see how I'm transforming. And then I can see where I have potential for growth? And where are my areas of risk? Right? Where do I need shoring up? For example, I might not have a really good social support, where am I showing my resilience? Meaning boy, you know, I'm quite flexible, and have recovered in these areas quite quickly. And, and now we can have a compassionate conversation. Because now I can think about who, what, where, when, how are we supporting mothers, just like we do with teens? We don't say, well, we used to say, we used to say you're a kid going crazy, no way to adulthood. And, you know, this is all pathological. But the science advanced, and we started to see that it's a developmental process that is in need of midwifing. And that's what we mean by rite of passage is, is the ecological model, right? I don't mean, environmental, I mean, you know, that kind of Bronfman Meyer, right, that ways is the holding environment of the mother sufficient, while she's doing the holding for her, not only for her kids, but certainly as we know, for lots of other adults and institutions in her life.
So I get a lot of questions. And we've kind of talked about this. And I think it's one of the big implications for mattresses. But how does it D pathologize. Stress, that risk or growing pains in this transition in a way that is more supportive of mothers? You know, there's been so much good work raising consciousness around perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. And then how does mattresses fit around that?
And Amen to that, you know, that we've had this reform, around increasing sensitivity to screening, mandatory screenings in some places and diagnosing and including creating a an educated workforce to be able to treat and to, to respond to mothers who are in need of help along the continuum of distress, right. So all the way to the extreme sort of the bell curves right of i see it that way. We have in sort of the bell curve meaning of population samples, we have 12 to 20% of women who are at risk or who are meet criteria for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, psychosis, you know, things that our clinical psychologist, our diagnosticians are trained to pick up and treat. And then we have on the other extreme of 12 to 20%, which has was my Original dissertation work is what I call perinatal flourishing, right is this other side in which like post traumatic growth, or this field of looking in ways in which we might grow from adversity in our resilience, those mothers who seem to be actually launching into a new even developmental consciousness raising experience, as a as a result of the very same things that put others at risk. And by the way, they can also be coexisting which is, for me, Metro essence kind of heals that split. And then we have the general middle, right, which are the silent majority, you know, however you want to call it, who are often not at clinical, or at the these intensive extremes. But they are still having a deep, complex experience in which, as we know, even anything in the DSM we all have, it's just a matter of degree and frequency. So we have an experience, mixed feelings, in bouts of sadness, and all of that, why I think it's important to include a developmental lens alongside the clinical and the well being material is because in the field, we typically shouldn't really know where the line is around what's normative and what's not, until we've studied what's normative. And I think we skipped a beat. With that one, I think, on a lot of women's psychology, we often have a history of pathologizing, what might be normative developmental experiences in girls and women because the science was conducted on their minds and bodies. So I think it's just filling that gap. It's just saying, Whoa, whoa, let's pause. And now that we have a critical momentum around bringing and shining a light to, to distress in women's health, what are the what are the sort of was the continuum of experiences? Now, you and I have even spoken, though, that mattresses is a developmental model is a developmental framework, which means, you know, just talking about the transition to and what are the developmental? What's the developmental thrust here? What are we maturing into? What are we learning? What are we regressing around all the language of the developmental paradigm, which by the way, had to be deconstructed. And so some of the writing, you know, it hasn't evolved in 2030 years, when you talk about developmental psychology, it's usually talking about the development of the child, or an end of life work. But the psycho spiritual lens might be more radical than that. Right? And that's what our conversations have been around, which is that it's more about an awakened, an awakened self or an awakened soul. And what do we mean by that? And that's not about just simply transitioning, but it's about transcendent transformation into perhaps a wholly other creature entirely than what was before. And so when we're asked, When are you going back and fill the blank, right? To work to your genes to your former self? You less. So I asked you, why are you laughing?
Well, I'm in my third trimester. With this model, and especially with your psychos spiritual research, it's just been such a different experience for me to embrace that growth and change, instead of see it as something that might be scary, or, you know, too messy, or something like that when you're evolving. So I really thank you for that, that work. And then I also wanted to kind of dig into that a little bit more about your focus on the spiritual growth and experience within this development.
Well, well, Yay, I'm smiling, because, you know, yay, you get to experience it differently. And, you know, that's, that's all we can hope for a psychologist is that someone says, This helped, right? This helped in my body to experience you know, stress differently, or for me to even see the world in a different way. So something that emboldened me around this work were you know, women in the audience come in saying, you said something that feels more true to me. And that's pretty cool. Right? That the the explanatory models that they had before, made them feel maybe reduced or confused or scared. And it's not to necessarily whitewash this at all because I think the psycho spiritual lens actually is about stretching and deepening and encountering and touching our suffering. It's not it's not You know, eradicating the deep complexity of the work, which I know that's not at all what you're experiencing or feeling or what others are saying. So, in short, I came to a psychospiritual lens, it's not my work. It's many, many, many, many, many aeons. And through my mentor, Lisa Miller, who I recall bringing the psychospiritual lens to Teachers College, and I remember being in her first class where we were talking about a kind of post material reality like what if, once upon a time we do sanctified the world, and we got it wrong. And what if we weren't just a random bunch of billiard balls. And the past explains are today only, but that we are part of a unified, orchestrated reality that is alive, sacred and not anthropocentric? And what happens to us? And more importantly, are we wired for that from the very beginning? And why are we also not allowed to talk about it, or educate from it? Or does it heal, as well as other kinds of interventions and I knew that to be true, because I had done a lot of addictions work in my master's years, and I used to see people testify to literally stopping drug use within 24 hours when they were born again, in their tradition, where we did not have any medicine that could do that. And so I knew that there was something pretty powerful about reanimating re sanctifying the world. And also her work and saying, like, maybe depression is the same door to spiritual awakening that what if the way in which our dark night of the soul which of course, you know, this is young in psychology, which is also very much part of my lens, and many of other psycho spiritual psychologists and existentialist who talk about what does that mean? When we see things through a psycho spiritual lens? How does that change? So, you know, in my work in my, in my PhD years, I was interested in reproductive experiences of women, mostly death defying ones, like becoming a survivor of a reproductive cancer. And what I was hearing was not that they simply survived. And it wasn't even like PTG like light, you know, like, oh, you know, I stopped being friends with bad people. It was a complete worldview change. They biopsychosocial, you know, ecological, political, spiritual, they reoriented. And it came through crisis in grief and sorrow and loss and mourning, but also relief and lightness and enlivened Ness. So I heard them become new people, and to see the world in a way, and they often will say, I wish I didn't have to get sick, to really see what life is really about. And, and so the question rose up, could that happen on the other hinge of life, which is welcoming life in and that was something that I worked on with Lisa to think about, what would the psychospiritual lens have to say, to becoming a mother?
Yes, I've heard you speak on a number of those implications, like the orthogonal ethics arising in motherhood, but can you share more about some of that growth, and the risk you see in this spiritual domain?
Sure, and, and the psychospiritual, specifically, because in a way, you could say that all of those domains are equal, like the flowers of a petal, you know, that's in one of my papers, I kind of put them all because they're all equally important and all interconnected. But if you were to do a little bit more of a vertical model, you know, if you go to the spiritual level, it kind of trickles down and helps the rest. So what I mean by that is that if you go to that spiritual depth perspective, because I want to use a word that's maybe a little bit more inclusive of all beliefs, right, it's not religious beliefs, per se, but it's the idea of the of the fact that there might be something alive and sacred and conscious and the very fabric of the universe, and we encounter it through our own tune tuning antennas. So some people get it when they're listening to jazz or when they're hiking or when they're with their baby. And I focus mostly what was happening in the parent child relationship to elicit this tuning structure, right. So even laces work is showing that we, we may very much of it in the brain and, and it's there developmentally. And it either gets helped or hindered, shut down or awakened even more if we support it. So if the spiritual domain is the idea of remembering the oneness of things, I think is a really nice overarching phrase, which by the way, eco psychologists use as well. And I think those two fields share a lot of things, which hopefully we can unpack in a moment. So all the perennial wisdom traditions, across all cultures, in in traditions, you know, they share some basic things, and they share the idea of we're all interconnected and interdependent, we're not separate, we must love is at the heart of it all. And we must do do right and be an ethical relation to one another, where we're not harming one another. And all the other sort of things that fall out from this idea that we are all on, and made of love. And, and from that point of view, from that pretty radical point of view, right? Most perennial wisdom traditions always had a prophet, that was pretty radical, because they in a way went against the grain of what the contemporary culture was doing. We hear the story of motherhood. And, and what I mean by that is, all I did was listen to mothers and I never fed them, this lens, this interpretive lens, I just see a psycho spiritual lens as another lens to reveal some aspect of reality. When I talked to them, they said the very same things, they said, I am learning that I am not separate. I am interdependence over counter dependence works better, when I'm with my kid, I've been raised in a love that was conditional only if I did this, or that was I worthy. But now I'm finally understanding what it means to to just love endlessly, or unconditionally. Rather, I have an awakened sense of compassion and empathy for others such that if I listened to a kid, cry in the park, that's my kid, or if I hear and see the news of a, of a suffering, adult, even I say that was someone's child.
I am freed of worry from the future anxiety of the future and depression and sadness from a past that I cannot redo. And I am present. And in this present moment, I am, in the sense mindful and aware. And through that process, I regain meaning and purpose in my life, and I see how we all dance together. And I then think about what's behind the dance. And maybe something is actually conscious. And that we are all together in this animals or in flowers, people. Our dreams are meaningful. And so I heard them say this, but they often did not connect it to a spiritual awakening, because if anybody else told me that, like they had gone to an ashram and suddenly had these thoughts, right, or they had a near death experience, and they had those thoughts, they would go wow, you know, I feel like I had a spiritual awakening. But we it was silent in this domain. So I want to be clear, I think I can confidently stand on the following statement. I don't think that mothers are necessarily unique in being sort of awakened minds in on this earth, I think is that we never let them know that that's what was happening to them. And what they thought they were undergoing was something in NERT and emptying. So the your thoughts orthogonal ethics are are bi directional. They're both that actually you are being filled and enlivened by this process, in addition to the ways in which you're harmed because the culture that sees it in the opposite way. Right, which is that you should be me mine. You should be future oriented, and You know, conditional and independent, and striving and that these are the markers of success in this modern world we live in. And, and the minute motherhood hits, something feels wrong about operating that way. Or if you haven't caught up with that just yet, you might have gotten literally fired from the culture. You might have lost the job, lost the partner lost the, the glow. Alright. And you were put fully into being sort of a endless resource simply now for the next generation in your time is up.
So that's the mother complex, right, that we're talking about. And I think up until now, on those orthogonal ethics, and by the way, orthogonality, I don't mean that statistically, like where these things are not related, I mean, that they're at right angles to one another. Or, you know, it means corner in Greek, so that they are at right angles to one another. And so how does one start to emerge living in one direction, when the rest of the culture hasn't matured? And is living in the other direction? And there is an intersection, or I would say, a car crash in a way, right? I mean, what is trauma, it's that I'm going one way, and then something else happens, I thought it was going to be this way. And so a lot of mothers also have not been told this story, right? That's what the framework is, if they haven't gotten the story, then they thought motherhood was going to be like this x. But you know, x axis or whatever watch y axis, and it was the it was the other one. It was quite literally a, you know, a turning point. And that is what a crisis is, it's when the world isn't explained the way you expected. And we get caught in sort of the gap between the ideal and the real. And so I think what we do when when we work with mothers, is just give them space to contemplate and catch up, you know, their psychology, that's even with Dana Rafael said, The time it takes to become a mother, it has yet to be researched, or define how long it takes for a mother to reconcile that she's now moving in a completely different direction than her previous mindset. And how does she feel about that? And how is she valued as a result? And how can we empower her to see these set of values as positive because by the way, everything I just said, not being self, not being self less, but maybe not being self centered, or being interdependent or compassion, are more vulnerable, maybe weaker values or behaviors than what may be the dominant culture celebrates. And in my earlier work, I would might have fallen into the trap, maybe of saying those are patriarchal values versus matriarchal values. And we know that we're going to get into this trap of essentialism, others, I think maybe a solution is the materialist point of view versus the spiritual point of view.
I do think, with this framework, and becoming a mother again, you know, and having that frame of crisis as part of the story, I mean, it just shifts my relationship to these changes, and this maturation, maybe, right and, and I'd become an expert on my own own grief, but I have a lot of space around that, to explore it and be interested in it, because it's been framed this way. And to explain some of the material consequences of that growth in my own life. And my systems,
and if I may add to that alley, is that not only do I get this space at an individual level, but I then re link myself to a collective of people who, for centuries have been trying to do this work, to get out of their old self, their own limited perspective, or the limited perspective, that culture and to re link with the sacred, that's what religio means are really guard to read link, more or less, that's with Joseph Campbell, right? To really link with the interrelatedness of all things. You know, and this is the the word of ecology, and that's why so the ECOSOC, psychological has been so helpful in reminding me that, why the hell is this also important to go orthogonal? Well, it's because we're perhaps human consciousness has been pointing towards forever, and we better get on board and why mothers are potentially what's helpful about this is that hey, moms, you're not alone. You can be part of this larger movement. You might even be able to take the front of the goose V, you can take it head on, right? From an empowered place, because for you there is no going back, you've experienced this, much like a personal pandemic, you know, where things have been laid bare about how the structures don't work anymore. And you can start to, in a way, look forward to this change, and also understand that, you know, the dissolving of the ego or the relativizing, it is really difficult work really, really advanced psychological work. I mean, that's why people go to therapists become more cognitively flexible and open to experience and lest fixed and more able to relate, and not dominate over others, and not be in so much self deception to move out of the self deception that we are alone in the Masters of the Universe, into a more kind of tempered position, you know, tempering the ego into understanding who we really are, what is our rightful place in, in the universe, and then to wake us up to injustice and violations and to participate in it actively, you know, it's like those, those monks who can look at Trauma without blinking or looking away, like we have to look straight at it. So you have space to do it yourself. But it's a it's a personal awakening process that connects you to the human, the human potential for, for moving our consciousness to a place that is yet maybe to be written, but that has been pointed towards by many, many traditions. And, and that, to me is exciting. Really exciting. Because when I talk to mothers, I think they really get it, I think they see what we're doing wrong and where we need to go.
So let's dive into the ecological domain. Because about a year ago, maybe this month, several years into my first mattresses experience, I wrote you wondering, how might we apply this lens to mattresses, because I had experienced so much risk in what I thought of as the ecological domain. So what are your thoughts around what an ecological application to match your sense could bring,
I think the things that the Eco psychological lens shares with maybe the psycho spiritual and I think it's really important to explicitly say this, at least for those depths, eco psychologist, let's say those young uns, who kind of speak from the psycho spiritual lens already is that we share that idea of the unity of all things. And so we don't have the right, you know, to be delusional anymore to think that we're so different and that we get to power over all of this, and that we are individuals and not interrelated in that my self is more important than this animal or this plant. And mothers have certainly learned that to raise anything vulnerable in our care, violence doesn't real really work all that well. It just doesn't, you know, so that there's a kind of an ethic built into the natural world or reality that we're learning from, and of course, Sara radix work on on mothering is important here. But so I think the first thing that the Eco psychology does is yet another field raising our awareness that the anthropocentric view and the D linked, having D linked ourselves from the natural world, right? psycho spiritual, having D linked ourselves from the sacred reality has put us in a lot of hot water right now. And that it's ultimately a human illusion and delusion, and has been a central problem for us. And that it's time now to, you know, relate better. And to to really think of all of these severed, as you say attachments that that's been the wound that we've detached ourselves, so the D linking. So I think that's one thing that's super important that they share, but what it says about mattresses and motherhood is that for me, mothers aren't crazy that they're coming to me and saying, you know, this separate This way I'm being asked to live separately. Right? My needs over the other, you know, only one of us can survive. It's like that er episode which, who are we going to save the mom or the baby, right? Or work or family, you know, this kind of splitting ourselves apart, have made them crazy. And the Eco psychology world says, yeah, that's made our planet. It's been a terrible philosophy to live through. So I think it has something to say to my true essence, which is to say, there's a larger movement in which the awakened mind and mothers has always been situated in which has been the larger philosophical, existential spiritual evolution of humanity's relationship to the natural world and to God. So now, their questions, the big questions they pose themselves and others aren't just their own. You know, they're not, in a way. A lot of times they say, Is that Is that crazy, my crazy I can say to them, no, there are other conversations and discourses out there that are talking about these dialectics, right about how this this way of behaving is not real good. Now, we can break that down a little further, but I'm just kind of simplifying it in terms of, you know, the general idea that we need to change our social systems and our psychological structures, both inside and out. To create a more sustainable world in which everything is alive, sacred and loved and loves us back. Will rescue us out of this despair, and perhaps create a new world order? Is something they can certainly get on board with. The second, right, the second argument that eco psychology has been helpful to me for Matt Drassanes has been the work of Laurie pi, who, whose work on using the natural world like Mother Nature, symbol, right? For a for what is happening to the world? How is that? A mirror?
How is that mirroring? The process of mothers and how our mothers mirroring the process of what's happening to the natural world? There, she says we have a big mother complex, and I love this and I think you did too. Which is to say that wait a second, we cannot see mama nature as this endless resource. Okay, that might not be unique in the thinking, right? It's a source, I mean, indigenous wisdom, traditions, would honor and see things as sources, not resources to be taken, and certainly not endless ones to be depleted until you know, there's nothing left. Now, doesn't that sound familiar to how we treat mothers? Right? That that she's not a subject of her own right there is no interiority process, right? She has been emptied, and is meant to be emptied, and has therefore emptied herself, does not see her interiority as a source only sees her purpose as giving out threatening her own demise, etc, etc. And so what happens in my classes and in my, in my consulting room is, you know, with patients is that they first have to recover that. That's the first mature sign is that they become people, they become persons, they become subjects. So even my students who sometimes are often in their 20s, without children themselves just yet, for the most part, they go in interview their moms, and they come out saying moms are people too. And now they have a relationship with their mom, that is more. You never take away the parent child and maybe more peer like, as you say, right? Yeah. There's more of a interpenetrated understanding of each other's existence as a person, and that we have mutual reciprocal relationship. That's a relational point of view. That's a more mature point of view that the kid sort of grows into. And what Laurie pie was saying to that we have to grow into that eco psychologically to which is to say that, actually maybe I thought her this talking point was really interesting. thing, which is, you know not to go back into sort of the gardener being point of view of nature. And listen, I'm not an eco psychologist, maybe one day when I grow up, I can become one too. So you'll, you'll correct me. But they're saying it's not actually about relinking, like, even to the sacred, you know, or to the environmental world in a way that then we are, as we were before, because there's no going back, that's the thing I really left for matresses, there is no going back, even to the old consciousness, even to the original peoples and the original instructions, we may not be able to go back. So what's forward is that at least humanity has to have a different relationship to quote unquote, Mother Earth, and relate to quote unquote, her in a more mature way, just as we to that mirrors what we must develop as a as a society a more mature response to how we quote unquote, us or rather, relate reciprocally to others. So that's where I think eco psychology has helped me, which is to say, you know, a, it's not only mothers doing this all along, we always knew that, you know, there are many roads to Rome, there are many life crises that awaken us to the psychospiritual ecological reality, there can join forces with the human potential consciousness sort of movement, they may lead the charge, because often those at the margin, and those who've been neglected, should be a keystone, because they've been observing much better than those who've held power. And, and secondly, that the way they're asking to be related to might mirror the way we need to relate to the sacred into the natural world. And maybe they have some information that if only we listened to them what it has felt like to be a depleted resource, we might learn something about the world. So I don't know what do you think, frankly,
I think it's interesting that we have the shift in material reality as mothers that can shift other aspects of ourselves and our understanding, I do think that there's interesting knowledge is to come through that transition. But I was also thinking about in some of your early research, one of the characteristics that marked mothers, as different from the rest of your population of study was that they were continually saying their, the shift or a shift that they experienced was in relationship to nature as divine, as alive and loving and sacred. And I don't know, that raised some questions for me about the potential of the ecological domain on other domains to like, the social, political, and economic in particular,
well, 100% I mean, to say it very plainly, mothers tell me that everything is alive, you know, the sacred is in the woods, it's in, it's in everything. It's, it's in rolling the ball back and forth, 100 times with their child. And so that revivifying, and the reanimating of life all around, in which it dances in a numinous way, with the light of creation, however you define that, and that it is creative, and they are of the creative cycle, because they also have brought life forth. And also see how and how sacred it is because it's not a given life can be taken away, you know, the pain of childbirth, you know, they read link and say, Oh, my gosh, a whale is doing this right now, on the other side. I mean, it's a Revivification process, but it's a numinous. One is not just things are alive, there are sacred, and therefore harm, an ethic of harm, or support comes to their mind. And in some ways, they often it's a lot for a mind to take, and sometimes it freezes them. It's not only that they can be sort of people to inspire us, but I think they get overwhelmed too, because they don't know what to do. They don't know how to hold all of that sort of love or whatever. And if you were someone of a religious or spiritual tradition, you could go and learn now, how to do integration after this spiritual awakening, right? How do you integrate that into the daily mundane tasks of living on this earth? How do you live with your heart open? And how do you how do you do that? So I think that's the next step, which is, they just don't know necessarily had to live that life yeah, all the time and how to help make it more of a reality both in micro and macro terms.
And I think within our current structure, kind of what I'm seeing a lot is that growth is pathologized. You know, we're labeling it as anxiety or something that traditionally we might want to fix some other can get back to work. Instead of seeing the tremendous potential there and how to support it as this path towards long term growth and development of a, of a person that's seeing more and more people in their natural environment.
Well, I hope you you continue on in this path and in this work and inspiring others, because one thing I wouldn't want to see is that this light, get dimmed. You know, there, I'm starting to wonder if there are critical windows, you know, while my trestles may last a lifetime and reawakened with each child and growth, you know, what if this isn't supported? What if this isn't developed with a mother this consciousness work, so that she can stay in a sustained way, in a positive way? See that this isn't anxiety in the X sense, but in the Y sense, you know, when your knees are shaking right before I don't know, you get married, or you jump off a cliff, you know, it's good, if your knees were shaking, I be worried about it. That if you can't take this energy that holds paradox, this is both the most crippling and empowering experience. This is the both ways in which the world is alive and buzzing. But I also feel so completely incapable of rising to it. How do we support this process educationally and keep the lights on? So for me Metra essence, when I remember when the light bulb went on, whether I'm trying to do this consciously or unconsciously, I literally heard the light click on I couldn't unsee it. And the same thing mothers are telling me is that once they become mothers, however they they do, by the way, through adoption, surrogacy, through all the pathways of reproductive family building, they tell me the lightbulb, one went on, how do we sustain this awakened mind? How do we let them know that this way in which they feel is stranged is good. It actually critically allows them to feel dysfunctional for a little moment. So that they can start to radically reinterpret how they can feel alive again, and become new creatures, and illuminate a path forward for the rest of us if they're raising the next generation, or rather, getting information as well, from the vulnerable others in their care. So so how do we create educational systems, conversations, clinical interventions, that doesn't shut this down. It's how it's natural. It's kind of like a naturally occurring awakening. But now, I think could use more structure around it. And here we are, maybe full circle in the conversation about a rite of passage to me means institutional and psychological structures to support this naturally occurring awakening so that it the the light stays on, and we can then all become lighthouses in reintegrating us into this living Earth, that we clearly are a part of, but but forgot, and then woke up. Again
so many paths to Rome, how can we highlight that, so people can continue that journey?
Indeed, and so, you know, to all those maybe who were personally awakened through Metro essence and now want to make a professional pivot to it. And everything in between, I say, you know, hold the torch and eliminate one of these domains, you know, I hope that physicians will understand, you know, things like or researchers, the biology of the uterus, could use some illumination, you know, the next domain the, the changes in identity and personality, self esteem and self concept go do that research that the social psychologists you know, the revaluation of relationships, macro and micro, economic and political ones, you know, been thinking about social policies like family care, ecologically, existentially spiritually there, there's so much more work to be done. That what we do need what is a unified platform, I think the mattresses kind of just there, that means we can launch a journal or we can launch a conference or you know, someplace where we can all meet. So we're not disconnected. And and not kind of doing this interdisciplinary work, which is how I think we raise the barn, which I think you know, is an old term of all lift the roof up together. And I'm so delighted in your exposing me to and finding the work of eco psychology, which is part of those barn raisers, you know, of this work. And that I do think that eco psychological psycho spiritual in a way falls more vertically up the vertebrae of bio psychosocial, because it has the largest perspective possible that we can give to this is we need this large, the largest perspective possible to change the route metaphor to change the stories we've held about humans relationship right to, to the creative life force.
So where are you taking this work? Next,
I'm going back to basics, always has been in kind of a two pronged approach it creating publishing frameworks, and maybe assessments, so that people can actually put this work into action in an applied way. So a lot of it is education, and simply doing the defining and trying to be at least, the primary source for the information because a lot can get lost through broken telephone, right. So people had to do that in every discipline, you know, you try and create some kind of shared consensus around what this means through working with colleagues. So that's the first thing is really defining metrics in some very clear way elaborating its framework, and creating tools, whether that's like a measurement tool, or whatever we're doing in the lab, it's multi pronged in that sense. So that it can then go into the hands, right of, let's say, a mattress educator to be able to educate someone, or to go into the hands of a researcher to measure reproductive identity or mattress, since I know those are different terms, but realities, and let's say, adolescence in an urban city, so that we can get really granular and contextual. So that's what we do in academia, we kind of try and get it into as many hands as many people to see the diverse ways in which it's being expressed. And that's really important, because by trusses, there is no single unified mother, there may be a unified reality. But there is no one mother type. And that's been, you know, the harm that we've gotten. That's the sociology of mother tongue, the ideology and the ideals of motherhood, the, the way in which culture tries to stamp one size fits all. But to really see the great diversity of expression. Just like with adolescence, it's multi final, there's a multi finality, you all go in, through this one experience, and y'all come out as individuals. So that that's really important to me is to get some coherent definitions and tools out there. So people can then actually see the way it is and isn't the same for diverse peoples out there. Diversity is really important. And then the second thing around the psychospiritual is to continue to just talk from this perspective, because that was what was liberatory I think that was one of your kind of questions, what's liberating, both about matresses and the psychospiritual lens, just as I felt liberated when I was taught it, in my graduate years, and the dean didn't come and shut down these conversations is that we can be agents and have an empowered, optimistic future. You know, it's still in our hands. Isn't that what the climate scientists are saying, you know, this is still in our hands, the power structures are oppressing or repressing this elimination in a way, because in terms of the orthogonal ethics, it's threatening, right? It's gonna make us do things differently. It's threatening, even in the home of a mother to say I'm a person and I need to rest, you know, in many for many women, you know, from a feminist psychology point of view, that empowered liberatory message for even just saying, I am not a place of violence for you, is is very threatening, and it can blow back harder as a result. So we do have to do it delicately. I don't mean to diverge. But the next part is to speak in an empowered way, which is that developmentally this is so important to, to really hear the voices of mothers what they're saying how they're changing and transforming and where they're heading and how we can make them even lead. Because there is a wisdom here that if we don't take notice of and take seriously with rigor, and start implementing it and applying it, we're all going to lose. I don't know what quite yet we're going to lose because I am not a doom and gloom person just yet. But we do have to recover it to be more whole. And that that point of view from a union in what do we mean by individuating, or being more whole or more holistically is, is reviving the thing that we we've repressed the thing that we don't want to see the stranger knocking at the door only to see all along it was us. So I'd like to end on that. Because that is the the human psychic task is to reintegrate not be so split apart, not to warring internally. But to really see our interrelatedness and to even see the sanctity of this life in which we are made human through our suffering and vulnerability only to realize we're not alone. And we're linked to this really larger reality of love and interconnectedness. So I just want to start listening. I think mothers are very, very, very wise. They've learned a lot and are learning a lot, even in the nascent beginnings of motherhood. They are already learning, growing, changing, transforming a lot. It's not a NERT by any means.
Thank you so much for listening. Season Two of Mother Praxis explores mother Praxis that nurtures personal and planetary wellness. I'd love to support you in your psycho ecological development, possibly reframing any eco anxiety or eco grief you've come into as a mother. Visit mother praxis.com for a free download of my ebook, motherhood as an ecological awakening. Again, that's mother praxis.com and scroll down to get what I call a primer, a week of resources exploring the ecological initiations of your transition into motherhood. And please remember to follow rate and share these episodes to help amplify this perspective. So it can reach other mothers too.
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