Enlightened Pregnancy and the Bardos – Interview with Luisa Magarian
For my first post of 2016, I thought it apropos to go back to the beginning – the beginning of our lives, and of all life. I had the pleasure of interviewing Luisa Magarian, author of Enlightened Pregnancy: Connecting with Your Baby Spiritually. This book offers expecting mothers and their family members a way to connect and guide the spirit of their baby during pregnancy. It is based on teachings presented within the Tibetan Book of the Dead on how a spirit transits from life to life. Even if you are not pregnant or planning to be so, you will find this interview fascinating, especially if these teachings are new to you.
Luisa has studied meditation and mindfulness since 2002 and taught since 2008. Although American, she spent many summers in a highland Mayan town in Guatamala, and was recognized there as an iyoom, or sacred Mayan midwife. She also has degrees in Human Biology and Latin American Studies from Stanford.
Here is an excerpted version of my interview with her; the full interview is available as an mp3 at the end of the post.
So first Luisa, I was wondering if you could describe Enlightened Pregnancy in your own words?
Sure. Enlightened Pregnancy is a little book for expecting parents to help them connect with their baby, even before their baby is born, at a spiritual level. It contains poems, meditation exercises, and visualizations, among other things, to tap into your own deeply spiritual essence, and use that to guide your baby through his/her experience in the womb.
Thank you, I love it. I got interested in the energetics of pregnancy when I was pregnant, and how it impacts us energetically and spiritually as women, but this really focuses on the mother’s state of mind and through that on helping the baby through this transit, which I find really fascinating. How did you get the idea for this book?
The idea started with a conversation between myself and my co-author Samvara a number of years ago. At the point that this idea came up, we were both using meditation and mindfulness in support of people facing serious illness and end of life, and found that these were really helpful tools. We started thinking about other times in life when people are going through big transitions, and how these same tools could be really beneficial. Pregnancy came to mind as the next obvious transition to focus on. We started exploring what is out there in terms of pregnancy and meditation and mindfulness, and specifically what was available in Tibetan Buddhism, and bringing these together.
And what led you to focus on the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Could you explain that book a bit for people that are not familiar with it?
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a fascinating book, it’s actually one of the most famous and well regarded books in Tibetan Buddhism. What it has in it is a really detailed study of what the spirit goes through at the end of life and afterwards. In the Tibetan worldview, life is cyclical, it is not linear in the way we often think of it, with a beginning, middle, and end. Each life flows into another life through reincarnation. In between lives there is a period of time when the spirit is not in a body, but in a dreamlike existence in between. Tibetan Buddhists have made a very detailed study of this in between time.
What we noticed is that that time – after one life and before the next – we often talk about it when thinking about a loved one who has recently passed away, but it’s also the exact same period of time a being is going through before entering a new life. It’s where, in the Tibetan worldview, the spirits of new babies are coming from. So we decided to look at that text and see what parts of it would be pertinent to pregnancy.
Yes, and you utilize that Tibetan knowledge as a framework to help a woman and her family to guide their baby towards birth. Since you also have a background as a Mayan iyoom [sacred midwife], how did that influence, or did it influence, the work and how you approached it?
It influenced the work more from a background perspective. It has deeply influenced me throughout my life. The content of the book closely follows the Tibetan Book of the Dead in terms of the period of time that corresponds to pregnancy. But having spent this time as a child in this Mayan town, and having close relationships with several of the iyooms in town, what I learned from them is that pregnancy and birth is inherently a sacred time. It is a time when women tap into deeper parts of themselves. So that understanding really cleaved into this book, if not in its words, then in its undertone.
Yes, and we don’t really get that perspective in this culture during pregnancy. Books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting are all about preparing for when the baby is here already, or for the physical birth. There isn’t a sense of bringing a spirit into incarnation, which is part of what’s going on, as part of the pregnancy process.
Yes, and what I’m hearing from women who have read this book is that they are having these experiences already during pregnancy, it’s just not something that we really talk about or focus on, but it’s still part of our experience of pregnancy and taking care of small children. So part of the goal of this book is bringing it more into the forefront of our consciousness.
Yes, and giving us a framework. So in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Enlightened Pregnancy the idea of a bardo is really central. How would you explain the idea of a bardo to someone not familiar with it?
A bardo is a state of existence. In the Tibetan worldview there’s this state of existence in between lives, called an intermediate state or bardo. There’s a particular one that a spirit lives in between conception and birth called the sidpa bardo, and that’s what Enlightened Pregnancy is really focusing on – that time period.
You can think of a bardo like a dream, that’s really the most similar thing we can compare it to in our own experience. So you can imagine that when you are dreaming, part of your mind and your spirit are in your body and your bed, but part of your mind and spirit are off having wild adventures. Sometimes they are fun, sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes they are confusing or scary. A bardo can be very similar for a baby in the womb – the body is there, the mind and spirit are kind of there, but the mind and spirit are also having these experiences in the bardo.
So how is the mother – or any family member reading this book to the baby – helping the spirit?
So each poem in the book is describing an aspect of the bardo that a being would typically experience. Through the imagery of the poem the person reading it, as well as the baby they are reading it for, gets a clearer picture. You know how sometimes a dream can be kind of confusing and overwhelming? You’re running around really fast, and things like that – imagine if you suddenly had a map, and you could choose where to go because you can see more clearly. That’s what the poems are designed to provide – guideposts for the spirit of the baby as it goes through these experiences.
What’s so fascinating with the guided meditations , and the various methods of centering that you include, is that it really requires the reader to shift into a more awakened or clear place in order to help guide the baby, so it really is this spiritual process for the mother or reader too.
I thought it was interesting that you say in the book that any family member could participate in the reading and exercises. How does that work?
I imagine most of the time it will be the mother reading the book, but I know fathers will be interested in it too. I’ve actually read it for four of my nieces and nephews. Each time I’ve done that, even if they were across the country, I could feel a connection with that spirit from far away. It was a beautiful experience for me, and I trust that it’s provided some benefit for them as well.
That’s beautiful! Do you think adoptive parents waiting for a child could potentially use this same process?
Oh absolutely. I think that could be a really beautiful experience for adoptive parents, especially because it would be a structured way of connecting with the baby before they get to meet it….Adoptive parents often have less ability to support the baby in utero than if they were carrying it themselves. They can’t choose what to eat for example. But they could support their baby’s spirit in this way.
What other advice do you have for expecting parents from a spiritual perspective?
I think noticing what you are feeling at the level of your spirit. Connecting into your heart on a day to day basis, and really honoring whatever you are noticing.
I’m hoping for people who read this book, that since it contains so many different flavors of meditation practices, that they will find at least one in there that really resonates, really feels wonderful to them. And since each of the practices tend to be pretty brief – you can do them in 1-5 minutes – that they will continue to practice even after reading the book, and maintain a practice after birth. That they will continue to connect to spirit, connect to the divine, in whatever way that manifests for them.
Thank you Luisa, for both this beautiful offering, and for speaking with me.
You can listen to the entire interview streaming here:
Or download here (allow the file to open and begin playing, and then ‘Save As’:
P.S. Thank you to everyone who participated in my Winter Solstice telemeditation and donation drive for The Breathe Network, and in the New Years book giveaway. I will be back in 2 weeks with my annual symbology reading of the Chinese/Tibetan New Year – we head into the Year of the Monkey February 8th! Also, don’t forget that soon after I will be starting my Chakra Levels teleseminar, based on the series I ran here last year. We will focus on a personal pattern you are striving to change. I hope many of you will join me!