Shamanic Journey: The Abortion
The Way of the Warrior: Show up, and choose to be present.
The Way of the Healer: Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
The Way of the Visionary: Tell the truth without blame or judgment.
The Way of the Teacher: Be open to outcome, not attached to it.
- The Four Fold Way, by Angeles Arrien, PhD
As the sun set outside on the waters near Gentlewood, I spent close to a half hour, mindfully setting up an altar next to my bed. My guides had told me it was time to visit the abortion I had when I was 16 years old. I knew this would be an intense journey so I took care to create sacred space. Practicing ritual grounds and comforts me.
I followed the steps Shiela Baker outlines in her book Journeys of Transformation: Tools for the Trip. My altar centerpiece was a Buddha head, surrounded by a small bible, renderings of Mother Mary of the Sacred Heart, crystals, a photo of my daughter Hannah and her godfather Ken, a book of poems by Emerson, and flowers from my garden. I also included the book Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping; after all, this pilgrimage was about forgiveness.
I chose a card at random from the Eternal Crystals Energy deck. It read, "Chiastolite: Passed Loved Ones-Root Chakra." I burned sage to clear the energy and it amplified a lingering headache. I took a deep breath and told my headache that this work was important to me and I asked that it go away. After taking a few more breaths, it obliged. Thank you.
I called in my guides and I listed off everyone in the Spirit World I could think of, knowing this would be difficult for me. I included Grandmother Ocean of the Salish Sea, and Long Arrow, an Indian Chief whom I’d met on an earlier journey. I invited BEAR, my new protection for shamanic journeys. (In the world of Shamanism, animal spirits aren’t individual; they stand in for the species and are represented in capital letters.)
Setting intentions was next. This is a key component of journey work. It’s setting a frame around what you want to explore and it’s the lens through which the narrative of the journey forms. I wanted to be more thoughtful about my approach on this journey. Like affirmations, it’s best to pose intentions in the positive. Kind of a “look where you’re going, not where you’ve been” sort of mentality. I looked to the wisdom of Angeles Arrien, who wrote the Four Fold Way. The thesis of the book is accessing the inner gifts of the warrior, teacher, visionary and healer in all of us. I’m a warrior spirit by nature and simply showing up and doing the work felt like a “check” there; my guides would lead me in the visioning, so, I focused my intention setting on “teaching” and “healing.” The two questions I come up with were:
What are the gifts or lessons of this experience?
How can I be present and compassionate for myself, my younger self and my body, to allow healing to flow into this experience?
To address the “healing” aspect, I made a commitment to check-in and be present to all the actors in this scenario. I needed to do more than just bare witness. Jesus had already told me that “in order to heal, you must feel” so I made a conscious decision to check-in with my body, especially my back and my womb. I call my body Eunice, a name that came to me recently, in an effort to rally my body into a unified flow. When I say Eunice to myself the various aspects of my body are called to attention.
I took some deep breaths to ground and finally invited my teenage self, “Sally-16”, to join me on this journey. Now I was ready. Relaxing flat on my bed, I reached over to turn off the lamp and turned on Shiela’s beautiful drumming to initiate the ceremony.
*** The Journey Begins***
In my mind’s eye, I’m walking out the front of my house, heading towards a birch bark canoe. Everyone is here. This is my biggest gathering yet for a shamanic journey. I pass all of my female and male ancestors. At the end of the pier my guide, Patrick, Stanley the BEAR, Sally-16 and me, now as Eunice, are lined up in a row. I smile, admiring this Pixar-like cast of fairy tale characters. Seeing myself as Eunice, feels perfectly obvious and natural within this ethereal world of the journey.
Patrick loads his large frame into the front of the canoe. He doesn’t say much to me on these journeys, he’s all business, wearing a Daniel Boone cap, with raccoon tail, and a brown leather jacket and boots. His fortitude makes me feel safe. As Patrick settles in front of me, I’m wondering how a grizzly is going to fit behind me, but we are taking off in heavy current before my thought lands.
We headed off North East, the same direction I travel in meditation, and soon we are walking in a barren part of British Columbia. Patrick and I lead the way, swishing through tall meadow grass, when Stanley charges up from behind, scaring the bejesus out of me. Forging ahead, he lets out his best “don’t screw with us!” roar. That’s some protection!
It’s growing dark, and while I continue to face the direction we’re traveling, I ask Sally-16 behind me if she is OK, offering my right hand and motioning her to grab it. Just then we head into a dark cave, together. BEAR and Patrick stand behind and wait.
Ahead of us is a pool of water. I now know what’s coming: we were heading into the Lower World. I tell Sally-16 we’re safe and ask her to keep ahold of my hand as we were taken under the water into another world.
Beyond a gray cloud a scene beings to unveil in front of me. It’s the waiting room of the abortion clinic. It’s clean, white and lonely. My boyfriend Bill is sitting in the first waiting chair amidst a dozen lined up against the walls. Behind me, I hear the voice of Azul, a guide I named after the ethereal blue skin in the movie “Avatar.” Small in stature, with smooth reptilian skin and the most compassionate black eyes I’d ever seen, Azul accompanied me on my first visit to the Lower World, and tonight she will be my support.
Azul: “Sally, do you see?”
Sally: “The lobby of the abortion clinic. Yes. Bill looks distraught.”
Azul leads me into the operating room. There are mechanical sounds of pumping and cranking. The abortion procedure is in process. A nurse stands to my left and a male doctor stands next to the machine, its suction tube inside Sally-16. Staring at the ceiling, she cries: “I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m Catholic!”
The doctor looks worried and glances up from the equipment at the nurse. The nurse leans down to comfort me. I remember how kind she was and that she was talking softly and I couldn’t hear her over the machine. Time passes and the noises are unbearable.
Sally-16, through more tears: “I didn’t think it would take so long.” I’m recalling how agonizing it was to lay on that table. I feel so much compassion for Sally-16. What she was going through! I realize it’s time to check in with BODY.
I focus inward and go into my BODY to feel. Sally-16 and I become one and I tell my back and womb that I am here for them. I feel the procedure, my gut being tugged, the womb robbed. I talk to the baby that I am losing. Years after this day, in prayer, I named him Shaun.
Sally: “Shaun, I’m sorry that I’m doing this to you.”
Shaun (in an adult voice): “I understand. It’s Ok.”
My emotions well and I cry silent tears onto the bed sheets.
Sally: “Womb, how are you doing?”
Womb (in a high-pitched voice that calls to mind a young nurse): “The doctor and nurse are doing an especially great job. Nothing is damaging you or physically hurting you. In fact, [to Sally-16] you are going to be checked out a bit later by another doctor who’s going to confirm this. [Back to me] Isn’t that right, Sally?”
I recall this to be true. My mom took me to an obstetrician a few years after this day to make sure I could have children. She wouldn’t tell me why I needed the exam until after we received the good news.
Womb: “The doctor is going to tell you, ‘They did a great job. There are no problems.’ In fact, one day you’re going to give birth to a beautiful girl and she’s going to be healthy!”
Sally-16 doesn’t answer. She’s in shock. Her face is white, frozen with fear. I am having difficulty keeping track of what is happening because I’m feeling the procedure.
Eventually I check in with Lower Back and Sacrum.
BACK: “I’m going through so much trauma! The cramping…I didn’t expect this much cramping!”
Sally: “I’m sorry!”
BODY: “Yes. It’s difficult. Hard! Ughhh.”
I go into body and do my best to breathe. The scene pans to the waiting room. I see Bill. He is walking around, staring at the floor. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands.
Azul then brings me into the recovery room. The nurse is telling Sally-16 to sleep, she needs the rest. I talk to Sally-16. I ask her how she feels. She flatly tells me she’s OK. She sounds vacant. She says she’s sore. Tired.
I’m tired, I say to myself. My body feels like it’s actually gone through the abortion. My body is shut down. I tell everyone I needed to be silent for a few minutes and rest.
There’s a pause, then I see Sally-16 getting up going into the lobby. Bill is entirely relieved to finally see me. I barely looked at him as I head for the door. The care kit they have given me is under my right arm and I carefully the passenger’s side of Bill’s blue Torino. We head for the Stevenson Expressway, on our way to his friend’s flat on the Southside of Chicago.
Twenty minutes into the trip, my uterus begins cramping hard. They’ve told me to expect this, but it’s still frightening. I’d thought the pumping feeling was over for good. I put my head on Bill’s lap as he drives into the city.
We get to Mike and Deana’s flat and Bill settles me into their den and leaves to work on Mike’s car. Deana doesn’t know how to help me and I didn’t know how to act or what to say. I feel lousy and tired from the continual bleeding. I’m not comfortable being there. Deana became pregnant at a young age and she and Mike married after little Michael arrived. She says she had also considered an abortion, but decided against it.
Later, when Bill comes back to check on me, I notice my body is cold. I don’t recognize the symptoms of shock. I wanted to be in my own bed. I wanted to be alone.
The sound of Shiela’s drumming is indicating that the journey is coming to a close. Soon we are back in the canoe. I am with Sally-16 as Patrick rows us back to Gentlewood. Stanley is quiet behind us. I am grateful for the sound of waves hitting the canoe. They symbolized the immense love in the universe and the constant support from Spirit. It’s been important to just be here for Sally-16; to bear witness. I tell her I am with her and support her, always.
I am being pulled out of the journey. With the last remote beats of the drum, I can hear her cry a little. This is comforting. I remember I wasn’t able to release many tears after the abortion.
As I’m moving away from the journey, I realize I have literally “re-membered” myself, gathering the pieces of my body into the gentle arms of Spirit. The wisdom of this realization energizes my body a bit and the drum falls silent.
***The Journey Ends***
I came out of the journey, picked up my journal and immediately tried to capture every detail. Documenting a journey is like trying to touch a cloud before it evaporates; it’s a lucid dream that drifts away into the ether. I did my best to note every voice, every detail, every visual. For about 20 minutes, my pen didn’t lift from the page. When it did, I took a deep breath. It was time for my final check in.
I closed my eyes and relaxed back into my spirit. The circle wasn’t yet closed, so I knew the voices would still be there.
Womb: “I feel good. I’m glad we were able to talk to teenage Sally. We’re doing good down here.”
Sacrum: “There was trauma here. I’m glad you know what I went through. There’s been some real healing today.”
Eunice/body: My body didn’t give a verbal response. But I could hear a kind of after-sound, like the reverberation you can hear when you step out of a loud concert. I sensed my body was doing its best to recalibrate. I continued to stay present to its silence.
Body? Are you OK? Do you have anything you’d like to say?
More silence, except for the loud reverb.
Know that I’m here for you. Know that I’m thankful for everything you did. And that I love you.
I could see Sally-16 curled up in bed, looking away from me, and asked how she's doing.
Sally-16: “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
I could see her in my mind’s eye, in bed at our town home at Lake Hinsdale Village. She turned on her side, away from view. I repeated the message from the canoe trip.
Know that I love you and I’m always here for you.
I stroked her hair tenderly and kissed her on the head.