Mothering as a Spiritual Awakening with Dr. Allie Davis
Matrescence,* the developmental period of motherhood, can be framed as holistic rite-of-passage into a new way of life and a new mothering identity that affects a mother in every realm of life… including the spiritual. This period holds transformative potential for a mother, and mothers’ stories and research exploring mother’s experiences shows mothers can experience (and often experience) significant spiritual development as a result of mother work (Athan, 2005, 2013, 2015).
Mothering and motherhood can be experienced as a spiritual education, promoting a mothering consciousness with growth in spiritual domains seen across all major world religions such as unconditional love, interconnection with the Earth, self-transcendence, heightened awareness and senses, experiences of the sacred or mystery, and meaning and purpose (Athan and Miller, 2005, 2013).
I talk about this psychospiritual mental health approach to understanding mothers’ experience, one that frames at least some of mothers’ suffering as a response to developing what I’m calling a “matricentric or mother-centered ecofeminist consciousness”. From this perspective, many mother’s suffer because they develop a “counter-cultural” (Athan, 2016) commitment through their maternal practice to nurture and protect all Life on our living Earth… within a culture that challenges that consciousness with ways of seeing and being in the world that deny and threatens Life.
Weaving in a bit of my personal experience seeking support in the spiritual domain as a result of feeling disoriented by my own spiritual development after becoming a mother, I explore the ways this growth can show up a mental health challenges that we can support and alleviate within ourselves and other mothers through proper framing, support, and guidance.
*Matrescence is a concept brought to our current understanding by Dr. Aurelie Athan of Teacher’s College Columbia. Find out more about her, her body of work, and the articles I reference (which are available for free) at www.matrescence.com.
Visit Dr. Aurelie Athan’s website to learn more about matrescence and to download the articles reference in this episode.
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Please excuse typos. This transcript was drafted by AI.
Dr. Allison Davis, “Allie”
So my entrance into motherhood happened in the middle of the night. I woke to a cry. I heard it again right outside our bedroom. So I slid out of bed and I went to the windows looking for the source of this cry. You know, was it an animal or was it something else I just felt like it needed me.
So as I reached to open the door and go outside and look, I pass and said, I’m pregnant.
Allison Davis 00:41
The future relies on the wellness of mothers.Welcome to rewild mothering, a podcast about holistic maternal wellness for Earth honoring mothers to help us grow into the wild guides we envisioned for ourselves, our families and our planet.
Allison Davis 00:59
Each episode we alchemize science and the sacred weaving together modern research, ancient wisdom and mind body spirit practices that help us channel that transformative power of matches since the developmental period of motherhood. I’m your host, Dr. Allie Davis, a maternal mental health eco therapist and a mother walking this path with you. Thank you for being here. Let’s reclaim mothering as a wild initiation with nature’s guide.
Allison Davis 01:43
Before we get into talking about mothering and mattress and says a spiritual awakening, I want to just say that a lot of this research is situated within ego psychology and motherhood studies and specifically the work of Dr. Orly Athan at Columbia. I meet with her bi weekly to help apply this concept of mattress since two mothers psycho spiritual development and especially a natured centered consciousness development through motherhood. So I have a lot of references for you if you want to go to the original source and explore that yourself. always email me if you have any questions about where researchers from or ideas are from and can connect you with where I first found.
Some metaphysical mystical experiences are pretty common throughout pregnancy. There’s a lot of research about transcendent experiences and birth. But what I’m actually talking about today is mothering the process of mother care of mother work of taking care of someone and how that can actually be like a Spiritual Education for Mother’s development. One of the main concepts here we’ll get into some cool research on what that looks like, and motherhood. But there’s this concept that because mothers have their consciousness shifted in ways that emphasize interconnection, justice, mindfulness, and a lot of these other kind of qualities of spirituality and some of the world’s religions. It’s exactly because this development, this rapid development, and consciousness that they suffer, we suffer because our consciousness stands in opposition to our dominant social systems and the stories that our culture tells us about ourselves and our loved ones and our place in the world.
Allison Davis 04:00
modern psychology supports a mechanistic and individualistic understanding of wellness, one that supports even the objectification and violence against others within our ecosystems and considers that still healthy.
So what I’m talking about is, we are conditioned to feel separate from one another and from the more than human beings that are in our our homes and our lives and our communities. And what I so appreciated in the article that I found throughout this period of searching and trying to understand my own development was that this connection to nature is in connection with one another an interconnection. I am your other eye you are another me. This deep level of knowing
is a form of spiritual development is a characteristic of development in all these ways, and it’s an expansion of consciousness beyond the ego that mothers developing. In a pretty special way through the process of caretaking for someone else,
the teaching of matcher sense is an explanatory framework using this bio psycho social, economic, spiritual and political model. And it stands as an alternative to the medical model involved with kind of dissecting and labeling and pathologizing experience. And match essence, as a model still has attention to those risks. So in each of these areas, there’s positive growth and negative risk. And sometimes, and often those interact.
The concept can hold a lot of challenges within it as completely normal, without these messages that a mother is broken and needs to be fixed. Because natural sense is a cyclical process of initiation into a new way of life.
So I was having trouble in my early motherhood, finding support for my mental health from a psycho spiritual and socially environmentally conscious professional. And this is pretty common. There aren’t a lot of stories out there talking about motherhood in this way. And so that’s really what I’m focusing on, especially in the second season that starts in August is mothering as eco spiritual development and how we support that through the process and what it looks like in all its many diverse ways. Just raising questions about that, because even with a methodology or a framework like McKesson, sir, even through my groups, you know, the question really is, what is this new form of consciousness and how does it live in the modern world, even though it draws a lot on very old ways of being.
The changes that I went through, were really intense, and they weren’t all mystical and mysterious. There was also a profound shift in values, and of experiencing the agency of more than human beings. So feeling connected with all of life, and with that awakening, struggling with how to incorporate the guilt and pain of how I had been living before and what was happening around me on a local level, and connecting that to the suffering on a global scale of our environment and our communities with this more expansive understanding of self in a time of climate change. And these are exactly why a lot of people numb out. So it often feels too heavy or too much in our modern culture of chronic stress and disconnection to sit with those feelings, and explore what they’re saying and what they challenge us to become. There’s an eco therapist, Joanna Macy, and she calls us coming back to life. And she teaches groups of people to find empowerment in that awakening and in that suffering. So that’s somebody that I really drew on in terms of practices that support staying connected, but at the time, I had no support. So I had no elders, I had no guidance and how to do this work. And I was searching to alleviate some of my risk in the spiritual domain and still be able to stay connected to my growth because it was just opening up the world in so many beautiful and supportive ways. So that was a skill that I never learned. And even though I worked on really heavy issues, that was one of the reasons that I felt pretty disconnected because we have a lot of trouble surviving in that context. And I think that’s one of the things that we have to really examine with spirituality or psycho spiritual approach to mattress essences, how to support that development and the awakening, because the transformative potential of this new kind of consciousness which have started calling mattre, centric, eco feminist consciousness, but it can be whatever it needs to be. And what we’re really interested in exploring with rewired mothering is the patterns of what that become.
So in this article that broke down spiritual development and mothers there were six categories where mothers experienced tremendous growth and change. The first one is that self transcendence being connected to a self that is larger than the egoic self,and the second one’s inner connection with people in nature. Third, one is meaning and purpose. The fourth was unfolding process of discovery.A heightened sense of awareness is another one enhancement of inner resources, experiences of the sacred or mysteryunconditional love and the ability to manage complex cognitive situations like paradox and ambiguity.
So there’s been a lot of scholarship supporting the effects of spirituality on one’s well being. It focuses on how this helps us cope and navigate challenges how it can change our goals in healthy ways, ease anxiety and depression. But there’s not been a lot of research into the role of spirituality and more common life transitions like mothering. So the study I got my hands on, was the first qualitative study to explore spiritual life and mothers. And it really opened my eyes to my experience, it gave me a frame to understand the challenges that were also connected to this important development in my life in this new way of being, and how this leads to, you know, not just in my life, but others life new and broaden perspective that mirrors the spiritual values of major world religions.
This article also contains one of the first uses of the term matches since outside of Dana Raphael’s first medical anthropologists that first kind of applied it to this transition by a woman named Thomas as she shared her intense spiritual shift and the resulting disorientation that ended up having a profound and significant impact on her in her family’s life. So the shift in the city was applying the view that the entire experience of motherhood could be seen as a fast track to spiritual development.
motherhood as church child as guide, were things that came to mind reading this article, again preparing for this. So this excites me because we can see there’s this major loss of rite of passage wisdom from our modern culture, but that by reclaiming this experience, and its holistic dimension, and all those areas I mentioned, mothers can play a big part in evolving understanding of motherhood, but also our understanding of what it means to be a person deeply embedded and a living Earth.
So this became a big focus of my work, obviously. But as a therapist, it was really a challenge to incorporate the psychospiritual into my supportive mother’s. That’s not how I worked before becoming a mother. And there aren’t a ton of examples of how to do this work, which is why I do consult with Dr. Athan an ongoing basis. And I think it’s really important that we start to shift our understandings of maternal mental health care, to include the spiritual to be more holistic, and maybe challenge a little bit that P mat model that does dissect and label and approach motherhood challenges as an illness. Because I think anybody that has a spiritual approach has heard you don’t get the light without the dark, and framing it that way can help mothers understand that. It’s not them alone, it’s not isolated risk. It’s contextualized risk. And when you have context to hold challenges, you were also immediately aware of all the resilience that one has in oneself and around oneself to deal with whatever’s getting in the way of one’s continual growth.
Hi, it’s Allie, I wanted to pause the episode for a moment to tell you about my free mother mind meditation route into who you are and who you’re becoming by reconnecting with your own true nature, downloaded at rewild mothering.com. Slash mother mind. That’s it for now, let’s get back to our conversation.
Psycho spiritual approach to maternal mental health, especially new mothers, but you know, a long haul experience of motherhood just there’s so much to explore their views what might be considered an adjustment disorder as a summons to a new life adventure, rather than a poor response to a life situation. So it approaches and holds mothers in a rite of passage framework in a very old way of transitioning that our society has forgotten in many ways, but that we can adopt again in its foundational wisdom in the term of mattresses. In in adopting this bigger perspective, claiming of this realm of growth, we also have to recognize that it’s actually the growth that is causing suffering at least some of the suffering
And as mothers develop this interconnected, expansive concept of themselves, and eco psychology, it’s framed as transcending the ego driven way of being, by developing an eco consciousness of understanding ourselves as nature and our birthright as humans to belong and live harmoniously with these living ecosystems.
And I think that’s really important. So the Spiritual Education through motherhood causes suffering, because we’ve awoken to a way of being in the world that challenges the dominant white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, anthropocentric culture that is toxic to life.
And so when saying motherhood as this kind of spiritual vehicle, of this Spiritual Education, think what comes out of that. And, you know, when we’re looking at how motherhood was viewed in the past, it was it centered mothers as caretakers of life with a capital L. So mothers were not confined to these small spaces within the home mothering one person. But the wisdom of mothers was recognized on a public realm as having important things to say about how society is run how society treats one another had a caretaker of all the parts of our community. And that’s really what reweld mothering is about reclaiming. I feel mothers are being called to remember, reclaim and rewild are placed as caretakers for the knowledge and the resources that sustain life on our planet. So this means enlarging the notion of mother work beyond the family into our diverse ecosystems. This means expanding the concept of mothering, to engage with the whole mother and the whole of every other living being in the system to include the body, mind and spirit. So this means awakening to that wholeness within ourselves that some people call wilderness. But these aspects that have been cultivated out of us to conform to the needs and demands of modernity, because only then can we remember ourselves as a part of nature, rather than apart from it to discover the truth of our natural selves. And only then can we learn respectful relationship with nature, and our more than human relatives to open ourselves to that nourishment and support and harmonizing guidance that’s available for us. And only then can we re integrate and embody our wild spirit, so we can resource and fall deeply in love with ourselves and our sacred purpose. And then we can rewild our Motherland, our places embodied ancestor with sacred responsibility to mend and 10 the greater web of life. So mothers are caretakers of the wild, they’re protectors of the wild. And there’s no other kind of consciousness. I think that the earth needs more right now, which is, obviously, hopefully, why this podcast exists, as me speaking to this with other mothers and exploring the reemergence of this kind of consciousness in our modern context, which will look different. And I think it’s an important site of investigation.
So what do the challenges look like, as a mother expands her consciousness? You know, it can look a lot of different ways. And that’s one of the things I keep asking mothers on this podcast. But I also, you know, I hear a lot about it in my private practice. And so just in case this might be you, or might be someone you’re working with, I wanted to run through a couple of the challenges and what that might look like if you’re seeing someone or what it might feel like if you’re kind of exploring this for yourself. So running through some of the categories I already mentioned from that article of categories of spiritual development.
One of the big ones is where there might have been limits on love before, maybe for self protection, maybe because of attachment styles. Mothers are continually drawn into greater intimacy with others with usually one other their child. And this challenge to attachment styles can disrupt the business as usual, relational patterns that a mother lives with, and can also awaken the mother to the overwhelming an overflowing love we’re capable of. So we talk about flooding a lot and therapy and how titration and being able to kind of take little pieces
Ever motion to work with it and keep it within our body, our systems window of tolerance. So even love can flood us. And sometimes because of prior experiences, the reasons we might have put limits on love,
that can feel really challenging. The second one is this interconnection with nature and with other people. So I immediately saw myself in other mothers stories that were shared in it, as they felt sublimely interconnected to the earth through their experiences of mothering. And some even spoke about weaving themselves back into the story of nature. So I know myself, and some of my clients have felt anger, loss, of course, you know, waking to this and knowing that you have not had it for your life, and guilt, at the rupture of our foundational attachment to the living Earth. So there’s both beauty and growth here. And there’s also risk and a lot of really uncomfortable feelings. And they can feel very disruptive in one’s way of living, because it challenges mothers to shift how they’re living and shift their concept of themselves and their place in the world.
The mothers in this study and elsewhere, have a really interesting pattern talk about this as awakening to the underlying web. And this awakening includes the transcendence of the self, the growth into one’s natural self within the web. And this can cause huge priority shifts that I’ve heard repeatedly in my work, but it shows up a struggle. I don’t know who I am, I can’t be who I was before. I’m so different, that my people don’t feel like mine anymore. Like they haven’t moved with me.
And when we have these priorities shifts like this, we have behaviors that go with them, ways that we tried to become in alignment with this new knowledge, this new wisdom that we have.
And people in this study and people that I’ve worked with in the groups and on this podcast, this is also where we see a lot of grief and despair. So it’s described with depressive symptoms and breakdown, even as they shared. You know, hopefully, you’re hearing through the stories that even as they broke down, mother’s eventually got to a place of acceptance and appreciation. But that doesn’t take away from the challenges of the in between. You know, speaking from my personal experience, as I really struggled here, I wouldn’t want to go back either. Because another theme of the expansion of self is heightened awareness, and appreciation of the natural world and its beauty and its natural resources and the sensory experience of the ecological environments. It’s this primal knowing, and a result of time warping and slowing down. There might be a lot of causes. But I see that time warping and slowing down, and mindfulness and taking care of a child of mothering. And so that often can bring with it significant challenges that I’m very interested in. I know a lot of people listening to this podcast, are professionals working with mothers and mothers themselves, like how do we support ourselves through this, if we had the wisdom of the process, we could trust in ourselves as nature, knowing that spring always comes, you know, but we’re here now. And what are the skills and the resources we need to support ourselves here?
reading through all this, through all the reprioritization through all the expansion of self, through kind of the breaking down of how modernity organizes our experience. Mothers usually find purpose and meaning in life that is maybe really old and connected to their lines or something that they’ve always held within them, but it shows up in a new way.
So part of the psycho spiritual struggle of maternal health is how to support and bring that sacred purpose that shows up through the transition into the dailiness of our lives.
So we need support. We need support as mothers as we face the existential questions that we’re opening to because we’re developing as spiritual beings in these unique ways.
And as we attune to spiritual matters through motherhood, what is the place we call home? How do we engage with others in our systems? What is my role in that? How do we share what life is about how do we influence our cultural and societal knowings about how to support life about the importance of life
read our society does not do a good job taking care of mothers does not do a good job taking care of children really have you know anybody except for a very small percentage of and it’s a shrinking percentage of people who are accumulating enormous amounts of wealth. So how do we challenge the structures that are hurting life if we’re unsupported ourselves? And you know also how do we develop spiritual resiliency if we’re leaving, unsupportive religious traditions are happening, so that we can live from the spiritual knowing on a daily basis.
So I hope that you will share with me through email or through dm on Instagram, or even think about coming on for the second season where we’re specifically looking at motherhood as a spiritual awakening. So as we turn away from small understandings of ourselves, what supports our growth and integration to our eco consciousness, our mattress centric, eco feminist concepts of ourselves if you want to use that term, so I think more mothers are being called to help ourselves and others remember, reclaim and rewild our role as caretakers of life of leaning into our development, to develop a consciousness in a way of life that challenges the toxic ways of being that put life at risk. So the first understanding is the transformative potential of this spiritual matches sense and how it can cause suffering and how that suffering gets complicated without support for this experience.
Thank you for listening. The reweld mothering podcast brings together a community of Earth honoring mothers to tell the stories that mendon 10, the web of mothering support, I’d love to hear your reactions to today’s episode. Let’s connect on Instagram at rewild mothering and be sure to subscribe where you listen to get next episode as soon as it’s live. Until next time, may we remember our place as a part of the natural world. May we reclaim mothering as a revolutionary act, and may we rewild the ways of caring for our human family and our living planet.