Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


The Bliss Between Contractions

My dear friend An Honest Mom posted a two-part essay about her experience of letting go of the homebirth she wanted in favor of a hospital birth involving pitocin. I knew the story, but I loved reading her public writing of it because I always admire her ability to bring mindfulness to childbirth, crying babies, parenting. The thing I really picked up on in her post “How I Came to Love the Hospital Birth that I Didn’t Want, Part Two” was her saying that while in labor, she knew to look for the “bliss between contractions” (thanks in part to someone named Nancy Bardacke and a book about mindful birthing).


When I gave birth to L., four years ago this month, I was unable to find any bliss—until I’d accepted an epidural. Sure, it’s fair to say that Lex’s and my birth was harrowing. My contractions were off the charts, both because they started at a 10 on the pain scale and then shot off into the stratosphere and because, somehow, despite the fact that they ripped me in two, they didn’t actually manage to dilate my cervix at all. Nonetheless. I have long wondered (four-years-wondered) whether some of that excruciating pain and difficulty was because I didn’t know how to find the bliss between the contractions.

But today, I’m not looking at this bliss between contractions literally, since childbirth feels a long way off. But the phrase is such an apt metaphor for life, isn’t it? Life painfully squeezes the hell out of you and in between, you have to find bliss.

I’m finding solace in the metaphor this July, when life feels very busy. In a couple of weeks, Lex and I are headed to New England for nearly a month, and why I always choose that itty-bitty period to schedule everything (dentist, doctor, hair cut) I don’t know. There was the attempt to make a baby, which seemed to eat up a week (ha–I know what image this conjures. That’s not what I meant. I meant the brain space, the acupuncture, the trips to UCSF…). Marc has a job interview neither of us can stop thinking about. I’m teaching four classes. Trying to get my book published. Etc. I’ve found myself looking forward to L.’s swimming lessons just so I can stare into space for half an hour.

Another path, in central California.

Another path, in central California.

Do you live your life like this, always chasing the sensation that once you’ve completed all your tasks, you can relax? But the tasks simply don’t abate. And neither do the problems.

Buddhism teaches us that life is going to throw things in our path and we have to keep walking down it anyway. These might be small things—too much socializing, unhappy at work, too many meetings—or huge things—cancer, divorce, death. Finding bliss in between is kind of like pausing on that path, taking a deep breath, then tackling the next boulder.

I kind of love this.