My mum and dad have a plum tree that produces tiny and very delicious plums. They are a beautiful mottled indigo on the outside and green inside, a little smaller than cherries, with a similar-sized stone. They make wonderful jam, so today I decided to make some out of the big bag of plums I’d brought back from visiting my parents.
The first thing I had to do was stone the plums. This isn’t an easy job, when the fruits are so small. It took a while to work out how to get the stone out without mashing the plum to bits – eventually I worked out a twisting manoeuvre which was mostly successful. As I contemplated the huge pile of plums in the colander, I felt daunted, wondering how long it would take to get through it all, and whether I really wanted the jam enough to make the effort worthwhile. I kept on stoning plums but the pile didn’t seem to get smaller. My fingers were starting to hurt from tensing around the knife I was using. The more I looked at the pile of plums the less it seemed to be diminishing and the more my fingers ached.
Then I remembered something from my mindfulness practice – I only need to stone one plum at a time. Bringing my awareness into my hands, the feeling of the knife cutting into the plum’s skin and hitting the stone, the green revealed as I twisted the plum apart, I was able to be with just that one plum instead of thinking ahead to all the others. Stoning one plum isn’t a problem at all! I started to notice how different they were in appearance, and how some stones stuck to the flesh while others popped out cleanly. I relaxed into the job and stopped worrying about how long it would take. Eventually I did get to the end of the bowl, and the jam got made.
During Mindful Mamma classes I am often asked about the timing of labour – the length of contractions and the spaces in between, how this changes as labour progresses, how long each stage of labour lasts. When we approach labour in the mindset of clock-time, the lack of one definitive answer to these questions can be frustrating and anxiety-provoking. Another way is to use the framework of what Nancy Bardacke, author of Mindful Birthing, calls ‘horticultural time’. Clock-time can’t tell us exactly when the plums will be ripe enough to drop from the tree – plum-ripening works on horticultural time.
In the framework of horticultural time, we trust that our labour will progress in its own good time. We can relax into the rhythm of our contractions and pauses, working with our body’s unique timing. As labour builds, we start to get a feel for how the rhythm of our breathing carries us up and over the crest of each contraction wave, easing us down the other side. Using mindfulness to stay in the present moment, we are only ever dealing with one contraction at a time, breath by breath. We are able to focus on that one contraction, perhaps noticing what is unique about it as we tune into the fine detail of the sensations we experience – what is here, right now? Each wave ebbs away and is gone, never to be repeated. Each wave brings our babies closer.