Tag Archives: beginnings

Burying the Too-Good Mother

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June whisking up some self-loathing for the rest of us.

I was raised in the South.  My mother was completely in love with American Camelot, so my brother and I were named after Jackie O and JFK.  The programming to be the perfect, June Cleaver, mom was baked in with a fried onion crust in lovely Cornel servingware. My mom so wanted to be June– but found the weight of being a single mom in the 70s to heavy for June’s apron strings and high-heeled vacuuming.  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that her inability to let June go fueled her alcoholism and many other (self)sabotaging behaviors.

In preparing for the upcoming e-course on using archetypes for emotional alchemy,Getting to Know YOU, I’ve been doing some work around the Too-Good mother that dies at the beginning of Vasilissa.  Many feminists have bemoaned how the mother is always dead before the curtain goes up in so many folk tales, and it can look pretty misogynistic if you don’t understand the deeper meaning…  Read more

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Abraham’s Path: The Ambiguous Way

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Abraham’s Path: The Ambiguous Way. Join us 6/12/14 http://www.facebook.com/events/403867586418328

Working closely with Baba Yaga lately, ambiguity has been one of the central themes.  I was thrilled at the release of Maleficent, and seeing an ambiguous female character portrayed sympathetically is huge, I tell you, HUGE.  Ambiguity is something that is central to the Wise Woman tradition and all of the Life/Death/Life goddesses (who are the most powerful).  Yet its something that women, caught in the crossfires of Maddona/Whore syndrome, have had little societal support to step in to.

In thinking about this, I’ve turned to the stories that brought me to the ball to begin with:  those of the Abrahamic tradition.  The story of Abraham is a story of ambiguity, questioning, and uncertainty.  How very odd that the traditions that followed are now so marked by black & white thinking and claims to certainty.  I think its time to look at these stories again and work from there.

I’ve republished one of my first blogs from 2009:

“Abraham’s relationship to God is marked by great sacrifices: to ask a tribal desert-dweller to leave their family and society is worse than death. Indeed, what makes Abraham’s story so relevant to our lives today is that even now we still find this to be a terribly frightening prospect. We define ourselves by our families, our culture, our geography, our language, our food, the religious practice we were raised with… Abraham left all of these things and embarked on a unique path. He would not lose that rugged individualism and continued to live and act in ways that were far from the societal norms, but were in alignment with the convictions of his heart, and his relationship with his Creator. Abraham shows us that questioning does not necessarily mean the dissection and death of faith, but is rather the basis and edification of True faith.”

Read the full blog post on The Deeper Marriage.

 

Start the revolution: Love You Now

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I spent all day yesterday not writing this post.  I twiddled with my website instead.  A grand procrastination tool- do something “productive” instead of doing what you know you must.

It didn’t work very well, though, since tooling around my website just brings the issue back up again.   It left me agitated and unfulfilled.  When J asked how my day had been, my lackluster response got him asking more questions- but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Not really.  Or I wouldn’t.

“I’m having a hard time cutting lose the academic coaching stuff.” is what I told him instead, “I hid it from view, but I didn’t delete it.  I don’t know why I’m having a hard time letting it go.” I said.  But truth be told, I do know. Letting it go means I’m making room to fully move in another direction with my practice.  Its positioning myself to fully commit to working with loving our bodies and healing our distorted images and perceptions of our bodies.  I’m scared to do that.  There are many things that feed my fear:

My story with my body and all the ways it didn’t fit– regardless of how trim and fit and healthy it was or wasn’t–is a long one that I’ll write more about in another post, but the foundational lack of acceptance I felt as a result of that makes things scary.  I do them anyway, but I’m scared while I do it.

I’ve seen people that look totally normal to me get ripped to shreds for daring to speak about the unspoken when they’re supposedly carrying 20 extra pounds.  I’m carrying far more than that.  I’m afraid that speaking up about loving our bodies from the inside instead of judging them from the outside is going to draw this intense judgement and hatred.  How dare I love myself even though I don’t look like a photoshopped image from a magazine?? How dare I take up space for anything other than pubescent sexual fantasies?

Who am I to talk about loving this body I’m in when its so far from the beauty ideal?

How can I say I’m friends with my body when I have all this extra weight to carry and the strain that puts on my knees and hips?

I’m frustrated by the shame and fear I feel at the double-bind that western women are in: that we are only allowed to occupy space– especially public space– if we are adhering to ridiculous and imaginary standards of beauty and desirability.   How often are women’s ideas and work minimized because of looks?  “Aw, why listen to that fat-ass?”  “Who cares what she says- she’s ugly/old.” (as if they are the same thing for a woman)

Yet if a woman is beautiful, the assumption is that she’s stupid, so she’ll have to work equally hard to be taken seriously.  Fatima Mernissi spends quite a bit of time on this western separation of beauty and brains in her book Scheherezade Goes West. Around page 90 she spends time with Kant and his ideas that beauty and intelligence shall never in the same vessel reside. It is a shocking revelation to this Moroccan feminist, since in the Arabic cultural paradigm, a woman cannot truly be becoming unless she is intelligent.

Added on top of that is the danger we’re in if we meet the beauty ideal.  Its a lose-lose-lose for women.  I realized last night that my resistance to this has been passive-aggressive.  I have used weight as a shield to keep me safe.  Since all those that molested me as a child and assaulted me as an adult cited that I was “just so pretty [they] couldn’t resist”, then it makes sense that my body has clung to weight regardless of my exercise and eating habits.  I’ve known this for years.  I hadn’t acknowledged before how passive-aggressive this form of resistance/protection is, though.

What so much of it boils down to is this: I’m afraid of being shamed for loving myself just as I am.  In the realm of the Taliban, a woman with a book threatens the societal order.  In ours, its a woman that truly loves herself– and her body– just as she is.

And the double-bind is itself in a double-bind.  Those that deny women’s continued oppression will be angry at me for speaking of it.  Those that recognize the oppression will be angry at me for feeling shame and fear around it.  Both sides will tell me I am not allowed to feel vulnerable.  My shame and fear, once spoken, is somehow a threat to them.

Yet part of loving myself fully is recognizing the shame and fear and allowing it to be there.  I know that doing this means it is no longer operating the car of my life from the backseat.  Recognizing that its there, allowing it to be there, understanding that its there and having empathy for myself for having it- despite my academic training and all I know about how it shouldn’t be there and how I should be over it and how as a strong woman I shouldn’t let it effect me, it is there and I’m not sure how over it I am, and it does impact me.  I will love and honor myself anyway.  Maybe even because of.

It was a huge relief to speak this out last night, and as I drifted off, I knew I had to write this today.

This morning, I awoke to an email from one of the World Academy members in China.  The WAFW is showing the film Girl Rising on the SIAS campus right now, and she was deeply inspired by the film and wants to visit her old school and encourage students to continue their studies (instead of dropping out to get married or go work in a factory).  Though she finishes by telling me that she feels she needs to improve herself more before she can help others improve themselves.  The “No, no, no, honey, no” that wells up in me is so strong and immediate, there is no mistaking that the words are for me as much as they are for her.

“This idea is a trap.  If you do it right, you’ll be improving yourself your whole life.  Don’t wait until you’re done to start helping others.  That implies that you’re broken and need to be fixed.  You’re not broken.  The issues you’re dealing with will be the ones that will give you the deepest insight to help others. There will always be people ahead of you on the path that can help, there will always be people behind you on the path that need help. Get the help you need, give the help to others that they need.”

Time, again, to follow my own advice.  And in keeping with Mercury in Retrograde and the oil I’m working with this week, time to release– release these fears’ hold over me.  I learned in China that my fears don’t mean much.  Those that came true were insignificant in light of the work that I was doing, and the ones that I was the most afraid of were so ludicrously detached from reality as to be meaningless.  Its time to release them.  To forgive myself for the ways I’ve held on to them.  For the times when I sat still because they told me to instead of rebelling against them and doing what my heart called me to do.  Time for me to release the resentment and forgive those that have fed those fears in me.  Those that have and would punish me for not being ruled by them.

So I’m moving through the fire of my fear, and its burning off my clothes and leaves me standing here naked before you.  Judge me if you will, and people will, but know that that same fire has made me stronger, and hatched some dragons that take my protection–and my blooming– pretty seriously.   

 

So it was good that happened?

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I’ve got these–wait–I had these click-together wire mesh storage cubes in my closet.  Bought them I-don’t-know-when because I didn’t have money for a chest of drawers.  They’ve moved with me from place to place, and by the time I got a chest of drawers, I had too many clothes to fit in them, so they were used for things that don’t fold on a shelf, and all my folding clothes have gone in the wire cubes.

Then this guy–this amazing guy–came into my life last year and before I know it, he’s here all the time and I’ve got to find space for him to keep some clothes around because even engineers will notice if you come into work in one set of clothes and come back from lunch in another.  I had no idea how.  I’d combined drawers to make some room- but now I had drawers so crammed I could hardly get them opened or closed.

So a closet already over-stuffed with hanging clothes, folding clothes, shoes, bags, purses and scarves needed to hold just a little bit more… especially since I’d taken to buying him sweaters on a fairly regular basis.

The cubes are, well, were stacked about 7′ high on one wall of my closet.  They’re bound together with things like hairbands and long twisty-ties.  Its all very scientific and precise. High Klass. Nothing but High Klass.  There’s a shoe organizer that’s more stable (slightly more) propping it all up on the door side.  I know its propping it up because when I wanted to move said shoe organizer to the downstairs closet so I’d stop having pairs of shoes all over the place, the cube-topia groaned.  The shoe tree is a load-bearing wall. It would have to stay, and I’d renew my vow to carry shoes upstairs every night. Again. Even if it meant two trips.

Last week, as we rushed to get out of the house before paying guests arrived, the button on the back of my jeans caught on the corner of one of the cubes. I stopped immediately, but I knew.  I knew it was too late.  It was.  There was a groan as I turned around… it waited for me to fully turn before collapsing so that I could see it happen in play-by-play, agothe screamnizing, slow motion.

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

I just wanted to cry.  I was stressed out. Tired. Exhausted. Had way too much to do and far too little time to do it in.  I wanted to give up.  I didn’t want to go to the wine-tasting event my friend was having, I just wanted to go to J’s and lay in my pajamas and watch “The Vicar of Dibley” and cry into a glass of wine.

“No. No. No. No, you can’t. You just can’t!”

J came running up the stairs to make sure I was okay.  He rubbed between my shoulder blades- soothing the back door of my heart. Its what he does when I’m freaking out. He’s very good at it.

It worked.  I didn’t collapse into a similar pile on the floor.

“Well. Its not going to clean itself,”  I sighed.

I tried to pull it up. Tried to sort it out.  We hadn’t even finished packing to spend the week at his place. I realized that there was no cleaning this up quickly.  Everything would have to be toted out before any sense could be made of it.

We began pulling out the cube walls we could get to so that I could at least get at some of the clothes.  They were stacked under the bed and the corner knobs tossed in the nightstand drawer.  I managed to pull some clothes out and get them into my carpet bag.  No matching all packed components this time.  It was grab what-cha-can. I made sure I had at least one matching business-appropriate outfit for my Monday appointments and would just have to search more when I came round to scoop the cat box.

Being who I am, doing what I do, the metaphor of this collapsing closet didn’t escape me.  I spent the week mulling and meditating on it… a system that was not designed to handle the load it was being asked to carry collapsed.  At the worst possible time (as they do).

After the guests checked out, I went hunting for organizational systems.  “This time I’ll get something more substantial.  I’ll really organize it the way I’d like,” I thought.  I spent time on the interwebs looking at all sorts of closet organizing ideas.  Closets so cute you could live in them. Work in them.  I thought I’d do something not so cute, but equally drawer-y, shelf-y, pull-out-rack-y.  Til I saw that we could spend the weekend in SanFran for what that’d set me back.  My vision became more minimalistic.  Sturdiness was the central requirement.

Even my minimalistic revisions were further amended standing in the discount aisles looking at storage systems.  I settled for two plastic 4-shelf racks intended for the garage, a clear 3-drawer caddy, 3 shower rods, and some packages of s-hooks.

Standing before the aftermath, I felt completely overwhelmed.  Where to start? I started hauling clothes out of the closet and sorting them into (wrinkled, chaotic) piles on the bed.  That’s all it took. Getting started.  Once I started moving, the momentum kept me going.  Ideas started popping. Things were shifted. Scooted.  Moved. Rearranged.

By the time it was all done, all my shoes, purses, and scarves were now housed in the downstairs shower.  It didn’t get used anymore since my son moved out and I converted the downstairs bedroom into my office.  Perfect.  Now I wouldn’t have to haul shoes, scarves & purses upstairs anymore.  They could get changed and donned downstairs- which is where it always happened anyway.

The shifts opened up two racks and four drawers for J to use.  My closet was so open I had room to put a folding chair in there so I wouldn’t have to sit on the bed to wriggle into hose if getting ready before J had to be up.  The space! The air!  Now I could organize my clothes again by type then color– as I liked to– instead of by length, which the old system had required.  Did I mention that moving the shoes downstairs meant I could use the over-the-door  shoe organizer for hosiery and hats? Well, I did. Also organized by type and color so that I could find what I need without turning on a light for early-morning appointments.

I’m not a clothes-hoarder if things are neat and systematically organized, right?

When J got home from work, I couldn’t wait to show him the results of my day.  I wanted him to behold the order I’d shaped from the chaos.  He was shown the coat closet, then the shower-now-accessory closet, then taken upstairs to see the spare drawers and racks in the armoire, to the glory of my closet.  No pjs on the floor.  No shoes thrown in the back. Rainbows of color. All the skirts together, all the sweaters together, all the shirts together, all the dresses together. Order.

“So it’s good it collapsed, huh?” he said, rubbing my back.

“Yes.  Yes, it is.”

(There’s a metaphor in there… apply where needed.)

Abrahamic Space

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I love the Islamic depiction of Abraham. Though the Christian tradition portrayed him as so sure and certain, I had come to know Abraham through my prayer and meditation as a figure that struggled perpetually to find the Truth. One who wrestled and agonized, who God continued to challenge throughout his life.

“Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” is the beginning of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12. This pushes him to continue to spend his life in that space in between… finding solace in neither This- not yet knowing where That is, he must negotiate a space somewhere in the middle. Though he loved his father dearly, he could not abide with the idolatry that was not only a part of his society, but had put food in his belly and a roof over his head all of his life. He literally becomes a voice in the wilderness- leaving his family and society behind to go find God.

The rest of the promise in Genesis 12 is that of making him a great nation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, beginning the story of Abraham with this great promise lays a foundation of certainty. Yet though the promise gave him the strength and courage to leave behind his home and family, surely he wrestled with it. The idea of him puffing his chest out with pride and arrogant assurance, pushing the villagers aside as he set off to establish a nation is absurd.

He left with a heavy heart. The Qur’an tells us in many places of how he continued to pray for his father over the years.

The Qur’anic depiction in Al-An’am beginning at 6:74 of Abraham’s leaving home and beginning his search in the desert is so poignant, so tender and human. There were likely many who did not believe in the idols, who saw the vanity of the practice, but did not act upon it. In acting in line with his convictions–despite the social consequences–Abraham is shown the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth. The veils are dropped from his eyes so that his heart would be strengthened.

There is the certainty of knowing that the idols are false, but when darkness falls, he searches for light- only to be disappointed when faced with the temporal nature of the stars. His repulsion for that which sets sends him to expand his search- to look beyond, to look under, to find that which is bigger. He turns to the moon, only to realize that he’s made the same mistake. “Surely if You do not guide me I will be of those who go astray” he calls to God. The search and the struggle of the search help him build his relationship with God. Each verse indicates hours and days watching, questioning, nights awake searching the heavens. Questions, answers, questioning the answers…

Though frightened and unsure, Abraham pressed on. He left all he’d ever known–the physical “certainties”–to search for something that existed only in his heart. He was scared, but still he went. This is what makes Abraham so inspiring as a religious character, and so prescient as a role model. This is where his faith and bravery lies: though he was scared, still he followed. Though he had no physical proof, still he had faith in that to which his heart alone attested. Though his mind fluttered and whirred, still he did not leave the tree that had sprouted from the convictions of his heart. Each time his mind returned to the branch, the tree strengthened, the roots deepened, and he was brought closer to God.

Abraham’s relationship to God is marked by great sacrifices: to ask a tribal desert-dweller to leave their family and society is worse than death. Indeed, what makes Abraham’s story so relevant to our lives today is that even now we still find this to be a terribly frightening prospect. We define ourselves by our families, our culture, our geography, our language, our food, the religious practice we were raised with… Abraham left all of these things and embarked on a unique path. He would not lose that rugged individualism and continued to live and act in ways that were far from the societal norms, but were in alignment with the convictions of his heart, and his relationship with his Creator. Abraham shows us that questioning does not necessarily mean the dissection and death of faith, but is rather the basis and edification of True faith.

In working with Muslim immigrant families while living in The Netherlands, I saw these children and youth- who others saw as caught between two worlds- as living in Abrahamic Space. Little did I know at the time that 5 times a day they asked God to help them follow the Path of Abraham as part of their daily prayers. I often wonder if Muslims ever think about what that really means… to leave not only your country, but your father’s house… to wander in the desert-exposed to every danger imaginable- in order to find God.

I wonder how many believers of any faith think about the amount of questioning Abraham engaged in to become so close to God… If we really consider the magnitude of the actions that he took as a result of the answers he received… If we ever wonder how religions founded by someone so unique, intellectually curious, and individualistic could become so rigidly conformist and anti-intellectual… how we could ever come to fear that space in between- that Abrahamic Space of the Middle Way.

Center stage: Storm. Healing: enter stage left.

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Went to go see Oz, The Great and Powerful last night. Came in this morning to write some of my musings– (J and I had a great discussion comparing Oz with The Artist. Or rather, he was defending the cad-ish qualities of the main character, and in my insisting that the differences in this cad and that cad were significant, I realized that the films are actually quite similar in theme and talked about it –out loud–to myself for a while as he looked on with a sometimes inquisitive, sometimes confused, sometimes irritated look on his face)– and I saw this in my FB feed: Thanks to Elict the Greatness Within for this story!

I couldn’t have put together a better Thursday morning post if I tried.  Thursday does mean “Thor’s day”, after the Nordic god Thor.  Usually when we think of Thor, we think of giant, mountain-crushing hammers, and hot blondes (though legend usually ascribes him as a ginger), thunder and lightening, and terrible, terrible storms.

What we don’t usually think of is how Thor, being the son of the head-god Odin and the earth, is a protector of humanity, a healer, and one who makes things sacred.

I remember sitting in my etymology classes in high school thinking that gods & goddesses had the most random collection of things they were associated with.  God of storms & protection? Healing & hallows? What the hel?  But as so beautifully demonstrated in the life of James Harrison, above, the storms or sicknesses in our lives lead to the healing that enables us to make life hallowed for ourselves and others.

This is a fact of being human.  Its why its represented in stories like Oz, where the storm brings opened perception for the Wizard and for Dorothy, and why storms and healing are so often coupled in the religious stories of the world.

How have the storms in your life opened your perception of the world?  Moved you from silence to sound, from black & white to full color?  How have your hurts and trauma enabled you to help others?  How could they?

Looking back to move ahead

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After all the bustle and festivities of the holiday season in December, January can feel a bit like a hangover.  The twinkling lights that brought so much pleasure are the source of frustration and scratches and scrapes as they have to be pulled from trees and bushes, the ornaments wrapped safely so they’ll be there next year, the garland twirled at the bottom of the box to act as a cushion.

Many people set to making resolutions; others seem equally invested in denouncing these promises to ourselves as fruitless, seeing them as an exercise in self-flagellation instead of a call to our higher selves. How and why do our resolutions turn into instruments of self-torture?  Why don’t we keep our promises to ourselves?

Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and transitions

January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions who is also seen as the god of doorways, thresholds and gates.  Perched at the beginning of the year, one face looks behind at the past, the next is set on the future.  In ancient times, he was invoked at the beginning of most rituals, as he held watch over heaven and all the other gods, and was an important part of harvest and marriage ceremonies.

Janus is also reported to have minted the first coins- a nod towards the importance of our invoking what he represents for all of our transactions and manifestations.  Yet how many of us cross the threshold of a new year, open the gate to a new era in our lives, or move through the doorway into a new venture or relationship and want to “never look back”?  Does it really work like that? Why don’t we want to look back? Are we afraid of something? Do we think that looking at the past will somehow suck us back in to it?

How does this approach to a new year show up in our daily lives? So often in my work with clients, I urge them to develop a Janus perspective when setting goals.  It becomes very easy to get bogged down when only focusing on all that needs to be done. When that to-do list is long, it can be incredibly easy to become disheartened and feel like we’re making no progress at all because the list never seems to get any shorter.

Its when we look behind us and recognize what we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve come that we become encouraged to keep moving forward and empowered to take the requisite steps to achieve our goals.  It cultivates gratitude, and builds self-esteem.  We’re gathering proof of what we’re capable of, writing a story where we take care of business and figure out solutions to problems that threatened to overwhelm us.

I’ve found that incorporating recognition of my achievements into my weekly goal setting session not only inspires me and builds my confidence, but helps me in setting realistic and attainable goals.  How many negative stories I’d get caught in and pull myself down with simply because I wasn’t taking the time to really look at how my time was being spent, how many components were actually involved in a project, and the reality of how I moved through my week and my life!

It’s important to examine our mindset at beginnings.  So often, we think that changing our material circumstances is the answer to our problems, not recognizing that, actually, our mindset interprets and thus creates our circumstances.  How upsetting it is to see how many people posted negatively about 2012 on Facebook, then layed out expectations for 2013 to be better…  sorry, ya’ll, but if you’re not finishing the year mining for the good to bring with you to the next, you’ll find little good to come.

There is a story about a man that was sitting on the porch of a general store at the entrance of a small town.  A family on vacation pulled in to stretch and get snacks.  The father approached the man and said “What are people like around here? We’re thinking of moving somewhere before the kids start school.”

“Well,” thought the man, “what are people like where you are now?”

“Oh, they’re terrible!  They’re cold and selfish and would just as soon kick you in the teeth than help you.”

“That’s what they’re like here,” the man replied.

The father thanked him for his insight and they moved on.

A little while later, another family pulled in to the general store.  While the mother took the daughter inside to go to the bathroom, the father wandered over to the man on the front porch.

“You from here?” he asked the man.

“Yes, I am.”

“What are folks like in these parts?  Sometimes we think we’d like to leave the city.”

“Well, what are folks like where you are?” the man asked.

“Oh, we’re in a great neighborhood.  People are friendly and look after each other.”

“That’s what they’re like here, too.” the man replied.

What stories are you telling yourself about what people are like, who you are, what you’re capable of? What stories have you bought in to about what is possible or even likely?  How does that effect what you see and how you interpret what you experience?  Pausing at the beginning to take a look back before we move forward can help us to keep what’s working and fix or leave behind what isn’t. It raises our awareness of ourselves and our lives so we don’t move forward on autopilot, then wonder why we keep finding ourselves back where we’d worked so hard to leave behind.