Tag Archives: stress management

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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My body is not a problem to solve.

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When I was still living in Memphis, there was a woman, Barbara I met through the International Education  department that I bonded with immediately.  Neither of us were stick figures, and often complained to each other about the unsolicited “helpful advice” we got from strangers.  Both of us ate healthily and went to the gym at least 5 times a week, yet people made assumptions and felt compelled to shove metaphorical pamphlets in our hand about eating and exercise like those fundamentalists that stand on the corner on Bourbon Street and tell people the error of their drunken ways.  

One of my friends, T, never got such advice, though she was one of the most unhealthy people I knew.  I parked in the farthest parking lot so I could get at least a mile in just walking to and from my car, while she got several parking tickets a month for trying to park as close as possible to her classes.  She would have driven her car into an elevator if they’d let her.  She smoked 2 packs a day, had double cheeseburgers for dinner regularly and never exercised.  But she was a size 5 or something, so no one ever gave her a lecture about how they were “concerned for her health”… she met the beauty ideal, and that was all that mattered.

 

One night at a party, someone started their health-preaching at Barbara and she replied, “My body is not a topic of conversation.” When they kept on, she walked away.  I was stunned. And in awe.  How did she do that???  As compelled as people were to give me health advice, I was compelled to tell them all that I already did– far more than they suggested.  I did not sit on my butt all day eating twinkies, as they seemed to think.  It is not a simple formula- bodies are complex and far more goes into metabolism than most people care to think about.  

It bothered me deeply that people walked around thinking I was lazy.  That they insisted on holding on to simplistic ideas that don’t really work in the real world.  That they were judging me unfairly– based on a beauty standard that is only attainable with photoshop, rather than the health concern bullshit they claimed was their primary motivation.  It really, really REALLY bothered me.  So I was stunned that Barbara could shut them down that quickly and not set them straight.  That she could take her body off the table completely and not even engage in the topic.

As much as I resented that my body rather than my writing, my painting, my cooking, or my intellect were the focus of so many people’s view of me, I couldn’t drop it any more than they could.  I didn’t know how to take it off the table.  Three years in hijab would teach me how many years later, but that’s another story for another post.

What Barbara understood all those years ago that I’ve just picked up recently is articulated beautifully by Michele Lisenbury Christensen in her work on the elements of Masculine and Feminine Power.  To listen to her speak on the topic, check out the Shero’s School for Revolutionaries.   Regardless of our sex (or gender for that matter) we need a balance of the masculine and feminine to be healthy and truly functional, yet our society is heavily swayed towards the masculine.  

One of the paradigms she discusses is Providing  (masculine) & Nurturing  (feminine).  This pertains to the way we relate to others.  I would add that it also applies to how we relate to ourselves.  In explaining, Michele asked: “Do I hold you as a problem to be fixed, or a person?  

“Are resources needed here?  Or listening? Holding?

She went on to discuss how distorted Providing is that mean voice in our head that provides perpetual commentary, criticism, and “suggestions for improvement”.  I realize that it was my full identification with that mean voice in my head in my 20s that compelled me to engage with people in a topic I didn’t think should be brought up to begin with– my body.  Interesting that for the decade I was in The Netherlands–where its considered incredibly rude to talk about someone’s body or presume about their personal habits– no one talked about my body and weight came off.  I no longer felt fat, I no longer focused on the fat, so the fat went away.  I often wondered- in this land where I was on the short side of average instead of a looming Amazon woman 3 heads taller than most other women– if I’d grown up there if I ever would have developed the body image issues that led to the weight gain.  I thought I was fat, so I eventually became fat.  A little weight gain in my pre-eclampsic pregnancy, and others began to agree with me.  I took that on, and the weight came on even more.  The harder I worked to get rid of it, the more my metabolism slowed and the more stubborn the weight was.  Like the child told they will go nowhere losing all ambition, my body resolved to the fat label put upon it. 

 

We are so trained to do something.  All the time.  With everything.  We have great difficulty just being with something.   It bleeds into every area of our lives, and damages our relationships and erodes our peace of mind. Our Puritan heritage preaches that its not okay to let things just Be.  Its lazy.  Its permissive.  Its the door to chaos.  Anarchy.  Society will totally crumble if we’re not ever-vigilant.  If we don’t judge often and quickly, and condemn accordingly.  The papers are full of it, the news is full of it, and our heads are full of it. 

Thing is, its a lie.  A big fat hairy puss-filled seething boil of a lie.  It doesn’t make us better.  It deepens our shame and makes us worse.  It is the thing that takes us away from what we want directly into what we say we won’t tolerate. Pounding on a treadmill because we think we’re fat will keep us fat.  Loving our body and moving it in ways that bring us joy will bring us to Health.

Its work learning to be with your body.  Learning to be with your emotions.  Not analyze, not fix, not work on or improve, just Be.  Whether or not you were raised in a religion, bad churching has informed every part of our society.  We have this idea that if you’re doing it right, life will be easy.  If your life has difficulty, then you must have done something wrong.  I don’t know how that idea came from a religion with a guy being persecuted by both the fundamentalists of his own religion and the colonialist government in place to the point of dying the death saved only for traitors and terrorists, but it did.   So we pathologize all sorts of things that are perfectly normal, and in fact necessary for our development.  We think if we’re uncomfortable, there must be something wrong.  We numb by analyzing, diverting attention, eating, drinking, -holicism– anything really to avoid just being in our bodies and just feeling our emotions. 

Its caused a deficit of empathy in our society.  We don’t want to feel bad, so we default to distorted Providing instead of Nurturing.  We view everything and everyone– including ourselves and our emotions–as problems to be fixed rather than creatures to be held.  Its backwards.  Maybe there is a problem, maybe resources are needed, but if the connection isn’t made with the Being first, then the solutions applied will be oppressive rather empowering, and they will eventually backfire. 

My body reminded me of this in its latest letter to me.   Its voice is the exact opposite from the voice in my head: its loving and supportive.  There is a gentle strength that is so soothing and enlivening. Though I was raised in an environment where we went to church 5 times a week, my relationship with my body is my first real experience with agape.  At the time of the letter, I’d been focusing too intently on the symbolic meaning of things and it was getting stressful as I strove to figure it all out. “I appreciate your commitment to listening to me and learning my language” she said, ” but I am not a puzzle to be solved.  I am not a problem to be fixed.  Just love me. Listen to me, and we’ll figure it out as we go along.  You’re smart and you’re listening.  Don’t worry that you’ll miss it. I’ll let you know.”

Remember the same in your own walk and development.  As you’re learning to listen and working on the relationship you have with your body and your emotions, release the drive to do something with what comes up– create space where it can just be first.  So often, just allowing it to Be is the solution…

 

This is my body, this is my home…

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Baubo

This year, the AZ Goddess Conference honored Baubo, a goddess of belly laughs and body wisdom.   Baubo is bawdy and wise, strong and confident, deeply centered in her body, and wherever she shows up, she reconnects women to their power and creativity.  No coincidence that she draws attention to the woman’s belly and speaks through the vulva– the portal of all human life on this planet.

Any supermarket line–or facebook sidebar–screams messages to tame your tummy, bind your belly, suck in your stomach, hold it in, keep it in or face the consequences.  We’re willingly buying things called spanx as an aid (or punishment) in this struggle against our bodies.  In many representations, Baubo’s third eye is a navel.  How does it impact our own connection to our intuition if we’re treating the locus of our intuition as an enemy to be defeated? If it must be spanxed into submission? Tamed? Controlled? Sucked-in?

Anxiety, fear, compulsion, depression, addiction– these are the natural human reactions to feeling disconnected from ourselves and others.  The first step to stopping these reactions is to connect with ourselves.  To connect with our bodies.

Dineta Williams led the workshop before mine in the Sunshine House at the Peaceful Spirit Enrichment Center Saturday morning. She’s been working with the The Woman’s Belly Book and taught us a chant that continued to resonate with me throughout the retreat.  Say it with me.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Put your hands on your belly.  Rub it lovingly like the precious thing it is and let’s do it again-

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

As we continued to repeat the chant, I felt my connection to my body grow.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Feelings of disconnect and floating began to wash away.  Being a deep-thinking progressive raised in an abusive environment in a conservative family in a traditional region, I’ve done a lot of moving around and travelling trying to find the place where I belong.  I’ve studied multiple religions looking for my home.  I’ve gone through multiple relationships searching for the place where I could settle down.  In the past decade, there’s been much more peace, but the search has left its scars.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, home was here all along…

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

And the insanity and tragedy and comedy of all those years of feeling so alone and lost begin to wash over me.  The fears of not being supported and loved revealed for their meaninglessness.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Our homelessness epidemic begins with our own embodiment.  The recession pushing people on to the street while houses stand empty becomes a metaphor for our own state of being.  Perfectly good dwellings stand empty and in disrepair while people drift in sorrow, disconnected from their lives and those they thought they loved and loved them.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

My body, its voice so loving and supportive, is always here for me.  Even when I can’t bear the pain (psychological or physical) of what is happening in a moment– I leave, but my body stays.  My body bears it for me- feels it all.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Gratitude flows.  Love grows.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

In my workshop, we went deeper into listening to our bodies.  The basis of gratitude and love makes this much easier- after all, do you share much with someone that’s always putting you down?  The body doesn’t withhold the information, but our attitude towards it severs the lines of communication.  Yet its listening to the body that connects us to the intuition– the stuff fairy godmothers and fairies are made of.  Its this connection that helps the sheroes of folk- and fairytales to get impossible loads of work done and achieve immense tasks.

That evening, we had a ceremony to honor our bellies.  Each of us was called to come to the middle of the circle, raise our skirt/shirt like Baubo and show our bellies to the group, then say where our power comes from.  We could also tell a bad joke if we wanted to.  There was a basket of jokes on the table in the center to help those of us that can never remember the punchline.

It was one of the most empowering, fun and funny rituals I’ve ever taken part in.  Everyone looked like little kids to me– raising their shirt to show their bellies to us all.  Rubbing and patting them.  The woman that went before me really inspired me.  “This really scares me, but since my divorce I promised myself to face my fears, so here I go–” she said before she raised her shirt.  It was so beautiful.  With each belly bared, we whooped and cheered and clapped.

I stepped up.  I raised up my dress “Here’s my bell-eh”, I said as I held my dress up with one hand and began to move the pants I wore under down a bit (I’m not very good at being lady-like, so I tend to wear something under dresses).  “But wait, you’ve got to see the whooooole thing–” as I moved the pants down on the sides to show the full expanse of my apron- as I call it “–or you haven’t seen it at all.”

I surprised myself.  I’ve come to accept my paunch, to see my stretchmarks as battlescars rather than evidence of damaged goods, but the side-flaps?  I have trouble with those.  My partner in Holland used to play with them when we were cuddled on the couch watching TV.  I hated it.  “Why?” he would ask.  “They’re so soft and fun!”  I could only see what a great departure they were from the flat belly I’d had as a teenager–he only part of my body I didn’t feel ashamed of… my family regularly called me thunder thighs and bubble butt.  The kids at school made fun of my ski-slope nose.  I wouldn’t wear sandals because of the weird toenail that’d been ripped off when I was a toddler.  My mom told me I had the ankles of a football player.  My wrists were too thick for most women’s jewelry and watches because of our Dutch bones– my height leaving me in the decidedly un-feminine position of being as tall or taller than most boys. To say nothing of having an hourglass figure in an era when androgyny was in fashion…. but my stomach.  My stomach was flat.  My hips poked up when I laid flat.   My stomach was the only part I’d never been ashamed of.  Losing it in child bearing sunk me into a place of complete defensiveness for YEARS.  The coining of the term FUPA hasn’t helped.  Hiding it is my main fashion objective.  And here I was, pulling my pants down on the side so that everyone could see it.

“You have to see the full breadth of it.  You have to see it all to love this belly. ” The group roared with applause.  “This belly of mine that birthed a beautiful baby boy.  Held him so well that he was born well over 9 pounds and walked just after 8 months.  This belly did that.

“And my power?  Where does my power come from?  It comes from the place my laughter comes from.  The place that makes my belly shake HA HA HA” I thundered.  My belly laugh got everyone else laughing too “My power is from the place that gives me a laugh that “shakes the foundations of the buildings” (as one of the academy members in China described me) “may it shake the foundations of the walls and systems that keep us caged so that we can be free!”

What a rush!!!  It was amazing!

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

After we’d all shown our bellies and said where our power comes from, we got rattles and drums and sticks and chanted the mantra

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

We walked to the sanctuary to pick up gifts that were waiting for us on the altar.  As I was walking back, more on my own, I continued to chant

-This is my body-

Looking at the desert plants around me

-This is my home-

I felt the dust against the sides of my sandaled feet

-This is where I live-

and the bigness of this chant really began to resonate through me

-This is my body-

The earth and I are connected- I’d long noticed how the land in a region impacts the people that live on it

-This is my home-

The relationship that people,their culture, and their surroundings have and the ways they influence each other

-This is where I live-

The pride and love and sense of accomplishment that comes when we love something as our own.  The way we identify with it and tend it and devote our resources to looking after it.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Connecting with and loving our bodies isn’t just the key to our own happiness, health, and fulfillment– it is the foundation of the work of healing the planet and our societies.

So say it with me once again

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Say it till you feel it.  Repeat as necessary.

Fleeing failure

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Perusing through my old blog this morning for writing samples for a spirituality column and found this goodie from 04/19/09:

“Yeah, so the article said that when it comes to failure, there are two types of people;” my friend told me as she popped a piece of sushi in her mouth. She’s degreed in biology, and is forever feeding me fascinating tidbits on the wonders of creation. “There are those that deny failure. They blame, they avoid, they insist it wasn’t their fault, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’re being picked on, you name it.”

“Right. Prison is full of those.” I replied.

We laughed. “Right. Nothing changes for these deniers. The brain stays the same- no development.”

My eyes were wide, eager, as I dipped my roll in the wasabi-soaked sauce. Dichotomies, or dividing issues into two opposing categories, always make me suspicious. Not only is Life typically more complicated, thinking in dualities polarizes and divides us as people- pushing us to abandon middle ground and move to the extremes of left or right, this or that, for or against. I was ready to try to expand the two categories; to diversify.

“Then there are those that accept failure. They face it. Facing it and accepting it changes their brain. It opens neural pathways and pushes development forward.”

I lowered my chopsticks and sat back in the booth. “SubhanAllah.”

“Yeah, ’cause they’re looking to see ‘What did I do wrong?’ asking themselves ‘How can I do better?’ It changes you.”

So we don’t just learn from our mistakes, we need mistakes to learn.

For more than a decade, I have meditated heavily on the story of Adam and Eve. Indeed, the Qur’an’s insight into them was tremendously affirming for me and certainly played a role in my conversion. I had long seen the doctrine of Original Sin as being inherently evil in the way that it distances us from God, pushes us to identify with our egos instead of God’s Breath as the Truth of who we are, and justifies corrupt behavior (after all, if we are corrupt at our core, can we really ever hope to be anything other than corrupt? But if we have God’s Breath at our core, then evil is something we can win over and leave behind). I did not see any justification for Original Sin in the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, I read that story very differently from how I’d been taught.

The real problem was not so much that they ate the fruit- surely God knew that they would- the problem was that they did not take responsibility for what they had done. Adam blamed God and Eve, Eve blamed the snake. No one admitted to what they had done, no one repented.

When we refuse to acknowledge our mistakes, we begin engaging in all sorts of behaviors to justify ourselves, and this puts a distance between us and God. It affects our relationship with ourselves and with others. The word “Eden” means “Bliss”. So we can see that the story is showing us how we remove ourselves from the Bliss of God’s Presence when we refuse to take responsibility for our actions, when we don’t accept our failures. Blame blocks Bliss.

To return to the Garden, we need to face Truth and undergo purification. In the Genesis story, this is symbolized by the angel with the flaming sword guarding the gate. The Qur’an is very straightforward: Adam and Eve repented and were forgiven. They continued on to Earth, as was always the intention, and God provided sustenance and guidance.

The way the lines of Genesis are colored in by the Qur’an relieves us of the guilt attached to living on this planet, and assures us that it was always meant to be so. The stigma of making mistakes is lifted; “They slipped” is all that is said. We are assured on a variety of levels: making mistakes is part of being human, the Earth is not a prison but was always our intended dwelling place, and forgiveness is ours for the asking.

I had understood for quite some time that making the mistake was an integral part of the story- that, somehow, they could not go to the Earth until they did… but I didn’t understand why. In hearing the role that facing our mistakes and accepting failure plays in our brain’s development, so much falls into place.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. No wonder God tells us that if we cease to make mistakes and repent for them He will create a people that will… that we all make mistakes and the best of those that make mistakes are those who repent: to accept failure is to move forward. To move forward is to come closer to God. To become rigid, immersed in blame, afraid of change and failure, and convinced of our own piousness is to halt our development and begin moving away from God towards spiritual and intellectual death.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. How gloriously liberating! What a smack in the face of the Whisperer that is forever telling us how damned we are because we are not perfect. We needn’t ever be ashamed for making a mistake- only in not ADMITTING that we have made a mistake. Failure is not the problem, denying failure is the problem.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. What a demonstration of God’s Grace woven so intricately into our creation. God is indeed Greater- greater in Mercy and Forgiveness than we can even imagine.

As I saw in an article title: “Failure is not an option–Its Require

Walking through a Vulnerability Hangover

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home keyI’d had an amazing day.  Spent the morning in a Wise Woman Herbalism class where the teenager inside of me was giggling the whole time about how cool it was that I was sitting in the middle of the desert learning about deepening my healing relationship with plants.  Hard to imagine a place farther away from my fundamentalist WASP background.  The class and the women in it had been so affirmative of the body of knowledge growing inside of me throughout my life.  A confirmation of intuition’s power to train us up in the way we should go, and the collaborative support of Life around that.

Afterwards, I met some friends for a late lunch.  We’d laughed about how the only way we seem to be able to get together is when one of us calls 10 minutes away from the other’s freeway exit and a cascade of calling and coordination whirls us into the closest locally-owned gathering spot where we while away the hours over pitchers of sangria or pots of tea.

Got back home to melt into the couch and my sweetheart’s arms as we enjoyed the evening of “doing nothing” that we’d promised each other in the bridge of one fast-paced week and the next.  Made a phone call to some friends that had amazing news, and tossed around an idea I got about doing “storybook weddings” where I work with couples to find their totem animal, then write a folktale about it for their ceremony.  Flipping through my class binder, I got the idea to do a series of creative classes where we’d explore the different chakras and what feeds them and do craft projects based on that.

A beautiful day.

Pretty late, this voice began to streak through my head.  It told me that I hadn’t been as supportive of a friend going through a rough spot as I should have been. A bit later, it ran through again, dropping another bit of evidence of my unworthiness as a friend.  Another message came through.  At this point, I knew that the Saboteur was around.  It seems these ideas I’d had were really good ones, and the Saboteur showed up to undermine my confidence and convince me that no one wants what I have to offer.

When the Saboteur shows up, grab your flashlight. Whatever you do, don’t let it keep the lights off and hide in the Dark.

 

I used to call it “Splash Back”.  You know when you’ve finally realized you’re stuck in the mire, gathered the strength to get out of the mire, then found a bank to pull yourself up on-  once raised out of the muck, there is this splash back that laps up against your legs and knocks you off balance a little bit.  It feels like its trying to pull you back under.  Knowing that its there and what it is helps me to find my balance and stand firm.  Brene Brown called it a “vulnerability hangover” in her TED talk.  Love that term.  I knew precisely the space she was describing, and her giving language to it affirmed my experience that it was a means of pulling us backwards- and a natural part of the process.

Brene Brown: Listening to Shame

I’d had an amazing day.  I’d started something I’d always wanted to do- the Herbalism class- and the creative energy unleashed from that brought some ideas that’d been simmering under the surface to the boil.  I’d spent the afternoon in the warm, healing, glow of deep, authentic, emotionally intimate friendship.  The evening sinking deeper into that space on an even more intimate level.  And here it was.  This shame-laden voice flashing through my mind building a case that I’d fallen short of so many important tasks that I’d moved from doing a bad thing to being a bad thing.  As I’ve learned to do, I spoke it out loud.

If dark, shamed-filled voices are running through your head, speak out loud what they’re whispering.

 

Doing this in the presence of someone that you love and trust is even more powerful.  Speaking the shame-laden whispers aloud brings them in to the light.  They grow in the dark.  Bring them in to the light.  I’ve learned to do this in my relationship with my partner.  I know that he loves, respects, and honors me, so when I have some thought that suggests otherwise, I say it out loud so that I can see the look of surprise on his face and see just how untrue that thought was.

So I spoke it out loud.  I said what I was hearing, and J asked me where that was coming from.  The thoughts stopped then, but the feeling persisted.  I felt heavy.  Sad.  Lonely. Worthless.

Are you well-nourished, hydrated, and have you had enough rest?

 

I didn’t feel like I was tired enough to go to bed, so we pulled some stuff up on Netflix.  The feelings continued.  Part of me didn’t want to go to bed, but I began to realize that the feeling was likely feeding off my being tired.  I’d woken up earlier than usual that morning for the herbalism class.  I remembered the line in Vasilissa when the doll repeats “The morning is wiser than the evening”  so I decided to get ready for bed.

Go into gratitude

 

By the time I’m getting ready for bed, the feelings have spread from thoughts critical of my new project ideas to totally knocking out my present ones.  I breathed to create space around the thoughts and detach from them.  They’re not doing me any good, and clearly coming from a place that is not my friend.  J dropped off the minute his head hit the pillow, so I commenced to name the things I was grateful for that day quietly to myself.  I began with being grateful for the recycling trucks that came an hour earlier than usual and got me up just minutes before my alarm, to the amazing opportunity to study Wise Woman traditions, to my wonderful friends to my taste buds, and the dear man sleeping next to me.  I could feel the energy shifting more intensely with each counted blessing.  I fell asleep humming with a feeling of contentment and happiness.

Before waking up, I had a dream where I was working on a video project to expand education.  It was promoting a festive event we were doing.  The video was done- and was absolutely beautiful—but so serious.  “Look ya’ll, “ I told the team, “we’re promoting this fun event to help folks—we should show that first- let the fun get folks’ attention.”

What a great way to move through life!  Have fun and help people! Clicks so nicely into the messages I’ve been getting about not taking things so seriously.

Writing this as we’re on the road to Payson to enjoy nature and be able to take a hike in the shade. Gonna turn this idea around and see how I can bring my life better in alignment with that…

(post script: dropped my phone in a pool under the natural bridge and my car overheating meant driving back at 40mph with the heater blasting moving through the Arizona desert back to Mesa. But more on that later- wanted to get this up before I take my car in.  It was a beautiful day all the same.)

Dark places and hard times

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Was listening to a webinar yesterday led by Fabienne Frederickson on the breakthrough mindset of successful people, and she said something about “those times we’d rather not re-live.”  I was struck by her very careful word choice…  We all know the times she’s talking about: those times that squeeze and even pinch us.  The ones where we’re struggling to get a breath.  Where our sources of comfort turn brittle.

The places that show us that we’re still not over those abandonment issues. Where the sense of betrayal is so intense it becomes physically palpable.  I remember one such time, I literally heard my heart breaking.  It made a sound- like cloth being ripped down the middle.

I noticed that she didn’t say “those times we all wished had never happened” or “those times we’d rather forget”.  She said “those times we’d rather not re-live.”

There is an acknowledgment here.  A nodding to the difficulty, of course, but an awareness of the role that difficulty played in making us who we are today.  Like bones that need the muscles to pull on them and create resistance to keep them strong, so too do we need those difficult times to lengthen our souls so we can reach to the sky.

Remaining in that awareness keeps our heart and mind open so that we can effectively navigate the rocks and choppy waters when we’re in them.  In the tale of Vasilissa, the little doll in her pocket often replies “Say your prayers. Get your rest.  The morning is wiser than the evening.”

When we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, stepping back to surrender to the moment brings us peace.  That peace enables us to see solutions we would be blind to if we let anxiety and fear take over.  When anxiety reaches a certain level, it literally severs dendrite connections in the brain. When the anxiety levels reduce, the dendrites will reconnect- like a game of Red Rover.  Its easy to understand how rising fear and anxiety levels diminishes our ability to find the solutions right in front of us.  We need to find our rest.

Once rested, it all seems to fall in to place.  Things don’t seem as terrible as we’d thought. We’re on the other side; we got past the trolls under the bridge. We’ve made it through the night and find ourselves in the light of morning.

So was all that really necessary?  Did we have to go through all that to get here?  As Joseph Campbell would ask, what is the gift in that dark place?  (I love how this post handles that question!  I mean, what do you do when your hood pops up and smashes your windshield while driving down the road??  I got all kinds of messages from my closet collapsing, I can only imagine how much she was able to mine from that experience).Baba Yaga crashing through the forest

Returning to the story of Vasilissa, at first glance, it’d be easy to say that the work she’s forced to do for her step mother and step sisters and the work she does for Baba Yaga are equally soul-crushing, yet both are freeing her in different ways.  Both are teaching her vital lessons about who she is, who others are, and how the world works.  Both are teaching her about power- though in different ways.

It is because of this work, because of this hardship–not in spite of it– that Vasilissa is able to return home with the light of Wisdom gone before.  Because of having worked through the difficulties that this light- scary though it is- is her helpmate rather than an adversary.

For Christians, today is a yearly reminder of the power of those hard places and dark times.  Easter morning is a celebration of the triumph of the light, the return of spring after a hard and long winter–a theme in religions and cultures round the world and throughout recorded time… yet there would be no celebration had there not been the cave.  No heart-expanding world-shifting forgiveness had there not been such deep betrayal.  This is where the Christ figure paves the way and shows the example– release of bitterness when faced with persecution from those he’d helped.  Forgiveness at the hands of betrayal.  Reaching for connection in times of abandonment.

The tendency to close down and harden in such times is fierce.  To choose instead to open up and soften –after a period of solitude– unlocks a deeply transformative power into our lives and in those around us.

How do we do that?  Release our grip on resentment and bitterness.  See how we contributed to our relationship with the metaphorical step-families in our lives.   Look past our fear of the Baba Yagas to see what they gave us.  Choose openness and dialogue instead of walls and defenses.  Practice looking past what makes us afraid to the Love it has to offer.

Getting past the gatekeeper

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I’ve noticed that every time I am moving towards the next level, I have this attack of sorbridgetrollts.  I know I am not alone.  Finally make the decision to move on up by sending your CV out there, or get out of a relationship that’s not working, or ask for that raise you know you deserve and here it comes–  the negative head-chatter.  The judgmental family member/colleague that says out loud what you’ve been afraid of.  Self-sabotaging episodes.

“Who do you think you are?”

“What right do you have?”

“You’re just going to screw it up.”

Whatever your committee’s favorite shaming and fear-inducing phrases are, they’re in a near-constant loop.

Yet, push through and do it anyway, and the whole world opens up.  Nothing I was worried about happened, or if it did, it wasn’t a big deal.  Its like there are these boogeymen at each portal to the next level that make all this noise and try to scare me back, but actually have no power.  Harmless.  They’re just waving their arms and making noise, really.

In folk tales, there are no shortage of such creatures.  The reputations alone of these trolls under the bridges of our lives are often enough to keep us from even going near the bridge, let alone daring to cross it.  Yet it is in this daring that we survive.  Dare we not, and it is the fear that held us back that will consume us.  The negative, critical, searing questioning that will intensify and make the next bridge even more frightening to cross.

In the story of Vasilissa, our heroine is the victim of a plot intended to kill her.  She is sent to Baba Yaga’s house deep in the woods to get fire.  Frightened at the prospect of being eaten by Baba Yaga, Vasilissa arrives at the hag’s hut after a few days of traveling through the woods.  Even with all this time to mentally prepare, she’s still terrified when confronted by Baba at the gate.

…”Why are you here?” the Baba demanded.

“I live with my Stepmother at the edge of the woods, and we are in need of fire.” Vasilissa answered.

“Yes, yes.” Baba Yaga sneered, “I know your people.

“Why should I give you fire” she shot back.

“Because I asked.” Vasilissa replied.

 

She’s facing the horrible stuff of legends, and she doesn’t justify.  She doesn’t explain.  She doesn’t try to win pity points.  She simply asks for what she needs.

This takes ovarios.  And it works.

The Baba didn’t eat Vasilissa right there on the spot.  She didn’t eat Vasilissa at all.  But to be able to stand in the face of that kind of Wild Power and hold her own, Vasilissa had to know what she wanted.  Just knowing what we need is half the battle won.

When we know what it is we need, when we’ve connected to what happens if we don’t have what we need, courage comes much more easily.  The fear of going forward becomes less than the fear of turning back- and that’s all you need to get past the gatekeeper.