The Feminine Mystique: An Addendum

I am tired of people treating feminine rage like some sort of radical phase in the post-adolescent female, burning off as she matures and softens into society. Feminine anger, the most unattractive of traits, is a buzz-kill. It’s sophomoric and worn-out. It’s a bit too touchy.

The post-1970’s white feminist may have poured over the pages of Friedan and Hooks in college, but at some point she is expected to move on to other subjects. She may keep her Bikini Kill T-shirt in the back of the bottom drawer along with other keepsakes from her college days, she may blast Ani DiFranco when driving alone, or quote Audre Lorde on social media just so long as she can retire her tirade against patriarchy for underwire and mascara in the business meeting where 80% of the attendees are male. Just as long as she can hold her tongue when her husband’s colleague tows the line with innuendo and conjure a thin smile at the misogynistic undertones during dinner party banter. While we’ve demystified the feminine mystique, gas lighting has become a new form of subjugation. They don’t really mean it. You are too sensitive, too uptight. Come on, don’t ruin the party.

 After all, it’s not so bad here in our first world nation. Look at how far we’ve come. Women are autonomous, sexually liberated and politically powerful.

Except we aren’t.

We are just white women.

If she is fortunate, her education happens young. For most it’s not until adolescence or early adulthood that we become aware of the misogyny soup we all are wading in. Stage one of awakening occurs the moment she sees through new eyes what we are born into and conditioned to accept: thinly veiled male entitlement, even less disguised expectation that women be satisfied with less compensation, less respect, less accolades, less support, less recognition, a whole lot more work and all along maintaining a body like a centerfold. She begins to see how she herself has slut-shamed and victim-blamed. She sees the subtle and overt messaging that her smiles belong to men and so does her body. When she begins to unpack her own story she sees the story of all women, one that is raw and jarring.

When she awakens she sees that rape culture is what has allowed our country to devastate entire populations, turned flesh and bone into a statistic, demographics which we speak about in classrooms and on film and at fundraiser dinners. The daily infliction of violence upon ourselves through every act of ignorance and blind dollar spent to support the destruction of our natural habitat is mental illness, is soul-death, is sickness of the spirit. And she gets angry. In her youthful twenties, maybe she attends rallies and marches, gets involved in organizations mobilizing for social change and environmental justice, engages in meaningful debate, makes art, refuses to conform.

But the extent to which the masses continue to operate under illusion is so staggering, so maddening, that she becomes exhausted. Living year in and year out with this reality becomes too painful to bear. She burns with anger until it burns her out. Then there are college loans to repay. Or maybe she falls in love. Maybe she’s anxious about getting older. Maybe motherhood catches her off guard or maybe she lands a good job in a field she loves and decides its time to “grow up”. At some point, she slowly begins to put down her arms. Tired of fighting the war that her culture is hell bent on telling her doesn’t exist, she trades in her picket signs for stability.

After all, maybe she still can’t walk down the street without maintaining 360 degree awareness at all times but she can vote. She can do her job as well as any man (and just watch her prove it.) She can balance motherhood and a career and a marriage and her figure and her mental health, just watch her go. She’s been emancipated from the days spent barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, nevermind that it is still women by leaps and bounds who perform the majority of childcare and household chores within two parent households. Nevermind that she still makes 60 cents to every man’s dollar. She is still an empowered woman and she has good health insurance.

When she “settles down” or domesticates, enrolls in grad school, takes a decent job or finds a financially stable man, her family and friends breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe she tells herself she is still the same wild, liberated woman but instead of civil disobedience she plans play dates and business lunches. She might have a moment when she catches herself filling out paperwork, trading her last name for his – when she pauses and remembers her former self in contrast to her life now: combat boots and angry poetry stowed for the safety and comfort of the daily grind. But for the most part, the history she’s read and it no longer moves her. She still gets angry from time to time when she reads an article online but motherhood is all consuming and her career is finally taking off. Or maybe it’s taking everything she has just to get by. So she chooses instead to be grateful for all that she has. She reduces her use of plastics, buys local, practices yoga, meditates, supports environmental causes, represents at the polling booth. She embraces being a mom raising kids that will not the perpetuate bigotry and ignorance she sees in the world even while she accepts that she will always be the parent who misses work when the kid is sick. She turns off the news when it becomes too intense because she doesn’t need that negativity in her life. She is content with activism in smaller, quieter ways that don’t cost her friends, jobs, a marriage or financial security.

And then somewhere near middle age, though the trajectories vary, may come a second awakening. For some it may even be the first. Often accompanied by a loss, the dissolution of the illusion of security. The proverbial rug is pulled. She is shaken awake by betrayal, death, illness or her body being thrown into the tumult of the change of life. There comes some catalyst for her undoing. She may wake up one morning having devoted years to her children, to her husband and his career, to sacrificing her work and her passion to put her family first and feel anger. Raw, ugly, unacceptable anger – at the world, at those who have chosen differently or have had different opportunities, at the very inhabitants of her own home, those who she loves the most and for whom her mother’s heart would be bled dry. Anger that comes from deep inside and is directed everywhere and nowhere at once; anger toward the partner or a boss who has taken her for granted, the children (or lovers) with endless needs, over the years of forfeited self-care and sacrificing her deepest desires. Anger over all of the things she’s given up that she should not be tracking but she does. She doesn’t want to feel this way. She should be grateful. She knows she is privileged. But somehow the life that was so safe and comfortable becomes unbearable. And now everything she knows and loves it at stake. No one likes an angry woman; no one wants a bitter middle-aged, nasty woman. She is forced to choose whether to stay where she is and wither or whether to risk it all to reclaim the self she abandoned long ago.

She may stay or she may take a leap into the unknown. Or she may live many years in between, half alive, with the insidious symptomatic haunting of her own liberation.

And then.

Then there is a man on her television screen.

Suddenly all of the traumas, all of the abuses inflicted upon our sisterhood are embodied in one man standing behind a podium in front of the whole country. The basic rights of human beings, of women, of all disenfranchised people are besieged. Here a man is saying out loud all the things we have held in our bodies for years in silence, the things we were told when we were young were exaggeration, fabrication, misconception. Suddenly now we are staring into the face of oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable, against anyone lesser than the almighty white man. And there are people clapping, cheering, giving him money, saying he will make things right again.

If we are shocked, if we are reeling, it is because we have had the privilege of not being aware. If we are overwhelmed and dumbfounded with rage it is because we have been lucky enough to live in ignorance. This is not news to millions of our marginalized neighbors. This is the day they have lived in fear of daily and hoped would never come. If it is a revelation to anyone, it is to white people. Suddenly we feel there is so much at stake. But not everything that has been at stake for our sisters of color or their black brothers and neighbors dying in the streets. Not all that has been at stake for transgender, queer, gay, and lesbian fellow Americans and not for our immigrant or native families. We are shaken awake from our white person cocoon to a truth that millions have lived with every day.

The history we’ve heard and it no longer moved us. Until now.

Silence is not longer an option. Our silence has been complicit.

And now She will not be held back. She will no longer acquiesce. The Lioness is unleashed.

And so inevitably, is our grief.

Grief over what has been done to all of women kind, to their daughters and mothers and to the sons born to generations of battered women.

Grief over what we have been party to and perpetuated by ignorance or apathy. Grief that begins with a little girl and the grown men she had to fight off as a child but that predates her own birth by five thousand years. Grief over the pillage and rape of our life-sustaining resources and the arrogance at which we have gone in again and again to take from the Earth what we want and leave Her torn open and bleeding.

Grief for the tribes that we have either destroyed or have relinquished to the most desolate and forsaken places so that we could build our empire upon their bones. The earth Herself under our feet trembles with our history.

And this grief it threatens to bury us under mountains.

Are you awake?

Are you angry?

This is a call to arms. We enter the stage where we are willing to risk unapologetic open rebellion. The time has arrived for the Phoenix to rise and to bring forth Her holy anger in service of Truth. This time anger will not burn us out, it will catalyze us. It will burn from within, unify us and fuel righteous and indignant action. We will not be silent in our relationships. We will not be silent in our communities, in our workplaces or in our synagogues. But we will not meet hate with hate, we will speak with the kind of ferocious love and compassion that penetrates deep and ignites a flame inside those who hear us roar. Our fire will ignite and burn through invisible walls, it will burn up division, it will burn through layers of self-deception and it will set us free.

Now we discover a new embodiment of our previous incarnations. One who is willing to be present with painful Truth and dares to do the brave healing work of her own soul and become the force She was meant to be. One who has the courage to confront the areas in her life where she has been silent out of fear or in order to keep the peace. One who understands that while as women, we all have felt objectified and violated but some women will have experienced this on a level we cannot comprehend and we listen to their stories. One who understands that while we have all felt traumatized there are some who have lived lives of trauma and we must allow them to speak. One who knows that while we have encountered injustice there are those whose lives illustrate injustice in a way we cannot comprehend.

For this is not a new revolution we are creating, this is where we join ranks with our sisters that have been fighting all along. We must listen to the war-cries of women who have been marching and singing and praying long before we arrived.

Our new embodiment of feminism will require the unflinching examination of our privilege in order to dismantle inequality. It requires us to come together in a new kind of solidarity with our sisters who know this fight and stand side by side with them, equal but not the same. This new feminist embodiment calls for One who understands that Her power alone is tremendous but our collective power is unstoppable. This stage requires undaunted passion, courage and commitment to transformation. It demands undaunted examination, personal accountability and humility to see how we may begin healing the unspeakable wounds against ourselves, each other and our nation.

For every step a woman takes toward her own liberation is a radical act on behalf of women everywhere. And every act of compliance with structures of her oppression is an act of violence against herself and consent toward the oppression of women everywhere. Her fight is every woman’s. This time we will not burn out. We will fight with ferocity of love in the service of Truth. And we will not be silenced.

Lace up your combat boots, sisters. And fall in step.

womens-march

Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017 (Photo source)

Read more:

You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.

I Can’t Keep Quiet: The Unofficial Anthem of the Women’s March

Woman in Viral Photo From Women’s March to White Female Allies: ‘Listen to a Black Woman’

www.momsrising.org

The year of Light.

2016 was like ripping off a giant, stinking bandage and exposing the raw, festering wound that lie underneath. Both personally, politically and globally.

Now we are all just gathered around, aghast, mouths gaping, wondering what the fuck to do and how could this be. When the air hits it burns. When the nasty, ugly and shocking truth arrives into the light we turn away from it . We let our head fall into our hands, we reach out to try and steady one another.

But it will be there when we turn back. We can’t un-see it. Between denial and grief, shock and rage, no one knows quite what to do yet. Some us will disown it. Others will know the magnitude of the work that lies ahead. Some will know that they’ve been preparing for this. They will know, at times, even when they don’t want to know.

We’ve been exposed.

The devastation is real.

There is no more hiding.

But in that, comes liberation.

Because we didn’t realize until now how much energy and effort it was taking to keep pretending. Pretending individuals were the problem or individual problems were the problem. Pretending our own personal dramas were not inseparable from or even symptoms of a disease from which no one living in this country is safe. Pretending good intentions and positive vibes were enough. Pretending that even the self-help industry isn’t a careful construct to keep you preoccupied with your own vision board instead of looking outside your window, or talking to your therapist instead of talking to your neighbor. Pretending we could change the world without really changing our choices or by fighting battles on social media with opponents whose stories we’ve never heard and lives we don’t understand. Or those who’ve shouted themselves hoarse at ears that cannot hear and will not move out from behind their screens to hear the drum beat of the war song building beneath their feet.

Now we stand face to face with a Truth we’ve created. Not you alone but all of us together. You cannot extricate yourself anymore.

Many will try. Many will cling to indignation.

“I have been wronged,” they will cry, “This is not my world, I didn’t choose this. This is not my fight.”

But we’ve all been wronged. We’ve all been party to hidden agendas and travesties we’ll never fully comprehend. Products of convenience, our own and others’. Sacrificial lambs to the gods of capitalism. Generations of well-fed but malnourished, over-stimulated but soul-numbed, brain dead pop psych spouters.

We are all each the victim, the perpetrator and the enabler.

And there is no where to go.

No one is coming to fix this.

She wasn’t the Answer. She wouldn’t have saved us.

There is no one coming to save us.

No matter who you decide to blame, no one is going to get what they are owed.

The jury we stand before is ourselves, our neighbors, our loved ones living and deceased, our children.

To forgive you, I have to forgive myself.

To forgive myself is to forgive you.

And I don’t know if I am ready.

I am still reeling. I am still angry.

So I keep looking. I keep turning around to look again. I look and look and look until my breath catches in my throat and my stomach turns and I hear my voice from somewhere else shouting “No, no, no, no, nooooooooo…”

Yes. Look. You must look.

We’ve been set up to participate in systematic genocide. They left us no other choice. The Light has been turned on and we are all stained with each other’s blood.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

This is not a sentence. This is where we begin to see.

There is no one coming to save us. No one to give back what rightfully should have been yours. Mine. Ours.

Not for the child who was abused.

Not for the family whose home has been destroyed

Not for the tribes whose sacred sites have been pillaged and robbed

Not for the mother who mourns her children

Not for the community who lost yet another innocent Black son

Not for the women raped and left for dead

Not for the daughter who was never protected

Not for the boy forced to endure systematic violence for an imperialist agenda that left him broken and abandoned him when he was no longer useful

Not for the man who can’t go to sleep without battling images of torture and death

Not for the trees that once covered this Earth

Not for the oceans once teeming with vibrant life

Not for the Falklands Wolf nor the New Zealand grayling

Not for the Rocky Mountain locust or the North African elephant

Not for the tropical rainforests of Papau New Guinea or Costa Rica

Or for the victims of the nuclear holocausts of Chernobyl and Fukushima

Not for the refugee who will never return home again

Nor for the exploited immigrant worker separated from his family

Not for the land and water destroyed by fracking across our country

Not for the home and the family I imagined for myself, for the ending of the story that began with such fierce unbreakable love. Not for the other children. Not for how many times my heart has broken.

None of it can be righted. Not of it can be returned.

All we have is this unrelenting Light that now shines upon all. Sometimes this is what mercy feels like. Didn’t you pray for the Light to come? Didn’t you call upon it? I did.

Didn’t you know that when you call upon the Light it will come? Didn’t you remember that what the Light does is reveal the deepest darkness?

Yes, there are those who have been calling in the Light for years.

And it is come. Don’t be fooled. 2016 was not a year of darkness but of Light.

 

We’ve been exposed.

The devastation is real.

But there is no more hiding.

And in that, comes liberation.

 

And possibilities of a new way. For what only what is in the Light can heal. And only we can save us.

On parenting in the dark.

For the next four days I am alone. I am completely alone in my house for the next four days. 

Ok well, there is a dog and a cat here but for the next 96 hours there are no other beings in this household that require my attention.  I haven’t been alone in my house for this length of time in over four years. My son’s father came and picked him up this morning, headed to see family 400 miles away. For all my initial anxiety about the upcoming trip, by the time the moment arrived to see them off I was awash with a mixture of unexpected feelings. This week has been one of the darkest and most intense weeks of parenting that I can remember.

The world at large right now feels heavy, hurting and angry.

My heart is heavy, hurting and angry.

And my son, three and a half, seems to have tapped into the collective wellspring or is otherwise coming up against his own pain and rage over the current state of things on the micro-level of his family and immediate environment.

And I am his target for all of this, of course. And target in every sense of the word. I am bruised, battered and raw from the battles of this week. Where has my sweet little companion, full of smiles and affection gone? And what phenomenon is he currently processing to cause such a disturbance in our normal balance of daily life??

I know all the “things”: It will pass, it’s normal. It’s not about me. All I can do is give him a safe place to feel and process. Stay connected. Stay neutral. Stay present. Don’t take things personally. The caregiver he’s closest to gets the worst of it. Practice self-care. Model healthy boundaries. Model healthy ways to work through strong feelings. Give him words and tools to identify what he is feeling and what he needs. Remember the relationship comes first. 

But all of these truisms don’t help me right now. Because even with trying to do my best to remember all of these things, deep in the moment parenting just feels shitty and terrible and awful and unfair. And because I am just empty. That’s it. I’ve just got nothing left to give this kid right now.

And so suddenly this trip feels like grace for both of us.

He is ecstatic to see his papa. He runs screeching and laughing into his arms. He waves goodbye and doesn’t look back. And I am grateful. For their bond and the relationship they have cultivated, which is much closer and more loving than either of us had with our own fathers. Grateful he is not fearful about leaving me. And grateful because honestly – I just don’t think I could have stood another hour of being beat up, being bullied, and of battling it out.  Grateful because honestly – I don’t even like my child right now. And I don’t feel capable of being his mother.

And closing the door behind them, this truth makes me cry and cry.

Last night I heard him tossing around in his bed, calling out softly in sleep. It woke me and I lay there for a moment, waiting to see if the he would settle himself and drift off on his own. He probably would have after another moment or so but I got up anyway and opened the door to his room and crossed the carpet to kneel at his bed. He mumbled incoherently in a half-wakened state. Tentatively, I reached out to stroke his forehead and he allowed me to comfort him. Then slowly, inch by inch, I moved onto the bed next to him and curled my body around his. For the first time in weeks he didn’t resist but relaxed and nestled against me.  I held him close and rubbed his back. In the darkness he reached out his little hand to press it against my face and I saw his brief, small sleepy smile in the glow of the nightlight. I lay there for an hour or more relishing this rare moment of closeness, not daring to move a muscle lest the spell be broken and the feral animal awake. My arm fell asleep and my back started to ache but I couldn’t bear to move. For a short time I felt again our sweet bond. I needed to remember.

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I know it will pass. I know we each have to process in our own ways what it means to not be an intact family living under one roof anymore, and who we each are as we grow into the people we are becoming.  And as we test the limits of what we think we know and are capable of and explore our own spectrum of experience, we come to understand the safety and strength of the container of this relationship. We trust that it can hold our process, that it can honor both the darkness and the light. But it is only in the darkness where true resilience is revealed, when we find it is stronger and more spacious than we thought, that it can allow and recover, heal and adapt. That it can both nurture and even be strengthened in times when the light is scarce. That it is both steadfast and constant and that it is also ready to change as we change.

Tiptoeing back to my room and back to my own bed, I feel thankful for this tiny bit of reprieve. In the morning I ask him and he doesn’t remember anything. But I know it wasn’t for him. It was for me.

As I watch the car pull out of the driveway this morning it occurs to me that there may come a day when he wants to go and live with his dad full time. The thought hits me a little like a sock to the stomach. As I stand in the middle of the empty living room I am gutted by the realization that ultimately all of this effort, the intense marathon of parenthood, the unwavering commitment to every small teachable moment, the anguish over whether or not we are doing things right, whether we are giving them the right tools, laying the right foundation for healthy relationship with themselves, with others and the world — all of it — every single worry that keeps us up or on the phone for advice or nose deep in books, all of the ceaseless energy we put into giving our children the best possible start guarantees absolutely nothing.

We do all of this with the acceptance that all possibilities exist and one being that there could come a day when our child says goodbye and walks away without looking back. We have great hopes. We cultivate hope against odds at every turn that our kids will emerge from childhood undamaged, happy, vital and devoted to us. But in the end we are all forced to relinquish every expectation and investment in the outcome. We do this parenting thing in every moment out of some mysterious compelling place of unadulterated selflessness. Its the biggest most profound lifelong investment we ever make and yet there are no guarantees of anything. And still, as a species we have decided it worth doing over and over and over again.  It makes no sense.

They won’t remember all of the tiny moments you sweated and grasped for answers, fumbling for the right tools, the right words, the right thing to do. They will just be left with this broad, colorful landscape, full of feelings they felt. And they get to interpret it however they choose. The only certain thing is that we won’t see it the same way.

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I read somewhere that parenting is the a lifelong exercise in unfailing optimism. That sounds about right.

And I have the next four days to find my bootstraps.

 

Five Ways to Fill Your Well

I am re-blogging this fabulous post from The Practical Mystic because it resonates so much with me right now. Summer days are a time of high energy and activity, days are often full of social activities, events and trips. For me, the clear evidence that I have been letting self-care fall by the wayside is when I begin ruining those otherwise lovely, fun-filled times with friends and family by suddenly becoming a miserable grump and resenting everyone around me, including the dog and the cat (omg, especially the cat).

Part of the commitment to self, as the Practical Mystic points out, is carefully observing what your needs are today, in your body and spirit, and knowing that they will shift from day to day, season to season. My usual strong vinyasa practice is not serving me well right now and in the mornings my body is wanting to move more than be still for seated meditation. As the temperature warms and my life is in the midst of major transition, I am being drawn to more restorative or yin yoga practices, exploring tantric breath work and learning more subtle techniques for moving energy in the body.

I am thankful for the great resources offered in this post and re-commit to exploring new ways of nurturing myself in this season, paying closer attention to keeping my “well” from running dry (and I become a heinous bitch version of myself.)

And if it’s already too late and the train has derailed, don’t worry – here is some emergency first aid. I already used it this morning. (:

The Practical Mystic

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One of the things that has been turning over in my head recently harks back to a recent post, where I wondered how it was that my personal practice could be tweaked so that I could avoid burnout and illness during and after a busy period. On a walking talk with my mother the other day, she suggested that now I am in my 40s, my daily routine may need to be tweaked to reflect my changing life. After all, she said, your 40s are a time of hard work out in the world, and these busy times are likely to become the norm. Your practice needs to incorporate filling your well so that you can embrace this time, a time that you have been preparing for over the last decade and longer, without burning out, getting sick or both.

Aha! The missing piece of understanding clicked into…

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The education of a lifetime: Karen Maezen Miller on Motherhood, Meditation and Anger

Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest and author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, Hand Wash Cold and Paradise in Plain Sight. I have written before about her profound book, Momma Zen, and how it inspired me more than any other parenting text I have ever come across. momma zen

And this interview by Shawn Fink of the Abundant Mama project is no different. Brimming with deep wisdom, humor and humility, Karen Maezen Miller penetrates to the heart of parenting as a spiritual path and delivers in a way that is both digestible and wholly compassionate. Listen to the full episode: AMPlify Your Life, Episode 7: Karen Maezen Miller on Meditation, Motherhood and Anger

There is just so much in this interview, I note some highlights here.

Karen speaks about raising her now teen daughter, how much has changed since writing “Momma Zen” and the essential process of staying with what is. She compares her work in Momma Zen as “premature self-congratulation”.

I am in trouble if I start to think that I know what the heck I’m doing or where I am going. We are consistently set adrift, washed up shore and we need one another.

Karen and Shawn chat a bit about how in this digital age we are more connected in some ways and much more disconnected in other ways which speaks to me in a big way. While on the one hand, many moms find community in online forums, groups and on Facebook which are great ways to find and share information they can never be a replacement for real human contact. In some ways, not living as close to family or having good friends nearby can make finding your “tribe”, your support system as a new mother can be challenging. Often online images of motherhood or fear of judgement makes it harder to ask, reach out and receive help.

Karen Maezen Miller on the biggest surprise in parenthood: “The real shake up for me has been the degree to which I encumber my daughter with the job of feeding my ego or emotional needs… [realizing how] “emotionally dependent upon my daughter being happy, doing things that I liked, liking the things that I do”.

Aaaahh, this one was a zinger. As a mother to an outspoken three year old, who feels at least as entitled as any teen to delivering every opinion and performance review uncensored according to his changing mood, whim and unspoken preschooler expectations. Still, I with no other rubric to go by, I sometimes find myself relying heavily on the irrational grading system of a little person still learning how to manage his emotional weather patterns and express his needs in healthy ways. After getting frustrated with him for not wanting to put on his clothes, I walk away to take a break. He finds me a few moments later, the storm between us has passed. He climbs into my lap and I see that he has put on his shirt and socks.

“Mama, are you happy now? Do I make you happy?” he asks earnestly, his face searching mine for signs that my earlier frown has faded. I am aware of his constant gauging of me, of this dance we do of reacting to one another, pulling away and drawing together – and what I may or may not unconsciously make him responsible for.

He falls and bumps his elbow. I hold him while he cries. I offer ice, kisses, a drink of water. What would make you feel better? What do you need?  I ask, wanting to find the solution, the cure, the fix to end the discomfort. It catches me off-guard every time he answers me, annoyed with my well-meant but impertinent offerings , “No, I am cry-ing!” he says, as if it were obvious. He is already doing exactly what he needs to do. And I, in my discomfort with his discomfort, really seek to reassure my tender ego that I am the competent mother, the one who can comfort her child and ensure that moments of unhappiness are brief and remediable.

The common parental desire to control and make things easy for our kids, to keep them from struggle is something (even) Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller is not immune to. And as her daughter, at 16, begins pointing out often with alarming clarity: “It’s not always going to be easy for me, Mom.” Karen grapples with the implications of stumbling along indeed the crooked path of mothering a child-turning-adult, who without mincing words, continues to hold up a mirror for us to see even more places we have yet to let go. “If the only thing [your children] can share with you is the good news, the good times or the happy… well, that’s dishonest.”

KMM on dealing with anger as a parent:

Own your feelings. Approaching our immediate response with compassion instead of suppression (which perpetuates the feeling) or judgment is the way to extend first compassion to ourselves and all compassion begins with compassion toward ourselves. Identifying and stating our feelings out loud gives others a warning about our emotional state and gives us the chance to address what is happening in our physical/emotional body before we escalate to a place of reacting in self-defensive or aggressive ways. Taking the internal temperature without judgment, as if processing data, is how we take responsibility for our feelings without blame and recrimination for whatever we feel is the particular trigger. It gives us the chance to take space, acknowledge our unmet needs or expectations in tenderness and without attachment to a story around a particular emotional response (“If I was a more better mother, I would not feel so impatient/annoyed/angry.”)

Take what you need first in order to be able to respond in kindness. Take a breath, take time, take space. I often tell my son but less often myself: “You are allowed to have your feelings. You are not allowed to be mean or hurt yourself or other people.”

As much of motherhood goes, we don’t get accolades for those tiny moments of triumph when we chose to take three deep breaths instead of lose our temper. As KMM points out “no own is keeping score of the times I didn’t have an outburst.” Or in the words of Biz Ellis host of one of my favorite podcasts about parenting,  One Bad Mother“Parenting is hard and no one gives a shit.” Mostly, that’s true. Thankfully it also the most rewarding thing we ever do. Especially when we get to see our own growth alongside our child’s.

KMM’s offers a refreshing reminder to parents of tantruming toddlers: you’re in it too. Most parenting advice I read offers an imagine of the calm and unruffled parent patiently holding space for the outrageous emotional displays of a possibly foaming at the mouth, destructive and aggressive small child hell bent on getting you to react (my son went through a period of purposefully soiling himself in a desperate act of retaliation) but does not often acknowledge the very intense internal storm raging inside yourself. It would be great if tantrums happened only when we (the parents) were well-fed, showered, had recently slept 8 hours, didn’t have any pressing tasks or places to be or outside responsibilities, were not distracted by any other sort of physical discomfort or pain, had recently had great sex, a good workout or a fantastic date with a good friend or a good book — basically, if we felt our emotional tanks were always “full”. But we all know that toddlers and preschoolers are first are predatory creatures with a recently developed capacity for premeditated action. They have an uncanny sense of knowing when to flip their shit, bless them.

Another thing I love about Karen Maezen Miller is her lack of apology about needing space and alone time from her family. As someone who desperately needs alone time to recalibrate, I  relate to this so much. I am such a better mom when I get the chance to fill up, to take care of myself, to feed my soul and care for my spirit, body honor yourselfand mind. I’m a better mom when I get the chance to miss my kid.  KMM talks about getting away and finding retreat as a way of taking full responsibility for her own life and her own ongoing process of refinement. We simply cannot skip the part of parenting where we parent ourselves.

KMM on meditation practice as a parent:

Karen Maezen Miller’s work was one of my great catalysts to my recommitment to a daily sitting meditation after becoming a mom. KMM says, “If you say you don’t have time to meditate then the truth is you don’t.”

Here is her realistic advice on developing a meditation practice: “Don’t make it hard,” she says. “Don’t make it another thing that you can’t do, you don’t have time to do or you aren’t good at. Because that is the way you [probably] talk to yourself about a lot of things and it is self-fulfilling.”

“You have 5 minutes at the beginning of the day and you have 5 minutes at the end of the day to practice being present and aware. If you can’t sit for 5 minutes, sit for 4, if you can’t sit for 4, sit for 3.

 …You can’t be attached to somehow doing it the “right” way, or getting the maximum benefit or being “good” at it or trying to turn yourself into a saint or even a better mom. Do it because you have to do it for own wellbeing and so that you will hurt people less.”

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(For more about self-care practice, watch: 5 Steps for Better Self Care for Moms). You can learn more about Karen Maezen Miller’s work, online teachings and upcoming retreats and events at karenmaezenmiller.comAlso check out all the podcast episodes from AMPlify Your Life: Podcast for Busy Moms.

Ritual for New Beginnings

“Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

The modern Gregorian calendar recognizes today, Jan. 1, as the beginning of a new 12-month cycle or the “New Year.” It is my favorite holiday (even when I go to bed at 8:30pm which I may or may not have done last night.) But not before I took the time to reflect upon the year and my aspirations for 2016 with a ritual I like to use instead of the overplayed and notoriously ineffective New Year’s resolutions people commonly make, not unlike tossing coins into a fountain with fingers crossed for well-intended wishes.

Photo credit: awildpath.com

Ritual is arguably a universal feature of human social existence. Though our life’s are full of daily ritual, we wake at a certain time, we ready for the workday in the same way perhaps, there is a certain order to our activities. But typical American culture is bereft of much of the intentional, meaningful ritual that have been integral to societies in the past and plenty of other cultures around the world today. Ritual is an important part of who we are. It is how we mark the passage of time, honor our history, our roots, big transitions and the sacred cycle of life. Maybe you were lucky and grew up with a cultural or religious heritage that offered special customs and if you are really lucky religion didn’t totally ruin it for you. Recently I have been seeking to bring more ritual into my life. I loved the rituals of my family growing up and have always been drawn to ceremony, magic, rites and sacrament as a way of honoring The Mystery. God. Gaia. Spirit. The Divine. The Great Mother. What Moves in You that Moves in Me. What Connects us All. 

circle2resizedI want to be clear about why I think ritual is important and why I believe it works. (Here is some data by some behavior scientists, by the way.) This is very different than the religious attitude of persuading God to act or our behalf or assuaging guilt for our sins by engaging ritual as a formula for accessing the Divine. The Divine is here all the time, in every moment and laughs at our contrived idea of sanctity and holiness. The Holy Spirit is not finally convinced to grace us transcendent experience or forgiveness upon the 108th recitation of a holy mantra or the final Hail Mary. And there are plenty of examples throughout history that the Divine does not require a perfect vessel for transmission of profound truth!

No, ritual is for our own hearts. Ritual “brings life to intention” (Nancy Napier, Sacred Practices for Conscious Living.) It engages the imagination which is what animates the soul. Ritual is a way of tending the soil of our hearts, of calling forth what is already there, reminding us that we are connected to something greater, something sacred. We may perform ritual before meditation practice or prayer in order to create a feeling of sanctuary. Simple symbolic action, burning incense, lighting a candle, or a pilgrimage to a special sitting spot may help us find a way into the inner temple. Rituals can punctuate birth and death, honor loss, help with healing,  express gratitude and celebration and demarcate transitions in our lives. They can involve any natural or material object, substance, food, art, music, water, fire or any other natural element. It isn’t the action or the ingredients but the meaning and intention we bring to ritual that make them sacred.  

There is something really powerful that happens when we ritualize our intentions. It is translating our ephemeral soul desires into something our brain can comprehend. Essentially integrating the mammalian brain (emotion and learning) with our reptilian brain (the action-oriented) and the neo-cortex (logical or “thinking” brain.) 

“Ritual returns you to what matters. The very act of beginning a ritual puts us in a state of mind where we can break with the routine patterns of the mundane and remember the sacred.” (Katie Silcox, The Importance of Ritual.) In 2015 I began creating rituals around the New and Full Moon, around my monthly bleeding cycle and the Solstices and Equinoxes. For the Winter Solstice, we filled the house full of candles and my partner, my son and I read through our jar full of gratitudes for 2015. Then we ate soup by candle light and watched the fire in the wood stove. Aside from all the technical and scientific stuff, ritual just makes life more special and fun. Do we really need a more spiritual or intellectual reason than that?  I don’t.

Here is my ritual for new beginnings. Of course, it doesn’t much matter what the date is. Whenever you feel like ritualizing the passing of an era and the dawn of a new season or ushering in a new chapter in your life, you can use this visioning technique or something similar. These are the things you will need:

A chunk of quiet, alone time where you can get still and present

4 sheets of journal or notebook paper and a writing instrument

A place to safely play with fire (a fireplace or fire pit is the easiest, but an abalone shell, metal kitchen sink or fire-safe bowl will do.)

  1. Get your body grounded and bring your mind to stillness. Begin to envision what you want to create in this next season of your life. What projects, ideas, endeavors you want to bring forth in your personal life and into the greater world. How do you want to feel? What roles do you see yourself playing? Write all of this down on one of the pieces of paper. Take as much time as you need.
  2. On the second piece of paper, write all of the ways you might sabotage yourself from your current vision.  Habits, self-talk, limiting beliefs, etc.
  3. On the next piece of paper list the things you need in order to cultivate and support your vision. Include other people, relationships, new habits, practical, financial and emotional resources.
  4. Lastly, on the final piece of paper list what needs to go in order to make space for this new vision. This may be commitments that no longer serve you, time and energy zappers, relationships with someone or a job that is not moving you toward your goals, or with ideas (letting go of body-obsession or seeking the perfect mate or house.)

Once you have your four lists you will prepare for the burning part of the ritual. The first list you are going to bring to flame is your list of self-sabotage. Find your own words but be clear. “I release now these means of sabotaging my vision for this coming year. I am grateful for the lessons they have offered me and the ways they have protected me in the past. I know release them from their service in my life.” You can read aloud some of the specific things you wrote down if it feels right. Then, watch it burn! Make your commitment to not return for these things but receive the support from the Universe (God, Spirit, your name for Her) to move forward in a new pattern.

Next, the list of what needs to go in order to create space. Surrender it to the fire. Speak what feels true: “I release these holds on my time, energy, attention and resources. I any lingering attachment to things things that no longer support the highest vision for my life.” Deep breath in, deep breath out. Feeling lighter?

So now you are left with two lists: The one that holds the vision you want to manifest and the list of what you need to cultivate it. The first list you made – the inspired, passionate vision of your future – you will bury in the earth. Go on a walk or a hike and find a special place beneath the roots of a tree or just in your yard somewhere. Like a seed, surrendering it to the dark, to the alchemy of germination. 

The last list you will keep close by – in a journal, tacked to a bulletin board, tucked in your journal. These are your instructions. This list is your reminder of the things to seek out on a daily basis that align with the greater vision of what you want, who you want to be and how you want to feel.

I encourage you to find a variation that feels authentic. Get creative and playful with your way to honor your intentions. The most important part is that is feels organic, heartfelt and true to you. No recitation or formulaic process is going to serve the work of the soul anymore than tossing a penny in a pond. The key is to find what feel meaningful to you.

So! here is to new beginnings.

More resources on how to incorporate ritual in your life:

Transform Your Life with the Power of Ritual – Deepak Chopra

The (6-minute) Miracle Morning Ritual

Burning the Past – A Ritual for Cleansing Pain

You Are Your Own Oracle.

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On the side of Mt. Parnassus in Greece lie the ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi. From 1400 BC -381 AD the temple was visited by leaders and kings and people from far away seeking wisdom and divine guidance from the Oracle of Delphi. Animal sacrifices, divination and rituals were performed by priests who sought messages from the god Apollo. The ruins of the sacred site is still visited today by people from all over the world. Inscribed over the door of the temple through which countless of spirituals seekers have passed are the words, “Know Thyself.”

While millions seek divine direction, look to sages, search out prophets and oracles, the time-tested maxim still lies etched in eternal stone above the entrance to the temple within. Our hearts, our bodies, our minds have infinite information to give us if we can learn how to listen. Maybe the secrets of the universe, but certainly how to better exist in it. My whole life I have spent searching for wisdom outside of myself and now I find that it has all been within me the whole time.

I want to spend my life learning how better to listen.

 

When I skip my daily sitting practice now I have started to notice the effects pretty quickly. After a couple of days I am feeling off-balance, unsettled, generally more anxious and less patient. After 2 or 3 days my family feels it too. I have become so grateful for this efficient feedback system. In the same way my body responds when I have not been feeding it well or resting or moving like I should, my mind and spirit give me similar clues to my state of health and alignment. Without these signposts, I might have wandered further away.What a blessing discomfort can be! As physical and spiritual beings we have innate wisdom about what serves our highest good. And sometimes you don’t see the full benefit of a habit until you veer off course for a little bit.

Since the beginning of my meditation journey, daily life, the season, our schedules have evolved and I am now finding time in the evening for a longer practice. With the summer sun lingering a bit more in the sky, I can watch the evening descend from my front porch after I have said goodnight to the little Acorn Scout and my partner is settled to his writing. As tempting as it is at the end of the day to zone out with a movie, on the computer, or even with a good book, I have begun to tease myself outside instead. Instantly I am rewarded: there is no bliss like the light, the air and sounds of summer evening. Sometimes I work with a mantra, a mudra, or a pranayama (breathing technique) like Alternate Nostril Breathing. Sometimes I just sit and listen the world around me and then inwardly – at what is bubbling and churning around inside, find longer spaces in between the thoughts that come and go.

If you don’t have a daily mediation practice but are wanting to begin, here is a great article to get you started: 5 Tips on How to Meditate for Beginners (You can also read my post: DIY.) Start with 5 minutes twice a day and work up to 10 minutes twice a day.Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Like with any practice, every day is different. And you get stronger with time. Keep a journal for things that come up. Be consistent. Just see what happens. I would love to hear about your experience.

 

            “We seek to know the moving of each sphere,

            And the strange cause of the ebb and flow of Nile,

            But of that clock within our breasts we bear,

            The subtle motions we forget the while.

            “We that acquaint ourselves with every zone,

            And pass both tropics and behold the poles,

            When we come home, are to ourselves unknown,

            And unacquainted still with our own souls.”

~John Davies, from Nosce Tiepsum: of Human Knowledge

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(In this photo I am using Surya mudra: Gesture of the Sun, for activating radiant energy and the element of fire. This mudra is useful for balancing the third chakra, for kapha and vata doshas, supporting digestion and metabolism, cultivating self-esteem and personal power. For more information on mudras check out Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page.)