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.

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.”

self care

(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

Honoring the Dark.

wintersolstice

Altar to honor the Winter Solstice and return of the light.

December fell over me like a heavy blanket. All at once it seemed, I felt the energy drain out of me. I worried I was slipping into depression, as I have in the past struggled against that gravitational pull, down into darkness, silence, deep introspection, isolation. I spent most of my adulthood watching for the signs that the dark was creeping in to grab hold again and drag me under. When I hear the first notes of that ghostly refrain I usually launch into my list of preventive action steps: I push myself to go running, to get out and socialize, to eat something nutritious even when I don’t feel hungry. I talked to my therapist: “I don’t know,” she said, “This doesn’t sound like depression to me. Could your body just be telling you that you need to slow down and rest?”

The next day I reread a text message I sent to a good friend: “I wish I could just curl up in my room for three days and see no one and do nothing. Then I could re-enter the world and be ok again and do Christmas.” Suddenly I flashed back to a year ago almost to the day, telling another friend right before a week long trip to see family: “I wish I could just check out from everything for two days and then come back and do the whole holiday thing.”

My life is as full as always: work, and school, a preschooler, household stuff and new projects on the horizon that I am excited about giving my time and energy to. But everything feels overwhelming. Not uninteresting just…too much.  And the more I push my body the greater the urge to retreat. And it’s no wonder, as we are linked to the earth’s cycles along with every other living thing. Since the Summer Solstice, we have been incrementally losing light here in the northern hemisphere. The longer nights and lower temperatures signal the trees to drop their leaves and the animals to start preparing for winter. When winter arrives, the trees are almost all bare, many of the plants that once flourished in the sun have let go their leaves and blossoms. If you didn’t know better, many of the plants and trees might appear as if dead. There is no movement, thus begins a period of conserving energy through the coldest months. Though life force is just as present, activity becomes dormant.

winter-solstice-wayne-devon

And why should we be any different? (Read: BODY RHYTHM, PLANETARY RHYTHM). 

Alan Fogel, author of Body Sense, writes in Psychology Today:  “I’ve always thought it odd that in the late Fall — when my body just wants to withdraw into cozy, warm rest in response to the longer nights and cooler temperatures – urban culture becomes more active, more complex, and more demanding. The trees are shutting down all but the most basic functions and mammals are retreating to their dens and burrows for some form of hibernation. I want to go with them but I can’t because school is in session, there are performances and shows and social events, business deals are being made, and then the winter holidays come with all their pulls and obligations.

All this social pressure coming at a time when our bodies want to slow down is a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. Could it be that SAD and other seasonal dismays are not the result of darkness at all but rather a psychological splitting as we are torn between social demands for increased activity and the planet pulling our body sense in the opposite direction? Perhaps it is not our dark moods that are problematic so much as our sense of their cultural unacceptability?

Let’s imagine that we could just accept and embrace our body sense as it follows the lows and highs of seasonal cycles…Let’s imagine letting ourselves feel tired, I mean really feel like we are going to collapse if we don’t crawl under a blanket. Probably, you could find that feeling inside right now if you let yourself. Let’s imagine that we could give in completely to our sadness, that tears might come because we really let our feeling fill up the present moment; we become sadness and there is nothing else in the world but sadness. What would happen if we could do that?”

Well, what would happen?

There is  another pattern I have started to notice over the past four years of noting my natural cycles of highs and lows throughout the year is the near inevitability of a melancholy February and March, where exhaustion is often accompanied by sadness and loss of passion and interest in normal things. While this could be in part a natural reaction to the lack of sunlight (I plan to invest in a magic desk lamp this year) could this also be a result of pushing through the holidays, work, family gatherings and social events instead of honoring my own need to retreat, rest and conserve energy during the darkest months? Why is it so often our habit when feeling out of balance to add more instead of doing less?

Maybe there isn’t anything “wrong” with me at all but this natural inclination to check out from the world for awhile, even to be sad, to let the soul mourn it needs to could actually serve my highest good? Can I make space for honoring the dark? 

Perhaps I can’t take a week off my job or check out of parenting and run away to a hotel for three days by myself but can I bring the feeling of nurturing and self care into my life in small ways? What if, I could prepare for December the way people start their Christmas shopping early or string their lights up after Halloween? What if I could start creating space in July by working a few more hours to set aside for the December days when I need to work a bit less? Or be more deliberate in advance about keeping my schedule light during the holiday season?

Just by beginning to entertain these things, my heart begins to feel lighter. I don’t have to fight this, I don’t have to resist. I can make tea. I can change into my pajamas early. I can “check out” in the evenings with  something good to read, with a movie or a good show. I can decorate my altar to honor the Winter Solstice. I can let the house stay messier than usual, I can honor my body with a restorative practice instead of power vinyasa.  I can make a big pot of bone broth, I can clear my calendar of unessential items and I can curl up under this blanket for awhile and just rest… that is, until my kid calls me to come wipe his bum.

So yeah. That’s where you’ll find me. Don’t be offended if I don’t answer the phone. I’ll be back just as sure as the light returns.

Look at me all honoring myself and shit. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Winter’s Cloak

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.

Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

~ Joyce Rupp

The in between place: Sometimes things are just shitty.

I’m in the hard holding space.

The painful, restless, unknowing place of trying to hold more than a human heart is capable of holding without knowing how anything is going to turn out.

The in between space, waiting for each next breath, each next step, having faith that healing can happen, that peace is possible. The world feels so heavy and full of darkness right now. I grieve over the war and violence in the world, I grieve with my fellow countrymen over the unfathomable corruption and devastating policy-makings of our government, over the unthinkable and compounding acts of violence and what it means for the future of our children and our planet.

Violence. Oppression. Suffering. Helplessness. Rage. Grief.

My partnership has been in its own stage of painful metamorphosis. Kind of like how the caterpillar in the cocoon has to completely dissolve before it can change form… you really want to believe its going to be reborn into a beautiful butterfly, but for awhile its such indistinguishable mush. Sometimes your faith can’t help but waver somewhat. I mean, it just looks like mush. It feels like a mess. From your limited human perspective, it doesn’t look promising. From the outside, things look impossible. Except that something tells you “Hold on. You don’t have all the information.” And you have lived long enough now and seen enough miracles to know that they are always happening.

It’s been a hard waiting. It’s been a good while now. Breathing, believing. Praying. And waiting.

There should be a meme out there that just says “Sometimes things are just shitty for awhile.” Because ain’t that the truth of life? It isn’t being negative. Actually it feels quite liberating when you remember that its normal for things to suck for awhile. But then they get better. Then suck again. And then its wonderful. And not everything hard is necessarily something that has to be (or can be) fixed at the moment. Like the world right now.

I’m going to make that meme.

Speaking with a few different friends this past week, it seems a lot of us are cycling through a pattern of feeling totally overwhelmed and checking out. I know that’s been true for me. Because it’s just. too. much.

Last week, I had to log off social media and the news feed for several days. When I came back on, I read first about Colorado and then about San Bernadino. What is happening? And what, oh what, are we to do about it?

To be awake, to be alive is to feel the darkness of the world, the heaviness when it comes, but to be of service to the world is not let ourselves be swallowed up by it. So I teeter back and forth, trying to find my balance when one after another these blows keep coming. We can choose gratitude – and can I tell you how my heart is swelled in gratitude these past weeks?? – We can focus on the positive, we can seek beauty for I have learned that there is always, always something beautiful happening

But we can also learn to sit with sorrow when sorrow is warranted, rage when rage is due, grief where heartbreak is demanded. This is what it means to be fully awake, we can’t choose to be selectively conscious. It is the juxtaposition of feeling these simultaneous polarities. We don’t turn our backs on one or the other, we don’t go back to sleep. It is the seemingly impossible task of learning to hold them both, the light and the dark. To find stillness in the churning sea. In the face of a tidal wave that threatens to wash away everything we know and to still believe that whatever the storm takes or leaves in it’s wake we will go on. We will still look for love.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist (that’s really a thing), author and stroke survivor (listen to her TED talk here) has said that it actually takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered within the body, peak, dissipate and disappear. So anything more than 90 seconds it caused by our thoughts about the emotion. We feel fear, we instantly create a story about why we are afraid and what ifs and how the world is unsafe and we feel out of control, which creates more fearful emotions.

Feelings create thoughts, thoughts create feelings. These become the constructs of our reality.

This simple concept feel especially empowering to me right now. I can breathe through 90 seconds. Hell, I breathed through 22 hours of labor contractions and I learned you don’t waste that sweet spot in between, you take any tiny respite you can.

Breath by breath.

space between

Glennon Melton, of Momastery (whom I adore and if by any possible circumstance you are not familiar with her, her blog or her work, please give yourself the huge gift of introducing yourself) gives these instructions on how to respond to global trauma:

“1. BE STILL. Feel it. Listen. Pray. There is a word in my holy text: Selah. Selah means holy pause. The Selah is the space between what happens to us and how we respond to what happens to us. When we don’t take a Selah—we tend to respond from fear. Fear is never a powerful or transformational launching pad.

2. HERE I AM. This is the action after the stillness. This is when we feel centered enough in love to be fairly certain that our reaction will bring light instead of more darkness. We are ready. Love is our launching pad.

Stillness without action is not compassion. It’s more like pity. Compassion means your pain into my heart and back out through my hands.  Action without stillness can’t be trusted. It has no wisdom, no steadiness, no plan. It’s reckless. It’s oil on a fire.”

Let’s look for beauty.  Let’s find a little patch of the natural world and sit in it; by a rock or a stream, beneath a tree or prostate on the Earth. She is very absorbent, She can hold all of it.

Let’s tune out when we need to. Let’s do the things we love with people we love. Let’s do the things we love by ourselves. Let’s look around for someone who needs help and offer what we can for service to others is a great healing balm for the human heart. Let’s stay awake.

And let’s pray, pray, pray. (Or dance, or sing, make art or do what you do.)

Ask ourselves, “what is the next right thing?” and do it.

xo

Here ya go 🙂

shitty final

(For more good stuff read here: “What would happen if we let people be broken sometimes?” by renegademama.)

Carry on soldier.

What I don’t want to admit I learned from Daniel the Tiger

Ok, Daniel the Tiger, I get it. This show was really written for parents.

Sure, the cute animation is for the kids, the age-appropriate dialogue, the borderline annoying songs – but more than once the content has been explicitly aimed at …well, me. And I know it’s on purpose. I am on to you, PBS.

There are a lot of days when I feel like I am failing this bootcamp. Like there just isn’t any way I am going to get out alive or whole — certainly not with a scrap of ego intact. I am not getting stronger, it’s just breaking my spirit.

Today is one of those days.

Today I experienced the lowest moment of motherhood to date. Worse than feeling like I had failed at breastfeeding, worse than the time he wandered alone into the neighbor’s driveway, worse than him face planting off the porch steps, worse than when he came crawling out of the bedroom with a pocket knife (seriously, wtf??), worse than when I pulled out of his mouth two ibuprofen he had found on the floor, worse than the afternoon I forgot to pick him up from daycare, worse than finding him on the kitchen table with an open pack of cigarettes. (Oh my god,  should I publish this shit? The cigarettes never touched his mouth, I swear.)

I yelled at my two year old this morning. I mean I really yelled.

In a childish reaction of pent of frustration and rage after several really rough nights, a stressful work load at work, taxing physical pain and in the wake of the emotional wreckage that accompanies the sleep-deprived toddler, I lost it.

It was the whining. It is always the whining that does me in. It’s not the full-blown flip out, the red-faced screaming tantrum, that sends me over the edge like the persistent, high-pitched sound following me around the house not allowing the completion my own thoughts and activating undiagnosed nervous facial tics (or it that just the feeling of actual brain cells exploding?) and fantasies about daytime drinking. The whine: for which there is no solution, no satisfying fix, no balm to soothe the grating distress. If I can potentially could satisfy one request, there will be immediately another more aberrant than the last – or he has changed his mind about the first request. And there is approximately 8.5 seconds in which to meet his new demand before he escalates into hysteria with all the terror and volume of the Queen of Hearts but in a tiny, adorable package (I mean truly, freakishly cute while at the same time on a seek and destroy mission against all forms of peace, hope and joy – which is really confusing but admittedly a very effective defense strategy.)

I needed to leave for work. It was 8am. I was scrambling to gather my things, my computer, my lunch, my wits after a harrowing night and too early wake up. I had yet to say one full sentence to my partner. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak the sound would begin again. Like a mad scientist launching a host of cruel psychiatric experiments on his adult humans, like a miniature, mentally-deranged dictator, he could successfully have us scurrying about in hopes that maybe we would get a 10 more minute window to… breathe…remember that we love each other and today can be a good day … and despite the occasional passing thought, no one is really going to “go out for milk” and just keep driving.

Setting oatmeal on the high chair tray, I started to say someth – NOOOOOOO MAMA, I want the BLUE BOWL!!!

Oh, sorry (your majesty). Let me just – I WANT CUPCAKES!!! 

Um, what? We don’t have any — I DON’T LIKE IT OATMEAL! I WANT A TwwwEEEEEEAT!

But you asked for oatmeal. I made you oat- AAAAAAAAGHEEEEEEEEEeeeeee!!!

I look across the table at my husband helplessly and attempt, over the sound of screaming, to let him know what I need him to pick up from the store but all he could see what my mouth trying to form words and lord knows I was trying my best but in that moment somehow that ship of lovingkindness had sailed right on past me.

I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SAY ONE SENTENCE!! THAT IS ALL I WANT! CAN I SAY ONE THING PLEASE???

Instantly my son grew silent while shame immediately flooded me. He studied me with the look I’ve come to think of as the “tiny professor”: Ah! This is interesting! Look at what is happening now! Immediately he had begun processing this experience and integrating it with everything he has learned so far about me, about adult human behavior and his own power to effect his environment. My husband had paused with a bite of breakfast halfway to his mouth – I could not look him in the eye. It was bad enough that I had lost my cool with my kid but worse that there had been a witness. I took myself outside. Why do I not get to yell?! He yells at me all day long! I am held captive in my own house by this tiny cherub-faced terrorist barking unreasonable commands at me all day long and waking me up every two hours for nights on end and when I am finally pushed past the brink I get to feel like the lowest form of parental shit? That is so incredibly unfair.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 1.09.42 PMWhen I came back inside my husband and turned on the show Daniel the Tiger. My son, spooning oatmeal into his mouth looked up and said, “Hi Mama,”as if nothing extraordinary had happened at all.  My husband put his hand on my shoulder. And I heard Daniel the Tiger:“When you feel so mad that you wanna roar, Take a deep breath and count to four…”

Fuck you Daniel the Tiger and your annoyingly pertinent messages. I want to be farther along in development than a 2-5year old. I don’t yell at my kid, I do yoga!

“What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could roar — When the whole wide world seems oh-so wrong and nothing you do seems very right…You can stop when you want to, stop when you wish, You can stop, stop, stop anytime- And what a feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really MINE! Remember there’s something special inside that helps us with being so mad, you can think things through when things go wrong just by remembering this song.”

Sounds suspiciously familiar. And just like that, I soften. Suddenly, the moment feels less like shame and more like … grace.

“When a storm comes, it stays for some time, and then it goes. An emotion is like that too – it comes and stays for awhile, and then it goes. An emotion is only an emotion. We are much, much more than an emotion,” Thich Nhat Hanh writes. I want to model for my kid how to handle strong feelings in a healthy way. Above all, I want to teach my son that his mind is the most powerful tool and the most valuable possession he will ever have. I want to show him that there is space for our emotions but that emotions are not bigger than us and we always have choices. We make mistakes and we can say I’m sorry and we can choose better next time. We can keep trying. We can stop anytime, breathe, count; we can remember that there is something special inside that helps us.

Mindful breathing and meditation are powerful tools to help us weather the storms of our emotions. We practice when the sea is still and calm so that we can remember how to not lose our head when the water gets choppy.

We find these lessons in all things, at all stages, in every phase of life. We learn and relearn the same lessons, they find us no matter how old we are. Should we begin to think we’ve reached self-mastery we can be assured the ego will take a tumble shortly. I guess we should all be so lucky that the lessons would come daily would come in the form of a cherub-faced, often maniacal yet thankfully forgiving little help-mate: my own personal in-house guru.

Although it is an uncomfortable thought, I know that it probably won’t be the last time I lose my cool with my kid – after all, we are kind of still beginning. At the very most I hope that I continue to see these moments as maybe the most important teachers. And that for he and I, we can always take a breath, we can always begin again.