I've been thinking alot lately about the process of change and how interesting it is to be, in Jana Stanfield's words "between the no longer and the not yet". We live in a culture of "Just Do It" and so to be in a place where the old no longer seems to fit as well but the new is yet to be determined can be a little discombobulating. I suspect if I simply paid attention to nature, I might receive some clues about how to navigate through this part of my journey with some grace.
I have the privilege to live in Canada where the change of the seasons is still a guaranteed event. Some years, the transition between two seasons is gradual and there are days when it's not quite one season and not yet thet other...that nebulous 'mystery season' that is created by the exchange of the torch from one to the other. Nature doesn't worry about how long that takes (or doesn't take - in the years when the transition is swift) nor does she worry about what it looks like or even whether anyone will like the process or not. Now, I can't deign to really know what Nature thinks but I suspect this is true.If I break it down even further, the green shoots of a daffodil hovering beneath snow in late spring does not care how long it takes for the snow to melt, for the warmth of the sun to shine on it's burgeoning blossoms. It takes it all in stride and when it's ready to bloom, wow...what beauty!And so, I hold the image of the daffodil in my mind as I transition from one part of my life to the next. I'm waiting, just beneath the snow, ready to burst into brilliant colours and bless the world around me.
No Fixing Required
"No Fixing Required"
I am a self-professed book hog. I have been reading ever since I can remember and have cultivated the habit of having multiple books on the go. I don't know that I recommend this style of reading much as it means that I have many unfinished books hanging around the house. However, many of the books I read are the kind that you can pick up and carry on with several days and even months after leaving it without getting too lost.One of the many books I have on the go is actually a daily affirmations-type book...so I guess this one doesn't really count as it's the type you can open up on any given day and benefit from the perfectly timed message presented there. This little gem is Judith Lasater's "A Year of Living Your Yoga". And the message I opened up to is "We spend too much time trying to fix everything".
A thought came to me this morning as I read Judith Lasater's quote. 'What if it is not ourselves that needs fixing but, rather, our perception of ourselves?' The moment that thought down-loaded into my mind, the truth of it rang loud and clear for me. And I realized that my zealous exploration of practices to help me know myself better and to stay centered within that new-found (but in fact very ancient) self, has been, for many years, a deep desire to fix what I believe to be broken within myself. Instead of using these practices to celebrate my innately human and divine, miraculous self, I had been using them to banish the parts of myself that I'm not happy with.
Which leads me to another incredible book I devoured (and one that I highly recommend everyone on the planet read)....Miriam Greenspan's "Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair". There isn't a page in this book upon which I have not highlighted some pertinent piece of wisdom. In a nutshell, we live in a culture of denial...a culture that denigrates and even demonizes painful emotions as 'bad' or 'negative' and insists that we only allow ourselves to feel joy (and it's emotional variations). Since we are divine beings living human lives, we are gifted with a whole suite of natural emotions; however, we are reluctant to acknowledge, let alone feel, painful emotions and, instead, bury them deep inside ourselves or mindlessly act out against ourselves and others. The state of the world - spiritually, culturally, environmentally - is an incredibly telling mirror of that which we deny within ourselves. The fear-mongering stories we hear in the media, the violence we see around us, the alarmingly high numbers of people who are labelled 'clinically depressed'...all of this is an acting out of the fear, grief, despair and anger that we deny ourselves. The proverbial 'monster in the closet' gets bigger and scarier as long as we keep the door closed.
So, how can acknowledging our 'dark emotions' or 'shadow' bring us to a place of self-acceptance? Consider that in our culture, if you display fear, grief or despair you are labelled a coward, a pariah or a psychological disorder. Is it any wonder then that we refuse to give a voice to any part of ourselves that feels the anguish of these emotions? And yet what is it but the desire to be truly seen and heard that every human being longs for on this planet? To be seen and heard as we are, in our entirety, and without judgment? Giving these parts of ourselves a voice does not mean that we are giving them permission to act out nor does it mean that we need to overdose on the emotional energy that surrounds them. Anyone who has mentored a child knows that the child who constantly seeks attention suddently transforms the moment we really look at them and engage authentically with them. This is no less the case for the child within each of us. When we find the courage to acknowlege all of our emotions, paradoxically, instead of their overcoming us, they are given the space to expand and then transform - and it is through their transformation that we discover their hidden gifts.
I have had first hand experience in the magical transformation of grief over the past couple of years. Prior to allowing myself to be fully immersed in the moments of grief, my fear of feeling that emotion caused me to stuff its emotional energy somewhere in my body where it wrecked havoc on my physical, emotional and mental well-being. The messages I had received growing up was that expressions (and, ultimately, the act of 'feeling') grief were worthy of being either ignored or punished. The culture I lived in (and still live in) and the people in my life who I turned to were incredibly uncomfortable with witnessing my grief because they were unable to be with their own in any normalized way. My efforts to keep my grief at bay resulted in a long-term period of despair and, even more sadly, a closing off of my heart - to myself and to others - that left me alone and lonely for many years.
The journey I took to transform my emotionally beige life to one of vibrant colours has taken many years and started with my willingness to acknowledge the rage that simmered just below the surface of my awareness (but was achingly obvious to everyone else in my life) and the deep well of grief that lived below that. Once I was able to find the courage to open to the consistent feelings of grief that lay heavy on my heart, my heart cracked open and I learned to love myself and others in authentic ways - rather than modeling what I had learned love to be through good-willed (but misguided) souls and the culture of idealized romance. I opened the doorway to possibilities and was able to welcome the very real and mature love of another to share the journey of life with.The self-love that I continue to cultivate is also showing up in my ability to be with myself on both the light and dark days. And my yoga, meditation, movement and sounding practices are ones that now support the integration of myself as I continue to reclaim my wholeness - rather than vehicles of self-torture.My wish for all of you who read this is that you find the courage to love all the diverse parts of yourself, knowing that when they can live in harmony, they create a unique and magnificently whole human and divine being. Namaste.
A Mini Herstory of the Goddess
“Before God was a man, God was a woman”…thus spake Barbara Walker. In all likelihood God/Goddess is neither a man nor a woman, and perhaps not even a homogenous combination of the two? More plausible is the fact that humans have created an image of a God/Goddess that is a projection of themselves…and since men have been in a position of power for thousands of years, God has been defined in masculine terms…for men…and for everyone else. However, before God was referred to asHe, before the Trinity was the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the essence of Spirit was referred to as She and the Trinity was represented by the Virgin, Mother and Crone, representing birth, life and death…natural cycles in a natural world.
In the ‘beginning’(and for about 2 billion years) there was the womb-like environment of the Earth’s oceans. Eventually the ocean was replaced by the female body – another protective/nourishing environment filled with amniotic fluids and also affected by the lunar-tidal rhythms. Life as we knew it (more appropriately, long before we ‘knew’ it), transitioned from ether, to air, to water, to fire and eventually to earthly matter in a purposeful way. It’s important to note that the word ‘matter’ derives from the Latin word ‘mater’ = mother)…and so matter/mother really does ‘matter’. The ‘penis’ entered into the evolutionary cycle about 200 million years ago to initiate ‘land’ reproduction. And so, we learn that the creation of life initiates as a female process in which the male (created by the female) performs specific tasks related to species production and evolution…very necessary steps in the development of all species, not just the human race.
In 1951, medical scientists discovered that all mammalian embryo’s are originally anatomically female during the early stages invitro. However, this fact was buried in medical literature until it was re-discovered in 1961 by Mary Jane Sherfey. Of even greater importance was the discovery that the clitoris and the penis are essentially the same organ as they are formed from the same tissue. All fetal development initiates as ‘female’, is inherent in all mammals and is the primary pattern without any hormonal influence. In other words, maleness amongst mammals is not a primary state…but rather is a ‘derivation from the primary female pattern’. I don’t know about you but I don’t remember being taught this in school. Sure, we learned about X and Y chromosomes but the fact that everyone starts off as female, until hormonal deviation takes place, was not clarified. Not surprising, considering most of us were told that ‘Man’ was made in the image of God…and then Eve came along and screwed everything up by disobeying her ‘Lord’ and eating that damn apple (or fig, really).
Over thousands of years, the repression, denigration and abuse of the female have underscored the following assumptions:
Images during the Paleolithic period depict the cave as a female womb, the mother as a pregnant earth, the fertile female as mother of all living things. (Even now, in Christianity, the birth of Jesus is depicted in a cavern-like shelter, born of the Virgin Mary, Christianity’s negligible nod to Goddess spirituality.)The first female Goddess images discovered through archeological digs are referred to as the ‘Venuses’, dating back as far as 35,000 BC, or the Upper Paleolithic era. Approximately 30,000 sculptures of clay, marble, bone, copper or gold have been excavated from over 3000 archeological sites across more than 1000 miles throughout Western France to central Siberia, representing a wide-spread worship of the Goddess. Early male archeologists interpreted these figures to be sexual objects made by men for men; however, wider study has revised that interpretation and describes them as the ‘Mother Guardians of daily life, death and rebirth’. One of the most famous figurines is called the Venus of Willendorf (circa 25,000 BC), carved out of limestone and unearthed in Austria. In the Neolithic period, between approximately 8000 – 4500 BC, our ancestors started to settle down in agricultural villages, creating more permanent homes. Goddess figurines from this time have been found in Eastern Europe, Southern Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley of India. Evaluations of archeological digs strongly suggest that these cultures were peaceful and egalitarian in nature…no weapons have been discovered from this era, nor were villages fortified with defensive walls.
Pre-historic, or Herstoric cultures saw the Earth as the source of all nourishment, protection, power and the source of the mystery of the cycles of life. Human females were seen as performing the same functions. As such, paintings of mothers giving birth are found in countless Cro-Magnon caves, attesting to the fact that they saw this as a powerful and spiritual event. The fertility of the Earth and women was seen as magical and celebrated every year to ensure continuation of abundance of game and fruit, or food. In Herstoric societies, the structure was matrifocal or matrilinear where there was a cultural distinction between the biological father and the social father, who was often a male relative, like the mother’s brother…there was never any question who the mother was and so identity and inheritance was passed along through the female bloodlines. The role of the father was deemed a social role and he had to ‘earn’ the children’s respect and affection…it was not his ‘right’. His role was to protect and cherish the children and not to see them as ‘property’. It’s important to note here that a matrifocal/matrilinear society is not the same as a ‘matriarchal’ society. Matriarchal means that there is a hierarchy at the top of which women rule over all others (as we see in patriarchal societies around the world today). In matrifocal/matrilinear societies, there was very little socio-economic distinction amongst the members of the community – all lived equally well and had equal access to food, water, living quarters, etc. In Herstoric cultures, female wisdom and authority were valued, the community was responsible for the mentoring and development of the children, the focus of the matrilinear society was on maintenance and sustenance, rather than exploitation and consumption.
As source energy, the Goddess lives in all of us, female and male alike. The manifestation of her is symbolized by the numerous deities in countless cultures around the planet. And so, the Goddess is known by many names, such as (and this is by no means an exhaustive list):
Revaluing the Feminine
It is not uncommon – in the realm of women’s rights – to hear women speak about wanting to be treated equally to men; and in theory, rightly so. However, when we say we want to be treated equally to men, we often end up acting like men in order to succeed in a culture designed by men, for men. We tend to shy away from showing up as women with our feminine principles in hand because feminine principles are not valued in our patriarchal, hierarchal culture. I spent twenty years in the corporate world trying to succeed in an infrastructure that dismissed feminine qualities as insubstantial, ineffectual and undesirable. And, as a woman immersed in that culture and in a patriarchal society since birth, I bought into the preference over masculine values wholeheartedly. Or at least, whole mindedly. My heart was never really in it. Ultimately, at both a conscious and unconscious level, I spent many years rejecting my feminine qualities for the more acceptable masculine qualities as a means of succeeding in all areas of my life, at a cost to my physical, emotional and mental well-being .
In my personal healing journey I’ve started to uncover some interesting things about what I believe at the unconscious level. I’ve realized that childhood limiting scripts were motivating my choices in life and that most of my scripts involved the rejection of my feminine. Most of my actions have been a manifestation of my denial of my feminine side as something ‘weak’, second-rate, something to be ashamed of. In fact, I believed at a very young age that to be female was unsafe and so I spent many years embracing my masculine while hiding my feminine as a way of keeping myself safe from harm and in control of my life. Yeah, I know, it hasn’t worked out very well.
In about 2005, I started to read about pre-historic cultures to try and better understand why feminine principles are not valued in today’s culture here and in other cultures around the world. I’m beginning to realize that it wasn’t always this way. It seems that the almost wholesale rejection of the feminine for over 6,000 years is primarily a projection of a fear of the power and wisdom of the feminine. And this rejection is not solely expressed or practiced by men. Many women also reject the very things we consciously or unconsciously want to be valued for. The power of the feminine, however, is not about power over, but rather power within; empowerment of the individual. I’ve started learning more about Goddess cultures and am so impassioned about this that I feel compelled to share it with others because I believe that the healing of humanity and the earth is dependent on a healthy and sacred union of the feminine and the masculine. But this sacred union is only possible after we learn to re-value the principles of the feminine within women and men equally. Once we honor the Goddess within each and every one of us, then we can bring about the sacred union of the Goddess and the God, and ultimately, the healing of the planet. This sacred union needs to happen within each of us and externally in the world between women and men, men and men, women and women, and I’m including children here as well.
Although women desire to have the same inalienable rights as men, many of us do not value the feminine within ourselves. And so I ask you, if we can’t honor the feminine in our inner world, how can we expect to experience any honoring of the feminine in our outer world? As within; so without. It is absolutely right to expect to be valued for what we have to offer as women; to have the principles of the feminine honored and respected equally to the principles of the masculine. But we, as women, as the physical manifestation of the feminine energy, have to buy into that first. It’s essential that we honor our inner feminine as much as we honor our inner masculine so that we can manifest balance in the world. I think it’s important to state here that I’m not advocating that we replace masculine values with the feminine…that’s just the other end of the scale and, in the long run, still results in an imbalance.
So why would we reject the very thing that we’ve been fighting for? Good question. I was listening to the program, “Ideas,” on CBC Radio 2 a couple of weeks ago and they were covering a grass-roots aboriginal theatre movement in both Canada and Australia. It was heartwarming and empowering to hear the women founders discussing the challenges and successes of their respective groups and how women play a fundamental role in these groups. I found it ironic, however, when one of the women being interviewed recounted a conversation she had had with a man who is passionately involved in the organization and whom she had referred to as a token female. She felt compelled to apologize for referring to him as female; however, his response was that he took it as a compliment. The fact that she felt she had to apologize for comparing him to a female underscored for me the very thing that I am starting to realize within myself; that in our deep unconsciousness many women believe that to be female is to be second rate because we’ve been learning this since the day we were born. If you’re a Christian, you’ve possibly heard or even read the story of Genesis and are told that Eve (woman) is responsible for the downfall of Adam (man) and that she is the creator of original sin. This is a difficult script to rewrite but it’s one that we must reprogram in order to experience our greatness in the world. Just for interest’s sake, Adam has its origin in an ancient word used to describe both ‘menses’ and the earth, both of which nurture and create life – but I digress.
Reprogramming is sometimes easier said than done; however, it is possible. In my own personal healing journey, I’ve started to access feminine qualities that I have rejected for many years. I’ve started to make friends with my nurturing side, my compassionate nature, my ability to look within as a means to see clearly without. I’ve begun to explore authentic movement as a way “to love the skin that I’m in,” and to embrace the body as a manifestation of our spirit. I’ve also started to allow my inner female to feel anger and to express it and be empowered by that energy rather than feel like a bad girl for not being all “sugar and spice.” Probably the most difficult part of the journey for me has been to allow myself to feel and express grief. This part of the journey, thus far, has possibly had the most impact. I've begun to learn that the seemingly bottomless pit of grief is filled not only with the grief I experienced in my life, but never let myself feel or express but also the grief of 'woman kind', experienced over thousands of years of demoralizing, abusing, invalidating...not only women but the planet as a whole...and this grief is deeply embedded in our very DNA.
It feels like I’ve got a long way to go to fully heal this battered relationship but I’ve also started to accept that I don’t have to do it alone. Our patriarchal culture is based on hierarchy and, so, separation. However, in pre-historic societies, in the realm of “herstory,” Goddess-centered societies were communal, based on “kinship” rather than “kingship.” When one individual was in crisis, it was the concern of the community at large and everyone worked together to help that individual for they understood that “all is one.” Matriarchal societies were not based on a structure of hierarchy but on equal respect of women, men, children, animals, and the earth. There was a knowing, passed on by the wisdom of the elders, that we are all connected in this web of life.
I believe that women will be the primary healers of the human race, but before we take on the task of saving the world (yikes!), we need to heal ourselves first. I encourage every woman (and man) to take the time to evaluate their relationship with their inner female. Take some time to write down all of the qualities of the feminine and how they do or don’t show up in your life. Be as honest as you can with yourself regarding how you really perceive these qualities and why. As an example, for many years I rejected crying as I saw it as a sign of weakness. So much so, that I would not allow myself to cry even in the privacy of my own home with only my cats as witness to the event. I have swallowed many tears over the past 41 years and only now have I started to find the courage to cry when I feel like crying.
Dr. Christine Northrup talks about the effects of stuffing emotional responses into the body. She calls this blocked energy “illness in incubation.” Whatever we deny within ourselves, whatever we relegate to the shadows, shows up in our lives somehow; illness within the body or within our social constructs. And so I ask you – what are you hiding in the basement of your unconscious mind? How is that being projected or mirrored in your life and, on a larger scale, in the world around you? Above all, I invite you to embrace the qualities of the feminine within yourself, both the gentle and the fierce.
Before God was a man, God was a woman and the Goddess was honored by all as the giver, sustainer and destroyer of life; the natural cycle of birth-life-death that we see exemplified on this beautiful planet every day. It’s time that the old values of suppression and superiority are transformed into a new world vision that begins within each and every one of us. Once we can honor the feminine within, we can celebrate the sacred marriage between the Goddess and the God and create a future that nurtures and takes action equally.
Recommended Reading: (not an exhaustive list...there are thousands of great books out there!)
My Body is My Church
MY BODY IS MY CHURCH. If that sounds blasphemous to you, then please set your curiosity level to maximum and read on.
For the last 400 years, Western culture has developed the prevailing belief of “mind over matter”, “reason over intuition”, “intellect over wisdom”. Even many Eastern spiritual teachings tell us that the body is 2nd to spirit and that our time on earth should be spent trying to transcend the body to return to spirit. In fact, in classical Yoga, we are often told that ‘we are not our body nor our thoughts nor our emotions’. My personal belief is that we are spiritual energy and that our bodies are a physical manifestation of that energy…much like ice is a denser version of water and air. In fact, I believe that everything in our worldly experience is an expression of spirit. And so, if this is true, then why would I try to deny the beauty, power and wisdom of my body and its corresponding emotions, if they are indeed expressions of spirit?
The word Yoga derives from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means to ‘yoke’ or ‘join’ or ‘connect’. And so the fundamental principle of yoga is to connect and bring harmony to the disparate parts of ourselves – and in the Western cultural model, our bodies, emotions and parts of our psyche. When we deny any aspect of any three of these, we limit ourselves from becoming integrated and whole human and divine beings. I suspect that Yoga grew out of the authentic experiences of spiritual seekers, teachers and shamans as they explored different ways to know their human and divine selves better. But, over time, the practice of Yoga, and this is especially true in North America, has become a callisthenic endeavour with the goal of fixing what we perceive to be broken. Now don’t get me wrong – a Yoga practice involves moving the body and sometimes it is physically challenging and vigorous. However, it is also much more than that. It is not simply about showing “how far we can reach, or even reaching as far as we can, but rather about ‘paying attention’ to” what is happening in the moment, (Donna Farhi).
When we practice Yoga with awareness, moving and experiencing our body mindfully, we can reconnect with our body, emotions and mind (the wholeness of who we are) in loving ways. We can invite and allow transformation rather than forcing ourselves to be something other than what we are. When I teach and practice yoga, as students explore various poses and different ways to move their bodies, I invite them to observe what they are feeling: physically and emotionally and to pay attention to the thoughts that accompany those physical and emotional experiences. Sometimes, this brings up emotions that we may have been repressing for years. The beauty of emotions, ALL OF THEM, is that they can tell us how close we are to living our heart’s desires, or not. In this way, you might imagine your physical body and felt emotions as being your “inner barometer” or your spiritual GPS. When we suppress emotions because they are painful to feel, or we are ashamed to be feeling them, we abort the process of transformation and end up with an overabundance of energy locked down in the body where we can’t make use of it. This is true of any type of emotion that is left unfelt and unexpressed.
The word ‘emotion’ derives from the Latin word ‘emovere’ which means ‘to move’. And so ‘emotion’ means ‘energy in motion’. Emotional energy is creative energy and it is meant to move…when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, and we typically resist feeling the uncomfortable ones, we cut ourselves off from the flow of creative energy. We also bury our emotions alive where they can, if repressed long enough, wreck havoc on our physical, emotional and mental well-being. When we acknowledge, feel and appropriately express our emotions in the moment in which we are feeling them, we allow that energy to flow and transform. Some might say that letting ourselves feel grief or anger limits us from living abundantly; I invite you to consider that “we are not held back from feeling our emotions but, rather, we are held back [from experiencing an authentic life] by the degree to which we choose to remain unconscious of our emotions. Living our lives fully can only happen when we allow ourselves to feel deeply.” (Unknown)
Allowing ourselves to feel the full range of our emotional spectrum doesn’t mean we give ourselves permission to ‘act out’ or ‘project’. Indulging takes us out of the present moment, as we lose ourselves in our thoughts about the emotions we’re feeling and, like a hamster on a wheel, keep going round and round the emotional race track. Projection and acting out happen, not because we are allowing ourselves to authentically feel emotions in the present moment but because, conversely, we suppress or deny emotional energy that simply will not be suppressed or denied. You can be sure that whenever you are emotionally triggered by another person’s words or actions, there is an emotional history within you that is begging to be witnessed and transformed. If you make your emotional response to a situation about someone else, you lose the opportunity to transform that emotional history. This doesn’t mean absolving other people for their own behavior, especially if their behavior is harmful to others. But it does mean getting real about how you feel in any given situation, and allowing yourself to really feel those emotions, expressing them in a way that is not harmful to yourself or another, being open to receiving the gifts hidden underneath the painful layers and taking the steps towards transformation, if that is in your highest good. This kind of journey is not for the feint of heart.
You might say that Yoga is more about cultivating inner strength or fortitude that supports us during challenging times…and we do so through the practice of poses (or asanas), mindful breathing practices and meditation. When we come to our Yoga mat and practice with awareness, we are given the opportunity to greet our whole selves – perhaps for the first time in a very long time. Whether you’re practicing yoga or simply living your life, set the intention to meet and befriend all the parts of yourself. Perhaps this meeting will take place at your ‘edge’. You can think of the ‘edge’ in Yoga as “the threshold of your comfort zone” or “the boundary of your resistance”. This is something we experience both on the mat and throughout our daily lives. Your edge might be physical, emotional or mental. If you don’t get close enough to your edge, you’ll likely miss the beautiful view and you might be left wondering what all the excitement is about; you might end up in a rut, doing and experiencing the same old things over and over again. If you go too far past your edge, you might fall off into the land of injury. Transformation is powerful and not something to be forced upon yourself or another.
As you explore a yoga practice, either in the privacy of your home or in a class setting, I encourage you to “participate with your body” rather than strong-arming it to do what your mind thinks it should. Remember, it’s not about trying to show what you can do; rather, focus on self-discovery. Imagine you’re going on a scavenger hunt and that you are the buried treasure. And then take the experience of doing so off your mat and out into your life…and be prepared for miracles.
Michele is passionate about supporting women in their journey to self-empowerment