This is a beautiful and potent tale of healing from my friend and soul-sister Belinda. She eloquently puts into words another story about the damage we do to our bodies by suppressing emotions, often as childhood survival strategies, and that embracing our history can help us heal whenever we are ready. For anyone who felt they had to stay strong as children in order to protect something or someone, maybe Belinda’s story will resonate. And what the heck, pop-TV shows can offer great metaphors, too!
I have been feeling somewhat out of sorts since posting that last blog piece. I’ve had lots of conversations about it, and they have ranged from unconditional support, to admissions of like feelings, to concern for my well-being, both professional and personal. Through it all, I have had the sense that I broke a taboo in writing about my personal financial fears, fear itself, and generally showing my very human vulnerability in public. I find myself alternating between despair and rebelliousness: despair over the sense that one person’s pain is so difficult for others to hear, and rebelliousness because I am more determined than ever to expose the negative stuff that our culture wants to ignore and cover up and push away.
The word that came to me in the dark of a recent night was heresy, so I looked it up. Heresy is described as a “provocative” belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs. It certainly seems heretical to talk about fear and show vulnerability in public. And although I would like to pin this on mainstream culture, it is often just as prevalent in spiritual circles. All this focus on “manifesting” and light and all things to feel good and holy and “spiritual.” The plain fact is that life is made up of joy AND pain, courage AND fear, strength AND vulnerability. And how could it be otherwise in the human realm anyway???
I did not set out to be a heretic, although one of my current inspirations and mentors proclaims herself as such. I write to share a small piece of a human experience, a full human experience, as truthfully as an imperfect medium will allow. Fear is part of my experience. Vulnerability is a fact of my life. And we haven’t even gotten to shame, which, to me, feels about the worst of all and is absolutely rampant in our culture. I am sure there will be posts about that on this blog, but meanwhile there is Brene Brown’s well-researched and very insightful book about it called Daring Greatly, after a much-admired Teddy Roosevelt speech.
I know that I am no longer “mainstream”; I have experienced too much that is discounted, ignored, or outright shut down by our culture at large. The fact that I worry almost not at all about meeting someone else’s definition of “professional” is only one very small example of my cultural incorrectness. Perhaps more heretical is my embrace of, even revelry in, the experience of the metaphorical dark. In truth, I am enjoying this process of writing about deep, dark things such as fear. I have spent a big portion of the past year wallowing, essentially, in fear and shame and other lovely emotions, some of which were buried pretty darned deep. I did not set out to do this! Between the bodyworkers and other healers I spent time with last fall and winter, the illnesses that worked their way through my body, and other factors, these emotions have showed themselves to be seen and embraced, allowing old wounds to finally heal. I have looked at fears such as that of being truly seen (i.e. vulnerable), limitations of aging, and even failing in various vocational endeavors. I have also faced shame in a number of incarnations, whether around simple human body stuff, or foundational aspects of being a woman and more, to be covered in greater detail at another time and place.
And I would not trade one second of this time spent in the dark. In a way that perhaps the mystics can explain far better than I can, this time in the dark has made life so very much more rich. Not only can’t I push it away anymore, I don’t want to, and I don’t want to be complicit in anyone else’s attempts to push it away, either. Our cultural insistence on staying in the light has had untold effects on our country and our planet, not to mention each of us as individuals. My sense of urgency around giving voice to the truth to the best of my ability is all the greater after learning of the tragic death of a woman far too young this past weekend. She was experiencing some kind of darkness. Would it have helped to feel a little less alone with it? I don’t know. Grace has shielded me from that level of despair, at least to this point in my life. But I can share what darkness I do experience, in the desire that it is as healing for others as it is for me.
Dedicated to Jen, whom I did not know well but loved all the same.
I’ve never talked much about soul, at least not as a noun. I have always liked soul food, soul music, but the subject of “my” soul, or anyone else’s for that matter, rarely came up in conversation. And I probably changed the subject or rolled my eyes if it did, as did many of my friends.
Things change, and people learn new things, and my understanding of soul, specifically my soul, is a lot different today than even a year ago. And then, I went to a SoulFire retreat while I was on vacation in Montana, and not only is my understanding a whole lot different, I have a heck of a lot more experience with the reality of soul.
The retreat was intended to support each of us – thirty one women – to deepen our relationships with and experience of our souls, and it was highly effective. The difference between what I might have expected from this sort of event and what I got is that it did not feel New Agey and transcendent and consciousness-raising and generally contrived to make everyone happy and shiny. At all. Instead, this was the most raw, honest, alternately painful and joyful but always inescapably authentic event I’ve ever attended. Yoga teacher training came close, in large part because pushing the body to its limits has many similarities to soul work. And the week-long meditation retreats I’ve attended also had their share of raw and honest moments, as well as deep healing work, but it all went on in silence or while listening to one person at the microphone with the teacher. Perhaps the biggest difference in Montana was the intense bonding and support of those thirty one women and our facilitator/guide/lead soul, Sera.
I saw transformations take place in five days that I would expect to take months or years. Tales of abuse and abandonment were shared, with no shying away or comforting or avoidance of any kind. Women found their own ways through these experiences in the container built by Sera and held by all of us. In my own case, there are no experiences of abuse, but I still found old hurts to let go of, or pieces of me that I’ve left behind for one reason or another, to bring back. One old hurt was deceptively simple: during my miserable seventh or eighth grade years, I internalized a strong message that it was not OK to be….OK. It was much more acceptable to put yourself down, minimize any talent or skill you might have, generally make fun of yourself, but definitely don’t tell anyone you are OK the way you are. If you sounded even slightly comfortable with yourself, you were open to ridicule, at least in my awkward, shy and feeling-out-of-place estimation at the time.
Then, shortly after the retreat, while doing on my own one of the meditations we had practiced together, I realized how much of my voice I had lost over the years. It was both shocking and dismaying to remember how many times I have let someone else – a teacher, boss, friend, co-worker, etc. – shut me up (or down, depending on how you look at it.) And of course, the really depressing thing is, it was me doing the shutting up and shutting down, complicit with the bullies and “authorities”. And holding back on sharing the real truth, what I really know and understand which is likely contrary to popular opinion, or polite conversation. Which is one reason why this is going on the blog – time to get loud, or at least a little less quiet. I can write more later about all the fear that comes up when I hit the publish button and let the world see a little more of me.
There were more parts to the retreat, many of which I have no desire to share beyond those of us who went through them together and maybe a few close friends. And some of my other shifts deserve their own posts – such as realizing my own sovereignty, “standing in my own authority”. In truth, what this SoulFire retreat did for me was give me back more of myself than I have had in a very long time, and forged the bonds of a community of women that will be with me for a very long time. And in one way or another, it did the same for anyone reading this post.
For a very brave take on this same retreat, you can read the blog of my beautiful soul sister, Belinda.