Finding the Silver Lining in the Black Cloud of Fear

Of all the “negative” emotions that I’ve reclaimed, I think I’ve been mulling over fear the most. At one point, I would have almost said that it was the only emotion that was truly negative, but I cringed to hold such a double standard for myself.

Usually when I try to reclaim a “negative emotion,” I try to brain my way to finding constructive uses for that emotion. Perhaps I’ve done that to some extent with fear, .e.g. telling myself that it’s healthy to be afraid of jumping off of a ledge; however, I think this particular reclamation has been far more unconscious than conscious.

Still, I want to try to at least trace the outlines of the process even if I can’t fill in the details of how or when I moved from a negative association to a more neutral place.

In beginning my new job, I’ve faced some downright terrifying challenges. (By terrifying, I mean anything out of my element, from having to speak my mind to my supervisor to potentially having to call the police on a violent person. My brain hasn’t exactly done a stellar job of determining which fears are legitimate and which are ‘just discomfort’.) I’ve found myself having to think and act quickly without nearly as much training, knowledge, or confidence as I felt I needed in those moments.

It’s exhausting to encounter so much fear, and there were days I wondered if I was really cut out for human services.

However, I’ve discovered that it’s also incredibly empowering.

In moments when I’ve been faced with my fears and I had no other choice but to respond to them, I figured out how I wanted to deal with them pretty damn quickly. I wasn’t conscious of any sort of reclamation though; I didn’t have time to think through the implications of diving head first into the things that scared me.

A large part of the reclamation must be attributed to Clarissa Pinkola Estes. In her analysis of the Bluebeard tale in Women Who Run With the Wolves, she talks about each person having an inner predator, a part of themselves that seeks to destroy or sabotage the self.

Rather than the typical self-help advice cajoling an individual to destroy or eradicate destructive parts of the psyche, Estes talks about recycling the inner predator into more positive expressions.

A few weeks after reading that chapter, I was preparing a ritual based on TWLOHA’s poignant Fears vs. Dreams campaign as a kind of ice-breaker for a group of women with whom I was planning on meeting. I wanted it to be more than just stating a fear and a dream with our names (boring!), so I had arranged to have us plant seeds in a flower pot to represent our dreams.

Initially, I also intended to have us all burn a paper with our fears written on them, a standard method for releasing; however, something in me rebelled against the idea of just getting rid of my fears, as if my vulnerabilities and sensitivities were some sort of refuse.

I noticed that my fear and dream for this project almost seemed connected to each other, like one was the shadow side of the other.

I remembered the Bluebeard story and was inspired with an alternative version for my ritual–burying. The act of putting (biodegradable) paper into a flower pot to break down and feed the seeds seemed like such a beautiful way to tie fears into dreams. By breaking down the fear, its power is taken away as a predator, allowing its nutritive qualities to be absorbed and transformed into something empowering rather than debilitating.

As much as fear can be (has been) the root of so much pain and intolerance and negativity, it’s also the root of courage. (No really, the idea of courage simply doesn’t work without fear’s presence.)

Granted, some fears are a little silly and need only be named to lose their power. But others are more legitimate, notifying me of when I might be in danger or when something valuable to me is at stake. Unfortunately, fear, as an emotion, doesn’t differentiate between silly and legitimate.

So long as I treat all fear as something that needs to be erased from my life, I remove its power to inform my decisions in positive ways, sabotaging my own ability to live courageously.

However, when I take the time to face my fear, name it, dismantle it, and recycle it, I create a way for fear to be a positive force in my life, not motivating my actions and decisions, but nurturing the places of hope and courage that do motivate my actions and decisions.

 

 

My Boobs Don’t Create a Stumbling Block for Your Marriage, but Your Beliefs Do.

It’s the summer, which unfortunately means that modesty police are out, shaming women for their bodies and lamenting the uncontrollable minds of men. There are far more blog posts right now about how women should dress than would be reasonable or desirable to read, but I have to admit that I can’t resist clicking on a handful of links that come across my newsfeed.

This time it was this post about a woman begging for girls to keep their boobs out of her marriage.

I could write about my angst with the body-shaming or the problems with assuming that women are responsible for men’s fidelity and thoughts…but I’ve already done that and so have so many others. And ironically, I’m not upset at the body-shaming post. Rather, I feel incredible sympathy for the author.

So today, I’m not ranting about feminism and bodily autonomy. I just want to say something to Lauren, who is so upset about the bikini-riddled Internet and afraid of losing her husband to some other woman.

I get it. So much.

I don’t agree with you on any of what you said, but I feel all of your pain because once upon a time it was my pain too.

I haven’t been married that long. Five and a half years is hardly any time with someone, and certainly not enough time for me to feel that I have advice to bestow on other couples.

But I think that we have a lot in common.

Like you, I believed that other women were my enemy. I believed they were trying to steal my husband, ruin my marriage, and break my heart. I also believed that my husband was a helpless victim who would be lured away by their wiles and charms—that his mind was so photographic that he couldn’t ever—EVER—forget the things he saw.

I believed it was my responsibility to guard his heart and our marriage, which ranged anywhere from trying to be available for sex all the time to actively previewing movies so that I could cover his eyes if something came on.

I believed it because I was taught it. Every book I read, every sermon I heard, every class I attended told me that if I didn’t believe those things or act accordingly, my marriage was trashed.

I was controlling. I knew I was controlling. You probably do too.

I was insecure. I was afraid of being compared to all those (obviously) more beautiful women out there on the Internet (and sometimes in real life).

I was practically counting down the days to when my husband would cheat, and I believed it would be my fault for not being able to do enough to keep him faithful. Our goodnights were laced with interrogations about what he had seen, whether he was struggling with remembering it, what I could do to make things better.

And we were miserable.

Because there was nothing else for us to be but miserable in such a relationship. Our own love was undermined by a distrust planted so deeply that we never thought to question it, and our friendships were poisoned by the constant competition with any woman and shame around any man.

It was terrifying to start dismantling some of the teachings with which I’d been raised. Avoidance conditioning (where you teach someone to do something to prevent something bad from happening) is one of the hardest behavior patterns to break. For all I knew, when I started to dismantle those beliefs and confront the insecurities they created around my body and my relationship, I could have been throwing my marriage out the window, guaranteeing what I was most afraid of.

But what I discovered was that the opposite was true. When I let go of the control, my relationship grew stronger! Lines of communication opened up and trust deepened as we explored what it meant to be together without owning each other. The world started to look less threatening when we stopped assuming that every woman was a threat or that skin was taboo.

He had his own work to do, too. I quickly discovered that relationships weren’t one-sided, and I couldn’t be responsible for keeping us strong. But when I stopped trying to coddle him like a child, I discovered that he was more than capable of doing his own work. In fact, he dismantled his views of how he’d been taught to view women far more quickly than I dismantled mine.

We don’t have everything figured out yet. Our relationship is constantly changing and growing, which means that boundaries are constantly shifting. But that’s okay. There’s far more stability in a relationship that can morph and change as needed than with a relationship that is far too rigid to withstand summer Facebook photos.

I know now, more than I ever could have before, that he is with me because he wants to be, and the fact that he could leave at any moment makes me feel all the more secure in his love. We even share each others’ crushes, which usually end up being the same person since I’m attracted to the same kind of women as he is.

On some levels, I think being bisexual may have made it easier for me to dismantle the “other woman” teachings from modesty culture because it allowed me to see how I could be attracted to women without losing control of my mind or that I could be attracted to multiple people without losing my love for my husband. But I still think we would have arrived here eventually anyway because it’s just not healthy to live with that much fear and distrust.

I don’t know what kind of backlash you’ve gotten since you put up your post. I’m sure it hasn’t been pretty because Internet commenters tend to be the underbelly of a very ugly beast. But I hope that this can be a catalyst for you to find a way to grow stronger in yourself, question some of those fears, and open up new avenues for relationship development.

Coming from someone who has been where you’re at, you don’t have to live in fear.

P.S. Your friendships will also be far more awesome when you aren’t projecting the weaknesses of your relationship and self-esteem onto their shoulders. Just as you shouldn’t be responsible for keeping your husband faithful, they aren’t responsible for keeping you secure. If you own your own shit, you empower yourself to be able to change it.

Listening for the Holy Spirit…er, My Spirit

This spring and summer have been a delightful whirlwind of activity. For a number of weeks leading up to the summer solstice, I couldn’t imagine being alone, filling each day and night with fun and friends. There were moments when I wondered if I could even consider myself an introvert anymore.

Then as the summer peaked and entered into the waning half of the year, I felt a shift.

“It’s time,” a small voice seemed to whisper.

I didn’t need to question what it was time for either. I knew instinctively that I was turning inward, beginning a more private part of my journey. Solitude suddenly seemed not only appealing but necessary. Whereas a week before I would have considered it a waste of a weekend to be stuck at home alone, my ideal Friday night was now an evening spent with my journal.

I know, this isn’t a particularly dramatic or interesting story. I went through a cycle. I managed to know when it was time to refocus and change direction. Whoop-di-do.

What stood out to me, though, was that the voice I felt and heard, the compass I looked towards for my “next step,” was the same voice I had listened for my entire life, even when I was in the IFB. It was the voice that I hoped to feel when I prayed and waited for the Holy Spirit’s leading. It was the voice that never led me wrong.

I used to think it was the voice of God.

I think I needed to believe it was the voice of God because realizing that it was coming from myself would have made it too untrustworthy.

Having been raised to distrust my “deceitfully wicked” heart, I couldn’t just trust my own understanding, for that would have surely led me into the devil’s snares. Every thought, every feeling, every desire was suspect, tainted with sinfulness.

But if I prayed earnestly to God in faith and submission, I could at least feel reasonably certain that he wouldn’t lead me wrong. Prayer was my only way of seeking direction outside of my authority figures and spiritual leaders, and ultimately the only way to trump their demands on my life.

So I listened for the still small voice of God that eventually led me out of the IFB and into freedom.

As I lost my religion, I went through a period where I doubted the “answered prayers” that had been such transformative moments in my life. If I didn’t believe in the Christian god, how could my prayers and my experiences have been real?

I still desperately needed to feel that sense of direction, but I couldn’t yet identify it as coming from within me. Tarot replaced prayer as my guidance seeker. It was external and mysterious enough that I could listen for that knowledge of the right direction without consciously looking to my inner wisdom as my guide.

I still love Tarot as my most surefire way of cutting through the bullshit of “should’s” and “must’s” to get to the heart of what I feel, but over time I’ve realized that I can access that inner knowing from within myself as much as from without. And as I’ve practiced listening to my intuition and inner guide, I’ve gotten better at hearing it without any props or tools.

I was afraid when I left Christianity that I would never again experience the magic of feeling “filled with the Holy Ghost” or the assurance of knowing that I would receive the answer I needed in prayer, but my soul has given me a beautiful surprise.

I don’t need anything else to fill me or guide me on what is truly best for my life. I am enough. I’ve been enough all along. Being connected to myself is being connected to God and filled with the Holy Spirit. It was me all along, finding ways of reaching out to myself.

And now that I’m no longer afraid of that connection or of that incredible, beyond-comprehension intuition, I know what it is for God to say, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

 

Bluebeard Tarot Spread: Guidance On Getting Free

I developed my first tarot spread recently, and I’m so excited about it that I wanted to share it with all of you! The following spread is based on the tale of Bluebeard, as told in Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, a young woman and her sisters are wooed by a rich nobleman. Her older sisters think the dude is creepy as fuck and reject his proposal. However, the young woman is blinded by the promises he offers and marries him.

Not long after they wed, he goes on a trip, giving her the keys to the castle. He tells her she can go into any of the rooms except one. Her sisters, who think this is weird, convince her to look for the forbidden room and turn the search into a game.

When she finds it, she discovers that her husband is a serial killer who has chopped off the heads of all of his former wives.

Stuff happens where, of course, he finds out that she found out and tries to kill her, but she is miraculously saved by some random brothers that come out of nowhere (really don’t get that part!)

So, yeah. Really short summary.

Clarissa’s version is way better. In fact, it was so good that it inspired me to create this five-card spread for getting out of stuck situations. I’ve used it several times already and have found it to be one of my most direct and powerful spreads.

The layout is as follows:

~~~5~~~

2~~1~~ 3

~~~4~~~

Card 1—The Proposal: This is what the querent wanted and thought they were getting when they entered into the situation

Card 2—The Predator:  This card represents what is entrapping the querent currently. Although this could potentially be a person, the predator can be also be a belief or situation.

Card 3—The Trick. This is what has been lost in the process of pursuing the proposal. The querent may already have some inclination of this loss but may be unable to see it because of the emotional investment in the proposal.

Card 4—The Secret. This card represents a truth that the querent must confront. Sometimes it’s about something in a relationship with someone else; sometimes it’s about something within the querent themselves (negative beliefs, lack of boundaries, etc.)

Card 5—The Key. This is what will give the querent the power to free themselves. This card is closely tied to the Key. It could be an action or it could be the new perspective that the querent needs in order to avoid repeating an unhealthy pattern.

If you read Tarot, give this spread a whirl and let me know what you think!

Check Your Privilege: When Privilege Conversations Participate in Oppression

“If you’re right-handed, how often do you benefit from a right-handed world?” The speaker looked around the room as a few half-hearted answers trickled up from the crowd.

“If you’re left-handed,” she continued, “how often do you tweak to fit into a right-handed world?”

The illustration, though simple, was obvious. Right-handers are privileged; left-handers struggle with a world designed without them in mind. And even though there wasn’t a particular disadvantage I could identify within this illustration, I sat there fuming.

Once again, dichotomy erased diversity.

It may not matter on a practical level that ambidextrous people were completely overlooked, but it did matter on a philosophical level. The speaker was attempting to highlight privilege with a relatively innocuous illustration, and she inadvertently succeeded in highlighting what I think is the biggest issue surrounding the conversation of privilege currently.

Time and time again, invisible minorities don’t even make it onto the table.

Someone I know recently remarked, “If diversity were the Olympics, invisible minorities wouldn’t even be a team.”

So often it seems that oppression and privilege are approached like a competition. Whoever has the most visible disadvantage wins.

Visible

What happens to the invisible? The ones who don’t fit neatly into the accepted, clearly drawn lines between dichotomies of white/black, gay/straight, male/female, rich/poor, disabled/abled, or…as with the silly example above, right-hand/left-hand?

They get lost, ignored, erased, and denied.

It comes from “both” sides.

This year I’ve heard more about privilege than ever before. Initially I was ecstatic because it’s a conversation we desperately need to have as a nation.

But now I’m just burnt out.

I’m so tired of responding to a privilege question with “but what about…” I’m tired of being told I benefit by being erased or that my version of oppression doesn’t matter because I didn’t experience it within the accepted categories.

Some will preface their privilege conversations with statements about how identity is complicated and no one is entirely privileged or entirely oppressed. Someone can be privileged in one area of their life and not be privileged in another.

Someone can also pass without necessarily belonging to the privileged.

But when it comes down to the carry-out, awareness of multiple facets of identity rarely remains, much less awareness of the multiple expressions that a single facet can take.

More often than not, I watch privilege discussions degenerate into people vying for perspective king-of-the-mountain, and if that requires pretending that only two opponents exist, all the better. It’s easier to categorically deny someone’s experience if your world is black and white.

However, I don’t believe it’s possible to make progress in the conversation about privilege and oppression while we are ignoring the experiences and realities of anyone. That just creates new oppressions, one in which “both sides” participate together. If we truly want to fight oppression, prejudice, and discrimination, we need to address the co-oppression of the invisible minorities. We have to stop erasing those who don’t fit into our dichotomies of identity.

I know it’s threatening to think that the lines of identity aren’t as clearly drawn as we would like to think. I know it’s terrifying to realize that we might have something in common with the “other”/”not you” or that our experiences might be shared on various levels. I even know it’s confusing to consider how identity works if there are so many people that fit in the middle.

It’s uncomfortable to think about trying to navigate a world in which we can’t visually pigeonhole someone and know whether we trust them or like them or belong with them.

But then again, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be breaking away from anyway?

 

Embracing the Unconventional Birthday

I’m not a fan of my birthday. Around this time of year I usually go into hibernation, snarling at anyone who reminds me of that approaching day.

I love my zodiac month, and I usually love the beginning of a new year for myself…but the day of my birth just isn’t up there on my list of things to celebrate.

Sometimes I think it’s more socially unacceptable to not celebrate my birthday than it is to not celebrate any other holiday. Most people will understand if I say that Thanksgiving is painful for me, or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but to say that my birthday is painful…? No one gets that.

Black for a life begun in sorrow. Red for the transforming fire of the Phoenix. White for the hope of the future.

Black for a life begun in sorrow. Red for the transforming fire of the Phoenix. White for the hope of the future.

It’s not that I don’t do things on my birthday. I have quite a few rituals that I’ve developed to mark that day. They just aren’t on the party spectrum because I consider my birthday a day for grief and mourning, a time to commemorate the beginning of a life of trauma.

It’s hard knowing that your mother didn’t want you—that she cried when she found out she was pregnant with you.

It’s hard knowing that someone you trusted molested you and that no one in your family paid attention to the warning signs.

It’s hard knowing that the first 20 years of your life were filled with lies, abuse, and pain.

It’s hard to celebrate the beginning of a life like that.

I’ve tried to be happy about my birthday—to imagine being excited about cake, parties, presents…okay I’m always excited about presents…but the rest of it. I’ve tried to be excited about the whole birthday tradition.

But I just can’t! It feels like trying to send a widow a card that says, “Congratulations!”

I don’t regret living. I love my life, and I celebrate it in many ways, including celebrating “unbirthdays” and “new years” before and after my actual birthday.

But the day of my birth?

That day I’ve reserved for funerial rituals and quietude.

In that way, my birthday is special. It’s a very sacred day for honoring what I’ve come through.

Celebrating is for the rest of June.

 

Spiritual Crisis in a Psychological World

Our society is fairly young in its abandonment of spiritual journeys and rites of passage. What once would have been the territory of the sacred has become the territory of the psychologist.

We’ve tried to sterilize, medicalize, and materialize human existence after centuries (or millenniums) of spirituality. We’ve buried our guides, forsaken our ceremonies, and detached ourselves from our process in exchange for diagnoses and medications.

Carl Jung believed that myth was

the primordial language natural to these psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythical imagery.

In other words, the psyche speaks in myth, and science and psychology alone cannot begin to even touch the depth that mythology reaches for the soul.

I once thought that reclaiming my spiritual life was something I had to do for my healing because of my history within a cult, where so much of my abuse has been at the hands of religion; however, I don’t think I believe that anymore.

At an herbal conference a couple weeks ago, I attended a class about sacred herbs in spirituality. The teacher started the class by talking about tobacco and its use in various Native American spiritualties as a purifying herb. I was struck when she mused about the high rate of cigarette addiction in the United States, wondering whether it indicated that people were seeking a cleansing without realizing it.

The comment stuck out to me not because it was a light-bulb comment on its own, but because it came on the heels of several similar thoughts I’ve encountered in a wide variety of settings.

At another conference I attended, the speaker (Ron Coleman) was talking about how mental health crises sometimes resemble spiritual awakenings. In this instance, he was talking about the experience of hearing voices, which in mainstream society is seen as a sure sign of psychosis but which has often been a signal of spiritual encounters in other cultures.

By every indication, he himself was atheist, yet he was arguing against labeling spiritual experiences as mental illness…

Few in today’s society would try to argue that exorcisms, witch hunts, and tortures that developed in response to unacceptable experiences were good; however, what options do we, as a society, offer people for their modern “unacceptable” experiences? Illness labels and medicinally exorcising fictional demons?

On some levels, I think we might offer even fewer opportunities for people to confront their experiences and find a way to work through them to a positive end, perhaps not because we think they are demonic, but because we can’t handle the discomfort of not being able to control their process.

Maybe we’re not meant to.

joseph campbell cave

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” -Joseph Campbell. Found over at quoteswave.com

Ron Coleman described the “proper” role of psychotherapists as midwives of the soul. It’s a radical perspective, but not a new one. Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and so many others have proposed many times over that the psyche doesn’t necessarily need fixing. It needs to find itself again. It needs to take its mythic journey, delve into its spiritual encounters…go into the dark cave.

Perhaps it’s time to start paying attention to the soul again. Perhaps the mind and soul aren’t so different. Perhaps healing “mental illness” isn’t about finding the mental equivalent to antibiotics and surgery. Maybe it’s about finding the mental equivalent of: “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

A scene from Zelda that has become a meme. Found at zeldauniverse.net

Zelda, that is all. Found at zeldauniverse.net