BRAVING TRUST Tarot Spread

Trust—we seem to all struggle with it to an extent. And we all experience a breaking of trust at some point in a relationship. Which is why it’s so important to talk about trust, relational wounds, repairs, and taking informed risks (because let’s face it, there’s no such thing as a risk-free relationship).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot out there that talks explicitly about how to build and deepen relationships and develop trust. For the most part, we’re left to trial and error, with some of us consistently over-trusting and others struggling to trust at all. Or some who do a combination of both (hello to fellow disorganized attachment people!).

Periodically, when I’m desperately struggling with a relationship and whether it feels safe, I’ll look for a Tarot spread to help me clarify. Unfortunately, I also frequently find that Tarot spreads don’t focus on the issues I’m struggling with either. Usually it’s not about whether the person reciprocates my liking, but whether they’re safe to invest my emotions and time in.

So with all the preamble of “this particular form of self-help doesn’t exist!” of course I’m going to present a solution that I found.

Behold Brene Brown.

In a talk she did for Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions (ugh, I’m sorry, but it’s not as fluffy as it sounds, I promise), Brene breaks down how she has come to view trust and intimacy based on her research and personal experience. She even comes up with a kitschy acronym that hearkens back to her TED Talk to evaluate the health of a budding relationship: BRAVING.

As much as I want to hate the acronym—because acronyms?—I actually find it super useful. So much so that I initially painted a poster of it to hang near my desk so that I could reference it when I needed to.

And then I decided that it needed to be a Tarot spread too!

This is a spread that could be used solo to get clarity on the relationship. I also foresee it being something that two people could do together as a way to prompt discussion about the relationship. The layout is pretty simple, using each letter of BRAVING as a single position in the layout.

So here is the BRAVING TRUST spread.

  1.            3.          5.         7.
    2.           4.          6.          8. (optional)

 

  1. The quality of the boundaries in this relationship.
  2. The nature of the reliability that you can expect as things are.
  3. The accountability that has been present up to now.
  4. The extent to which they guard and respect confidences and privacy.
  5. The values and integrity of the relationship and the people involved.
  6. The quality of non-judgmental mutuality within the relationship dynamic.
  7. The ability for generous assumptions to be present when someone makes a mistake.
  8. Optional: Outcome summary if the relationship continues as it currently is.

Also pay attention to the ways the cards relate to each other. For instance, boundaries aren’t just highlighted in the first position. They’ll often be reflected in other areas as well, especially in positions 4 and 5 as they relate to things that tend to influence boundaries.

More than likely, unless this person is a shit friend, there will be strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. This spread doesn’t tell you what to do with the relationship. What it does do is show you where you may want to work towards improvement or whether you may want to tailor the role that person plays in your life. Of course, some things might be deal-breakers, and this should highlight those areas.

This is not a feel-good spread. Most of the time, we don’t think to evaluate a relationship until we’re feeling tension and confusion around an area of difficulty, so this spread tends to highlight the discomfort within the relationship. However, it’s also important to remember that until the discomfort is revealed, nothing can be done to either distance oneself from the relationship or improve it. Thus, I hope that people will find this a constructive discomfort worth leaning into.

 

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Mother’s Day with Archetypes

I’d say Mother’s Day is my least favorite holiday, but even that implies that there is some sort of favor. So more accurately, it’s my most loathed holiday.

For years Mother’s Day came with an endless supply of pain with a special heaping helping of guilt and obligation. I warred with myself as I strove to remain true to my own wounds while dutifully participating in the ritual of thanking my mom…for all the things she didn’t actually do for me very well.

Anyone who has experience with a neglectful, abusive, or difficult mother probably recognizes the impasse inherent in that war, and I often found the best solution to be drunk texting my mother a vague message that I would only vaguely remember sending later.

Well, I’ve managed to do away with the guilt and obligation. Going no contact with my family makes it a lot easier to abstain from the collective lies…but I still feel the pangs of grief that accompany this holiday every year.

The grief over what I did experience, and the grief over what I never had.

And perhaps to an extent, I will always feel that…but I’ve also learned to begin building a relationship with MOTHER-as-archetype in the various forms that it appears to me. Yes, my mom may have sucked at nurturing me, but I still know what “mothering” feels like. I still have a concept of what I long for when I long for a mom (though never my mom).

And it’s that Mother that I seek to connect with increasingly on this day. So this weekend, I compiled a list of my favorite mothers. I would love to hear about yours in the comments.

Lorelei Gilmore
I love Lorelei for the simple reason that she is a great mom who didn’t have a great mom. She’s not a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination, but she has a strong relationship with Rory and genuinely strives to be the best mom she can be. She knows how to be gentle and when to give a push. When she pushes too far, she knows how to make amends. She embodies mother-as-friend, mother-as-cheerleader, mother-as-comfort, and mother-as-confidant. She also, in my opinion, is a beautiful example of the good-enough-mother.

Molly Weasley
Can there be a more fierce example of mother-love beyond Mrs. Weasley? She is protectress through and through. A little overbearing at times, but a woman whose children never have to doubt that she cares for them with her life. She and her family have struggles (financial and political) and one can see that life isn’t easy, but she never puts her own burdens on her children. She strives to protect them without filling them with a fantasy that the world is safer than it is or encouraging them to ignore the injustices so long as injustice doesn’t touch them. She embodies mother-as-activist and mother-as-protectress.

Queen of Cups
Okay, moving away from movies, the Queen of Cups is probably the only Tarot card that I think of as truly mothering, even though all the queens can be seen as a mother of their particular suit. The Queen of Cups, though, is all about nurturance and emotions. She’s the kind of mother that knows that she can’t save you from the depth of your feelings and won’t stand in the way of you going deep into your pain. In fact, she’ll often encourage you to dive deeply into it…but not alone. She’ll go with you and provide her empathy and love to sustain you on your journey. She is the kind of mother who knows that nurturing and comfort, like spirituality, were never meant to help you bypass the difficult things in life but to give you the strength you need to be able to face them. She embodies mother-as-guide and mother-as-wisdom.

Mother Nature
I don’t think I can talk about archetypal mothers without touching on nature and her myriad of examples of nurturing. She is the great life-sustainer herself but she is also filled with images and symbols of mothering. Whenever I need to feel re-energized and sustained, my surest bet is to connect with nature in some way. Last year, around this time, I witnessed a mama duck trying to cross a raging river with her little ducklings. Even though she could have gotten to the other side quickly on her own, she kept circling back to help her struggling young ones at the rough patches, finally getting to the other shore far down the river from where she probably intended to end up, but having managed to keep every single one of her ducklings safe during the process. For whatever role I need to see, in nature there is an example somewhere. Nature embodies the Great Mother in all her forms.

This is also the time of year when I get to feel my own mothering energy flowing most strongly as I plant my garden and begin tending my green babies towards bloom and fruit. That’s an important connection with the MOTHER-as-archetype because it reminds me that mothering is not just something I seek outside of myself. All of my external symbols ultimately serve to remind me to look within for the mothering energy that I myself possess.

Like Lorelei, I might not have had the best example to draw from, but I have the capacity to re-mother myself, offering to my own inner child that which my biological mother was unable to offer at the time. So as usual, I grieve this Mother’s Day for the mother I didn’t have and the mother I no longer have, but I temper that grief with the comfort, nurturance, protectiveness, and companionship of the MOTHER.

 

 

Pynk like the Anthem of my Heart…Maybe?

Since first hearing Janelle Monae’s new song “Pynk,” I have been listening to it over and over and over again, equal parts mesmerized by the beautiful choreography and the billowing vulva pants in the music video.

Despite how much work I have done in celebrating and reclaiming my body and sexuality from trauma, purity culture, and sexism, this year I have been reminded that that reclamation isn’t a static process. I don’t reach a point of loving myself and suddenly no longer struggle with the old messages and wounds of the past.

Old scripts of shame can come creeping back in, often in new disguises so that I don’t immediately recognize them for what they are.

Over the past year, I watched as the March for Women, which had seemed like such a unifying experience last year, devolved into in-fighting, with women taking offense at pink pussy hats for various reasons.

What probably could have been a mindful conversation about the different ways that women experience body-shame within our culture instead became more about whether or not women should identify with pink (because not all vulvas are pink…and really no vulvas are the pink of the pussy hats) or with having a pussy (because not all women have pussies).

While both critiques have truth, I also couldn’t help but feel the ache in my soul of needing to have a way to talk about the experience of having a vagina.

The experience of having a vagina in a world that glosses over vaginal pleasure and orgasm.

The experience of having a vagina in a world where someone decided that my vagina belonged to them and not me and abused and violated the boundaries of my body when I was a child.

The experience of having a vagina that sometimes I don’t even want to own because along with all the wonderful things my vagina is, there’s also the reality that it houses and stores memories, sensations, and emotions that terrify and paralyze me. It is a source of nightmares as well as ecstasy.

The experience of having a vagina in a world where a President can brag about grabbing a vagina without repercussions but someone who has a vagina can get banned from a discussion involving vaginas because she alluded to that body part.

Yes, we need to leave room for talking about the experience of being a woman without a vagina or being a woman with a vulva that doesn’t conform to societal standards, just as we need to leave room for talking about the experience of being a woman in many other contexts as well (size, shape, age, race, reproductive choices/options, and career).

But as I watched the conflict from the sidelines, I felt the tug back to a point I never wanted to return to and though I had left far behind–a point of feeling like it was wrong to talk about my vagina and about how having my vagina influences my world. There was a shame and silencing to the conflict that felt anything other than feminist to me.

Enter Janelle Monae, who is somehow able to create this beautiful anthem that both acknowledges women who have vaginas and those who don’t and celebrates the fact that pink is part of everyone’s bodies, be it their eyelid, tongue, vulva or heart. I love this song because it honors diversity while also reconnecting me with the beauty and power of my pussy and chasing away that shame script that had been trying to infiltrate yet again.

Digital Minimalism in a Digitized World

In my quest this year to explore releasing what no longer serves to build or nurture me, I’ve been re-evaluating a lot of my habits. I have a few criteria that I’m using.

  1. Does it make me feel more connected to myself?
  2. Does it make me feel more connected to people with whom I want to connect?
  3. Does it instill me with hope, rejuvenation, inspiration, joy, etc.?
  4. Does it drain me?

I’ve been surprised to notice how much technology fails these questions, often with three no’s and the wrong yes.

Social media has increasingly become a dissatisfactory means of trying to connect with others. I find that I much prefer individual conversations either in person or through another means of distance communication. It also has long since ceased to instill hope and inspiration, much less joy. It’s draining…and I don’t feel connected to myself when I’m using it.

When I deleted social media apps off my phone, forcing myself to make more intentional choices about when I logged on, I began to notice a pattern: On days when I would log on and scroll for longer than a few minutes, I would feel frustrated, disconnected, and…almost dissociated!

Then I began to notice that a similar thing happened if I watched movies all day, played a video game all day, tried to write digitally all day.

Meanwhile, as I began to search for things to fill up the time that had previously been consumed by technology, I noticed that writing by hand left me feeling the opposite from writing by tech. Reading an actual book made me feel energized rather than increasingly lethargic. Working on a physical jigsaw puzzle made me feel focused rather than hazy.

The most poignant moment of this came when I was trying to force inspiration for writing on myself the other day. I was in a familiar pattern, sitting with my laptop on my lap and staring at a blank screen. I felt scattered and irritated the longer I sat, and the old itch to distract myself by flipping over to Facebook or Twitter took over.

Finally, out of sheer frustration, I shut my laptop.

I began to look around my living room, noticing my altar to welcome the spring, the tattered copy of Stephen King’s It that I’ve been trying to make my way through before the binding falls apart, pictures of friends and loved ones—things that served to remind me of what was important to me.

And then, I heard the ticking of the analog clock on the wall, a steady metronome of time.

I began to feel more at peace as I listened to the contentment of each moment having is second-long space before making way for the next. I re-entered my body. My thoughts cleared. I felt connected again.

Curious, I reopened my laptop, thinking maybe I could start writing. Instantly, I felt sucked back into this world of tension and fog. I could still hear the clock ticking, but the calm of it was gone. The pause of each moment was drowned by the hum of my digital tool. With my face staring once more at a blank screen, I could no longer see the world around me or feel my place within that world.

I closed my laptop again and sank once more into the peace of being physically, mentally, and spiritually present in the room with myself and time.

Whereas before I had planned to reward myself after writing by watching an episode of a show, I now realized I didn’t want to fritter away an hour in front of a screen for either purpose. I pulled out my journal and wrote, noticing the irony of no longer struggling with “what to write” once I had moved to long-hand. Then, I picked up my book and enjoyed a better escapist reward curled around actual paper and words, while the analog clock tick-ticked the moments contentedly by.

We live in a world where anything that exists in “analog” has also largely been digitized. From clocks to books to games to friendships. Some think that everything will be digital in the future, but I am increasingly interested in what it might mean to be a digital minimalist—someone who uses technology for intentional and specific purposes but who doesn’t make the television the center of the living room or computers the center of work and creative endeavors or the smartphone the center of entertainment and communication.

Technology is useful—necessary even if I want to participate in the modern world—but I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t need to be at the forefront of my world.

So I’m going to go work on sorting puzzle pieces with my friendly analog clock to keep me company.

 

The Research Validation Trap

There’s a perspective on being trans that is beginning to gain traction in activist circles—this idea that gender is visible in the brain, that there are “female” brains and “male” brains. It’s been popular because it seems to offer credence to trans people’s experience. Researchers are studying the brain functioning of trans people to try to prove that trans women, though assigned as men at birth, have brains that function more like women’s brains than men’s, and vice versa.

I’ve struggled with this perspective—or any perspective that implies gender essentialism through the argument that women’s and men’s brains function differently. It seems antithetical to so much of the work that feminists have tried to accomplish over the years to claim equality and access. So much of that fight has been targeting the stereotypes and rigid gender roles assigned to women to keep them suppressed, and I’m suspicious of the possibility of this research to reinforce oppressive structures rather than dismantle them.

But I only recently began thinking about another aspect of this argument that grates against me, perhaps one that is more important—and it’s an angst that I’ve carried for a long time as a bisexual person. I have never felt comfortable with the idea that a person’s stated experience of their attraction or identity needs to be corroborated by genetics or biological function.

Researchers have long used research as a means of erasing or denying the existence of bisexuality, usually by deliberately ignoring people’s expressed attraction to multiple genders in favor of an “objective” measurement of their sexual arousal. There was the infamous “gay, straight, or lying” study that perpetuated the myth that men are being deceptive if they claim to be attracted to multiple genders. More recently there was the reverse, in which women were universally declared to be bi regardless of how they identify.

I’ve written about my frustration with this attitude and these kinds of studies before over here, but the basic idea is that I find the attitude that the researcher rather than the individual is the most important thing in determining the existence and validity of someone’s identity horribly off-balance.

Now, though, I see it happening in a different way. While the female/male brain argument seems to validate trans people, it’s a validation with strings attached. It’s a validation that says, “I will acknowledge your internal experience, not because I respect and trust you to know yourself, but because it aligns with my current hypothesis and means of measuring.”

Similarly to the gay gene search, the male/female brain studies (or the reliance on them as “proof” of the existence of transgender people) seem to imply that the only reason why trans people should be respected and accepted in society is because they have a biological imperative.

But do we really want societal acceptance to be based on “well, they can’t help it”?

Do we want the autonomy to define one’s identity and gender expression to be taken away from individuals and handed to someone else who is evaluating whether or not they are legitimate?

Do we really want trans acceptance to be rooted in reinforcing gender binaries and biological essentialism? (And where do all the non-binary folks fit in with this model?!)

Or do we want to work towards a world where people are treated with dignity and respect, where they have the choice of how to express themselves, the freedom to explore their identity, and the access to civil and human rights because they are human?

I don’t know about others, but I want to live in a world where I can say, “This is who I am attracted to and this is who I am” without someone else saying, “Well, okay, we’ll see if your genitals respond a certain way or if your brain functions a certain way. If it does, then I’ll accept what you say about yourself and grant you the right to exist in my society.”

Because underneath that response is the implication that it’s okay to erase me, co-opt my voice, discriminate against me, or harass me for failing to comply with that other person’s boxes and expectations of who I should be in society.

Looking to research to justify one’s dignity or validate one’s existence is a trap of asking for permission to be. Choice or Imperative. Nature or nurture. People deserve equality, respect, and freedom regardless.

Note: I haven’t read the actual studies that have been referenced in this way, so I am primarily speaking to the way they are being referenced and used in society (for example, in the recent Katie Couric documentary “Gender Revolution.”) I would eventually like to find the actual research to do a more thorough critique of methodology, application, and interpretation of results, but that is beyond the scope of this post. 

Releasing the Old as I Head into the New

I’m starting out this new year with a lot of re-evaluation and releasing. Yesterday, while I stayed home from my usual responsibilities with a cold and laryngitis, I sorted through a bunch of stuff in storage, finding things that I’d forgotten to return to others and weeding out what I no longer needed to keep for myself.

I suppose it’s sort of like a New Year’s resolution—I’ve set the intention of only taking with me that which still serves me, beginning with the physical but not stopping there.

Some things are super easy to get rid of because they hold little significance outside of their physical use. Old coats with torn linings, broken picture frames, dried up markers.

Others are harder because they’re not just objects. They hold a psychological and emotional significance. I can feel the readiness to release them from my life, but I have a harder time actually letting go.

Yesterday, perhaps for the first time in a decade, I decided to recycle some of the therapeutic projects I’d done earlier in my healing journey with my therapist. Dioramas and collages that had helped me process and grow–projects that had been sitting around for 5 or more years.

In some ways, I felt guilty. I had put so much energy into creating these that it seemed downright sacrilegious to get rid of them, yet I realized that in many ways I had already released what they represented. I no longer returned to them or wanted to pull them out to look at them. I didn’t struggle with remembering the truths expressed because I had internalized those truths. I no longer needed them to help me process.

By that point, they had lost the magic of holding for me what I was unable to hold within myself—be it grief or anger or hope or remembrance. They were a tool that had served its purpose and now were ready to be let go.

Once I had worked through the guilt, I realized that tools like these that have finished their purpose actually take on another purpose.

Their new purpose becomes helping me learn to release.

My journey has taken me to new places psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. I will never lose what has been involved in creating me, but I also no longer need to “stay” there energetically. It’s okay for me to reach a point where I can say, “This has been important to me, but it’s time to make room for something new.”

I think I’m reaching that point with other things in my life as well. I’m re-evaluating what role I want my blog to play in 2018.

It has been such an important platform for me to have a voice, but I no longer feel that weekly posts either feed my growth or replenish my zeal for life.

Perhaps I will move to a monthly schedule or just post as the mood fits. I’m craving less and less online activity and more privacy for personal reflection, so I’ll have to see what balance I can strike to continue allowing this tool to play a role in my life without needing to try to keep it in the same role that it’s been in for the last five or more years.

It’s a new year…it’s time for new adventures! (Or at least new approaches to familiar adventures to make room for renewed creativity!)

 

 

Solstice Thoughts and Hopes

“Hope whispers, ‘And I will follow till you love me too.’”

This line from Linda Ronstadt’s song “Winter Light” stood out to me yesterday as I was celebrating the winter solstice. It’s such a poignant thought to me…that Hope stalks me, waiting for me to open my heart to it.

It reminds me that hope is something I often have to choose.

I speak of this time of the year as a season for hope and resurrection…the rebirth of the sun! But actually, there’s not a lot of evidence of that initially. Following the longest night of the year, I don’t instantly become aware of the lengthening days.

Most of the stories that I find about the winter solstice involve some sort of tragedy—someone kills the sun or steals/hoards the light or the light goes into mourning or descends into the underworld. In short, the winter comes because of death, loss, and destruction. As with Pandora’s box, Hope is what follows, not what starts the whole process.  Rebirth cannot happen without first a death.

But the solstice somehow becomes a celebration of the return of light in spite of the fact that it’s still dark as fuck out there. And that’s the significance!

The solstice and all the myths associated with it remind me that I can trust that brighter days are coming, even when I don’t see the evidence of it yet, because I know brighter days have always followed the longest nights in the past. So I celebrate not just at the height of summer, but also at the darkest point of the year because I know that the darkness cannot last forever.

In fact, seasonal myths are one of the most beautiful ways that my global ancestors remind me that nothing in life is static. Everything is transitory.

Even chronic pain, when tuned into, has an ebb and flow to it.

Even depression, anger, and sadness change and morph as I grant them much-needed compassionate attention.

What feels permanent and unchanging is made up of constantly shifting moments if I can only allow myself to pay attention to those moments.

Yesterday, I embraced the darkness and rekindled my love affair with Hope.

Happy Solstice, dear readers!