Was an older man
on a bitter January weekend
on the bench
with his faces
carefully carved from branches
the peaceful Buddha-like one
acceptance and change
after the cashpoint
i asked him where from?
this Polish artisan
with a crutch
an accident, he said
he couldn’t work now
sold the faces
such graft, courage
taking life into his hands
rather than wringing them
and demanding assistance
then drinking down the drain
soon, the police will move him on
without a licence
this good, hardworking man
i fear trodden
by a world that listens to those that whine.
Skies turn from black
And I watch
the pigeons wake
on the ledge outside
Sparrows, one rung below
To everything there is a hierarchy.
Soon, the pigeons will get so fat
Their perch will fall flat
And the sweet sparrows
will have their day
to sing their way
The spot on the bathroom tiles
Final destination of the trickle
Down my thigh
My womb healed.
My body’s wondrous hormones
From my head
To my heart.
And the cycle goes round,
Some months ago, I was wasting time doing online quizzes, and came across this:
Enthusiastically, I pulled out a piece of paper and started scoring myself. Unlike the usual women’s magazine fare, reading through the answers, something in my heart leapt: suddenly my life, my personal struggles, were contextualised. Within a few days, Woolger and Woolger’s classic, “The Goddess Within,” dropped onto my doormat; within a week, I had devoured its insights cover to cover; and I have spent the months since then gradually exploring the goddess in my inner landscape. It was a pivotal discovery on my inner journey.
So, what did Woolger and Woolger say that was so pivotal? The book describes an an ancient, matriarchal world where the Great Mother, Gaia – who contained all elements of the feminine – was worshipped. Then, the Aryan invaded from the North, with their patriarchal Gods. The resulting fusion of cultures meant that these, “matriarchal patterns and practices essentially became incorporated into, but not entirely suppressed by, the more patriarchal ways of the Aryans,” (Woolger & Woolger 1990:25). And the Goddess? She was split into a myriad, individual goddesses emphasizing different aspects of the whole, pit against one another so that, “the feminine impulse is divided against itself,” (Woolger & Woolger 1990:24). The effect of this wound lives on within each and every women; we espouse some aspects of the feminine whilst dismissing others. This battle goes on within, as well as between sisters. And, we fail to realise that all of this weakens the feminine within and without us. How then, do we begin to heal this wound within us, and between women? By understanding the different goddess energies, by setting up dialogues between them, by exploring the goddess within.
In their book, Woolger & Woolger (1990) highlight six goddesses birthed by the Great Mother. Two with the dyad of independence: Athena (extroverted) and Artemis (introverted). Two within the dyad of power: Hera (extroverted) and Persehone (introverted). Two within the dyad of love: Aphrodite (extroverted) and Demeter (introverted). We associate Athena with the city, culture and education; a women ruled by Athena emphasises her intellect and her career success above other aspects of womanhood. We associate Artemis with the natural world and its cycles, hunting and midwifery; a women ruled by Artemis today would have strong environmental concerns and a love of outdoor pursuits, such as hiking and climbing. We associate Hera with marriage and partnership; women ruled by Hera often tend to be older, and are concerned with tradition and social morality. We associate Persephone with the Underworld, the bridge to our unconscious; Today’s Persephone will concern herself with spiritual things, things which cannot be seen, the dreamworld and psychology. We associate Aphrodite with the arts, with love and sensuality; today’s Aphrodite loves beauty and connecting with people, revels in her body and oozes a healthy sexuality. We associate Demeter with motherhood, fertility and childbearing; today’s Demeter puts all her energies into nurturing and caring for her children, or surrogate children in the workplace. Do you see yourself more clearly in any, less clearly in others?
When I did the quiz, I discovered that the Goddess energies that were most dominant within my psyche were that of Persephone, followed by Artemis. Persephone, spends part of the year in Hades’ world of shadow and darkness, and the rest in Demeter’s world of life and light. Persephone women therefore have a dual nature; that of the innocent maiden and the Kali-esque Queen of the Underworld. But, in immaturity, if they fail to unite birth and death within themselves, avoiding the their darkest emotions of anger and rage, they can become the archetypal victim, continuously refusing to acknowledge their personal power and instead projecting it on and giving it away to others. Artemis, on the other hand, is strong, fiercely independent and self sufficient Goddess, the huntress in fact. She is truly a “virgin,” that is, “whole unto herself”, having integrated both feminine and masculine aspects into one. Feeling at ease in the animal kingdom and with natures cycles – being also patroness of childbirth – she nonetheless finds herself ill at ease in relation to her human counterparts, emotionally distancing herself from intimate relationships with both me and other women.
Reading my results to the quiz, I had an “aha!”moment. Looking back through my life, I remembered several experiences of being bullied, and I realised that these were in part because I had given away my own power, had porous boundaries and refused to own and acknowledge my own anger. I also struggled with a sense of alienation from the world, with its focus on material and tangible aspects of life. I also remembered how I’d wanted to be a vet or a naturalist like David Attenborough at a young age, and how one favourite childhood pastime was watching the ants on the patio. Funnily enough, a week or so before doing the quiz, I had sat down to draw a self portrait, not a physically accurate one, but instead one that revealed my truest self. I had drawn a women, with one foot in sea and one on shore. On one side, there was a tree and a lioness, on the other, dark waters and a whale. Looking back, it seems as if my psyche had known all along, that I embodied the dual energies of Persephone and Artemis.
So, I decided to explore further. The book suggested looking at those Goddess’ with the weakest energy within us, however, I confess I was eager to first explore those that I felt most comfortable with. So, first off there was Persephone, the poetic INFJ side that feels alienated and ridiculed by the materialistic world. Sitting in front of the mirror, I decided to dialogue between my Persephone and my motherly, loving Demeter, each taking it in turns to converse. In a way, it was like setting up a dialogue between myself and the older, wiser version of myself, the Maiden and the Mother…and it was profoundly healing.
Then, I decided to re-engage with my Artemis, rediscovering my fascination with animal documentaries and spending time walking in nature. In particular, I felt myself drawn to the Lioness, and decided to follow my desire in re-watching Born Free and reading George Adamson’s autobiography, “My Pride and Joy.”
I also explored the Goddesses through art, getting together a sketchpad and some pastels, and devoting a page to each Goddess. The result was not a portrait, but an abstract image, with different colours associations for each, and different strokes. It was interesting to observe which ones were easier to engage with, and which I felt difficulty in representing. My weakest Goddess energies were that of Hera and Athena. I find it difficult to even like Hera, let alone want to absorb her powerful, matriarchal energies! But, the problem is is that the Hera represented to us through myth is already wounded; we do not know the powerful Princess she was before the Aryan’s came along and married her to Zeus.
Late in the year, I decided to apply for what I believed to be my dream job. I had had my eye on it for years, and an opportunity had arisen. It was time to embody the single pointed focus of Athena, to go after my career goals. At the 5rhythms dance, the image of the lioness took on a life of its own; I crawled along the floor embodying her energy, the energy I had seen when watching videos of lionesses hunting on YouTube. The artist, Susan Seddon Boulet, has painted many beautiful pictures of animals and the goddesses. Checking out my animal spirit cards, I read that lions symbolise courage, strength and power. The lion is associated with the sun, and its yang energy. The day before the interview, I visited the zoo to spend some time observing the lionesses, absorbing their powerful energy. And, when the interview came, I felt at my most Athenian, confident and driven to succeed.
It took some time to return to a more relaxed state, after getting a job offer. I took some of that Athena energy with me, as I moved into Demeter, reading up on birth rights, Human Rights in childbirth and the Hungarian midwife, Agnes Gerab. In their book, Woolger and Woolger (1990) suggested that the Demeter-women has been largely absent in the feminist movement, as unlike educated Athena women, she is not articulate, intellectual or able to stand up for her rights as a mother. Demeter’s giftings are the ability to be truly present in the here and now, to serve without demanding ego rewards and to have a deep sense of being in their own body, embodiment. To give birth is to rediscover a felt sense of the body, to listen to ones instincts and intuitions from the inside out. Hence, Demeter is most connected and in tune with her changing body, through menarche, motherhood and menopause; that mysterious cycle. Sadly, from Aristotles “mind over matter” to the increasing medicalisation of childbirth, women’s bodies have been perceived as inferior, requiring control in order to become predicatble (in other words, like male bodies that are better equipped for a capitalist production line). As Ann Oakley wrote in her seminal work Women Confined,‘the medicalisation of childbirth has changed the subjective experience of reproduction altogether, making dependence on others instead of dependence on self a condition of the achievement of motherhood’ (1980:98). And, along with the deeply embedded view of mother as mere “vessel” of the fetus, we have opened the way to all sorts of abuses: this year alone, a forced caesarian in Brazil, a “technically dead” mother kept on life support for the sake of the fetus and the bid to reduce women’s birth choices by social services taking away the babies of freebirthing mothers and the government criminalizing independent midwifery. In my opinion, now is the time for feminism to take up the cause of Demeter women; to be treated with dignity and respect for human rights.
This new year, has been all about discovering Aphrodite. As a child, my parents emphasised the value of intellect, over that of beauty and the body. In a way, I am happy about that, as I’ve not had so many struggles with poor body image as others; however, I’ve not allowed myself to enjoy my own beauty and process of highlighting it through make up and fashion. In the past, I had thought these things superficial, Aphrodite women vacuous. And of course, too much of one goddesses energy is not a positive thing. But, the hierarchy of human needs included in Charles L Whitfield’s book, Healing the Child Within, includes the sexuality, sensuality and beauty of Aphrodite, who feels good about being a women. So, I went to burlesque class. Opinions vary, but my experience of watching burlesque in London, is that it is a wonderful celebration of women’s bodies, of all shapes and sizes. And the class had an incredible effect on the participants, with one women finally accepting her own curvaceous beauty, ending a lifelong battle to become a skinny, thin shape. For my part, the class gave me an opportunity to interact with some wonderful Aphrodite women, women that loved make up and fashion and new how to make the most of their features. I had always been intimidated by these women (feeling insecure about my own inadequacy), but now, I found sisters whose energy I could absorb, who were generous with their knowledge, and had an eye for my own physical beauty, seeing things I never had before. What joys are ours, if, instead of competing, we share ourselves in sisterhood.
My journey is not over, but I feel that, in the six months or so, that I first began this journey, I have become better integrated within myself, accepting the different Goddess energies held within my heart, bringing them into the light. I encourage you to join me on my journey. There are a myriad of ways, through dance, art and dialogue. Through, just dipping into each Goddesses world and pursuits. We all hold all of the archetypes within us; those parts that are weaker need to be given a chance to grow towards, as Jung would say, individuation. And as each women grows within herself, and rediscovers the Goddess within, we will all begin to discover a stronger sisterhood which embraces all the different aspects of what it means to be a women.
Tags: Life Book
This year, I am participating in Life Book 2014, a year long mixed media art journalling and healing course. I like the idea of using art in order to explore our subconscious.
This week, there was a guided meditation in which we journeyed to our inner sanctuary, met our animal art guardian and discovered our word for the year.
The word dolphin comes from the Greek for womb. The womb is associated with our sacral chakra, which is linked with creativity. So, it seemed apt to get such a symbolically life giving, creative and feminine animal.
At the beginning of the year, I spent some time in contemplation and then flicked through magazines cutting out images that spoke to my heart. Rather than focussing on goals, this creates a visual representation of what one really wants in life… And then our subconscious filters experiences to “pulls” us towards that.
(influenced by How to Make your Dreams Come True – Mark Forster)
“Are we playing opposites?” you ask, “how could contemplation and activism possibly go together?”. No, we are not playing opposites, though these two things do at first appear in opposition: it is a paradox!
First, some definitions. Contemplation is about paying attention. Listening. Being fully present. We learn such things through the discipline of meditation; a calm, restorative cave to retreat to for awhile. A pause; a comma in a long sentence. Maybe even a full stop, to breathe, catch our breath. Contemplation is about “being”; accepting that our identity is not found I what we do. Vulnerability: bare before God like Adam in the Garden of Eden. Through contemplation, we are inwardly transformed: the fruits of the Holy Spirit becoming more and more apparent in our lives. Thomas Keating said that the most important question a humble person can ask is, “what can God do for me?”. Inherent in the Christian message is the idea of paradox. I want to do good, but I don’t. There is an inner conflict, a divide between who we are, imperfect, and who we want to be. We are capable of the greatest love and compassion; yet we are also capable of the worst petty meanness. The solution lies not in trying harder, but to have ones mind continuously renewed, transformed. Not trying harder is difficult; we surrender control, we trust in the invisible work of the Divine hand. Contemplation helps one see the truth: the truth and ugliness of your false self, the beauty of that authentic self, sparked by the Divine. The more you know your true self, the more you love yourself, and can say, “I praise God that I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”
And what of activism? Activism is externally focused, external transformations. Speaking out. Making things happen. Doing. Giving and asking, “What is my purpose in life? What can I do for God?”. At its best, activism is founded in the deep love and knowledge of others, whether human or animal or any other living thing.
Contemplation and activism are like yin and yang. If you remove yourself from worldly things, and solely contemplate, there is a risk of becoming insular, irrelevant, out of touch with reality and ultimately irresponsible in your doing nothing to make the world a better place. Conversely, a life characterized solely by activism can become dry, cynical, angry, frustrated. You move from one problem to another, reacting not acting. Believing all the problems of the world are upon your shoulders, you become controlling. Surely the world would fall apart if I stopped making things happen?! Most lethal of all is this; the risk of acting from the false self, ones unconscious motivations: to be loved, to feel needed and powerful.
As Phileena Heuertz says in her book, “Activism alone can be a cruel master…a life that is not centered in tge silence of God can easily become a frantic or even violent frenzy of imposing ourselves on tge world.”. In such a state of being, our good intentions can end up doing more harm than good, surely the worst thing for a person of hope and vision.
Like the tides of the sea, our lives are full of ebb and flow. One leads to the other. Work to rest. Service to prayer. Action to contemplation and back again. Again from Phileena:
“True acts of service do not build up our egos, but bring us into deeper solidarity with the poor, marginalized and victims of injustice, who compel us to prayer.”. The problems of the world are not all on our shoulders. The Divine hand is at work, we can go with its flow or against it. We can work with others who are part of the Divine plan for transformation, or against them. In meditation, we say a mantra, an act of consent to God’s work in our life. The practice of meditation leads to a greater level of consent to Gods hand in the active life. We move from self consciousness toward God consciousness. Her thoughts, our thoughts; his ways, our ways.
By attending to ourselves, making time for rest and contemplation, we are better able to love and know who we are and were born to be. We don’t need to do everything. We know our gift gs, and can focus our energies where they will be most useful.
“If we are not giving proper care and attention to our deepest self, we are at the least encumbered in our love of others and, at most, committing acts of violence in the name of love,” (Heuertz).
How can we give proper care and attention to our deepest selves? By learning the art of contemplation:
Meditationis the crux of the contemplative life. It is a discipline, ideally twice a day for twenty minutes or more, sitting down to rest our minds and bodies in the healing hand of the Divine. Often, it is boring; often, you can’t see tge inner transformation happening. You just have to let go, and trust.
In order to prevent oneself from turning bitter and hopeless, seek “magic”, the Footprint of the Divine presence. A butterfly on the tube, beauty in chaos. Attune your inner eye to see it, and it will grant you joy.
Wonder. Awe. Nature provokes such states of being. Take time to wander in green spaces, to pay attention to tge buzzing of a bee or chirping of birds. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said to look at the birds, and the lilies.
Tune in to the Creator by bathing in tge river of the creative flow. I like to do calligraphy, the art of contemplative attention. May it not be a place to think or to feel, just to be and let tge Divine flow through you.
The body holds great wisdom if we are just attentive to listen to her secrets. In the Akexander Technique and in yoga practice, we learn to be present to our bodies. Dancing the 5rhythms, we intuitively explore tge emotions abd thoughts concealed within us. Climbing, we pay attention. All there is is Rock abd the body, nothing else matters.
Finally, play!. When we improvise in a safe place, we are in the present moment. No thoughts past or thoughts future. Only, the now. Being.
In conclusion, don’t run on empty: you deserve better. Let God give. Receive for yourself all your Spirit needs, and then you are much better placed to give to others what they themselves need.
“Pilgrimage of a soul: Contemplative spirituality for tge active life,” (Phileena Heuertz).
“Word into Silence,” (John Main).
I am Lafetiti
drifting down the Nile
the coffin lid closed
all is Black
and yet, I hope
– a watery grave, no less –
or a dazzling, shimmering
I remember, as a Child, one night
I became one with the Black surrounding
It was fearfully awesome
Excited and terrified
I ran away from the sensation
of nothingness, holding everything.
Floating upon the murky depths
This womblike place of warmth
I remember how the Holy Spirit
– Ruach Hakodesh –
hovered over the waters
to breathe forth new life
And yet, I am dying
The water and me, merging
my body no longer floats
She is only flowing droplets,
flowing into Everything.
The traffic roars
then falls silent
Like the oceans
Back and forth
The coloured lights change
Breathing, in and out
And in and out, again
Is there man-made and natural?
Or is it all the same?
The rhythm Divine.
Death and Rebirth
Upon the River of Life
breastmilk of the Goddess,
feeding, nourishing, then wisely withdrawing
from the Child.
The coffin lid opens
my body whipped by cold and light
I cry out like a baby
Was I waiting for this?
May I not return to the water?
Mother shakes her head and smiles
despite my Maturity
“All in good time . . .”
Mother knows best.
True you ride the finest hourse I’ve ever seen
Standing sixteen, one or two, with eyes wild and green
You ride the horse so well, hands light to the touch
I could never go with you no matter how I wanted to
Ride on, see you, I could never go with you
No matter how I wanted to
When you ride into the night without a trace behind
Run your claw along my gut, one last time
I turn to face an empty space, where you used to lie
And look for a spark that lights the night
Through a teardrop in my eye
Tags: Magic, Spirituality
It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.