(photo credit: Unsplash – Alex Mihai)
I was on my way to the dentist, feeling anxious because I had a broken tooth and was sure the repair would be expensive and painful and that it must somehow be my fault and I’d be shamed for not flossing, eating hard candy, or clenching my teeth when I sleep. I was also feeling a little guilty for driving the two blocks, but didn’t want to have to walk home in the extreme cold with a frozen mouth.
Driving slowly through the parking lot, I got hit from behind by another car. In my anxious state of mind, my automatic thought was that I must have done something wrong because I was distracted. But just as quickly, I realized that there was nothing I could have done in that moment that would have caused the bump – it had to be something that hit me.
I turned and processed what had happened. A car was pulling out, hadn’t seen me, and hit the back passenger side of my car.
The driver of the car that hit me pulled up beside me and we both rolled down our windows. “I’m sorry,” said the guy, looking strangely frantic, given how minor the incident was, “but I didn’t hit you.”
“What do you mean you didn’t hit me? My car moved. Clearly you hit me.”
“Look,” he said, pointing back, “there’s a block of ice on the ground – that’s what you hit.”
“What are you talking about?” I said, looking in the mirror at the tiny block of ice. “How could a block of ice have caused my car to move like that?”
And then he just kept yelling “I didn’t hit you! I didn’t hit you!”
And I said, in as calm a voice as I could muster, “Can we just get out of our cars and look at our cars to see if there is any damage?”
His voice began to escalate. “But I didn’t hit you!!”
“Before you drive away, I’m JUST asking you to get out of your car and come with me so we can see if there is damage.”
He kept yelling, but got out of his car and we both went to look at the side of my car. Sure enough, there was a small dent on the fender near the wheel (ironically in the same spot I’d had repaired a few months earlier after I’d backed into a pole).
“I didn’t hit you!” He yelled. “How do I know that dent wasn’t there before?!” (Well, for one thing, I knew because that whole section of the car’s body had been repaired and repainted, but I didn’t think to say that at the moment.) He started wildly flinging his arms, pointing at other dings and marks on the car. “Next you’re going to say I caused that! And that! And that!”
“No, but you DID cause THAT!” I said – pointing at the small dent.
“I DIDN’T HIT YOU! LOOK – THERE’S THE BLOCK OF ICE. AND LOOK AT THE SKID MARKS BY THE BLOCK OF ICE. YOUR CAR WAS HIT BY THAT AND THE DENT WAS ON YOUR CAR ALREADY!”
I glanced toward where he was pointing. In the thin layer of snow on the ground, my tire marks showed clearly where I’d been traveling in a straight line and then was jolted five inches to the left. Near the zigzag was not a block of ice, but a lump of compacted snow that had likely been dislodged from my mud flaps on impact.
As quickly as I’d glanced away, though, I turned back to look into his eyes. Instinctively I knew I couldn’t take my eyes off this raging, irrational man or I would not be safe. Behind the anger in his eyes, I could see something else. Fear? Trauma? Shame? Maybe he was driving without a license? Maybe he’d been traumatized by parents who wouldn’t allow him to make mistakes? My mind reeled with the possibilities, wondering what parts of his history and his pain I needed to draw on to diffuse this situation.
“Look – I’m not going to take you to court or anything, so stop over-reacting and simply realize that what just happened could only have happened if your car hit mine.” My fingers touched the edge of the cell phone in my pocket, wondering whether I should pull it out to record this moment or take a photo of his license plate.
“I DIDN’T HIT YOU!” Seeing the rage increase in his eyes, I made a split-second decision to let it all go rather than risk being punched in the face. I left the cell phone in my pocket.
“Sir,” I said, as calmly and deliberately as I could muster, “the damage is minor enough that I’m not going report it. Get back in your car now and drive away.”
“Okay,” he said, getting back into his car. “But I didn’t hit you.”
I got back into my car and carried on to the dentist. As I sat in front of the dentist’s office, trembling, I had a flashback, realizing that this wasn’t just the story of a five minute encounter with an irrational man in a parking lot – it was a story of my whole lifetime. And it was the story of every woman I know.
It’s a story as old as history. Man does wrong. Woman second-guesses herself, thinking she may have done wrong. Man swears he didn’t do wrong, gaslights the woman to try to convince her she’s crazy for thinking wrong was done, yells at her and makes her afraid he might hit her if she calls him out for what he did wrong. Woman does the emotional labour of trying to calm him and assure him he’s not a horrible person because she needs to keep herself safe. And then she carries the trembling with her when she goes.
Last night, as I sat down to journal after processing this five minute encounter nearly all day, I could feel the ache in my body and I knew that it was not from whiplash (the jolt was too minor) but from holding my body tense and alert throughout the encounter as I reacted instantaneously to what I needed to do to stay safe in that moment. It was also from holding a whole lifetime of such encounters in my body. I wrote “It’s still in my body. I can feel the shakiness, the tingling, the tight throat, and the tears that want to come but are blocked.”
Suddenly, a new thought appeared in my journal and every cell in my body knew the truth of it.
Women have learned to be the shock absorbers for men’s pain.
We are masterful at absorbing the intensity of it and diffusing it so that it won’t cause further damage.
This is a story of a whole lifetime, and a thousand lifetimes before mine. It’s a story of generation after generation – a story we carry in our DNA. It’s a story of a whole lineage of shock absorbers showing up in my instinctual need and ability to keep that man from exploding.
This is the story of a childhood with a father who would never hit his children, but who would throw hammers at trees or tractors in his rage. It’s the story of a little girl who learned, from a young age, to jump up very quickly, if she heard him come in from the barn, to make sure there was food on the table so that she didn’t have to face his anger. It’s also the story of a woman who, at thirty-five and with children of her own, could still feel her body react in the same way when she heard the back door of the farmhouse open.
This is the story of a twenty-two year old, naked and trembling in her bed while the rapist held a tight grip on her throat and a blade over her head. It’s the story of how her mind raced, trying to find just the right thing to say that might soothe him enough so that he would do the least amount of damage. And it’s the story of how she sat with him on her bed for an hour after he raped her, listening to him tell stories of his childhood.
This is also the story of a wife and mother who learned to contort herself to absorb the pain, shame, anger, and insecurity of a man who needed someone else to blame, because she thought it was her job. It’s the story of how she learned to anticipate his mood the moment he stepped in the door, and how she did everything to fend off his darkness to keep her daughters safe. It’s also the story of how she woke up one day and realized she’d taught her daughters how to become shock absorbers too.
And this is the story of Dr. Anita Hill, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Tarana Burk, and every person with a #metoo story. Every single one of us has absorbed the pain of men who didn’t know how to diffuse it on their own.
We are exhausted. Our bodies have been nearly destroyed by the many shocks we’ve absorbed (and many HAVE been destroyed).
We don’t hate men, as those who would dismiss us as “angry feminists” might have us believe. Quite the contrary – we love them and we want better for them. And for us. And for our daughters and sons.
We simply want to stop being shock absorbers. We want men to learn how to diffuse their own pain without throwing it, like hand grenades, into someone else’s yard.
There is another five minute encounter with a man that happened shortly after the first one that helps to bring this into perspective. The dentist (a man) looked into my mouth and said. “It’s the crown that’s broken. We just put that in last year and it shouldn’t have broken, so we’ll take full responsibility for it and replace it. I’m really sorry about that.” Simple as that. No defensiveness, no deflection, no gaslighting or trying to convince me it was my fault. Simply taking responsibility for it.
THAT is what we are asking men to do. Just take responsibility and learn to deal with the shame and fear that might come along with that responsibility. Once that happens, we’ll stop talking about toxic masculinity.
P.S. If your response to this is “Why are you assuming this is a male/female thing? Couldn’t it as easily have been a female ranting and raving?”, my response is this… it is not purely a male/female thing, but it IS a power thing. In that situation, as a man, he has more physical and cultural power and so my instinctive reaction to him was about knowing (and remembering in my body) that he could hurt me. And, though I can’t speak for him, I suspect that some of his behaviour was about knowing I would absorb it rather than punch him first. I believe this is also the case with BIPOC people who have learned to be the shock absorbers for the pain that we as white people have not learned to process. The person with more power is more likely to assume that the person with less will absorb it. The closer you are to the top of a hill, the more you can afford to throw hand grenades.
“How would you introduce yourself if you alone got to choose how you are defined?” That’s the question I asked a circle of women who’d gathered for an all-day storytelling workshop yesterday at a downtown women’s resource centre. “There are ways in which we’re expected to introduce ourselves – what we do for a living, where we live, what our marital status is, etc. – but today we’re going to choose an introductory question that let’s us choose our own definitions.”
The first question offered was the one we used as our check-in question. “How are you a survivor?”
It was a beautiful question and it opened the door for honest and vulnerable sharing. These women are fierce survivors. Some are refugees, some are Indigenous, some are single moms, and most are living in poverty. They have survived domestic abuse, mental illness, conflict in war torn countries, the birth and death of children, racism, hunger, and a multitude of other challenges. They are resilient and courageous and it was an honour to be in circle with them.
“We have a choice,” I said. “We could have told those same stories from the perspective of victims, and they would still be true, but we chose to tell them as survivors. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been victimized – we have – but we found ways to survive and now that’s the story we’re choosing to tell.”
“It matters that we claim our own stories,” I said. “Because our stories give us power. Our stories define us and help us to tell the world who we are.”
Later that morning, I showed the women a magazine spread from the in-flight magazine I’d picked up the day before. It was a three-page spread promoting New York magazine’s Best Doctor issue. Not surprisingly, the only images were of white, male doctors.
“When we see things like this again and again in the media,” I said, “we make the assumption that the best doctors are white males. Then, when we find ourselves hospitalized, and we end up with someone who’s not a white male doctor, subconsciously we come to the conclusion that our doctor is not one of the best.”
Whoever gets to tell the stories holds the power. And vice versa. When it’s largely white males who own the media, run the big companies, have access to political machines, and have the most influence in the world, they get to tell the stories their way. Their stories reflect people in the way that is most beneficial to them, and so they tell us stories of people who look like them.
When we hear almost exclusively the stories of people who look and live differently from us – whether it’s because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, class, physical appearance, etc. – we absorb the message that we have less value. And that’s when we become shameful of who we are and we stop telling our own stories. We stop believing that our stories matter.
“I used to be ashamed of who I was,” one of the Indigenous women in the circle shared with us. “When I was growing up, there weren’t many Indigenous kids in our neighbourhood and the only thing we ever heard about Indigenous people was that they were drunks or homeless or gang members. I was ashamed to say who I was, so I tried to pass myself off as Italian. It took me a long time to reclaim my own identity.”
Another woman, a recent immigrant from the Philippines, shared about the shame she’d felt when she’d left an abusive husband and had become a single mom. “I was blaming myself for getting myself into that situation. I shouldn’t have married him in the first place. I felt like everyone was judging me.”
“Our shame keeps us silent,” I said. “But when we start to share our stories, we release ourselves of that shame and then people can’t hurt us with those stories anymore. Those stories become part of our beauty instead of part of our shame.”
“Would it have made a difference if you’d heard more stories of people like you?” I asked both women. “Would it have helped you believe in your own value as Indigenous women or single moms?”
“Yes, when we see people like us doing good things, it makes us feel better about who we are. And when we see their courage, we believe that we can be courageous too.”
“That’s why our stories matter,” I said. “And that’s why we have to find creative ways to tell them. The people who own the media and the publishing companies aren’t going to give us much space to tell those stories, so we have to find alternative ways of getting them out to people who need them. We have to find ways of reaching the kids who were growing up just like you did, and the women leaving abusive husbands just like you did, so that they can see their own worth.”
I pulled out the in-flight magazine again, and this time I shared a story of a photo exhibit opening in Washington, D.C., called “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World” which brings together 80 stereotype-challenging, genre-defying works. “What’s striking about the works,” the article says, “is how they dispel the idea, put forth by the international media, that these women are homogenous and invisible. The photos are feisty, provocative, and, above all, thought-provoking.”
“These women chose to tell their own stories their own way,” I said. “Instead of waiting for someone to give them permission to tell their stories, they chose to own them and tell them the way they wanted to.”
We ended yesterday’s workshop by brainstorming creative ways in which these women could tell the stories of their people in their own neighbourhoods without waiting for the mainstream media to call.
Our stories matter. Our stories have power. When we tell them, we let go of shame and we give other people hope and courage.
Learn to tell your own stories in the next online Openhearted Writing Circle on April 23, 2016.
Interested in more articles like this? Add your name to my email list and you’ll receive a free ebook, A Path to Connection and my weekly reflections.
On Friday night, we ordered Chinese takeout. A familiar pattern emerged. My husband and daughters advocated for what they wanted to eat, it got a little heated, and we went back and forth between ordering a family pack and each ordering our favourite items.
Where was my voice in all of the hub-bub? In the middle, trying to make sure everyone was happy. Everyone, that is, except me. I never expressed which option I wanted. My happiness was mostly wrapped up in whether or not everyone else was happy.
Yes, it’s a familiar pattern – me, stuck in the peacekeeping role, making sure everyone is happy, but rarely expressing what I WANT. When we’re on vacation and it’s time to pick restaurants, I make sure everyone else gets what they want. When it’s my turn to pick my favourite, I never pick my true favourite, but instead I compromise and pick my second or third favourite that has something on the menu for everyone.
Maybe you know that pattern too? Isn’t that what every mom does? I know it’s certainly a pattern I learned from my own mom.
I enjoyed the Chinese food, but after eating it, I wondered “would I even know what to order if I were to be truthful and insert my voice into this kind of conversation? Do I really know what I want, or am I mostly so accustomed to paying attention to what everyone else wants?”
Ironically, this came after I’d coached not one, but THREE clients last week on how to get more clear about what they want in life. It shows up a lot in my coaching work. Maybe that’s why I noticed it. Here I’d always thought that, since I’d followed my dream into self-employment and know how to teach this stuff, I must be pretty good at figuring out what I want.
But suddenly I wasn’t so sure. Perhaps I have some clarity in the kind of work I want to do, but am I willing to be assertive and express my desires even in the small things? Am I willing to risk other people’s happiness in pursuit of what I want? And am I willing to push through to the prize even when other people say I shouldn’t want what I want?
As women, we have a long history of being told to subdue our desires. “Don’t ask for too much. Your desires are sinful. You should only satisfy yourself after everyone around you has been satisfied. Be a good mom/wife/friend and make sacrifices for people you care about. Don’t be too big or too pushy or too demanding – people will call you self-centred, a bitch, a slut.”
Somewhere along the line, we’ve learned to stuff our desires so deep we hardly know what they are anymore.
Here’s a rather crude analogy… You know that moment when you’re getting ready to board a plane and you realize you have to go to the bathroom, but you’re not sure there’s enough time, and you don’t want to step out of line, so you hold it in? And then you get on the plane and you really don’t want to stink up the airplane toilet (and offend the people close to it), and so you keep holding it? And then the next day you realize you’re constipated because you ignored your bodily urges too long?
It’s the same way with women who stop expressing their desires – we become constipated with desire. We’ve ignored our urges for so long we no longer know how to satisfy them.
Another thing happened over the weekend that piled on top of the Chinese food incident. My daughters were talking about the Advent calendars I fill with candy every year and the only thing I was hearing from them was their complaints that they don’t always like the candy I choose and that I only buy about 5 kinds and so they get a lot of repeats.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit this… but I kind of lost it over the Advent calendars. Tears were shed and I let them know that I’m a little frustrated with having to satisfy their needs all of the time and receiving so little appreciation in return. This year, THEY CAN FILL THEIR OWN ADVENT CALENDARS!
Was I wrong to admit my frustration? Not really. They need to know that moms have feelings too and a little appreciation goes a long way.
But… suddenly I realized that I wasn’t so much upset about the lack of appreciation as I was angry at them for being better at expressing their desires than I am. AND… in showing my anger, I was teaching them the same thing I was taught – that they should shut down their own desires in order to keep other people happy.
In the book “The Shadow King: The invisible force that holds women back“, I was surprised to read Sidra Stone’s assertion that we adopt the inner patriarchy (the voice that tells women that they are not worth as much as men) from our mothers. It is primarily our mothers who teach us how to stay small, how to please the men, how to avoid getting hurt, and how to give up our own desires in deference to others in our lives (especially men). They do it to protect us, because that’s the only way they’ve learned to protect themselves. And so it goes, from generation to generation.
Here I was, passing my own stifled desires on to my daughters. Ouch.
I apologized to them for reacting as I did, and said I’d give them money to choose their own candy. I’ve tried not to shame them for wanting what they want. We’ve moved on, but there is still much for me to learn from this, and much more for me to teach my daughters.
By now you may be thinking “but… isn’t it better to be unselfish, to live a compassionate life of sacrifice?” Yes, I believe in compassion and sacrifice and putting others first, but I’m beginning to believe that we must first understand ourselves (and that includes our desires) before we can adequately understand and serve others. It’s a paradox – to know others, we must first know ourselves. To serve others, we must first serve ourselves. To teach others, we must first teach ourselves. Because in knowing ourselves and our own desires, we are able to give out of our generosity and love rather than out of our obligation and shame.
Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Here’s a somewhat parallel situation from my teaching experience… The more I teach, the more I am silent in the classroom, allowing others to explore their own voices and their own questions and come to their own conclusions. This, I believe, is the best way for them to learn. BUT… I could not get to this stage where I am comfortable with my silence and where I can teach from a place in the circle instead of the front of the room until I was comfortable with my own voice. I had to learn to express myself before I began to understand when it was best to hold back and let others express themselves. When I need to, I assert myself, but I do that from a place of confidence and self-understanding rather than from a place of needing to be heard and not trusting my own voice.
In the same way, I believe we need to learn to understand our own desires before we become really effective at helping other people understand and satisfy theirs. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” many of us were taught. I’ve heard that dozens of times from Sunday School teachers and preachers, but always they were focused on the do unto others part, and nobody taught me how to understand the as you would have them do unto you part.
What if we can only “do unto others” once we are clear about what we “would have them do unto us?” What if an exploration of our desires is what will heal us and then we will be strong enough to help heal others?
Our health depends on us releasing that which constipates us.
“If I’ve never been encouraged to think of myself as someone capable of making choices in the simplest matters – what tastes good to me, how I like my room to look, what kind of people I want to be around – there is a certain kind of fire and light that will quite possibly never ignite in my life. I won’t know how to reach out for what matters most or even, possibly, to recognize it when it comes – when it whispers to me, from the depths of my own being.” – Carol Lee Flinders, At the Root of this Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst
Another incident happened after the Advent calendars, and I am still processing the implications. An article was published in a local newspaper that features me and my work in The Circle Way. (You can find the article here, scroll to page 15.) I was excited. Though I’ve had quite a few articles published in various newspapers and magazines, and I’ve been mentioned and quoted in others, this was the first one that was all about me and the work I’m passionate about.
I took a photo, posted it on Facebook and said “Look! Look! A feature article about my work in The Circle Way featured in The Aquarian!“ And almost as soon as I’d posted it, I was second-guessing myself. Should I have been more subdued? Would people think I was bragging? Was the “look! look!” revealing too much about how much this means to me? Should I want this kind of exposure, or should I be more satisfied with staying small?
But then I went back to the Chinese food incident. Why shouldn’t I WANT this? Why shouldn’t I be delighted that the work I care so much about is getting exposure? What is wrong with having this desire?
When I’m completely honest with myself, this is what I want! I want to be teaching people. I want to be featured in interviews and articles about what’s important to me. I want my work to get bigger. I want to be featured in even bigger magazines and newspapers, because I want to reach more and more people with the healing potential of my work. That doesn’t make me arrogant, it makes me honest.
I WANT TO WANT THIS AND I DON’T WANT TO BE ASHAMED FOR WANTING IT!
Because when I admit that I want this, I can help other people get closer to what they want. When I put on my own oxygen mask first, I can help those still floundering. And I can do it from a healthy place of satisfied desires and deeper self-understanding.
That’s a powerful place from which to serve.
The more I work with women who are learning to express their desires, the more I am becoming aware that women’s desires will help heal the world. The women I work with have deep desires that are not selfish – they are for more equality, more community, more connection with the earth, more wildness, more peace, more love, more art, and more creative expression. These are all things that will heal the world.
And now I may just have to go and hide for awhile because I have a vulnerability hangover for admitting what I really want. Somebody please hug me.
P.S. You can follow your own desires in 2015 with A Soulful Year.
What does it mean to step into our power?
Almost every woman I know has an uneasy relationship with power.
Some of us want it but are not sure how to get it. Others have it and don’t know how to use it well. Some of us believe we’re unworthy of it, so we pretend we don’t need it. And many of us have been abused by it, so we don’t trust it.
We feel uneasy about power largely because we haven’t figured out what feminine power looks like.
Primarily, we see masculine power modeled in the world, and sadly, masculine power that isn’t well balanced with feminine power degenerates into patriarchal power. In order to maintain its power, the patriarchy abuses and marginalizes people and forces them to give up their power in exchange for their safety. Like we see in many situations around the world, by casting people into fear, those who abuse power render others powerless.
Many of us who yearned for some measure of power (myself included) found ourselves in environments where we were expected to model a masculine version in order to succeed (or even survive) in the world. Instead of being obliterated, we figured out how to assimilate.
When I was in leadership in government and non-profit, I heard repeatedly that I needed to “have a thicker skin”, “be more decisive”, “have a clearer vision”, and “be more of a director and less of a consensus-builder”. Over time, I learned to put on the mask of the kind of power that was most accepted in the workplace.
But like putting on someone else’s skin, it never quite fit. I wanted to lead in circles, I wanted to bring my passion, emotions, and spiritual quest to my work, and I wanted to feel more connected to myself and to my team. Though I tried, there wasn’t much support for me to lead from an authentic place or find a power that was outside of the accepted model.
In disillusionment, I started asking questions about what power meant and how it might look differently for me personally and for women generally.
Some of my answers came from a book called Power and Love by Adam Kahane. As a consultant, Kahane worked in many high profile, high conflict situations, such as post-apartheid South Africa. He was convinced that in these places where power had been so badly abused, what was needed was more love. Over time, however, he realized that love alone wouldn’t resolve the conflict. What was needed was a balance of love AND power. He came across the following quote from Martin Luther King and it changed his perspective dramatically.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
In the book, Kahane uses the metaphor of walking, where power is one leg and love is the other. In order to move forward in fluid motion, each leg needs the other and each must lift itself up off the ground and trust the other in a reciprocal, balanced fashion. Only then is there smooth, forward motion.
As I was contemplating this last week while preparing for a workshop on women and power, I pulled out a pair of beautiful soft moccasins I’d received as a gift from a friend. They’d been her own moccasins, but after being with me in circle at the retreat last month in South Dakota, she handed them to me. The note she gave me along with the moccasins said “It makes me so happy to share my most precious slippers with you. They were only used a couple of times when I wanted to connect or feel very close to the Beloved One. They always made me feel like I was stepping on Holy Ground. Sometimes it felt like I was putting on the feet of the Divine.”
I slipped them on and stood up. They felt wonderful and soft, like a second skin wrapped around my feet. I felt the softness of the leather, the warmth of my friend’s generosity, and the solidness of the Holy Ground I was standing on.
As I wore them, I wondered “is this a clue to how a woman can stand in her power? Does it have something to do with slipping into what’s comfortable, what’s soft, what’s connected to the earth, and what feels as authentic as one’s own skin?”
I took the moccasins with me to the retreat and wore them all weekend. I taught the workshop on women and power while wearing them and invited the women to consider how they might interpret power in their own lives. The more I wore them, the more convinced I became that they would be my new symbol for stepping into my power.
Here’s what the moccasins teach me about standing in the kind of power that’s married to love and that leans toward the feminine:
- Power can walk softly. It doesn’t have to wear combat boots.
- Authentic power feels like being in your own skin.
- It’s easier to stand in your power when your sisters support you.
- The more connected you are to the earth, the more connected you are to the source of your own power.
- To step into your power, recognize that you are stepping on Holy Ground, held and strengthened by the Divine.
- Our authentic power connects us to our indigenous roots.
Today, after returning from the retreat, I attended a peace vigil and was part of a conversation with a woman who works with Christian Peacemaker Team in northern Iraq. She was sharing stories about how the CPT team stands alongside people in Iraq who are working for peace. As outsiders, they don’t take on the role of leader in the difficult negotiation, advocacy, and conflict resolution work that’s needed in places where local villagers are not safe from either the terrorists or the local military, but instead they show up to serve and support them and to share their stories with the world.
It struck me that the work that she and others on her team are doing is the kind of power that stands in moccasins instead of combat boots. It feels the soil of the local place and let’s itself be impacted, but doesn’t force itself into situations. It’s attentive, supportive, strong, and present. It recognizes the Divine in the land and in each person it meets. Like the Buddhist warriors with their “strong backs and soft bellies” it shows up in both strength and vulnerability. It has the courage to show up and speak truth to power and the wisdom to know when to be silent.
When someone commented on this woman’s courage, she answered humbly “well… I have moments of courage”. And then she shared a moment when the military opened fire into the crowd she was part of and she completely melted down and had to be comforted by the local villagers.
That’s the kind of model of power we need. It’s not fearless and it’s not forceful. It’s gentle and vulnerable. Sometimes it falls apart but it keeps showing up to do the work that needs to be done.
Sister, step into your power.
If you want to learn more about what it means to step into your own authentic power, consider signing up for The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.
I was raised on a healthy dose of “only a sinner, saved by grace”. Again and again the Sunday School songs reminded me to carry the shame of the sin that had separated me from God. I was nothing without salvation – a wretch, a lost soul, a disgrace.
On top of that, I was a woman – reduced to second class in the eyes of a male (understanding of) God. Not good enough to have my own voice. Not strong enough to lead without a man as the head.
And then, to add to those stories of unworthiness and submissiveness, I was a Mennonite, taught to be a pacifist, discouraged from standing up for myself. Turn the other cheek and don’t rock the boat.
Let’s not forget that I’m also a Canadian, and people in my country place politeness high in our values.
That’s a lot of old stories that contribute to my “I am worthless” back story.
Now…I’m not going to argue the theology or “rightness” of any of those belief systems – I’m just speaking from my own experience here. I’m just saying that it’s hard to emerge from a history like that with a healthy self-confidence and a belief in one’s worthiness.
It took a lot of personal work to start telling myself other stories. It took a lot to begin to believe that I was worthy of love, that I was equal to men, that I could believe in a God that was both masculine AND feminine, and that I was “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
For awhile the pendulum swung in the other direction. I started to embrace those self-help books that told me that I am awesome, I am powerful, and I can do anything I set my mind to. I started to believe that I was a self-made woman and that I didn’t need faith in a God who made me feel worthless.
But the other end of the pendulum wasn’t comfortable for long either. If I am awesome, than I don’t need other people. If I am perfect the way I am than I can get away with treating people poorly and not cleaning up after myself. If I can do anything I set my mind to, then I don’t need grace and I don’t need God and I certainly don’t need to pay attention to the wounds all of us AWESOME people are inflicting on the world.
And what if I don’t FEEL awesome all of the time? Then do I send myself back to the “unworthy” end of the pendulum because other people have figured out this self-help stuff better than I have? And what about when I do something that is really selfish – do I simply excuse myself with an “I am worth it” mantra? Do I never hold myself accountable for my screw-ups or unkind acts? And if there’s no need for grace, then how do I pick myself up after a particularly horrible failure?
Gradually the pendulum swung back, but this time it landed somewhere in the middle. This time it stopped in the grey area – the paradox.
- I am beautiful AND I have a lot of flaws.
- I am smart and capable and have a lot of gifts AND I need to be forgiven when I make mistakes.
- I am loving and kind AND sometimes I do things that are downright mean and hurtful.
- I have been fearfully and wonderfully made AND I need a lot of grace for those times when I don’t act or feel like it.
- I am full of wisdom AND I rely on God/dess to help me use that wisdom with discernment.
- I am a sinner AND I am a saint.
- I am good enough as I am AND I need to keep working to improve myself.
- I am as worthy as any man on earth AND I want to keep living on a planet where both genders are needed.
The grey area is a good place to live. It feels comfortable, because I don’t need to be perfect, but I also don’t need to believe that I am worthless. It’s the field that Rumi talks about – I want to lie down in that grass with you.
“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.”
p.s. There is still space in tomorrow’s Openhearted Writing Circle, if you want to explore how your own writing can help you get to an “I am enough” place.