A new moon in Cancer invites us into the waters of rejuvenation. Half the year is over, and we are pausing to see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed. The cards I pulled for this lunation are all about attending to ourselves with honesty and grace.
What to Release
Someone once told me that love is a choice, not a feeling, and I believe that applies most keenly to self-love. We don’t wake up one day, suddenly awash with feelings of unconditional love for ourselves after years of self-hatred and internal criticism. The lights do not come on and stay on automatically. We have to make the decision, every single day, to flip the switch, even when it’s difficult and more tempting to stay in the darkness of our own pain and suffering.
Releasing whatever stands in the way of loving ourselves unconditionally is a process, and this New Moon is an invitation to begin that work or rededicate ourselves to it.
What rituals or practices make you love yourself more? What gets in the way of doing them consistently? How and why do you talk yourself out of doing what nourishes you?
As a Reiki teacher, one thing I try to impress upon my students is the necessity of giving themselves a full self-treatment daily. If they cannot allow the energy to guide and heal them first, then they will be less effective and more susceptible to burnout when working with others. Much like cleaning a house, it is far easier to do a little tidying every day than to delay it until the mess is colossal.
Think of the mantra on this card as a broom, gently sweeping away all the debris from your aura until all you can feel is the radiance of your soul shining through.
What to Embrace
Valuing yourself as a woman is a rebellious act in a society that constantly reminds you of what you are not worth. It loves to tell you what you cannot do, what you will not be paid, where you shouldn’t go, what you must not wear, with whom you can’t have relationships, and on and on. It’s exhausting and maddening.
Cold truth: No one will deem you worthy. You can try to hustle for it by earning more degrees, working more hours, doing more projects, creating more art, busting out more reps at the gym, raising more kids, or whatever your thing is, but none of that stuff will make you worthy. It’s something you have to own for yourself, as you are, today.
If your inner critic is especially bitchy and rude, just notice her. Acknowledge that she’s there, but don’t let her have the spotlight. Kick her off stage, and start replacing her monologue with kinder, more compassionate words and phrases. Every time you do this, you’re rewriting old scripts, and eventually, your inner critic will stop showing up so often with the same old lines. She will start to sound boring and ridiculous. Trust me.
What to Work With
This last card represents a tool that you can use throughout the lunar cycle for support, inspiration, and guidance. The name of the card is Sanctuary, so the idea is to create space for yourself that feels comforting and sacred to you. (What could be more Cancerian, right?)
I keep an altar in my home, but there are also places out in nature that help me recharge. I have some gorgeous climbing roses in my back yard, for example, so I like to spend some time with them every day. Roses have a high vibrational frequency, and it’s quite healing just to be near them.
So take a good look around your living space, and feel into every room. Cleanse, clear, and change it up if that’s what your soul needs. With as much time as we’re all spending at home these days, it’s more important than ever that it be the most loving, supportive reflection of who we are inside.
If you would like a personal oracle reading, I do offer those on a limited basis. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The oracle used in this reading is The Moon Deck by Aarona Lea and Andrea Keh.
The first messages I received about the wildness of the natural world were diametrically opposed. My mother taught me that nature is splendid when controlled in a garden or observed from the boxy windows of the house or vehicle. She would have made a fine Victorian lady. My father taught me that the wild is the only place where one can truly escape the pain and sorrow of life, and that anything one might possibly need is there. He would have made a fine pioneer.
If I believed my mother, then nature was a frightening and unpredictable place where all sorts of horrible tragedies might befall me. If I believed my father, it was paradise and my salvation from too much civilization.
I wish my father had taken the time to teach me all of his practical outdoor skills, but there were obstacles. I was bookish, dreamy, a bit awkward, and I was not a boy. Even if he had maintained the patience to teach wilderness survival to a little girl who didn’t like baiting a fishhook, it’s unlikely that my mother would have allowed such expeditions. Death had taken her first daughter, and she worried, constantly, that he was stalking her second.
I lived much of my childhood through my dead sister’s shadow, trying to find some middle ground between gaining my independence and not increasing my mother’s anxiety. A fearful, depressed, and controlling mother was too hard to bear in the end, so independence ultimately won. I left home at 18 and only told my mother what I thought she was able to handle about my life, which was mostly the acceptable highlight reel.
Relying on field guides and advice from seasoned hikers to fill in the gaps in my outdoor knowledge bank, I certainly didn’t tell her when I backpacked on a portion of the Appalachian Trail for the first time or any time that I went out into the woods with the barest essentials. I couldn’t explain the benefits of hiking and camping to someone who said, “I will not sleep on the ground when I have a perfectly good bed at home.”
But there are waterfalls that can only been reached by traveling miles into the forest on foot. There are wide vistas that can only be enjoyed by climbing, step by aching step, to the top of the mountain. There are meadows full of wildflowers and gurgling creeks and the simple comfort of a fire at night under a canopy of bright stars.
We spoke completely different languages, she and I. She craved walls and security. I craved fresh air and whatever is around the next bend.
I reserved my nature-loving conversations for my father, who understood the peace of wild things and that my soul was being hurt by too much domestication from suburban living. The outer trappings of my life looked like progress. Degrees. Job. Paycheck. Retirement fund. House. Car. Boxes all checked, but there was less and less time and energy to be outside exploring. Weekends were taken up with maintaining the lawn and the house and running errands. Then it was Monday again, and I would try to push away the feeling that my life had been stripped of all meaning and purpose. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this. I took no pleasure in any of my accomplishments. What had I won? A concrete jungle? I didn’t want it. I wanted a forest. I wanted to wake up and see trees all around me, instead of the neighbor’s back porch, the rows of privacy fences, and the asphalt leading to places I did not wish to go. Even the local nature trails had become too familiar, predictable, and heavily occupied by joggers and cyclists.
My own search for a connection or reconnection to the earth was really a search for self and identity. How a woman feels about the earth reflects how she feels about herself. Either she embraces all that is wild, unapologetic, fierce, and untamed within her, or she lives in denial and represses her natural instincts. Either she accepts that the feminine is both nurturer and destroyer, or she feels that a part of herself remains caged as she struggles to fulfill the impossible cultural expectation of flawless motherhood and domesticity. It is still shocking to some that the Goddess has teeth and claws.
Such profound realizations often occur on the cusp of the final transformation. Nearing the end of her life and unable to walk, my mother actually loved seeing photos of my hiking trips. Faced with her own mortality, she became keenly aware of all the places she would never go in this life and all that she would never see or experience. She said that my photos made her feel like she was out there with me on the trail, seeing the world through my eyes. I brought her the wild, and at last, she understood this sacred, primordial part of me and of herself and of all women.
“Go,” she told me. “Let your hiking boots take you every place that calls to you, and I’ll be with you every step.”
And she is. I feel her, and I feel the Great Mother surrounding me every time I leave the known for the unknown, the safe for the precarious, the tame for the untouched and irrepressible wildness of the world.
I spent about half of 2018 and most of 2019 becoming a licensed massage therapist. It turned out to be a transformative, turbulent, revealing, and healing journey that I’m still unraveling, though I don’t regret my choice to add that particular skill to my medicine bag. There is inestimable value in therapeutic touch, and I could devote an entire article to that subject alone. It is ironic that touch is now prohibited, and I wonder what the extended lack of physical contact is doing to the psyche of the world.
As I shelter at home while the pandemic known as COVID-19 rages, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my life path and all the hats I’ve worn (or tried to wear) and those I’ve discarded. Some of you are doing the same right now, I have no doubt. What is happening in the economy is making us reevaluate many aspects of our lives and how we’re showing up.
I’ve been a retail worker, a temporary office assistant, a technical writer, and a quality auditor. I’ve had many hours of training in Reiki, aromatherapy, life coaching, and now massage therapy. My degrees are in English Literature and Professional Writing, and there was a time when I wanted to be an inspirational teacher like the one Robin Williams portrayed in Dead Poets Society. I thought I could light up young minds and stoke their creative fires, just as mine had been set ablaze by the literary greats and the avant-garde. But I looked hard at the public educational system in my sophomore year of college, and something inside of me recoiled. I realized I was too much of a rebel to conform to the system’s standards, and I took the corporate route instead. A dream deferred—with every bit of the heaviness and putrefaction that Langston Hughes conveyed. I traded one cage for another that paid better, and it ate my soul for breakfast in the bargain.
Whatever I have done for a living, whether it was classified as menial work or white-collar, I never stopped writing. I didn’t call myself a writer, though. Not at first. I never owned that until some of my work was accepted by an editor and out there for public perusal. Even then, I told myself that it didn’t count, because it wasn’t a major publication, and I still didn’t have a book on the bookstore shelf along with a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.
I kept looking for other things that seemed like legitimate occupations to me, roles I wanted to play and attractive hats I wanted to wear. That was easier somehow than just owning the fact that I’m an artist. Period.
I thought the way I earned a living had to match up to my level of education, or else I was a failure who had wasted her years in academia. Then I thought I needed to do something in the holistic healing arena that aligned with my spirituality, or else I wasn’t being true to my values. Both turned out to be false lines of reasoning that kept me going down a lot of bunny trails, because the main path, that of the artist, was scary and unpredictable. Creating art involves risking your tender, timeless soul and putting it out there, over and over again, without armor or apology. It is not for the weak, and it may or may not pay in monetary rewards. There are no guarantees, and the process isn’t linear.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “Making art does sometimes feel like you’re holding a séance, or like you’re calling out in the night for a wild animal on the prowl. What you’re doing seems impossible and even silly, but then you hear the thunder of hooves, and some beautiful beast comes rushing into the glade, searching for you just as urgently as you have been searching for it.”
Last week, as I was driving on an Alabama back road and listening to Carolyn Myss’s Essential Guide for Healers, something she said hit me so hard in the chest that I nearly stopped the car: “Our words are vessels of light.”
I remembered all the times people had thanked me for something I had expressed in a blog post or a poem—my words, my vessels of light, going out there like precious little fireflies to do their work. I ugly cried all the way home. Words have power, and they happen to be my super power. How could I have forgotten this or discounted it? Did I really need a pandemic to remind me? Apparently so. If not for the forced time-out, I’d still be off on a bunny trail.
It had not come home to me that my writing is my healing work and that this is what I am, not just what I do. What I do to earn money is irrelevant. That is a job. Writing is a calling, and so is the ability to hold a safe space for others to be vulnerable and tell their deepest truths.
At some point, hopefully in the near future, this pandemic will be over, and I pray the lessons we all learned from it will remain. I pray for us to remember who we truly are inside and what we value most, long after the toilet paper is restocked and the stadiums are full. I pray that what we turned to while we were isolated—the arts and Mother Nature—are not forgotten when state and federal governments are deciding where to allocate funds. I pray that the workers who have been unseen and unappreciated will not have to worry about paying their bills and receiving proper medical care. I envision the whole world wrapped in a medicine blanket.
May we all send more vessels of light out into the darkness.
I’m nine years old, it’s late summer, and I’m playing tag and roughhousing with a group of boys in the churchyard. My mother is standing on the church steps with the other adults, talking and smoking cigarettes, stretching out the fabric of the evening until the stars are visible. Occasional shrieks of laughter punctuate the cacophony of insects and tree frogs, and fireflies dart like tiny, luminescent spirits in the graveyard. It’s the kind of Southern night that can make a poet or a songwriter swoon.
The boys are beginning to accept me as one of their tribe and rarely cut me any slack for being a girl. I want to understand their world, so I learn the proper way to throw a football, and I try to be impressed with things like baseball cards and comic books. I am holding my own in whatever game we decide to play, and being an only child, they give me some sense of what it would be like to have a bunch of annoying brothers. I’m learning that having brothers means I need to be tough and willing to get my clothes dirty. So I don’t think much about the mud on my shirt when I notice the adults putting out their cigs and shuffling towards the parking lot.
I wave goodbye to the boys, reaching the car at the same time my mom does. There is just enough light from the streetlamp for her to notice that my white shirt is no longer pristine. She is instantly furious and launches into a tirade about me being thoughtless and careless in my “good clothes” and how we don’t have money to replace such things. I feel shamed and humiliated, and not knowing what else to do, I slide into the back seat, hoping that it’s too dark for anyone to see my tears.
I overhear one of the other mothers say, “It’s alright. A little stain remover will take that right out.”
As the parent of two rambunctious boys, she probably owned stock in stain remover and could tackle grass, mud, and blood without batting an eyelash. I cry even harder because she is standing up for me, and I wish I could go home with her instead. Maybe she would like to add a lively daughter to her brood. Then I notice a brief glitch in my mother’s programming. An expression that almost looks like regret passes over her face, but I don’t get an apology.
What I internalized from that experience and many others is that the way to avoid criticism, shame, and humiliation is to be perfect.
The years that followed were full of honor rolls, college degrees, summa cum laude, and all the other academic accolades I could acquire. I got the corporate job after graduate school and surpassed anything anyone in my family had ever done in terms of education and position. If I could do enough and be enough, then I thought I would finally be worthy of love. In my world, love was conditional, merit-based, and could be withdrawn at any moment. It paid to be an over-achiever.
What did I pay with? My soul, mostly.
On the one hand, I developed self-discipline and the capacity to stick with something long after the initial excitement wore off. I learned how to push through apathy, boredom, illness, frustration, fatigue, and doubt. I learned how to work when I felt like it and when I didn’t. That is how you win the medal and save the day, or so I thought. It’s a repetitive process of self-denial, grit, and determination.
On the other hand, I developed a harsh and relentless inner critic that never made allowances for being human. I was still the girl afraid of getting mud on her shirt. Every bit of my self-worth was tied to achievement, and without it, I had no idea who I was. If I wasn’t working toward something and slaying a goal, then I was nothing.
Attaining the goal always ended up feeling shallow, though. I would sink into depression afterward, because there was always something higher and better on the horizon. I didn’t pause to celebrate accomplishments, because they were never enough for me anyway. I didn’t bother to hang diplomas or awards on the wall. If achieving made me feel worthy, then I had to find another hit as quickly as possible.
Fast forward to the present. I’m sitting in my therapist’s chair, watching the fishes dart back and forth in their tank, wondering if they feel limited by their world or if they are blessedly unconscious of lakes and oceans. For their sake, I hope they have no aspirations.
Determined to get to the root of my perfectionist problem, my therapist, who seems a lot like Gandalf to me, finally asks, “Can you be okay with not being a god? Can you accept that you are a fallible, flawed human?”
“No, not really. I’d rather be a goddess,” I reply with my usual wit and sarcasm, laughing while I cry a little on the inside, because it’s true. I’m not madly in love with being human and never have been. A part of me has always felt like I don’t belong here in this life or even on this planet. (Some say that people like me are starseeds, but that’s a far out topic for another blog).
I’ve also spent over two decades immersed in women’s spirituality and the Goddess movement, which helped me wake up to my own feminine power in a hypermasculine world. I had to slough off a lot of early conditioning, and I did it with sisters who weren’t afraid to drum, dance, sing, laugh, chant, howl, cry, and connect with our ancient lunar wisdom and magic.
I still emphasize connecting with the Divine Feminine in much of my writing and my spiritual practice. It can be a path for healing low self-esteem and victim mentality, particularly for women who were brought up in extremely repressive, misogynistic environments. It’s a period of recovery and reclaiming, and I believe it’s sacred, vital work for bringing feminine consciousness back into the world.
There is also a field out beyond that where a woman knows her power and strength after doing the inner work. She doesn’t doubt what she can manifest. She isn’t afraid to speak her truth. She owns her sexuality. She has clear boundaries. She is less of a student and more of a teacher now. She can hold space for others quite easily, but she must also hold space for herself.
I stand in that field of wildflowers now, asking questions and looking into the well of wisdom with my own face reflected back to me. Who am I now after all that I’ve done? What if I could still accomplish great things with love and acceptance for my human flaws? What would that even feel like?
One aspect of Goddess spirituality that I find troubling is the tendency to put Her on such a high pedestal that She is completely unrelatable. A depiction of Aphrodite rising from the sea foam might inspire more self-love or it might trigger body dysmorphia. It depends on a woman’s personal history and point of view. In a world that already wants to slice and dice women into unrealistic, commercialized images, it can be difficult to access something true and genuinely feminine. Something divinely human. Something perfectly imperfect. If we are to see the Goddess in ourselves, then what does that really look like? Here’s a hint: it’s probably not something porcelain and immaculate.
When I consider the Goddess now, I want her to be a lot less celestial. Maybe she’s sporting a messy bun and still in her pajamas on her third cup of coffee, because she’s deep in her creative process. Maybe she has paint in her hair and mud on her feet…or on her shirt.
Looking back on it all, I know my mother was doing her best to give me a competitive edge, and she did it in the only way she knew how. I can only imagine the fear she must have felt inside at the thought of sending her daughter out into a world that would expect her to think and act like a man in order to be successful. She wanted me to reach higher and go further than she did, and she was trying to prepare me for the fact that my softer, feminine qualities would not be considered assets. I have so much compassion for her, knowing that what she passed on to me was part of the patriarchal illness that affects us all. I’m wide awake to the symptoms, though, and it’s my job to heal myself and to help others if I can.
Healing means knowing I’m worthy down to my bones because of who I am, not because of what I achieve. I’m finally reaching a place where I can pause and simply stand on everything I’ve learned in my life and put it into practice for the greater good.
As I was wrestling with perfectionism and beginning to write about it, a friend called out of the blue one afternoon with a message that felt like it came straight from the Universe.
“I want you to know that what you offer has value,” she said. “You speak the truth and listen compassionately. No matter what I’ve talked to you about, I never felt judged. That’s a rare thing, and I felt like you should know that it’s really needed in this world.”
Her words touched me deeply. I realized that I did not learn the things she spoke about from a textbook or a professor. They cannot be learned. They are the medicine I carry, and it is enough.
I watch the fishes in his tank dart back and forth, wondering how many heart-wrenching stories they’ve heard, how many tears and breakthroughs they’ve witnessed. I’m here digging up bones, searching for roots, and seeing how the threads of my life have formed a web. Patterns are emerging. A-ha moments are happening. It’s illuminating, liberating, and grueling all at the same time. In short, it’s therapy.
I went in seeking help with grief, and of course there is so much more behind the grief. I’ve been grieving multiple things, mainly the loss of myself, the parts of me that I’ve buried or sold in order to please others or have some sense of security, even if it was false or short-lived.
Safety and security are dominant themes for me, because neither got instilled in my formative years. Anxiety-ridden parents raise a terrified child. Then the terrified child goes out into the world, looking for the safety she never had and could never feel. Sometimes she finds it in others, bartering and trading whatever she can for that feeling of being protected. Then there is no more of her left to trade. She loses herself, doesn’t know who she is anymore, and realizes the price has been entirely too high. Safety begins to look a lot like prison. Panic sets in. She begins to see that she is very much alone once more from an emotional standpoint, so she might as well be on her own completely. She throws her body against the bars of her cage, emerging bruised and bloody with her wings half torn off, but she is free. She licks her wounds in the silence of a room that is hers and only hers. Still, she does not know that she can trust herself to be her own safe harbor, that no one else ever had that much power anyway.
I have repeated this cycle three times in my life, with the third iteration playing out now. I’m in the “waking up in prison” phase where I begin looking for a way out. Except this time, it’s more like I’m trying to find a way through. If “the only way out is through”, then I have to instill in myself what my parents could not—I have to know that I’m safe, no matter who is in or out of my life. I have to know that when no one else has my back, I still do. I have to know that the warrior I sought in others has lived within me all along.
And that is not an easy task. It feels monumental at times. I walk forward a little, and then I stumble over the pebbles of my own self-doubt. I loathe that sort of thinking. It is not me at all, and yet I have carried my late mother’s fear of being alone and abandoned, despite everything I’ve done to liberate myself with higher education and marketable skills.
I posed the question to a group of female friends, asking if they felt their mothers had instilled “you need a man” programming, either deliberately or unconsciously, and if that had affected their own choices later in life. It seemed that many who responded learned a lot from watching their mothers be dependent and miserable. It was more of a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of teaching from their mothers that spurred self-reliance.
I never got kudos from mom for the times I was living alone, completely self-supportive, and primarily focused on my own goals. She was always afraid for me. There was always this expectation that I should be with someone, as though that could somehow prevent whatever disaster she was imagining. The last thing she said to my husband before she died was, “Take good care of my baby.” I cringed. How could she lay such a burden on him? On both of us? She can’t release him from that responsibility now, but I can. I am.
And perhaps this time, I will not have to throw myself so hard at the bars of my cage. This time, I will know that I have the key to unlock the door, and that I have always had the key.
I wasn’t crazy about gym class. I was an artsy, geeky kid who could have easily camped out in the middle school library all day long, so I wasn’t overjoyed to find myself in a weight room that smelled like the sweat of a thousand jock straps.
Loading plates onto a barbell felt awkward. Since no one ever explained the benefits of strength training, I didn’t see the point of it all. I wasn’t trying out for the football team, and back then, girls weren’t exactly praised for having a muscular physique. So, I barely listened to what the coach was saying with all of his precautions about how to handle the weights. I had almost survived the class, but then a heavy plate slipped right out of my hands and landed squarely on my big toe.
The pain was excruciating. My toe was throbbing, and had I been alone in that moment, I’m sure I would have screamed. But I said nothing. I swallowed all of that pain, rather than admit that I had screwed up. Putting any weight on that foot was torture, but I forced myself to walk out of class normally. I didn’t go see the school nurse. I didn’t say anything to anyone all day, as I sat through my classes, hurting constantly and trying to focus on math problems.
When I got home, I finally told my mom what had happened. By then, my toe had turned a vicious shade of purple and was quite swollen from all of the fluid that had built up under the nail. We had to drain it, which was even more agony, and I ultimately lost the nail.
When all of that was over, my mom asked, “Why didn’t you tell someone? Why did you walk around all day like this? How could you drop a weight on your foot without screaming?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
She had such a displeased, flabbergasted expression on her face. My behavior confounded her. It should have been a waving red flag. It should have prompted more questions about why I didn’t care enough about myself to speak up about my injury. None of that happened, though. It was dismissed, as so many things were that had no easy and immediate answers.
How I dealt with my smashed toe was just a microcosm of how I handled pain in general, whether physical or emotional.
I never felt safe enough to express pain. I never trusted that others might actually be empathetic and helpful. School wasn’t safe because of bullies. Home wasn’t entirely safe because of my dad’s temper, my mother’s judgement, and the threat of being yelled at or physically punished for anything I did wrong in their eyes.
I reasoned that in an unsafe world, expressing pain would expose a vulnerable weakness that others could exploit. It seemed wiser to keep it all to myself. I learned stoicism from birth and had perfected it by my teen years. Just keep your head down. Say nothing. Don’t give them any ammunition.
My parents were fighting on the way to church once, and I was wishing I could be anywhere else on the planet other than the back seat of that car. I walked into the sanctuary in tears, wanting refuge and understanding. My aunt took one look at me, ascertained the situation, and said, “Try and pull yourself together.”
The one place where I thought I might be shown some kindness and unconditional love just offered me indifference. It simply reinforced my belief that safety could not be found anywhere.
Much later in life, I would learn that my family had harbored secrets of rape, affairs, illegitimate children, and abuse that never came to light until those who were affected had passed from this world. They were that good at perpetuating well-crafted lies and appearances. I know their tactics weren’t unique. Secrets and shame spread through all families like a genetic disease.
My story about hiding my pain is just one of millions, but it serves to illustrate why women have to speak up when it hurts. Since the days when ‘hysteria’ was used as a blanket term for every possible female illness, women have been labeled as irrational and excessively emotional. It has made us doubt ourselves and try to conform to an impossible standard of self-denial. This doesn’t serve us, and it doesn’t serve the world. We aren’t hysterical—we’re hurting and exhausted from the effort to mask how we truly feel.
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open
Things began to turn around for me when I found supportive women’s circles that allowed me to express my truth, break down in tears if I needed to, and be heard and witnessed without judgement. My healing began there, and it continues there. Black Elk, the Holy Man of the Ogala Sioux, said, “Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.” Within sacred space, I finally found safety, harmony, and personal transformation.
My childhood experiences taught me the importance of being honest about pain, and it’s something I still work on all the time. I love it when people describe me as transparent, because they have no idea how much deprogramming it took to get here.
I became a writer, because the page offered a tremendous amount of blank space for truth-telling and inspiration. I became a women’s circle facilitator, because I learned the power of holding space for others and how vital that is for healing. I became a life coach, because I wanted to carry that concept into one-on-one sessions. I became a bodyworker, because I was deeply interested in how we can begin to release trauma from the body as well as the mind. My path has seemed circuitous, but I am beginning to see how all of the routes connect.
A coach once asked me to imagine I was standing on a balcony before thousands of people with one short message to deliver. What would I say to them? I hated the question, because I didn’t like imagining myself before such a vast audience. Just the thought made me nervous. But when I was able to sink into the deepest, most soulful part of myself, I uttered these five words:
I remember the seething, white-hot rage I felt inside. I wanted to burn shit down or blow it up and leave a trail of ashes behind me. I had finally connected the dots between a father who was emotionally absent and impossible to please and the men I had attracted into my life. Guess what? They were emotionally absent and impossible to please, too.
When you don’t receive that unconditional love and support from the man who is supposed to teach you how men should treat you, then you’re likely to make poor choices in the relationship department. You keep trying to be good enough. You twist and mold yourself into whatever shape you think he desires. You make too many compromises about where and how you’ll live. You sell yourself out. You get swept away. You bury your dreams. You dismiss your gut feelings. You keep hoping that the next one will really see you, appreciate you, and actually be there for you in body and soul.
So you try—again—to love someone else, to be open, to get past the scars on your heart. You light up inside when he approves of you and die a little when he doesn’t, because the wound is still there. You’re still hoping to earn his love. You have expectations he can’t possibly fulfill. It’s not even his job to fulfill them, but you don’t know that yet. Every relationship you have with a man is just another opportunity to heal the bleeding, gaping Father Wound, but the problem is that you’re not going to the source.
Then you get fed up after all the painful goodbyes and starting over for the umpteenth time with your life in cardboard boxes. You want things to change. A light comes on. You start doing the work on yourself, because why not? Nothing else has helped, has it?
You see the pattern you’ve been repeating. It feels like wading through miles of swamp water and muck. You grieve. You rage some more. You feel disgusted. You kick yourself for not waking up sooner, for not knowing what you think you should have known. Then you kick yourself for kicking yourself. You sit in circles, alone and with others. You tell your story. You listen to their stories. You feel heard and witnessed as you are, raw and unvarnished. You shed holy tears. You forgive. You breathe. You do this work for months or years, however long it takes.
Gradually, with wobbly legs and new skin, you begin to give yourself the love you never received. It is strange, at first, to walk in worthiness, to know your own power, to have clear boundaries, to not seek validation. Then self-worth becomes your default setting, and those around you either adjust or fall away. You know your triggers quite well; they are old friends by now. You catch yourself long before you are at risk of falling into the same old tar pit.
Sometimes, your healing ripples outward through your words, your prayers, your offerings.
I have watched my father go through his own metamorphosis, prompted mostly by terminal illness and the realization of his own mortality. We’ve had many conversations that usually start out with how the weather has been, who is ill, and who died recently. There have been times, though, when we transcended the whole father-daughter relationship to simply be with each other as two souls trying to figure out life.
I once told him that I never learned how to do marriage very well.
He paused for a minute and said, “I never did either, honey.”
Then we laughed! It was one of the most real moments we’ve ever had, both acknowledging that we’ve fucked up and even finding humor in our mutual fucked-up-ness.
I understand now that I had to go through this whole cycle of healing the Father Wound, because you can’t teach something that you haven’t lived. I didn’t ask for the wound, but the responsibility to heal it was, and always will be, mine. Much of what informs and enlivens my coaching practice is my own journey toward wholeness. It took years for my rage to become compassion, years before I would see my father as the catalyst who set me on my spiritual path, and years before I could have a 360 degree view of it all and feel gratitude.
Healing the father wound changed how I viewed all men, and maybe that has been the greatest gift in this journey. When I stopped categorizing them as either oppressors or saviors, I began to see into their individual and collective pain. It was just as valid and deep as my own, and that awareness cracked me open. It still does, every single time that a man drops his armor and bares his soul to me.
My dad has an incredibly sensitive heart—he just had it beaten out of him by a tyrannical, abusive father and an indifferent mother. In another life, he might have been a poet and a dreamer like his only daughter turned out to be. I carry what he wasn’t allowed to carry because of a patriarchal culture that equates sensitivity with weakness. I carry it like a medicine staff, because it is one.
May we rise above the outdated paradigms. May we heal our parental wounds, for ourselves and the generations to come. May we strive to understand each other, and in that understanding, may we find peace.
It may surprise you to know that despite being a witchy, Goddess-powered kind of woman, I cohabitate with a man who is decidedly non woo-woo. It has come to my attention that there are quite a lot of us out there who maintain some type of spiritual practice that doesn’t involve our partner. It’s like we’re all keeping a holy sanctuary that our most-loved person never enters.
Does it matter? Well, that depends.
For some, it’s no big deal, as long as the partner is respectful and understanding about things like burning candles, wafting incense, reading Tarot cards, and being highly conscious of the moon’s exact phase and astrological transits. As long as love is the foundation of the partnership, it works well enough.
I’ve also known women who relish their spiritual path as their private, inner world, and they have absolutely no wish at all to share any of it with a partner. Doing so would almost feel like a violation, because they have fought so hard to create that sacred space for themselves.
For others, spirituality becomes a sticking point. They want and need their partner to be fully on board and engaged with them and their spiritual practice. Questions can begin to arise like, ‘If my partner rejects my spiritual values, does he/she reject me as well?’ and ‘If I can’t share this part of my life with him/her, then do we really even have a relationship?’
In the earlier days of my break from mainstream religion, I was thrilled if the guy I was dating didn’t bug me about church or try to convert me. It was even better if he didn’t freak out over words like witchcraft, Goddess, and pagan. (Having been raised in the South, I was recovering from the emotional abuse and patriarchal wounds I received from the church. The slightest hints of fundamentalism would send me running).
So, I only looked for tolerance and open-mindedness from potential lovers, and that’s mostly what I attracted. The word witch almost served as a kind of litmus test to see who would stick around, although I have to say that many didn’t care what I believed or practiced. They were far more interested in my body than my mind and spirit anyway.
I thought that men who were spiritually awake, plugged in, and switched on would be too much to hope for, quite honestly. I figured I’d be doing really well just to find one who was stable, reliable, intelligent, driven, and kind. Enter Domestic Partner #3, who has all of those qualities.
I felt that he was extremely fortunate to have parents who didn’t drag him to church or force him to practice any type of religion. I certainly wasn’t going to do that to him, either. He formed his own beliefs, which are pretty close to agnostic if I had to put a label on them. He has always been supportive of me, but we’ll never share the exact same views on the inner-workings of the Universe and the things I feel inside but can’t always explain.
Our relationship works, as long as my witching and priestessing takes place on the outskirts of our daily life. It works, as long as my woo-woo conversations are limited to friends and members of my community. It works, as long as I don’t connect the dots between sexuality and spirituality. It works, as long as I don’t care if he ever joins me in my inner temple. It works, as long as I keep this immense part of myself, which informs so much of my writing and all that I do, separate from all that we do as a couple.
Sometimes I do care, though I try hard to release any expectations. I’ve learned that having expectations of anyone is always a recipe for disappointment. Knowing that is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes I feel we are speaking a completely different language, and there is no translator. Sometimes I follow the flowchart back to the beginning and find that the heart-centered medicine men and sages of this world are still in short supply.
I’ve never felt that my partner rejected me personally or even my spiritual outlook directly. It’s more that I question how deeply a relationship can go if one of the most important aspects of my life can only be experienced with others.
Friends, it’s hotter than Brigid’s forge in lower Alabama, so I’ve been going sans bra as much as possible. It’s ridiculous to be layered when atmospheric conditions are at rain forest levels. If it would not result in arrest, I’d probably go around naked through the Dog Days of summer. Since public nudity isn’t an option, I can at least shed my bra.
If you trace the word brassiere to its Old French origin, it means armor or “a protector for the arm.” I’m not going into battle, so why do I need “armor” for my breasts? Why does any woman? What are we protecting our breasts from, or rather, why is the world still so concerned with the appearance of breasts that we spend $16 billion on bras annually? Such a waste of funds!
When I look at ancient statues of goddesses, so many of them are bare breasted. Consider the Venus of Willendorf, or Astarte, or the Minoan Snake Goddess…I could go on. All of them reflect eras when the life-giving, nurturing aspect of the Goddess was honored. Breasts were powerful, not just sexual. They represented fertility, sustenance, and abundance of the land and its people. Goddesses don’t wear bras. The very idea would be insulting.
Today, breasts are hypersexualized, objectified, and somewhat divorced from their main function. Ask any woman who has breastfed her child, and she will describe the challenges of doing this in public without feeling shamed and judged. Society is much too worried about the appearance of a woman’s nipples, despite the fact men have them, too.
How far we have fallen from our matriarchal roots.
When I posted about bra hatred on my personal Facebook page, several friends raised their virtual hands in agreement. We discussed the fact that even when we go braless, we often resort to hacks like covering our nipples with those nifty circular Band-Aids if we’re wearing tight clothing. So even if our breasts are freed from the underwire cage, our nipples might still be muffled under cheap adhesive bandages or nude-colored pasties. Why? Because we feel self-conscious. Our culture has made us believe that if our breasts bounce and our nipples show, we will be considered loose and immoral. We’ve been trained to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention, lest we be assaulted, raped, or killed.
Yes, trained—and it all begins with the training bra we’re told to wear at the first signs of sexual development. Think about it. Who or what is being trained? Are we training our breasts to get used to the bra, or are we training ourselves to conform to a social standard that we didn’t even set? I remember asking my mom for one, because all the other girls in school were beginning to wear them. I was beginning to feel self-conscious without a bra, which shows just how much pressure girls are under to conform. The message we internalize is that there is something much too vulgar and tempting about breasts, so they must be hidden under double layers of fabric. We carry that message our whole lives, unless we consciously work to reclaim our natural beauty and worth. Reaching way back into our collective memory and connecting with the Goddess is a doorway to the process of reclaiming our selfhood.
Thankfully, some wonderful teachers and empowerment coaches are now actively assisting in the work of showing us better ways to appreciate and work with our bodies. Saida Desilets, Ph.D., creator of the Taoist-based Jade Goddess teachings, describes the energetic quality of breasts in this way:
Our breasts are considered our love center because they sit on either side of our heart and represent the external expression of our heart chi. Chi naturally flows from our heart center out into the world. Our breasts have long been a symbol for nurturing and loving energy. They also hold the secret to our longevity. (206)
Susun Weed, herbalist and author of The Wise Woman Way, also speaks of the power we hold in our breasts:
We are the Ancient GrandMothers and our breasts are ancient. Perhaps you find them ugly. See how they drift yearningly toward the Earth, lower with every passing year. We smile knowingly; we know our breasts contain a power that is resilient, flexible, supple, easy, and impossible to restrain. Whether the whim of fashion says our breasts are to be large or small, pointed or flattened, with cleavage or without, padded or bound, accented or obscured, it matters not to us. Our breasts fall free, untouched by current notions. The power of our breasts is the power of life.
Yet, we block and constrict that power, and we’ve been doing so for the last 500 years since the introduction of the corset.
I have this fantasy that women all over the globe will join together in a Bra Burning Day. I see us all flinging off our constricting garments of torture and dancing around the flames, never looking back. I see men there with us, drumming in the outer circle, supporting us lovingly and committing to the work of demolishing the old paradigms.
May we unlearn the rules imposed upon us by earlier generations that were ruled by fear and shame. May we nourish our breasts with freedom of movement, healthy relationships, massage, good nutrition, and a positive self-image. May we remember that we are the reflections of the goddesses of old, who are still alive and within us now, calling forth our courage and our love.
Cleaning out my purse is a weekly ritual for me, because I can’t stand digging through unnecessary items to reach the one thing I need (usually, it’s my car keys). Receipts tend to accumulate more than anything else. I buy something and shove the receipt down in my purse, as I’m grabbing the handles of my reusable tote and zooming out the door to the next task on my list. I forget about the receipt, unless I happen to need it for a return. It just stays there as a reminder of what I purchased, until I do my weekly purse purging.
When this subject came up in a Facebook group, I shared my routine and wished out loud that getting rid of emotional receipts could be so easy. Suddenly, those annoying slips of paper took on a much deeper meaning.
Let’s unpack this idea a little more.
When we buy something, we’re exchanging our time and energy. We convert work into currency, and then we use it to pay for things. We also have “emotional currency” that we exchange all the time, although we’re not always conscious of these transactions. Sometimes they are subtle, and sometimes we are keenly aware of what we’re giving and receiving from others. Either way, we pick up “energetic receipts” that remind us of what a choice or an experience has cost us…until we’re ready to let them go.
It is astonishing how heavy a purse can get when left unattended. It becomes a black hole that keeps taking on junk until it throws off your gait, ruins your posture, and causes your back and shoulders to ache. Curious things, these purses we carry and all that we store inside them. They are much like our wombs that also house more than we realize, literally and emotionally.
After learning the art and practice of womb centering from Diva Carla of Orgasmic Alchemy, I began to understand that the womb has a natural capacity to take things on. Its ultimate goal is transmutation—changing something from one form or state of being into another—but that process gets very muddy if we’re not properly trained. And how many of us are? How many are even speaking about the womb in this context? Few indeed. So things get stuck. We have energetic receipts hanging around there in the dark recesses of our womb space until we make a conscious effort to deal with them. If we don’t, then the weight of it all will be felt as depression, anxiety, PMS, shame, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, fibroids, heavy periods, and the list goes on and on.
I’ll share one of my energetic receipts, because I know this is an abstract sort of thing that needs a concrete example. I also like to practice what I preach, and I’m okay with being a little more vulnerable these days. So here goes.
I stayed in the same job many years longer than I should have, mostly out of fear. It’s like I couldn’t see beyond the walls of my cubicle, even though there must have been at least a hundred other jobs I could have done and a hundred other places I could have lived at that time. I was divorced with no children. The only person keeping me there was myself, and still I had this tunnel vision when it came to my livelihood.
People asked me why I didn’t just write a book at night in my spare time. Sure. Right. After 5 p.m., I had exactly enough energy to make a meal, do the dishes, and catch up on some laundry before falling asleep and doing it all again the next day. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. There was no room for creativity in such a caged existence. Still, I told myself that this was survival, independence, and how the “real world” operates. I believed that being creative also meant starving and struggling, and that seemed even worse than the cubicle farm. I also believed that one office was the same as any other. So I paid my energetic currency to the devil I knew. I racked up a long receipt for 12 soul-crushing years, and the itemized list included:
eating antidepressants like candy for a year after my first divorce, because there was no time and space to grieve
meaningless sexual encounters that became an outlet for the creativity I could not express in any other way
entering a second marriage for all the wrong reasons, and divorcing three years later
having two master’s degrees and still earning less than $50K annually
feeling disgusted with myself for not using my education and abilities in a more meaningful way
trying to function inside of a broken organization, and feeling powerless to change it
feeling like a victim of workplace gossip, jealousy, and the good ol’ boy system
believing it was impossible to have a career and a family at the same time after seeing how working mothers were treated
That was the price of my decision to stay there for a paycheck, even though it was clearly very painful to do so. I was not keeping a conscious running tally of what the job was costing me (that came later), but the soul (and the womb) registers everything. The receipt was always printing in the background.
Truth be told, I am still working through issues related to money and sexuality, because they are both tied to the second chakra. It’s just that now I refuse to suffer in silence. I refuse to bury “the things we don’t talk about” under layers of shame and oppression.
The past year has been illuminating…and overwhelmingly dark at the same time. As this Mercury retrograde cycle continues, I will be looking at more energetic receipts that need to be emptied from the purse of my womb and soul. If you are doing the same, then know that I see you, sisters, and you are magnificent.