One Sunday afternoon in late August, when I was gifting myself with much needed rest following my diagnosis with lyme disease, I decided to take myself to my town lake for a bit of swimming and sun. Lake or ocean, I prefer the beach later in the day, when the sun isn’t so hot, the crowds not so dense and the air takes on a different quality.
I grabbed a book to take with me, Women Who Run With the Wolves by psychologist and master story teller, Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I’d been meaning to get back to since I’d put it down sometime around 1994! Raising three kids, working and volunteering had left little time for reading back then, unless it was Goodnight Moon, Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, or some other kid’s book!
Anyway, that book nearly jumped off the shelf at me that August day. Never one to ignore an obvious sign, I grabbed it and off to the beach we went! Once settled into my beach chair, I opened the book to the page where I’d long ago left a folded piece of paper, marking the place where I’d stopped reading some 24 years before.
I opened to Chapter 13: Battle Scars: Membership in the Scar Clan. I read mesmerized, to take in and digest every word Dr. Estes had written. I read most sentences more than once, because the truth of them pierced the deepest parts of me. They resonated with my Heart and Soul in a way that is difficult to articulate. Those powerful and poetic words seem so relevant to share at this particular time in our history. Here are the first few paragraphs:
“Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping carries a river around the boat that carries your soul-life. Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace new, someplace better.
There are oceans of tears women have never cried, for they have been trained to carry mother’s and father’s secrets, men’s secrets, society’s secrets, and their own secrets to the grave. A woman’s crying has been considered quite dangerous, for it loosens the locks and bolts on the secrets she bears. But in truth, for the sake of a woman’s wild soul, it is better to cry. For women, tears are the beginning of initiation into the Scar Clan, that timeless tribe of women of all colors, all nations, all languages, who down through the ages have lived through a great something and yet have stood proud.
But there is one kind of story in particular, which has to do with a woman’s secrets, especially those associated with shame; those contain some of the most important stories a woman can give her time to unraveling.
Whether a woman’s secret is shrouded in some self-imposed silence, or whether she has been threatened by someone more powerful than she, she deeply fears disenfranchisement, being considered an undesirable person, disruption of relationships that are important to her and sometimes even physical harm if she reveals her secret.
The problem of secret stories surrounded by shame is that they cut a woman off from her instinctive nature, which is in the main, joyous and free……Where there is a shaming secret, there is always a dead zone in the woman’s psyche…A woman who carries a secret is an exhausted woman.”
In these last two weeks, as the events surrounding the vote on the lifetime appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the highest court in our country have unfolded, I feel as though I have cried my own ocean of tears. The tears are for the teenage me who was raped by a boy from my Catholic High School, for the women I supported as a rape crisis counselor on a college campus, for all the abused children I encountered while working as a child protective service worker and school social worker, for all the women I have counseled and cried with over the past 25 years in my therapy practice, for my own children, for women whose stories I’ve held sacred in healing circles and for all the generations of mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and daughters who have suffered at the hands of those who had power over them. This is at least one ocean of tears.
So many women I’ve spoken to have told me that they’ve held back their tears, afraid that once they start to cry they will never stop. Their pain is that deep and that powerful. They open their eyes wide, dab at the tears leaking out and apologize for crying, perhaps even admonishing themselves for being weak.
In my work, I totally promote crying and the catharsis it provides! I create a safe space for clients, men and women alike, to cry, and assure them that the tears are healthy and will eventually stop. They may start again at another time, once the armor that has been created around the heart has been softened, but they will not go on forever.
I’m incredibly proud of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford for coming forward and conducting herself with dignity and self-respect during the hearings. I’m also incredibly outraged and deeply disappointed that her authentic voice was mocked, minimized and dismissed, as the voices of women have been for thousands of years. For me, Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment felt like a kick in the gut and a mocking, collective assault on all women, in the name of patriarchal and political expediency.
The feeling of having been kicked in the gut, and the deep ache that remains that in my heart after the roller coaster of raw emotions, is hard to shake or ignore. I find myself not really knowing how to respond when someone casually asks, “how are you doing?”.
It feels inauthentic to reply “fine” or “great”, because, truthfully, I’m not. And yet, it feels somehow self-indulgent or “spiritually incorrect” to reveal my painful and mixed emotions. In this moment in time I find little solace in axioms such as “everything happens for the good” or “it’s all in divine order”, even when they’re coming out of my own mouth.
Both of those things may be true, but right now my humanness just isn’t ready to go there. Even though my own inner knowing knows that all this darkness, all that been kept hidden in the shadows, must come to the surface to be revealed and healed, it isn’t enough to fend off the heartbreak, anger, disgust, exhaustion and deep sense of betrayal that I feel. Right now, I’m feeling the weight of too many years of oppression and injustice on my raw and tender heart. I trust that it will shift but right now I must give voice to the raw truth of my feelings.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes speaks to the connection between secrets and shame. In my work and in my life I have come to see the relationship of secrets and shame to rape, sexual abuse and assault in all its forms, from single inappropriate sexual comments or threats to years of incest and cult abuse. Silence and secrecy, by both the abuser and the abused, allows the abuse and resulting shame to continue. As women, we surely carry the generational secrets and shame of our mothers, our grandmothers and out great-grandmothers, as well as our own.
I’m an activist by nature. Since my teens I’ve argued, marched, protested and picketed for women’s rights, human rights, children’s rights and worker’s rights. I ran for office, chaired committees, organized protests and spoke out for the respect, dignity, worth and freedom from all kinds of oppression. My first act of resistance was announcing to the Sister who taught my 2nd grade class at Our Lady of the Valley, that I was going to be a priest. That didn’t go over real well!
As it turns out, I took my vows as an Ordained Minister of Spiritual Peacemaking on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in 2005. So much for the priest thing. Through my years of study in Seminary, and as I learned more about metaphysics and the Laws of the Universe, I came to understand that fighting or pushing against what I did not want more of, actually energetically “fed” that thing. I pulled back from my activism for many years, as I dove more deeply into my study of spirituality and metaphysics.
Over the last few years I have been very consciously deciding where and how to contribute my energy to create a world that is more peaceful, harmonious and loving. Marrying my inner activist and my Spiritual Peacemaker is no small task and one that I take seriously. I do my best to be aware of my thoughts, words and actions, recognizing that everything is creative, whether I intend it to be or not. I’ve focused on doing my own inner work, believing that every act of personal healing is also contributing to the healing of the collective. And yet, I feel called to do more, to find a new way that honors both of these sacred aspects of my Self.
How do I, how do we…create this new world, without falling back onto the old ways of separation, division, finger pointing, hatred and violence? I know this is not the way and yet I have found myself condemning, hating, demonizing and wishing all sorts of ill will on those who I have labeled as “the other” or “the enemy”.
How do I/we speak out against injustice, abuse and suppression in a way that moves us in the direction of true healing and awakening to our inner divine masculine and feminine?
Clarissa Estes writes, “But there is good news. The way to change a tragic drama back into a heroic one is to open the secret, speak of it to someone, write another ending, examine one’s part in it and one’s attributes in enduring it. These learnings are equal parts pain and wisdom. The having lived through it is a triumph of the deep and wild spirit.”
Women have been opening the secret for some time now, speaking out individually and as parts of groups, such as those in the movie and TV industry and our young gymnasts. Each time a single woman speaks her truth it empowers and emboldens other women to do the same.
There is a swelling, a movement that will not be denied any longer. Each woman, and the men who love and respect them, will find their own way to support this movement. We can create another ending, one more in alignment with the just and beautiful world we envision.
I would like to offer an opportunity for women to gather in circle, in person or virtually, to share our stories, be supported and step into our own expressions of the beautiful, empowered beings that we are. Please let me know if this would be of interest to you. I will be sharing more about this as it develops.
I see you. I hear you. I believe you. I support you. I am you.
From my sacred heart to yours,