Awakening Persephone

No one notified me that the tall, slender, young tulip poplar trees outside my balcony were going to be cut down and turned into mulch right in front of my eyes.20170328_165312

I left for work agitated that the apartment complex hired a company to dismantle the tiny woodlands on my hillside in order to widen the mountain views for the tenants on the upper floors.  I did not realize the devastation left behind until later that night.  I walked my dog behind those very apartments where I like to catch glimpses of the moon and the few lights on top of the mountains, but mostly because I feel protected by and connected to these elegant, tall trees.

 

They were cut down in their youth, right as they were taking root and finding their place on this hillside.  Tenderness and sadness swam in the depths of my heart.  A soft whimper escaped my lips and tears fell from my eyes.

In that moment, I felt a shift.  A transformation snaking its way up through my spine into my heart.  A calling to go deeper into the reasons I felt called to these mountains.  My pain was directly connected to this landscape in front of my eyes.

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For the past few weeks, I have been dancing between flirtations and fun at work, sensual movements in yoga practices and classes I teach, and joy and lightness at my easy work and life schedule. I have been ignoring the whisperings of past hurt, resentment, and regrets I thought I had left behind.  I pushed away the worries of money and not having a definitive career.  I threw myself into hikes and flowed with the directionless winds of my life.  Yet, I also sensed that I would have to face the darkness and shadows I had carried with me to these grandmotherly mountains.

Then, a series of uncomfortable events happened in a few short days that came out of nowhere like the razing of the trees.  I felt vulnerable.  Naked.  Exposed.  There was no way I couldn’t look down the hill and see the dark soil, ripped up roots, mulched trees and their stumps, and the litter and waste left by careless tenants.  There was no way I couldn’t see my own pain and sadness.  Nowhere left to look but down.

And so down into the depths I travel.

Before me stands my 22 year old self.  She is beautiful with soft, olive-complected skin, long brown hair.  Her mouth is thin, but when she smiles, her straight white teeth highlight her lips’ natural red glow.  Staring out from under her jet black eyebrows are dark, liquid, brown eyes that look out at the world with wide eyed innocence.

She has graduated college and walked straight into her career as a teacher.  No break.  No gap year.  No time to explore and discover herself.  She is on a mission to share her natural gifts with other young, innocent children not more than 4 years younger than her.

As she is coming into her womanhood, she is fending off advances from 18 year old men that she finds attractive.  She is confused, so she builds up a wall around her sexiness, her sensuality, and steps up her authority figure identity.

The following year, a 35 year old male colleague begins paying attention to her.  He is attractive.  He seems concerned for her well-being and is interested in her life and what brought her to the big city of St. Louis.  He then begins showing up at her classroom in between passing periods, flirts with her in the hallway, and sits too closely to her at faculty meetings.  She begins to get uncomfortable because he is married, his wife recently giving birth to twin sons.  She is confused because she likes the attention, yet scared because she worries he will one day cross the line.  And he does.  He tricks and manipulates her by inviting her to a happy hour with other colleagues.

In the end, he was the only one there with her.  He takes off his wedding ring and says provocative things to her.  She is angry, both at him and herself.  She feels dirty and ashamed, and ashamed at the fact that she thinks she used her power to make him attracted to her.  He threatens that if she doesn’t invite him back to her apartment, he will follow her and show up unannounced one day.

After he walks into her apartment, he grabs her and kisses her.  She kisses him with anger.  He is more attracted to her because he thinks its a sign she wants him.  She regains her senses and asks him to leave.  He has a moment of guilt and stops groping her.  He then begs her for sex.  She refuses with a whimper.  He asks her to give him a blow job.  She refuses with logical reasoning.  He realizes she is not going to give anything to him, and instead of taking her by force, he lashes out his violence with words and calls her a slut and a whore and a cock tease.  He begs one last time for a little kiss.  She closes the door on him.  And she locks down her heart, and closes the door on her body, her sexiness, her sensuality.

And the years go on in that way.  She placates the women in her teaching circle by going out with their sons or sons of their acquaintances, yet she locks her passion and humor and sensuality and sexiness down at any hint of rejection or criticism from these young men.  She fends off single male colleague’s advances because of her past experiences.  She listens to her students when they come to her privately with their concerns of boyfriends wanting to have sex with them or offers advice to or gets help for young girls struggling with weight issues or cutting themselves or attempting suicide due to emotional or physical abuse by their fathers, step-fathers, or boyfriends.  She holds a space for the transgender teen who is mid transition and so confused and in need of love and acceptance.  She turns in a colleague for her inappropriate bulletin boards that have overt sexual references on them.  She fends off single fathers’ advances to take the parent-teacher conference out of the classroom and to dinner at a fancy restaurant and maybe a little dessert back at their places.

All the while, she continues to offer her teachings and protection as she sacrifices a little bit more of her youth and locks down her sexiness, her sensuality, her passion, her creativity and gives her whole heart and mind to her students, their youth, their education, their advancement.

I fall to my knees and bow down in front of this beautiful, young, warrior woman.

And I owe it to her to stand up and walk into my sexiness, my sensuality, my passion, my creativity.  For it is all holy and she has protected all of it for this ripe, tender time when it can come from the depths of the damp, dark, mysterious earth and meet the light.  And blossom.  And grow like the cherry blossoms and forsythia that line the ragged hillside, acting like monuments to the fallen tulip poplars.   And twist and turn like the vines and twisted limbs of the laurel trees on the mountainside.  And flow like the streams.  And shimmer like the glistening dew on the tips of the clustered ferns.  And take up space in crevices of boulders and on top of the rich humus like the lush green moss.  All of this is her home.  And I have returned it back to her by coming here.

The warrior is now a goddess.  And she will walk this earth and give of her sexiness, her sensuality, her passion, her playfulness, her creativity, her love.  Because she is holy.

 

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The Menstruation Manifesto

It’s Personal.

The wait in the gynecologist’s office was longer than the process of having my IUD removed.  While I waited, however, I did get to examine my vagina and my internal reproductive organs quite thoroughly.  “What kind of mirror do they have in that exam room?!” you ask?  Well, I confess I carefully studied the poster version of what my vagina, uterus, and ovaries medically look like.  (By the way, did you know vaginas have ridges?  I feel more enlightened now that I know other things besides potato chips have ridges.)

img_3152As I stared at the poster on the back of the examining room door, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of that area inside me is truly the colors of Pepto Bismol and purple SweetTarts.  A concoction of pinks and purples and whites housed in a sterile environment where no mess of blood, hormones, mucus, fatty tissue, or water float around.  And, if the poster is accurate, then all women should have 10-15 wisps of pubic hairs around their genitalia; and that hair would be short, soft, and smooth and brownish-blonde, not a Brillo pad of “little, black. . .little, black. . .little, black, curly hairs.”

The female gynecologist and her nurse came in.  She asked me to lean back and put my feet in the stirrups as the pink paper cloth covered my nakedness from the waist down.  I felt the metal clamp open up my cervix and a slight cramp seize my lower abdomen.  The doctor looked up and threw the tiny “T” shaped piece of plastic and black thread into the trash.  “All done,” she said.  She peeled off her latex gloves, tossed them into the trash, and stood up.  I sat up and took a deep breath.  I felt slightly different, but not too much.  I got the entire lecture of using condoms and protecting myself from STDs.  She reminded me that I probably would start bleeding in a few days, so I should purchase some tampons and pads.  Right as I asked for a small “maxi pad” (an outdated term showing I haven’t had a period in years), the nurse opened the cabinet on cue and handed me the neatly packaged in pink period pad.  I thanked them both and dressed myself (noting that the blood was already trickling out of my poster-perfect pelvic region).

A few months prior to this visit, I had my annual gynecological exam at this office by the same doctor and nurse.  When I mentioned that I wanted to have my IUD, the doctor looked questioningly at me.  “Are you trying to get pregnant?” she asked after a short pause.

“No, I just want it removed,” I replied.

“Huh.  Why?” she asked as she reviewed her clipboard with my medical history attached to it.

“I just want to feel where I’m at in my body.  In my menstrual cycle,”  I explained.  “I want my period back.  It’s been gone for 3 years and I just am curious and want to see how I’m doing,” I rambled on and on like this while their silence filled the room.

“You want your period back!” she exclaimed.  “You’re crazy!  I never want to experience that again.”

I blushed, not out of embarrassment, but out of anger.  I didn’t want to explain or justify myself, but here I was doing just that.  I resorted to my defense mechanism of humor and laughed and said, “I just want to be able to use the 30 Rock Liz Lemon excuse ‘Oh, no, my period!’ whenever I am feeling emotional or stressed out.”  Chuckles filled the room and their attention was diverted.

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I get their response, though.  The period is 100% an inconvenience most of the time.  It is bloody, messy, and painful when your cramps amp up and you have a headache.  When you have to go through two tampons in two hours or you use almost a whole roll of toilet paper just to feel “clean.” Or when you spend more time in the bathroom at a restaurant, you want to die a million deaths.  Achy breasts and emotional waves of sadness and anger can be painful both physically and psychologically.  And the cost of an environmentally friendly box of tampons or panty liners can put a dent in your pocketbook. (I guess environmentally friendly feminine products are the new trend along with gluten free and non GMOs in food.  Toxic shock syndrome aside,you want to make sure the sewer water isn’t polluted by your blood, right?)

After declining on my first visit to allow a male student resident to examine me (and feeling guilty while Doogie Howser bumbled through the preliminary exam questions), I began to realize that our healthcare system favors the rote questioning and sterile treatment of patients.  I noted some practitioners don’t listen to our basic needs or see us as individuals.  If I was indirectly being shamed for wanting to feel my body and its flow again, how must other women feel when they want to have their tubes tied, ask for contraception, learn they have an STD, or have a doctor jam his finger up her anus while he presses on her stomach to check for ovarian cysts all the while telling her to calm down and that it’s not as bad as a prostate exam? (True story.)

For me, my body is an amazing vessel and a wise teacher.  It teaches me about pain, about where my emotions are stuck, where I am holding my breath and why, and it allows me to feel pleasure and joy among many other things. (Oh yeah, and it allows me to justify to eat lots and lots of carbs and sweets whenever I feel ravenous and drained of energy.)  My menstrual cycle has always given me guidance and allowed me to tap into my intuition and sync my actions with the phases of this ancient cycle that has been in sync with the moon for most of my womanhood.  Why, then, must I try to justify what is a personal decision to listen to my body’s wisdom?

It’s Political.

The answer to the above question is that I have to fight to protect my body.  My body bleeds for me, literally.  It is my duty as a woman to take care of it and to protect its wisdom and its daily functions.  When I showed up for my annual gynecological exam a few months ago, I presented my insurance card.  Insurance that I am paying for through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I am not ashamed that I have chosen to use the ACA as a way to insure myself and be able to afford (and that’s the big word – afford) to be able to have my lady parts examined for optimal health.

But “The Man” is trying to keep me down.  (To keep us all down, honestly.)  Even before reproductive rights became a legal issue, with Roe v. Wade being at the forefront of that debate, women’s inner plumbing was a “hush hush” topic.  Deemed impolite and improper to talk about not only in mixed company but also between mothers and daughters and women and their friends.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your mother or her grandmother if they ever had  necessary, in-depth discussions about puberty, menstruation, hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, sexuality, childbirth, abortion, or (God forbid) orgasms.

It’s 2017 and some of the taboos on those topics have been lifted.  Yet, we are a nation wrapped up in a patriarchal system who still clings to outdated Puritanical undertones of wanting to repress women (including transgendered men and women) and strip away rights to their own bodies.  Want affordable healthcare so you can get screened for breast cancer and ovarian cysts?  Sorry.  You’re a bottom-feeder who is trying to strip away taxpayer’s money.  Need to have a hysterectomy and go on hormone replacement therapy?  Well, it will cost you.  Lots. And we will judge you for being “less of a woman” too.  Want to go to Planned Parenthood for education on safe sex or affordable gynecological exams to ensure you are not living with the HPV virus?  Sorry.  You’re a baby-killer and you should go straight to Hell, and do NOT pass “Go” (because it would fall on the taxpayer to get your ass out of jail or keep you in there, anyway).

But:  want to keep your penis up and going all night long?  Sure.  Here are some pills and tons of commercials to make you purchase these magic beans.  And, your health insurance will cover that, so no worries.  Just check and make sure your heart is up for the ride.  (We have pills for that, too, by the way.  Just ask your doctor.)

The fact that we feed into this divide by supporting either “Republicans” or “Democrats” on issues of sexuality, reproductive health, and gender stereotypes (to name a few), shows how we are looking at the issues from a divided mind.  We cheer on our political “team” and boo “the opposition” and we demonize the acts and consequences of sex and pretend that the complications of being human and engaging our sexuality and using our bodies can be regulated only by state and federal law.

Rape, abuse, and abortion happen.  Frequently.  We cannot deny it and we should have open discussions about this, not just in Congress where one party is fighting the other party for political power and aligning themselves with either alt-right religious zealots or ultra-liberal elitists, or PACs and lobbyists, all who can be equally as intolerant and self-serving.  Instead we should have these conversations in our circle of friends and within our families and communities.  And although this blog is a digital medium I willfully use it the way I want to, online discussions and news clips on Facebook statuses only go so far as well.

img_3572To be a woman in this body which has the potential to hold life and invite in a man to her fullest depths is so hard and so scary and so intimidating at times.  I can’t think of a time when I haven’t felt vulnerable carrying around my sexuality or my sensuality.  I have stories, as I know most women in my circle do too, where I have been violated or humiliated.  Or made to feel somewhat criminal or unethical for supporting abortion (which I cannot stress enough is a personal and moral decision that can only  be made by the one whose body is experiencing her individual journey through this life).  I have guilt and shame wrapped around the idea that touching my body when I am alone in my own home is gross and ugly and debasing and somehow just wrong and proves that I am a lonely old spinster who can’t get a man to do it for her and make her feel complete.

I’ll be damned (and I’ll not pass “Go” and I’ll not collect $200) if I sit back these next four years (for the rest of my life, actually) and allow decisions to be made about the bodies of the other half of the human equation without my voice being heard.

And if we’re lucky, maybe Morgan Freeman, as the “voice of God,” will call from the heavens that Viagra and Cialis are no longer covered by insurance companies.

It’s Spiritual.

Long before my body was part of a political agenda, I inhabited it fully with the innocence and knowing of a child.   I swiveled my hips in the kitchen of my childhood home while I listened to Michael Jackson (and then later Janet Jackson and Madonna) and knew instinctively where the beat would drop at the same time one of my hips and shoulders dropped too.  The beat was inside of me – resonating all through my feet, hips, heart, hands, shoulders, and head.  When I danced, I felt connected to a greater realm that went beyond the four walls of my house.

Somewhere along the way, people (some family members, teachers, preachers, and creepy peepers in the form of neighbors) told me to stop shaking my hips and acting “sexy”.  I didn’t understand what that meant.  I was dancing out of a sense of joy and pleasure.  I felt so connected to my body.  And I felt powerful and strong and alive.  How was that bad?  But, over the years I hid that part of myself and it translated into hiding my beauty, my sensuality, and eventually  being afraid to fully express myself sexually.  Yoga returned some of that life back into me, as did therapy, burlesque and belly dance dance classes, along with sheer will and determination.  And all of that led me to this place in my life where I dropped the school marm act and stepped more deeply into my wildness.

In this day and age, we have become too domesticated.  We have put ourselves on mental and emotional leashes and tried to turn everything and everyone around us into a more docile or subservient form of the truth.  We walk around with jaws clenched and take shallow breaths.  Our shoulders and necks ache.  We turn to our phones and check to see if the latest statuses on our social media either correspond with our ways of thinking or evoke any forms of emotions in us so we can click “like” or “love” or “laugh” or occasionally “sad” or “angry”.

And we ignore and shun the seat of our creativity – our hips, pelvis, low back area – and we become achy, stiff, tight, and wobbly.  True, some of the physical pain is straight up gravity and DNA.  We also have to take into account our modern way of living.  But underneath all of that, our emotions are trapped and our joys are blocked.  We believe that sensual pleasure is a dirty term.  We equate sensuality with pornography and romance, when what it really means is engaging all of the senses to experience the world we live in.  Our senses and our emotions, just like our bodies, are our wisest and most ancient teachers.

However, in today’s world, these three entities (emotions, senses, and our bodies) are put into boxes, analyzed, examined, and ruled over.  The mind-body-spirit connection is “poo-pooed” in some circles of society as being “metaphysical mumbo-jumbo” or just for “weird hippies” and “alternative thinkers”.  So, we close up our bodies, our hearts, our minds and subject them to domesticity and a linear way of being.  Yet, our hips cry out to be expressive.  Our desires ask to be heard.  The drums of our inner selves beat incessantly and we turn up the chatter on the news to drown it all out or give into our fears that the risk to be joyful, wild, playful beings is not worth it.

This is why I returned my body to its most natural state to let it be fully heard.  If I’m lucky, I will have a choice to get contraceptives again if I so desire.  But right now, I desire more to tune into that part of me that knows the flow like that of the creeks and the ancient rivers.

My period is a monthly reminder that “This too shall pass.” That I have another cycle of emotions, regeneration, growth, and daily deaths to pass through where I wax and wane and move and flow through my life.

I once read a passage by the scholar and philosopher, John O’Donahue, where he writes “The body is in the soul.”  What a beautiful concept.  It resonates so deeply with me.  How can I be “unholy” when I physically live within my soul’s realm?  How can my emotions, my sensuality, my sexuality, my personal expression of my outer and inner worlds be regulated by unjust laws and regulations and cruel judgments placed on me by some extreme lawmakers and their constituents who use religion as a way to control the spirituality that I wake up into every day of my life?

We put way too much emphasis on the biological aspect of giving birth to a human, or what constitutes a human being and when, instead of making space for all of the women and men who can harness the powerful, nurturing Divine Feminine within themselves and give birth to their own creative, individual lives by following the innocence and knowing of their heart’s desires.  We travel through this life in our own physical vehicle that either has a penis or a vagina (or in the case of transgender people who have had the unique experience of traveling in both types of bodies).  The body is in our soul’s field of play and consciousness.

For me, my soul does not play and create  in the field of mythology where my body came from the rib of a man to give him comfort and pleasure.  Nor did it arise out of a temptation to convince him to sin and be expelled from a paradise or be shunned by an angry and vengeful god.  It did not arise from a woman who gave birth to two sons who were so divisive that one murdered the other out of blind rage and then started a race of exiled beings who had to spend the rest of their lives punishing themselves and each other; sacrificing their sons or their flocks or cutting flesh from their genitals to appease a god who demanded their repentance through constant sacrifices, war, and death and only spoke to chosen men through visions or burning bushes.

imagesInsteadimgres-2, my soul plays and creates in the realm of dreams and wilderness where creek beds turn into mountain streams; where soft, lush moss grows on ancient stones mixed with quartz, mica, hematite, and garnet.  Where ferns gather around the tall oaks, maples, and hickories and listen as the birds sing their unique and fleeting songs.  Where mushrooms grow from the decay of life that once was and their underworld of dark rich humus and beneficial bacteria help trees send messages to their sisters and brothers miles away.  Where visions of goddesses and stags, crones and ravens roam this wilderness and whisper their words of encouragement while lighting my path as I come out of the grogginess of a deep sleep.  Where I shed my fears and insecurities and step fully into not just my womanhood but my being with human skin.