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.

Loosening the Ties That Bind

I have made a conscientious decision to stop writing about and talking about my fears and anxieties.  I know that by being raw and vulnerable and opening up those wounds and exposing them to those of you who read this blog especially has been like a balm for some of you.  It’s good to learn that others have fears similar to ours.  It makes us feel less alone in this world.  It comforts us to know someone else out there is struggling and if that person can overcome their fears and push through them, so can we.  Brave heart warriors  willing to dance with these darker emotions are needed to help us navigate through our own emotions and help us evolve.  However, I am putting aside my warrior ways for now.  I have fought the good fight by standing in the trenches of the dark emotions and facing them head on.  And a lot of wisdom and magic have come out of those moments and have prompted me to grow and change.  A lot.

To quote one of my favorite authors and creative mentors, Elizabeth Gilbert, “Fear is boring, because fear only ever has one thing to say to us, and that thing is ‘STOP!'” It’s time to push on through to the other side of fear.  It’s time to shed the old skin of the badass warrior woman.  Time to take off my Wonder Woman bracelets and slip into something a little more comfortable and lighter.

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What prompted this decision to stop focusing on the fear was because I suffered three weeks of physical chronic pain right before and after my last blog post and am just now coming out of that.  I have started seeing the old biological patterns of fear in my body that have been there since I was at least 16:  the achy pain in my right side and outer hip/buttocks region; the wobbly leg syndrome; the tight calves; the low blood sugar and erratic sweating that makes me pass out (which thankfully I haven’t done since I was a teenager).  My parents and doctors never really could figure out what that was all about.   I’ve had bouts of this freakiness since then in various forms which culminated in pain a few weeks ago where I could barely walk up my stairs into my living space.  Prior to this episode, I had not experienced even a small degree of that pain for over 4 months.  That was immediately after I made the freeing decision to begin this journey.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that part of the chronic pain is from asymmetry in my body (my hips are a little “wonky” and an X-ray once showed my knee joints are slightly misaligned).  We are also a society that sits a lot and weaken our muscles and I’ve been sitting more than usual these past few months.  I also must face the reality of being 41 and I’m more than likely starting some perimenopausal symptoms where muscle and joint pain is caused by shifting hormones. And I’m aware that sometimes my diet and the wrong type of exercise (like hiking up and down over 500 stairs at a state park and then driving home and falling asleep instead of stretching out my muscles) can exacerbate it.

All of that scientific stuff set aside, I know in my heart-of-hearts this chronic pain is also a result of old biological patterns in my body that have been prompted by some fear-base mentality I have carried around nearly all my life.  I’ve lived a good portion of my life being “stressed out,” worried about the future, or always believing something bad was going to happen even if everything is good and pleasant at the moment. In the past three weeks, I have become aware of the fact that I clench my jaw any time I feel too happy or excited about all the possibilities before me.  I sit watching TV with my inner thighs squeezed together so tightly that I am sitting up on the knots of my butt muscles.  I drive down the street and feel my rib cage is so tight because I have shallow breathing.  And every time I take notice of these bodily sensations, I scan my mind and find that without a doubt I am living some part of that moment in fear and panic.  I even get afraid of the thought of being in pain that I seize up and don’t want to move.  Then there’s the flip side:  I move too much and overstretch because I’m trying to shake out all the antsy feelings within me.

What was I afraid of?  It couldn’t be some big bad predator like a saber tooth tiger out to get me, (although my body was reacting like that was the case).  If I examine my fears closely, I can say I was afraid of being too powerful.  Too beautiful.  Too sensual.  Too creative.  Too loving.  Too free spirited.  Too much.  So, I shrunk myself down to stay in the game of living a scripted life.  When, in reality, every part of me was longing to be free of 35 years of schooling.  I’ve been living that life since I was 5.

So, today, I decided enough of following that script.  Enough of living completely in my mind and strategizing my next move (although, let’s face it, I’ll probably always be somewhat of a strategist and planner.   Those are some awesome skills to have as they set me up to make the bold move that I did).  Enough of worrying about people telling me they’re envious of me.  Enough of feeling like I’m being selfish for making this lifestyle change.   It’s time to live directly from my body.  From my heart.  From my spirit.

Every single day for three weeks now, I have softened into my body, meditated, accepted the moment, and given thanks for at least three things that have happened to me, no matter how big or small.

IMG_2516Today, I focused on sweetness.  I asked my body what it wanted to do today.  What did it need in order to feel whole and happy.  It asked for a strengthening yoga practice followed by longer, softer, gentler stretches and holds.  I gave that to my body.  I asked my spirit what it needed.  It asked for 20 minutes of silent meditation and prayer and to be in nature by going to the University of North Carolina’s Botanical Gardens.  I gave that to my spirit.  I asked my heart what it needed.  It asked for a day’s outing to eat a sweet meal, go to my favorite store “The Bee Charmer” in downtown Asheville, and to people watch.  I gave that to my heart.

Yet, my fear wasn’t about to be left behind.  It flared up in the form of a shaming voice that told me that I really shouldn’t eat the Challah French Toast stuffed with honey cream and blackberry sauce with two strips of bacon.  I became aware of the masquerading fear and silently said a prayer of gratitude when the waitress brought my meal.  I ate it with reverence and a sense of pleasure.  Fear’s voice said, “You shouldn’t eat sugary things.  This is bad for you.  It could hurt your body and you could get a cramp in your leg.”  I smiled and took another bite, savoring the creamy texture, the sweet and salty mix of blueberry and bacon.  Silently I let my body speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This meal is eaten in gratitude and with pleasure.  Your opinion no longer matters.”

When I went downtown, I heard my fear speak in the form of guilt as I purchased some local honey, a t-shirt, and a necklace with a drop of honey in a small amulet.  Fear’s voice said, “How dare you buy anything for yourself.  You don’t have a job anymore and you should not buy anything that isn’t for mere necessity.  You’ll regret this when you’re on the verge of being broke and you might go homeless.”  I smiled as the sales clerk handed me my lovely purchase and silently I let my heart speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This purchase was made in gratitude and with pleasure.  I will use all of these things as a reminder that my life is so very sweet.  Your opinion no longer matters.”

I arrived at the Botanical Gardens, which is on the UNC campus and right near a busy road.  I started walking over the bridge and down to the creek and could hear the traffic through the pines, the sycamores, the ashes, and the laurel trees.  The chirping of the birds was competing with the whir of the engines.  I again heard my fear speak, but this time in the form of judgment.  Fear’s voice said, “This place is terrible.  How can it be beautiful when there is so much urban traffic flying by?”  I smiled as I climbed over moss covered stones to sit near the creek and watch butterflies and dragonflies dancing with one another.  Silently I let my spirit speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This time outside is spent in gratitude and with pleasure.  The birds, the bees, the butterflies, and all the other creatures are perfectly content living here.  In fact, they’re thriving.  And these flowers, plants, and trees, give shelter and a loving touch of Mother Nature to remind us to stay connected.  I think all of this is beautiful and natural.  Your opinion no longer matters.”IMG_2517

I squatted next to a Red-Spotted Purple butterfly as it opened and closed its wings on the creek bed.  My spirit felt so much love to be watching a beautiful creature up close.

I walked in the sunlight across the lawn to a small trail that led to a gigantic sycamore tree.  I placed my hand on the trunk and looked up and suddenly memories of being a child flooded my mind.  I saw my cousins, my little sister, and me playing on the old tire swing that was hanging from the large sycamore tree in our grandparents’ backyard.  We were so happy and carefree.  My heart filled with love.

I climbed a set of stairs built into the dirt and tree roots, and my footing was secure and I had no pain.  My body was at ease and in its element.  That’s when I realized, I had left my fears behind.

No more will I allow fear to control my days.  This will take mindfulness and some level of self-discipline.  Yet, all I wish to share right now are moments of beauty and love. Of awakening to a higher sense of purpose.  Sweetness and joy.  Insight and gratitude.  Pleasure and easiness.  And from these things, I choose to bring forth all of my creativity and set it to work:  playing, growing, living, writing, drawing, teaching, listening, being, loving, and most of all finding pleasure from the mystery of the unknown.

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The Wild One and Her Muse: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 4

I had a voracious appetite when I was in Colorado.  I ate a wide variety of foods set before me at the buffet style meals in the lodge.  Bison lasagna?  Put it on my plate.  Stewed lamb with tsatsiki sauce?  Put it on my plate.  Roasted garlic chicken, acorn squash soup, quinoa and oatmeal with stewed fruit, pastrami sandwich with hummus, lettuce, and tomato, root vegetables in tomato sauce with basmati rice?  Put it all on my plate and give me seconds when possible.

True, I spent the majority of my days hiking in the forest, but there was more to my appetite and the fact that I needed calories and protein to sustain the strenuous daily activities.  I came to realize how much I have denied my connection to the earth, to my body, to my sensuality and pleasure of life in general.  I felt a need to prove to myself and others that I was maintaining a strict diet that helped cure my Crohn’s dis-ease, keeping up a strict exercise routine (complete with fancy yoga poses) to aid my lumbar spine, SI joint, and sciatica issues, and always saying “Yes,” when asked to help take care of others’ needs, even if it meant pushing aside my wants and desires.  If I did all of these things, then I would finally prove that I am “good-enough,” “worthy-enough,” and “lovable-enough” to be accepted and loved.  By doing all these things and so much more I could justify all the good things and events that happen to occasionally show up in my life.  The worst thing about this self-imposed mental prison of conformity?  I was the one that had locked myself inside and hid away the key somewhere in my psyche.  The youth-oriented, material-driven, pleasure-denying and rewarding, guilt-ridden, ego-inflating and shaming immature aspects of our Western society don’t help matters much either.

Turns out, I’m a very sensual, emotional, loving, tender-hearted woman.  Yet, I’ve devised techniques over the years to hide as much of that side of myself as possible due to so much heart-break, shameful experiences, and confusion about what it means to be a woman.  I’ve always thought I had to be emotionally strong, independent, opinionated, forceful, and in control at all times.  My heart, my imagination, and my body were not places to inhabit full time.  My linear, logical mind was what got things done, got me a good job, (and also gave me a lot of grief and anxiety).  It was the comfort zone-safe space for the majority of my 20s & 30s.

For so many reasons (too many to list here), I pushed away and/or safe-guarded my sensuality, my creativity, my tenderness and intuition.  I was an artist, a dancer, and a writer from a very early age.  I could move my hips and shoulders in rhythm with any beat.  I could paint and draw and express my raw and unbridled emotions in a variety of ways and with a plethora of unique words, phrases, body movements, shapes and colors.

One thing I loved to paint, draw, write about, and imagine I was when I went out into nature, was deer, the doe in particular.  Recently, I cleaned out my closets and came across three drawings of a doe, a stag, and a fawn that I did when I was in the 5th-7th grades.  These paintings made me smile and I have them displayed in my house along with other porcelain figures of deer that I have collected over the decades.  I have been drawn to deer for as long as I can remember.  They’re so graceful, gentle, intuitive, brave, perceptive creatures.  They can adapt to almost any situation and living condition.  although many of my Midwestern friends and family would say they’re a nuisance, for me they inspire a sense of tenderness and divine feminine quality inside of me.

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In Colorado, I finally returned fully to my body and fed it with earthy, delicious, sensual, tasty food.  I moved my hips and shoulders to the rhythm of drum beats in our group activities.  I peeled away layers of clothing under the dappled, sunlit aspens, and revealed the flesh of my arms, wiping sweat away from my brow as I continued my hike.  I pressed hot sunbaked stones to my cheek and smelled the dusty earth that covered them.  I dipped my polished toenails in the creek bed and slid my feet into the cool waters of the gently flowing stream as the smooth river rocks massaged my achy feet.  I laid down in tall grasses and stared up at the sky and listened to the wind moving through each blade,  crickets playing bass, and birds chirping a melody.

And I cried tears of joy.  Of sadness.  Of longing for what was lost to my regimented mind and old ways.  Of a longing to rekindle whatever wasn’t dried up from years of neglect, shame, and self-doubt.

What I didn’t realize is that nothing was lost or dried up.  And my tears were a gift.  A way to signify that I was present with and able to express all of my emotions.  That I had all the tools to unlock myself from my self-imposed prison.  My heart was cracking open and the tears were breaking through the floodgate.  What would follow?  Well, that was (and sometimes still is) a mystery.

One day, we were divided into two small groups for the afternoon’s activity.  I was with 4 other people and one of our guides, Gene.  I remember Gene telling us a personal story of how he finally owned up to his sensual, passionate side of himself and told us, “I may be small in stature, but I’m big in heart. . .I realized then that I love who I love, and I want what I want.”  His story of reclaiming his wild, passionate, sensual side inspired me.  If this strong, earthy, passionate, kind, tenderhearted man could own his wild, beautiful self, then why couldn’t I?  I realized on this trip that I was not a “freak,” and “artsy-fartsy hippy,” or a “wimpy” person who was overly sensitive and emotional.  That it was just those passionate, tender, artistic, creative, sensual aspects of myself that I and others need to see and know and learn about in order to grow and feel more connected to the world and each other.  Staying small and safe is more destructive than being vulnerable, open, and true to one’s nature and gifts/talents.

After one of our many large group discussions, I set off on a solo creek and headed for the creek and meadow that called to me earlier on that day’s first hike.  I turned the bend, and in the clearing I saw the gentle slopes and sinewy curves of a doe foraging in the field.  My breath caught and she looked up.  I stopped walking.  We locked eyes.  I smiled and waved to her. She did not move or look away and we continued to hold each other’s gaze.  I took off my sunglasses and hat and lowered my pack by sliding it down my arm and leg until it settled to the ground.  I blew her kisses and laughed.  Still she did not move.  Her eyes pierced me and a sudden urge to go deep inside of my heart and soul came over me.  So, without fear or embarrassment of other hikers who may walk by me, I opened up my arms wide and offered her my heart – fully & completely.  At that moment I felt so very vulnerable, but I knew that was what she was asking of me.  As if on cue, she stood straight up, elongated her neck, spread her ears wide, and broadened her chest.  Gazing into each others’ eyes, we stood – Heart to Heart.  The Wild One and Her Muse.photo