Split the Sack

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Today, September 30th, is Rumi’s 803rd Birthday. I came across this glorious, rapturous, wondrous line on twitter from @Jenmalen:

We should split the sack
of this culture
and stick our heads out.

What if we were to do this…together?

Split it right open.

Stick our heads out.

What would we discover out past all the beliefs this culture holds?

What would we create together? How would we be together? Who would we be?

What would fresh innocence of our true nature reveal to us?


Split the Sack

Why does the soul not fly
when it hears the call?

Why does a fish, gasping on land,
but near the water,
not move back into the sea?

What keeps us from joining the dance
the dust particles do?

Look at their subtle motions
in sunlight.

We are out of our cages
with our wings spread,
yet we do not lift off.

We keep collecting rocks and broken bits
of pottery like children
pretending they are merchants.

We should split the sack
of this culture
and stick our heads out.

Look around.
Leave your childhood.

Reach your right hand up
and take this book from the air.
You do know right from left, don’t you?

A voice speaks to your clarity.
Move into the moment of your death.
Consider what you truly want.

Now call out commands yourself.
You are the king. Phrase your question,
and expect the grace of an answer.

~Rumi

(An Excerpt from Rumi: Bridge to the Soul Journeys Into the Music and Silence of the Heart by Coleman Barks)

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Old Woman, Wise Woman, Powerful Woman

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But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. ~Kate Chopin

The other day, surfing across the web in no particularly linear or rational way (I guess that’s what surfing is), I came across this quote from Rush Limbaugh:

“Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

It was 2008. A long time ago. He was referring to Hillary Clinton. With a masterful stroke of the mouth, he attempted to dis-empower this woman by using one of the patriarchy’s greatest weapons, the deeply held belief that age makes women ugly, worthless and powerless.

I remember hearing it then and it made my blood boil. Yesterday, when I saw it again, I wondered about it. About Rush. About men. About women. About being a woman and growing old. About why watching a woman grow old scares the hell out of people. His statement is still a powerful window into how women who are growing older are perceived in our culture.

I am reminded of my mother as she grew fail towards her death. She showed such dignity. Even when she could hardly stand up, she wanted her hair combed, her lipstick on. She didn’t want anyone, including her children, to see her use the commode. She walked towards her death with grace.

I thought of Robbie Kaye and the amazing work she is doing with women and aging at Beauty of Wisdom. Robbie takes photographs of women getting their hair done; beautiful, proud women.

Photo by Robbie Kaye (c), all rights reserved
Doris, 76 - Long Island, NY

Photo by Robbie Kaye, all rights reserved

I wonder about how Rush felt watching his mother grow old, how he feels watching the women in his life that he loves growing older. How do we feel when we fear the crone out there, and in here, while we are in relationship with our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, and wise old women friends? While we are in relationship with ourselves and our own aging bodies?

And, (this is a ‘big’ and) somewhere a part of me is fully capable of saying something just as hurtful. If I push that away in him, I push it away in myself. I’ve grown up ingesting this patriarchal pabulum every day of my life. I’ve adopted the fears and beliefs and admonitions of a culture steeped in ageism, sexism, racism, and any other ism that has been the foundation of this patriarchal thought structure. It takes a deepening awareness and an opening consciousness to begin to see what I project onto others, how I push others away, how I say stupid things because of my own conditioning.

The structure of patriarchy is insidious. It causes men to oppress all women, because it is ‘linked to a cultural devaluing of femaleness itself.” (Allan G. Johnson, Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy)  It causes men to oppress even the women in their own lives that they dearly love, for you can’t uphold a structure of beliefs, and act within that structure everyday, and somehow not inflict that pain on some women and not others.

Johnson writes:

“One of the deepest reasons for denying the reality of women’s oppression is that we don’t want to admit that a real basis for conflict exists between men and women. We don’t want to admit it because, unlike other groups involved in social oppression, such as white and blacks, female and males really need each other, if only as parents and children.” (emphasis mine)

Think about it: men and women are inextricably linked. We can’t not engage with each other. If we no longer engaged, life wouldn’t continue. That’s what makes it so hard to look at patriarchy and the oppression of the feminine. And yet, we need the reemergence of the feminine to heal ourselves and to heal the earth. We need the nurturing, nourishing, wise and instinctual, wildly creative, and fiercely unconditionally loving feminine to heal ourselves from our ways of destruction and domination. We need this reemergence in women and we need it in men. We need to find balance within ourselves, the balance between the masculine and feminine.

The old woman was once revered, when people revered the Great Mother, when they saw the beauty of birth, death and rebirth, the power of transformation. Now, we sit around and pretend we don’t get old and we don’t die. We feel the shift happening and we dig our heels in and pretend we can’t be touched.

As I’ve aged, I’ve felt invisibility creep in. The older I get the more invisible I become, in a culture where youth and external beauty reign. All the while, I’ve become more beautiful to myself, because I am embracing and honoring the wisdom that my life experiences have brought, and the kindness, compassion and tenderness that grief and loss have engendered. It takes a certain amount of awareness and effort to keep coming back to what is real, what is true. It isn’t easy at all. Yet, there comes a time when no other way is palatable. I can feel the energy of the crone. I feel her power. I feel her fierce love.

It’s not that I don’t have moments of grief and sadness around aging. Some of those moments come when I get caught up in the never-ending bombardment of the advertising blitz.  I notice my body growing a little stiffer, I am aware of the years passing, and I know death is always a breath away. But, so is life. Life is always a breath away.

Women’s power in the patriarchy is youth, physical beauty, a sexy toned body, the ability to become more like a man than a woman, so how we act and what we do will move us up the ladder of what this culture deems is successful.

But in an entirely different way, we women are powerful beings, especially as we age. Not powerful in the patriarchal paradigm, but powerful in the sense that we are more authentic, more real, more truthful and more beautiful. And, powerful as the crone. The wise woman, the woman that embodies crone energy. The crone is the woman who no longer sees herself only in relation to others, but as a woman unto herself, a woman who stands alone in the center of her own beingness, in the center of her own truth, and from this center relates to the people in her life from what is real for her.

The patriarchy fears the crone. She is truthful, she is powerfully creative, she is intuitive and instinctual, and she loves fiercely. The patriarchy does everything it can to deny this, even to denigrate this and the women who embody it, because old women are wise women are powerful women. They have gifts to share, gifts that this world desperately needs.

What if we could be with ourselves in such a way that we no longer projected our deepest fears onto an entire portion of the earth’s population, a group of people that has gifts to share with the world right now, gifts of wisdom, grace and beauty?

What if we could be with ourselves in such a way that we no longer projected our deepest fears onto each other, woman to man, man to woman?

Being with ourselves is the first step.

Being with the misogynistic and misandrist thoughts that ramble around our own minds and consciousness, and questioning if they are true, do we know them to be 100% fact.

Being with our hardened hearts, with the walls we’ve built around them that allow us to engage in such a way where we are just as complicit in this fear and rejection of the wise old woman, and wondering if our hearts really feel this way.

Being with ourselves, with the feelings we don’t want to feel, the feelings we numb ourselves to, day in and day out.

Being with.

Being with the beginning of something, a beginning of a world where we honor and respect each other as men and women.

As Kate Chopin reminds us, the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.

A world where patriarchy is a distant memory begins with the chaotic, the vague, with the tangled mess of people willing to engage differently, even when we don’t yet know how to do it or what it might look like.

It may feel exceedingly disturbing, but then don’t the happenings in our world right now disturb you greatly?

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Magic, Music and a Woman’s Heart

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The two weeks I spent in Ireland were magical. It’s a magical land.

Sunset at Strandhill
Sunset at Strandhill

This picture was taken on the beach of Strandhill, a small area near the city of Sligo, and very close to Queen Medb’s (Maeve) cairn (tomb) on the top of Knocknarea Mountain. Maeve was the warrior Queen of Connacht in Celtic mythology.

On Knocknarea, at the foot of Medb's Cairn
On Knocknarea, at the foot of Medb's Cairn

We climbed to the top of the mountain to see the cairn. The feeling at the top at the foot of this tomb is ancient, powerful and quite mystical.

One of the things I most enjoyed was hearing live traditional Irish music. My paternal grandfather, Thomas McDonnell Sr. was Irish-American. His two grandfathers came from Ireland in the mid-1860’s. One, Bryan McDonnell, embarked from Dublin and the other, Timothy Driscoll, from Cobh.

My grandfather and grandmother raised a musical family. I remember one time we visited them when I was very young. My father’s brothers and sister were there, too, and the whole family came together to sing and play a variety of instruments: guitar, ukelele, banjo, piano. I loved it. It’s one of my strongest and fondest memories of that side of my family.

So when I was in Ireland, I was particularly taken with the live traditional music in places like Dublin, Dingle, Cobh and Glendalouch. In Dingle, we just happened into a pub on a Sunday afternoon as this group of musicians were playing the kind of music I hoped I would hear in Ireland. Listening to this music brought back the wonderful memories of my father’s family, the ‘Irish side’.

The next day, we ducked into a Dingle music shop to find some good Irish music to take home with us. We found the most recent CD by Lumiere, a musical group consisting of two women, Pauline Scanlon and Eilis Kennedy. One song in particular, Fair and Tender Ladies, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Lo and behold, that night Pauline Scanlon was performing in a Dingle pub. We were lucky to sit and listen to her ethereal voice just fifteen feet away from her.

When I returned home, I found this video of Pauline and Eilis singing Fair and Tender Ladies. Please stop, become still, drop into your heart and listen with your whole being.

I love hearing these two women harmonize and sing of women taking care of their hearts.

The inner realm of a woman’s heart is sacred and wise. I have come to know just how tender and vulnerable this woman’s heart is. I know the pain of trampling through this heart, allowing the dictates of the mind to override the heart’s needs.

During my time in Ireland, over and over again, my heart opened to the beauty, magic and music of this place. Something woke up in my cells. Something ancient. Something earthly. Something I’ve known, yet pushed away. Over time, this new awareness is deepening within. When the time is right, I’ll share what I can put into words, here with you.

And, you?

What might it take to sit down with your heart, to hear what it’s needing, to tenderly begin to inquire?

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Remembrance, Infused with Love

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The Gifted Photographer

This morning, I’m aware of remembering; yet, this remembrance doesn’t have to take me away from now. It can infuse this moment with love. It can infuse it with possibility. It can infuse it with transformation.

Today, we remember the ninth anniversary of 9/11, those who died, and those who’ve suffered deeply from the events of that day. Nick Kristoff shares the efforts of two women, both of whom lost their husbands in 9/11, in a post titled The Healers of 9/11. These two women chose to respond to their loss with love and possibility.

“Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan — and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country.

So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects — in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives.

The organization they started, Beyond the 11th, has now assisted more than 1,000 Afghan widows in starting tiny businesses. It’s an effort both to help some of the world’s neediest people and to fight back at the distrust, hatred and unemployment that sustain the Taliban.”

Susan Retik and Patti Quigley show us the power of women supporting women. They remind us of how much we are alike rather than how different we are. In the midst of their grief, they could still see just how much they have to give.

In the article, it is clear they know their actions will not end the violence. Yet, their actions underscore something we know about women. Ms. Retik shared, “If we can provide a skill for a woman so that she can provide for her family going forward, then that’s one person or five people who will have a roof over their head, food in their bellies and a chance for education.”

Remembrance infused with love, keeps us in the here and now. It brings the remembering mind down into the presence of the deep heart.

Remembrance infused with love can bring possibility into this moment, allowing grief to do its deep work, bringing fecundity to fallow ground.

This is the message that was woven through the powerful dating and relationship course I shared with women who lost their husbands in  9/11. And, this is the message they shared with me as we moved through this course together, back in those first few years after.

May we all “unleash our better angels” (as Kristoff suggests) as a response to our grief, our anger and our fears.

And, you?

What are you grieving?

How might you infuse this grief with love, bringing you deep into the heart?

What is that one small action you might take, infused by the transformative power of loving remembrance?

photo by The Gifted Photographer, licensed under Creative Commons (NoDerivs 2.0)

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Celebrating Firsts

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Wow. I’ve been blogging, now, for over six years. During much of that time, my posts were sporadic. I remember feeling like I was doing something very cutting edge in 2004. I remember feeling so vulnerable putting my thoughts and experiences out there for everyone to see.

My first blog was a typepad blog that I started on April 29, 2004. In fits and starts, I posted every now and then about the work I was doing with women and creativity. I then used it to chronicle my trip in 2006 and 2007 in India, where I was so very lucky to tour with Amma, spend four days soaking up the wisdom of the Dalai Lama, travel through the Indian countryside, and spend a week in Varanasi, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.

Then life happened, as life is always doing. But this life was full, so full that things like blogging seemed to take a back seat to what was important. I couldn’t blog about my mother’s journey with cancer. It was too personal, too much her story. But, as she moved toward the final months of her life, I could feel myself moving into a new phase of my life, so I birthed Unabashedly Female in February of 2008.

I’m not much of an early-adopter. No, that’s not entirely true. But in the case of video, it’s entirely true. I haven’t wanted to vlog, for whatever reason. I see I’m not alone. With a push from Mark Silver , and watching how deeply he dove in, I decided to give it a whirl (sans the Fearless Karaoke ala Natalie Peluso.

For me, it’s about noticing the places where I want to leap, AND where my feet feel cemented to the ground.

So here goes. Here’s my first vlog. It’s not wild and crazy. It’s not gonna shake up the world. Yet, something is freed up inside me by being seen this way. Something is set free by doing something for the first time.

Let me know what you think. Now that I’ve posted this, maybe I’ll even post some of my videos of Ireland… Who knows what my next first will be?!

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Voluptuous and Delicious

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Creation
Creation

“God is voluptuous and delicious.” Meister Eckhart

On my recent trip to Ireland, this understanding became more and more clear…that God is indeed voluptuous, delicious, fertile, fecund, and oh so full.


The beauty of Connemara brought me to tears. The skies are wide open. The colors of the land entranced me. The sheer magnitude of the spirit of creation seeped into my cells, showing me the sheer magnitude of what I really am.

Connemara Skies
Connemara Skies
Connemara Colors
Connemara Colors

The Beauty of the Elements
The Beauty of the Elements

The Burren is stark land, and yet in its own way, also delicious. God and Goddess do not discriminate in their fullness.

The Burren
The Burren
The Burren Close-up
The Burren Close-up
Burren Wildflowers
Burren Wildflowers

The ephemeral grows alongside the enduring.

Look at these ancient symbols of the Goddess we saw at the Celtic and Prehistoric Museum on the Dingle Peninsula. This museum was amazing in the artifacts it houses, as well as the sheer humor and delight of the owner, Harris Moore. He dated these artifacts at around 6,000 years old.

The Goddess, according to some, was the way for ancient people to have some kind of understanding of this fecund, voluptuous nature of the creation they lived in.

Ancient Carvings of the Goddess
Ancient Carvings of the Goddess

Many of us learned of God as something more severe, judging and stern. Open your eyes to the voluptuousness of God and Goddess. You don’t have to be in the wild western land of Ireland to experience this aspect of the Divine.

You are this voluptuousness, this deliciousness, this divinity, living and breathing in your female body.

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Morning Prayer

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Mother to All That Is
Mother to All That Is

This Morning

this morning I am pregnant with all that is to come today.

may i give birth joyously to that which longs to be.

may i no longer fear the birthing process.

may i let go, knowing that all that holds me is Grace itself.

This photo is one I took on my trip through Ireland. It is an image of a Sheela na gig on the underside of the Kildare Cathedral tomb of Bishop Wellesley, in County Kildare, Ireland. The image is occluded, or hidden, on the underside of the tomb.

There are many theories as to the origin of and meaning behind the Sheela na gig, but nothing is known for sure. Maureen Concannon, in her book titled “Sacred Whore“, speaks of the Sheela as a representation of the Mother Goddess, and that it is an ancient symbol of Birth, Death and Re-birth. This symbol can be a powerful entrance into the consciousness of the Great Mother.

Others have different definitions, and some question if all labeled Sheela na gigs are really Sheelas and hold the same meaning.

For me, with the little I know at this point of what the Sheela represents, what is most important is finding some opening into the realization that all women are created in the image of the Great Mother. We are all, by simply the fact we were born into a female body, capable of bringing life into life. Our bodies know things. Our bodies have instincts and intuitions. Our bodies are wise and are sacred vessels that can bring spirit into the material world.

There is something of great importance in this for where we find ourselves now as a species. Something old is dying and something new is being reborn. Women have something important to bring to this death and this rebirth, something different than men bring.

Let us discover this together, and let us be midwives to each other’s birthing of that which longs to be born. It will certainly take a village, a large and connected village, to birth that which is crowning now, right now.

And, you?

What are you birthing?

What do you fear?

Who can you ask to midwife for you?

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