It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have. – Cheryl Strayed
My asking the question, “How did we get so terribly lost?” after all the inner unfolding I had done could lead someone to erroneously conclude that a story that started with despair ended in much the same place. It didn’t. Not by a long shot.
Something in me had profoundly changed and with this change, the way I saw the world had irreversibly changed as well – it was like looking through a new set of eyes, like a (r)evolutionary shift Joanna Macy has referred to in our times as the birthing of a ‘new notion of self.’ No longer resisting and fighting my feelings, I had shown up for life – as it is – all of it and in doing so, I had surrendered to what felt true and natural. Overcome by the experience, I found myself connected in the end to a deep wisdom about our true nature – as humans and on this planet. I felt guided in this place not so much by a government’s laws or culture’s ‘norms,’ but by more universal laws of nature. I had something to support me now that I hadn’t known before: the remarkable newfound capacity and resilience that came from fully facing a reality that was not of my choosing. I felt an unflinching confidence in my own value and the value of all of life that is ‘confident’ because it feels aligned with life’s deeper, long-hidden truths.
When riding a current down a river, you ride the momentum of what is, supported by a natural resilience. With this immeasurable power of nature at your back, the troubles of the world don’t disappear or cease to cause concern, but there is more trust and capacity in facing them – less hopelessness and despair.
To be clear, however, while I felt changed, that didn’t mean I was suddenly realized, enlightened or, in the contemporary dialect that I was now irreversibly “woke.” “Woke” is a process, not a destination! (especially when it comes to unpacking centuries of privilege.) Defensiveness, reactivity and apprehension didn’t drop away. Rather, something in the reconnection had charged me up for the long haul. By facing my worst fears, inhabiting my anger and hatred, looking the devil in the eye and surviving it, the daunting fear and paralyzing anxiety that dogged me in the beginning of Trump’s presidency was gone. Replacing it was my life, now lived at a deeper octave, grounded in the confidence of a broader definition of what it is to be alive, revealing a new set of values to live by. In this I could grasp a greater meaning in the whole catastrophe, and feeling connected in some way to our natural source, I felt newfound resilience and maturity in facing (and creating) life from there.
Defining a New Set of Values
Ultimately, the work on the self is inseparable from work in the world. Each mirrors the other; each is a vehicle for the other. When we do work in the world, internal issues arise that we must face or be rendered ineffective. When we change ourselves, our values and actions change as well. – Charles Eisenstein
Looking back at the female protagonists from feminist fiction and film who make it to the last scene with some sort of realized, transformation has always begged a question. We find these women in those final moments walking into the ocean towards a sunset, gunning it off a cliff in a car, or crawling around on the floor buried in scraps of wallpaper. These are often powerful and inspiring stories, but when claiming one’s madness opens you to a new level of reconnection and sanity with yourself, you’re presented at some point with a question about how to actually live your life now. As the late, and truly great, Toni Morrison wrote: “freeing yourself was one thing. Claiming ownership of that free self was another.”
Asked another way, in the context of the story I have told, when it is no longer possible for anyone’s gaslighting to cripple your confidence – whether the President’s gaslighting or the gaslighting embedded in mainstream culture’s norms about appropriate gendered behavior – when these distortions no longer hold sway in your psyche, how does that change the way you live?
Well, for one, while it may seem quite simple and perhaps inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, one great next step is to simply accept the joy of being oneself! Cultivate the knowledge of one’s goodness, the experience of preciousness in you and in others, living, as Charles Eisenstein writes, “in the gift,” is actually no small (r)evolution.
Here, too, though, directing this question to the political sphere, a new possibility arises. In the clarity, capacity and resilience I feel there is something stronger than the righteous energy I brought to activist resistance in the past. In fact, I feel something more like the seedbed for an insistence movement, one that is connected to a new set of values that honors deeper dimensions of life than our current culture recognizes. An ‘insistence’ movement is not defined by its opposition, but can stand firm, defining its own terms and values, because it knows itself as inline with universal, natural truths.
In this essay, I have chronicled the story of a personal unfolding that has taken the feminist mantra ‘the personal is political’ to a whole new octave. The inward turn is not, I would suggest, a retreat from the essential engagement of citizenship, but a journey we can take to fuel a whole new order of understanding about what personhood and citizenship can be.
In future essays, I will write more about looking through the eyes of a ‘new notion of self’ and how I began connecting dots about patriarchy, trauma, narcissism, the patriarchal heist of the feminine and the parameters of a new set of values fit for our times. Here, it becomes clear at this deeper octave that healing can support us in orienting differently to ourselves and in relationships and that this can leverage liberation of the all-too-human vulnerability we need to be aware of to open our hearts to the plight of our planet. This is not the kind of citizenship that happens in 2 year election cycles, (though that’s important, too!). Rather, these are the values of human citizenship that lay the groundwork for a future on this planet.
Highlights of the journey I have shared:
• We exist in times of tragic separation from ourselves, one another and our planet and from experiencing the great gift of aliveness. Reconnecting requires… reconnecting. It is a call to the inward turn, towards vulnerability and relating that holds the promise of a return to Life.
• Our times are not hopeless. We give the seeming madness around us meaning when we relate to the way it triggers us as an invitation. A new story is waiting to unfold as we SLOW DOWN and move, with support, towards the fear, apprehension and isolation, unpacking our history to surface the wisdom hidden there.
• In these times, the embodied, conscious experience of feelings matters just as much, if not more, as any effort to create change in the outer-world. For those who have experienced themselves as the victims of dominating perpetrators or who have been raised – as have women – to ‘overcome’ or sidestep their anger, finding a way to experience anger and hatred, with presence, for oneself can be the seedbed to deeper empowerment and transformation.
• An embodied, allowing vulnerability and tenderness, exemplified in childhood and revisited in old age and ill-health highlights our human, inter-dependence, a truth we deny with the illusion of ‘self-reliance.’ These dimensions of our human experience aren’t a lesser, secondary territory of life that ought to be kept personal or shameful. They are a political concern. They define life’s very value, teeming with the power of connection and love.
• The Trump presidency has a silver lining. It is the latest catalyst in a transformation of consciousness already well underway. When we are able to face the world as it is, we find the courage to envision a world beyond fear, anxiety and hopelessness. This connects us to the capacity and resilience necessary for building a future able to honor the real value of Life. (R)evolutions are forged in dark times.
REALIZING THE UNIVERSAL-HUMAN FEMININE
The state of interbeing is a vulnerable state. It is the vulnerability of the naive altruist, of the trusting lover, of the unguarded sharer. To enter it, one must leave behind the seeming shelter of a control-based life, protected by walls of cynicism, judgment, and blame. ― Charles Eisenstein
And here is where this journey loops back for the last time to that woman who was sent to the third floor to ‘recover’ in isolation from her anxious troubles. The thread of womanhood has been woven throughout this story, but in the end, I was clear the fruits of this journey do not concern women alone.
We live in times of conflict and existential uncertainty, (r)evolutionary times when competing views abound over how to make sense of our differences as humans, how we should live together, what matters in life, and why. Patriarchal norms long attributed to “men” and “women” have been upended, and what was once derided as “queer” is making a hearty “query” out of the norms of the heterosexual, patriarchal gender binary itself. Perhaps in these times the answers we need exist in the territory we have relegated to the shadows of cultural acceptability. Perhaps as more and more people find a deeper and more authentic connection with their experience, deeper truths will continue to rise up from the prisons of self-doubt to boldly take on the work of turning the world towards a new set of values.
Towards that end, the wounds I moved towards, the wounds I faced – the ones that made me mad, crazy mad and angry mad, as a woman, a mother, a citizen – seemed to illuminate something that was both personal and collective, something I have not explicitly mentioned yet because, frankly, it feels bigger than anything else I have said thus far. And that is this: My journey facing wounds created by a patriarch’s gaslighting, by distortions of reality that minced my sense of value and sent me hiding as a little girl in a closet, ultimately led to a profound set of experiences that, when all was said and done, I could not help but describe as ‘feminine.’
The vulnerability, the beauty, the immanence, the palpable embodiment, the relaxed surrender beyond reason, the tenderness and love, but also the power, sensual, honest and immense. From the “sisterhood” devoted to reconnecting, to the dynamic and embodied experience of strength, to the mystery and paradox from relinquishing fixed beliefs, to the dynamism and tenderness of a unifying love and compassion – it all had the distinction of being related to the qualities of life more essentially considered feminine.
This was not exactly a word I welcomed easily, however. I was birthed into feminism 35 years ago off the pages of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique and had no small amount of ambivalence with all the baggage around this word. Yet, while this third-floor experience had happened to someone living in what I related to as a woman’s body, it didn’t feel like the ‘feminine’ experience I had come in contact with belonged to me. Yes, I had experienced all this, but these ‘feminine’ dimensions belonged to no one, they just felt like valuable facts of life – facts that applied to everyone.
In time, in spite of my resistance to the word, it has begun to feel like I can’t turn away from it any more than I can continue to ignore that little girl hiding in the closet or the recognition of the loss I could being to see in so many men who are unable to value the real beauty of our interconnected, all-too-vulnerable life. In fact, it has started to feel like the real meaning of this word, itself, had been hiding in a closet for a long time alongside so many other human truths that have been part of the ‘gender revolution’ now ‘coming out’ in our times.
Far from fragile, after all, this feminine feels fierce and powerful. Far from weak, and inferior, this feminine feels essential, foundational and deeply worthy of honor. Far from limited to the bodies or behavior of women, this feminine feels universal. Far from representing a shameful vulnerability, this vulnerability is the definition of strength. Far from superfluous and superficial, these tender truths about the human condition and our inter-being feel related to the greatest value we might come to know in life itself.
Looking back towards Trump universe, its headlines, and the whole catastrophe from this vantage point of valuing these feminine dimensions of life, everything starts looking completely upside down. In fact, experiencing my value, how it has roots that reach down into the center of the earth and beyond to everything, has the strange effect of turning everything on its head. This is how the new set of eyes sees. It is as if the cortex at the back of my eyes that flips things upside down has sorted itself out so I can see things as they are again. From here it is clearer just how far off almost everything in our culture has been from valuing what is truly important in life. So much of what we have come to hold as important – wealth, speed, achievement, more things to own, glamour and fame, success, even the relentless pursuit of “happiness” as we have defined it – misses what’s right in front of us, misses who we really are.
How have we gotten it so wrong? What is the connection here between the deep, universal feminine roots of our existence and the “Last Gasp of Patriarchy”? And what, in this new era of madness and discovery, will it take to set things right?