I went back to school this past year and finished my Master’s Degree in Medieval Studies. I got straight A’s and am overjoyed by that. I am applying this fall to the PhD program. I love school; I’ve missed its place in my life.
I have recently had an abstract accepted for a book about emotions as related to medieval/early modern France. I’m writing about grief. The paper is due early next year and I’m not yet sure when the print volume will be out, but if all goes well, I’ll be published sometime in the next year or so.
I am working on an edition of three Middle French prayers with my professor, so that will be done in the next year or so, as well.
I am meeting with a scientist tomorrow to discuss the possibility of my doing volunteer work on her research team for this next year, so that I can learn more about scientific research on topics that coincide with my modern interests of trauma and emotional expression (as opposed to my medieval interest of emotions in troubadour lyric and emotional expression in general). I am planning on attending a conference on Alzheimer’s and dementia in September.
The threads of my life are coming together, while other threads are falling away, having served their purpose. I’ve been going non-stop since last September (or last June, if you want to count when I started relearning Latin again). I do miss being able to have time to write posts to publish here. I will post as I have time. I’m certainly not lacking any inspiration! It’s been an overwhelming year filled with insights.
I think of how protective we are of Pluto, the outpouring of emotion we saw last week and it gives me hope. But loving Pluto is safe. We have so much of our own emotional work to do.
Remember this. When you look at how much care we can put into a tiny dwarf planet and then you get mad at all the sweet babies and children starving and dying on our own planet or the sanctity of our own planet and try to reconcile that, don’t let it embitter you towards humanity. Just remember that Pluto is safe to love and to protect. And then explore why that might not be the case for things you feel really should count for a lot more than they actually seem to. Remember this when you get angry at people for caring about the “wrong things”.
I posted the following yesterday on my Facebook just as a musing sort of post, and I got several really positive responses, so I’m sharing here where it’s more accessible to others:
Why do we think we have to follow the advice of others before checking in with ourselves? This is something that really needs to be explored because it affects so many different situations.
Why are we walking through our lives feeling like we don’t have confidence in our own perspective — that someone else’s perspective is better or more sound than our own take on things with respect to a situation they don’t fully understand (because they’re not going through it themselves)?
“I just nod and smile when given the dumb advice that I used to think I had to follow.”
^This is a common sort of response from mothers, who think they have to follow well-meaning advice from all and sundry when the first new baby comes and then they have their own experiences and realize that they’re the ones who know best after they have to figure it all out on their own. They learn what works for them and they have confidence in that.
I think when we feel like we have to take the advice of others even when it runs counter to our own wishes and desires, it can create situations where we end up feeling resentful and angry at the people whose advice we took. It appears to me to be symptomatic of a lack of self-worth and self-confidence, but also a lack of understanding that you are responsible for your own actions.
If I take someone’s advice, then I’m responsible for that decision whether that advice was appropriate to the situation or not. Holding the advice-giver responsible for choices you make is inappropriate.
You can be angry at feeling like you have no other choice but to take the advice of a supervisor or manager or professor or advisor or parent or doctor, but be angry at the situation and not at yourself or at the perceived authority figure who likely means well. Blaming them hurts you, too.
I don’t know… I think I’m just really confused with the whole notion of being “weak-willed” or not having a “strong personality.” I don’t really understand that phenomenon. I know life situations are far more complicated than that (because strong personalities get cowed in many situations for various reasons), but just taking it down to the idea of someone with a weak will of their own… I don’t understand that and don’t understand how that is a helpful thing to have.
It would be wonderful if we were all fairly confident in our own decision-making abilities that we wouldn’t fall prey to thinking we weren’t accountable for the decisions we make or that we wouldn’t be able to be so easily brainwashed as a species or as individuals.
How can we instil critical thinking skills from the get-go rather than having to wait until university? How can we instil confidence in our children so that we don’t have to do this later in life? How can we help each other get in touch with our own take on things and provide support rather than co-opting a situation and trying to get that friend or daughter or son of yours to do what you want them to do with their lives?
Ach, if I had time, I’d break it all down into talking about insecurities and egos and resentment and anxiety and fear (oh god the fear) and relationships with authority figures and responsibilities of authority figures and responsibilities we have to ourselves and to each other, but I don’t have time. So this is my shorthand soapbox.
When I see stuff like this flyer, depending on my frame of mind, I either want to sign up immediately, pay my £35 and hope I make it before they run out of spaces, or I want to make fun of it mercilessly:
“Grounded research” that likely has been so synthesized it has lost its sense of self and is now, understandably, having an identity crisis. The tapestry of my “inner alchemy” is too “mystical” to be explored, thank you very much. You can take your Masters in Holistic Science and… yeah… and then I start to feel disgusted with myself because it’s all gluttonous self-indulgence. And disappointment. Scratch a cynic and find a disappointed idealist.
The thing is, really, we’re all trying so hard to make heads or tails of this weird existence called life, and there are so many strange and curious truths buried both in plain sight and deep within inexecrable bullshit. We still need to bridge the gap between secular and sacred and it’s going to take time and patience. And a good sense of humour.
So instead of being irritated or cynical, embarrassed or excited by the above, I’m going to look at it as baby steps toward a different way of thinking about the world.
It makes me wonder if, in several hundred years, we’ll look back on this sort of thing the way today’s more-informed readers look at Hildegard of Bingen’s description of how gemstones were made. The medieval world had a very incomplete and… unique… understanding of certain natural processes. So in 12th-century Germany, when she describes how gemstones were made, we now can look back on it with our 20/20 hindsight and say, well, she didn’t know, and it seemed correct enough at the time, and she WAS brilliant after all — have you heard her musical compositions?, etc. We find it easier to be more compassionate with her treatise and with other similarly naïve perspectives than we can be with our own modern-day fumblings.
What follows is an excerpt from her writings on Stones in her work, Physica:
Every stone contains fire and moisture. The devil abhors, detests, and disdains precious stones. This is because he remembers that their beauty was manifest on him before he fell from the glory God had given him, and because some precious stones are engendered from fire, in which he receives his punishment. By the will of God, the devil was vanquished by the fire into which he fell, just as he is vanquished by the fire of the Holy Spirit when humans are snatched from his jaws by the first breath of the Holy Spirit.
Precious stones and gems arise in the Orient, in areas where the sun’s heat is very great. From the hot sun, mountains there have heat as powerful as fire. The rivers in those areas always boil from the sun’s great heat. Whence at times an inundation of those rivers bursts forth and ascends those scorching mountains. The mountains, burning with the sun’s heat, are touched by those rivers. Froth, similar to that produced by hot iron or a hot stone when water is poured over it, exudes from the places where the water touches the fire. This froth adheres to that place and, in three or four days, hardens into stone.
Once the inundation has ceased and the waters have returned to the river bed, the pieces of froth dry up. They dry from the sun’s heat and take their colors and powers in accordance with the time of day and the temperature. Drying and hardening, they become precious stones and fall onto the sand, just like flaking fish scales. When they flood again the rivers lift up many of the stones, carrying them to other countries where they are later discovered by human beings. The mountains, where so many and such large stones have sprung up in this way, shine like the light of day.
And so, precious stones are born from fire and water; whence they have fire and moisture in them. They contain many powers and are effective for many needs. Many things can be done with them – but only good, honest actions, which are beneficial to human beings; not activities of seduction, fornication, adultery, enmity, homicide, and the like, which tend toward vice and which are injurious to people. The nature of these precious stones seeks honest and useful effects and rejects people’s depraved and evil uses, in the same way virtues cast off vices and vices are unable to engage with virtues.
Some stones do not originate from these mountains and are not of the same nature, but arise from other, useless things. Through them, with God’s permission, it is possible for good and bad things to happen.
Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing Translated from the Latin by Priscilla Throop Rochester: Healing Arts Press 1998, pp. 137-138.
If someone today proposed this as a valid and viable explanation of the geologic processes that form gemstones, they would be considered delusional. Even people in the New Age community would say as much.
Across the centuries, we’ve divorced ourselves from talk of the devil and of God and have taken up discourse with reason and science. Neither has been wholly satisfying for an undeniable portion of the population, which is why we keep searching. And now we’re trying to marry those two streams of sacred and secular perspectives on the world. Our disappointed but “grounded” cynics meet this marriage with derision, tension, or covert interest and curiosity.
These reactions mirror of our own lack of inner peace, and without inner peace we will never achieve the outer peace — the world peace — that we all hope for. Our inner alchemical tapestry is filled with infinite crucibles as we search for something brighter and more harmoniously congruent with our own individual sense of what is true about the world. When we are able to bridge the gap between these two worldviews and unite them into a seamless philosophy, we are at the same time, uniting important, valid, and worthy parts of ourselves.
It takes, among other things, time and compassion and a good sense of humour. We’re getting there.
I love how she just makes it seem so easy. Just get rid of all the bad stuff in your life because Gosh, it’s Hard. And Wow, wouldn’t it be better if everything were Easier? Wait. You know what? Everything should be easier. We weren’t designed to suffer! Yeah! That’s how life SHOULD Be! So just, y’know, make it better by pretending that it’s so easy and then just, like, ostrich the fuck out of life and live in denial of the complexities that exist therein.
Like, y’know, your job sucking the life out of you. Just quit! This works so well for all the stay-at-home parents who hate the job of parenting their kids, for which they’re not receiving any financial recompense. They should just quit. Wait, did you know that being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t look like June Cleaver? And that some people, even those who thought they would LOVE it, actually discover that they hate it, but they can’t quit because childcare is too expensive and the reality of their getting a job that pays well enough to afford proper childcare doesn’t look promising. And even though they hate it and it sucks the life out of them more often than not, they would still rather be at home with their kids than stuck in a job that doesn’t pay them what they need, while they worry that their kids aren’t getting enough quality time with people who love them.
Can we talk about all the privilege in this? Because, on the one hand, it’s a privilege to stay at home with your kids, even if it’s not the easiest thing in the world and even if it’s really not all that satisfying and you know it’s taking more from you than it’s giving (at least on the surface view of things). But on the other hand, the privilege of Just Quit, regardless of the job in question, is a MASSIVE privilege denied to many. To most people, actually. Because this economy is shite and has been for quite some time and Just Quit doesn’t pay the bills. And Just Quit doesn’t really work at all for some jobs, like parenting.
Or what if you’ve been at your job for 20+ years and it’s been fucking AMAZING even with a whole lotta bullshit to put up with and it is currently sucking the life out of you but you know it’s temporary-ish (you hope) and you also know that there is nothing out there that will ever provide you with the same level of soul-satisfaction that you have received at your job and you just really don’t want to give up that type of gut-level happiness even if it’s an utter and complete slog right now. Not to mention that paycheque.
“If it’s a person, cut them out.”
Because omg, your long-time close friend is going through a really rough patch right now and wow has she ever become a Negative Nancy. She just complains about all the hard things and you’re TYRING to stay POSITIVE but she just sucks the life out of you when you’re around her. So, y’know, fuck that 10-year investment of friendship and tell her to take a hike. By just not returning her phone calls, emails, or texts because you don’t want to have an icky sort of conversation that really just brings both of you down.
Or you’re caring for a parent who is dying and it’s draining you emotionally, physically, psychically, and possibly financially. But you’re TRYING to do the right thing. What IS the right thing in this situation? I mean, you have to care for yourself, right? Where does your duty lay?
Life is complex and full of hardship. How many of us have felt resentment at how easy the lives of the rich are? Because they have money, they don’t have to worry about anything and more money would just make everything better. At the same time, you get angry with them for being so superficial and unidimensional because everything comes so easily for them — they don’t have to struggle. You’ve had both of these conversations.
It’s funny how we can look at beautiful works of art — Michelangelo’s David or the Venus de Milo, or the exquisite Raffaele Monti’s Veiled Vestal Virgin shown here (because Sweet Jesus, he turned stone into diaphanous silk, ffs) — really any marble sculpture or other deconstructionist work of art, for that matter — and we can praise it, love it, appreciate the artistry that goes into it.
But imagine being a block of raw marble, being hacked away at, having pieces of you chipped away, whittled down, sanded, polished. Aye, there’s the rub. The pull at wanting to appreciate the end product but not wanting to experience the process of getting there. Like it or not, you are a block of marble and every single bump, bruise, cut and wound, every loving touch and feeling of being nurtured, every disappointment and ache of loneliness, every strain and drain, every single thing you experience creates the beautiful artistry of who you are.
There is VALUE in the hard experiences you have. They can teach you to endure; they can teach you how strong you actually are and show you the stamina you thought you lacked; they can teach you what you want and can teach you what you don’t want. The bottom line, though, with hard experiences, is that they teach you to evolve. Running from them at the drop of a hat, as this quote ostensibly suggests, does little to strengthen your sense of inner resilience.
I’m not suggesting that we all become masochists, but maybe you need to stick out that friendship that feels like it’s turned sour and learn to gently confront your own discomfort with the situation in a way that works to preserve your connection with your friend and honour the compassion that you have for her. Maybe you need to learn how to begin to release old hurts when you are called on to care for an ailing parent with whom you’ve had a difficult relationship your whole life. Or maybe you need to learn how to take charge of your life, in a way that honours where you’re at with the situations in which you find yourself, while not being a flake and leaving people in the lurch.
Running from your problems doesn’t help you, but learning to face them does, whether sticking it out and seeing it through or understanding when you’ve reached a breaking point and can finally say enough is enough. We spend a LOT of our lives feeling helplessly knocked about by Life’s circumstances, feeling, effectively, victimized by Life. Does that perspective serve you? Who is in charge of your life?
So there is Truth in what the author writes above: you’re the one in the driver’s seat, but what is written above MUST be balanced with the complexities of the Reality of your life, juxtaposed against and reconciled with the acknowledgment that hard is not necessarily bad and easy is not necessarily good. As it is written here in this red box, this quote from Sue Fitzmorris is pat and tidy and excruciatingly simplistic. It is utterly ungrounded in the realities of our lived experience.
Stress puts you to the test. Distressing situations then magnify the raw, tender, hurt, angry spots in our character. These amplifications are there to help you understand where you need work, where you need to focus your attention. What you do with that information, however, how you approach it, and the attitude you take with respect to it will show you a lot about yourself, too. Being mindful about your responses and your reactions to any given situation means you look at yourself with compassion, not with judgment. And you alone decide what’s worth the effort.
I’ve always liked Caroline Myss. Her attitude of frustration and chastisement make me laugh. People get so upset when they hear her speak because they can’t handle that she doesn’t adhere to their preconceived notions of what a mystic or healer should be like. Reading the comments on any of her youtube videos are a fancy trip through the land of shattered expectations.
People read her books or hear of her reputation and then, when they listen to her CDs or watch her recorded workshops and interviews, they are severely put off by her at-times-gruff and -impatient attitude towards others who aren’t on the same page as her – those who are, in fact, several pages or a book or so away from her, so to speak.
I love her for what she has to offer and what she has to share. I particularly love how human her impatience and frustration are. She is not the mighty alfather counterpart: the palpable and obvious embodiment of a nurturing and compassionate mystic almother. She’s prickly and brooks absolutely no bullshit. In short, she’s… *gasp* …imperfect.
People can’t handle that.
People certainly can’t handle that so-called imperfection in someone who has been positioned as being a teacher of healing and spiritual wisdom.
After all, isn’t she supposed to follow her own teachings consistently and flawlessly? How can she so judgmentally and arrogantly call people ‘stupid’ when elsewhere she espouses not judging people? And then those same people become dismissive of what she has to share, missing out on the meat of the message. They would rather spend their energy shooting the messenger than to look at themselves and discern and discover why they have a problem with how Myss relays her message.
There is a logical fallacy called ‘ad hominem’, wherein you attack your opponent’s character in order to undermine their argument without having to engage with it. And while those critics may believe that they are engaging with Myss’s teachings by applying them to her own way of being, they’re failing to engage with it in a way that shows they’re applying her teachings to their own way of being, as well. They would rather focus on the one finger pointing at her rather than the three pointing back at them. How convenient. How safe for them.
This is what is happening with respect to Caroline Myss and any other in-the-trenches mystic and teacher. Really, it happens with anyone in any capacity. People Want Integrity And Honour. We need it. We crave it. But we keep looking outside ourselves for it, feeling like we need to see it in others before we can embody it ourselves, rather than doing the work to get ourselves where we wish others to be. And if anyone, who otherwise has amazing wisdom to share, shows any hint of a lack of honour or integrity (or any other perceived-as-negative human quality like impatience or frustration), then we knock them off their pedestal and crap-talk them in a flurry of disappointment because they failed to meet our (unrealistic) expectations of what a Saviour is supposed to be. And then we walk away in a huff, consoling our bruised egos with vows to forever never listen to that person again because what a sham they are tsk tsk.
We want so badly to be saved from our woes that we put so much hope and faith into the teachers. Never mind that the teachers themselves are still learning and are telling us to focus on having faith in ourselves. We however continue, collectively, to put our faith in someone outside ourselves. And then we get upset and disillusioned and angry and frustrated and embittered when that person fails to uphold the unspoken agreement of being absolutely flawless and perfect.
In this interview with Lilou Mace, Myss is plainly herself as she always is.
whiteangel7777777 shares in the comments: “I am surprised by her attitude, she comes off being hard and very judgmental, and bitter. I just finished her video on Why people don’t heal, and in it she is saying not to judge people or say negative things about others because it drains your energy and here this is what she is doing almost on every subject Lilou asks about. Was not expecting this…from Caroline Myss.”
whiteangel7777777 appears not to be able to handle Myss’s realness. That is, the reality of her own humanity. She plainly states that she wasn’t expecting this from Myss, phrasing and textually articulating it with the ellipses in such a way as to put Myss on a pedestal while simultaneously knocking her off it.
Ruben Haro comments: “Despite her wisdom, she STILL has a lot of SHADOWS. Beautiful nonetheless, but another intellectual, lineal minded interview.”
He writes as though having SHADOWS is a bad thing. The truth of the matter is that we all have shadows. Part of what we need to do during this lifetime is embrace our shadow side and make peace with it. Suppressing it or attempting to get rid of it only strengthens it. Owning that part of yourself is one of the most humbling, freeing, and important things you can do.
I admit to wondering if any of these people have ever read anything that Myss has written or if their only experience of her is via youtube. I wonder this because she has written about being a modern-day mystic in the real world and not being a traditional, cloistered mystic, segregated and sequestered from society as a whole. Mystics who work and live in this world have far more to balance than those sequestered and cloistered. Instead of the silence afforded them by nature or church or cell, they have to deal with traffic and the onslaught of news and being around the emotional noise of the rest of the world. This grates and rubs. They are confronted with far more opportunities to address their ‘negative’ aspects than the holy hermit mystic who is protected from the stimuli of mundane modernity. And we chastise them for not being the image of perfection that we demand them to be, rather than having a sense of gratitude for the wisdom that they share and a sense of compassion for the challenges they face. When we take this attitude of frustration, we show how much empathy we lack… and we mirror the behaviour that we criticize.
I also admit to wondering whether these critics are aware of their own judgmental responses and whether they know anything about the hardships that mystics tend to face in their own personal lives, in addition to the noise of everyday life.
What I loved most about this particular interview between Caroline Myss and Lilou Mace was that Lilou asked Caroline about her own hardships and, at first, she refused to talk about them, saying that she didn’t know how that could possibly help anyone. But then she started talking about the seizures she’d had and how terrifying the unpredictability of the condition was, and I found it to be the most important part of this whole interview – possibly one of the most important elements of any online interview or workshop I’ve yet seen from her. She was human enough to want to withhold that information because her experiences were hard and humbling and it’s not fun to revisit those experiences because doing so calls up a sense of powerlessness that makes us feel extremely uncomfortable, no matter the level of faith we have. But I am deeply deeply grateful for what she shared. It helped me frame my own experiences of being in the trenches and learning to navigate some fairly grueling and out-of-the-ordinary experiences.
All of this reminds me of how judgmental I have been in the past with other wisdom-sharers. There is an extremely talented person with whom I have had the pleasure of working, who is well-regarded in her field and very adept at what she does. And she smokes. And I find that hard to reconcile still, even though I have a far better understanding of why I have that judgment there. I have, in the past, thought to myself: “How can she be so skilled and so talented and still not be able to beat a nicotine addiction? How can I respect that? So many other people have quit. Why can’t she? How can she be powerful at all and still have this fault? How can I possibly believe anything she has to say if she can’t get it together and stop smoking?”
We demand integrity of others and when people whose teachings we respect appear to fall short of our expectations, we tar and feather them. But rarely do we ever look at them with compassion, nor do we look at ourselves to determine if we show as much integrity as we wish those “disappointing” teachers demonstrated.
We are still looking outside ourselves for Saviours, instead of looking to ourselves. When we do this, we fail to see the value in the faults of others and what they can show us about ourselves. When we see imperfection in those whom we expect to be perfect and then chastise and admonish them that imperfection, it shows us how critical, judgmental, and unforgiving we are with regard to our own imperfections, flaws, and faults.
None of us are perfect and being intuitive does not mean that we are automatically spiritual. Myss plainly says that it doesn’t take anything particularly special to be intuitive – that gamblers are some of the most intuitive people she knows. Gamblers are not known for their integrity or their compassion. Accompanying this assertion is the reality of the juxtaposition of positivity and negativity/integrity and hypocrisy/honesty and falsehood contained within a single person, whether gambler or mystic. It brings forth a more realistic perspective of the multidimensionality of each of us. The “both…and” of existence.
“There is nothing about intuition that you should associate with a good person. ‘Oh, I’m intuitive.’ The implication from a lot of people is, ‘I’m holy. I’m special.’ Oh for God’s sake. Some of the most intuitive people I know are gamblers. You don’t think criminals are good intuitives?! Are you crazy?! Why haven’t they been caught? What do you think the Wall Street guys are, if not damn good intuitives? Snap out of it! You can’t afford these mythologies that allow you to think this nonsense – that this is a high-voltage spiritual skill or that eating cucumbers and tomatoes somehow or other makes you a better person – and pinenuts and powerbars (yech!) – than if you ate a steak. What makes you a better person is having integrity and not betraying yourself or someone else. I’d take someone who ate catfood and I knew was honest than someone who ate all that organic junk but couldn’t ever say an honest thing. Gimme a catfood person with integrity any day of the week.” 15:58-17:34, Caroline Myss- Medical Intuition: An Exploration into the science and art of healing – 2014
It is our shadow self that makes us believe that we have a free pass in criticizing another person by pointing out their perceived flaws. It is our shadow self that dismisses what another person has to say because they don’t like the packaging it comes in. It is our shadow self that refuses to look at our own flaws because it is afraid of what might be there. It is our shadow self that inflates the ego and idealizes ourselves over others. Coming to terms with that means eschewing the holier-than-thou ad hominem attacks in favour of the more truly holy attitude of forgiving people their faults and showing them the compassion you would want them to show you when you face your own challenges.
This is coming to terms with our shadow self.
When we are able to do that, we are able to get more out of life because we are free to see more of the picture. It’s much like climbing a mountain. The people farther up the mountain see a different view than those who haven’t made it that far. But the ones who’ve climbed farther aren’t any better than anyone else for having done the climbing. They are no more worthy of respect and dignity and honour than the person at the corner store who was crabby to you because she was having a bad day, or the person who is homeless because they lost their job and became too overwhelmed to be able to keep things together.
We’re all human, after all. And if the person who has a wider perspective on life wants you to see what she sees and is frustrated that you aren’t willing or ready to see it and can see all the collective hardships that come from not being able to see certain parts of the overall picture, then she’s frustrated and that’s normal and human and an aspect of her shadow self. Getting angry with your friend because she’s so excited for you to come visit her a few miles up ahead but omg you’re taking forEVER to get there and she can see what you’re doing and wishes you would see things her way so that you can get to see the cool things she’s seeing… well… that’s all normal, too, and an aspect of the shadow self.
I’m not going to defend the frustration or harshness that Myss can and has embodied in her talks and interviews, but neither will I defend the criticism of those who refuse to take a look at their own lives to see if they’re living up to the standards they expect her to live up to. However, I will say that I understand both sides of the situation and feel for both sides. Neither side is wrong and both perspectives deserve validation and acknowledgement.
The trek is arduous, my friends. It is arduous and amazing, challenging, and very dark at times. The vistas can be so stunningly and breathtakingly beautiful, though. Be soft in your judgments, kind with yourself and with others and work very diligently to be unabashedly and courageously honest with yourself about who you are and how you move through this world. You’ve already come so far.
Many people prefer the word “survivor” to “victim” because “survivor” feels strong and proactive. I understand that, as that is precisely how I felt for a long time also, but I am starting to think that we need to honor and embrace weakness, vulnerability, and passivity as well, or else we end up blaming and invalidating victims (including myself) who do not feel strong some or most of the times.
The society views victimhood as something that must be overcome. When we are victimized, we are (sometimes) afforded a small allowance of time, space, and resources in order to recover–limited and conditional exemptions from normal societal expectations and responsibilities–and are given a different set of expectations and responsibilities that we must live up to (mainly focused around getting help, taking care of ourselves, and recovering). “Healing” is not optional, but is a mandatory process by which a “victim” is transformed into a “survivor”; the failure to successfully complete this transformation results in victim-blaming and sanctions.
This is the so-called “victim role,” an extension of sociologist Talcott Parsons’ theory of “sick role.” The society needs victims to quickly transition out of victimhood into survivorship so that we can return to our previous positions in the heteronormative and capitalist social and economic arrangements. That, I believe, is the source of this immense pressure to become survivors rather than victims, a cultural attitude that even many feminist groups have internalized.
I have to be careful, lest I quote the whole essay because it’s all worth reading. So go read it.
The ONE issue I have with it that really needs to be addressed is in her final paragraph:
I argue that feminist anti-violence movements and communities must embrace unproductive whining and complaining as legitimate means of survival in a world that cannot be made just by simply changing our individual mentalities. We must acknowledge that weakness, vulnerability, and passivity are every bit as creative and resilient as strength and activeness.
A hearty and grand hear-hear to acknowledging the importance of weakness, vulnerability, and passivity. It is the idea, however, that whining and complaining are unproductive that needs to be addressed.
I argue that whining and complaining ARE productive. They ARE legitimate and important forms of emotional self-expression. Yes, people can seem to get stuck there for longer than we’d like, sometimes for longer than they’d like, sometimes they can be stuck there for the rest of their lives. BUT this essay is not about that; it’s about everyone else around them.
The problem with whining and complaining being seen as unproductive is that it shows that the listeners, the supporters, are NOT dealing with their own discomfort and are not taking ownership over their own feelings. What happens is that they then either blame the victim by telling the victim to stop whining and complaining because the victim is making them uncomfortable and that no one wants to hear it, telling the victim that it’s unproductive and that she needs to pull out of it and move on, or they begin avoiding the “complainer”, instead of doing the courageous thing of owning up to their own discomfort. Avoidance isolates the victim. Poorly handling your discomfort isolates the victim.
When we do not own up to our own feelings of discomfort and openly share where our own boundaries are, we do a great disservice to our friends (or clients) and to ourselves.
“I know you need to express where you’re at emotionally and I don’t want to silence you. I want to support you. I need to share that I’m having a difficult time with what I perceive as being whining and complaining and I’m stuck between wanting to tell you to stop and wanting to not be around you. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk to me and I also don’t want to abandon you. I don’t really know what to do about this, except to share where I’m at emotionally with what you’re sharing with me.”
Diligent care needs to be taken in situations like these because even in owning your feelings, you may come up against a response from your friend wherein she feels that your emotional expression is passive aggressive manipulation or blackmail or she feels shut down because you have a problem with how she is expressing her situation. There is no easy answer to this. There aren’t any magical formulas. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own where you are. Please keep in mind, though, that owning where you are and expressing that to your friend-in-need are two different things. Ownership is recognition and acknowledgement that you feel a certain way because that’s how you feel, rather than putting the onus on others not to make you feel a certain way. No one has control over how you feel. Likewise, you cannot control how others feel.
When we fail to have good boundaries and when we fail to engage in the self-care of owning our own discomfort, we end up victim-blaming, isolating, and abandoning our friends who are looking to us for much-needed support.
They already feel the weight of shame and anger and violation and fear/terror and a host of other things they have a hard time dealing with. Do not dump your issues on them and make them contend with your stuff AND their stuff.
How not to say the wrong thing by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman shows how to deal with your own issues when tending to a friend in a hard situation: It works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out. Read it. Deal with your own stuff as related to your friend’s difficult situation so it doesn’t make things worse for your friend. Take care of your own needs.
Why is it important to deal with your own discomfort? Because in whining and complaining, a victim is expressing and vocalizing her emotional perspective. When you tell her to move on or to stop being a victim, when you tell her to stop her “unproductive” complaining because you don’t want to hear it, because “no one wants to hear it”, you are contributing to her victimization by silencing her. Don’t do this. Victims are so often deprived of their voice. Be supportive as they work to take it back.
“Wesolowski is the first Vatican official to be arrested within the city state on charges of pedophilia.” Needless to say, I am happy that this man has been arrested.
Anytime I read a story like this, I think of Hildegard von Bingen’s vision of the Birth of the Antichrist as depicted below. The female figure on the left represents The Church and the Antichrist is born of her.
But I keep remembering the image differently and perhaps tellingly. I keep remembering it as the Church having genitalia that had become a devouring monster.
I restarted graduate school this fall in order to finish my MA this year, so that’s why there haven’t been any recent posts. I have far too many ideas — upwards of 50 partially-researched or half-written essays and articles — and suddenly I have school to focus on as well, which is currently taking up about 85-95% of my time as I find my footing. So my efforts for now are geared toward striking that ephemeral balance between writing and parenting and academics.
In the meantime, here is an abbreviated list of the posts I am particularly fond of:
I follow Dreamwork with Toko-Pa on Facebook because she posts beautiful artwork and insightful commentary. I appreciate her perspective immensely. Last week, she posted this:
In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born:
And then she linked to an article called The Shamanic View of Mental Illness (featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé) by Stephanie Marohn. The following selection, under the subtitle of What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital, is what is most relevant to my experience.
On the mental ward, Dr Somé saw a lot of “beings” hanging around the patients, “entities” that are invisible to most people but that shamans and psychics are able to see. “They were causing the crisis in these people,” he says. It appeared to him that these beings were trying to get the medications and their effects out of the bodies of the people the beings were trying to merge with, and were increasing the patients’ pain in the process. “The beings were acting almost like some kind of excavator in the energy field of people. They were really fierce about that. The people they were doing that to were just screaming and yelling,” he said. He couldn’t stay in that environment and had to leave.
In the Dagara tradition, the community helps the person reconcile the energies of both worlds–“the world of the spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village and community.” That person is able then to serve as a bridge between the worlds and help the living with information and healing they need. Thus, the spiritual crisis ends with the birth of another healer. “The other world’s relationship with our world is one of sponsorship,” Dr. Somé explains. “More often than not, the knowledge and skills that arise from this kind of merger are a knowledge or a skill that is provided directly from the other world.”
The beings who were increasing the pain of the inmates on the mental hospital ward were actually attempting to merge with the inmates in order to get messages through to this world. The people they had chosen to merge with were getting no assistance in learning how to be a bridge between the worlds and the beings’ attempts to merge were thwarted. The result was the sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the birth of a healer.
“The Western culture has consistently ignored the birth of the healer,” states Dr. Somé. “Consequently, there will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many people as possible in an attempt to get somebody’s attention. They have to try harder.” The spirits are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized. “The sensitivity is pretty much read as an invitation to come in,” he notes.
It has been a challenging and difficult winter for me. Spring has been no easier. My sensitivity has increased dramatically over the past year, and that has been read as an invitation. Because I had specific, pertinent knowledge prior to my series of ‘spiritual emergencies’ of the past several months, I have managed to stay out of a mental hospital, but it came close a few times. It is tiring and exhausting work to maintain the perception of relative sanity to all but a few people (most of whom have been extremely supportive). This perception must be maintained because of the stigma of mental illness in this culture. Not only is mental illness sometimes caused by spiritual disturbances that need tending to but which are ignored or utterly dismissed as delusion, people who have issues with their mental stability have to go undercover lest they shoulder the exasperating and additionally wearisome burden of discrimination from people who are ill-informed and do not wish to correct that.
When one has the inclination towards becoming a healer and has had that inclination all one’s life, complete with a significant interest in shamanism specifically, but lacks the training necessary to cope with all that is coming one’s way, there is a certain level of naïvety. Things start out a certain way. It’s exciting. It’s very positive. It feels amazing. Not euphoric, mind you. Not mania-levels of amazing, just really good and happy, like things are moving in the right direction, and you’re finally going to make substantial in-roads towards making a lasting, positive difference in the world as a career path. It feels like this:
Everything is shiny! Everything is happy! Look at their innocent faces. There is momentum! Everything is good and you are at peace, taking it all as it comes. But I will tell you this. After months upon months of trying to keep up appearances and not knowing where to turn for the sort of training one needs in order to handle such a confusing onslaught of beings, energies, influences, etc., it becomes wearing, particularly when those beings, energies, influences are hellbent on exploiting any ounce of negativity and emotionality in one’s system — targeting the weak points in order to draw attention to them. The centre cannot hold. Things fall apart in one way or another. It feels like this:
It becomes a lived shamanic dismemberment experience. It is intense, traumatic, and not a process I ever wish to repeat. It has also been extremely useful and productive, and I am deeply grateful that this pain has had purpose. With the help of some supportive friends and a small handful of healers and helpers, I have managed to tend to and to begin in earnest a journey that is healing some of the most wounded parts of myself. It’s not a pretty process. There’s nothing tidy, nice, or pleasant about it. There is a lot of grieving. It is very private. There is a lot of crying involved because of the need to release. I hate crying.
I have been able to take this prolonged situation that, in many ways, could have been construed as being quite negative and very dark and turn it into something productive and useful. I am the sort of person who stubbornly refuses not to use every experience as a learning experience. There is a reason for everything, and no we don’t always get to know what that reason is. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a valid and important reason why any given thing happens. And yes, sometimes that reason is because we are stupid and make bad decisions, but still. Reason. And it’s hellishly painful, at times, too — both to be told there is a reason for bad things when nothing seems reasonable in this world and to actually experience those unreasonably bad things. It might serve us to toy with reframing ‘bad,’ choosing instead to call it ‘hard’. Hard is not necessarily bad. Good is not necessarily easy. There are so many shitty experiences that life has to offer each one of us, but those experiences teach us so much for the rest of our lives if we open ourselves to them rather than shutting them out, abjectly refusing to look at them to see if there’s anything useful there to learn. (There always will be.) We’re afraid of the pain, not realizing that, by avoiding it, we’re making it more painful than it needs to be, whatever “it” is.
And you know what? It’s ok to be afraid of the pain, and it’s ok to avoid. It’s necessary at times. It’s life-saving at times. But avoidance is meant to be temporary because avoidance is not living, it is defense. A life steeped in abject avoidance is a recipe for disease and ill-health. Sometimes, it can become vitally important to reassess your coping mechanisms to see if they’re serving you or if you are now serving them. It is a matter of whether you feel free or whether you feel defensive. Either way, your soul will evolve: It is as the 14th century medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, shares in her vision of what Christ said to her: “Botte alle shalle be wele, and alle manner of thinge shall be wele. [Vis. 13.45, 61]” But all shall be well and everything shall be well. Either way, it’s gonna be ok.
In realizing that I could turn this process that I was enduring into a learning experience, turn it into something positive, I decided to liken this exploitation of the negativity I held in my system to what therapists go through during their training. In order to become therapists, they have to go through therapy of their own. They have to deal with their own shit before they can effectively and safely help others deal with theirs.
I have a lot of shit to deal with. (We all do.)
Right now, however, I am learning that I need more training than I am currently willing to give myself over to. There are no definitive arrows pointing in a particular direction of training in this path, and so I am working to establish a temporary respite from pursuing healing as my vocation. To use the above phrasing of Stephanie Marohn, I am aborting this process of becoming a healer and am doing so consciously. To be sure, I am using this word to mean ‘pausing, setting aside’. Abort in order to retry later because this is an undeniable calling for me. Mostly because I don’t want to deny it! It is simply that I have recognized that I need to train in another area of my life for awhile, in order to learn other, more mundane things. And when the time is right, the birth process will begin again with gusto. It’s in a holding pattern for now, shelved for later. I’m ok with that. Shifting gears and changing directions is sometimes necessary and is sometimes also illusory — it’s all part of the process of getting myself where I need to be.