Friday, December 29, 2017

Slaying Dragons: The Courage to Heal Family Stories and Map Ancestral Shadows


This year, 2017,  has been one of slow, deep uncovering of old family stories for me, as I collected and came to terms with what I know of the history on both my mother’s and father’s sides, including the mental health history. The surprising thing is, the more I share my stories with friends and acquaintances, the more they too begin to reveal the “skeletons” in their closets, the family shadows and old secrets. It seems we all need to know we are not alone in having dysfunction affect us, and find the courage to learn the truth.

Neuroscience is beginning to help us understand that we are living receptacles of the DNA of our ancestors, in our emotional makeup as well as in the biological cellular structure. Like a river that has been silted up by the chemical by-products of industrial waste and becomes a poisonous bed for the living things that grow there,  our children can be damaged by the sins and omissions (secrets) of our fathers and forefathers (and foremothers) before us. It behooves us to shine a light on the darkness.

I am lucky to have been able to discover some of our family stories from other writers in the family. 
My mother gave me a copy of a great aunt’s diary, which tells a partial story of the Irish ancestors who emigrated to America after the potato famine, some of the happy times on summer visits to a farm, as well as the tragic death of a beloved great-uncle in WWI at age 19. After I published my first book, “Little Mother” about my own childhood, my becoming a mother and my mother’s alcoholism, another aunt wrote to me about my great-grandmother’s history of depression. She was committed to a sanatorium after her suicide attempt. Being the eldest daughter, I appear to have a similar make-up or role to my maternal grandmother, who stepped up and held the family together as “Big Sister”.

SoulCollage(R) card: running from the Blue Meanies 

My father’s genealogy research told a partial story of his pioneer grandfather who left his native French Quebec in 1878 to cross the continental USA all the way to the Wild West of Nevada to supervise the Verdi Box and Planing Mill, only to come back 20 years later with six children (my grandfather amongst them) who spoke mainly English. In the more recent story, my father was once hospitalized for severe depression and received electric shock treatments. He faced a major decision and froze up, with my mother slowly drinking herself to death and headed for a detox center, and his company going bankrupt. My parents both grew up during or just after the Great Depression, lived through a world war, which is challenge enough. But I wonder what other stories of pregnancies out of wedlock, adoptions, miscarriages, family trauma and secrets may influence our genes and our family story?

At the very least, I have found it helpful to uncover the family’s mental health history and bring it to awareness. My goal is to bring some light to the family trauma so that future generations needn’t carry this unawares into the future. Current members of my family do suffer from depression and anxiety, as well as addictions. This is more and more common in our society where a large percentage of the population is on anti-anxiety medication. (Approximately 30 percent of the adult population in North America have anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety Center stats).

The book “It Didn’t Start with You”, written by a therapist working for over 20 years in the field,  states the case very clearly: “Depression. Anxiety. Chronic Pain. Phobias. Obsessive thoughts. The evidence is compelling: the roots of these difficulties may not reside in our immediate life experience or in chemical imbalances in our brains—but in the lives of our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. The latest scientific research, now making headlines, supports what many have long intuited—that traumatic experience can be passed down through generations.” (

For myself, an interest in writing a memoir got me started looking at the past.  In January, I took two online courses with Daily Om: Healing through Writing, and Release Yourself from Family Karma. I wanted to get started writing, but felt frozen with a fear of depression that often hits when I sit down to write stories from my life.  Both these courses were practical and helpful. The process of writing or mapping the family tree through the lens of shadow energies and patterns, i.e. patterns of addiction, chronic illness, and mental health issues through the generations, gave me a much “wholer” picture of what I may be carrying forward, and what doesn’t belong to me. In fact, the author begins with that premise – that the shadows and traumas in your ancestors’ past may be at the base of some of your own tics and issues, or your children’s.

As Toko-Pa says so eloquently in a post on Ancestral Healing, quoting Carl Jung, the ‘silent facts in the background’ are impressed on the next generation. And they are not always talked about; in fact they are highly taboo stories. Some brave souls speak up, others stay silent. “Survivors of the Holocaust mostly take one of two ways to cope with the horror they lived through: One is to speak at length about their experiences, and the other is to never speak of it at all. ... The wounds get passed through the generations, metastasizing through our relationships and literally shaping our children’s lives. The sickness will stay in the family tree until someone in the outer branches has enough support and awareness to face and move through that ancient grief.”

Battling Dragons Collage (Art Journal)

While this may seem like heavy work, it has been actually very enlightening and freeing for me – I do recommend getting guidance from a teacher, psychologist or expert in grief if you feel overwhelmed by this work. Another class I took online, by psychologist and grief expert Leanne Chapman, “Dark Gifts”, helped me use my imagination with visualization exercises and storytelling, to enter the dark cave and tame the dragon.  Her knowledge and experience revealed that our hidden treasures are buried in those dark shadows. It felt very empowering for me to claim them, to shed some much needed light on my own healing story.

I’m not sure why, but I feel that it is my responsibility, as well as my privilege to do this healing work. It requires the courageous warrior inside to be very brave. Bring your best tools of bravery and wisdom with you – use your intuitive knowing, and your inner guidance system (often expressed in the body as disease or pain in some parts) to guide you as to what needs a light shone on it. Know that lighting a candle removes the darkness.

After a year of unfolding and writing and learning, I now feel ready to unwrap these stories and share the salient ones with my siblings, including notes from the beloved aunts about our grandparents and great-grandparents. So I’ve just sent them off to my siblings and their kids. My ancestors are guiding me, I feel sure. (At Samhain I honoured them with a special altar and ritual, with the family photos of my grandmothers and grandfathers, the SoulCollage(R) cards I had made for them, and for my parents – some long dead, some living.  Even something as simple as lighting a candle and praying for healing can be a first step on this Healing Journey.)

As Caroline Myss says in her excellent article, Our Need for Inspiration, “The human spirit is capable of an endless number of extraordinary feats. It is a dragon slayer, animating its presence within our being to challenge images and thoughts that arise from the depths of our darkness, intent upon reshaping how we see the landscape of our life... It is the spirit in you that has the capacity to endure what so easily collapses the mind and ego. And when your spirit partners with the love in your heart, you can endure anything.” 

Go gently into that dark night! And shine your light brightly!

SoulCollage(R) Card: Athena battling Darkness

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Women's Wisdom and Writing the Body: Dialogue

“What is your truth? Ask your heart, your back, your bones, and your dreams. Listen to that truth with your whole body. Understand that this truth will destroy no one and that you’re too old to be sent to your room.” John Lee from Writing from the Body

What is Women’s Wisdom? It means learning to live consciously, in touch with our inner guidance through our thoughts, emotions, dreams, and feelings in our body. It means believing that our bodies are able to receive and transmit energy and information. Instead of feeling trapped by the cyclical nature, the ups and downs of our emotions, women can begin to know and understand the waning and waxing that is as regular as the moon’s cycle. A good tool is journaling, and dialoguing with body parts.

Here is an exercise I have used in Journaling Classes to help women listen to their bodies. (taken from the book Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul's Story, Susan Wittig Albert.

Take out your journal. Sit for a few minutes quietly before writing, to get you connected and thinking about a body part. Start with a centering breath exercise, hands on heart, upper and lower heart, just breathing in and out for a minute.

Then pick a body part and imagine it can speak to you. What would it say? What does it want from you? what does it give to you? How does it feel to be this body part? Example below is with breasts, our most visible part, and one which holds conflicting feelings for many women.

Dialogue sample:

What Breasts Say


We sing with milk for you, we love your caress. Sometimes we sag empty, other times balloon into gorgeous melons. When you lie down we softly melt into your ribs. We are a soft cushion for your son’s head, something to pinch for your daughter. Always a safe haven. 

We love to wear brushed cotton, hate metal under wires, undulate under sweaters, push out high beams in a T-shirt. Molded to wet skin in a bathing suit we are voluptuous. When expecting, you wait for our every twinge, hold us to yourself when running downstairs or in a field of grass singing. What do we fear? A stranger’s eyes undressing us. 

We were slow to come into being, ripened over many years into something you could be proud of. Our marvelous liquid is like love; hot, untamed squirts of bluish fire, we nourish, give life. 

We are called Wonder, or Fame.

If you want to continue with this, pick another body part and do the dialogue. 

Another creative idea: make a collage for this body part, and let your intuition choose the images and put them together on a page in your journal, or on a cardboard sheet.

See the Creative Soulful Woman Facebook page for an example of What the Uterus says.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Writing in Tuscania : Notes from SoulCollage(R) Conference 2016

Once there was a woman who traveled to the sacred land of Tuscania.

Along the highway from the bus she watched the hills roll golden against pewter clouds and sky, then the Pouring of Rain down on the windshield. She was sheltered and safe but newly landed, having hardly slept. She was alone but had been greeted, met and taken under the wing, so to speak of the small group of 3 women waiting at the meeting point, as instructed. One British, one American and one with tattoos on her arm.

The pilgrimage was on, although she hadn’t called it such, as yet. Every morning she walked down the road lined with small dark paving stones on her way to the Tower where the SoulCollage(R)  journeyers were, and every evening she walked up the hill back into the town.  In between, although she didn’t know it yet, her pilgrim soul was waiting for her in-between the lines and the cover of her golden notebook. Golden because she chose the yellow covered book over the red or blue. 

The first days were a flurry of collage, art making and meeting new companions on the road and in the Tower, over tea or cafe latte and breakfast, meals together, twilight suppers, fellow pilgrims and travelers who came to dance, take photographs or write their way home with SoulCollage(R) facilitators.

She knew, one day near the end of the week that something Big was calling her to Home. Homing in, and honing in, on the true nature of her calling – she needed a new relationship with the Self – she had been held hostage, too long, by the critic, naysayer and doubter. She had called on her angels and guides for protection, but in a very ancient church she heard the words  (La Grande Madre) and it sat right with her to pray in the middle of the night for a dream for a signal or a sign. We are here in the sacred land of Tuscania, she thought, as she held her hand to the ancient porous rocks of an Etruscan villa. We are here to hear the memories of the ancestors, but she didn’t feel it yet.

She asked for a sign and received a dream, a solid bull, larger than life, standing in front of the gates of an ancient city; a white horse harnessed, a line of men harnessed to it, pushing the mare into the bull, ramming it again and again and raining sweat blood and tears as she cried. Why can’t you stop? The men were also ramming their bodies and heads into the old walls.

So she sat with the question, in front of the old stone wall the next day, sitting with her back to the verdant landscape. What does the wall say? What does the horse say, what does the bull say, as Mariabruna suggested she ask the dream.

Her pilgrim self had wandered into the waking dream, in between ancient and new, in between past and present, in between her old self who rammed right on through things and people and got things done, to the new, softer around the edges intuitive person waking up, peeling off layers of Strong, Bold, Leader, and Commander to strip away a certain layer of Ego protection and rediscover underneath, the “authentica” or ancient feminine mythical layer, deep in her bones, in her heart and soul, the untethered, unharnessed, fluid, green as the grass bloodline that she felt when she looked out over the valley to the cows grazing below – Oh how soft the trees, Cypress, pine and oak, fig and corn, and vines, such fertile fields and harvests.

This land, sacred land, somehow hers, though not through any heritage or inherited lineage. Is it true to say, mythically connected to the land of the goddesses who came Mare ad Mare – Holy Mary as the guide said, before the Romans, before the Bull, before the conquering tribes and nomads who built the Wall, Under the wall, always down, down in the earth, the voices of the women singing, in long cool tunnels, in warehouses and storage rooms, where oil, wine and grain and sacred objects for ceremony, the baths, clean water, the Flow, in the midst of Stone Walls, a hollow space for the pilgrim to wander, to hear the melody of stillness, embrace the sacred in the sanctuary. 

Oh my Soul, pilgrim that thou art, I hear your voice, more clearly here than anywhere. It is not the landscape, that holds it, but the sacred stone walls have echoed my Name, announcing my place in the scheme of things, (as Mary Oliver says), the animal body of my soul, speaks again and again.

So I am happy to be writing (again) and listening for the Voice that speaks. I may forego the old story for a new one, as has been suggested to me by teachers wiser and older than I. I have been very stubborn, the Catholic child in me confesses, not a mea culpa, but an Ave Maria. 

Help me Sweet Feminine face of god. Help me listen to my real Voice, my intuitive layer, the strata underneath the wall I have built. Help me even tear down the wall (if this is recommended and necessary). May I allow “not knowing”, and learn to lead by surrender. May I allow allowing and receiving – it is my greatest wish that you write through me. And I will dance to the strings, I will chant and dance and swirl to your musica - in the sacred land of Tuscania, I heard this.

SoulCollage(R) card: Persephone in Tuscania, view from Tower

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Particle of the Divine

Prayer for a Questioning Heart

May your journey
through the questions of life
bring you to a new moment of awareness.
May it be
and enlightening one.
May you find
embedded in the wisdom
of the past,
like all the students
of life before you,
the answers
you yourself
are seeking
May they waken
that in you which is
deeper than fact,
truer than fiction,
full of faith.
May you come to know
that in every
human event
is a particle of the Divine
to which we turn

--- Joan Chittister

After reading a Facebook post on whether the goddesses in mythology are too ‘feminine’, I wondered, is the divine feminine? Then I found the poem above, and wrote this in my journal this morning.

I have felt the divine as a lover, as a Mother, as a Father, as a Friend, as a soft invisible Presence, as a singing silence in my inner ear, and a flutter in the ribcage of my heart. I have not imagined it as He or She in a really long time (except as manifest in certain teachers who have taught me how to center and be still). I am of the school of no religion, no symbols needed to feel or experience something real, the Radiant Mystery – not a belief, but a felt contact. Unseen, but felt in the heart. Unknown but inhabiting my presence. Untouched but moving within the boundaries of my body awareness, and beyond.

When I call out, I am answered. When I ask for help, I am guided from within and without (sometimes by a song on the radio, a chance encounter). Serendipity, synchronicity and alignment with objects, schedules, and people abound. When I am trusting and relying on being grateful, aware and conscious, all things flow towards me. When I trip, fall, bump into furniture, cut a finger or burn my arm, miss a meeting, lose patience, hurt a friend, I am reminded to come back into presence. It is a learning flow, always a teaching moment available, if I am on that wavelength. I am not always.

SoulCollage(R) Card: DizzyTizzy Self

Probably because I am enamoured of speed, of getting things done quickly, of flitting in and out of Noise and mindless activity. Lately, I am learning to appreciate the joy of slowness, stillness and surrender. I am practicing awareness, when I remember, moment to moment;  I am often brought up short by my shortsightedness or short temper. I am stretched and relaxed and massaged into stillness. I sleep and wake, and begin again.

There are no steps I am aware of, no phases, no progress, except Here, or Not. There I go again. Stop, breathe, repeat. Hello. Slow Down. Remember. You are not alone. In this sea of souls, remember. You can call out, reach for the One Breath, the One Sound, the One, will hear you. 
SoulCollage(R)  Card: Hearing the Call

Dance, as Hafiz and Rumi request, dance with life. Don’t sit on the sidelines anticipating the end. Dance, enjoy. Be in the swirl and whirl of it all, this myriad, colourful rainbow world; pain, sorrows, griefs, joy, love, simplicity – all turning on the wheel, Cosmic Ferriswheel of life. Now you are Up. Now you are Down. Do you still feel the need to control? How small you are in the scheme of things. Up, up, up you go – it’s a wild, smooth, terrible, wonderful ride. Yesterday I was struggling to master my panic at a supposed computer threat. Today problem solved, all is well, my heart beat is back to normal. Praise be. I appreciate the peace my morning practice brings.

Journey Card: root chakra, Red

Friday, October 27, 2017

Consent, Body Boundaries, Women's Words

The news is full of stories of sexual harassment and abuse these days. Women are standing up, speaking out, asking to be believed as they uncover stories they had silenced, hidden away out of shame or not wanting to rock the boat, or simply to keep their job. Millions of women are finally airing their pain and asking to be heard. Courage in numbers, they say.

It reminded me of my first trepidatious year in Creative Writing Class, writing a taboo journal that was to become my first book 10 years later. (a book of poems and birth journal, Little Mother published 1997). I remember mixed feelings about giving a voice to my female body. I had stories to tell, some of them about being pregnant, which I loved, and yet, it brought up scary dreams and I realized there were unconscious fears, especially as I got to the week before giving birth to my first child.

I was reading a lot about labour, of course, and what to expect. Also I was trying to understand how past sexual abuse or trauma to the body could delay or obstruct the labour process. I wholly wanted a "natural" childbirth, (having no idea what that meant). But in the effort to be cautious and prevent an oversized child, I was scheduled to be induced on Sept 19, my due date. After twelve hours of 'false labour,' and many derogative remarks from the two women obstetricians about my lousy, tight, stubborn cervix" I went home and tried to get my head around the resistance of my "failed induction". I had a feeling my uterus wasn't stubborn, it just knew it wasn't time yet. (I ended up dancing to African drum music a week later to get labour started).

Here is an extract from the book, and birth journal:

Sept 21, 1990: When God cursed Eve for eating the apple, he decreed: "In pain you shall bring forth your children." Our heritage as women. I want to look at my fear of pain, reasons for tightness. 

teenager's fingers [in my vagina] around 4 years old
trauma of first blood (15 years)
doctor's hurtful examinations: forcing a cold metal speculum when internally bleeding (ectopic pregnancy, age 22 years).
blood, sign of miscarriage (twice in two years)
amniocentesis: another violation, but by needle. 
Hanging on tightly to this pregnancy, fear of losing the fetus. I have to say goodbye to "Eustache" [foetus name] and hello to the separate new individual, Andre-Julien, the child-boy. Leave behind the known for the unknown. Birth = rite of passage. A Rupture.

Don't touch my labour pain! "Les femmes qui accouchent transpirent, gémissent, vomissent parfois, émettent des sons bizarres, perdent le contrôle qu'elles ont habituellement sur leurs fonctions corporelles."  (translation: Women who give birth sweat, moan, sometimes vomit, emit bizarre sounds, lose control they usually have over the bodily functions.)

"The best way to get out of pain is to go into it." Say yes, accept. (advice from L'une a l'autre, Winter 1987, magazine for midwives).

I did not list all the ways I had felt invaded sexually, including an encounter in which I bit a man's arm so he would let go of me....but I was becoming aware that there was a connection between the fear of invasive "others" and my body's natural power to give birth. The whole book was a form of meditation on taboos surrounding the female body, sexuality and mothering.

It has been a life-long passion of mine to understand my body, its messages, signals, and symbols, and its relation to the larger world - (the second book is non-fiction look at menopause - The Tao of Turning Fifty.)

The question I have now is, is it even safe to be a female in this 20th century? perhaps safer in Montreal than in Mogadishu, Somalia. It seems like not enough has changed since I was a little girl or a teen aged one trying to negotiate her sexual boundaries. 

Maybe none of us is safe until we speak up, speak out and use our body language to clearly communicate what is out of boundary, what actions and words we refuse to acquiesce to. Even grown women need to learn this, and not adhere to the old "polite, good girl" behaviour, not stay silent and squirm with shame or rage.

I heartened by two educational videos I watched on Facebook today, one from Kenya, where boys and girls are both being taught to use their voice strongly to say no to aggression (sexual or otherwise) and stand up for each other. Check out their program at No means No!

What I wish is that I had been coached on this as a child, instead of being told to be quiet, stuff my feelings inside, be good. Sure, we got the warnings about strange men and not talking to anyone we didn't know. But unfortunately, often it's the people you do know that are hard to say no to. The older brother, the babysitter, the uncle, the fathers and grandfathers, the step-fathers and friends of the family.

I wish the world were a safer place for women. Let's start by telling our stories, using our voices, standing up for ourselves.  Warrior Women find your Courage! Let all girls find their voice, be encouraged to defend themselves. May all boys be taught how to stand up for their sisters and friends, as well as themselves.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Celtic Pilgrimage into Women's Power

(photo by a member of our group)

There is a latent memory deep inside my soul of a kind of knowing, call it feminine intuition if you wish, a kind of ringing in the ear and buzzing in the chest that signals Presence, the numinous, or entering sacred ground.

On a recent pilgrimage to the sacred sites and stone circles of Ireland with Amantha Murphy at Celtic Soul Journies, I felt a lot of that buzzing, and rediscovered the magic of fairy glens. Some part of me, deeply slumbering, was awoken.

Ostensibly, I had flown to Belfast to be with this group of ten women in the land of my feminine lineage, to learn more about the Celtic Wheel, the goddesses and mythology of the land.

I had no idea what Celtic Shamanism was about, but I was very intrigued by discovering something more about the land of my ancestors. I was also intrigued by the description of the Celtic Woman’s Path - getting to know the deities, the Celtic Wheel of the year and the seasons, and how to access and deepen our communion by opening ourselves to Sacred Ceremony and Ritual.

I was not disappointed - my inner child was delighted with the discovery of magical fairy glens, mossy covered rocks and trees, and exploring the connection between the feminine life cycle and the land. As well as exploring two famous landmarks: the Giant's Causeway (one of the eight wonders of the world) and the Cliffs of Moher, a truly misty, mystical experience of ocean and rock cliffs.

The biggest revelation, however, was how 'things' like rocks can speak to us. 

Wrapping my arms around a huge dolmen in the middle of a field, the ancient rock covered in lichen and smelling of the sea, I meditated on my origins and somehow sensed the ancient sea that had covered this land, eons ago. There were moments tramping through tall, wet grass and fighting our way through blackberries and brambles that were less romantic, but the feeling of being rooted to the earth, and connected with Spirit, was very strong. I was there to receive messages from Spirit, and renew my belief in women’s magic.

At the end of one afternoon, after tramping around and through seven stone circles in one field, we sat in our own circle around an ancient pile of rocks or cairn, and re-remembered the women’s rites for birthing and dying. We sang, ‘The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot!’ while waking in a circle. Then we switched directions, walking widdershins around the stone circle, asking for a dream, a memory, a song or something to come through. I left a gift inside the cairn, letting my little gold painted rock fall inside the pile of dark rocks, down a crevice, to feed the dragons underneath perhaps. Sounding, voices and inner focus filled my heart, despite the chilled bum from sitting on damp grass.

I felt blessed to have someone so knowledgeable about the myths and stories of the land with us.  After three or four hours of drumming, ceremony and reimagining women’s ritual in the birthing and dying places, it was time to go home and have tea.

We often met in the morning before our treks into the countryside to attune, to sit in silence, then speak from the heart, and perhaps sing a song or two before getting on our mini-bus. Every day was a new adventure, full of surprises.

One morning, after slipping down a very muddy, wet path into a lower level of ancient rock and moss-covered trees in The Glen, on the side of Knocknareaa Mountain in County Sligo (,  we sat and listened to an insistent drum beat while we journeyed inwards towards the ancestors. I saw flashbacks from my childhood home, saw myself playing in the woods outside, and then heard voices singing on a hill, around a fire at night. It was hard to tell if the voices were inside my head, or coming from inside the drum.

Note from my journal: The split between the logical side and the intuitive one is sometimes painful, the harsh inner critic so loud. Yet, she feels herself melting, she sings, she opens, she forgets her separateness, her defenses disappear or melt into the constant rain, the green green moss enchants and delivers her over to the silent space just between head and heart, the observer self, the open-handed receiver, the Feminine, the wonder it is all here, only a breath away.

It was a strange and wonderful journey – we not only communed with fairies and spirits, but shared delicious meals in restaurants or the homes we stayed in, making new friends in friendly conversation on one level, and dancing with the fairies on another. A seaweed bath in Strandhill spa was another kind of magical moment, calling up the selkie in me.

In a private session with Amantha, I learned that intuition and dreaming are strong in me, and to trust the energy of things: rocks, trees, but also inner feelings. The woman's creative center or womb is a source of guidance - I can ask inside about how I feel, and if those feelings belong to me. Guidance is always available. I am learning to trust my inner knowing and let nothing get in the way of that. 

As we sang one day:

We are sisters on a journey, walking now as one
Remembering the ancient ones, the women and their wisdom!

On my return, I pledged to keep an open heart and mind and resist withdrawing and hiding myself away. Now my challenge is to find the magic in my own ‘home’ landscape. With the changing leaves and colours, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

SoulCollage(R) making art for your soul

The video linked below does a very good job explaining and showing what SoulCollage(R) is and how to use it. If you are interested in self-discovery and creativity, this is a great process and easy to use.

SoulCollage(R) is a fun, creative collage process using intuition, images and imagination.  I discovered it while browsing on-line about 6 years ago. I ordered the book SoulCollage(R) Evolving on the website, and spent one whole summer ripping out images from magazines and making my own cards.

Watch Mariabruna Sirabella, a wonderful facilitator and trainer, as she is interviewed in this video from Santa Cruz.

S.C. Card made for my Companion Suit, 2nd chakra, Cheetah & volcano

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why we need Enlightened Warriors of both Genders

There is a lot of talk in the news lately about corporate environments like Google and Facebook, and which gender is most likely to exhibit strengths in their leadership styles, i.e. compassionate and caring based on feelings vs an assertive and technical or scientific approach based on ideas.

Personally, I am tired of using the binary opposites  to describe human traits – women and men both can develop the so-called soft skills and hard skills, both rational thought and emotional capacity. Isn't it limiting and ultimately destructive to try and cage and clip the wings of these two birds called feminine and masculine or even yin and yang.  Why not free them from their labels and restrictions and allow them to fly free and land in whomever they are needed.

Both sets of skills and qualities are in great need today.  But do we have to name them along gender lines? Traditionally, we have seen plenty of examples of  what has been called by psychologists "the immature masculine":  represented as someone who’s sense of self is aggrandized with the judgment and belittlement of others, as well as attempts to control and dominate, leading to aggression and violence.  And yes, there are also studies that show  that women excel at “tending and befriending”; perhaps there are even genes in our DNA evolved from the Paleo age that increase those tendencies. But today, if we want to live harmoniously, we need a larger vision, a more inclusive one, that doesn’t pit one gender against the other by labeling these characteristics along gender lines. We in our 21st century globally challenged world have an increased need to cooperate with each other, to learn to use diplomacy instead of aggression and weapons, and aim for better understanding amongst co-workers and citizens alike. 

The recent event in Charlottesville VA, a violent clash between white supremacists and those picketing their march, is proof in point. The more we attempt to divide and conquer with hatred and exclusion, the more wedges we drive between gender, cultures, races, age groups, the more violence is generated.

In this battleground, where is the Enlightened Warrior and how can we cultivate this in both men and women?

A recent article in Psychology Today magazine (August 2017, Down with Extremes) suggests Moderation is the key. Those who express too much courage become reckless, and those who are too afraid (cowardly) only run and hide. Pleasing others too much, bending over backwards or being obsequious is no better than being surly and unapproachable.  Call this yin and yang if you will....but what we really need is balance. 

The Warrior stands in the middle – practicing presence, discernment, bold courage, with compassionate wisdom and heart. It’s a practice of being mindful, visible, allowing oneself to feel emotions, not hiding them, nor lashing out in reactivity. Mastery of self is required, and the enlightened, or peaceful, warrior needs awareness of his/her shadow side, the unlovely parts of self or flaws that may throw him or her off-balance. Centeredness and self-control, not control over others, is the answer.

In these days of volatile, emotionally charged twitter feeds and news flashes, we need less talk about what is feminine behaviour or masculine, and more talk about how to cultivate this centered presence and fierce compassion. Standing one’s ground belongs to every gender, even those who are non-gendered. Protecting the weak and voiceless, defending the core values of diversity, inclusion, democracy, and speaking truth to power requires courage with a Capital C from women and men.

In her book The Four-Fold Way, Angeles Arrien describes the Warrior as the archetype of leadership without once naming these qualities by gender. “We come into our leadership skills by staying in our power, by showing up and choosing to be present, by extending honor and respect and by being responsible and accountable.” It is the path of the Warrior to embrace both her/his strengths and weaknesses, the light and dark side of human nature, not to be caught in self-denial or self-indulgence.

Claiming our personal power, being responsible for protecting Mother Earth, and the vulnerable, showing honour and respect to others  in spite of our differences, is something that people of all gender and race can aspire to.

Let’s embrace the code of the Enlightened Warrior, embrace the middle way, and not be reductive in labelling our actions and attitudes with the old monikers of masculine or feminine. “ is the work of all human beings to attend to the health of both our ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ houses: the inner house of our selves, the limitless world within, and the outer house of the world in which we live our daily lives.”

To live in harmony and balance with our own nature, and our environment if the goal of human life. It’s time to bridge the gap in understanding with some ancient wisdom from the Enlightened Warrior.

On a last note, Seena Frost, founder of SoulCollage(R) also sent out a call to unite the opposites, perhaps for the first time in history. SoulCollage(R) is one of the best creative and intuitive tools I know for discovering and dialoguing with parts of self. 

“Science is now supporting some aspects of intuitive knowing: one, with evidence that the earth is indeed a living organism; two, with proof that humans have evolved over eons and are still evolving; and three, with clear evidence that the planet is in dire straits and we must change how we treat Her. It is becoming more and more evident that Yin and Yang can and must become partners, that the masculine and feminine elements of thinking and intuiting, of acting and of imagining, of doing and holding, of giving and receiving can dance together, perhaps for the first time in history. The feminine is rising now, no longer to be dominated, and also not to dominate. We want to partner and to correct the imbalances of these last thousands of years.”

 Perhaps if we can imagine this dance of the opposites and hold the two as partners, we will find that harmony and balance within which is necessary to create the one in the outer world.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Resources for Heroines at Mid-Life

Her Journey: Books and Resources for the Heroine’s Quest at Mid-life

A Woman’s Journey to God, Joan Borysenko
Animal Speak by Ted Andrews  (animal totems and descriptions)
Archetypes, A beginner's guide to your inner-net, by Caroline Myss
Circle of Stones, Woman’s Journey to Herself, Judith Duerk
**Goddesses in Older Women, Jean Shinoda Bolen. A Jungian psychologist
Descent to the Goddess, A Way of Initiation for Women, psychologist Sylvia Brinton Perera. (Explores the myth and symbolism of Inanna in great detail.)
Inanna, a retelling of the Inanna myth by Kim Echlin, with illustrations, a Story book
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, her Stories & Hymns from Sumer, Wolkstein & Kramer
I am a Woman Finding my Voice, Janet F. Quinn
I Will Not Die an Unlived Life --by Dawna Markova
Listening to Midlife: Turning your Crisis into a Quest, Mark Gerzon
Persephone Rising, Awakening the Heroine Within, Carol S. Pearson
SoulCollage Evolving, Seena Frost
The Heroine's Journey by Maureen Murdock, (and workbook)
Visual Journaling, Going Deeper than Words, Barbara Ganim & Susan Fox
Woman at the Edge of Two Worlds, Lynn V. Andrews (menopause as spiritual quest)
**Women’s Intuition, Paula Jeeves. “By nature, we women are highly intuitive.”
Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst on the Conscious Feminine, Books & Articles at

Wisdom is Feminine
Wisdom is a woman, a crone, a goddess, and a feminine archetype. In Greek mythology she is a barely personified Metis, swallowed by Zeus. In the Bible she is a hidden Sophia, the goddess who became an abstract and ungendered concept. Wisdom may be found at twilight where the three roads meet as Hecate, or in the hearth fire as Hestia. She may be the invisible Shekinah who enters the Jewish home for the meal that begins the Sabbath. She was once the Celtic goddess Cerridwen. She is Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom and Erda in Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung.”

~ Goddesses in Older Women, Jean Shinoda Bolen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Musing on Feminine and Masculine Archetypes

I've been reading up on Sacred Feminine archetypes, in view of offering classes and retreats with SoulCollage(R) card to inspire women to make their favorite goddess images and find empowering symbols of the feminine. That leads me to muse on what IS the feminine?

The book, Goddesses in Older Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen got me thinking about goddess archetypes beyond the Demeter, Persephone, Artemis, Aphrodite and Hera, and Hecate that I knew about.  She brings in the Dark Goddesses, the transformative wrathful Voices and the angry fierce defenders of Justice, protectors of the weak and disadvantaged like Sekhmet from Egypt and Kali from India.

the Magician (collage)
Creative Warrior collage

Years ago I wrote a long poem sequence about Eve, and also discovered Lilith, Adam's first wife, the rebel who refused to lie under him, and flew off into the desert. Her rebel energy is a bit like Eris or Discord, a little known Greek goddess, who, like the 13th fairy in Sleeping Beauty, was not invited to the party and got peeved with everyone, sowing strife and discord and causing the Trojan War.

In my quest for understanding on the feminine/masculine archetypes, I'm reading books by Marion Woodman, and discovering the wounded masculine is an important archetype too. Leaving my Father's House and The Maiden King (with Robert Bly) mwoodmanfoundation are full of great psychology and stories, dreams and metaphors of both Feminine and Masculine to unpack. Mother complexes anyone? It's all very Jungian, and I'm working at understanding the concepts.

Why? because in myth and stories and fairy tales, we reach back to the ancient archetypes to find images that empower, that speak to the Strength and Courage that also belongs to the Feminine Realm. In our current society, it feels like we are over-masculinized and out of touch with our true balanced feminine-masculine nature. We live in a culture that values productivity, and not rest. That wants to churn out business students, and starve the teaching of the arts in school. The women I meet who are successful in business are a little scary they are so strong. (That probably speaks to my own insecurities more than anything, since I am a poet, a creative type and although  an "organizer", have never worked full time in a business setting since I went back to school in 1986).

So what is the feminine energy? what is the masculine? Reading Woodman, I realize that men have been damaged by the lack of empowerment of their feminine side as much as women have. When we make the feminine second class, lower than, inferior to, and insist on work work work at any price, contract basis mostly, and no security lying ahead in retirement....we are not allowing the Feminine to breathe, to receive rest, to live in a balanced environment where downtime, music, reading, art, play, and picnics are valued too.

Perhaps using yin and yang, or moon rhythms and sun rhythms will help me get out of the binary bind of feminine and masculine. I want to look at archetypes that are not divided down the middle between Love, Compassion and Kindness on one side, and Strength, Courage and Warrior on the other. We all need to be warriors to protect the Earth, and those we love, at some point.

Strength (Tarot) Collage

We all need Courage and Chutzpah balanced with Kindness and Compassion.

We are all human.

We are all born of a mother, and conceived with a father, therefore a mix of both.

I, personally, am going to take this summer to muse on the archetypes that are calling to me. Artemis is a strong one, lately. And Eris/Lilith the rebel. And what about the masculine?

I've had lots of dreams about little boys, lately, and have been making SoulCollage(R) cards for my inner masculine, so perhaps, as Woodman says, once the feminine container is solid and can contain the Creative Spark of spirit, we can begin to assess, repair, rebuild our wounded masculine.

Athena/Justice battling the Dark

Another great book about that very thing: The Wounded Woman,, Healing the Father-Daughter Relationship, by Linda Schierse Leonard. That's where I am now, today, thinking about my father, and his legacy, both negative and positive. And how I have rejected my softer feminine side to embrace my warrior intellectual side. At age 62, way past menopause, it is time to Descend to the Feminine Feeling Realm. It is time to embrace my positive, healed, whole masculine energy too.


Happy Summer Reading

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How to Live in Awe

"But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”  - Wendell Berry - From the Essay A Native Hill

Right now, this day, May 15, the reddest tulips and the whitest spirea are blossoming in my garden. Soon the peonies will be out. And I open the door to get the newspaper in the morning, and hear the cardinals, the red-winged blackbirds, the robins and nuthatches, so many birds singing to the glorious spring day!

It is my one joy these days, to hear the birds sing and see the fruit trees in bloom.

This creation is full of mystery, and I certainly don't understand it.  The older I get, the less I seem to understand about the world, about the great scheme of things.

But I can stand in wonder!

I don't understand politics, I don't know how to make the world a better place, I don't know how to calm down China, North Korea and Russia. I read the news and sometimes I despair.

I do know how to stop and be in stillness, and that helps me appreciate more, enjoy more, and it eases my worried mind.

My creative practice, my weekly yoga class, my friends and family who stick by me, my loving husband....make up for all the things I do not understand. Like, why is their addiction, depression and anxiety, and why do people make themselves, and others, miserable? Why do I listen to my own worst enemy, my inner critic, and not spend my days filling up my heart with joy?

Just for today, I acknowledge the mystery. And stand in humility, and awe.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To the Sensitive Ones, poem for Poetry Month

By Jeff Foster
Do not be ashamed of your sensitivity!
It has brought you many riches.

You see what others cannot see,
Feel what others are ashamed to feel.
You are more open, less numb.

You find it harder to turn a blind eye.

You have not closed your heart,
in spite of everything. 

You are able to hold 
the most intense highs
and the darkest lows 
in your loving embrace.
(You know that neither defines you.
Everything passes through.
You are a cosmic vessel.) 

Celebrate your sensitivity!
It has kept you flexible and open.
You have remained close to wonder. 
And awareness burns brightly in you. 

Don't compare yourself with others.
Don't expect them to understand.
But teach them:

It’s okay to feel, deeply.
It’s okay to not know. 
It’s okay to play 
on the raw edge of life.

Life may seem ‘harder’ for you at times,
And often you are close to overwhelm. 
But it’s harder still 

to repress your overwhelming gifts.

Sensitive ones, 
Bring some gentleness into this weary world! 
Shine on with courageous sensitivity!
You are the light bearers!

Monday, April 10, 2017

April is Poetry Month: Peace

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of why my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Heroine's Quest at Mid-Life

I'm facilitating a class online right now about the journey at mid-life, which I call a quest because of the challenges and tasks that we face - divorce, menopause, chronic illness, deaths in the family, job changes, reinventing ourselves, the endings and new beginnings seem to multiply.

The best tools I know for gaining perspective and understanding your journey better are creative ones - journaling and SoulCollage(R) in my case.

We follow the framework of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, the product of his study of myths and legends around the world.

At the end of the class, participants write their own story, imagined or real, about their Quest. Here is a video my son made for me, using my cards and the imaginary quest I made the SoulCollage cards for (from my first taught class).