Ever since my first creative writing class and an exercise called the Taboo Journal, I have been fascinated with the power of memory held in the body, and the way our stories define us. The story I tell myself is, as one well known psychologist and author puts it. I have stored memories, hurts, traumas, griefs, and blocked energy in my shoulders, my belly, my ovaries, my pelvic area, my broken wrist and strained right knee and god knows where else. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has a quote somewhere that wherever we press on the flesh of the body, a memory surfaces....Healing through writing has always been an important tool for me.
As a writer and facilitator, this has led me to lead workshops using journaling prompts to write the body, and have a conversation with body parts that want me to shine a light on their neglected story. In one exercise, I named one breast Famine and the other Abundance and wrote a poem for each.
I had a dialogue with my vagina about what colour the wall paper in her room was, and what kind of furniture would be in there (red velvet, of course!). When I broke my right knee skiing, just on the cusp of menopause and a roiling mid-life transition, it gave me permission to take a lot of quiet time for thinking and writing about the connection between my body and my mind. I wanted to know why I broke my knee, was it significant? Was it a symbol for me needing to stand up for myself and ask for help when overwhelmed? At the same time, Louise Hay’s book and a few others came to my attention – giving me a kind of lexicon of the body-mind connection. A key resource was Dr Northrup’s exploration of the female body in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.
Mid-life brought up some more intense body wisdom and learnings. I was mothering two hormonal teen age children, while facing my own menopausal angst, as well as writing, teaching and volunteering to organize events. One particular project had become too large and unmanageable, but I didn’t know how to step down without looking unreliable and disappointing the others. My shoulders and upper back began to ache so badly that every night I needed a heating pad to fall sleep. When I finally made the decision to step down, my body aches disappeared. This happened at least twice, when I was over-committed to outside projects. I began to pay attention and listen to my body more earnestly.
Recently I’ve been taking some online writing courses specifically centered on healing and releasing old family shadows. It has been very enlightening, to learn how the trauma and pain in one generation can get passed down to the next, until we become aware of it and break the cycle. Another course used the Hero’s Journey as an outline, and urged me to enter the cave of old griefs and hurts, and face the Dragon guarding my treasures and dialogue with him. During that five day class, I wondered at the marvelous ways my body was humming, buzzing, aching and releasing. Energy was moving, just by answering journal prompts and using my imagination to enter that dark cave of old beliefs about my “story”. Reading Women’s Intuition has further bolstered my faith in the embodied guidance and wisdom from within. (https://www.amazon.ca/Womens-Intuition-Unlocking-Wisdom-Body-ebook/dp/B00466HMJG)
The story I tell myself is....This is my old story: I was brought up the eldest of eight children (born in 10 years), in a Catholic family, and became the responsible one, the Mother’s Helper or Little Mother, out of necessity. My mother was alcoholic, and I stepped in to help out, putting a certain burden on my shoulders at an early age. This lead to a pattern of valuing myself externally in my life – the need to always feel productive, purposeful, and valuable by giving and doing, and almost never allowing myself to rest. My body had to force me to stop sometimes. I look back now, and see that in my twenties I had become addicted to the high of self-less service in my spiritual life, finding great satisfaction (but also exhaustion and stress) in being always on call, evenings, weekends, and whenever there was a need. It was for a good cause but my body craved rest and a more balanced lifestyle. Once I got married, I threw myself into studying, going back to school full time, being an A student (overachiever that I am), then having two babies while doing my Master’s degree over several years.
Bringing up two children, born twenty months apart, was a wonderfully fulfilling role to play, and at the same time I was studying creative writing, teaching part-time and working on a master’s thesis, which became the book, Little Mother. I needed to explore motherhood: my mother’s alcoholism, my childhood, and my own birth journal while I was pregnant. I wrote poems about breastfeeding, sex, and the mothering overload. Writing the body was a life-saver, once again, and it helped me make order out of chaos. But becoming a mother was also my Waterloo. My wolf-mother instincts had been awakened, my hearing and eyesight were keener than ever. My nervous system went into overdrive; it was hard to sleep, hard to share the parenting roles when babies only want their mommies, even with a willing partner. That brought me to therapy, where the psychologist kindly said, you have taken on another mothering job with teaching. I was trying to be the perfect mom, you know how it goes. I ran up against my own human limitations, and more body wisdom.
Menopause, that other womanly rite of passage, threw my body into hormonal chaos and sent my heart and mind onto a rough rollercoaster of ups and downs, highs and lows. Some days, I felt like I was going crazy – shrieking at my kids about crumbs on the counter. Mild depression swung me on a hook for a while. I was saved again by the writing. I started a blog, interviewed other women to find out if it was the same for everyone, researched and read a ton of books, and finally wrote my own, The Tao of Turning Fifty. Since then, I’ve given lectures on the mid-life transition and written a few hundred blog posts and articles. (http://msmenopause.blogspot.ca/)
My life has been a search of that mysterious answer or clue to what ails me....for instance, a frozen shoulder, shortly after my book came out, prevented me from working on the computer for any length of time. It took five years of journaling, osteopathic treatments, shamanic journeying and finally I felt I got to the bottom of that shoulder issue. I was in a workshop exploring the Inanna myth and down in the underworld meeting Erishkegal when I realized that the pain in my upper back was from the good girl archetype tightly wedged between my shoulder blades! Some very simple exercises from a physiotherapist helped me strengthen the back muscles. Now I sit at a desk with better ergonomics, and a good height for the keyboard. Plus, my adorable shitzu Mollie forces me to get up and take walks, and take a break from the computer regularly.
After the wild mid-life transition, in my sixties, my continuing curiosity led me to take classes to help find my inner child artist. I have rediscovered a love of artistic expression with SoulCollage and Art Journaling and once again, been catapulted back into the body, into the wild joy a child’s body feels while finger painting, drawing, or cutting up bits of images and pasting them onto cardboard. Time does not exist when I am in creative flow, and I stop feeling those aches and pains. I am grateful for the wise body guidance I receive, when I listen to it, and I want to commit to staying close to its wisdom every day.
Your story has a surprise beginning says this collage from my art journal, with a naked woman riding a white horse, facing backwards. Yes, it is a surprising rewrite. For instance, I have loved singing and music all my life. Where was that in my old story? The story I tell myself now is different from the one I have been telling myself all these years: eldest daughter, little mother with an absent mother, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. I have found my joy in the magical child, the story teller, the little girl who sings to the flowers, la petite fille qui chantait aux fleurs.
Embodied wisdom, the body’s wisdom, is still something I am exploring. Creativity and Flow have become my go-too therapies. When I am stuck in the writing, I immerse myself in making collage, in playing with images instead of words. I am learning to speak the body’s language – it uses imagery, metaphor and symbols. Myths and the imagination emerge from the collective unconscious, as Jung taught, in the same symbolic language that speaks to us through dreams, in poetry and art, in our body’s intuitive knowing... Now I know that anything is possible.
See my website at www.jenniferboire.com for a free excerpt of the book, The Tao of Turning Fifty, and to register for my latest class offering, Her Journey, the Heroine’s Quest at Mid-Life.