So this happened on Saturday….

20140107160844 (7)It’s a simple, unimportant event, really. Last Saturday a battered truck stopped on the street outside the house and one of the two fellows got out, came up the walk, and rang the doorbell. They were selling firewood and mulch—a common thing this time of year here in our middle-class subdivision.

I told him we didn’t need any—our fireplace has been broken for over a decade, and our flowerbeds require a whole lot more than mulch to set them to rights. They are overgrown with weedy wildflowers, tree saplings, and honeysuckle that will require digging out. “Well, let’s take a look,” said “Mike,” walking into the yard. Landscaping, it turns out, is his passion. He said he’s done some work for a few of our neighbors.

Mike seemed like a good enough sort: short, stocky, middle-aged, pleasant, well spoken. In Texas we’d call him a good ol’ boy, no different than thousands of other men. Certainly no alarm bells went off in my head. He obviously knew a bit about the landscaping trade. He knew about edging, about how hard it is to dig up a walnut sprout, what kinds of mulch were the best. He offered to give us a bid on rehabbing the front yard. It’s something my partner and I have been thinking about doing, so I followed him around while he talked about what he’d like to do.

Stopping under one of our bald cypress trees, he asked if there was anything in that bed that we wanted to keep. I leaned over to point out a big blue hosta hiding among the weeds.

“Hold on just a minute,” said Mike. “You have something in your hair.” And he reached over and very gently removed a leaf.

I froze. My mind was racing, but I did not move, or even breathe. “Wow. I really don’t like this!” said my mind. My body said, “Be still. Let him do what he needs to. Then we can move.” So I stood there as he slowly withdrew his hand and showed me the leaf.

I stood up then, and we continued our ramble around the front yard as though nothing had happened. And apparently, nothing had. He gave me the quote and his phone number, and I promised to call and let him know.

Hours later, I still couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was furiously angry. I wanted to punch him, to claw his face. But he hadn’t really done anything, another part of me argued. He was actually a very nice fellow. He’d said, just before getting back into the truck, “You girls can count on me to do right by you.” Nothing wrong with that! So why all this anger?

Worst of all, though, was the burning sense of shame that brought on floods of tears. Why, oh why had I just stood there and let him do that? Why didn’t I say anything, or at the very least, move away? Why on earth did I not react at all—just as though the incident hadn’t happened?

I’m 66 years old, and this isn’t my first rodeo, after all. I don’t get catcalls any longer when I walk down the street (thank goodness!), but stuff like this goes on all the time. But after all those years and all those experiences, with all that I know, and with all the conversations going on right now about sexual harassment and male privilege and the patriarchy—and I wrote my dissertation on patriarchal silencing of women, for goodness sake!—after all that, all I managed to do was freeze there while this man so blatantly invaded my personal space?!

I was shocked and ashamed. SO ashamed. Wow.

Well, I tried two things in response to this incident. First, I thought I’d blog about it. That didn’t happen. I just couldn’t do it. And second, I tried to forget about it. I tried really hard all weekend, but that didn’t work, either.

Then in this morning’s email a link to an article showed up, and that article contained links to two more articles that absolutely explain my reaction, and why I’ve always just frozen in place any time anything ugly like this (or much, much worse) happened to me. It’s a neurological thing called “the assault response” or “tonic immobility.” In animals, it’s been seen during encounters with predators; in humans, it’s been documented in response to situations that evoke extreme fear. Associated with this response is a dulling of emotional response.

That explains why I didn’t move the other day—why I almost never “fight back” when touched inappropriately. Fear is at the basis of it—mortal fear, whether justified in the moment or not—and that makes sense based on my experiences with my dad as a tiny child. While he undoubtedly loved me, Dad was in many ways pretty brutal in his behavior.

Anyway.

Now that I can quit blaming myself, other questions surface. The big one is why on earth would Mike have felt compelled—or entitled—to touch me in such an oddly intimate fashion? (“Intimate?” you say. Yeah. You had to be there, but yeah.) Why would he feel entitled to touch ANY woman whom he didn’t know? Different if, say, a branch were crashing down on me, or some other physical mishap seemed likely. But a leaf in my hair? Nope. No way.

Dunno, folks. But this stuff is so incredibly deep-seated in ourselves and in our culture. I have no suggestions at the moment on how to make it stop. When someone like myself who knows what’s going on and who talks such a good line fails, when the chips are down and it really counts, then I just don’t know what to say.

It makes me so darn sad….

 

Breakthrough!

2013-06-13_15-48-29_943February 1996. I wake, sweating and breathing hard, from a dream where I must leap between dimensions or lives before the second part of a melody is played by a peculiar magical music box.  Failure to make the leap means certain destruction.  There is no place to escape, no place to hide, and no rest.

This dream arrived at a terribly difficult time in my life, and I knew even as I woke what it was about. It was such a familiar feeling! For most of my life, this “leaping between dimensions or lives” was what I constantly did, because I desperately  needed for everyone to like me. And so I did my level best to be whoever each person wanted or needed me to be. I had no real idea which one of these personas was “me,” or if I even existed outside of other people’s opinions. That’s a terrible way to live, but so many people spend their lives that way.

Of course, living like that was exhausting, and knotted up with the self-loathing that was such a huge part of my life. It was impossible to keep up with what I’d told each person, and I was terrified that I’d get my stories mixed up.  Many years ago I quit equivocating (as I think I’ve mentioned here before), thank goodness. But, at least at first, that wasn’t enough to overcome decades of feeling like an impostor in my own life. And it took decades longer before I knew what my own truth is and began to be able to speak it out loud.

I bet more than a few of you can identify with these feelings.

But the other morning I woke up and realized that I actually like myself at least as well as I like my best friends.

Wow.

Does that sound dumb?

And then just this morning—JUST THIS VERY  MORNING—I was able to do something that’s always before been impossible. I looked at myself in the mirror, eye to eye, and said, “Hey you. I like you!” and smiled shyly….

Wow….

I’m not saying that this will last, and I’m not saying that I like everything about myself. I screw up regularly in oh so many ways. But still…. I seem to be learning about acceptance and forgiveness, and it’s actually getting easier. And my compassion seems to be extending to myself, too. Who would have thought!

I’m laughing now, as I type this, because it seems so simple, and yet I’m also hearing the echoes of childhood admonitions: “Don’t be conceited!” “Who do you think you are, saying these things?” “You are so stuck-up! What will people think?” And I might be blushing just a little, too…but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Because it’s such a new and amazing feeling. After 66 years on this planet, I’ve finally turned into someone I actually like. No, that’s not quite true. I’ve just quit trying to be anyone other than who I really am…and I like myself that way.

Cool, huh?

For those of you who are already there, count your blessings (as I am sure you already do). I know you’ll applaud me. For those of you who aren’t there yet, know that there is hope. It really can happen! I’m hear to tell ya!

Woohoo!

 

The Indoor-Outdoor Place, Part Two

copper-pots-001Part Two: The Rest of the Story

The final part of this dream, which I deliberately didn’t include in the first post, adds an interesting layer of meaning:

Then I turn toward the rest of the house and there are piles of odds and ends, including lots of old and beat-up copper cooking pots that are flimsy and not usable, but could be attractive as part of the décor. I realize that I’m going to want to get rid of them, though, because there’s just too much junk here. The feeling in this dream is of moving into a new area and renovating it or updating it, though I’m somewhat tentative about it.

Cooking pots and kitchen images always make me think of alchemy—the process of heating the elements in order to purify them. Copper, in alchemical terms, is often associated with Venus and the feminine, and in the waking world is easily deformed, bent, and destroyed. These old, battered cooking pots—here likely symbolizing the internalized aspects of womanhood and the Feminine,  are “not usable,” but only decorative at this point. The dream suggests that I may need to get rid of those concepts and understandings and replace them with something more serviceable as I renovate this area of my life.

In fact, that’s what’s happening now in my life, as I finally begin to deal with my internalized mother (who is not capable of providing the support and nurturance that I need) and replace those internal images.

At the time of this dream, more than ten years ago, I had no idea of any of this. The information in this dream has become even more relevant than it was at the time it came to me, because it’s only now that I understand enough, and have become strong enough, to do the difficult work that’s required.

The Indoor-Outdoor Place, Part One

20170402_205034

Dream: I’m in a space that seems simultaneously an indoor room, perhaps a library in a house, and an outdoor garden area. As I walk down one side, there are flowers blooming very early, way out of season, and I worry that they’ll be nipped by the frost. They’re lovely and surprising, but I notice they have no fragrance. Back the other way, toward the rest of the house, there are shelves where the previous owner has kept irises, bulb and all, growing in flasks of water. These irises are also blooming, but pale and faded because they haven’t gotten sunlight. I move them off the lower shelves where they’ve been and put them in the “windows” of the garden where they’ll get more light, and think about adding some fertilizer to their water. The feeling in this dream is of moving into a new area and renovating it or updating it, though I’m somewhat tentative about it.

This dream occurred at a time when I was just beginning the real work of my dissertation.

I remember it well: the sense of surprise that the space was both indoors and outdoors at the same time; the beauty of the flowers, blooming in winter; the concern about them being killed by frost; the odd fact that, beautiful though they were, they had no fragrance at all. And those irises! In vases of water?

I remember being puzzled by the dream, trying to make sense of it, trying very hard to give it a positive spin: renovating something, making it new again; protecting precious blooming things; correcting “mistakes” from previous generations. But it’s only recently, fifteen or so years later, that the real meaning of the dream has emerged for me, and I’ve understood why I could never feel completely positive about it.

My interpretation at the time was this: I know the dangers that are involved here. By carefully protecting these lovely flowers, I can keep them safe, give them light and fertilizer, and renovate the “room.” Yes! A very positive dream! Right?

Carl Jung was a keen observer of the natural world. When we come across images from nature in our dreams, it’s always a good idea to look at them from a naturalist’s perspective as we search for their meaning. In this little dream, what do we notice?

These flowers are blooming out of season, “very early,” in a space that is not protected from winter’s chill. They are in danger of being killed by frost because it’s not yet time for them to bloom. The irises are struggling to grow in vases of water on shelves that receive insufficient light. If you’ve ever grown irises, you’ll know two important things about them: First, they require plenty of sunlight to thrive. Without it, they have a hard time. And second, they can’t tolerate wet feet. The irises in the dream are doomed.

What do these images tell us about the “renovation” that’s being attempted? The time is wrong, and the conditions are wrong! It’s highly unlikely, says Psyche, that the work will be successfully accomplished at this moment. Later, perhaps, and with different conditions. No matter how much I want the psychic changes to occur, “now” is not the time.

And in fact, “now” was not the time for the psychic renovation that I was undertaking. It would be four long, agonizing years before I finished the dissertation—before I managed to renovate my psychic structure sufficiently that I was able to provide a suitable “space” for the material to survive. And it’s only now, another nine years later, that the dissertation is beginning to transform itself into a book.

Interpreting the dream in that way at the time, had I been able to understand it correctly, might have saved me a lot of heartache along the way. I might have been more compassionate with myself. But maybe it’s better that it remained a mystery for so long, and only now gives up its meaning, when I can better understand the reasons for the long, drawn-out process. I’m now much better able to provide the structure and conditions for those flowers to thrive!

Trigger Warning

Alchemy 2This pain has been ramping up, slowly, for a few weeks now. But it’s like boiling a frog: Start him in a pot of cold water and he’ll never notice. Yeah, it’s like that. What I was conscious of, early this month, was an increasing sense of “upset” about the Presidential campaign.

I didn’t see the connection.

On Sunday the 9th, I watched the second presidential debate, even though my intuition told me it wasn’t a good idea. Watching it wouldn’t change things, obviously, and I was already upset. But it’s like gawking at a car wreck—so very hard to look away as you drive past.

Sunday night I went to bed full of the image of Donald Trump lurking behind Hillary Clinton, glaring intensely at her in the most physically threatening manner imaginable. I do not know how she managed to stand there and continue calmly to speak; I was cowering, unable to sit down and watch. Even now, typing this, my heart rate goes up at the memory.

Less than an hour after going to bed, I was awakened by an agonizing jolt to the nerve in my jaw. Then another, and another—the assault continued most of the night, let up for an hour or so, and then resumed as soon as I woke up.

Nearly two weeks later, the pain has finally relented enough for me to function again, though I’m exhausted and not thinking very clearly. I can speak, cautiously, at least a few words at a time again; I can eat without much pain provided I run everything through a blender and water it down first.

Not fun, folks.

Here’s the interesting part: I am far from the only person suffering in this way at this time. The viciousness, anger, and misogyny of this election campaign has affected many, many of us.

Donald Trump, in that debate setting, in his statements, and in the recordings that have surfaced, displays the kind of physical and emotional threat behavior that so many women have experienced all our lives. Trump embodies the abuser. I’m not going to try to say more about that: Just attempting to describe his behavior, and the effect on my own psyche, raises my heart rate and drives most coherent thought right out of my head. I just want to run somewhere and hide.

Not just me. A therapist friend of mine said, “You wouldn’t believe how many of my clients are reporting having trouble with this!” Clearly, I’m not alone—it’s triggering trauma survivors all over. All over social media, people are posting and tweeting responses.There was even a post in the Washington Times offering suggestions on how to cope.

One brave woman got a million tweets after asking other women to tweet their first sexual assault. “Harrowing” is one of the words she uses to describe the responses. Mine? Minor, by comparison to some, but significant: Fifth grade, one of my male classmates snapped my bra strap. He was followed by a few of his companions. I was afraid to cry for help; the teacher looked away.

“I was afraid to cry for help.” That tells me that it was not, in fact, the first time; just the first time that I can now remember.

I can’t write much more now—I risk the return of the pain, which I can feel lurking in the background. But as the ability to think and understand returns, I’m working on making sense of this. For now, though, let me just post a “dialogue,” facilitated by a shaman friend of mine, from the beginning of this month. I was addressing the pain itself:

Kay to the pain: Why will you not leave?

Pain: I am anger! I am rage!

Kay: You frighten me! How can I help? This anger and rage—it’s hurting me! How can I help?

Pain: Stop! No words! Fire. Tears. No breath. Help me!

Kay: I understand; I hear you. I feel that rage! Is there something I can do to help?

Pain: [Long silence] I’m afraid too.

“In Defense of the Un-Swallowable”

20160930_101255This story begins with a dream:

The dream came with a title, as I awakened: “In Defense of the Un-Swallowable.” There’s this thing, this object, about the size of a goose egg. It’s pink and hard and lumpy, with a few odd black and gold specks on its surface. It’s “medicinal” and I have to swallow it somehow, so I put it into a glass of water. Then it softens and I put it in my mouth and kind of chew it up and swallow it. It’s not nearly as gross as I thought it would be, and goes down very easily.

Uh oh, I thought when I awoke. Another transitional object! I’ve had some experience with those! Something like RED, maybe? Or hopefully not that dramatic and shocking…this object is pink and, in the end, not that “hard to swallow.” But still….

But I’m endlessly curious about such things, notwithstanding the potential stress and difficulty of working on yet another aspect of my ego, so I decided to recreate the “un-swallowable object” in the waking world, as nearly as possible. Embodying it would bring it into my consciousness and help it do its job, whatever that was.

The waking-world object has turned out very close in appearance to the dream-object—I am pretty pleased. Right size, right shape, dents and bits of “dirt” in the right places. It feels good in my hand, just as I remember it.

More Dreams

During the week, while I patiently added coat after coat of acrylic and tissue paper, I reviewed the other dreams that have appeared in the past month, looking for patterns that will add information. The one that feels most closely allied with this object and the transition it embodies is this one:

This dream feels more like a story, or a movie—I don’t seem to be part of it; it’s like I’m watching it unfold. It takes place in “historic” time—maybe the 19th century. There’s a serious and uptight young man who’s following an odd character around. The character’s name is Aries, and he has two female companions, a Miss Lam(b) and another woman whom I never see. He’s mysterious and very sexually active. The young man has an important message for Aries, and he goes all over town trying to find the trio at their usual hangouts, but they’re not there. Finally he goes to the house of a friend where the three are staying. It’s the middle of the night, but he pounds on the front door of this old brownstone house, and he calls out to them. “Aries! Miss Lam(b)!” and we can hear them inside, and apparently they are coming to the door when I wake up.

Immediately upon waking, I knew that Aries is a psychopomp (“guide of souls”), a figure who can lead me “between the worlds” and farther along my soul’s path. I’ll be working with him in various ways for some time to come, I expect.

Several other dreams occurred within a few days of these two. Many of them were very encouraging and supportive, which is rather unusual for me.

In several dreams, I come to the defense of creatures who are being mistreated or neglected. My own cat is injured (on the left side of his face, of course; right where my own “injury” is located) but ignored by the vet to whom I’ve brought him; a group of cows are being confined under water (magically able to breathe) and are being “exercised” in a cruel way by handlers that they trust before they’re sent to slaughter; a small, abandoned and injured dog is in need of rescue; a cat’s owner brings it to me, telling me that it’s died and that I should bury it, but in fact the owner has been actively starving it to death. The dominant emotion in these dreams is anger and indignation.

In other dreams, animals that I’m caring for and am worried about are seen to be doing very well indeed, due to my loving efforts. I woke from these with a feeling of pleased wonder.

There have been a dozen or more with these themes—some have been nightmares, some have been full of joy and excitement when I realize, in the dream, that I can do something to help. In several, there are characters “in authority” who thank me for my efforts.

And then there are a few dreams where I stand up for myself, firmly and without anger. Finally, this one:

As I’m waking up, I hear a foreign man’s voice say to someone, “What is that name that you are calling me? Why are you calling me that name? That is not my name!” He is disturbed about it and angry, but not yelling. How odd!

There’s so much work still to do on these—I’ve only begun to unpack this bunch! In active imagination the other day, Aries himself showed up on the porch of my imaginal cabin, dressed not in the 19th-century garb of the dream, but as a gunslinger—cowboy hat and boots with spurs, flannel shirt over his paunchy middle, and a gunbelt. He himself wasn’t—isn’t—the least bit threatening, but I asked him what the meaning of his costume was. “Stereotype,” he said, and went on chewing his toothpick. Hmmm….

And in Waking Life…

Each of these dreams deserves an entire post in itself, and I will write more here about some of them. But for now, I want to talk about what’s been happening in waking life the last week, and sum up what I think the message is for me just now.

As I write this, it’s the last day of September, 2016. We’re a little more than a month away from the presidential election, in the heat of what is by far the strangest and most disturbing campaign I’ve ever experienced. It seems like the Universe has given us two candidates whose archetypal significance is writ not just large but in flashing neon. You can’t miss the meaning.

Normally, I avoid election coverage like the plague, and I never, ever post political material either here or on social media. But yesterday I saw a post that has made me change my rule.

It’s not about the actual political positions of the candidates—Democrat or Republican, to me, isn’t the point here. The image that I find so very disturbing is that of a a woman candidate—highly qualified, with more experience than most men who have run for the office and won—opposed by a man who is a blatant, in-your-face misogynist and bully. Women throughout social media are responding to this man’s tactics with fear and recognition—and posting about their responses. And so am I.

Speaking up and speaking out. It needs to be done, by me, too, despite my six decades of silence. Not so hard a pill to swallow, after all!

What Does It Mean?

How does that relate to the dreams? I’ve just started working with all of this, but I think I can see the gist of it.

I believe that Aries the psychopomp is helping me bring out my own inner Masculine, the part of my psyche that’s been shut out of my waking consciousness since childhood. I’m being encouraged to speak up for myself and for others—to speak what I see, without silencing myself like I’ve almost always done. The lesson I’m learning is that despite what I’ve been told all my life, I’m worth the effort. I and other woman have been frightened into silence for too long now, and it’s time to speak out and claim our place.

It’s the logical next step for me. After all, my dissertation looked at the effects on the feminine psyche of millennia of patriarchal silencing. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and I’ve finally learned it. Now it’s time to speak it, no matter how scary it is.

It’s not easy, but it feels very right. And interestingly, it really isn’t such a hard pill to swallow….

Asking for Help…and Knowing It’s There

A friend and I were chatting the other day about our books. She’s published hers, and is busy doing interviews and special appearances talking about it.

I admit to being a bit envious. I’ve been thinking and talking about putting my dissertation into book form for years now, and have been actively trying to get it started since the begin20160923_121623ning of 2015, with no luck so far. I get completely overwhelmed every time I attempt to reorganize the material. So I decided to ask my friend what her secret is.

The answer I got was enlightening and extremely helpful, though it took me a while to hear it. She gave me lots of really great suggestions, but as it turns out, the HUGE INSIGHT wasn’t what either one of us thought it was at the time.

Let me explain.

The other part of our conversation was that my friend wanted some ideas on how to be less nervous when giving talks, which she finds difficult but I do not. My secret, I told her, is that I never feel like I’m giving the talk, or teaching the class, all by myself. I count on the presence of my Guides and whichever of the imaginal beings are most interested in sharing the information. I get nervous, sometimes, at the very beginning, until I remember that the Others are there, too, and will help out. It’s never just me.

Now, here’s the funny part: My friend is like that about her writing. “I never have trouble with my writing,” she says. Her Guides point her to exactly the right reference or reading material, and give her ideas and suggestions about what to write and how to do it. She’s never alone; it’s never just her doing the writing.

Light bulb!

This morning I sat down to see what I could do with my book. There is a HUGE amount of material already written, but I’ve been stuck on the outline—it can’t just be the same as the dissertation, obviously, but I’ve never been able to figure out how it might actually work.

But hey! How about I use my friend’s method? If the Guides are there for me when I’m talking, why on earth would I not just assume—KNOW—that they’re there for me when I’m writing? Duh….

So I sat down and wrote the outline. Literally. “Chapter One, …” and out it came. Chapter after chapter, in a lovely, sensible order. I didn’t even look at what I was typing—just listened and typed, without fuss and without overthinking anything. NO problem.

Oh my goodness. And of course, I can hear the laughter in the “background,” as they cheer me on. Very cool.

Isn’t it funny, how we all “get it” in some areas of our lives and absolutely do NOT get it in others? And yet we all have the answers. Sometimes it takes a good friend to give us that last nudge past our blocks.

And so I’ve started, folks! I’ve got words for a good chunk of the introduction written, and the outline of where all the other big pieces fit. It’s nothing like the order of the dissertation material, but it makes perfect sense in terms of why I’m actually writing the book.

Woohoo!

Now that I’m actually putting things together, I can make use of my friend’s other really good suggestions. Onwards and upwards!