When you go to the deep places

When you go to the deep places, where the dark and the moist and the fetid meet together to Create, something within you stirs.  It is probably nameless, dulled by life in cities of concrete, light, noise, politicians and dirty air.  It probably scares you when this thing turns over and you suddenly catch glimpses of it in the mirror; sometimes too bright to look at, sometimes so dark a shadow you can’t see it if your gaze is direct.  Many of us tend to train our gaze toward the light, keeping buoyant in the ever happy constant optimism and everlasting camp of joy abundance and positive thought regime.  This only serves to press down The Other and the effort of always always looking on the bright sides only fuels the dark fire.

In my journey to the dark in me, I discovered a small, broken and withered thing fueled by pain, fear and a bitter angry hatred sour enough to rot my own insides.  She stirred and pointed wordlessly at The Truth In Me as I read this article. She wept and screamed and howled as I visited the Witness Blanket in the Hamilton Public Library, an installation to bear stark witness to the plight of the Indigenous children, and their ruptured families upon their forced entry into the Residential Schools where many of them would die or break and I could not unsee.  She shuddered with rage and the understanding that I, a good white woman, stand in a position of elevated and unearned privilege built on the broken backs of Anishnaabe men, women and children.  I am here in my very sick culture because their very integral culture was broken to pieces.  And that is my heritage.  It is not possible to be me without their blood staining my feet, their bones tearing my soles.  The grief of this unwanted inheritance and the overwhelm of “what do I DO about this?” is enough to be deafening… If not careful it is enough to be defining too.  Striking a balance within the cacophony of the cognitive dissonance these two seemingly opposite truths creates is one that can not be done without understanding the nature of The Dark one.

Many fairy tales and myths, likely every major religion, has a story or fable about The Dark Twin.  For my purposes, I will share in brief the story of Inanna’s Descent and the discovery of Erishkegal.

Inanna is the Queen of Heaven.  She is exalted by her worshipers as the most beautiful and all who meet her or even hear tell of her are instantly in love with her.  She is powerful, intelligent, clever, beautiful, kind and wise.  In the story of Inanna’s descent, she meets her twin, Erishkegal. Erishkegal is the Queen of the Dark, Queen of Death, Queen of the Underworld. She is Inanna’s other half, her true soul mate.  Inanna is called to the underworld by some curiosity or instinct to know where Death goes.  As she descends, the guards at the various levels of the Underworld tell her she must leave behind items of her identity; jewels, her crown and robes are left behind as she descends until she is completely naked, only herself, free of the mantles bestowed upon her.  Here she discovers her other half, Erishkegal, who is angry; she has been repressed. The people above, who worship Inanna, have lost their respect for death, have lost the understanding of the value of death, of the careful balance that exists between life and death.  In their bewilderment of Inanna’s glory that have lost sight of the other side of that glory, the dark and cold of the Underworld.  The place where Death goes. And so… Erishkegal has become wretched with the burden of collecting death, the chaff, the waste, the cast off, turning it over into the foundations of life and renewal, but without any of the recognition or gratitude worthy of her.  Upon meeting, Erishkegal is angry that Inanna has arrived, for the living can not come here, especially the Queen of Light, Heaven and Life.  This is the land of Death and Life can not come here without becoming Death.  Inanna understands and comforts Erishkegal.  She see’s her plight, she see’s what has become of her, and in Inanna’s own ignorance, the land of Death and it’s Queen have suffered terribly.  She understands the necessity of the balance and so her life is given/taken to fill the hole left behind by all the taking of her people, to keep the balance between the worlds. When it comes time for her to return to the surface, she ensures another takes her place, to keep the hole filled.  It is decided that for a portion of every year, the Queen of Life will descend to the Land of Death to break bread with her sister, to ensure that Erishkegal is remembered and her task is honoured; during this time the one who hangs in Inanna’s stead is free to return to the land of the living, thus ensuring the balance is maintained, no hole left unfilled.

This story is similar to the mythology of Sedna who, in her pain, recalls the ocean animals to soothe her and so the Inuit Shamans must descend to Sedna and pay her homage, honour her and bring her their love and compassion.

Recently I watched a documentary called Griefwalker about a man named Stephen Jenkinson who also discusses this hole. This hole is how the Queen of the Underworld becomes The Wretch.

Within ourselves, the repression of the dark, of death, of anger; the repression of desire, of instinct, of the WHOLE SELF turns this magnificent being into the whining, scared, raging, bitter, resentful, frigid, paranoid, mistrustful, doubting and pity-begging voice that keeps us small. It stops us from making that piece of art, or truly seeing and accepting all of it and loving it for the mistakes; it stops us from taking that trip because of the worry; stops us from wearing that string bikini because what if no one will love me in it; it stops us from living our full selves because, obviously, our full selves are not good enough. The other side of our moons are not worthy of praise or being seen. The other side of our selves are not palatable and so better left buried.

Steven Jenksinson says you can not love until you can love the whole of a thing, including it’s end.  You can not love until you have learned to love the things that do absolutely nothing for you.  Loving the stuff that gives you pleasure is easy; loving the lovable is easy.  Can you love the ugly? The broken?  Can you love Death?

I have been swimming deeper and feeling the heavy blanket of depression that is the signature of The Wretch’s presence and this time, I am able to see her. For all of her. As my other half. She is The Guardian of The Dark and needs restoration to her proper station. She is the source of all life, and the place where death goes. She turns over what is left and makes it anew. And she is unable to return to this status herself because she believes herself unworthy of my whole self.

I have been seeing a lot of wretchedness in our world. It comes in the shape of police brutality, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia. It comes in the shape of destruction of nature, that thing that we are inextricably part of. It comes in the shape of rape and domestic violence and child homelessness. And this wretchedness is born of the lack of knowing who we really are in our fullness, a lack of embracing The Wretch as The Guardian of The Dark.  It is born of the hole vaguely shaped like a soul within ourselves.

And so now, I am poised to begin the process of further integrating her. How gently I must handle her! The offal I have dumped on her, with only shreds of light and love, has eaten away at her. She is sick with loathing and terror. She is hungry for so much love and acceptance. To make space for her at the table is to eat graciously with the stink of rot filling my nose. To sleep with her in my bed is to cuddle next to the damned and the dead and share my warmth with her. To embrace her is to learn to love all the things about myself I’d rather murder and leave in the grave at the bottom of the ocean…

She is ready to rise, and I am ready to bring her up. I can sit with her and hear her moans and keep her company and let her know that she is seen, heard and respected. A space has been made for her at the table.

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Are We There Yet?

You think that it will happen in an instant.  The nanosecond the decision erupts into your brain and you pin yourself to it with all the determination and confidence you have that it will be done.

Last year, November 24 2014, I turned 30 and I decided that I was 0 years old now and was going to start over and make everything fresh and that I would be better.  That 30 year old me would take 0 year old me by the hand and start caring for this infant self and nurture it and grow it and watch it blossom into the me I have always wanted to be.  This would be my childhood do-over and I would reclaim the life I hadn’t had the chance to have.  I would submerge myself in the experiences of freedom and laughter and play.   This included yoga classes, rock climbing, mountain biking and road cycling, having a rocking new business that would just sky rocket me to financial security and the love of my life securely in my arms, the two of us and the whole world taking life by storm.  I think maybe I have forgotten what being a baby is like.  I suspect it has a lot more to do with not knowing what the fuck is going on and being covered in various kinds of stinky and sticky and a lot of strange people getting all up in your face to talk nonsense at you.

Life rarely unfolds according to our plans.  Life unfolds the way life unfolds, in response to itself.  And as beautiful a concept as starting over on my 30th birthday may be, and as lofty an idea I had it out to be… You just don’t get to by pass smelling like a diaper full of baby shit for a little longer than is comfortable until the adultiest of the adults shows up to clean you up and give you a cuddle.

Life is more circuitous, life flips and folds and churns and takes detours and there’s fucking MONTHS of road work so you have to detour like every god damned day through the same dilapidated neighbourhood, turning the music up a bit louder and pretending not to notice it because it’s all ok, everything else is going according to plan.  Flat tire.  Fuck off.

It is now mid August, 7 and a half months into the year and 30 year old me is looking around going uhhh… ok, this isn’t what I had planned for you 0 year old me.  How you doing there?  And 0 year old me just says gurgle.  Smiles.  Waggles fat fingers around and points, aimlessly, at the shitty diaper, the mess on the floor, the windows with the amazing view and things we have done.  Forget about the fact that the money ran out for those rock climbing classes, it happened just in time for SPRING and CYCLING.  Forget there never was money for yoga classes, you’ve been doing yoga on your own at least once a week pretty steady.  That’s basically the same thing.  And so what if you’re not rolling in the cash, that’s one of those “it’s coming” type deals.  There’s some tidying up you have had to do – and have done –  before that money really has somewhere to land anyway.  Besides, you rode 300km in three days to the land of your most favourite place from childhood and raised some big money for an excellent cause.  The detours are simply where you have to go to get to where you intend to go.  You can pick the destination and that will determine the general direction but where your feet get planted are influenced by where the actual road goes.  And besides, this shitty diaper was a clean diaper not too long ago so it’s not like I’m bathing in my own offal.  In with the nourishment out with the waste, right?

It can be hard to not get bogged down with frustration and disappointment but I have learned something valuable.  Frustration can be a sign of two things; either you need some help with something and need to ask, or you are trying to do something that pulls you off the path.  It’s amazing how much more irritating and difficult and time consuming tasks are when they are not aligned with the direction you are going.  It’s amazing how good it can feel to be dead broke for the forseeable future but with a clear(er) view of where you are going, watching your debt dwindle in significant ways.  It’s amazing to witness how the struggle of the “rough patch” genuinely does bring lovers closer together.  And it’s exquisite to look down at 0 year old me and suddenly realize I’m 7.5 months older and 30 and a half years wiser.  It’s intoxicating to finally feel myself approaching the doorway to the whole rest of my life (for realsies!!) for the first time and actually be able to see what is on the other side waiting for me to glide through the gate.

The point is, all of these challenges and learning how to move through them gracefully and with ease is called Character Building.  Some time ago I wrote in my journal about the person I want to be.  One of the qualities she had mastered was being responsible for herself.  Paying bills as soon as they arrive, setting aside money for the forseeable future (hello taxes) and also for the unplanned future (vacations?  illness? New bike?), and allotting her time so she can comfortably earn money and create things and ride bikes and climb rocks and sit in nature and garden and be with her loved ones and go on adventures.  The first steps to becoming this person have meant cleaning up the shitty diapers, making sure clean diapers are available at all hours, learning how to truly take good care of myself and accepting that, at least in the very beginning, it’s really grass roots.  Grass roots like broke as broke gets, but able to manage and keep putting the other foot forward.  Grass roots like eyes on the target, head up scanning the route ahead for those snags and roots and crap that could trip one who isn’t looking forward.  Grass roots like one ear pressed up against the walls of my heart listening for those thin whispers that say so gently go here, go there, this way, that way, listen carefully to this person because what they say is important to how you choose to respond.  Grass roots like taking 7.5months old me and saying ok, we are half way through year one and no one is dead yet, we are making that headway and all those other things we want and need are gonna have some place to land.

You can’t fledge the nest if there isn’t a nest yet.  Are we there yet?  No baby; we are just about to take off.

Blue Heron Woman Hunts/Swimming to Sedna

Everybody tells me that I think too much.  They only tell me this when I am in The Dark Times, swimming deeper and deeper into the rotten creepy things at the bottom of the well; when I am poking at The Sadness that lurks there, turning over empty turtle shells to discover where the long slow wail is coming from.  This work casts a shadow over my brow and the light of my heart gets dim and it frightens them.  They don’t like to see me like this.  Yet they fail to understand, This is Necessary.  This deep digging, this overturning of that which has settled to the bottom, this prodding at the wounds is important.  they also fail to understand, that when I return, I always bring up some sunken treasure, some lost jewel and when it is cleaned up and put on display for them to see, their applause is not for the treasure but for the hard work they told me I did too much of.

I understand their discomfiture.  They love me and dislike seeing me sad.  Depression is frightening to many.  It is linked with things like self harm and suicide.  Some are lost in the Dark for a very very long time and some lose their way and don’t know how to come out.  It happens to many and the fear it will happen to me enters the minds of those who love me.  But they don’t know… I have danced in these woods, in these swamps, my whole life.  I have sunk to the very bottom of my own ocean over and over and over again to save the parts of my self that are drowning down there.  This work is more than necessary.  It is the maintenance of the foundations of my life.  I am a Blue Heron and we live in the swamps, our feet submerged in murky water, delicately picking through the mush and the muck to find the nutritious gems that live there to feed ourselves and our young.  This dark place is where I find my fuel.

I am hunting now.

Just under the skin, the bottom layer of the lake swirls the unshed tears.  Like whale song my sorrow sings out, vibrating through the currents of my life.  And I swim deeper to find her, to soothe her.  Inuit speak of a sunken goddess, Sedna, thrown to the bottom of the ocean by her father, her fingers and hands severed from her.  These parts became the ocean mammals and fishes that the Inuit hunted.  When Sedna became angered, or forlorn, the animals of the ocean would flock to her, to grieve with her, leaving the Inuit hunters empty handed.  It was the job of the medicine men and women to journey to her and comb out her tangled hair, to rub and stroke and kiss the stumps where her hands used to be to ease her pain.  To love her, share kindness with her because she had been so wounded by one who was supposed to protect her but betrayed her so cruelly.  And so… Her wailing falls into my ears… And my job is to dive down to her and hear her sorrowful song, share the burden of her grief and soothe her so that I may return to the surface, my gems in hand to share with my kin.

The song I am hearing is of my own failure to know myself, and the resultant value system that has developed.  It is a shallow system, one that goes only so far as skin and muscle.  It is a background program that devalues myself and my kin.  It is the place where systems of hate are born and fester; racism, homophobia, classism, sexism, ignorance of the mentally ill(equipped), child abuse, spousal abuse, police brutality, disrespect and willful destruction of the environment, factory farming, poisonous agricultural practices… the list seems nearly endless and it is the root of the disease that runs so rampant through our culture.  And when I say “our culture” I refer to us, white people, as a group.  I sit with her at the bottom of the ocean and I can’t help but add my voice to her own because I see these things in myself, I see this background programming in myself, and in my kin, I feel this illness in me and how horribly it feels and I see it in the people around me and how sick they are too and I weep and wail with her because I know it comes from the same place… We do not know who we are.  Not really.

And in myself, it is part of the other thing people always tell me.  “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Jennifer.  You don’t see how valuable you are to those around you.”  And it’s true.  I am blind to myself, to the way others experience me.  This blindness creates the “body-centric value system” to which I measure myself.  It is what I can see of myself, and I mistake it for myself and measure it against what I have been wrongfully taught to see as The Standard of Human Value.  And, sadly, this system is based on just one thing: appearance.  What does this body look like?  Does it look like it came from the pages of a magazine? How do I measure up against it?  It is difficult to articulate this and not feel horrendous.  I’m a massage therapist!  I don’t really believe in any of this shit, I know that the people within the bodies are of greater importance, that the body is but a tool, a vessel, the box that contains the gift… And yet, in the background… the yardstick slaps against my thighs.  There is nothing to blame.  I am an adult and am capable of addressing this deficiency in myself.  I am capable of seeing deeper – I swim to the bottom after all.  I am capable of un-learning this system and adopting a new one.  and it starts with learning how to truly see myself.  I can not see you, clearly, if I can not see from within myself.  The seat from which I engage with the world, at least of late, has been from the outside of who I truly am.  And thus, I can only engage with the outside of who you truly are.

When I sit from outside myself.

As I write this, I am getting closer and closer to understanding the need for this journey down.  I have been living from outside myself since at least mid June with a frequency that is more than tolerable.  Leading up to the big ride, I was focused, I was centered, I was dedicated to something that had sprung from my heart, from a place of great pain, and turned it into something beautiful.  I spun something incredible, something I thought I could not do, could not have accomplished, but did anyway and it was beautiful.  And I was full, over full, over flowing with the beauty and magnificence of riding along the shore of Lake Ontario.  And when I got back, I dallied in the current of of that experience for a while until it’s tide washed out again.  And on the naked shores I sat with this jewel, this gem, born of that experience.  And looked at it… slipped it into my pocket because I felt I did not know what to do with it, was not big enough to really carry it to where it needed to go and the weight of that pulled me out of my inside.  My disbelief in myself, in my inner self, landed me firmly on the outside where I could only see and interact with the superficial material world.  Raw to the disease that manifests when we do not live fully within ourselves.  Naked eyeballs seared by the witnessing of white police murdering men and women and children of colour.  Government officials selling off the Sacred Earth as if any of us really own it.  Men and women at each others throats because none of us understand each other.  War.  Lives being bought for a year’s salary only to be snuffed out, murdered, for the thrill of committing a sin no one will really do anything about.  Raw to the value system of flesh as a commodity to be used, abused and eventually thrown away.

I recall last year being caught in this mess for a very long time and it drove me, almost daily, to hike in the woods.  In the woods I could find myself, I could hear myself, I could sit with this agony, I could swim to Sedna and comb her hair and be in compassionate pain with her, safe and guarded by the trees leaning in, the rocks holding me up, the wind calling me home.  I could journey to her and listen to the whale song of our pain and weep with her and rub our hands and stumps together, allow our hair to tangle together and separate with the pulling of the tide.  And when I came to understand, to see clearly the way to myself, her weeping, my weeping, our weeping, subsided.  The pain ebbed and the steps became clearer and clearer.  And I returned to myself in a way I had never done before.

They tell me I think too much.  They tell me I lose sight.  But what they don’t understand is… I was already blind and am relearning how to see again.  I am hunting for fresh eyes in the bottom of the swamp.  I am swimming to Sedna where pain is safe and commiseration is a tool for healing.  I am gathering strength and clearing out the bullshit as I go.  And I will return with my jewels and tools to engage with this next phase.