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.