The Message of the Bells, Part 1 of 5

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The Message of the Bells

By Helene Lewis Coffer, Good Housekeeping, December 1968

The year Mr. Velie built his cathedral, I was still living in Corinth with my mother and younger brother.

As the star (and only) reporter for the weekly Citizen; I wrote a great deal about the cathedral and its bells. But my heart wasn’t in it. Out in the wide world, wonderful things could happen to a girl of twenty. But this was Corinth, too small and dull, too full of memories.

If Mr. Velie’s cathedral held any special magic, I did not sense it. If the bells rang, I didn’t hear them. Not then…not until that Christmas when I found my love and he found me.

Of course, the Community Church of Corinth, Minnesota, isn’t a real cathedral. Mr. Velie isn’t that rich. The styling is Gothic, but the scale is small. Mr. Velie called it a cathedral when he started the legend.

Henry Velie was, of course, something of a legend himself: a bona fide Horatio Alger hero. The son of a mean-tempered ne’er-do-well, he had worked his way through school, gone East to start a business, and succeeded in time to rescue his gentle mother from poverty. He stopped coming home after she died, but the town followed his rise in the world with satisfaction.

By the time our pioneer church burned, Mr. Velie was a Power. No one knew how he learned of the tragedy; the story would hardly have found its way into the New York papers. Nevertheless, the board of elders had Mr. Velie’s generous offer by wire within the week.

Soon a city construction firm and an architect personally commissioned by Mr. Velie arrived in Corinth. The architect furnished progress reports, alerting us as to the arrival of imported stained-glass windows, of fine wood paneling, of handsome alter appointments, and finally, of the bells.

Now the architect became eloquent. Here was something new: a set of mellifluous and fine-toned small instruments so designed as to shower sweet chimes on the prairie air with the slightest play of the wind.

No so, said Henry Velie.

The exquisite little church was no sooner completed than Mr. Velie’s plane set down at our small airport. The news reached town before his taxi, and I left a message at the hotel begging an interview.

To Be Continued…

 

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A Season of Abundance

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As the season of gift-giving and celebrations of light and rebirth is here once again, the challenges of materialism and commercialism come to light in rather obvious ways. Many friends of mine express concern as to how to gracefully navigate this season with awareness, conscientiousness,  integrity, and love, while avoiding cynicism and bitterness that can so easily creep in.

How does one address abundance, giving, and receiving without falling into the trap of greed and self-centeredness?

When I was a kid, I lived in Malawi, East Africa. My parents were conservative Christians and my father was dedicated to missionary work…as had been his father and his father’s father. Being a missionary and sacrificing everything for “God’s Work” was the highest calling one could have, according to both the denominational teaching and my father’s family. Their pride in our family’s sacrifice was evident.

As a missionary kid, I was taught that “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” So giving, then, was an obligation. It was expected…not only as Christians, but as Christian missionaries. To have any material wealth was shameful, and to have more than the natives of the host country was even more so. And yet, whenever we went on furloughs, it was so painfully obvious to me that however wealthy we were in Malawi, we were quite poor by U.S. standards. The desire for more was definitely there, but I felt horribly guilty for those desires. I knew that ultimately, no matter how hard I worked and how much I made or accumulated, I would be required to give it away. Sacrifice is greater than love.

While living in Malawi had wonderful and beautiful aspects, some parts were challenging, to say the least. There weren’t a lot of amenities on our mission when we arrived…the tap  water wasn’t drinkable, the phone system was crackly at best, and thunderstorms usually meant that the electricity would go out. All media was censored…including personal mail. Women were not allowed to wear pants, and all skirts must be long enough to cover the knees. Men couldn’t have facial hair or hair below the top of their shirt collar. Television didn’t exist unless you owned a large satellite dish…which we didn’t.

Even still, we had more than most…more than some other missions, who only had electricity by generator for 3-4 hours each night. We had clean air, close friendships, many adventures, opportunities for cross-cultural experiences through travel and friendships with people of other nationalities, and most importantly, participating in the culture of Malawi itself. I learned many skills that are invaluable to me…creative problem-solving, home arts such as cooking, baking, and sewing, I learned to play musical instruments, entertain and host guests at a moment’s notice, and adapt to wherever I happened to be.

My father being a printer, allowed us easy access to books. All of us love a good story, so the lack of amenities provided a hidden blessing: evenings at my house were spent in the living room in front of the fireplace…my sister and I doing crafts or building with blocks or Legos while my mom read out loud to us. Every night. When the Christmas season arrived, we set aside our regular book and pulled out her tan folder of Christmas stories…stories she had torn out of magazines over the years. We all had our favorites and often requested them multiple times during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

While at the time I didn’t understand why I loved this particular story, I do now. I didn’t consciously notice that this story contradicted the idea of giving out of sacrifice. Yet, the seeds were planted, and over the years, the value and importance of this story and its teaching on abundance has increased exponentially…to the point that it has become an integral part of who I am and my philosophy of life. Abundance doesn’t mean that I have to sacrifice anything for myself in order to help another…nor does it mean that it’s shameful to have a lot of a particular resource (love, money, time, health etc.) Abundance means that because I have a lot of a particular resource, my needs have been met first and now I have extra to share with another…with gratitude and joy…freely and willingly…because I don’t need anything more. To wish for abundance, is to wish to share.

This year, I realized that this story also teaches the most beautiful aspect of the Sacred Feminine through the character of the mother: the art and gift of being who you are. Even though I no longer consider myself Christian, the truths in this story are universal to all beings. I hope you are blessed this holiday season, no matter what tradition you celebrate.

To Be Continued…

Being in the Grief

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Grief is so complicated.

One moment I’m overwhelmed with sadness, the next with relief…anger…hurt…loneliness…conviction…reassurance…uncertainty. It’s all in there…all mixed up together like some chunky stew melding all the flavors together. Facing the grief is hard…and it is only the beginning. Now I get to live with it…with each breath…with each thought…constantly aware and paying attention to my loyalty and my lines of light as they sneak off my Divine Line.

It’s exhausting.

It’s healing.

And so I sit in the grief, listening to what it has to teach me…letting all the emotions flood me and swirl me and caress me and cleanse me.

Then the phone rings.

He’s calling from one of the employment legal firms I had contacted prior to leaving my job. I had wanted advice and support in negotiating my exit, but for some reason, no one had called me back. Now, two weeks later, after the process was done, he calls me. I tell him that the situation is finished, and like a good lawyer, he persists by asking questions. To my surprise, I actually am willing to talk, so I do.

An hour-and-a-half later, I feel so validated. Finally, someone has heard me. Someone has acknowledged the pain I’ve experienced and someone has supported me by saying that what I experienced was illegal. Finally, someone has acknowledged that my 40+ pages of documentation does indeed describe harassment, and that there is definitely potential for a winning lawsuit. I’m so grateful for this validation that I burst into tears. His voice is soothing and supportive; encouraging and sympathetic.

He then asks me to send all the documentation to him, along with a questionnaire that he will send to me. I tell him that I will get that information to him that week…grateful for so much support and justice after feeling so isolated and alone for so long. I then hang up.

I’m too emotionally drained to do anything at that moment, so I go for a walk. Talking about everything I’d experienced brings back all those emotions…in huge surges. For the first time, I feel them completely…aware of all the pain I had ignored for so long. As I walk along the ocean’s edge, I consider my option to pursue the lawsuit. I know I have ample documentation…that’s not the issue. The issue is, do I want to spend my energy…the little I have left…on a situation that has ended? What do I want to happen if I do pursue the lawsuit? Will winning give me the sense of justice I want so deeply? Will it take me where I want to go? I’m surprised to realize that I don’t know the answers to these questions.

That night, I chat with a girlfriend, and we discuss these same questions together. I realize that some part of me really really wants my former boss to lose her job. I am angry that someone so out of integrity is allowed to keep her job, yet someone so much in integrity is easily allowed to walk away with no acknowledgement or recognition for the value of that integrity. I realize that some part of me really wants to retaliate and seek vindication. I really want people to see what they’ve lost and regret what they’ve done and apologize to me. As I sit with this realization, I allow those emotions to churn about and they rile me all up.

“What happens if you win?” she asks. “What will you gain?”

That’s a good question. What would happen if I win? I project myself into that potential to experience the moment when the judge rules in my favor. I experience relief, happiness, validation, sorrow, weariness, exhaustion…all the things I’m experiencing now. I’m surprised by that. Do I really want that? I look over to the other side of the courtroom to look in the eyes of the people there…people I once worked with…people I still see in my small town…people I still care about. There’s now a wall between us…a wall that can never be undone as a result of going through this process…no hope for reconciliation or renewal of any kind of relationship. This is not what I want. And yet, the law has been broken. At what point do I let go vs. pursue justice when something is so clearly wrong?

I express this to my friend. Neither of us has a clear answer.

“In hearing you discuss this situation,” she says, “it really is clear to me that there is a difference is values. You deeply value integrity, honesty, and  conscientiousness over getting along with people. But, your former job values getting along with people above everything else. There is no way that the two of you could ever reconcile because you value two very different things.”

I’m startled at this insight. She is so right! I’m so grateful for her insight…for showing me something I couldn’t see for myself.

The next day, I have an appointment with my masseuse. She is so intuitive, so compassionate, and so nurturing that I know I will be supported simply by being in her presence.  As she begins to work on my body, she asks me what I’m holding on to…because my body isn’t releasing.

“I feel like you’re bracing yourself in protection against someone attacking you. And as long as you’re in that stance, I’m limited in how I can help you.”

I burst into tears and my mouth starts blurting. I have absolutely no idea I am saying…it all comes out in a rush…tears flowing…tissues absolutely necessary. As I do, she keeps working on my body, and it gradually starts to relax and release. She listens, supports, encourages and sympathizes, and again I feel validated and I relax just a bit more.

“Can you let go? Can you visualize floating in the ocean…letting the waves carry you where they will?”

I am startled to realize that I have so much resistance to that idea. Why? Because you don’t trust that the Universe/God/Goddess supports you in this decision. I send a request for help. I can imagine floating on my back in the ocean trying to just let go, but I keep getting distracted by the waves washing over my face, worrying that I’ll hit rocks or get twisted up in the seaweed. I desperately pull all my lines of light back to myself, looking internally for the energy I so desperately seek, hoping that will help calm me down and focus, but it’s not helping. And then, a beautiful humpback whale appears. She looks at me and asks if she can help me. I tearfully accept her help, and she gently swims underneath me as I float. She gradually lifts up closer and closer until her back brushes mine. She gently lifts and supports me so that my face is never underwater and I don’t have to worry about hitting rocks or getting tangled in seaweed. And then I slump. 

Instantly, my masseuse responds, gently pulling out all the stuck and stagnant and painful stuff from my muscles. My body gratefully releases it all and we both flow and swirl in the healing. Then my masseuse speaks.

“I had a boss who was a lot like you’ve described yours to be. I was afraid to leave because I loved my clients and the work so much. I tried to tell her in a variety of ways that she was killing her business because of her lack of integrity, but that only made things worse. Finally, I knew I had to leave. It was scary and hard, but so worth it. I started my own business, and it’s really starting to flourish now. I love working for myself…staying in integrity with my heart and my path and living in joy each day. She eventually lost her business completely, and most of her assets, but she still didn’t learn anything from it. She still thinks of herself as a victim…that it was someone else’s fault that all of this happened to her. So, even though I want her to learn this lesson and she experienced all that I predicted she would, I have to let go of my attachment to being right or the outcome of her journey…because it’s her journey…not mine.”

Ahhhhhhh!!!! Those damned attachments to outcomes! That’s what this is all about! Now I have to be aware of loyalty as well as attachment…only on me…only for me. 

Breathe.

“What about my obligation for the illegal situation…don’t I have a responsibility to hold someone accountable when they’ve done something illegal?”

“Perhaps. The law is there to protect you should you choose to pursue that direction. But it isn’t the only way to solve the situation.”

“Am I not destroying my enemies when I forgive them?”

As I lay on the table, remembering that Abraham Lincoln quote I’d seen on Facebook that morning, still conscious that the whale was supporting me, I explore what it would feel like to simply forgive and move on…to fully release all the injustices, all the pain, all the harassment…and use my energy to focus on moving forward…into my life’s purpose. The longer I sit in that option, the better I feel and the deeper I relax and release.

“This energy you’re feeling, the anger, the injustice, the hurt, the pain, the betrayal, is powerful energy. Don’t deny it…don’t ignore it. Find a way to use it…to transform it to a higher frequency so that it takes you where you want to go.”

The tears flow again…this time in gratitude. This is all exactly what I need…these are the answers I seek. This way is in integrity with who I am and what I wish to be and model in the world.

That night, I wrote an email to the lawyer, expressing gratitude for his support and his willingness to hear me, as well as my decision not to continue down the legal path of retribution. As I pressed “Send,” I saw the Ho’oponopono prayer in my mind…shining with a golden light. I said it…to all who love me…to all who supported me…and most especially, to my former boss and those who challenge me. I’ve said it every day since.

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

And the peace deepens.

Facing the Grief

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I am great in emergencies. I keep a cool head, find solutions quickly, and implement them instantly. I rarely think about how I’m feeling in those moments…I simply focus on keeping everyone alive, balanced, protected, and tended to. Only after I have seen for myself that everyone is OK and their needs are being addressed do I stop to pay attention to me. And then I completely crumple and fall apart.

I tend to do the same thing in challenging situations…particularly chronic ones. Somehow, I’ve created a pattern of “just getting through” with the ever-present hope that it will get better. Because I see and believe in potentials, my chronic optimism often blinds me to the inevitable that I so desperately want to ignore. I have such hope that people will “see the light” and change that it’s hard for me to walk away, because if I do, I feel like I’m giving up on someone…and what if I do give up just before the miracle?

Some people call this loyalty.

I used to be proud of this quality of mine…my steadfast loyalty…my stick-to-it-tive-ness…my persistence in relationships and never giving up on someone. But there was always a catch…I have yet to have another person or institution be as loyal to me as I have been to him/her/it/them. And that hurts. A lot.

On my last day at my job, I was asked not to come to my class to say good bye to my students. I was told that they wouldn’t even notice that the teacher had changed and that it didn’t matter. I told myself that she was just mad and that this was the last day she could treat me this way, but it still hurt…and it bothered me that I allowed her to succeed in her intention to hurt me. At assembly, where announcements are made to the entire school (including saying goodbye to people), not one word was mentioned that I was leaving or that it was my last day. Nobody acknowledged my years of service or expressed gratitude for all the things I had done for the school. I was devastated.  After everyone was dismissed, I sat in my seat fighting tears, waves of disappointment flooding me. One colleague came over to me and asked me if I was OK  I sighed and shared my disappointment. He nodded understandingly and replied that he was too…which was why he came over to check on me. I took my time going back to my office, and there on my desk were some flowers and a card from another colleague…also letting me know that she was sad that I was leaving and that she appreciated me.

I was deeply grateful for these kind gestures, but it didn’t undo the hurt of being ignored and unappreciated or not seen. I stuffed the emotions down so that I could “just get through,” and I suddenly stopped. I realized that I had been doing this for a really long time. I had been ignoring my unhappiness for so long, that I didn’t realize just how unhappy I had been…because I was so completely disconnected from my heart and my emotions. I had applied emergency coping mechanisms to a non-emergency situation, and in that moment I experienced a wee enlightenment. This combination of intense loyalty and disconnection had created a pattern of pain and disillusionment for me over and over and over again…and for the first time I now understood why.

One of my spiritual teachers teaches that one should only trust another to the same degree as that other trusts him/herself. Likewise, one should only be as loyal to another as that other is loyal to him/herself. Additionally, she teaches that our external world is a reflection of what is happening internally. So, if I’m feeling betrayed, somewhere I’m betraying myself. So, how did these teachings apply to this particular situation?

Firstly, I betrayed myself by disconnecting from myself. By ignoring my unhappiness and my reactions to situations, I was denying that there was any reason, validity, purpose, lesson, or value in those emotions. By ignoring them under the guise of optimism or “just getting through,” I gradually became so unaware of myself that I couldn’t see the inevitable. Rather, I kept clinging to the dying situation…trying to change it to what I wanted it to be…completely attached to the outcome I wanted…unable and unwilling to see that a different outcome was going to happen no matter what. I had judgments on that different outcome…that I would be a failure, that I would be abandoning all that I had worked so hard to achieve…that I would be an idiot and loser. Because of those judgments, I couldn’t see the possibility that I had learned all that I could learn in that situation and that it was time for me to move on…I was ready for something bigger, something more challenging…something more. By holding on to my judgments and disconnecting from my heart, I couldn’t see that the inevitability of leaving my job was actually the direction my heart really wanted to take…that it was a blessing…that it was the right and good thing to do. As long as I held on to the situation, desperately wanting it to be other than it was, I continued to betray myself.

Secondly, I realized that my loyalty was extremely out of balance. I have a lot of loyalty to share. But I realized that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I have to share it. I can be loyal to me…and in fact, that’s really where the loyalty belongs…to me. I had put my loyalty on so many people, situations, institutions, events, and processes, that I had very little left for me. Energetically, this was confusing me because I couldn’t determine anyone else’s loyalty so long as mine was outside myself. I realized that I could pull all my loyalty back to myself, and only share a matched amount with another…person, event, situation, institution, or process. As I adjusted my loyalty levels and came into balance, I noticed that I wasn’t depriving another of anything…rather, I was sharing from a place of abundance rather than getting the leftovers. I was honoring another more by matching him/her rather than giving more than he/she was able to receive. Then, as I began pulling all my loyalty back to myself, I realized that my attachment also came back to me…no longer on another or the situation or its outcome. With all that energy back on myself, decisions were easy and simple. It was so obvious! Why should I work so hard to stay in a situation where I am unappreciated and treated so horribly? How is that beneficial to me? How is that nurturing to me? How is that honoring me and my gifts and my magnificence to allow myself to continue in that situation? All of sudden, the hurt subsided…significantly. All of a sudden, my grief was internal…about me. I was mourning my betrayal and disloyalty to myself. I still desperately wanted the situation to be other than it was, and I still wanted justice and recognition and appreciation…but not at the expense of me…and not in place of me. I realized that I had the power to provide that for myself…it just was going to take some practice to change those patterns of co-dependence…those patterns of relying on something outside myself to meet my needs.

As I drove away for the last time as an employee, I realized how grateful I was to have learned this valuable lesson…one that had haunted me my entire life. I finally learned that lesson, and had flipped my practice from doing the opposite of that which I intended to master to practicing that which I intended to master.

I deeply love and appreciate myself.

I am loyal only to myself.

My heart is trustworthy.

The grief eased.

I breathed in gratitude.

Compassion after the Discomfort

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“People often ask me, “How do we know whether to refrain from something or go toward it?” My answer is, just practice what comes naturally at the time. If the first commitment, refraining, seems like it would be the most helpful, do that. But if you feel that you can keep your heart and mind open a little longer to someone who’s irritating you or triggering your impatience, then follow your instinct and do that. Then maybe, based on having been able to stay open a little longer in that situation, you’ll begin to get a sense of what it would mean to not turn away at all.”
(Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)

There is always an after. Even when facing an ending, there is always an after…especially when that ending does not result in turning away. But that after is never the same from one end to another. So, no matter how many afters one experiences, the only thing that can be assured is that “this too will pass.”

But what do you do in that space between the end and the passing of the “this?”

Be.

With Compassion.

For self.

Usually the after indicates some kind of previous struggle…and often, for quite a while. A lengthy struggle can result in many things…depletion, depression, exhaustion, sorrow, grief, resentment, fury, vulnerability, fear, relief, expansion, and many, many more.

These emotions swirled through me after I made my decision to leave. And, they didn’t stop. It’s been three weeks since that decision, and there are still waves that catch me in unsuspecting moments.

Those first few days after the decision were the hardest…trying to wrap up projects, writing up documentation, visiting all my rituals for the last time, still working and keeping a cheerful face even the presence of those who wished me ill. But the most difficult was the goodbyes. I would swing from holding an energetic protective stance with my co-workers to a gut-wrenching sorrow as a student’s eyes welled up with tears.

After a couple days, and many nights of asking for help from the Higher Realms, I re-learned something beautiful…it can all co-exist. I don’t have to swing from one emotion to the other, exhausting myself in the perpetual pendulum. Instead, I can just hold space for me to simply BE in the wash of it all…all at once…all at the same time…immersed…present.

In that understanding, a huge energy of compassion engulfed me, and I opened to receive it…the teary, frustrated, angry, hurt, sad, tender, vulnerable didn’t go away. Instead, I recognized the potentials this force carried if I harnessed it. So, I just rode the wave. And in riding the wave, I allowed myself to fully experience all that the emotion had to offer me. By not resisting it, it carried me forward and up to a higher frequency…and a tiny piece of that emotion fell away…completed.

Breathe.

Hold Compassion.

Ride.

Repeat.

 

Being in the Discomfort

The primary essence of the Sacred Feminine is being-ness.

Not in a passive way. In a state of heightened awareness…actively noticing everything in and around yourself…only taking responsibility for yourself and holding space and compassion for others.

That sounds easy.

It’s not.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve been told it gets easier.

I’ll let you know.

I had an excellent opportunity to put this being-ness into practice in light of what I had read from Pema Chodron‘s book, “The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.”

There’s a common misunderstanding among all the human begins who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable…A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.

“You have to be kind,” he told me. “We just can’t have this kind of tension.”

I’m sitting in a meeting with administration and human resources. There have been at least a dozen of these meetings so far, and things are getting worse at work…not better.

I look at this man and watch him squirm.

“That last meeting was just so uncomfortable. It was so difficult to watch and to be in the room.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you were so upset and it was just so obvious. And your boss was trying to connect with you but you kept dismissing her.”

“Because she was lying,” I reply. “You were uncomfortable with the fact that I wasn’t willing to go along with her lies?”

He squirms. “It just isn’t kind,” he says.

“And allowing a lie to continue is?” I ask.

He squirms again. “It’s just so uncomfortable. We just can’t have that.”

The above passage flashes through my mind and in that moment, I feel compassion for this man. Oh! You poor man. You really aren’t used to facing difficulties in your life. You really want to avoid pain at any cost. This must be so difficult for you.

“I don’t think you realize,” I begin slowly, “that the level of discomfort that you felt in that meeting is nothing compared to the level of discomfort I’ve been carrying around inside as a result of my boss’s lack of integrity. I am no longer willing to silently carry it all just so that you and everyone else can feel comfortable. The discomfort is there. Ignoring it or running away from it accomplishes nothing.”

He shifts in his chair and looks out the window. He sighs a big sigh.

I do too.

“I know,” I continue. “It’s hard. It’s unpleasant. I know. I’ve been carrying this around inside of me for two years. And I know kindness is important to you, but what about kindness towards me? I’m not being kind to myself by allowing this to continue to hurt me just because it might not be kind to tell the truth to another person.”

“This last meeting was just so different,” he finally says. “It was just so obvious that you were upset, and it just created so much tension in the room. We just can’t have that here.”

“The meeting was only different because I spoke my truth. I didn’t create the tension…I simply exposed it. Your words indicate that you want me to keep silent and ignore my upset. That ignoring problems is being kind and the only way to do business. Is that true?”

I squirms. “I don’t know,” he whispers. “It’s just so uncomfortable.”

He’s right. It is. I haven’t enjoyed a single one of these meetings. My heart has pounded as I walk to the meeting, requiring me to do a walking meditation and request people in my social circle to hold space for me at the appointed meeting time. Watching my mouth speak words that I’ve felt and thought for so long has been gut-wrenching…and freeing. I hadn’t realized how much of my energy has been tied up in keeping quiet…in keeping all of these things repressed…stomped down…ignored…controlled…all in the name of kindness and getting along with people.

The clarity has come. I know what I have to do.

“I don’t want to work for my boss any longer,” I say quietly.

A pained look crosses his face. I look at the other face and see the same thing reflected there. I feel compassion again for everyone’s discomfort with the discomfort. And then, a funny thing happens…I feel freedom…and peace…and a realignment with my soul. It’s definitely been an uncomfortable process. Yet, I’ve learned a lot…about the institution…about my boss…about the administration…about myself.

Most importantly, I know I am now back in integrity with myself.

And I know in that moment, that’s all that matters.

Being

 

Someone recently asked me, “When you say that femininity is about being, it really bothers me. What do you mean by that, because it feels like you’re saying femininity is passive…and that is definitely not me.”

I get this. I don’t think passivity is ever a quality that is helpful, as it leads to stagnation, disconnection from self, and lying to others. It’s been a trait I have seen in many women as I have grown up and it infuriated me when my father tried to deny my powerful nature in order to get me to only be sweet and gentle, and ultimately, passive. To be fair, my father, and many other men like him, buy into the traditional religious stance that supports this idea…that a virtuous woman is not a powerful woman who roars or is passionate or defies social order or structure. A virtuous woman is one who acquiesces in order to maintain peace no matter what.

But, in experiencing the Sacred Feminine, I have found Her to be anything but passive. As a result, the first thing I must do is to unlink the word “passive” from the word “being.” Being has an active state too…it just looks a little bit different than what I’ve been taught through religion. As I explore the Sacred Feminine, I realize just how masculine Western Culture is…how it permeates everything to the point where feminine is not only distasteful, it has become almost eliminated altogether. This isn’t balance either. But how do we learn how to be feminine or choose with awareness a feminine trait if we don’t even know what femininity is?

Ironically, there do exist some religious environs where the concept of masculine and feminine are clearly embodied. As much as I feel constrained and restricted in the Orthodox Jewish communities, they do have a very clear concept of what a woman’s role is and what a man’s role is. While I still find those definitions confining as gender roles, they’re not so offensive to me when the principles are applied in terms of feminine and masculine traits/behaviors.

As I move through my daily life, I realize that I flip back and forth between feminine and masculine tasks, thoughts, and behaviors…and perhaps that is what can make this whole idea so confusing…I am not purely or exclusively feminine or masculine. I am both. And, as I become more consciously aware of the different ways I am masculine or feminine, I find that I am melding myself into wholeness…honoring both sides of myself…leading me to a deep self-love.

So for my friend who’s concerned with the passivity of being, here’s what I’m discovering:

Feminine Masculine
BE DO
potential energy kinetic energy
receiving energy sending energy
expansiveness holding space with boundaries
inward work outward work
heart centered head centered
creator protector
flow/surrender fight/resistance

                                  

The easiest ways to illustrate these differences are through the very essences of male vs. female…reproduction and sex. As women, we have more obvious cycles and rhythms than men due to our menstruation cycles. And, I’m learning that by honoring these cycles, I am honoring both masculine and feminine…I’m also connecting to a deep and ancient wisdom that is often lost when the cycles are ignored by powering through with the aid of drugs. This single practice of honoring my rhythm and flow of my body has required me to slow down…to pay attention to my heart, and to create a different life for myself…one in which I can honor these same rhythms without putting my income at risk.

During a normal menstruation cycle, a woman experiences three weeks of building and one week of flow. Those three weeks of building are feminine…the cultivation of and preservation of life-blood. This flowing inward is feminine…as is the action a woman experiences in orgasm…the contractions that propel inwards. We don’t necessarily DO anything except allow ourselves to BE who we are…women. We don’t consciously tell our bodies what to do…it just does it and we just are…in the flow of being feminine, in the cycle.

But that fourth week, the bleeding portion of our menstrual cycles, is masculine…the flowing outward…the sending energy, as in the action a man experiences in orgasm…contractions that propel outwards. A woman’s hormones change to a more masculine concoction. The skin tone is less feminine; her voice is lower. And yet, she’s still woman…allowing the natural flow of life to cycle through while still being…flushing to make room for something new.

Similarly, the process of procreation holds both masculine and feminine elements. A woman receiving the sperm is feminine in two ways…she’s created as a woman to have room to receive, and the act of receiving is also feminine. The man in providing the sperm is also masculine in two ways…he’s created as a man to send sperm, and the act of sending is also masculine. The cultivation and creation of new life is feminine, and in this heightened state of femininity, the flowing out of blood stops. For 40 weeks, a woman is purely woman in her body…fully aware of life throbbing all around her. Her instincts become much more focused on the home and creating a home for the new life.

Interestingly enough, men also feel more masculine throughout this process. Most men feel particularly protective a pregnant women…there is an instinct to protect the vulnerable without diminishing those who are vulnerable. This vulnerability is honored as something beautiful rather than something to be ashamed of or to hide from. Men often feel inspired to increase their ability to provide for their families and will seek promotions or raises, a bigger home, a different car, and will often be seen running errands for the mother of their unborn child…he’s going outward, and she’s staying put and receiving.

Then comes the birth. A man often feels helpless in these situations and they often experience an incredible amount of angst that they can’t do anything. What they don’t realize is that they can do something…they can hold space and witness the process. This is masculine energy. But a woman may not only need masculine energy in this process…she may also need feminine energy because the birthing of a baby is masculine…sending a fully formed creation outward. A man can also hold a feminine energy of being while holding space. He can tap into the nurturing feminine space within himself in order to allow the woman to fully express all the masculinity she needs to express in order to send out this child from within. Ironically, it is also in the height of birthing that a woman confronts the essence of herself as being. As labor progresses, she becomes increasingly aware and consumed by everything that is taking place. And as she realizes that she cannot change this process, she surrenders to it, and then participates with it.

These are extreme examples, my friend would say…and she’s right. Aside from these huge moments in life that not everyone will experience, how can a powerful and passionate woman express femininity in daily life?

I’ve started by learning what nurtures me, creating space to receive it, receiving it when given, then expressing gratitude. For example, when a man holds a door open for me, I receive it and express gratitude. He is embodying masculinity by holding space for me and honoring me as I flow through the space he has created.

When a man offers to carry my groceries to my car, I accept, again with gratitude. His offer is a sending energy, which is masculine, which also identifies the feminine capacity in me to receive his offer. The simple act of accepting is receiving, which is feminine, also honoring his gift that he sent to me.

Receiving compliments is a particular challenge for me. I’ve always felt compelled to return the compliment or even deny the truth of the compliment altogether. However, when practicing femininity, I choose to receive them with gratitude because they are a gift to me and in doing so, I’m embodying feminine energy. This action of being a receptacle creates a place to receive additional compliments, which then another masculine energy can recognize and will seek to fill. This is why the more you have, the more you receive…or, when it rains, it pours…or any of the other adages or practices prove true so frequently.

By practicing feminine behaviors and experiencing the resulting powerful experience of being, I increasingly connect with the essence of me by going within. As I do this, I become more confident in who I am and less afraid of expressing myself in the world. By being me and being true to my soul’s essence, I am learning that I exhibit the activity of the Sacred Feminine…the activity within me…contained within…nurturing within…reflecting out.

Sculpture by Chris Navarro. Book titles: The Power of Belief.