Sunday, January 29, 2012

We Are Woman

The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. ~Lucretia Mott

I've been a feminist as long as I can remember.  Thanks to my mother, who encouraged her daughters to be independent, strong, and socially conscious of sexism, I have, despite my varied intensity on the subject over the course of my life, always had a deep and abiding passion for the social equality of women.  I had a brief crush on a boy when I was 12 years old who asked me in all seriousness, "You don't really believe in all that Women's Lib stuff you talk about, do you?"
"Of course I do!" I retorted, "Why would I say that stuff if I didn't believe it?"  All of a sudden, he didn't seem that attractive to me anymore.  Mom would blast Helen Reddy's song, "I Am Woman" on the stereo and we would sing loudly and pump our fists:

I am woman, watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my loving arms across the land
But I'm still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
!

Who else but a woman would use the analogy of an embryo?  I liked this verse most of all because it spoke of joining together with men to create a more equal society.  Because as long as I've been a feminist, I've also loved men.  Or maybe I am just fascinated with men as being so different from myself. Regardless, I believe in a society that simply accepts people from the inside out without regarding them as inferior based on physical characteristics. 

I have not lived consistently with my feminist convictions.  I married a man who was extraordinarily sexist and violently abusive towards women.  I am the man, I have the mustache, and so I tell you what to do! No joke, he actually said that.  He viewed us as "equally matched" in our fights, "You have your tongue, I have my fists.  We're equal."  However, in true feminist form, I sought the support and help of other women to leave him and his abuse, and along with my female lawyer soundly conquered him in court.

You can bend but never break me
'cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul


While I won't go so far to thank my abuser for it, my experiences with him certainly served to deepen my convictions about equality for women and particularly to work toward freedom from violence in our relationships with men.  I went on to work with domestic violence victims and survivors, hosting support groups in my home and creating and maintaining a website for victims.

Even when I was neck-deep in fundamentalist Christianity, I wasn't content with the more conservative interpretations of women's role in society.  I would counter those views with what I believed to be the authentic message of Christianity: mutuality.  I did the requisite Biblical research and made a sound case, but received the censure of my church's pastor who said I was unfit for service because I believed and espoused that women could and should serve as clergy.  In leaving the church, I was freed from the task of having to prove what I believed to be obvious: men and woman are different, yes, but functionally equal.  I wondered what men were afraid would happen if they admitted this.  I also wondered why they refused to take advantage of the vast resources of half the population.  Just as my pastor relegated me to organizing women's tea parties rather than Bible studies, many men seem content to ignore the treasure-trove of creative insight and intelligence in their counterparts. What does it benefit them to do this? 


In the long run, Women's Liberation will of course free men -- but in the short run it's going to COST men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. ~Robin Morgan


It really chaps my ass that women have had to fight for what should be naturally acknowledged as true.  The Greeks were very much into dualistic philosophies and they acknowledged that both masculine and the feminine traits were to be found in everyone.  The problem was these characteristics were ascribed value judgments and those deemed "feminine" were seen as less appealing and needing suppression. But here's the problem with dualism: it neglects the whole.  The Sanskrit word Tantra transliterates as the weft and warp (duality) of the weave (nonduality), the directions of the threads that create cloth. If one of these dualistic pairs did not exist, neither would the cloth. Equality doesn't exclude the differences or polarities, it includes them, accepts them, and weaves them together to make a whole -- whole person, whole society.  Suppression or devaluing one side of the duality makes for a very unbalanced, weak "whole," or rather, something that is not whole. 

The Empress in Tarot is representative of the feminine part of the duality, while The Emperor represents the masculine.  Neither is greater, together they form a pair.  The Empress comes first in the deck, interestingly, but that doesn't mean better.  If it means anything, it means every man was born of woman.  While the feminist movement has enlightened many, we still have entrenched ideas about feminine things being inherently "lesser" than masculine. While women are commended (and simultaneously ridiculed) for exhibiting traditionally masculine characteristics, men are rarely applauded for exhibiting their feminine side unless they do so in a distinctly masculine manner.  A man who bakes cakes is a "Cake Boss" whereas a woman who bakes is, well...a woman. 
 
We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. ~Gloria Steinem

The Empress is the archetypal "mother" but not all can identify with that.  Instead of viewing her as a noun, try instead to view her as a verb.  In a commentary written by feminist Gloria Steinem, she explains:
"Think about it: As a noun, mother not only excludes half the human race, but is also limited by fertility and age and intention...
As a noun, mother may be good or bad, willing or unwilling, on welfare or rich, worshiped or blamed, dominating or nurturing, accidental or chosen.
Perhaps that’s why the noun mother is so easily taken over by profanity; or by war, as in “the Mother of All Bombs;” or by war-makers who honor Hero Mothers for birthing soldiers.
But when mother is a verb—as in to mother, to be mothered—then the best of human possibilities come into our imaginations.
To mother is to care about the welfare of another person as much as one’s own.
To mother depends on empathy and thoughtfulness, noticing and caring.
To mother is the only paradigm in which the strong and the weak are perfectly matched in mutual interest." ( Mother As A Verb by Gloria Steinem)
 Another funny thing about archetypes and dualities is that they aren't really meant to describe actual men and women, but only traits and characteristics, with no value judgment placed upon whether these characteristics and traits are better or worse.  They simply are. Men express "mothering" naturally and as easily, and many women really suck at it.  The mistake is made when we assume that feminine archetypes belong to women and masculine archetypes belong to men.  They don't, they are meant to be balanced within each of us and therefore balancing our societies.

Patriarchy is the result of too strong an emphasis on the masculine part of the duality, too much value given to that particular warp of the cloth.  While it has its benefits, such as strength, survival, profit-making, and logic, it is lopsided on its own.  Technology and business are examples of masculine archetypal structure and energy and while extremely beneficial, when they ignore the feminine elements they become destructive and ultimately self-destructive.  Only when feminine archetypal energy is integrated into these institutions will they thrive in balance with nature and with our own long-term survival. 



To me, feminism isn't about who's better or who screwed everything up.  It's not about forcing men to shoulder the blame for everything wrong with the world, even though, come on guys, you've made the lion's share of decisions for quite some time now, so take responsibility.  It's about awareness and what the hippies used to call "consciousness raising." What does it really take for people, both men and women, to realize we need balance?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Those Henny Penny Days

Do you ever have one of those days when you feel either an overwhelming anticipation of something really good coming your way or, conversely, an overwhelming dread that you're going to get kicked in the ass really hard?  And you spend your day looking for it, waiting for it, wondering what is going to happen, but then nothing out of the ordinary happens.  What the hell is that? Emotional chemistry going a bit wonky?  Too much caffeine?  The feeling reminds me of the story of Henny Penny, a fable about a fear mongering fowl that runs around proclaiming, "The sky is falling!" for no apparent reason.  I asked tarot and got: 10 of Cups.

Emotional Overload
Actually, I think this card explains more than that.  This card is often interpreted as a "scene," as if it were on a stage and what appears to be happy, happy, joy, joy on the surface may not be reality.   It may, in fact, be set up to produce an emotion in you, but it's not really happening. These may be actors playing a part in a show.  While we often experience all manner of emotions vicariously through watching a play or a movie, we understand objectively that the action on the screen or stage is not "real."  Maybe that's what those anticipatory feelings are, too.  

When I experience a moment of intuitive wisdom, it is usually quite specific.  I feel directed to do something, say something, call someone, research something.  It's generally aimed at a very individual subject, person, or activity.  Even when it is a bit vague, it usually centers on something specific, such as when you get a "bad feeling" about driving that particular route to work, or when you meet someone and they just make the pit of your stomach lurch.  The feeling is focused on that one person or event.  With the dread or anticipation, it's not focused at all.  It's all-encompassing, like anything could happen out of nowhere.  

I had a strange intuitive experience about two months after 9/11, after the World Trade Center was attacked.  I woke up to a beautiful blue sky and thought, "The sky looks just like it did on that day.  Another plane will go down in NY today."  What? Excuse me?  And while it wasn't at all connected with the incident on 9/11, an airplane did indeed crash in Queens, NY that day.  As I heard the report on the news, I wondered why the hell I knew this ahead of time and what difference did it make that I did?  My point is, it was a very specific knowing for a very specific event and not a generalized feeling of dread, although dread accompanied the knowing.  It's quite different than the overall, nebulous, "something bad is going to happen today, I just know it" kind of feeling.

So the 10 of Cups may be saying, "Yes, you're feeling this, but it's not exactly 'real.'"  It's a lot of emotion, but not based in reality.  It's also not a great indicator that you were intuitively sensing something because it's easy enough to find something good or something bad to pin it on if you just scan the evening news.  So what does one do with it? Again, I asked tarot: 6 of Cups

Accept it.  It's probably some old emotional connection from your past or some association with a past event.  I occasionally experience Post Traumatic Stress responses that stem from an abusive relationship in my past.  Similarly, the emotions I experience during those moments are not based in present reality but are triggered by something in the present that reminds my brain of a past event and the attending emotions flood in even though they are not appropriate to the present situation.  Our subconscious mind picks up on the smallest detail and nuance of our everyday experiences and it does this unnoticed by our conscious awareness.  There was likely some subconscious trigger that occurred which set off the emotions you now feel flooded with, but with no specific connection to a present situation.  So, unless I can securely attach the feeling to something specific, I just breathe deep and get on with the day. 

Psychologically speaking, this type of experience, if it is experienced frequently, is labeled an "anxiety disorder."  Even if the anticipatory feeling is an expectation of something good, it still heightens one's awareness and produces the same anxious physical effects in the body.  If this happens to you on a regular basis, there are treatments for it.  I'm talking about the random experiences that only happen once in a while. Either way, though, the 10 of Cups suggests it may be an overproduction of emotion-producing chemicals in the brain.  Psychics and empaths report feeling these things routinely and suggest "shielding" oneself against the onslaught of others' emotions.  Wherever the source of these emotions, they usually serve no benefit to you and are better managed however you best manage them.  For an empath, it would be to recognize the feeling as "not yours" and disowning it.  For someone with PTSD or anxiety, it would be to recognize the feeling as belonging to the past or not rooted in the present and disowning it.  Either way it involves a releasing of feelings that you know aren't connected to your present reality.  Even if it is truly a psychic experience, so what? Unless it is specific there's nothing you can do with it anyway, so why allow the experience to overshadow your day? 

As a tarot reader, it's pretty important to be able to distinguish the intuitive from the emotional. If one is an empathic intuitive, there's yet another layer involved distinguishing between one's own emotions and the emotions of someone else.  The Delphic aphorism to "Know Thyself" is very apt here.  Before approaching the Oracle, one must have a good grasp on one's own emotional and psychological experiences in order to correctly decipher the "truth" from the oracle's often confusing utterances.  Knowing oneself is also a guard against gullibility and from taking (or giving) the wrong advice.  I would also add "Trust Thyself."  Once I learned to take the time to distinguish between intuition and emotion, I was better able to trust my intuition.  Everyone's intuition speaks to them in a different way.  The manner in which my intuition "speaks" to me is usually through phrases or words that come into my mind which may or may not be accompanied by a physical sensation or emotional response.  Usually no emotional feeling is present.  The intuitive thought just "is."  Without the attending emotions, it can be easily brushed aside or left unnoticed. I've had to practice noticing them.  When the intuitive thought comes with emotions, it tends to bother me until I do something about it and there's more sense of urgency because the emotions are nagging at me.  How your intuition speaks to you may be very unique, so it benefits to pay close attention to how you experience it, how your body feels, and what, if any, emotions accompanied the thought.  With regular practice and conscious awareness, the random emotional spillage of those anxious days can be managed and dealt with as soon as you recognize the difference.



Monday, January 02, 2012

Out With The Old, In With the New

Dedicating this wonderful, soulful song by Florence and The Machine, "Shake It Out" to all of us for this new year.  It keeps replaying in my head.  I feel it has significant messages to forgive oneself, to allow new experiences, to embrace life without fear of making mistakes, to go ahead and make mistakes, to let the old and useless go, and let life happen.  Let's not carry all the weight of yesterday into this new year.  Shake it out.  Let it go. Maybe that message is just for me, but somehow I doubt it.  I think many of us "carry that horse around." 

I couldn't help but notice many Tarot references in this song as well.  How many can you find?  



Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around
Our love is pastured, such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues drawn
But it's always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off

I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off,
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off

And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It's a fine romance but its left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark and right at my throat
Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Well what the hell I'm gonna let it happen to me

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off
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