Embodied Heart

The Mind of Trauma: Everything’s Preventable?

“This is painful, therefore, there was more I could have done to make sure it didn’t happen.” My constant mantra whenever something—unexpectedly or expectedly—goes wrong in my life, especially if it’s a repeated stressor. I’ve been processing my trauma history directly as of late, and have come away with the knowledge of a core belief around which I have centered much of my interaction with the world. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will be delving into the ways in which this belief has colored my life as well as acknowledging the falsity it contains and tracing the evolution of my self-talk in relation to it.

By Chance but Not by Choice

For much of my adult life, I’ve conceptualized fate as the lazy person’s excuse for poor choices. This judgment has been aimed both at myself and at others. I’ve held tightly to the idea that it is possible to avoid negative experiences through a three-step process, which I repeat dozens of times a day in relation to current stressors: 1) Contingency plan—If this happens, then this could happen. If that occurs, then what? Continue the decision-tree until all possible events and outcomes are contained; 2) Check on the progress of events frequently to determine how far along the contingency plan has progressed and which possible outcomes can be discarded; 3) As soon as one of the outcomes on the decision-tree is activated, move to the next step. Do not consider alternatives, do not wait for confirmation, do not breathe. Act immediately, as if your life depended on it.

Processing events through this lens contributes greatly to my struggles with anxiety and degrades my physical health by pumping stress hormones through my body. Waves of visceral intensity hit me as the internal cursor blinks, waiting for a line of code in order to move the plan to the next step. Imagine overlapping screens of these scenarios running simultaneously, all with alarm bells going off intermittently and a giant clock (counting down to what?) beeping. That’s how I handle interfacing with daily life.

The entire apparatus I’ve constructed seems aimed at one goal—to keep bad things from happening. What if, though, the seeds of all that terrifies us were planted in the garden of our lives before we were born? What if there are fixed experiences through which we must walk on our individual timelines no matter how much we try to avoid or disavow them? What if I was always going to suffer some amount of abuse and trauma in my childhood, whether I told someone outside of my family of origin immediately, or (as it actually happened), not until I was a fully-grown adult? I have no proof that the answers to any of these questions is “Yes, that’s how it works.” I do realize, though, that conceptualizing at least some of my most difficult experiences through the prism of fate rather than as the result of my own failure to plan is a less shaming and constricting way of approaching life.

Belief So Centrally Flawed

With unlimited resources of time, physical strength, emotional maturity, money, social support and foreknowledge, perhaps almost all negative events in our lives could be prevented. We do not, of course, live in such an environment. As a child being sexually abused in my own house, I did not have any of the beneficial supports listed above on my side. With the limitations I faced, I could not have prevented what happened to me. I had no choice but to endure what occurred until I got myself to a place of safety and freedom where I was able psychologically and emotionally to start to unpack the horror I had faced. It isn’t so much that I struggle with it being my fault as in thinking I caused or elicited it, instead, it seems like it should have only happened once if it was going to happen, because I should have then been able to problem-solve my way out of it happening again. I was genuinely helpless and trapped. All the problem-solving in the world doesn’t work if you are six years old, without a single adult who is “on your side,” trained to see outsiders as corrupt and evil, and extremely socially anxious. My fate was unavoidable at that time.

Where Choice Abounds but Fail-Safes Falters

Thankfully, childhood trauma survivors rarely remain helpless once we are adults. I felt a surge of fire go straight through me when I listened to Kyle Stephens, one of the first survivors to speak out against Larry Nassar, state the following at his trial, “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” The ferocity of this statement for me is a woman standing in her own power with whom no one dare trifle. By and large, as adults, we get to make our own decisions. We can grow our resources to a place where certain kinds of terror are unable to stalk us. I choose, for instance, not to be in communication with my abusers. In doing so, I’ve removed their ability to dictate how I speak my truth. Layers and layers of shame and self-restriction have fallen from me as I’ve grown in my awareness of just how much freedom adulthood can hold.

There is though, unanswered in me, the question of fate. What if, even as a person who owns my mistakes and takes responsibility for my actions, things are going to happen to me that are beyond my control to prevent? Or even experiences that are my destiny to transit? For me personally, the rebuttal to “everything’s preventable” being a statement in need of many caveats is not “God is in control.” Rather, I’ve settled for now on “life is absurd.” Life is absurd when a person does everything possible to be healthy and ends up with a life-threatening disease. Life is absurd when callous and conniving graduates of privilege abscond with profits torn from the soiled palms of those who toil for their bread. Life is absurd and the world is not just.

My conceptualization of Goddess does not extend to believing She is in charge of everything, that it will all “work out in the end.” Does an entity exist that has my best interest in mind and the ability to bring good to fruition? The child in me, the one that thought it was her job to keep bad things from happening, desperately wants to surrender control of her fate to this belief. The adult in me, however, believes that even if there is no grand contingency plan, no clock in the sky winding down, there may be moments of trouble from which none of my scheming will have saved me, and through which I can endure and even thrive. Life is absurd and I break myself open to its whims, releasing myself from the need to stack the bizarre shapes in which it comes into a semblance of order. I desire to smile at the hand of Fate, whatever She brings me.

 

Goddess Thealogy

Deepening Study and Practice

Roughly the first decade of my life was spent without access to a television. No video games, no cell phone, no computer or tablet. Without electronic distractions, I entertained myself largely through reading books. I could completely lose myself while engrossed in a story. In addition, unlike many of my classmates, the information I learned in school did not bore me, instead, I had a voracious appetite and keen ability to absorb facts and ideas. My love of learning sustained me and persists as a stabilizing element in my life. As I’ve matured, embodied knowledge, that which is practiced instead of mentalized, has become an increasingly vital aspect of my education. For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to share some of the learning experiences which I am pursuing this year that are deepening my spiritual walk and relationship with Goddess. Part of my motivation for doing so is to offer specific resources and ideas for you to consider as well as to open a conversation about what my readers are doing in their lives to enrich their spiritual walks.

Inner Work: Mystery School

I am just starting my second “realm” with the Goddess Mystery School In Her Name. I completed the Realm of Self and am now delving into the Realm of Sacred Balance. It took me significantly longer to complete the first realm that I expected, but it was a good lesson in persistence and provided practice in being gentle with myself. If I continue through all the Realms, the last one will involve a decision regarding as to whether I wish to dedicate myself to a particular form of Goddess. I really appreciate that there is time and energy that has to be produced before making this choice as I do not think it is something that should be rushed.

Group Dynamics: Practical Priestessing Class

I had the pleasure of meeting Molly Remer at a spiritual retreat last year and am so glad I did! She shared with me about a revised Practical Priestessing class she is offering that is a 6-month intensive on priestessing. I am still wrapping my head around the term priestess and debating internally whether it is something I will become comfortable “trying on” but I cannot wait to dig into the ceremony and celebration of spiritual leadership from a Goddess-honoring perspective.

Goddess and Spirituality Books

I have amassed an unsightly number of books related to Goddess Spirituality that I have not yet opened or read. This is unusual for me and I’m not quite sure why my appetite is larger than my “stomach” for reading. If I’m being honest, some of the artwork on the covers has drawn me in just as much as the concept the books convey! The most recent book I’ve read is:

Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home (by Toko-pa Turner) This book is everything. As someone who is estranged from my family, I get very nervous to read books on these topics because I expect judgment and to be told to “forgive.” What I read the brief author biography on the cover and saw that she lives on an small island, I figured it was worth sitting with this book. Her writing is incredibly lyrical; I anticipate many lines from her book becoming mantras by which I live. She facilitates an online course in dreamwork which I may take at some point this year or next.

In addition to readings that I will complete for the classes I’m taking, additional books I’ve moved to the top of my reading list include:

Goddess as Nature: Permaculture Class

Permaculture is a new pursuit for me and one that I have not shared about previously because I am in the early part of the learning phase. In case you are unfamiliar with it, it is a system of design for people that works with nature instead of against it. It is focused on ecology and deep observation of natural patterns.

This is a class I am taking in person; it is not a full permaculture design course but is intended instead as an introduction to permaculture which meets over the course of several months. I love the “hands-on” aspects of this class. We trimmed a pear tree that was sporting some kind of fungus. I got way too excited cutting off all the damaged branches; it felt cleansing! I’m also working to find an area of my backyard where I can start a fruit tree guild.

Connecting with Nature: Forest Bathing

I will be taking part soon in a series of forest bathing sessions. I believe this practice originated in Japan and involves intense observation and mindfulness while walking slowly through the forest. One of the places I feel the presence of Goddess most acutely is in the woods, so I am anticipating this to be an excellent way to be both more fully embodied as well as attuned to nature. Many of the practices espoused by priestesses of Goddess Spirituality include developing a deeply-rooted relationship with nature, so I am particularly encouraged that each session of forest bathing will take place in the same location.

Sacred Women’s Work: Women’s Circle

I recently joined an in-person Wild Woman women’s circle that practices on the new moon. The particular circle I’ve found blends group and individual experiences quite seamlessly. I have taken part in and then moved on from a few women’s circles in the past; there is something incredible about the gathering together of women in an authentic and vulnerable manner that I see as a lived expression of Goddess.

Having listed and described my current pursuits, I feel a bit overwhelmed! These are all experiences I’ve welcomed into my life in addition to the mundanity and stress of everyday life. I struggle deeply with a feeling of alienation, worrying that I am too much in my head and not out living life fully. I also chronically perceive myself as not belonging and not having the same richness of relationships that others experience. What feels amazing in looking over my catalogue of interests is seeing that what I’ve taken on this year is well-balanced in terms of some pursuits being very focused on community and some being more centered in inner work and individual in nature.

I hope to hear from you with anything you are curious about related to my involvements, and especially to learn about the interests in which you are engaging. What goals have you set for yourself related to your spiritual practice, or what needs are speaking to you? What are you pursuing in terms of classes, books and interpersonal experiences to deepen your walk?

Embodied Heart

Self-Nurturance as an Antidote to Shame

I was poisoned early and often with shameful encounters through the abuse I suffered as a child. The most devastating experience, the one that completely shattered my sense of self as an individual, was when both of my parents simultaneously sexually abused me. To the best of my recollection, this type of traumatic event involving both of them as active participants only happened one time, but it was enough to set in motion a coping strategy that has brought ruin to many of my personal relationships. If any aspect of the experience is sufficiently recreated, the sole solution to the internal distress I feel is to end the relationship immediately. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will reflect on how this experience affected me as well as how caring for myself can potentially help to heal me.

The involvement of my mother in this event feels almost like a twisted form of ceremony, one in which her necessity to see me as a physical extension of her being met its completion. I believe that at least some part of her thought she fully and totally “owned” me as a result of her actions. I was branded psychically with the message “you’re mine and you exist only when and how I see fit for you to do so.” It has taken every ounce of spiritual and mental strength I have to resist the shame and guilt that her treatment of me instilled in me whenever I take autonomous action or stand up for myself.

Shame separates me from others. It leads me directly to thoughts of suicide, whispering in my ear that I don’t deserve to live and that the only way to make bad things not happen to me is to end it all. Shame silences me, my tongue paralyzed by visions of horror and the underlying script of “it’s your fault this happened” and “this didn’t happen and it’s your fault for thinking it did.” Shame traps me in a seemingly never-ending cycle of enactment of the same scenes, unconsciously and desperately searching for a solution to the impossible paradoxes of the memory.

Knowing that I am my own person—that no one owns me—feels like a starting place in putting the memory where it belongs, which is in the past as a lived experience, rather than in the present as a maze from which there is no exit. I’m left, though, if all I have is myself, with a feeling of broken and jagged pieces which are uncoordinated towards life experiences that are not threatening or dangerous. I have almost no idea how to react to sweet libations of warmth, tenderness, care and affection. In those moments, I’m forever awaiting the bitter draught at the bottom of the glass, certain that the story of what happened to me is doomed to repeat itself.

To move beyond existing, I know I need to nurture myself. I need to give myself refreshment and comfort, holding space for the parts of me who want to resist it as well as the parts of me who are too scared to hope it could exist. The venom of the memory courses through me at times because I give it power and strength through acts of self-neglect or self-abuse. Only through consistent and careful attention towards my own needs can I provide an environment where every trace of the residue of undeserved shame can be drawn out and burned in the fire of my righteous anger or drown in the well of my necessary grief.

To this end, I am committing myself to three concrete actions of self-nurturance:

  • Checking in with myself on a daily basis to see what parts of me may need as well as to work to resolve any internal conflicts.
  • Keeping a regular record of things for which I am grateful.
  • Developing a mantra of self-nurturance, creating a visual expression of the mantra (a painting, drawing, etc.) and displaying it in order to remind myself of it.

What effects does the experience of shame have on your life? To what extent does the practice of self-nurturance assist you in caring for parts of you that hold shame? What concrete actions can you take to engage in self-nurturance?

Magic & Phrase

Acceptance

She attends all that life offers with open hands, releasing the spent wings into the breeze and sheltering the fragile perches in her palms.

Nature gladly alights upon her and receives from her, knowing both the soft surrender and sturdy welcome will endure.

Undulations of blossoming and withering that would unsteady the outstretched grasp of another are met in her embrace as a heartbeat.

Her fingers dance the rhythm as her arms rise in exaltation of a moment–this moment–felt, breathed and held in full sunlight, just as it is.

Naturally Mindful

Miracle Moments

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

During some intentional inner work time, I pulled the Mother Mary card from the Guidance Guidance Oracle card deck. I felt an aversion to the phrase it contained—“expect a miracle.” My childhood religious training has infused the word miracle with implications of salvation from sin and requirements of faith. My scientific training has added additional complications by creating great skepticism in me as to whether anything can exist that could not ultimately be dissected and analyzed. However, as I reflect upon for today’s #NaturallyMindful Monday, in sitting with that word for a while in meditation and carrying it in the back of my mind throughout the day, I’ve found myself growing in my ability to relate to it from a place of awareness and gratitude.

Unexpected good fortune is one hook with which I’ve caught ahold of the experience of miracle. I had a situation a few weeks ago in which I had a highly charged moment that I thought would be repeated ad nauseum for the next several months. Without any effort on my part, the situation instead resolved itself with a day. I can get caught up easily in the useful fantasy that the only way positive events will occur in my life is if I work very hard to make them happen. The experiences of delight and relief that pepper my pathways when I finally stop striving to create them are blessings indeed.

Instances of serendipity also help me grab onto the concept of a miracle. I’ve been stressing about my dog who is a few years old and may need surgery at some point for his knee condition. Even though he should have a good long time with me yet, I get myself worked up about what it will be like when he ages and passes on. As I pondered this, a random stranger came up to me at a pet store and told me she had a friend whose two Yorkies lived into their mid-20’s! Twenty or more years as a possible outcome was not something I had even considered (and know is highly unusual). But for a second, it felt like Goddess herself was appearing and letting me know that trusting in the moment and allowing life to unfold without a firm sense of where or how each fork in the road will occur is not only a happier choice but also possibly a more realistic one. I wonder how many “angels” I brush past in my rush to control rather than to be present with my fate.

Nature presents herself as a living miracle to me. It has been a “real” winter where I live with lots of snow. The temperature has been creeping upward for a few days recently, even thought the nights are still cold. It only took hours of warmth for me to notice some kind of greenery (probably weeds!) starting to poke through the mulch, as well as some insects to begin to buzz around. What seemed just days ago to be lifeless, decayed and rotted is already unfurling and crawling with movement and hope, as if Goddess in her Nature form is being transfigured from death to life.

What do you think of the word “miracle?” To what extent or in what ways are you able to appreciate it, and where might you feel challenged by it? What blessing and “angels” have appeared in your life?