Thursday, October 30, 2014

Survival Strategies

I want to tell you something- a hard something. I want to tell it because all week on and off line, here in Canada, there have been conversations, arguments, and declarations about the truth or falsehood of allegations of assault against a popular radio host. At my last count there were eight women who've reported being punched, slapped, grabbed, or choked by this man without their consent (he is maintaining that it was all part of consensual rough sex.)

The part of this conversation that disturbs me most is that many have declared with absolute certainty that if the women were telling the truth they would reveal their identities (two women have) and lay formal charges. I’m not going to go into all the very good reasons why a woman might not want to be identified or lay charges, but I will speak from my own experience.

Many years ago, when I was a young woman, I was beaten and raped. It never occurred to me to lay charges. At the time my primary fear was that the man would make good on his threat to kill me if I told anyone. With good reason I did not trust that others- the police, the court system- could ensure my safety. Years later, after much healing work, I realized that I’d also been silenced by the fear that I would not be believed, afraid in particular that my own family (my parents, brother and grandparents) would not believe me, and I truly felt I could not bear that hurt on top of the physical violence.

There’s another piece to this story. The man who had beaten and raped me forced his way into my apartment a month later. I remember standing in living room, looking at him and silently praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life. And what was my prayer? That God or the Universe or any power that could help me now keep me from passing out (as had happened in the previous incident when he had choked me.) My prayer was that I stay conscious so I could fight and fight hard- hard enough to either stop him (and he was well over six feet tall and I had not yet done any self-defense training so my odds were not good) or force him to kill me. I was not suicidal. The decision to fight hard enough to stop him or die trying was my survival strategy because I did not feel I could carry another beating, another rape, in my body-mind-heart, could not bear another violation that seared my soul.

I am not advocating this as a survival strategy, just reporting on my own state of mind and heart at the time. Anyone on the receiving end of violence has a right to find their own way of surviving. This was mine.

As I sent out my prayer, the man grabbed me and threw me across the room. He stood over me shouting insults and threats, and then left. I don’t know why. Did he pick up on my resolve? I have no idea. The next day I found a room to rent and moved to a location where I hoped he’d never find me. Happily he never did.

I’m not quite sure why I am telling this story now- but I am trusting the impulse to do so. What I want to say is: any conversation about a particular accusation or allegation regarding violence against women happens in the context of our collective and personal current realities and histories of violence. If you have been fortunate enough not to have had this experience and not to have had a loved one who had this experience, please remember that the overwhelming statistics on this (which do not include all the unreported cases) mean that there’s very good chance that there are others who are reading or listening to any public discussion who have had that experience. It doesn’t mean that every allegation is true, but it does mean that uninformed certainty that any unlitigated allegation must be a lie says to many of us for whom it was true at some point in our lives, “If this happened to you, it’s not a big deal, and if you can’t prove it you should be silent.”

And I want to say: it is a big deal, and if it has happened to you and you are still living and loving, still able to open your heart to others and walk in the world. . . . you have shown great courage and resilience. And if you have not already done so, may you find someone with whom you can share your story, someone who will believe you, someone who is able to hold you and your story in a way that enables you to find deep and complete healing.

As I hear and read the arguments my head understands the culture that creates the controversy and the reasons for the debate. But my heart aches with sadness for all involved, and prays for healing and an end to the violence.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Little Morning Magic

Sometimes The Call really is. . . . a call, complete with caller id. (And sometimes a synchronicity is just too much fun not to share.)

A couple of nights ago, I went to bed filled with the places where my writing had taken me, wondering how important the latest thread about discerning "real choice" was. Real choices are those that are truly accessible to us given present moment inner and outer limitations, resources and realities. Looking at my own life with more curiosity than judgement, I could see that some of the choices I thought I "should" have made simply were not available to me in any real way at the time. I also realized that I could never know if what I thought was an available choice for another was a "real choice" for them in that moment. Through stories I'd been exploring how and why we would pursue or turn away from deepening and broadening our "real choices." 

Given all that is happening in our lives and our world, it seemed important-  to know how to cultivate the healing and awareness needed to expand our individual and collective choices. But I wondered: had I gotten sidetracked in my writing, tangled in a tangent? (It happens.) 

Drifting off to sleep I asked the Grandmothers, a circle of women elders who often appear and teach me in my sleep dreams, for a little confirmation or course correction- whichever was needed. Was it good to keep following this thread about "real choice" or should I be going in a different direction? 

The next morning the phone on my bedside table rang and woke me up. The computerized voice of the phone's caller id spoke in its flat mechanical monotone: “Call. . .from. . . real. . . choice.” Skeptical, I squinted at the words on the caller id screen, and there it was in capital letters: REAL CHOICE. Still half asleep I wondered if I was dreaming. If not, I assumed I must be misreading and mishearing things.

I picked up the receiver and somewhat tentatively said, “Hello?”

The man on the phone spoke with a heavy accent. His voice was rough and filled with a sense of urgency. When I asked him who he wished to speak to he said something that sounded like my last name (House.) Unsure, I asked him again who he was looking for, and his tone changed. I could hear the smile in his voice now, as if he was pleased with my questions or had accomplished something he'd set out to do. Sounding more cheery than apologetic he said, “Oh, maybe I dialed the wrong number. So sorry,” and hung up.

Still not trusting my sleep-steeped perception I looked at the caller id history and there it was- the call had come from REAL CHOICE.

Wide awake now I fell back into bed laughing and called out, "Thank you," to the Grandmothers, to the ceiling and the floor and the walls of my tiny bedroom, to the light of a new day sneaking in around the edges of the curtains, to the faithful trees outside my window, to the Sacred Presence that holds and lives within me, to the mystery of strange phone calls and the creative process, to the almost unbelievable blessing of having this day to write.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kali's Fierce Love

I recently found Kali- the Hindu Goddess of Death, Change and Rebirth- in the bottom of my storage locker.


Well, okay- not the actual deity (although, is there any corner where the sacred cannot be found?) but images of her. And it's worth paying attention when this kind of thing happens.

Years ago I bought a book of Kali art post cards captivated by the vivid and colourful images of the sometimes blue-skinned, often multi-armed (and I mean that in terms of both appendages and a variety of weapons) Destroyer of Illusions. I’m not sure how I thought I would use them. It turns out that there aren’t many occasions when it feels appropriate to send a birthday greeting or message of condolence on a card adorned with a depiction of the divine wearing a necklace of severed heads, her long red tongue protruding to her chin.

Or maybe it is always appropriate. It's just that in my culture, it might be misunderstood.

I was surprised to find these images carefully wrapped in red silk and preserved in a zip-lock bag, mysteriously situated beneath the camping equipment and paint supplies. It felt timely to find Kali waiting for me there because I'd recently turned sixty. Which is not to say that Kali belongs only to later stages of life- often the one who points out that the Emperor has no clothes is a child or a young adult, or someone waking up in the middle of their life

Still, there she was, waiting for me, a week after my sixtieth birthday. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel as this seemingly significant threshold was crossed. On the one hand, it’s only a number. On the other hand. . . . it is minimally a measure of having more years behind than ahead of me.

What I had not anticipated was how turning sixty would bring a new level of clarity about choices that allow me to contribute to life in a sustainable way. And there is a lightness in my new-found knowing that speaks with a smile in her voice, stunning me with her calm certainty, whispering, "Oh, I'm sixty- I don't need to do that anymore." Often what I am saying no to is not a bad thing- an opportunity or invitation that has meaning and merit- but it's just not what is needed for my own particular "Yes" to be lived fully.

Kali confirms the dropping away of the illusion that I need to earn my right to be, that I have to cover all of others' "shoulds" before I fulfill my own purpose and passion, hopefully contributing the best of what I have to offer to the world.

And of course, it's not an all-or-nothing-once-and-for-all sort of thing. It's a clarity that's been growing for years, and hopefully will continue to deepen. But it's had a bit of a boost, and the unexpected boon is that I am not so readily enticed away from the writing that calls me, the pacing that suits me, the willingness to listen deeply.

Some Celtic traditions say that maturity allows us "see with the eyes of death." That's how Kali sees- without illusions, accepting what we are working with (within ourselves and in the world) in this moment. I think of the Crone archetype as the one who cannot be intimidated or seduced away from the truth she knows. That's Kali- the Fierce Mother, the Destroyer of Lies, the Dispeller of Illusion. And with some denying the reality of our unsustainable ways of living together on this planet despite recent revelations that the world wildlife population has diminished by fifty percent over the last forty years. . . . well, it seems like a little of Kali's fierce love might just be what we need.

In the shamanic medicine we call it making Death (the knowledge of our mortality, of impermanence) an Ally- that which helps us see what matters most.

Kali's love of life asks us to trust that when we each find a willingness to see what is within and around us and set aside fear driven distractions to do what we are called to do, offering and receiving help where it is available and needed, life is nourished and sustained. It’s about faith- faith that doing what we are truly called to do, alone and with others, is enough.

~Oriah House (c) 2014