Don’t tell your girls to “Be Nice” or “Be Good” – tell them to Be Smart and Be Strong and stand up for themselves in this World.
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
I once saw a turtle lay her eggs, at night, on a beach in Sri Lanka. We had waited for some time, all anticipation and suspended breath. Upon arrival she made her lumbering way up the beach to make her nest in readiness for birthing. She laid her eggs there in the place where she herself was born. Once her eggs hatched, she would leave her babies to their fate, to flourish or to perish.
It was a poignant encounter, moved as I was at the impending fate of the young and the disinterest, from a human perspective, of the mother. For the turtle, giving birth signalled the conclusion of her responsibilities.
In the course of my life I have encountered many examples of how the ability to procreate does not necessarily accord with the maternal. The latter requires more self-reflection and maturity than the former and is broader in scope.
A deep part of all of us present on that beach in Sri Lanka felt a kind of resonance with the turtle, living as an utterly free being. The concept of a life free from manifold obligations holds unimaginable appeal.
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will. ― Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
When I was fifteen we lived, temporarily, with a friend of my mother’s in her lofty, somewhat shabby house in South London. I adored Doris’s house. For me, it was the very epitome of the bohemian; a piano in the living room, large wooden table in the kitchen and books on beguiling subjects as Astrology and World travel. The parties Doris threw were full of exotica; kaftans, colour and vibrancy. Attendees were, to my impressionable young mind, free-thinking, arty and a little dissolute. My mother would dust off her party frock, aquamarine eyeshadow, ‘Chantilly’ perfume and sip her gin and lime, my mother’s version of letting her hair down.
Prior to this, we had lived on a sprawling council estate in Stockwell with its uniform municipality and absence of variety, architecturally at least. My entire being rebelled against this environment and those like it. I felt that people should not be forced to reside in what seemed to me a ghettoised hell of labyrinthine walkways and underground garages, set alight with monotonous frequency.
As soon as I was able, I spent my Saturdays on Charing Cross Road, mooching for hours in second hand bookshops, wandering through Soho, gazing at West End theatre facades, dreaming of one day treading the boards. I joined the Junior Drama class at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama which provided a positive outlet for my imaginatively melancholic leanings and a context for prising open the shell of my essentially introspective self.
Doris’s Scrabble tournaments were legendary as was her scandalous cheating. I recall stating resolutely one evening, whilst in the midst of a game, that once I was sixteen I could and would, ‘Do whatever I please’. My mother cast me a look which promised, in no uncertain terms, to put paid to that particular misconception. Doris laughed raucously, whilst sneaking a peek at my mother’s Scrabble letters.
My mother failed to realise how serious I was. I was voicing not merely the call of hormone-led aspiration, but the fundamental desperation of the incarcerated, railing against the hemmed-in monotony of our home environs, my parents’ mismatchedness and my mother’s often draconian approach to parenting. My questing mind found this particular brand of bondage and limitation untenable.
My English teachers responded to my enthusiasm for performance and the written word, frequently including me in school trips to National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company productions. All served to feed my ravenous desire for Culture, imagination, expansiveness and artistry.
My mother wasn’t a deliberately unkind person and, indeed, I thank her for some aspects of the discipline she imposed. It was simply that I was a low-maintenance, self-regulating child with an active internal world. I possessed an over-developed capacity for empathising with the pain of others, to the degree that it destabilised me. Unyielding disciplinary structure was unnecessary.
So, I sought freedom. But the paradox of freedom, one comes to realise, is that its intimate companion is responsibility.
You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once. – Robert A. Heinlein
My father died when I was fifteen, one week before I sat my high school Art exam. My Mother died a few days after my thirty-seventh birthday. I was a grown woman, but I had become an orphan. Nothing can really prepare you for the loss of the twin pillars of Mother and Father. It matters not if you were intimate or estranged, whether or not you yourself are a parent. The archetypes of Mother and Father are branded on the psyche.
But she wasn’t around, and that’s the thing when your parents die, you feel like instead of going in to every fight with backup, you are going into every fight alone.
– Mitch Albom
After my Mother died, I felt so deeply the paradox of the responsibility of maturity sparring with the depth of longing to be held by her. Always present, this yearning was held in suspended animation and I was, irrevocably, lost.
For a while after my mother’s death I experienced a ‘dark night of the soul’. I had long desired a family of my own but a combination of timing, my own body or perhaps simply the unanticipated fate of choicelessness betrayed my feeble longings. I was free of family ties and obligations but the full weight of myself, alone, was both terrifying and utterly uncompromising.
People often make assumptions that absence of children originates from selfishness. Ofttimes, comes the slow, dawning realisation that life does not always offer you the choices you imagine you might have. It frequently only offers the choice of how to respond to its limitations. It throws down the gauntlet and asks of you, ‘What now? How will you reconstruct your unimagined present, and forge the uncharted, unanticipated landscape of your future?’
I was confronted with death and loss early. I have attended many funerals and delivered eulogies. It was my decision to cast flowers into my mother’s grave. She was a keen gardener. It seemed fitting. Doris’s daughter attended the funeral and, toward the end of the afternoon, grasped my hand and said, “I hope this doesn’t sound strange, Tess, but I’ve had one of the best afternoons ever.” It didn’t sound strange at all. It was a wonderful afternoon. My mother would have loved it. No doubt she would have donned her aquamarine eyeshadow, wielded a gin and lime whilst asphyxiating us all with wafts of cheap French perfume.
Loss has left an indelible impression but has, conversely, thrown up the question of living. How to live a life absent of what many cleave to as the core of their belonging; family. I never really had much of an experience of family but the mind nonetheless hoists us aloft on the flag pole of expectation.
I was wildly exploratory after my mother’s demise, colliding with abandon at each turn. I married a man I barely knew in a Druidic wedding at Stonehenge and traipsed through more patches of woodland than I can recall, attending rituals to bring my Pagan urges to pulsating life; travelled to the far side of the globe, dated men I met on the internet and regaled friends with tales of those bizarre and, retrospectively tragi-comic meetings. A friend suggested I devise a comedy routine for the purpose of re-enacting my more absurd encounters.
Some, I’m sure, thought that I had lost the plot but, in actuality, I was attempting to write it. I was familiar with death. I wanted life. I cared not what others thought or felt about my escapades and explorations. They, as far as I knew, were not waking, in panic, in the inky darkness, to contemplate the uncompromising nature of their loneliness. Only I know the depths to which I dove to discover that my anchor was intact; rusty and barnacled, but scraping its way along the sea bed of the self.
And so I find myself come full circle, in a sense. I continue to pursue what I have pursued from my earliest memories, to be unbound by ‘should’ and ‘ought’. I recall, as a baby, gripping the railings of my grandparents’ balcony, peering around me in all directions yet finding myself aware of the bars.
I do not run from pain or loss, mine or another’s. Without the courage to face pain we are unable to fully experience gratitude, kindness or to notice beauty in the tiniest of things. I seek equanimity. It resides in the ability to hold the poles of pleasure and pain, standing in the space between. It is in that place, I strongly suspect, that freedom lies.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
– Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
Essay Contribution By: Tess Palma
Writer, Author, Teacher, Artist and Questing Spirit from the United Kingdom
Thank you Tess for sharing your heart. <3
© Copyright Tess Palma 2014
I was talking with a close friend this evening as she shared the intimate story of her cousin’s death. Her cousin did not want anyone to know she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She would not share with her own husband how sick she really was. He knew she had cancer, but she would not keep him apprised of the doctor’s assessment or stage of her cancer. She kept this to herself and got angry if her loved one’s inquired. There was help and support for her healing or dying process. She was not open to it. That door was firmly closed. She accepted very little help from anyone, bandaging her own wounds, literally decaying and in severe pain alone in her own bedroom. She could have had Hospice care, but did not relent to sharing the truth of her situation. She did not ask for help and would not receive help.
Late in the process, when the knowledge became evident that she was dying, support was offered to help her record messages for her young children, there was a firm boundary set and again help was denied. She passed away without giving her family the chance to really express their love and appreciation of her, she died without receiving the love and comfort that was available to her. I am not making her wrong, as this was her chosen path, and it is one we will all choose for ourselves if we are diagnosed with a terminal illness. What my friend expressed, after witnessing her cousin’s behavior over the past 1-1/2 years, and her subsequent death, was that she felt her cousin’s did not know she was deeply loved. The love was right there, but she could not acknowledge or receive it.
Many of us are taught to give, and give, and give. Especially as women, as nurturers, as mothers, we lose our self in service to others. I don’t want to leave out the guys, because fathers have their roles as givers too. They are just given different programming. The boys are taught to be providers, protectors and fixers, always having the solution and the resources for their family. We have all been taught that giving is noble and righteous, loving and honorable. This is of course true. We’ve been taught:
“That it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
I believe that giving is a blessing, yet many give until there is nothing left, and have been trained to sacrifice themselves without limit. This self-sacrifice takes the form of losing themselves to the many roles we play… the “who I’m supposed to be” roles as a good daughter, son, parent, wife, husband, sister, caregiver, or provider. We get lost in the role, we get lost in the program of ‘shoulds’ and we get lost in the giving. Have you ever noticed if you have become resentful after giving and giving and possibly not being recognized or given a simple ‘thank you’ in return. If so, you might be an over-giver.
Something got lost along the way… and that is the ability to Receive.
“Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the [same] measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)
The words, “give and it will be given” and in the “same measure” refers to the natural laws of giving and receiving. For many of us, we seem to be generous givers, and we are blocked in our ability to fully receive.
For me, it began with the root of feeling unworthy, or a lack of innate value of myself. I was taught to take care of others, but not myself. I had no self-worth, and the only value I knew was in what I did for others. I became overly ‘other’ focused, operating from a duty to take care of others. This all came out of deep codependent modeling and the wrong relationship with love. The emphasis was on serving, “you don’t love me if you don’t do” this or that…. I didn’t feel loved or lovable for just being me. So I poured everything out in service to others, over and over until I was burned out, depleted, exhausted and left empty. I needed to find value in myself, learn self-care, learn self-appreciation and love. I needed to learn how to receive.
Unworthiness blocks the natural ebb and flow of life, love, vitality, nurturing from and for everyone, the giver and the receiver alike. At a deeper level, my relationship with Spirit got blocked… I was not able to Trust that I was ultimately okay, supported, provided for, and loved in this World. Sometimes these old beliefs still surface, but I know the Truth of it now. I know this old belief system is a lie, and I open myself again and again to see and receive the abundance that is already here, surrounding me. It is a choice to see and receive, rather than living in the lie and contraction.
“For it is in the giving that we receive. ” – St Francis of Assisi
Wonder what all this ‘abundance’ talk is about today??? Abundance rests in YOUR ability to allow, open, Trust and receive. If you cannot learn to receive even in the smallest of ways, you cannot truly trust that you are worthy of receiving abundance. So, Give generously and authentically from your heart, and when you are they one being given too, deeply RECEIVE and RECEIVE abundantly with reckless abandon! There is a natural process at work here, allow for it.
“You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow.” – Eckhart Tolle
There is nothing wrong with pure giving, but what happens when we only know how to give of ourselves and take care of others, and we do not know how to receive? We stop the natural flow, the outflow and inflow of energy.
Giving is a beautiful act of how we show our love to others. It can often make us feel good. If you were to give a gift and the intended recipient would not receive it… how would you feel as the giver? The whole flow of the love you wanted to express to that person just got stuck! Where does the energy go? It just backs up like a clogged drain pipe.
Gifts are an easy example, but what if it’s something more simple, like a complement. Can you receive a genuine complement? If someone tells you “you look great, radiant, beautiful, amazing, you are the finest cook, a brilliant writer, friend, or the best mom ever!” Can you really drink it in? Could you earnestly say, “thank you” without denial, shying away or feeling like you need to complement them back?
Receiving allows the other person to give you their love and receiving allows you to love yourself.
We’ve talked about receiving gifts and complements, but let’s take this back to the way I started this post…
What happens within you if you are diagnosed with a possible longterm or terminal illness, incur a debilitating injury, or ultimately, at the end of your life and death process? When your capacities and capabilities are stripped away and no longer available to you, what happens then, if you have not learned to receive? How do you imagine yourself behaving? There is a potential for a life-long pattern of denial to be irreversible. Let me share a personal story with you…
I was a caregiver to my own mother-in-law who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 81, and was very clear with the doctors upon receiving her diagnosis. She stated several times to numerous doctors, “I have lived a good life and do not want treatment.” She did not want surgery or chemotherapy. She had accepted her fate and we honored her wishes for her palliative care. Shortly after coming home and for the remaining 6-months of her life, she switched from acceptance into denial. She tried to function as if she was not in severe pain. She told friends who knew she was sick, “I do not have cancer.” She did not want anyone to know. She did not want anyone coming into her home except us. She did not want professional care.
We moved onto the same property, so we could take care of her. She was glad to have us there, but brushed us off daily telling us, “I am fine.” She would literally wave us off with her hand telling us to “Go! Don’t worry about me!” We would reluctantly turn and leave, honoring her wishes, later returning to find her curled up in a fetal position on the couch, unable to eat or help herself. Days and weeks of this passed and we struggled to care for her day and night, forcing ourselves upon her to check on her. She was miserable, but would not admit it. What was most painful, was the lack of receiving. When she began to fall in the shower, I could no longer honor her wishes to be alone. I insisted we call in Hospice Care or hire some help. She denied this and we again struggled with the decision and her wishes.
Her level of refusal and suffering was beyond my comprehension. She was operating from a place of ‘not wanting to be a burden.’ She was a Japanese-American, with an ingrained old-world cultural conditioning of Gaman. I am not of Japanese decent, yet I learned the term one day when I was practically begging her to allow us to help her. I explained “Allowing us to help you, helps us! We know you don’t need help, but we do.” She nodded her head in resignation. From her fetal fetal position on the couch, she mumbled to herself, “I have to stop being so Gaman.”
Gaman is a Japanese term that is defined as “enduring the unbearable with patience and dignity” you will also hear it translated as perseverance or quiet endurance… but in actuality, it means self-denial and when practicing Gaman, you keep your suffering to yourself and should not be a burden on your family.
Now, I would say that far too many of us suffer from our own form of Gaman or self-denial. This is the inability to receive. So, so many of us needlessly suffer, sacrifice ourselves and need to stop being so Gaman.
I have never come up against anything as formidable as Japanese Gaman. It was this iron wall inside of my frail dying mother-in-law. An energetic wall that had been ingrained for generations. A behavior she did not know how to change and that prevented her from receiving help, love, support, care, relief and gentleness. It was excruciating to want to help and to not have that help allowed or received, but blocked. The energy outflow would just fall flat. There was no cycle or exchange. When we eventually insisted on hiring nurses, we called in Hospice Care. When they arrived we asked that they only tell her they were “Nurses” and to not reveal themselves as “Hospice.” The subject of her death was not allowed, and the nurses had to play along too. When Hospice ordered her a wheelchair, walker, shower chair, oxygen and hospital bed, she refused to use them and continued to fall. We hired 24-hour staff to ensure her safety and to allow us to get some much needed rest. Wrestling with her Gaman was like negotiating with a grizzly bear… it was impossible.
Her personal will to live was immensely strong, yet she was not winning the battle. The cancer and pain grew exponentially, and pain management was insurmountable even with Hospice’s involvement. She did not want morphine. She did not want the pain medication. She would only accept CBDs (herbal medicine) and pharmaceutical pain patches. She kept saying with resolve, “It was all going to get better tomorrow. I will be better tomorrow.” And I would reply with mercy, “Yes, it will all be better tomorrow.” At some point, her fight and her suffering would end.
We weren’t really able to share all the love that we wanted to express, because the subject of her dying was not on the table. We did our best to love her, care for her, comfort her, yet were met mostly with a willful silence. She only asked for help in the last 12-hours, it was an excruciating and fearful cry for the ‘medicine’ once her organs started to fail. The night was long and unrelenting until she took her last breath. She died, never admitting she was dying and with that, she never said her good-byes.
We had given and given and given without a welcoming sign of receiving. What I can tell you from this experience is that the without the energy of receiving, our giving was like trying to fill a bottomless pit… shoveling and shoveling without the pit filling up.
My mother-in-law, at no fault of her own, was rooted in an unrelenting pattern that was deeply fixed in her Being. She was aware of it, yet could not change it. This self-denial was unmerciful and the pattern only made the end more heartbreaking for all of us. Much like my friend’s cousin, so much love could not be wholeheartedly expressed, given or received. Without the availability of this intimate exchange, her dying process still seems unfinished, yet it was a great teacher of the art of receiving. For that, I am eternally grateful.
I want to touch on one other nasty subject before concluding this post… and that subject is Entitlement. If you operate with a sense of inflated importance, or feel you deserve special treatment, or are inherently deserving over another person for some reason, you are operating from a Sense of Entitlement. If you are a taker, and get everything you want, that does not mean you know how to receive. Entitlement may get you your way, or you may get the attention you seek or things you crave, but you are only taking… If you take, take, take and feel entitled to more, does that behavior ever actually fill you up? You may have everything, but do you feel deeply loved, and fulfilled in your life? Or are you ‘taking’ because your are operating from a vacuous hole in the very center of your Being. I believe those that embody a ‘spirit of entitlement’ may have something in common with those that self-sacrifice and over-give. The likeness is at the core and it derives from a form of unworthiness. Unworthiness or lack of self-worth may manifest as an over-inflated ego, being loud or demanding, complaining or outbursts, putting others down, a haughty or arrogant attitude. All these behaviors are attention seeking and by any means necessary. A lack of self-worth that overcompensates and over-acts to acquire attention may just be a message that you don’t feel your own value, worth. feel loved or lovable.
Deeply receiving with gratitude can fill the vacuum of entitlement. Instead of taking and feeling you deserve more and more… Look to see if you are actually receiving and truly grateful for all the simple, small and beautiful things in your life right now. Are you thankful for simply drawing breath? Have you given thanks for the clean water you drink and air you breathe? The Spirit of Entitlement will block you from seeing these things. If attention and things are not able to fill you up, that is a sign and you are only feeding a sucking blackhole. Can you see how this act of ‘taking and taking’ is not truly receiving? Can you see where you might want to look at how you truly value yourself? If you nurture the ability to give, have gratitude and deeply receive, you can fill yourself up! Love, support, trust, fulfillment, beauty, purpose and joy are already present right now.
Entitlement is not gratitude and it is not receiving. Love yourself enough to explore giving, receiving and have gratitude.
We have covered the gamut, from accepting a compliment, to receiving help and having gratitude for the simple things. My point is ‘the way’ we choose to function in our lives matters. Giving and Receiving matter as equals. No matter if your pattern is self-denial (Gaman), entitlement, over-giving, or the inability to receive deeply and with gratitude. If you persist this way too long, do you think you can make a quick change when it counts? What then? And what joy have you sacrificed, living your life this way? Would you like to change it? It is a choice and practice can begin today.
Love is cheering and sharing and compassion and giving and receiving. Love is an action thing more than a word thing, that brings comfort or joy or relief to anyone or anything. – Ziggy Marley
Ziggy Marley got this right! Love is ALL these things and among them, an Action thing! I love that! So, look within the next time you are given a chance to receive anything, in the small inconsequential ways, or in the deepest of moments… stay present. Allow the giver to give and to share their love, comfort, or joy without holding them back. Be the receiver who receives with thanks and gratitude! It is your opportunity to receive in earnest, with deep gratitude and practice an act of self-love. By doing this you will fill yourself up and love yourself more!
Receiving is an act of self-love, worthiness, self-value and nurturing. Let’s drink it in!
Thank you for the time to read and receive this article today. It was written as a gift to you. Please allow me the honor to know how it effected you… I invite to reply, contribute, as a question, comment, like or dislike. Let me know how you are doing!!! I’d really like to know.
Allow me to express my deep gratitude and appreciate for you.
With deep Gratitude,
-Melinda D. Alexander, the Questing Spirit
“Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Only when we know our own darkness well, can we be present with the darkness of others.” ~Pema Chödrön
What is darkness? And what do you think it means “To know your own darkness?”
Is darkness good or bad? Righteous or Sinful? Is it just the abscence of light? The balance day and night or Yin and Yang? I sense, for this discussion it must go much deeper…
Could it just be that the darkness within each of us are the unrecognized parts of ourselves, the unconscious feelings, behaviors, perceptions and motivations that have not yet been acknowledged? Possibly, it is the pains of our youth, the conditioning of our environment, the programming of our culture and family, attitudes and thoughts that are not our own. Could it be the karmic wound we came into this life with, or our ancestral wounds past down through generations through the epigenetic code of our DNA? The definition is inconsequential, the recognition of the existence of this aspect of ourselves is what I sense matters. Do not turn away from the uncomfortable unknown. Let’s know it and ourselves more deeply! [Read more…] about Know Your Own Darkness
As a man, what do you do if you have a daughter, girlfriend, wife, friend or mom has been sexually harassed or assaulted? Have you asked? Have any of the woman in your life answered #metoo on social media or shared their story? Do you know what to do or say? Do you feel helpless?
I woke up this morning thinking about this and the cacophony of male silence in response to the #metoo outpouring by woman. I believe that men are key, if not ‘the key,’ in helping this wound heal. This is not a man-bashing post, it’s a discussion, and it’s a plea for your help. So, please bare with me as I write this… warning… this may get uncomfortable.
First, thank you to the men, the handful of you, who have engaged and responded. Thank you as it is truly soothing to know that ‘you HEAR US – the woman of the world crying out.’ [Read more…] about Guys, Why the Silence? We need you. #metoo
Social Media is what we make of it. It is a reflection of our lives or can take the form of “Fake” book or Insta “Glam” – the life we want people to see. The best of times, the most beautiful shots, the exotic locations, our celebrations of life. There is nothing wrong with this, yet it can become a source of fantasy or narcissism. The words Fake and Glam are self-explanatory. Social Media has become a place to share the high points in our lives, the best, the beautiful, our vacations, and ‘vacations’ from reality.
The ‘comparison factor’ of comparing our life to someone else’s “peak moments” or their representation of a “glamorous life” can conjure the feelings of being inferior, disappointment in oneself, feeling unfulfilled, sad, jealousy, socially isolated or even depressed. Social Media can breed a form of connection and separation all at the same time. While we are ‘connected’ electronically, we are not truly experiencing or sharing our life with our friends. It can be lonely and isolating. There are many dangers of Social Media and perks to these methods of communication, however, I do not plan to cover them all here. My point is about sharing… What we share, how we share, what we edit or censor out… the Whole picture.
So when we ‘share’ on Social Media… What do you use it for? Facebook is what we make it. I have used it to share everything. Here’s a tale of my sharings about our Drunk Neighbor… [Read more…] about Daring to Share Authentically on Social Media