"Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future." -Audre Lorde
Last Sunday night, I bawled and crawled myself into bed after a long weekend of seminar at the Process Work Institute. It had been two full days of working with internalized oppression, and fully leaning into the pain of my gendered oppression and trauma. It hurt, and it hurt, and it hurt. It still hurts. But in all that hurt, there was also beauty. The beauty of being held in a circle of women who had come to work with their own gendered trauma. Our collective tears, our collective fears; safely expressed for the first time. These women, some from Africa, from Ireland, from Russia, some from my hometown, with experiences so very similar to my own, despite the cultural and geographical separations. And I say, hex the patriarchy that determines the lives and experiences of so many women. Curse the whole damn thing.
We shared the pain and difficulty of accessing and connecting to our bodies, which have been the terrain upon which endless physical and sexual violence has been perpetrated and perpetuated. Acknowledging our fears of connecting to our bodies after having been forced to escape it in order to cope with the pervasive physical and emotional pains that come from living life as a woman in a patriarchal world. A lifetime of sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, social and cultural subordination, genocide, forced emotional repression, all too much to process.
But in this space, tears were shed in torrents, and bodies shook like thunder. We eased into our bodies, then leaned into the pains, and held each other through the whole process. Wiping each other's tears, whispering sweet soothing words of empathy in each other's ears, reminding each other that "my friend, you are safe now, go ahead and let it go. I am here. I am so sorry for your pain."
So this is what grief looks like. This is what grief smells like; an earthy blend of sweat and tears. This is what the expression of that grief feels like. This is what grief sounds like. This is what grief tastes like. This is what it feels like to be held in my grief, to be given space for my grief. And finally, this is what it feels like to have grieved that grief.
I am profoundly thankful to these women, many of whom have by now returned to their far away homes to practice process work in their own communities. Most of these friends, grievers, healers, and magic makers, I will never see again. But their loving energies will forever be a guide for me when I stumble into the dark places of my gendered oppression and trauma. When I become polarized, and unable to gain a meta perspective, I hope that I will be able to lean into that place of surrender and acceptance that we created together.
One of the concepts we talked about over the weekend was this dance between doing our inner work, and our world work. We were asked to consider, "How will you hang on to that scrap of sanity you get from doing that inner work, after going back out?" Unfortunately for me, I didn't get the time to develop a strategy. At the end of the last day of our weekend retreat, before I was even out the door, I was tested. Grabbing my phone out of my bag, I noticed that I had gotten an email from my co parent and former partner. Being just three weeks into a very painful separation, we had been trying to sort out and negotiate the logistics of our lives. Assuming that the email was a logistical check in, I opened the damn email. Shouldn't have done that. Not there. Not in that space. The purpose of the email was actually to inform me that they and a mutual friend were pursuing a sexual relationship; have a good class. I stood there frozen, as all the pain I had just released came rushing back into my body. Dejection, betrayal, and more grief filled my feet, and rose up to my soul. I watched as my cohort made their way out the door towards the agreed upon dinner spot, to celebrate ourselves and the work we had done together. I couldn't move, couldn't walk, couldn't think, couldn't integrate what was happening. I began to lose that scrap of sanity that I had just worked so hard to get. No room for celebration that evening.
I ran through my options of how to handle my response and how to engage with the situation. I opted to respond in alignment with my emotions. To tell this person I had held so much love for at some point (almost beyond memory now), exactly how I felt. But how did I feel? When I leaned into it there was repulsion (what kind of a creep sleeps with someone they have belittled and disparaged?), anger and indignation (and you like to think that you are any different than the average man?), rage and vengeance (how do I hurt this person back), and finally validation (I knew intuitively all along that this was the underlying source of all of our relational conflict).
But now there was a new something that I had never felt before. The feeling of not having to be responsible for or carry the burden of this person's patterns of toxic male behavior anymore. I knew that whatever remnant feelings of love I had held for this person had been effectively terminated, their integrity as a human irrevocably dissolved. This was the little nugget of treasure from the work that I had done that weekend that I was able to hold through that very painful experience. Even if the rest of the work had yet to be integrated and practiced. I was not responsible for this persons actions, nor was I the cause of them. The wounding and dysfunction that would cause a person to act in such a way is not related to anything that I am, or anything that I have done. Those actions are their own hot mess and I am no longer expected to carry that. So, "fuck off with that hot mess of yours" is how I consciously opted to reply. This weekend I was shown how we can respond with anger and how anger can absolutely be a conscious response. And I took the opportunity to practice that lesson.
I walked and walked and walked some more, trying to integrate this new reality and process the feelings of betrayal and hurt. Trying to find a way to transform that pain. I walked all the way to my bed, crawling and bawling my self into my blankets, wishing for the comfort of that beautiful circle of women to sooth me. Trying to find a way to sooth myself. Trying to reach a place of transcendence with my feelings, but it was hopeless. I felt like I was on fire. A raging burn began to sweep across my chest, flames flickering through my fingertips, the backs of my eyelids, licking the embedded oozing wounds. I practiced being curious about the burning feelings, and identify what was at the source of that fire. Was it pain? Was it anger? Was it sadness? Was it rage? The fire denied and rejected all of these proposed emotional states and I tossed and turned through the night, trying to name this emotional state.
Finally, by 3am in the mourning, I felt the pull of the hawthorn tree in my backyard. I put on some slippers and sat myself on the ground next to the alter beneath the tree and sobbed some more, letting the heart medicine of the Hawthorne do its work. Exhausted and aching for some relief, I touched the motherwort in the medicine garden that I planted under the tree last spring. Rubbed the agrimony and lemon balm leaves between my shivering fingers. I asked for guidance. I asked for love. I asked them to see me and offer me some way of navigating and re framing what I was experiencing. Letting them know how scared I was of falling into a place that I couldn't climb my way out of. Then I sat silent, opened up my heart and listened. Within moments, out burst the most loving and anticipated thing anyone has ever told me in all my life. With a twinge of exasperation, these allies said "Elmira. You are on fire because you are motherfucking pheonixing. Can't you see that!? Of course you are going to feel the burning of your wood. Let the fire consume you already. This is the process of transforming your pain. Your body is learning to leverage the energy of your oppression, of your pain, for transformation. Yes, I know burns, let it burn."
And I did. I let the fire rage. It burned so very hot and there was no separation between me and the fire. I became the fire. I became the pain. I became the hurt. I became the oppressor. I became my oppressor's oppressor. I became oppression itself. I burned my wood and danced with those flames. Taking life from some things while giving life to other things. Alternating between nourishing the fire and then being nourished by the fire. After a time, I felt the transformation process unfold a bit more and all that pain, all that trauma, all that hurt, and all that anger begin to shift. Their energies becoming a source of elevation, and then a source of power. My spiritual and psychological rank lifting me up above my social rank, and up even higher above my contextual rank. I was motherfucking pheonixing.
Soon, dawn broke the darkness. I got up, I got dressed, and found some way, somehow, to show up for the day.
http://www.turning-the-tide.org/files/mindell%204%20types%20of%20rank%20(power)_1.pdf *copy and paste this entire link into your browser to get to the intended web page*