Cowardly lions, strong women, and Vicki Louise

I am paddling stern. The Wise Woman in the bow is allowing me to lead. She is teaching me to trust myself. She informs me that I really am in control, and that I can choose to lead the canoe where I want it to go.  I don’t like being in control, and she knows it. I don’t like being directive or assertive.  I don’t know how to wear strength like that, don’t like how it looks on me.

Yesterday, I portaged this same canoe across a 95 meter trail to a small lake at a higher elevation, a fresh body of water that I could not reach without carrying her. The very idea of me hefting a 55 pound canoe on my shoulders for 95 meters up even a slight rise seemed  at first to be an utterly ridiculous thought, but I soon learned it was less about brute strength and more about balance, attention and putting one foot intentionally in front of the other. I felt, didn’t think, my way across the path, noticing readily when I shifted my weight away from center or when the incline of earth supporting me had likewise shifted. The canoe revealed this instantly to me by exaggerating the tilt 10fold and threatening to pull me precariously even farther off-center. So I’d adjusted and the canoe had leveled out. Attentive to my footing, to the lean of my body, to the subtle change in incline or decline, the force required to woman the canoe was minimized. It was supported as I was supported. As I neared the awaiting lake, ready to paddle again, I was suddenly filled with such renewed energy, a rush of raw power, an overwhelming feeling of grace. The feeling was both powerful and surprising.It made me want to ‘roar’.  I felt strong in a visceral, embodied way that is rare for me, but I liked the way that it tasted. ……


My mother named me Vicki Louise, which means ‘victorious warrior’.  I have for so long experienced such a disconnect from my name, as if it surely must belong to someone else!  I mean, what was she thinking? I’ve often considered changing it… to something more peaceful , like Emma or Olivia… because Vicki Louise has felt and sounded too harsh, too blunt for me, hasn’t seemed at all to speak the essence of who I really am. Oh, I could at times see how I have had to overcome, to fight for the survival of my Self, to resist the loss of my integrity (and often my integrity has risen in response to some perceived threat to my wholeness) but there is a fierceness to my name that I haven’t been willing to completely own. When friends comment on my courage, I look over my shoulder to see who they’re talking to.

But today I am pondering the thought that perhaps my name— a constant, daily reminder— was given to me because I would need it, need to be steadily reminded of my strength if I was to become whole. If I am going to fully embody the expression of the Holy that my life in this place is to express, if I am going to gather the soul-gifts that my life in this place is to gather , if I am going to bear the gift that my life in this place is to bear, I need to be strong. I need to integrate my name.

I visited with a dear friend and soul-sister last week, upon my return from Algonquin. It was her birthday, but it was she who gave me a gift. Over lunch we each shared from our separate weeks of spiritual retreat, hers in the naturally wild and warm, powerfully healing energy of ocean and volcano, waterfall and rainforest that is Hawaii, mine in the naturally still, quiet and cool, healing waters of Algonquin, where stars fall from the sky and loons echo the cry of the soul.  Yes, we are sisters… like fire and water are sisters, like air and earth.

As we shared through the afternoon and into the early evening, I was aware on some level that I was feeling a bit lost, insecure with myself and my gift. My inner critic had come out in full force last week and I was feeling vulnerable and disoriented from the impact of her attack. So I found myself asking this question through tears, ‘Where will I find my place?’, believing I had lost my way once again. The cards shuffling in her hands ( her different-than-me, but deeply sisterly (air to my earth) way of connecting with the Sacred)  flipped and out jumped the one with these words, ‘Truth and Integrity’, ‘Be true to yourself in all of your actions…let go of anything inauthentic’ .

And there is that word again, ‘Integrity’ standing tall, right alongside ‘Authenticity’. I hear clearly, ‘Embrace who you are. BE who you are. YOU are the gift, trust yourself. Don’t try to be what you’re not, or what you think others expect you to be. Stop second guessing your Self’. 

And so I ask, ‘What is keeping me from finding my ‘place’’ (or keeping it) or said differently ‘What will lead me to living there… in my integrity, in my authenticity?’ Again her hands go to the cards, this time the Goddess, Sekhmet, Goddess of Strength, speaks ‘You are stronger than you think you are, and your strength assures your outcome. See yourself as strong and VICTORIOUS. You are the embodiment of strength, not victimhood. Don’t underestimate yourself.  Rise above old tendencies, see yourself in the most favorable light you can imagine. This will lead you to manifesting your highest potential.”

See myself as strong, victorious ? Okay, so I DO need ‘Vicki Louise’ after all!

I realize that the only image of strength that I’ve had is an unhealthy one…overbearing, domineering, controlling, authoritarian. 



I don’t like force at all. I am, I suppose, afraid of my own power because power has been used so wrongly against me.  As soon I taste something of my own power, I am paralyzed by it, so afraid am I of doing harm, of being wrong, of violating. And so I silence myself or beat myself up… in ‘real’ life or in my dreams… and thus can’t seem to offer my gifts to the world. Yes, my relationship to strength, and to this wounded masculine energy in me, is something that desperately needs healing. 

Wise One, teach me the way to move with power and grace


I have read that the Wounded Masculine is like an Impotent Hero. The inner hero wants to protect and defend the inner feminine, to validate the ‘feeling’ self, but when she is rejected by an external oppressor who is more powerful than him (eg a parent to a child) his strategy of defense is to protect her the best way that he can from feeling rejection again– by silencing her. Thus the domesticated, wounded masculine becomes the Inner Judge, a small masculine self, impotent in the outside world, but increasingly powerful in the inner world. Together they are in a battle for their emotional survival. This is the masculine/feminine relational pattern I am really quite good at !

So how might I heal this wounded masculine in me so that I might express myself fully in the world, offering the gift that I am, while protecting and honoring the feminine, receptive, feeling state in me that is so vital to being authentic.  How do I remain receptive to that which I feel and I see and I hear – within myself, within others, within this planet, within the Sacred Other? And how do I keep my red room open to receiving the seeds of that which longs to be born into the world, without inviting violation?

I have often noted the wonder-full paradox that the most masculine thing a woman does is give birth. It is in birthing that she is gifting something sacred from inside herself to the world. It was during pregnancy and childbirth that I felt the most innate power as a woman. It is to child-bearing and mid-wifery that I have experienced a most powerful and sacred draw, and where I have also noted the most rage in me at the disempowerment of women that has occurred in the medicalization of women’s bodies. And so the dreams of me taking my very pregnant self to doctors and hospitals, where I am drugged and put to sleep, are potent ones that speak loudly to me of my need to empower myself in this process of birthing myself, to take myself elsewhere from where I have been. That I am at the same time having dreams  of being overpowered and oppressed by male presences, which I must find my strength and my voice to fight off, is also compelling.

Sekhmet, Egytian Goddess is a fiery Sun Goddess, a fierce protector. She is depicted with lions, or at times with a lion’s head. I cannot help but re-member the times I have felt her protective lion-like energy roaring in me. It has almost always been in response to my children’s pain, usually in response to them not being seen or honored—by others or by themselves—that something in me rises to roar. Can I tap into this same mother lion energy in me for myself, an energy that might rise in response to me not being seen—by me, to me being silenced—by me;  an energy that might roar with the same rage at my own disempowerment in birthing myself as it has when witnessing the same disempowerment of daughters I love.

Perhaps I must re-member that fierce energy is not necessarily fearless energy, but is often inspired by the presence of deep fear AND great love in the same place, as I have experienced its rising in me, and as is revealed by the cowardly lion in that great story of coming-home-to-yourself, The Wizard of Oz.  Perhaps the male in me will find healing by seeing himself mirrored in the face of that cowardly lion, who only  believes that his fear makes him inadequate (and so pushes me into hiding for safety) but does not yet understand that courage means acting in the face of fear. He has not yet acknowledged in me when my great love and deep fear has acted with great courage. Stop looking over your shoulder and see yourself, Vicki.  May the Dorothy in me remember that what she thought she was missing was there all along… the courage (a condition of the heart, after all) to stand up for herself.


In reading more about this Egyptian Goddess, Sekhment, I have learned that, as a Sun Goddess, she is also organically a Goddess of healing and rebirth, for the Sun is a constant source of energy and new life on this planet. 

‘The sun burns 4 tons of itself each day, converting itself and pouring its life-giving energy out into the universe, where microscopic cells gather its energy and transform it into life, that feeds more life, that feeds more life.  For eons, humans have been feasting on the sun’s energy stored in the form of wheat or maize or reindeer as each day the sun dies and is born again in the vitality of the earth. Each second the sun gives itself over to become energy that we, with every meal, partake of. We are quite literally made of the sun; the actual energy coursing through our bodies is bestowed upon us by the sun.  Our own vitality is a manifestation of its vitality.

We so rarely reflect on this basic truth, and yet its spiritual significance is profound. Those solar flares are the power enlivening the entire human enterprise. The sun’s extravagant bestowal of energy can be regarded as a spectacular manifestation of the underlying impulse pervading the universe. In the sun this impulse is revealed in the ongoing giveaway of itself , in the human heart it is felt as the urge to devote one’s life to the well-being of the larger community.

 Human generosity is possible because at its center is a stellar generosity that pours forth free energy without the slightest hesitation. This is the way of the universe. This is the way of life. Billions of years ago the hydrogen atoms created at the birth of the universe came together to form our great sun that now pours out this same primordial energy and has done so from the beginning of time.  Our gorgeous living earth drifts light as a feather around the great roaring generosity of the sun.  Some of this sunlight is gathered up by earth to swim in the oceans and to sing in the forest.  Some of it has been drawn into the human being, so that humans themselves are able to stand, able to yawn at each dawning and dusking, able to think, because coursing thru their blood are molecules energized by the sun.  The simple truth is that such a bestowal of self is innately necessary, innately what it means to be embodied. To be alive is to burn.” 1

“My Love is like a blazing fire. It burns like a mighty flame”. Song of Solomon 8:6

“What good is your life, if your bones are not used as wood for His fire’ – Rumi

May my life manifest this same generosity.  May my creative energies be so poured out.  May my life be true to the nature of this great underlying, self-giving impulse pervading the universe.  The sun is power, power offered freely, generously, of itself.   Power that transforms itself.  Power that is accessible for others to use.  Power that is life-giving, not life-suppressing.  The power of stillness, the power of offering, the power of presence. 



My last name, as given to me by my father, is ‘Forrest’, it means dweller of, or keeper of, a forest.  From my mother, the name ‘Dell’ is a small wooded valley. These are the parts of my name that I have felt most at home with, the half of me where I feel I belong, for trees I have admired and embraced and dwelled deeply with for all of my days on this planet. Trees have given me strength when I needed. They are the place I go for healing and comfort and the place I come home to.  I pause now to ponder the trees who have taught me the meaning of strength

  • -Trees who have stood as both sentinel and shelter, seers of truth and repositories of wisdom. 
  • -Ancient trees who have watched and endured, grown strong and wise.
  • -Young trees who bend with the winds and find ways to grow around inhospitable obstacles.
  • – Middle aged trees who have turned the scars of their youth organically into strong beauty.
  • -Tall trees whose roots run deep, holding firmly to the great goodness of earth, and whose branches ever reach for the sun, gathering light for nourishment—for self and other.
  • -Trees who offer fruit as they let go, and blossom out of winter. 
  • -Trees who offer deep shade and then blanket the earth with rich, decaying humus.
  • -Trees who receive and absorb the toxic-to-us waste of our exhalations and release the oxygen-rich air that we breathe.

I can think of nothing stronger, more solid, more resilient, more persistent, more forgiving, more hopeful than trees. Theirs is indeed a fierce strength, a feminine strength, a quiet strength, a non-bullying strength, a strength of presence and power. Theirs is a strength that transforms—utilizing the raw energy of Sun and making it friendlier somehow, intimate somehow, nurturing somehow, immediate somehow. Theirs is a ‘here with us’ strength.

And so I too receive the gift of the life-giving power of the Sun, I soak it into my cells, I stand tall, rooted and reaching, powerful and nurturing, present and potent, receiving and giving in a natural way that does no harm, to self or other. And when I die, may the stored-up energy that was my life be released in a great fire that brings soul-warming heat to others.  

 These 3 examples of strength, I have been offered this day– the Lion, the Sun, the Tree. I trust there are times I will need to employ and embody each. May I open to these presences with me, for me, in me. Learn new ways to be strong. And may this strength be used for great good in this place.

………I am paddling with Her. She continues to encourage me to trust myself. She has given me the lessons required, taught me the strokes that I’ll need… the’ J’, the sweep, the draw… to lead the canoe gently, yet firmly, where I want to go. She has shown me how to deal with unexpected elements, how to adjust my own movements to encourage the canoe to stay in the flow, or to quarter the waves.

I notice Her responses to these subtleties of stroke, the way She turns her bow ever so slightly, and I am reminded of the lessons She gave me while womanning her across the portage trail— lessons about a different kind of strength, a strength that is graceful and receptive, attentive to leanings, seeking balance, a strength that is supple and lithe, limber and graceful, responsive and watchful, contained and grounded.

I am beginning to comprehend that life in this body, as in this canoe, is about experiencing oneness. … oneness of body and spirit and mind.  While She had told me what stroke to use when, they were words without meaning, until I FELT the canoe respond to the power of my stroke, to the subtle change in the angle of my paddle entering or exiting the water.  It was then that I understood how desire and movement become one, how She responds to my lead like a lover.  

And I realize, all at once, that She is my lover and I am Hers. We are dancing, She and I.

In the morning, I’ll awaken pre-dawn, wait for her to Rise, and She will respond to my need. I will stretch out my arms to her, expose the fullness of my body to her heat,  feel her power penetrate this damp and bone-deep chill, and I will say ‘Yes’ once again to Life.


1From ‘Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, by Brian Swimme


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carolyn
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 13:41:39

    I have begun to taste my own masculine power – the willingness to be out in the world as fully empowered female – and I like it also. For too many years the emaciated female in body, mind and spirit that I presented to the world was paralyzed by fear of being re-victimized and she felt protected also and only by the the use of domineering, overbearing, authoritarian language and behavior. I am so grateful that you and others have helped me to love a large part of that victimized self to death so that she can fertilize the new growth of my full humanity.



  2. Trackback: Beloved « Emmaatlast’s Weblog

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