rising rooted – women’s winter retreat

Gradually, you will return to yourself, Having learned a new respect for your heart from “For One who is Exhausted, a Blessing”, by John O’Donohue

As I have been attending to my body, honoring its wisdom – to be quiet or still, to feel sadness or pain, to express rage or sense peace – and accepting without judgment the range of its feelings and instincts in all of its unfathomable intelligences, I have noticed something shifting in my perception of myself. I find myself deeply respecting myself in a new way. It’s seems that what I’ve gained from this season of darkness is a new rootedness—a deeper trust in the wisdom of my soul and the goodness of my being.

As the animal kingdom, whose vast wisdom has also escorted me through this season, has an innate intelligence, not only for surviving but for thriving within the external environments in which they have evolved and find themselves, so have I. And while I always find their adaptations remarkably, delightfully, wonderful, I don’t know if I’ve often looked at my own life with such wonder.

However, during this late autumn of enforced stillness (really, that is how it has felt some days), imposed upon me by the utter stripping away of any remnant of defensive cover, I have learned that I really do have a lot of resilience and strength. Perhaps, just perhaps, my dear friend was correct when she said, ‘Your canoe trips are not what have made you strong.’

No, I was not broken- as I might have at times in my life defined myself- by the events in my life, nor by the external environment – no matter how cold or harsh it might sometimes have been—into which I was thrust. Yes, I learned ways to adapt, but I needn’t de-fine (to make less fine?) those adaptations as flaws. Perhaps, just perhaps, they are my strengths.

Just yesterday, during a time of honest sharing with my sisters, I heard myself, instead of lamenting the devastation to the trajectory of my life that was the teacher’s violation of my virginal, blossoming spirit, PROclaiming the remarkable resilience of my young self, the initiative she took to protect herself from his further advances, even when  that naive one didn’t know at all what that meant. Her instincts were alive and wild, knowing that something more terrible was what he was grooming her for. So she learned to stay out of empty stairwells, quiet libraries, and the aisle seats of darkened auditoriums, where he lurked with his plundering hands, like an animal learns how to play dead or feign a broken wing in the presence of a predator. How amazingly creative is that?

Yes, I carried the terror and confusion of it in my body. Some of that was released in the shower that day, 25 years later (almost 20 years ago now) when another man devastated my world and those ‘why’s’ poured out with my tears, bearing the memory of him. When another fire ravaged my safe and sheltered environment, I instinctively fled to the water.

I suspect more of that terror and despair was exposed with my mother’s final abandonment of me at her death. That despair, suppressed, never allowed full expression, shocked and shamed into silence, was at last seen, held, honored, by the adult woman within me, who was filled with animal rage for her child. I can celebrate that powerful energy of love within me. I can celebrate the creative resilience within me without in any way sanctioning or sanctifying the behaviors of those who did harm me.

The tree outside my window is visible now in the lightening sky. Against the backdrop of fog, I can trace her limbs, branches, twigs, tendrils – all built by the tree from the light, for gathering light- stripped bare. Today those light gathering branches rest, although in some way that resting also exposes her to potential breakage, for the winter winds are harsh and the ice hard. Less so, however, than if she still bore those leaves. Perhaps it is necessary for me too, at times, to let go of seeking the light. I need not find light in all seasons and all things….

I need no longer be ashamed of the way I pushed through the deaths of 2 babies to become the fierce mother I was, the ways I refused to lay down and die. I need no longer question my ‘receiver’ – the part of me that didn’t feel loved – because Love wasn’t what I was receiving. I can also clearly see, with tenderness, the times when I didn’t listen to my spirit/body’s wisdom, when I denied my instincts out of deference or fear, as well as the times when my animal instincts led me astray in order to save my life.

It’s as if, in this ripped open place within me, there is no longer room for shame to hide. Even my neuroses are visible and welcome and beloved.

That feels like freedom…..

I had risen early, before the others in order to have some quiet, to write, but C noticed my light and has come in from the cold. (she had been sleeping outside on the porch). Now that is a sentence that makes me pause, even as it flows from my pen. This community of sisters has shone a light in the cold for its members for seven years now. Each solstice we come, like bats returning to the cave where they congregate for mutual warmth in the winter, and we hold the light for one another in the dark. Community is as vital a survival instinct, it seems, as attending to one’s intuition is. To be WITH the warmth of empathetic beings whose thirst stirs them to waken the others in their midst, is to be kept alive in the cold. The conversations we have been having in this sacred place have, in their way, as so often they do, shed light for me, even when it is the other’s thirst that awakens me. By this light this day, I am able to see the blessed creature that I am.

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