“I lived my life as a disguised criatura, creature. Like my kith and kin before me, I swagger-staggered in high heels, and I wore a dress and hat to church. But my fabulous tail often fell below my hemline and my ears twitched until my hat pitched, at the very least, down over my ears and sometimes clear across the room.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
In my Southern California neighborhood we get regular visits from flocks of feral Amazonian parrots. No one is quite sure where they escaped from, but they have thrived for more than thirty years without having any negative effect on the environment. I’ve grown to love them for their resilient and resourceful free spirit, even with their sometimes unpleasant squawking and screeching at sunrise. Sometimes I feel more affinity with them than I do with some of the people I come into contact with in everyday life.
We’ve learned to associate bared fangs and red angry eyes with the word ‘feral’, but at its most basic it just means returning to a natural state after captivity. No animal, unless it’s rabid, exists in a constant state of “fight or flight.” When a feral animal does go on the offensive, they do it to protect themselves – perhaps from returning to captivity. I admire the feral among us for their ability to survive in a world that prefers them tamed and docile.
Most women grow up memorizing the rules of civilized behavior – how to look, dress, walk, think, and even feel. We learn to bend to the mandates of family, school, media and all the rest of mainstream culture. Too often, politely and quietly, women surrender to cultural domestication or we rebel without direction or reason – we end up brittle, saying “NO!” to everything, even the things that might serve us well. We are animals denied our natural way of being in the world. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, we live as “disguised creatures.”
Even though we often can’t remember a time before we internalized all those rules, we dream of ditching our false masks so that we might live as our natural selves. We dream of going feral. And when we do, like the squawking of the feral parrots, some of the people around us might not like the less tamed version of ourselves. This is a risk we take in setting ourselves free and returning to our natural state.
The only map is found inside
the cells of your own heart. -Matt Licata
Like the feral parrots, we have an internal compass made of our instinct, intuition and creative resourcefulness that leads us back to ourselves. With a feral compass there isn’t just one true north – it could be true west or true southeast! Our task is to turn down the noise of all those ‘shoulds’ and cultural expectations so that we can begin, small step by small step, to live into the feral truth we find.
I have been finding and following my own feral compass my whole life, many times without an awareness of my truest self! – feeling my way through the dark, taking wrong turns, and stumbling. And it’s been worth it. As this year comes to an end, I’m wrapping up some work around sharing what I’ve learned along the way with other women. In the mean time, I’ll write a bit about my experience finding my feral nature and post it here most Mondays.
One last thing I haven’t told you about the flocks of feral parrots: Although they’re all Amazonian parrots, they’re not all the same species of Amazonian parrots. In the wild their habitats, behaviors and appearance change from one species to the next. Essentially, they’re like neighbors that never speak to one another. Yet, in their feral state they’ve banded together to not only survive, but to thrive! I’m not only in awe of that, I see how women can and are doing something similar.
When we do the work of finding our own way in the world, we begin to connect with other women doing the same thing- we can truly see one another to make those connections because we’ve thrown away our disguises. Women who may have never reached out for one another because of differences in location, different life-styles or even appearances, find one another and thrive in their personal and collective lives.
The world needs our best, and most wild, selves. We’re being called. This is not a time to stay safe, small or “good.” This is the time to shake of the shackles of the identities that no longer fit and experience the power of one more woman coming home to herself.