Our Feral Nature

Feral

My print of Palmero’s “Starlight Stallion”

“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.

Much Love

Travel & Exquisite Self-Care

self-careI’ve been waiting all year for the Fill it Up Buttercup retreat with Liz Lamoreux and Kelly Barton. My delight builds as the date gets closer (four more nights!), but I noticed anxiety crept across my shoulders too. Rachel and I talked about it in our last session and I got clear about the self-care I needed so I’ll relax and enjoy the retreat and all the lovely women who will attend.

self-careRachel suggested I create a menu of what I’m hungry for during the retreat and a list of the self-care practices I’ll need to “pack” along with my fabulous Welly Boots for wet, squishy beach walking and an open-heart. While I made the list of practices, I realized that they are the ingredients for the goodness on the menu.

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* Anna Guest-Jelley at Curvy Monthly, so much yoga goodness going on there!
** Need to add: Remembering my weight isn’t part of the retreat equation – be kind to my body. It should probably be at the top of the ingredients list,  I have the most anxiety around that. Geesh!

I can feel the wheels lifting off the ground already!

If you have any favorite self-care practices for travel, please share your wisdom in the comments.

Much Love

 

 

Peace of Art: Making Friends with Our Resistance

 

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Flow             
© Kimberley McGill

First, I want to thank Rachel Cole for her support, encouragement, and for the title of this series “Peace of Art.” I also want to thank Kira Elliot for patiently listening to me ramble about my ideas for this series and encouraging me to keep writing from my heart.

“. . . if we look deeply into [war], we see our own minds – our own prejudices, fears and ignorance . . . the roots of war are . . . in our hearts and minds. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves . . . To prepare for war . . . is to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, frustration, and fear that will be passed on for generations to come. ” Thích Nhất Hạnh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

A few months ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and, although I found bits of truth and good advice, the author’s use of the language and strategies of war to overcome resistance left me unsettled. Our culture overflows with violent slogans and phrases that we use in everyday conversations about sports, entertainment and anything else we get excited and passionate about, including our own work: ‘I killed it!’, ‘They slayed the audience.’, ‘I attacked my work.’ Pressfield calls overcoming resistance and getting our creative work done “going in for the kill.” As a culture we have accepted that violent energy is necessary to solve problems and get things done.

In our long global history with violence it has rarely solved problems and has always left behind destruction and suffering. Just like we can’t mow down forest after forest in the name of progress without consequences, I don’t think we can make war with our psyches without inflicting wounds which will affect not only our creativity, but all areas of our lives.

The old paradigm of war and violence is a dangerous one, but if we pay attention we will find evidence of a new paradigm taking shape. The courageous ideas and actions of individuals, groups and communities moving toward a saner, more compassionate way of life inspire me to keep my heart open and stay grounded in the language and strategies of peace.

In a series of 4 posts, I’ll share my experience and offer a different perspective on resistance and creativity. Making friends with my resistance has motivated me to create more than I thought possible. I’m very close to launching my business, and have a couple of other projects slowly taking shape. I even have a lovely stack of rejection letters to remind me I am finishing work and launching it out into the world. In all the years that I’ve spent writing and creating, none of those things has ever been true until now.

The time I spent making war with my resistance felt like trudging through thick mud. Other writers praised my work, encouraged me to seek publication and congratulated me on my perseverance, and all the while I felt my passion fade. I wasted so much of my creativity in the battle that the creative energy left for my work was sparse and frail. Eventually, my creative mojo went underground in an attempt to protect itself. It was like running out of ammunition in the middle of a battle and having to retreat. I had to surrender to a truce, take care of my wounds and look for a saner way to do my creative work.

It’s ironic that Pressfield begins the first part of his book with a quote from the Dalai Lama: “The enemy is a very good teacher.” While that is true, the Dalai Lama doesn’t recommend making war on our enemies, and certainly not on our own psyches. Instead, he tells us that “we can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” and “The more you are motivated by Love, the more fearless and free your action will be.”

This perspective of loving-kindness and compassion brought my creativity out of hiding and revealed that resistance isn’t my “evil” twin out to destroy me. Instead, it’s the fear naturally built-in to our intuition that has been conditioned by culture to do everything in its power to keep us from taking the risk of doing the work we love and sharing that with others –  it will call us dastardly names, predict doom, and suggest we nibble on dark chocolate filled with salted caramel while watching entire seasons of Supernatural, a TV series full of battles between good and evil, in one sitting. We’ve all experienced the way people tell us that creative work doesn’t add up to real success or they trivialize it as a quaint hobby and may even add a condescending smirk to let us know how ridiculous we are for spending time on creative projects. These attitudes have been ingrained into our psyche and have tricked our intuition into cataloging creativity under “risky stuff that will ruin your life.” Add any personal trauma that conditioned us to expect a figurative or literal wallop over the head when we express our creativity, and the wound to our intuitive system runs deep.

If we can soothe our fears with loving attention, sit with them and listen carefully to the story they tell, we can unravel the lies we’ve been told and compassionately teach ourselves the truth that not doing our work is far riskier than going ahead with it. We can lay our weapons down and undertake a compassionate process of getting to know ourselves, find the core of our truest self, and do our most authentic work.

It doesn’t mean we will never struggle, but we will struggle less and find more ease. Peace isn’t the absence of hardship, but peace offers different tools for navigating those difficult times so that we can stay whole, true to ourselves and to our work, with our hearts open instead of hardened and cynical from battle.

In next week’s post I’ll share some of my process of making peace, my perspective on healing and ask you to consider the idea that sometimes when resistance tells us “Stop! Don’t do it!” it’s absolutely right!
I welcome your ideas and opinions and encourage you to begin respectful, compassionate conversations in the comments section.

Much Love!

Naming the Struggle

I'll be in my writing corner today. Updates soon!My studio feels cozy with the late afternoon sun streaming in to leave shifting patterns across the carpet, perfect for settling into my big armchair to write a long overdue letter, while the soft whir of the fan keeps me company and the room cool. The Sweet Man naps in the next room and I just left the cats in the kitchen munching on their early dinner. Goodness abounds. And yet, just a while later, I hear the news of Michael Brown’s shooting death. I feel my heart add a new fissure to the map of heartbreak written across it. With every new bit of information, I swallow hard to keep the tears from rising up, I take in deep breaths not meant to come out in an easy release. They’re the kind that squeeze through my constricted throat and come out in raspy spurts because letting go means feeling it all- anger, sadness, outrage, grief. I struggle.

Two days later, with that struggle wrapped tight in my belly, I curl up in the corner of the couch and try to read. My husband calls to me from across the room and I feel a disconcerting rush of brain chemicals – his voice has that tone that warns me he’s about to tell me something he wishes were not true – “Robin Williams committed suicide.” A sob lodges in my throat, and before I can swallow hard, tears flush into my eyes. But I take that constricted breath, find that hard swallow, and put myself in that bewildering state we call “keep it together.”

Over the next couple of days, I tell my husband and others I’m struggling with the sadness and anger. T­hen, in a Facebook exchange with a friend who tells me she’s also struggling, I remember that it’s not a struggle with tears or venting anger – the struggle is in how we avoid them. I tell her we’ve tried to dump a load of asphalt over our feelings, but they keep struggling to the surface like hearty weeds that we keep pulling up as if we could yank out the roots of everything that hurts. The whole ritual leaves us worn down and that friction between asphalt and weeds causes knots of pain in our stomachs, shoulders, throats. I suggest we let ourselves cry and vent because a sweet and funny man took his life, because a young man lost his life to unbridled power and racism. Yes, it would be o.k.

Like I’d done a few days before, I sit in my studio chair, this time hugging my knees to my chest while I watch the afternoon light through the leaves of our Sycamore tree. I take a deep breath, let my throat open to let it out in one big sigh. My face softens, with each subsequent breath the tangle in my stomach begins to unravel, and the sunlight diffuses into a blur as the tears come. I let that sob that had lodged in my throat, and all the ones lined up behind it, have their voice. It doesn’t make everything o.k., but it does break up the asphalt – extra layer of pain caused by resistance.

Although I don’t recommend attending to all the suffering we can learn about on any given day, it’s important for us to let our hearts crack open to the painful realities in our own lives and in the lives of others, not just because of the cliché that tells us we can’t experience joy without the pain. As true as that may be, there’s so much more to it. Without allowing ourselves to feel sorrow and injustice, our compassion is stunted and we can’t offer it with sincerity. When we allow our hearts to break open, all that energy we’ve put into squashing our feelings can  route in the direction of serving the causes of love, kindness and justice. Otherwise, we get further and further away from our truest self, get lost in a maze of hiding places and run the risk of forgetting the way out.

I know finding the rhythm of when to turn off the sources of news, even news from family and friends, and when to let it in is difficult and sometimes confusing. I’ve felt overwhelmed, other times found a balance. No matter where I find myself on that continuum, I try to remember to take exquisite care of me. I hope you will too – we need to find the ground beneath our feet.

I hope, too, that from that grounded place, you’ll offer what only you can to the causes of love, kindness and justice. It doesn’t matter what form that takes, it all counts.

New Moon Weekend Chronology

new moon

Resting Enfolded in Wings

The new moon comes when the moon hides inside the glare of the sun. A time to rest, assess, begin again, let go of mistakes and celebrate all that went well.

Saturday:

Early morning yoga – it’s chilly, my muscles tighten with resistance and then the warm rush of muscles releasing. I lose the rhythm of my breath, find it again in the stillness of child’s pose and the scent of Sweet-grass helps remind me of my feral nature.

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A new moon bath – sinking into the water, light reflects off the water and the sliding glass door in blue and green tinged white, the ‘plink-plink’ off water dripping from my wet hair, the scent of Clary Sage soap rises with the steam of the hot bath.

The rest of the day – long naps with intermissions of journaling, reading poetry in the new (to me) Catamaran Reader, rambling conversations with the sweet man.

Sunday:

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Morning swim – Floating in the pool looking up at the June cloud cover begin to break apart leaving trails of blue and white ripples across the sky, the glide of water across my skin, drying in the sun with my extra big yellow sunglasses reading Jenna McGuiggan’s article in Bella Grace.

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Organizing – bits of writing notes, making a list of the next steps for the projects I’m working on, noting, with a deep breath of satisfaction, the check-marks by the things I’ve accomplished so far.

Monday:

Writing- the soft ‘tap-tap’ of my fingers on the keyboard, new posts, new poetry, the soft whir of the fan in the background, inspiration rising up out of the hum of my thoughts, backspacing, rewriting, the “yes, these. This.” when the right words move across my screen, the dash and splash of color in my art journal.

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At the Keyboard

Cooking – onion, tomatoes, mushrooms sizzle in the skillet, the bubble and steam when I add the chickpeas, chicken baked with the sweet man’s oh-s0-good blend of spices.

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In the Kitchen

Cleaning – everything propped off the floor, pulled away from baseboard, the roar and whir of the vacuum, the cats scurry up to their secret resting places, the sweet smell of orange peels.

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Bertie

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Miss Nikki

And now, one good and messy day at a time, we live into the fullness of the moon to come. Saying yes to it all.

Much love.