Thursday, March 15, 2018

Birth and Death Mother poem

Poetry month is coming, and women's day just passed. In honour of the Feminine, and in honour of a Fairy Tale class I'm currently doing online with Stephanie Anderson Ladd, I posted this on my Facebook page, and now here on my blog.

It represents a half a lifetime of reading and thinking and writing about the sacred feminine. We hear much more about the fertile mother goddesses and forget sometimes that her cycle includes death and descent to the Underworld, as in Inanna's story. Joan Borysenko first introduced me to this story in her book, A woman's journey to God.  Then I went to a workshop in NY City where we embodied the descent to Erishkegal's realm, and encountered what was buried, rejected or neglected in ourselves.

My first book "Little Mother", a book of poems and birth journal, dealt a bit with my mother's alcoholism and how it affected my childhood, and later my mothering. This poem was written when I was fifty, and reconciling the love-hate, love-anger, of this primal relationship.It is unpublished, so far, because my mom is still living, still alert and feisty at age 87, and I didn't want to hurt her feelings by including it in my last book, For the Birds.

Birth and Death Mother

In she walked late last night, tiny black shoes
like a Chinese woman, dangling a box of Timbits.
Little elder, not too wrinkled for 73,
alone now since the death of  my father.

Night owl, no innocent Madonna, long ago she drank
herself into oblivion on the living room couch.
Now food allergies, gut rot coffee keep her up all night.
She dozes all day – vampire shift.

Vacuum’s growl prods her out of bed.
City trucks, leaf blowers prowl, gruesome
chopping noises, Cyclops’ jaw crunching bone.
Oh deity, if you are mother, you are also a
devourer of small children..

Birth and death mother, knick-knack
Paddy-whack-give-the-dog-a-bone mother,
beehive hair on Fridays at the salon mother,
fruitcake ukulele singing mother,
are you in there, are you up?
Singing in the rain, musical junkie mother,
a hundred thousand miracles’ mother,
can-can dancing mother,
basement smoking on the john mother,
teeth grinding drool-stained pillow mother,
leftover butt stale ashtray mother,
vanilla in your coke-glass mother,
crispy pig knuckles baked beans in a pot mother,
bend me over your knee with a wooden spoon mother,
smack me on the head with your plastic hairbrush mother,
leave me alone with the seven dwarfs mother,
couldn’t have done it without your help’, mother,
never forgive never say sorry mother,
black holes blank history mother ---
tie me up in a leash to my bed suck my thumb mother,
cry too long for you not coming mother.
botched suicide attempt lady Lazarus mother.

I try to cut you away
but you stick like Velcro.

my healing & anger are wrapped up
in letting your squirming body off the hook,
where you hang in the Underworld.
Since I’m down here anyway, I may splash a little cologne
from the plant of life, resurrect you,
Queen of the revenants,
beg you to join us in the dawn of the living.

I would have left you rotting on that perpetual tree,
but they told me I could not come back up alone,
until I have settled with you,
flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.

What will I sacrifice?   Hardly anything.
 I will let the mother god know I am hers, and that one day,
my own daughter will be down here to claim my corpse,
draw me through her ragged skin-cape.

This is how the living feed off the dead.
And the dead feed off the living.

SoulCollage(R) cards for Inanna's Descent, meeting Erishkegal in Underworld. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Drinking Serenity Tea

in the quiet snow of January, I am drinking a cup of serenity tea

and watching Prem Rawat's New Year's message on Timeless Today

What is my focus on, he asks, something lasting? how to hook up to the real joy and prosperity

Is my focus on how to be fulfilled?

After an intense training session this morning, followed by a thirty minute Thai massage which targets my very sore shoulders and neck, I realize this armour that is being broken down, painfully, comes with a harsh attitude towards myself. I push myself harder than I need to, out of this fear in me of not being "enough", not a good enough writer, or a good enough house cleaner, or dog owner, or parent.

This shoulder pain is a good teacher.

It says, ease up on yourself. Stop thinking everything is urgent.

Stop the hypervigilante mode, breathe, relax.

Start paying attention to how full you feel.

Start being fulfilled, not with the things you buy, the things you decorate your home with, the things you feel you need to get by. 

Just be fulfilled, with life, with existence.

I am pressing the Start button now.

I am pressing the Easy button now, today.

I am lifting this armour off my shoulders, bit by heavy bit.

Serenity begins with me.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Slaying Dragons: The Courage to Heal Family Stories and Map Ancestral Shadows


This year, 2017,  has been one of slow, deep uncovering of old family stories for me, as I collected and came to terms with what I know of the history on both my mother’s and father’s sides, including the mental health history. The surprising thing is, the more I share my stories with friends and acquaintances, the more they too begin to reveal the “skeletons” in their closets, the family shadows and old secrets. It seems we all need to know we are not alone in having dysfunction affect us, and find the courage to learn the truth.

Neuroscience is beginning to help us understand that we are living receptacles of the DNA of our ancestors, in our emotional makeup as well as in the biological cellular structure. Like a river that has been silted up by the chemical by-products of industrial waste and becomes a poisonous bed for the living things that grow there,  our children can be damaged by the sins and omissions (secrets) of our fathers and forefathers (and foremothers) before us. It behooves us to shine a light on the darkness.

I am lucky to have been able to discover some of our family stories from other writers in the family. 
My mother gave me a copy of a great aunt’s diary, which tells a partial story of the Irish ancestors who emigrated to America after the potato famine, some of the happy times on summer visits to a farm, as well as the tragic death of a beloved great-uncle in WWI at age 19. After I published my first book, “Little Mother” about my own childhood, my becoming a mother and my mother’s alcoholism, another aunt wrote to me about my great-grandmother’s history of depression. She was committed to a sanatorium after her suicide attempt. Being the eldest daughter, I appear to have a similar make-up or role to my maternal grandmother, who stepped up and held the family together as “Big Sister”.

SoulCollage(R) card: running from the Blue Meanies 

My father’s genealogy research told a partial story of his pioneer grandfather who left his native French Quebec in 1878 to cross the continental USA all the way to the Wild West of Nevada to supervise the Verdi Box and Planing Mill, only to come back 20 years later with six children (my grandfather amongst them) who spoke mainly English. In the more recent story, my father was once hospitalized for severe depression and received electric shock treatments. He faced a major decision and froze up, with my mother slowly drinking herself to death and headed for a detox center, and his company going bankrupt. My parents both grew up during or just after the Great Depression, lived through a world war, which is challenge enough. But I wonder what other stories of pregnancies out of wedlock, adoptions, miscarriages, family trauma and secrets may influence our genes and our family story?

At the very least, I have found it helpful to uncover the family’s mental health history and bring it to awareness. My goal is to bring some light to the family trauma so that future generations needn’t carry this unawares into the future. Current members of my family do suffer from depression and anxiety, as well as addictions. This is more and more common in our society where a large percentage of the population is on anti-anxiety medication. (Approximately 30 percent of the adult population in North America have anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety Center stats).

The book “It Didn’t Start with You”, written by a therapist working for over 20 years in the field,  states the case very clearly: “Depression. Anxiety. Chronic Pain. Phobias. Obsessive thoughts. The evidence is compelling: the roots of these difficulties may not reside in our immediate life experience or in chemical imbalances in our brains—but in the lives of our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. The latest scientific research, now making headlines, supports what many have long intuited—that traumatic experience can be passed down through generations.” (

For myself, an interest in writing a memoir got me started looking at the past.  In January, I took two online courses with Daily Om: Healing through Writing, and Release Yourself from Family Karma. I wanted to get started writing, but felt frozen with a fear of depression that often hits when I sit down to write stories from my life.  Both these courses were practical and helpful. The process of writing or mapping the family tree through the lens of shadow energies and patterns, i.e. patterns of addiction, chronic illness, and mental health issues through the generations, gave me a much “wholer” picture of what I may be carrying forward, and what doesn’t belong to me. In fact, the author begins with that premise – that the shadows and traumas in your ancestors’ past may be at the base of some of your own tics and issues, or your children’s.

As Toko-Pa says so eloquently in a post on Ancestral Healing, quoting Carl Jung, the ‘silent facts in the background’ are impressed on the next generation. And they are not always talked about; in fact they are highly taboo stories. Some brave souls speak up, others stay silent. “Survivors of the Holocaust mostly take one of two ways to cope with the horror they lived through: One is to speak at length about their experiences, and the other is to never speak of it at all. ... The wounds get passed through the generations, metastasizing through our relationships and literally shaping our children’s lives. The sickness will stay in the family tree until someone in the outer branches has enough support and awareness to face and move through that ancient grief.”

Battling Dragons Collage (Art Journal)

While this may seem like heavy work, it has been actually very enlightening and freeing for me – I do recommend getting guidance from a teacher, psychologist or expert in grief if you feel overwhelmed by this work. Another class I took online, by psychologist and grief expert Leanne Chapman, “Dark Gifts”, helped me use my imagination with visualization exercises and storytelling, to enter the dark cave and tame the dragon.  Her knowledge and experience revealed that our hidden treasures are buried in those dark shadows. It felt very empowering for me to claim them, to shed some much needed light on my own healing story.

I’m not sure why, but I feel that it is my responsibility, as well as my privilege to do this healing work. It requires the courageous warrior inside to be very brave. Bring your best tools of bravery and wisdom with you – use your intuitive knowing, and your inner guidance system (often expressed in the body as disease or pain in some parts) to guide you as to what needs a light shone on it. Know that lighting a candle removes the darkness.

After a year of unfolding and writing and learning, I now feel ready to unwrap these stories and share the salient ones with my siblings, including notes from the beloved aunts about our grandparents and great-grandparents. So I’ve just sent them off to my siblings and their kids. My ancestors are guiding me, I feel sure. (At Samhain I honoured them with a special altar and ritual, with the family photos of my grandmothers and grandfathers, the SoulCollage(R) cards I had made for them, and for my parents – some long dead, some living.  Even something as simple as lighting a candle and praying for healing can be a first step on this Healing Journey.)

As Caroline Myss says in her excellent article, Our Need for Inspiration, “The human spirit is capable of an endless number of extraordinary feats. It is a dragon slayer, animating its presence within our being to challenge images and thoughts that arise from the depths of our darkness, intent upon reshaping how we see the landscape of our life... It is the spirit in you that has the capacity to endure what so easily collapses the mind and ego. And when your spirit partners with the love in your heart, you can endure anything.” 

Go gently into that dark night! And shine your light brightly!

SoulCollage(R) Card: Athena battling Darkness

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Women's Wisdom and Writing the Body: Dialogue

“What is your truth? Ask your heart, your back, your bones, and your dreams. Listen to that truth with your whole body. Understand that this truth will destroy no one and that you’re too old to be sent to your room.” John Lee from Writing from the Body

What is Women’s Wisdom? It means learning to live consciously, in touch with our inner guidance through our thoughts, emotions, dreams, and feelings in our body. It means believing that our bodies are able to receive and transmit energy and information. Instead of feeling trapped by the cyclical nature, the ups and downs of our emotions, women can begin to know and understand the waning and waxing that is as regular as the moon’s cycle. A good tool is journaling, and dialoguing with body parts.

Here is an exercise I have used in Journaling Classes to help women listen to their bodies. (taken from the book Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul's Story, Susan Wittig Albert.

Take out your journal. Sit for a few minutes quietly before writing, to get you connected and thinking about a body part. Start with a centering breath exercise, hands on heart, upper and lower heart, just breathing in and out for a minute.

Then pick a body part and imagine it can speak to you. What would it say? What does it want from you? what does it give to you? How does it feel to be this body part? Example below is with breasts, our most visible part, and one which holds conflicting feelings for many women.

Dialogue sample:

What Breasts Say


We sing with milk for you, we love your caress. Sometimes we sag empty, other times balloon into gorgeous melons. When you lie down we softly melt into your ribs. We are a soft cushion for your son’s head, something to pinch for your daughter. Always a safe haven. 

We love to wear brushed cotton, hate metal under wires, undulate under sweaters, push out high beams in a T-shirt. Molded to wet skin in a bathing suit we are voluptuous. When expecting, you wait for our every twinge, hold us to yourself when running downstairs or in a field of grass singing. What do we fear? A stranger’s eyes undressing us. 

We were slow to come into being, ripened over many years into something you could be proud of. Our marvelous liquid is like love; hot, untamed squirts of bluish fire, we nourish, give life. 

We are called Wonder, or Fame.

If you want to continue with this, pick another body part and do the dialogue. 

Another creative idea: make a collage for this body part, and let your intuition choose the images and put them together on a page in your journal, or on a cardboard sheet.

See the Creative Soulful Woman Facebook page for an example of What the Uterus says.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Writing in Tuscania : Notes from SoulCollage(R) Conference 2016

Once there was a woman who traveled to the sacred land of Tuscania.

Along the highway from the bus she watched the hills roll golden against pewter clouds and sky, then the Pouring of Rain down on the windshield. She was sheltered and safe but newly landed, having hardly slept. She was alone but had been greeted, met and taken under the wing, so to speak of the small group of 3 women waiting at the meeting point, as instructed. One British, one American and one with tattoos on her arm.

The pilgrimage was on, although she hadn’t called it such, as yet. Every morning she walked down the road lined with small dark paving stones on her way to the Tower where the SoulCollage(R)  journeyers were, and every evening she walked up the hill back into the town.  In between, although she didn’t know it yet, her pilgrim soul was waiting for her in-between the lines and the cover of her golden notebook. Golden because she chose the yellow covered book over the red or blue. 

The first days were a flurry of collage, art making and meeting new companions on the road and in the Tower, over tea or cafe latte and breakfast, meals together, twilight suppers, fellow pilgrims and travelers who came to dance, take photographs or write their way home with SoulCollage(R) facilitators.

She knew, one day near the end of the week that something Big was calling her to Home. Homing in, and honing in, on the true nature of her calling – she needed a new relationship with the Self – she had been held hostage, too long, by the critic, naysayer and doubter. She had called on her angels and guides for protection, but in a very ancient church she heard the words  (La Grande Madre) and it sat right with her to pray in the middle of the night for a dream for a signal or a sign. We are here in the sacred land of Tuscania, she thought, as she held her hand to the ancient porous rocks of an Etruscan villa. We are here to hear the memories of the ancestors, but she didn’t feel it yet.

She asked for a sign and received a dream, a solid bull, larger than life, standing in front of the gates of an ancient city; a white horse harnessed, a line of men harnessed to it, pushing the mare into the bull, ramming it again and again and raining sweat blood and tears as she cried. Why can’t you stop? The men were also ramming their bodies and heads into the old walls.

So she sat with the question, in front of the old stone wall the next day, sitting with her back to the verdant landscape. What does the wall say? What does the horse say, what does the bull say, as Mariabruna suggested she ask the dream.

Her pilgrim self had wandered into the waking dream, in between ancient and new, in between past and present, in between her old self who rammed right on through things and people and got things done, to the new, softer around the edges intuitive person waking up, peeling off layers of Strong, Bold, Leader, and Commander to strip away a certain layer of Ego protection and rediscover underneath, the “authentica” or ancient feminine mythical layer, deep in her bones, in her heart and soul, the untethered, unharnessed, fluid, green as the grass bloodline that she felt when she looked out over the valley to the cows grazing below – Oh how soft the trees, Cypress, pine and oak, fig and corn, and vines, such fertile fields and harvests.

This land, sacred land, somehow hers, though not through any heritage or inherited lineage. Is it true to say, mythically connected to the land of the goddesses who came Mare ad Mare – Holy Mary as the guide said, before the Romans, before the Bull, before the conquering tribes and nomads who built the Wall, Under the wall, always down, down in the earth, the voices of the women singing, in long cool tunnels, in warehouses and storage rooms, where oil, wine and grain and sacred objects for ceremony, the baths, clean water, the Flow, in the midst of Stone Walls, a hollow space for the pilgrim to wander, to hear the melody of stillness, embrace the sacred in the sanctuary. 

Oh my Soul, pilgrim that thou art, I hear your voice, more clearly here than anywhere. It is not the landscape, that holds it, but the sacred stone walls have echoed my Name, announcing my place in the scheme of things, (as Mary Oliver says), the animal body of my soul, speaks again and again.

So I am happy to be writing (again) and listening for the Voice that speaks. I may forego the old story for a new one, as has been suggested to me by teachers wiser and older than I. I have been very stubborn, the Catholic child in me confesses, not a mea culpa, but an Ave Maria. 

Help me Sweet Feminine face of god. Help me listen to my real Voice, my intuitive layer, the strata underneath the wall I have built. Help me even tear down the wall (if this is recommended and necessary). May I allow “not knowing”, and learn to lead by surrender. May I allow allowing and receiving – it is my greatest wish that you write through me. And I will dance to the strings, I will chant and dance and swirl to your musica - in the sacred land of Tuscania, I heard this.

SoulCollage(R) card: Persephone in Tuscania, view from Tower

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Particle of the Divine

Prayer for a Questioning Heart

May your journey
through the questions of life
bring you to a new moment of awareness.
May it be
and enlightening one.
May you find
embedded in the wisdom
of the past,
like all the students
of life before you,
the answers
you yourself
are seeking
May they waken
that in you which is
deeper than fact,
truer than fiction,
full of faith.
May you come to know
that in every
human event
is a particle of the Divine
to which we turn

--- Joan Chittister

After reading a Facebook post on whether the goddesses in mythology are too ‘feminine’, I wondered, is the divine feminine? Then I found the poem above, and wrote this in my journal this morning.

I have felt the divine as a lover, as a Mother, as a Father, as a Friend, as a soft invisible Presence, as a singing silence in my inner ear, and a flutter in the ribcage of my heart. I have not imagined it as He or She in a really long time (except as manifest in certain teachers who have taught me how to center and be still). I am of the school of no religion, no symbols needed to feel or experience something real, the Radiant Mystery – not a belief, but a felt contact. Unseen, but felt in the heart. Unknown but inhabiting my presence. Untouched but moving within the boundaries of my body awareness, and beyond.

When I call out, I am answered. When I ask for help, I am guided from within and without (sometimes by a song on the radio, a chance encounter). Serendipity, synchronicity and alignment with objects, schedules, and people abound. When I am trusting and relying on being grateful, aware and conscious, all things flow towards me. When I trip, fall, bump into furniture, cut a finger or burn my arm, miss a meeting, lose patience, hurt a friend, I am reminded to come back into presence. It is a learning flow, always a teaching moment available, if I am on that wavelength. I am not always.

SoulCollage(R) Card: DizzyTizzy Self

Probably because I am enamoured of speed, of getting things done quickly, of flitting in and out of Noise and mindless activity. Lately, I am learning to appreciate the joy of slowness, stillness and surrender. I am practicing awareness, when I remember, moment to moment;  I am often brought up short by my shortsightedness or short temper. I am stretched and relaxed and massaged into stillness. I sleep and wake, and begin again.

There are no steps I am aware of, no phases, no progress, except Here, or Not. There I go again. Stop, breathe, repeat. Hello. Slow Down. Remember. You are not alone. In this sea of souls, remember. You can call out, reach for the One Breath, the One Sound, the One, will hear you. 
SoulCollage(R)  Card: Hearing the Call

Dance, as Hafiz and Rumi request, dance with life. Don’t sit on the sidelines anticipating the end. Dance, enjoy. Be in the swirl and whirl of it all, this myriad, colourful rainbow world; pain, sorrows, griefs, joy, love, simplicity – all turning on the wheel, Cosmic Ferriswheel of life. Now you are Up. Now you are Down. Do you still feel the need to control? How small you are in the scheme of things. Up, up, up you go – it’s a wild, smooth, terrible, wonderful ride. Yesterday I was struggling to master my panic at a supposed computer threat. Today problem solved, all is well, my heart beat is back to normal. Praise be. I appreciate the peace my morning practice brings.

Journey Card: root chakra, Red

Friday, October 27, 2017

Consent, Body Boundaries, Women's Words

The news is full of stories of sexual harassment and abuse these days. Women are standing up, speaking out, asking to be believed as they uncover stories they had silenced, hidden away out of shame or not wanting to rock the boat, or simply to keep their job. Millions of women are finally airing their pain and asking to be heard. Courage in numbers, they say.

It reminded me of my first trepidatious year in Creative Writing Class, writing a taboo journal that was to become my first book 10 years later. (a book of poems and birth journal, Little Mother published 1997). I remember mixed feelings about giving a voice to my female body. I had stories to tell, some of them about being pregnant, which I loved, and yet, it brought up scary dreams and I realized there were unconscious fears, especially as I got to the week before giving birth to my first child.

I was reading a lot about labour, of course, and what to expect. Also I was trying to understand how past sexual abuse or trauma to the body could delay or obstruct the labour process. I wholly wanted a "natural" childbirth, (having no idea what that meant). But in the effort to be cautious and prevent an oversized child, I was scheduled to be induced on Sept 19, my due date. After twelve hours of 'false labour,' and many derogative remarks from the two women obstetricians about my lousy, tight, stubborn cervix" I went home and tried to get my head around the resistance of my "failed induction". I had a feeling my uterus wasn't stubborn, it just knew it wasn't time yet. (I ended up dancing to African drum music a week later to get labour started).

Here is an extract from the book, and birth journal:

Sept 21, 1990: When God cursed Eve for eating the apple, he decreed: "In pain you shall bring forth your children." Our heritage as women. I want to look at my fear of pain, reasons for tightness. 

teenager's fingers [in my vagina] around 4 years old
trauma of first blood (15 years)
doctor's hurtful examinations: forcing a cold metal speculum when internally bleeding (ectopic pregnancy, age 22 years).
blood, sign of miscarriage (twice in two years)
amniocentesis: another violation, but by needle. 
Hanging on tightly to this pregnancy, fear of losing the fetus. I have to say goodbye to "Eustache" [foetus name] and hello to the separate new individual, Andre-Julien, the child-boy. Leave behind the known for the unknown. Birth = rite of passage. A Rupture.

Don't touch my labour pain! "Les femmes qui accouchent transpirent, gémissent, vomissent parfois, émettent des sons bizarres, perdent le contrôle qu'elles ont habituellement sur leurs fonctions corporelles."  (translation: Women who give birth sweat, moan, sometimes vomit, emit bizarre sounds, lose control they usually have over the bodily functions.)

"The best way to get out of pain is to go into it." Say yes, accept. (advice from L'une a l'autre, Winter 1987, magazine for midwives).

I did not list all the ways I had felt invaded sexually, including an encounter in which I bit a man's arm so he would let go of me....but I was becoming aware that there was a connection between the fear of invasive "others" and my body's natural power to give birth. The whole book was a form of meditation on taboos surrounding the female body, sexuality and mothering.

It has been a life-long passion of mine to understand my body, its messages, signals, and symbols, and its relation to the larger world - (the second book is non-fiction look at menopause - The Tao of Turning Fifty.)

The question I have now is, is it even safe to be a female in this 20th century? perhaps safer in Montreal than in Mogadishu, Somalia. It seems like not enough has changed since I was a little girl or a teen aged one trying to negotiate her sexual boundaries. 

Maybe none of us is safe until we speak up, speak out and use our body language to clearly communicate what is out of boundary, what actions and words we refuse to acquiesce to. Even grown women need to learn this, and not adhere to the old "polite, good girl" behaviour, not stay silent and squirm with shame or rage.

I heartened by two educational videos I watched on Facebook today, one from Kenya, where boys and girls are both being taught to use their voice strongly to say no to aggression (sexual or otherwise) and stand up for each other. Check out their program at No means No!

What I wish is that I had been coached on this as a child, instead of being told to be quiet, stuff my feelings inside, be good. Sure, we got the warnings about strange men and not talking to anyone we didn't know. But unfortunately, often it's the people you do know that are hard to say no to. The older brother, the babysitter, the uncle, the fathers and grandfathers, the step-fathers and friends of the family.

I wish the world were a safer place for women. Let's start by telling our stories, using our voices, standing up for ourselves.  Warrior Women find your Courage! Let all girls find their voice, be encouraged to defend themselves. May all boys be taught how to stand up for their sisters and friends, as well as themselves.