This piece opens out from a reading of Candice Holdorf’s article, “Why Consciously Awake Women Are Sluts.” I admire how Candice has shared her story of the word “slut,” and sparked a vital conversation: I honor this wise woman’s revolutionary bravery, passion, and sacredness. I also want to take a step beyond the solution that studying the etymology of the words “slut,” “whore,” and “virgin,” implies: that women should “own” the words slut and whore as archetypal pieces of who we are.
I will never teach my daughter to own the words "slut" or "whore," or any of the ways these words and their history might fragment, undermine, or confine her. Each day, I work and love my way towards a world in which feminine sexuality and the sacred nature of the earth itself is cherished and venerated as the free-flowing, unlimited source of our existence. And I will teach my daughter never to accept a name that she has not felt deeply as true and rooted within her own being—not even the name I choose for her.
During my teenage years in Catholic school, I was regularly called a slut. Yes, I have spent much of my womanhood learning to unwrap the defensive posture my body took on then, remembering how to look you in the eye without fear as I pass you in the hall. To rediscover my sexuality as my most potent and beautiful creative power and way of connecting. As far as I can now understand, I earned the name slut by being too passionate, too willing to taste all of what was on offer: my dress was too red, my mouth too full of whiskey and wild sound, my uniform skirt too short, my lips too willing to kiss and explore.
We heard of this woman who was out of control.
Usually it was other girls tossing the word “slut” down the hall, glaring at me through hooded eyes. It was a way for other girls to consolidate their power, and transmute their jealousy and fear of the parts of life they were not yet willing or ready to experience for themselves. But they could not stop looking at me. Neither could the teachers, who constantly checked the length of my skirt, with lingering eyes. Or the priest who asked me in confession if I masturbated. By naming me as an outlier, an aberration, the corrupt system—the carnival of shame, submerged desire, and piety—could go on functioning.
I remember that my friends and I used the words “slut” and “whore” as teasing addresses in the private notes we passed to each other in the hallways between classes. But this was before I became “the” slut. After that, I could not recover the cuteness or novelty of these words. And because teenage girls can be exceptionally sensitive creatures when they want to be, my friends stopped using these words with me. Yet, in my mind, I had taken the name. As a teenage girl, the only way I knew to “own” the slut archetype was to succumb, to smile when I wanted to wail, to accept a reality of being subsumed into the power agenda of others, of losing my ability to discriminate between another’s desire and my own. In accepting the name and role “slut,” I said “yes” when I wanted to say “no,” over and over again: to boys who wanted sex, to religious dogma, to a decrepit system that really needed a woman to set it on fire, reduce it to ashes once and for all. In telling you this story, I discover what's still burning in me: this necessary fire, this long-smoldering pyre for the names I no longer tolerate.
Women will starve in silence until new stories are created which confer on them the power of naming themselves.
While I acknowledge the power in learning the history of, and thus transforming, our understanding of the words “slut,” “whore,” and “virgin,” I am alarmed by what the world will feel like for our daughters if we stop there. These words—in my body and psyche—will always do the dirty work of separation: separating my sacredness from my desire, separating women from their sexuality, casting the sexual woman as an exile from culture. I don’t accept this culture. From wombs and hearts like mine—who gestate a fresh form of imagination—a new culture inclusive of women's sexual power can be born.
We are the bird's eggs.
Yes, it’s true that in this time, whether we like it or not, women bear the responsibility and deep initiatory power of naming ourselves. While occasionally this reality exhausts me, on the whole I embrace it. But for goodness sake—yes, for our daughters’ sake, and for our own continuance—let’s get more creative than to simply rework the epithets that brutality and savagery have written upon our gorgeous bodies.
Why don’t we call women who know sex, love sex, and have sex whenever and with whomever they choose “goddesses,” “priestesses,” "lovers," "mothers," "sisters," or—here’s a wild one—“women”? I hope that you have felt the joy of being a woman in this way. I hope that with time all women of this planet can feel the freedom to be joyful and powerful in this way, without shame or fear of retribution.
By diving deep within ourselves for new names, let's demonstrate what we know to be true: that women are tuned in, turned on, alive, and full with a power far beyond what's been spoken or imagined thus far. A woman names herself. A girl comes to a name, becomes a woman (or women). A woman comes with the fullness of all her names moaning or laughing or wailing on her lips. Because I have known the pain of a wrong name, an exile name, I know that I must learn to receive this woman, in all her true names, her names of mystery, her names that daily set me on fire. Will you?
I rise before dawn, and love
the way the low gray clouds thin
here on this still-sleeping block:
the way the low gray clouds thin
admit flames of morning light
admit my gathering joy
admit the fiery work of Love
I dance with a toddler
I wipe snot and yogurt from her face
I come with the honey-gold moon rising
I caress the nape of my lover's neck
I sing out the songs as I remember
& I love every breath of my remembering
For me this day matters
as much as any other
no more, no less
Meanwhile in this city
and meanwhile in these days
the police shoot a black man,
a handcuffed man, a gone man
stand and watch him die
mothers gather milk
for the burning eyes
of the protestors
five protestors are shot
while police stand and watch
a mass of fierce Lovers march
on the federal building
and mining the stunned silence
to speak of hate, savagery, domination
burning through denial
to speak of rage
to say that Love is not always gentle
Love does not stand and watch
to thunder our rage
and let it rain
to stand up as a Lover
in a real way
still guarantees brutality
in this country
And I know that my own continuance
dances round the bones of these dead
here below, here nearby, here still waiting
to be mourned, to be praised
And I know that my chance to write this
to go on working, to go on loving
rests on the bodies of these felled Lovers
and in the hands of these ones
who march with fists raised
Love does not stand and watch
but may go on singing, go on dancing
go on with her caresses & growls
in awe of these brave ones
in tribute to these dead ones
Let us bear these hot embers
smoldering with Love
with the work of Love
Let us burn together
What I see and who I am:
fiery leaves on a black bough--
a woman who rises after a storm
to clear the fallen branches
to brush dirt from torn leaves
to say, yes, it will storm again
a woman who sings this
yes, a woman who laughs
What I see and who I am:
tangled roots pulsing in time--
as wild hairs spill from my crown
in time he traced moons in my palm
in time he sang the clouds
until the earth showed its holy bones
and until first moonlight
spilled from my mouth
What I see and who I am:
It is by loving
what I see
that I learn
who I am
I delight in watching a baby learn to crawl: her dimpled hands push powerfully into the carpet; her round tummy starts to lift; she cries out in triumph; her arms buckle; she face plants; I coo and encourage her; she lifts; buckles; repeats. What is the fierce current in her that initiates this push, and that flows through her again and again? In these first pushes, in all the pushes, there’s no certainty. At first, the only certainty is to wind up with her face in the carpet. Imagine you’re that baby: why not just curl up there and go to sleep?
From the moment of our very first breath, we are not destined for safety. We are destined for love.
Now, I should be clear. When I talk about safety in this case, I’m not talking about basic human rights, like shelter, a nonviolent living environment, nourishing food, healthcare, equal rights and access to mind, body and soul education. Every human being ought to have that kind of safety, and I wish that for you always. Those of us who have been blessed with this bounty have a responsibility to help make sure everyone on earth is safe in these ways. One way towards becoming the grown-ups who can advocate for the rights of others has to do with coming into right relationship with this other kind of safety...
Here, I’m talking about safety in the sense that: “Everything is copacetic. Everything is solid. I’m OK. Nothing can harm me. I am one self.” (Maybe the Beatles said it best: “Jai guru deva om…nothing’s gonna change my world…”) Or maybe it looks like bargaining: “If I do xyz, I’ll be healthy/happy/beautiful/eternal/saved…”
Once upon a time last night, I’m curled on my bed keening in a voice that’s older than time. It’s fall, and death is on the make. I’ve just had a conversation with a dear wise soul sistar about parts of the self that need to die, about ugliness, about loneliness, and these currents are churning thickly in me like a tornado. Between sobs, my inner girl is leaking out something like “I just want… I just want… I just want… someone to hold me and make me feel safe.”
Guess what, dear readers? No one comes. There’ve been plenty of times, in a case like this, when no one has come. And I’ve played mother to myself. I’ve stroked my own hair, murmuring, “you’re safe, you’re safe.” Making a shushing sound like an ocean or a womb. There’s a time and place for this, to mother your self, to mother others. The world sorely needs it. But last night I realized that the type of safety I was seeking, the kind that made me a beggar for stasis and sameness, was an illusion. I find that the more I beg not to be bewildered, the more strange and unfamiliar my everyday life becomes.
It doesn’t work to shut yourself up in your room and sleep in your pink nest (tried it). It doesn’t work to journey to a paradise in which you’ll be drenched in beauty 24/7 (tried it). It doesn’t work to force yourself into a prestigious career track or rush your self into a hurried, undercooked version of your very real dreams and vision (uh-huh).
This kind of safety just isn’t. You cannot insulate yourself from hurt, from change, from death. If you try, it will emerge as demons or killers within your own psyche, undermining your confidence. It will emerge as the unhealed wounds of your parents or your ancestors. It will emerge as people and situations that mirror back to you what you perceive as ugly in yourself.
But here is what I now know: In the death of illusionary safety, love is at hand. Freedom is at hand. A feeling, I felt, of being cradled by a mercy so much bigger and deeper than my attachment to being one self. Of being held in the palm of a great longing that is our most basic ground, to belong. In the deepest well of loneliness, I had a split-second glimpse of myself as a universal being.
The love that loves us
If you let the illusion of safety die, you might loosen your grasp on other attachments that are causing you to suffer… addictions, relationships that have run their course, deadening jobs or draining living situations. If you can’t be safe anyway, you may as well live with even greater creative courage too: write an audacious fan letter to someone you admire; dare to sing like Nina Simone; listen to your loved ones with your whole heart, and agree to see them as they are in this moment, beyond the old stories.
Or you might—despite being a small woman in a big city—walk out into the night and be bathed in silvery moonlight up to your ears. You might name it love, and you might allow it to cradle you through all your deaths and rebirths, through all the gorgeous and brutal and astonishing ways you are becoming your selves. And you might forget and remember this mercy, over and over again.
It’s not so much different than learning to crawl.
The fifteen-year-old girl is the most powerful and powerless creature on earth.
She has the body of a woman her ankle jewels her weeping hair and she has the psyche of a girl I was always breaking into my own house. House of my feelings, house of my intuition, house of my authority. When I grow up I want to be a bitch, I mean a door, I mean a poet--I was not acquainted with my power or my natural rhythms as a woman, and I did not understand the anger I felt at this—and yet, and so, I FELT it.
The fifteen year girl has the superpower of shard…
When I was fifteen, I was a font of rage. I used to pull juice glasses from the kitchen cabinet, take them outside and cast them against the bricks of the house: pleasure, shatter, gleam. It felt so good to destroy something beautiful, to laugh dangerously into the burgeoning night. There was much I did not know then, but I knew how to surrender to the intensity of my feelings, to let even the ugliness course through me, and I knew enough to laugh. All emotion (energy in motion) needs a channel to flow through. We are the vessels—we surrender, we open, or we wind up in shards ourselves.
Lightning flash forward, fifteen years on, present day: I am so angry at someone, I slam my fist into a door. Umm what?! I’m rubbing my hand, I’m surprised at my wild weird body. Am I sorry? Do I feel bad about reacting? Actually, there are tears in my eyes, and actually, I’m laughing. I feel very good, though not in a placid or meek way. I feel the integrity of energy in motion, the freedom in surrendering. Sure, there are loads more creative, less painful ways to express this energy (read on, friend), and yet, and yet, this too was my thunder, which is a return, a homecoming to some heartwood I’d been seeking.
There is freedom in following our wild rhythms allied with the moon and the seasons…ways of sleeping, dreaming, moving, creating. In tracing our path back to these rhythms—because we’ve been so long and so grievously banished from our birthright to experience wholeness—we meet our “ugly” feelings, rage, jealousy, fear. And it is right to feel it. It is right to scream, stomp, start a fire. AND if we can keep our integrity in these moments and follow the energy, if we can use our rage as creative fuel—for poems, paintings, movement, activism, teaching, witnessing—then we transform ourselves and our world. We grow up finally from teenager tantrums into adult action, and we teach others through resonance. We influence our world, simply by feeling, and following that feeling wherever it takes us.
More great news is that there is a highly intelligent blueprint pulsing in each one of our cells that teaches us how to feel with depth, integrity and follow-through. In my donation-based hatha yoga class at Yess Yoga this Saturday (5/17) 11:30am-12:30pm, we’ll be exploring our feeling selves from the cellular level on up, discovering & empowering ourselves to experience freedom in integrity. No glass will be shattered, except perhaps the barriers between you and your free-flying self!
Once upon a time
When women were birds
There was the simple understanding
That to sing at dawn
And to sing at dusk
Was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember what we have forgotten,
That the world is meant to be celebrated.
–Terry Tempest Williams
I am writing a poem that is really a prayer.
I am telling my story by walking its weight & light over the earth.
A wise teacher regularly reminds me that the simplest solutions are the most profound, that healing is always within arm’s reach:
If you find yourself with a broken heart, cajole it to go out for a walk with you, and let the beauty of this earth transfuse your empty places with light and life.
If you feel isolated or suffocating in the dusk of your own heavy inner thoughtscape, call a friend and become her best listener.
Sing a song to the birds. Sow seeds in the weeping earth. Make friends with a child at the market. Hold your inner girl and stroke her hair. Take a jasmine bath with Joni Mitchell. Paint your nails with lightning bolts. Collect litter in the park and tell no one.
Write a poem that is really a prayer…
I’m wearing a crown no one sees--
To wake up each day before the dawn and put on my lightning hat
And commitment to my self is what I most desire—to commit to huge Love
And what does this look like: still air, long time walking, rain
The rain that pours down pours right into my soul to wash it
My soul has been worn with trembling, wars, remorse
But I am mutating into a creature without regret
Here at the sisters’ plantation where they are all so kind
All I have is my ragged breath
the carved rosewood box it comes in
these stones filling my pockets with mute light
I wear white and long to become like a saint
So I take saintly measures of rebellion—I will be the saint of self-love
The saint of honoring my passionate imperfection
The only sacrifice I will is of the machine
But I must not think of the future
Of what comes after
For I live in the now in this moment of choosing
Decency, sanity, peace
To listen to the stirrings of my soft open heart
To make safe the way of the pearl that collects there
Is this how a pearl grows? One breath at a time
I see this love is not a crossing over
One heroic leap
But an accumulation
As the ground gets immense over eons—and filled with stars
(April 24, 2014 - The Christine Center, Wisconsin)
Once upon a time, on the Big Island of Hawaii, I stayed on the land of a beautiful older woman who lived in a treehouse. Every morning, she invited me up to sit on her porch in the mystic drizzle, drink tea, and eat papaya with lime juice. Two days before Christmas, cardinals were nesting in the tree ferns, and she gave me quartz earrings she had made for me, along with a letter, rolled up and tied with a black ribbon.
I carried this curled up wisdom with me on all my journeys, and this morning, as I was doing some spring cleaning, I unfurled her words once more. I hung the note on my kitchen cabinet, a traveler's talisman of faith: How can I come home to self today? How can I bear the vastness of my vision, the longings awakened in dreams? I find that the ground continues to shift, new reflections of self bewilder & amaze, and I find I need her note now more than ever. Frogs singing down the rain, the cleansing tears of recognition, gratitude. Could she have known how much her simple words would mean to me, how her voice of grace endures?
I hope that you can enjoy her message too...
Sometimes, dear one, you must simply let go & trust the workings of a creative, benevolent universe.
Know that your place in it is a vital piece, even when you feel lost & cannot see your own worth or path.
You are here intentionally to demonstrate your own individual, brilliant being-ness.
Your only job is to align with Source in a way that opens your channels, rings your bells & fills you with joy--
You are on a good path.
Spirals of bear light
Bare light I am receiving an education: I am being bestowed:
A sweater, a caress, a lunch, a small unnumbered kindness:
The exact day you were born I crowed out with pride
when you crowned an undisputed triumph, an honor none could remove
I am stripping down and howling into the lake of Love.
The day you were born the ivy curled and went on
curling - the sun spoke its own name as always.
The day you were born we remembered you -
there was not a moment of amnesia
about who you are
The day you were born I wept fluid of every color
emptied out of all my plethora of pain
I emptied my pain to be filled by the sight of your face
In my education, I will learn this art of grace
I sink into the perfumed waters of the bath: jasmine and sandalwood. The full body of a woman, lambent weight in the deep tub. I even am a woman: fervent and distinct and lioness. And yet there is an outer edge or limit to that womanhood—at every frontier of my body there is a girl. She has outsize steel blue eyes, golden hair and soft flushed cheeks. She looks into your face and reads your depths, your secret dreams and unspoken fears. Silent, she watches. Can you bear it? Can I?
The girl I was visits me this way: in old photos and in new moments of tension. When I feel I cannot bear the life I am birthing, dilate to encompass the oncoming future, she rises into the panorama of my heart and says nothing. She looks at me.
For so long she came rising and rolling into and through my psyche, and I did not recognize her. I felt her as a vague unnamed anxiety, and I reacted to this fear by constricting my life: I stuck with physical health issues, low-paying jobs and customary frustrations rather than venture into the wilderness of radical change. I wanted to send my girl away for good. Of course she would not go. If there’s one thing I know about girls, they remain and make trouble and remain. Green shoots in the hard rain. Those owlish eyes watched my every move, every pain.
I realized that if my girl would not go away, I would need to accommodate her. Make her a bed of moss and fallen stars. Through writing, breath, counseling, movement and a Hawaiian spiritual practice called ho’oponopono, I learned to look into her eyes. And see, the thing is, when I looked her in the eyes enough, when over and again I refused to turn away, I saw how much I loved her. I loved what was wild and slow and silent between the two of us. I loved her absolute vulnerability, her tender skin, and her eyes born to behold beauty and mystery. This girl was born to be held, and so I hold her when she gets scared. And I listen when she grabs me by the hand and whispers. More and more often, I am asking her what she wants: she led me to the beautiful island of Kaua’i, through lomilomi massage training, and now on the journey to become a birth doula. When I experience her fully and expand to protect and nurture her, I feel deep joy.
In the alchemy of inner nurturance, I am both mother and child. To me, this is the magic place where the revival of personal and interpersonal spirit begins.Eve Ensler tells us about the “girl cell,” the place within each of us (male and female) that holds compassion and uncanny vision. The movement to recover and nurture this girl cell is a courageous and joyful one for the individual, as well as a service to a world sorely in need of this gentle energy. As an adventurer journeying along the girl-spiral to our center, I can encourage you wholeheartedly to meet, cradle and love your girl today.
A girl sanctuary: I want to know: how do you nurture your inner girl? How does she play, what does she need, and what does she know? Email me (email@example.com) with a photo of yourself as a girl, and anything she has to say or you have to say to her, and I will post it here on my blog.