In the Company of Yin

cover yin yang

There was a time in my life (in that maiden to mother phase) when I naturally fell into a routine of caring for my mate and child, spending more of my time on them than on anything else.  It’s easy to do and I think many American women can identify.

Your girlfriends are in the same stage and it’s easy to let those friendships fall by the wayside.  It’s easy to allow yourself the joys of family and immerse yourself in your relationship with a significant other.  With the exception of lesbian couples, this is almost always a male dominated time in one’s life.

Family

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I know, for me, it was a time to explore the Animus side of my own psyche.  I spent a tremendous amount of time trying to put myself in my husband’s shoes, in order to better understand him.  It was part of my endeavor to be a good wife/partner in our relationship.  And much of this time in my life was worthwhile and valuable and enjoyable.

But something was still missing.  I realized, one day, that so much of my life revolved around Husband and Family that I no longer had strong bonds with women.  In fact, I wasn’t sure I ever had.  I seemed to hold a belief in the back of my mind that I’d always identified more with men anyway.  In hindsight, this might have been a “sour grapes” sort of attitude.  I felt obligated to that life… even though, when I got honest with myself, I had to admit that I chose it.  But there was, at that time, a bit of a feeling of being trapped in that.

In my marriage, our friends were HIS friends.  My women friends were the wives of his friends.  So I thought I’d try to cultivate some real bonds in that pool of choices.  I decided to have a party just for the women in our social group.

High Tea

I devised a beautiful, pampering “High Tea” sort of soiree.  I called it my Sereni-Tea Party, during which each woman would receive massages, manicures, a soak in the Hot-Tub and all sorts of pampering.  I also devised a small ritual, where each woman was crowned as a Goddess.

The idea was to remind each of us that we are sovereign in our lives, that we may choose, daily, how (and for whom) to live.  It was a big hit.  Everyone loved it.  No one loved it more than I did.  It sparked some changes in my life that are still in the works, I think.

aphrodite

I’m not sure if anyone else at that party “got” what I was trying to convey… but I did.  I claimed myself that day, and again and again on many days that followed it, I claimed my own sovereignty.

The experience sparked a new way of thinking for me.  I had one close female friend and I forged deeper into that bond.  She supported me and cared about my outcomes.  It was a really good start.

friends

I began to embody the Queen archetype.  And that sovereign queen of her own life was not the woman my husband married.  So in some ways, I could call that the beginning of the end of my marriage.  It’s okay.  It was a marriage that needed to end. And when it did, those women (the wives of his friends) shunned me like an Amish photographer. And that’s okay too. They were not “my tribe” anyway.

After the divorce I began to create more and more relationships with women.  I came honestly and openly into groups of females sharing my experiences and my ideas, and offering my empathy for the things that they may have experienced as well.  And that’s when the magick started to happen in my life.

I joined a witch’s grove of learning.  We met each week to discuss books, teach and learn and challenge each other toward excellence.  In the process we also loved, nurtured, supported and cheered each other on.  The grove developed into a coven.  I served as one of the leaders of that coven for quite a few years.

circle of women

I learned and grew more in those years than any other time in my life that I can recall.  I increased my personal power exponentially during that time, because of the company of other powerful women, all striving for their own excellence and the collective excellence of the group.  It created such momentum.  We were all swept along in it.

My leadership role in that group led me to more leadership.  I formed a non-profit spiritual center in my own home.  We offered worship services of an inclusive nature. We provided workshops, support groups, had festivals.  And I gained all of the experiences of facilitating that. And I could not have done it without the blessing of a number of breath-taking feminine souls who were regular members at the center.  They enriched me and the others in our group tremendously.

Life changed, as it does, and eventually I closed the center and moved clear across the country.  In my new home town, I volunteer and teach at a non-profit which supports women in ALL their endeavors to improve their own lives. It’s called Fresh Start Women’s Foundation.

And now, I also facilitate women’s spiritual retreats.  The latest installment of that happened in Sedona, AZ last month.

(There’s a new one coming up in November – Click here for more info!)

Six women from different backgrounds, understandings, beliefs and challenges came together.  We discussed and explored our hopes and fears. We worked towards our dreams.  We shared laughter and shed tears.  We moved forward in our lives, powerfully and magickally.

Above is photographic evidence of the goddess power we generated around us.  (Watch the orb at the foot of each goddess.  This showed up on 3 different cameras!)

owl yin yang

Yin in Taoism is the Feminine Principle.  The feminine aspect of this dualistic reality in which we live occupies the “dark side” of the yin yang symbol.

In Wiccan circles the Goddess is represented by the Moon, the night, while the God is represented by the Sun and the day.

This, in no way should be interpreted as meaning that the feminine principle is “bad” or “wrong”, although that is the way that much of our patriarchal society defines it.

But the divine feminine is a mystery.  The High Priestess card in Tarot holds a scroll, which is half hidden and sits before a curtain, beyond which are mysteries and wisdom untold.  There are even popular jokes about how women are complete mysteries to men.

High Priestess

There’s a reason for that.  And I think it’s our power.  This kind of power cannot simply be offered to everyone.  The power of the Feminine Divine is hidden for a reason.  The right to exist in its web must be earned.

And the women whose power is blatant and obvious to the world have been called everything under the sun, from demon, harlot, bitch to witch, activist, boss and Goddess.

The fact is that all women possess this power.  The degrees may vary or the power may be more or less suppressed by this patriarchal jailhouse, but, make no mistake, it is there.  It is present and can be awakened to greater strengths to greater missions and to the greatness of all things touched by such power.

I’ve found that when women come together in any kind of group, there is a magickal phenomenon that takes place.  There is a heightened power, an increase in intensity, like a spiritual battery being turned on.

A woman is powerful.

A couple of women, or a group, aligned in their Will, connected at their hearts and clear in their intentions, are UNSTOPPABLE, and deeply magickal.

Goddess Group

I’m not talking about excluding men from your life, by any means!  Today, I am in a committed and happy relationship with a loving, wonderful man. In fact, I believe that the time I’ve spent loving and nurturing other women (and myself) is a direct contributor to my finding him and to my being worthy of him.  Our relationship is very strong.  We believe in each other. We encourage each other. We acknowledge each other’s sovereignty.  And I adore spending time with him.

But these days, as the sovereign queen/goddess that I am, I choose to also spend a lot of quality time in the company of Yin.

This Is Sparta!

This is Sparta!

I’ve just done something a little crazy.  I registered to participate in the next Arizona Spartan Sprint.  For those who don’t know, this is a 4.7 mile obstacle race sponsored by Reebok.  You have to climb 8 foot walls, crawl through mud under barbed wire, drag heavy weights up hills, climb ropes, throw spears at targets, etc., etc.  (Oh! And you run from one obstacle to the next.)  At the moment, I am the heaviest I’ve ever been.  I am 5’7” and weigh 226 pounds.  This is considered obese.  I have also struggled, over the last few years, with arthritis, bursitis and vitamin D deficiency.  I can walk about 10 miles (if I have to).  Generally, I walk about 2 – 5 miles during my current workouts.  My upper body strength is pretty much non-existent.  I have shin splints and I have never, ever done any running for a workout in my life.  I’m also 52 years old.  I’ll be 53 when this race rolls around.  Crazy?  Maybe.

But I have had a long history of weight gain and loss.  I’m a prime example of the Yo-Yo syndrome.  As a child, I was chunky, but not technically fat, although I felt that way.  I was much larger than most of the other girls, sprouted some pretty intense womanly curves by the age of 12 and was certainly called fat by many a typical school bully.  I was maybe 10 or 15 pounds overweight when I went away to college.  My roommates were waifs.  I starved myself and exercised whenever possible and got down to a size 6 by the end of my freshman year.  Fast forward a few years and I had “blossomed” to a size 14.  Those womanly curves of mine were actually a detriment sometimes.  My waist always stayed comparatively small, so I didn’t notice the pounds creeping up, because my shape was still good.  At size 14, I was engaged.  At my wedding I was back down to a size 6.  After pregnancy, back up to size 16.  When my daughter turned 3, I was a size 6 again.  At 37, size 18, at 40 and divorcing, you guessed it, size 6.  This last decade of gaining weight again has left me at size 20.  Are we seeing the pattern here?

How does one go about breaking this kind of cycle?  Honestly, I’ve no idea.  But I’m hoping that I’ve found some “key” that’s a little different.  I’m going to back-track a little and fill you in on my frame of mind for the past 2 years.  After suffering the aforementioned, painful maladies and after several years in a job I hated and becoming exhausted with life as it was, I picked up and moved 2,600 miles away from New York to Arizona.  My lifestyle since moving has been healthier, on the whole (not as healthy as it could be, mind you, but healthier than when I was in New York.)  I incorporated a little more movement, more “whole foods” and less junk, eliminated refined sugars.  I thought I was doing pretty well.  But, oh, how I loved my breads and cheeses!  I’ve been very resistant to changing those habits, even though I’ve been told over and over that wheat products and dairy products contribute to inflammation of the joints.  Anyway, that being what it was, I still felt a lot better and was enjoying my life in the southwest.  I have to include here, the fact that I moved here with Captain America, my dream man.  He is ever supportive, helpful and has made my life infinitely easier and more joyful by being in it. I’m not doing any of this alone.  I have help.

About 18 months ago I decided to stop coloring my hair.  I’d been going gray since I was 16 years old and dying it to my childhood auburn for the last 24 years.  Dealing with the silver roots was really starting to bother me and so, I had my hair cut and bleached to be done with it all at once, instead of having that awful skunk stripe of white against the dark red while it grew out.  I came home from the salon feeling pretty good about “embracing my cronehood”, and hoping for those glorious silver locks that some women have, while they still have a beautiful, youthful looking face.   When I looked in the mirror the next morning I was shocked by the fat, ugly, old lady staring back at me.  That’s how I felt. And I cried like a baby and wondered how this had happened overnight.  The fact is, of course, that it didn’t happen overnight, but it did hit me all at once.  My bones hurt, my clothes were like tents, my hair was fully gray (and short, like a granny) and all the wrinkles on my face seemed to scream at me.  I wanted to cover up every mirror in the house.  I thought the situation was hopeless.  I believed that I should simply give up on youth.  I believed that I should truly make peace with the fact that I couldn’t be pretty anymore.  After all, I’m a spiritual person.  Why should it matter that the vessel my soul is wearing no longer fits in with conventional beauty.  My beauty was inside, right?   But I hurt.  Every glance in a mirror caused me pain.  Every time I tried to put on make-up or fix my hair, I became despondent and frustrated.  I railed against my own psyche for not being strong enough to handle this “aging” thing.  “For Goddess sakes, Renee!  It happens to everyone!  Why are you being such a shallow, selfish, whiney baby!”  That’s how I was speaking to myself.  Not good.  I know.  I just didn’t know what to do.  So I tried to simply see myself as pretty.  I used affirmations and made a conscious effort to speak kindly to myself.  I noticed parts of me that I could still consider attractive and focused on those.  I did  self-love meditations and magic spells to help me accept and love my appearance “as-is” and yet every damn time I looked in a mirror, without the specific intention of practicing self-love, all I saw was ugly. And, of course there were set-backs.  I kept getting asked if I wanted the senior discount.  Then there was a vacation with my best friend, who is 5 years younger.  No less than three times on that trip, I was mistaken for her mother.  Ouch.   This continued for a year.  Twelve months of self loathing!  A couple of people,  who are very close to me, probably have had an inkling of what I’ve been going through, but even they don’t really know the depth of it.  I haven’t really gone into detail about it, because I was ashamed.   Very slowly, it started to get a little better.  My hair was growing out (finally!) and I began to do some spell-work while applying my make-up in the mornings.  I tried to take pride in my appearance.  But I would still, in my quiet moments and in my saddened mind, have anguished conversations with the powers that be:  “Why can’t I look in the mirror and just like myself? What is wrong with me?”

One day, almost two months ago, while floating in the pool, I was having one of those conversations.  I float in the pool in meditation.  It is just such a blissful feeling to be floating and let my mind drift away.  As those anguished questions arose in my mind this time, instead of silence and pain, I received something else.  I heard one sentence.

“Your beauty, my dear, is not in the viewing, but in the doing.”

I didn’t quite know what to do with that at first.  But I did know that it came from somewhere higher and wiser than the frame of mind I was capable of at the time.  So I kept it and remembered it and repeated it to myself many times over the next few days.  About a week later, I was reading through an article about healthy lifestyles and reading advise that I’d read a million times before.  The writer suggested just a two week trial of eating no wheat, no meat, no dairy, no sugar and then adding those things back to your diet in small, occasional amounts.  And suddenly, I was willing.  I had never felt the slightest willingness to give up wheat and dairy before and suddenly, my attitude was “I can do anything for two weeks!”  Previously the thought of giving up those things felt like restriction and deprivation. I was raised in an Italian home and I have been known to voice the opinion that food is love, so restriction felt like the opposite.  But in that moment of willingness to try something different, to DO something different, I revamped my entire routine.  I went far beyond the suggestions of that article and began incorporating all of the healthy things that I knew about but was previously unwilling to work into my schedule.  I began daily workouts, taking vitamin supplements, preparing meals on the weekends for the whole week, shopping farmers markets and sticking almost exclusively to whole, organic fresh food.  I’ve been doing this for a little over a month.  I feel great!  I love the food I’m eating. I have re-discovered my love for cooking with all these new recipe ideas. I have re-introduced some meat (but only grass fed, organic, sustainably farmed) and cheeses (organic, local, minimally processed cheeses), both in very small amounts.  I have not had wheat or refined sugar at all.  And I don’t miss it! I am feeding my body well.  And I’ve lost 8 pounds.  This is good.  This is “doing”!  I’ve changed the focus and my heart is starting to feel better.

Last night there was a picture in my Facebook feed of a person I don’t know.  She was holding up her “Spartan medal” that she’d received for completing a Spartan race.  And she was overweight, not one of those skinny, six-pack abs women to whom I could never relate.  I was inspired, so I started researching the Spartan Races.  The logo is the Greek warrior helmet.  It looks very much like the helmet worn by Athena in the image of her on my altar.  Yes, I am a priestess of Athena, so this seemed perfect. Greek warriors are definitely “my thing”!  On the website I found a race scheduled in the Phoenix area for February of 2016.  That gives me more than 6 months to train.  I ran this morning for the first time in any workout of my entire life.   It hurt like hell to be honest, but I did it.  And I will again tomorrow.  And now, I have a goal.  My goal is to be the badass person who can complete that race even though it seems like a crazy idea.  It’s going to take hard work and a lot of sweat and perseverance and good healthy feeding of this vessel that is carrying a badass soul.  And it will take a bit of magic too.  Athena will help me with that.  She loves a hero’s quest. I have a goal.  And for the first time in my weight-loss history, it is a fitness goal, not a “beauty” goal.  I got slim for my wedding, I got slim for vacations, I got slim to look better. Always it was about looking better and always it involved deprivation and self-punishment.

This feels different.  This feels like self love.  I’ll keep you posted.