“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry, an umbilical spot of grace where we were each touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologists call it the Soul, Jung calls it The Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it the Atman, Buddhists call it the Dharma, Rilke called it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qualb, and Jesus calls it The center of Our Love.
To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. We each live in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.” Mark Nepo
How Do You Find Your Center? January 7, 2020
The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies, by Mary Pipher January 2, 2020
Happy New Year to my dear reader friends. Thank you for following Matrignosis. May the new year bring you increasing health, prosperity, joy, and wisdom. Today a friend sent me this wonderful article by Mary Pipher. I share her sentiments and could not have said it better. Enjoy.
We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias. –Maya Angelou
The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies
–by Mary Pipher, Feb 27, 2019
This article originally appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review, on January 12th, 2019.
When I told my friends I was writing a book on older women like us, they immediately protested, “I am not old.” What they meant was that they didn’t act or feel like the cultural stereotypes of women their age. Old meant bossy, useless, unhappy and in the way. Our country’s ideas about old women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.
In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging. Our bodies and our sexuality are devalued, we are denigrated by mother-in-law jokes, and we’re rendered invisible in the media. Yet, most of the women I know describe themselves as being in a vibrant and happy life stage. We are resilient and know how to thrive in the margins. Our happiness comes from self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and empathy for others.
Most of us don’t miss the male gaze. It came with catcalls, harassment and unwanted attention. Instead, we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance. We can wear yoga tights instead of nylons and bluejeans instead of business suits.
Yet, in this developmental stage, we are confronted by great challenges. We are unlikely to escape great sorrow for long. We all suffer, but not all of us grow. Those of us who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss. In fact, this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.
By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.
We have learned to look every day for humor, love and beauty. We’ve acquired an aptitude for appreciating life. Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings.
Many women flourish as we learn how to make everything workable. Yes, everything. As we walk out of a friend’s funeral, we can smell wood smoke in the air and taste snowflakes on our tongues.
Our happiness is built by attitude and intention. Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything. I visited the jazz great Jane Jarvis when she was old, crippled and living in a tiny apartment with a window facing a brick wall. I asked if she was happy and she replied, “I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.”
We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.
There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate. We experience bliss on a regular basis. As one friend said: “When I was young I needed sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.”
Older women have learned the importance of reasonable expectations. We know that all our desires will not be fulfilled, that the world isn’t organized around pleasing us and that others, especially our children, are not waiting for our opinions and judgments. We know that the joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea. We don’t expect perfection or even relief from suffering. A good book, a piece of homemade pie or a call from a friend can make us happy. As my aunt Grace, who lived in the Ozarks, put it, “I get what I want, but I know what to want.”
We can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.
Many of us have a shelterbelt of good friends and long-term partners. There is a sweetness to 50-year-old friendships and marriages that can’t be described in language. We know each other’s vulnerabilities, flaws and gifts; we’ve had our battles royal and yet are grateful to be together. A word or a look can signal so much meaning. Lucky women are connected to a rich web of women friends. Those friends can be our emotional health insurance policies.
The only constant in our lives is change. But if we are growing in wisdom and empathy, we can take the long view. We’ve lived through seven decades of our country’s history, from Truman to Trump. I knew my great-grandmother, and if I live long enough, will meet my great-grandchildren. I will have known seven generations of family. I see where I belong in a long line of Scotch-Irish ancestors. I am alive today only because thousands of generations of resilient homo sapiens managed to procreate and raise their children. I come from, we all come from, resilient stock, or we wouldn’t be here.
By the time we are 70, we have all had more tragedy and more bliss in our lives than we could have foreseen. If we are wise, we realize that we are but one drop in the great river we call life and that it has been a miracle and a privilege to be alive.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.
A Thanksgiving Blessing November 26, 2019
I began writing Matrignosis in March of 2010. This post, A Thanksgiving Blessing, was published on November 23 of that year. It was a time of renewed hope and joy at the wondrous blessing of having five grandchildren. They’re nine years older now, and I’m so thankful to be able to tell you that they’re all well and thriving. My beloved granddog Bear, is gone, but memories of him still warm my heart. We have a new granddog now, and Izzy holds a special place of her own in our hearts.
Here’s the original post, slightly revised, from November 23 of 2010.
Years ago when The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth was first published, I presented several workshops about the differences between the life cycles of men and women. Using the model of the ancient descent myths which preceded hero myths and often featured women whose journeys followed a pattern of sacrifice, suffering, death, and rebirth — for example, the Sumerian myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth — I encouraged participants to reflect on how they had experienced these stages in their own lives.
My purpose was threefold. First, I wanted them to understand the differences between how their feminine and masculine sides experience life, and to know that both are valid and worthy of our attention. Second, I wanted to guide them in an experience of inner work that would expand their self-knowledge. Third, I wanted them to appreciate the repetitive nature of life’s processes so that they might acquire trust that each ending, even the death of the body, is also a threshold to a hopeful new beginning.
One memory from those workshops stands out from the others. Having experienced a lengthy and painful death-like period in the middle of my life, I was speaking about the hope and gratitude that had followed it when a psychiatrist asked me a question. “I have a client who is a deeply depressed and bitter quadriplegic,” she told us. “He can’t do anything for himself. He will spend the rest of his life this way. He is not religious. What hope can I give him about rebirth? What should he be grateful for?”
The room was silent. My first thoughts were, Who am I to be talking about rebirth when I’ve never had a death experience remotely like the one this man is suffering at this very moment? What kind of hope does he have? I had an answer, but in that moment I couldn’t think how to express it in a way that wouldn’t sound flippant. I felt very humbled and remember sharing that emotion, but have no recollection of what else I said. I’ve carried that question with me ever since and would like to answer it to the best of my ability now, just in case that doctor or patient, or someone like them, might someday find my thoughts helpful.
If you are reading this post on the day of its publication two days before Thanksgiving, I am on a plane headed for Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, sites of some of the most horrendous killing fields on the planet. There, vast numbers of human beings suffered and died in ways I cannot imagine or bear to think about. What was left for them to be grateful for in their last moments?
Life. They had Sophia’s sacred spark of Life. Until their last breaths they had traces of sensory awareness, memories, thoughts, feelings. Perhaps they saw the sunlight sparkle on a blade of grass, felt a cool breeze, remembered the taste of chocolate ice cream or the feel of a mother’s tender touch, experienced a rush of love for their lovers, children, or grandchildren.
You and I have Life. We have the capacity to be conscious of it and present to it in this moment. We can choose to let go of the past, stop worrying about the future, and attend to what is. Here. Now. Life within us, life around us. What could be more worthy of thanks?
No matter where you are or what you are suffering, you can be present to the miracle of being alive in this precious moment, this perfect Now. May your awareness bring you hope and gratitude this Thanksgiving Day and in the days to come.
Excavating A Wounded Child with a Mother Complex November 4, 2019
Here’s another oldie, but goodie, from a few years back. Enjoy.
My parents have rented a vacation cabin on Lake Michigan. I’m playing by the shore and realize it’s getting dark. I look around. I’m alone. I begin walking along the water’s edge toward a distant pinpoint of light. Could that be my mother looking for me? How could she lose me? Will she find me? Will anyone find me? Will I have to live with a stranger? Will they feed me? Could something bad happen to me? After what feels like an eternity, Daddy and Jimmy come up behind me. Daddy explains. He and Mama left the beach separately, each believing I was with the other one. I’m safe, but I want Mama! Why didn’t she come for me? Doesn’t she know how afraid I’ve been? That I’d want her to look for me?
This is my earliest memory, described in more depth in my book, The Bridge to Wholeness. I was three. Something new was set into motion that evening. I had become conscious of my separate existence in a very big, dark, and scary world. In their book, Into the Heart of the Feminine, Jungian analysts Massimilla and Bud Harris write:
“…early infancy is the time when the world of the family begins imprinting itself on our tiny psyches, and this is a critical time in our emotional development. We know by now that much of a baby’s view of the world is filtered through the mother’s body and the emotional attitudes her body reflects. Of course this means that the child of a mother who is overly anxious or is resentful of the birth will feel out of adjustment psychologically, and such feelings will be the beginning of a negative mother complex. When we grow up this way, our personality will be founded on a deep sense of anxiety, scarcity, and a mistrust of the world. In contrast, if our mother is sufficiently gentle, loving, and emotionally secure, she will help us develop a basic sense of trust in life and in our place in the world.”