August 3, 2018: Wilderness Dance Camp, Flathead Lake, Montana
Grace Marie led us through a blessing of the men by the women, in a dance entitled “Holy Spirit Within.” The men were standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle facing outwards. The women were facing the men in an outside circle, singing “I ask for beauty in myself, I ask for beauty in the world, I ask for beauty in all of my brothers,” slowly sidestepping to the right with their hands extended toward specific men in sequence as they moved past them. The men did not move, and sang “Holy Spirit within, Help me to bloom into that which I am, Help me to love the whole of the world.”
As the singing began, it was only a few minutes before I began to feel more emotionally naked and vulnerable than I have ever felt. I had a need for feminine nurturing that had not been filled in my childhood. I felt that I was far from manifesting who I really am, and that I did not yet love the whole world. I did not feel beautiful. Tears started steaming down my face.
As waves of these emotions swept over me, I choked up and could not sing. As the dance drew to a close, the women had inched closer and I was terrified. The two women in front of me closed in with a hug at the end of the dance, commenting how tender-hearted I was. I wanted to hide.
The following morning, I woke from one of those “message” dreams in which I witnessed myself as a dead body lying on the floor. In the dream, I worried about what to tell the police, if I should talk to my lawyer or my pastor. Then my wife asked me to move the body because it was beginning to smell. I folded up the body into an open-topped box. Then the body opened its eyes and arose from the box. Startled, I asked “Who are you?”
This body, this man who looked younger than myself with all black hair, not grey, replied offhandedly, “David.” I asked, “How old are you?” and he replied, “68,” seven years younger than my actual age. I woke up.
The dream meant to me that the part of me that I no longer needed, that yearning for maternal blessing, had died. I had been re-born, internally, as a younger person during the blessing dance. I had passed through an apocalypse of my own belief system. In the weeks that followed, further insight into how my need for external approval from women had (and still does!) create a complex rationalization for my sense of unworthiness and inequality with women. I understood, suddenly, where my irrational, defensive and patriarchal impulse to dominate women most likely comes from.
I forgave myself, I forgave my mother. She did the best she could, and so did my dad. I adopted the affirmation, “I am enough.” I put “Enough Already” on my nametag at church. My favorite jazz tune, The Royal Garden Blues by Louis Armstrong, got stuck in my head and every time a negative, self-deprecating thought or judgment came into my head, I would hear that music, I would switch channels, and let the thought go, just let it be washed away by the music.
I notice that I now regard all women with more respect, more equality between us as human beings. For many years I have been writing about low self-esteem and toxic shame as the source of multiple addictions which numb us to the reality of what we are doing to ourselves, and how the culture of control, domination and violence in which we are immersed is founded in that shame. This added layer of awareness about my childhood wounding has encouraged me to practice a greater level of acceptance of myself just as I am, letting go of the pain of the past and letting in the emotional-spiritual support from all sources that constantly surround me. If you search for articles on “being enough,” there are many authors who write about the need to transcend our toxic shame.
Although this particular transformation in my life was associated with what are usually qualified as feminine qualities of nurturance, protection, empowering and initiating, I see that the result, the self-acceptance that leads to other-acceptance is for everyone and has no gender. I also think that 33 years of active 12-Step recovery from chemical dependency, that has now included 14 years of recovery from codependency with parents who were wounded in their childhoods in a very similar way to my own, has led me to the precipice of my own healing.
Thirty-three years may seem like a very long time to some people, but to me the significance of the healing far outweighs the size of my investment of focused time and energy that prepared me to receive it. It is said in the 12-step program that when you work the steps, “the steps work you” without your conscious awareness of where you are being led, which is a good thing because it calls forth our ability to trust and surrender to the process. The journey itself becomes the destination, and the end point remains forever concealed.
There are many diverse paths to the release of toxic shame. Some of them may result in a faster rate of healing, yet the pursuit of speed, the desperation for results, is precisely the barrier that will forever keep us stuck. Surrendering this urgency is key to the entire process. That is why learning to simply relax one’s muscles and mind is often the entry point to stress management programs, and why learning to rely on others for mentoring and support is a tremendous tool for exiting the trap of our own thought patterns.
We all have to start with where we are and take only one simple action to move toward our goal. That movement, once begun, will take on a life of its own. I encourage you to look for your personal doorway, discover how wide and welcoming it has been, waiting for you to step through it, and enjoy the feeling of “falling upwards.”