Out of Step

Perpetually looking inward,
pondering commitment,
considering risks, projecting
humiliation, shame; daring

to dream of a second chance,
room to grow, opportunities
to demonstrate value – well
guarded, precarious being.

I am floundering in a fishbowl,
crowded by co-conspirators
operating out of step, trying
to acclimatize, compulsively

examining decisions, under-
whelmed by undeniable
growth, compensating with
dark, emotional outpourings.

Need to prove self-worth is
unappealing, disregards
viable efforts, disallows
definitions of acceptance.

This inwards, backwards
outlook critiques harshly,
harbours shame, sees
fault in successes, I am

stuck in the past, static,
abandoned, anxiously
forgetting, hindered by
confinement, jumping

to conclusions; I need
objectivity, to redirect
stored misgivings and
eyes outward, perceive

kindness, communicate
misunderstandings, shake
off disbelief, consider merit
as reflected by old friends.


The Thief Within

It’s time to call a meeting of the troops.

“Gather around, everyone.  We need to talk.”

The air is cool in the cave, sheltered from the hot August sun.  A small fire provides light and a focus for our gathering.  I, Self, am seated where everyone can see me clearly.  I want to make my point.

“I have called you here, because there is a thief amongst us, and I am angry.”

“Oh!”  the exclamation echoes around the circle, then a mumble of agreement – this is serious.

“I woke up this morning, full of anticipation and plans for a wonderful day – the kids are coming for dinner, and my granddaughter is staying overnight.  I planned to make goodies, and soup, and a special dinner.  As I made my shopping list, Thor added to my excitement booking a flight for our next big excursion abroad.  I couldn’t have been happier, then…..”  I paused for effect, “….one of you came in and stole my joy, leaving me in this state of raw anger.”

The nervous shuffle of feet was accompanied by a shifting of eyes and lowering of heads.  No one wanted to fess up, I could see.

“We see that you are upset,”  a kind old woman stepped forward,  “and in the interest of inner harmony, we would like to get to the root of the problem, but we’ll need more information.”

Heads bobbed in agreement.

“When did you first notice that your mood had changed?”

“When I was baking.  I noticed that my happy thoughts were missing, and I was ranting inside my head.”

“Just like that, all of a sudden?”

I thought about it.  “Well, I did start to feel really tired just before it happened.”

“What do you suppose made you tired?”

“I was up early this morning, getting work done so I could enjoy my family, so I was thinking that was catching up with me, but then I realized I was probably hungry,  which……”

“Would effect your mood,”  she finished my sentence.

“Well, true.  So, that is no one’s fault.  But then I started to eat things that weren’t good for me, and I knew I only do that when I’m trying to bury unwanted emotions, so I started to think about that, and then I realized my happy thoughts were gone, and that’s when I got angry and decided to call this meeting.”

“Was anyone else present when all this was happening?”

“I was,”  a little voice piped up.  “I was excited that we would get to play with the granddaughter.  She’s so cute and fun and makes me happy.  But then Mae called, and she called again, and again, and someone started pushing me out of the way.”

“Really?”  The women turned towards the others.  “Does someone have a problem with Mae?”

“No!  Well, yes,”  said a shadowy figure huddled in the back.  “She can’t help it that she is mentally ill, I know, but she stirs me up.”

“How does she stir you up?”

“She reminds me of all the times I was pushed aside for the others.”  I recognize her now; it’s my twelve-year-old self.  “My parents only had time for those who were broken, never for me.  They never helped her;  they encouraged her to be that way.  They liked their children to be victims so that they could rescue them over and over again.  It makes me angry.”

“So you stole my joy?”

My question seemed to jolt her out of her self-indulgence.  “No!  I mean, I had to protect you.  You’ll just get hurt again.  You should know better.  Just when it seems that everything is good, and going our way, someone will destroy it.  You know it!  That’s how it always is.”

“Oh dear,”  the little one plopped down, head on her hands.  “Here we go again.”

“What!  Why are you all looking at me that way.  You all know it’s true.  Why won’t you admit it!”  Twelve was getting hostile, almost hysterical.  “I hate it that life is unfair.  I hate it that we work hard, and try hard and always get the short end of the deal!  I hate that other people don’t have to work hard and life just gets handed to them and everyone caters to them.  I hate it that my sister wasn’t strong enough to fight them, like we did.”

“Amen to that,” said a large, blob of a character, who didn’t look very bright, but was happily stuffing his face.  Ah, I thought, you’re the one I feed when I feeling emotional.  If I’m not careful, I’ll start looking like you.  

“Can I say something,”  a slighter older teen spoke up. I recognized my independent self.  “I don’t mean to sound cold and radical here, but if you keep venting over what you can’t change, you are going to die an unhappy soul.”

“What do you know about it?”  Twelve was on the defensive.

“I know that life is full of many opportunities beyond the limitations you experienced in your home life, and I believe that while we can’t change where we’ve come from, we can make new choices for the present and the future.  Do you want to be unhappy all your life?”

“Well….no, but don’t I have the right to be heard?  Don’t I deserve justice?”

“We all deserve to be heard, and while we’d all like justice, it doesn’t always work out that way.  I’m just suggesting that you are robbing yourself of the joy of life.”

I could see Twelve wrestling with herself.

“Twelve,”  I offered, as kindly as I could.  “You say you hate victims, right?”


“Well, you are kind of acting like a victim yourself, no offence.”

“What do you mean?”  her fists balled up instinctively.

“I just mean that while you rage and wait for someone else to deliver justice, you are like a victim – giving the power to someone else.”

“What do you suggest I do?”

The Wise Woman stepped up, putting her hand on Twelve’s shoulder.  “Express your feelings, certainly, because we all care.  Can I ask you something Twelve?”

“Fire away.”

“What would help ease your rage?  What do you need?”

Twelve fell silent.  I don’t think she’d ever thought of that.  She shrugged.

“What could anyone possibly do to make you feel better?”  the young woman asked. “Do you think everyone is suddenly going stop being themselves, see the predicament, and apologize?”

“Maybe they’ll stop being nice to your sisters and spoil you!” the little one chirped in.

“That’s absurd!”  Twelve scolded.

“Is it?  Isn’t that what you want?”

Twelve thought about this.  We all thought about it.  Then one of us started to giggle.  I’m not sure who, but soon the whole room felt the relief.  It was a ludicrous thought.

“I feel like a fool,”  said Twelve.

“No hard feelings – you’re only a kid!” said the slightly older one.

“And you always look out for me,”  said Little.

“None of us blame you,”  another added.  “We all went through it, you’re just the one who held out for justice.”

“Is there never any justice, then?”  Twelve asked, confused.

“Oh there is justice:  but you need to look for it in other ways,”  Wise Woman offered.

“Like embracing life’s blessings despite the strains of the past,”  Independent Self offered.

“What she’s trying to say, I think,”  I added, “Is that if you continually refuse to be happy because you don’t like what happened long ago, then you rob all of us of the joy of the present.  Can you see that?”

“I can, but I just feel so angry sometimes.”

“I know, I know, so do I, obviously.  That’s why I called this meeting.  And Twelve, I suspect you’ve been hanging out with someone else, who is the real thief here.”

I could tell by the look on her face, that Twelve knew exactly who I was talking about.

“Jealousy is not a friend to any of us,” I addressed the crowd.  “I suggest we do our best to keep her out of our circle.”

“Here!  Here!” came the cry of approval.

“What about me?” said Emotional Eater, pausing mid-bite.

“Wouldn’t hurt you to eat a little less” came the unanimous response.

“You should try therapy,”  added Little.  Everyone laughed.

“Thanks for talking this through,”  I concluded the meeting.  “I hope we all feel better.  Little, Twelve, we got some things to get ready, our guests will be here soon!”

(Image: dymir.org)



Contemplation of Inner Lives

Wasn’t it Carl Jung who said that each of us has a cast of thousands within our psyche? What if I could meet with my inner personas, envision a way for us to all get along?

I am reminded of a recurring dream I have had about an underground cave full of people, through which I try to maneuver. I picture the cave to help me imagine my inner selves.  The space is roomy,  with high ceilings, and a fire that lightens the scene.  There is an underground body of water around which people are gathered.  It is crowded in here.  I visually push the crowd back, clearing a space in the light.

“Listen up troops!  This is ego talking.  Can we have a meeting?”

Who will come forward?

A small figure steps into the clearing.  She looks to be about three or four years old.  Dark curls of hair fall in disarray about her shoulders.  Dragging a stuffed animal by her side, she rubs her big, brown eyes with her free hand, as if just waking up from a deep sleep.

“Hello, Little One.  Welcome.”  I am delighted both by her innocence, and her bravery for being the first to step up.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch more movement.  It is a twelve-year-old version of myself, who steps in to take the little one’s hand.  Ah, responsible me.  I know her well.

An older woman steps in next.  She is well-groomed, neat and trim.  Her hair is white, and obviously long, but caught up in a bun.  Her face is long; not my face.  I don’t know her.

“Welcome,”  I say and she nods approvingly.

“Anyone else?”

A pregnant version of myself steps forward.  Not the new mother me, but the woman expecting her third child.  The established mother.  She looks tired, but not unkind.  She has brought her babies with her.

A shadow darts across the opening, then fades back into the dark corners of the cave.  I try to see where it went and see a figure trembling there in the darkened crevices.

“Would you like to join us?”   The figure is slightly hunched, hugging herself tightly.  “Please.”  The others reach out their hands towards her.  She moves to the edge of the darkness.  Her long hair looks tangled, dirty.  Her eyes are cast down, I can’t see her face.  It looks like she is holding a blanket around her.  “If you are here, you are part of us,”  I offer.  “We’d like it if you’d join us.”  She looks up and it startles me.  The pain in her eyes it so real my breath sticks in my chest.  She steps forward and I see she is naked under the blanket.  She is my violated self.  “I’m sorry,” I whisper.  “Please come into the light.  I want you here.”  The others move to surround her.

The shadow darts again.  Is that a little boy?  I follow the movement.  There is a tall, proud, Aboriginal woman.  She is wearing some ceremonial costume, although nothing I recognize.  She steps silently forward.  I like her energy. Then three figures push out of the crowd to join in.  They too are of different ethnicity and race.  Arms locked like old friends they are laughing and jostling; a happy presence.  Another woman pushes forward, directing a young boy before her – the darting shadow.  He has a dishevelled mop of hair, and dark mischievous eyes, reminding of pictures of my father as a child.  She is a big bear of a woman, very motherly, and obviously very much in control.

There’s a boy here?  Are there any men? I wonder. I look around.  Many faces still stand on the periphery, and yes some are men, but none have come forth….oh, wait a minute, here’s one.  A whiff of pipe smoke hits me first.  Very professorial.  Tall, thin, with greying hair, and kind eyes.  A thinker, I’m guessing.  Another young man steps forward.  Dressed immaculately, and carrying a case, he looks driven by ambition: fearless.

“Okay,”  I say.  “It looks like we could do this all night, but we need to begin.  Can we get started?”

The big bear of a woman steps forward, with the little boy in tow.  “The goal here is to find some harmony,” she states.  “I think it would best if everyone could be heard.  State your concerns, and also what you bring to the whole.  I’ll start.  I am Mother Earth.  I believe in the unity of the whole, and am big and strong enough to hold us all together.”

Cool!  I am liking this exercise.

The white-haired woman is next.  “Well, I am wisdom, and I believe this can work also, but I am a little concerned about how ego is running the ship.”  She looks directly at me.  “We won’t live forever, you know; be a little mindful of how you take care of our body.  Some exercise would go a long way.”  I gulp.  Yes ma’am, I’m thinking.

“What do you have to offer?” Mother Earth asks.

“Perspective,” is the response.  “When the ego needs direction, and is willing to listen, I offer perspective.”

“Thank you,” I say.  “Good to know.”

The professor tilts his pipe towards me.  “Don’t forget intellect.  You have a good mind.  Use it.  No concerns right now, as long as she keeps learning.”  Fair enough.

My mother self just beams at me.  She is happy that the babies are still coming.

The twelve-year-old, still coddling the little one, gets my attention.  “Don’t forget us,” she says.

“What do you mean?”  I ask.  “How could I forget you?”

“But you do.  You often do.  We need care too.  We need fun and new discoveries, and most of all we need love and affection.  Well, not so much me, but the little one does.”

I have to smile, because I’m sure she means both of them.  “Of course you do.  Don’t I show it?”

“Not very often.  You spend far too much time worrying about the future, and where the next dollar is coming from.  You forget that we need attention and just to hang out sometimes.”

The little one nods, as if she understands.  She puts out her arms and I hug her to me.  She is so tiny, and pure.  “You are precious,” I tell her.  “I would never want to lose you.”  She snuggles up and leans into me.  I offer my hand to the twelve-year-old.  “I would like for you to let me be the adult,” I tell her.  “I appreciate everything you have done, you have a great sense of duty, but you also need to just be a kid.”   The look she gives me is undecipherable. I look to Mother Earth for some direction.  She nods at the younger me.

“Go ahead,”  she says.  “Tell her.”

“You have made promises to us that you do not keep.  We don’t know what to believe.  Little One needs to feel safe and secure, she needs you to be consistent.”

“What about you?  What do you need?”

Her lip starts to tremble.  Is that a flicker of anger I see behind her eyes.

“You can tell me.”  I try to keep my tone calm, and reassuring, but my heart and mind are racing.  “What have I done to this child?  Then I understand.  “Are you angry with me, or adults in general?”  I ask.  “I know you’ve been hurt by many.”

“I don’t know who to trust,”  she begins.  “I try and try to be good and make things better, but it’s like I don’t exist.  It’s unfair.”  The floodgates burst open.  “I feel like I don’t matter.  No one notices me.  No one cares.”  The little one runs to her and they hug again.  “We need to know you care.”

“But I do care!  Maybe I just don’t know how to show it.  Please, help me to understand what you need.”

“When you were us you knew what you wanted.  You promised that you would not put up with injustices, and you would make us count in the world.  You also promised that we wouldn’t need anyone.”

“I know I did,  Honey.  But that is not a healthy response.  Relationships are a natural part of life, and while I haven’t always been able to protect us from harm and abuse, I have made better choices, haven’t I?  I do care very much about you, and I know you have been hurt.”  There’s so much I want to say, but she does have a point.  “I’m sorry.”

“And what about her?”  They both glance in the direction of the young woman in the blanket.  She is too wounded to be angry.

“I made a terrible mistake, and you suffered for it.  I am so sorry.  I don’t know how to lessen your pain.”  Then, “Mother, I have stumbled through life, and made poor choices out of fear, anger, and impulsiveness.  I see now that I have hurt all of us.  How do we find alignment without trust?  Have I ruined our chances?”

“Of course not, Child.  There is always hope.  This is a good beginning.  We are talking, and you are listening.”

“I am listening, but I feel so responsible, and inadequate.”

“Oh, you are not inadequate;  far from it.”

“What we need,” interjects the Warrior Princess, “is direction and leadership.  You,” she is speaking to the young business man, “need to take a step back.  While your ambition is appreciated, it is not always in line with the common good.  Your energy and spirit are good, but you serve us better by working in the background.  As for you,”  she turns to the three friends, “your lightheartedness is wonderful, and we need you as a constant reminder of the need for tolerance and harmony.  Young lady,” she says addressing the twelve-year-old.  “You are mighty strong and that is admirable, but you are yet a child.  I invite you to be open to the future instead of always fearing it.  We need your youthful exuberance to power the movement.  And you, Little One, you are indeed precious, and we never want to be without your sense of wonder and innocence.  Professor, Wise Woman, you know your roles.  Young mother, you are much appreciated right now with these new grandchildren coming.  As for you, Young Man,” she turned to the little boy with the hair.  “You have the very important role of looking out for possibilities.  You have just the right amount of restlessness, coupled with curiosity and daring.  Every good team needs that. Now there is just one more thing to do.” Opening her arms, she gestures for the crowd to form a circle around her, then she invites the wounded girl and myself to join her in the middle.  Silently, she positions each of us facing one another.  I offer my hand to the girl and she takes it.  I clasp it to my heart.

“There is a lot of strength in this room, and I want you both to feel it.”  Although the room has fallen silent, and the faces are all somber, we can sense the truth in what she is saying.

“There is also a lot of hope, and love in this room.  Let that be with you, also.”  We both take a deep breath in, and I can see her shoulders relax a little, though she still clutches her blanket to her.

“There is no movement within a community of blame, only heartache and pain.  I want everyone here to release any blame that their heart may be holding.  Take a deep breath in and as you let it go, release any blame with it. Replace the blame with love for the whole.”  All chests rise on the inhale, and collectively we exhale a sigh of release.  Breathing in again, we begin to feel lighter.

“You are so beautiful,”  I tell my wounded self.  “You didn’t deserve this.  None of us did.  We all hurt for you.”  A murmur of agreement circles the room.  “And we all pray for your healing.”  The murmur becomes a rumble.

The Warrior Princess raises one hand in the air, placing her other palm on the Wounded One’s forehead.  “You are not alone,” she says.  “You must not carry the burden of this pain alone.  Let us each take on our share of the burden and lighten this young woman’s load.  Open your arms and receive her.”  All bodies push forward to embrace the Wounded One in a massive hug of energy.  From within the circle their is a heart-wrenching sob, then a flow of tears that passes from one self to the next until there is a palpable shift in the air.  Then, as if on cue, everyone steps back into the circle, giving us room.  Our eyes meet, and the most incredible thing happens.  The young woman lets go of her blanket, and standing straight and proud reaches her hand out for mine, and clasps it to her heart.  Her whole being shines with such radiance and light that I am not embarrassed by her nakedness.  She is beautiful!

I am beautiful.

We are all beautiful.

And in that moment we are so wonderfully aligned that we feel the perfection of our being, and the miracle that is existence.

“Thank you, all.”  I whisper, not wanting to break the reverie.

(Image: en.wikepedia.org)


Mapping Life

If you could make a map of your life, what would it look like?  Have you walked one path, or several?  Has the terrain been flat or rocky?  What would the road ahead look like?

Let’s see if I can describe the map of my life.

My beginnings were in the east, at the edge of residential land, bordering on industrial.  The path I was born on was bordered by rosebushes, but despite the flowery hope, the thorns were painfully evident.  Not yet able to carve my own path, I was often passed over fences and imposed upon others.

At four, we moved west as a family and the path seemed to open up, and brought the fertile promise of new topsoil.  It was here that I began to picture a direction of my own, and dreamed of writing, teaching, and fighting for children’s rights.   But the richness of the soil proved superficial, and the foundation started to crack, and suddenly,  we veered off course.

The new road took us out of town, away from the familiar, and on the edge of an escarpment.  The way was marked by rocky crevices, and treacherous footings.  As strong and independent as I tried to be, there were too many dark places here, and my confidence was shaken.

By the time we ventured back to my hometown, I had already disengaged myself from my parents’ path, and began to carve my own.  The beginnings were not auspicious.  I was headed into a dark, overgrown forest, which would trip me up many times over the next couple of years, causing me to grasp at any beam of light, desperately looking for a way out.

I came to clearings from time to time, and if  you look closely, you will see the areas that I clear cut myself, out of sheer determination to make that time of my life count.

Then there are the moments where the path lifted me out of the woods and onto the sunny, green hilltops, and life was good again.  And I resumed my dreams, and pursued my studies, and became a mother.

Until the earth opened up and swallowed me momentarily, but I climbed out of that, and for awhile I walked along the beaten path, not really sure if I belonged, but not wanting to miss out either.  See my footprints there, hesitant, beside the road?

And see where I started to carve out yet another new route?  There, where the trees are not so dense, and the wood is new, and spring green.  Notice how the path begins to develop, wobbly a bit, at first, then straightening out, making it’s way in a slow ascent along that mountainside.    There are the plateaus I have talked about, and look there, where I took a steep climb.  Those were good times.  I had purpose then, and felt so alive.

The path goes underground for awhile.  You can’t see it, but it winds its way through the caves.  I can tell you, I tried a few different trails while I was under there, but eventually settled on the one I’m on now.  You can see it emerging, there at the top of the map, where the mountain opens up to a green valley.  I’ll be resting here awhile, but the journey is not over yet.

Just over that next hill there is a village, and beyond that village, on the horizon, an ocean.  Looks like there will be a few more peaks to master, and that the road might double back once or twice, but I am hoping for a beautiful landscape ahead, and a lot more ease of travel.

Try it yourself.  Draw a map of your own life.

(Image: yourlifemapping.com)

Excuse Me While I Unload

Excuse me, but it seems I have been carrying around an extraordinary amount of baggage for some time now and I’m thinking it’s time to unload, so pardon me but I’m going to dump them out here, and do inventory.

Wow, what a pile of stuff!  I don’t know where to begin.

Black lace catches my eye.  I pull it out of the pile.  It’s a woman’s hat, with a black face veil.  I know this one.  It is the veil of self-loathing.  While I try not to wear it in public, I take it everywhere with me.  It keeps me humble.  The veil whispers:  Don’t believe what other people say about you; they’re just being kind; they really don’t know you like I do.  Boy, looks like I should have done this sooner;  I think I’ll just set that aside.

Ah, there’s my graduation cap; my teacher’s cap.  It’s a keeper.  And my mother’s apron.  That can stay too.  My reading glasses, my writing pen, my friendship necklace.  All those parts I want to keep.  Oh, and that teddy bear – all Grandmas need teddy bears – definitely carrying that around with me.

What’s this big, woolly, grey thing?  It’s heavy, and to be honest, it stinks like cigarette smoke, stale alcohol, and mildew.  It reeks of shame.  I’m not sure this is mine, but I’ve been carrying this around forever.  Wouldn’t be surprised if it stunk everything else up.  This needs to go.  I might even have to get a new suitcase to start fresh.  I’ll just put that one out in the trash can.

Better make sure the smell hasn’t lingered.  Sure enough, the lining of the case has absorbed the stench.  I’d better air it out also.  Wait a minute, what’s that in the lining?  Something is sticking out.  It’s silver and pointed.  Looks like a brooch.  It’ a very delicate piece:  silver leaves swirling around a peridot stone.  Is this mine?  It’s beautiful, but I don’t recognize it.  Just my taste though, I’m more silver than gold, and I love the peridot green.  I wonder how long it’s been here?  I should try it on, and see how it looks.  No, I’m not ready for this.  I don’t have anything to go with it.  I’ll tuck it back away for another day.

Will you look at that!  A pile of mismatched socks.  So like me, to carry around odds and sods hoping to make sense of them sooner or later.  Thing is, young people don’t wear socks or stockings anymore, so all these do is date me; they don’t serve any other purpose.  I think it’s time to let them go.

Wow, look at that!  It’s a rusty old paintbrush.  I used to love art – even won the award in grade eight – but I was advised against pursuing it – not intellectual enough – so I set it aside.  Could this still be in me?  I’d like to know.

Oh!  A feather.  I know why it’s here.  I tucked it in here to remind me of my spirituality.  I’ll keep that too.

My cookbooks can stay.  Here’s an old ship in a bottle.   It’s pretty dusty, and the vessel inside is covered in cobwebs.  I’m thinking whatever dream that was has long past; no point carrying that around anymore.  Time for new dreams.

This is kind of fun.  Can’t remember the last time I took inventory of what I’ve been carrying around.  Here’s some comfy yoga pants.  Those need to come out more often.  I can just hear my body screaming yes, please.

Hope you don’t mind if I carry on without you.  I can see a few more things I’d rather deal with in private.

What have you been carrying around?

(Image: ok-woman.com)