Sunday, 14 October 2018

Am I Feeding Toxic Masculinity?

My answer to this question is unfortunately, Yes. Alas, I see my inner patriarchy at play more often than I would like, and I work hard every day to heal it.

I have been studying the patriarchy that has the vast majority of us in its grips since I was a small child. This is not a facts and figures kind of knowledge. It is the hard won insights of someone whose life has been lived on the edge of suicide due to the weight of it.

I grew up with a man who felt that he had the right to dominate everyone around him as violently, cruelly and coldly as he felt in each moment. It took me years to get away from my father, and I continue to heal each day from the damage that was done to my psyche.

Patriarchy is a human cultural dynamic that elevates dominating masculinity and denigrates any kind of femininity or divine masculinity. It is fuelled by fear and seeks to keep everyone fearful.

Some see matriarchy as the answer to patriarchy, but I have had an equal number of negative experiences with toxic femininity.

Both a dominating masculine and feminine seek to hinder the other from fully coming into their own personal power and in doing so keep us all small. A divine feminine woman and divine masculine man cannot be controlled and have no wish to control others. They are free.

My patriarchal infection is displayed in two extremes, albeit very subtly and infrequently these days....

On the one hand I cooperate with it through passivity. I lose myself and become a robot elevating toxic masculinity. This manifests in subservience, paralysis, fawning, and my identity disappearing into the 'helper' role. A man needs a maid after all...

I lovingly calling this habit my inner bimbo. I get the image of my childhood Barbie, with arms that don't bend, no autonomous sexuality, and a permanent mute smile. She is petrified plastic, designed to please. Not smart or separate.

My bimbo arises when I am deep down to the core terrified that I cannot shine in my divine feminine brilliance because someone will get mad if I do. I especially cannot defend myself because 'who do you think you are' to even have that right.

The bimbo doesn't just arise with men. Chronically and successfully patriarchal women bring her up too. I have felt it in all the institutions I've worked in, around intellectuals and those who present as experts.

On the other hand I cooperate with this toxicity actively, with what I call the brute. It is the direct opposite of being a bimbo. The habit is austere, cold and exacting. I become 'one of the boys', invincible, with no femininity, and laughing at jokes that are mean and gut-wrenchingly unfunny.

For the brute feelings are inconveniences to be eradicated by any means necessary. This is the 'search and destroy' mentality that drives everything from the military to how we deal with disease. In this habit both softness and love are seen as weaknesses.

I could write a lot about the individuals and groups I see perpetuating patriarchy, but then the bimbo or the brute would be in control of this blog. I am not a victim and I don't want to fight. I am a grown woman, blessed with the freedom of this age to have a voice and explore my own experience. I want to own this power and I hope that sharing like this will help you do the same.

So, how do I deal with this infection, both inside myself and in relation to others? 

I have found that the most powerful antidote to toxic masculinity or femininity is self-love. From the moment I wake in the morning until I am falling asleep at night I incline my inner environment to one of kindness, sweetness and softness. I speak lovingly to myself when I need to and generate loving-kindness throughout my body. I then let all decisions grow out of this field of love.

When I am around people playing the patriarchy game I get quiet and observe my own fear. I pull my energy back inside and love myself. If I can say something to shift the dynamic towards compassion and awareness I do, otherwise I walk away. I have found that the best way to not exacerbate my own infection is to stay away from those who don't know that they're infected. 

But what about helping them? I hear you say. Well, to me that reaction is toxic femininity's biggest trick. If toxic masculinity is about domination and attack, toxic femininity is about helplessness and being a saviour. One squashes, the other smothers, but neither are interested in autonomy or presence.

Other grown adults can only be helped when they know that they have a problem and are ready to ask for help. Someone else's  healing is between them and their own divine connection. It is non of my business.

As my bimbo relaxes into the past, leaving the perfume of insight in her wake, as my brute softens into infinite ease, I feel grateful for all that these infections have been teaching me. As toxicity loses its grip on me I remember that all is well, whether I am still a bit infected or not. I remember that each new day provides the possibility for further healing, and liberation from all these human-made dramas. 

I remember that my true nature is divine and everything else is just noise. Noise getting quieter and quieter and quieter...

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Terror of Forgiving the Abuser

I am an expert in forgiveness. I have forgiven so many terrible things so many times I couldn't even begin to count.

I learnt early in childhood that forgiveness makes me feel better, so from then on forgiveness was a practical matter. I forgave in order to feel good.

I forgave abandonment, neglect, rape, physical and psychological torture. I forgave being hungry, lonely, cold and dirty. Forgiving was my only way to remain sane. When hatred and despair sucked me down a black hole, forgiveness was the light that pulled me back out again and placed my feet firmly on solid ground.

Forgiveness disengaged me from the unbalanced adults in my life. It unhooked me from their crazy. When I forgave I began to be fully me again, vibrating in my own energy system, happy and innocent.

Later in life I began teaching mindfulness meditation with a strong emphasis on loving kindness, which has at its core forgiveness. Hour after hour, retreat after retreat, I spoke the words that in order to be fully free we must send good wishes towards everyone in our lives - especially the indifferent or difficult people. We do this not to pretend that everything is OK when it obviously isn't, but in order to process uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and then take inspired action to make things better.

I explained how it is possible to wish even very destructive people to be healthy, as in mentally healthy, free, as in free from nastiness, safe, as in safe from their own destructive behaviours. I taught that loving kindness was actually an empowerment meditation that can lead to very strong action, action that would be impossible when we're being drained by blame.

Compassion heals and creates powerful, protective boundaries. It is infinitely practical and never invites us to self harm.

It was compassion for myself first, and my father second, that lead me to report all the years of rape to the police. It was compassion that kept me from killing myself, or him, on the days when consumed with such thoughts.

And it was the forgiveness and compassion of loving kindness, coupled with meditative enquiry that finally popped the bubble of terror holding me back from forgiving my father completely. Loving kindness dissolved the final layer of defendedness around my heart and allowed me to let go of the past - for good.

When someone attacks us we either fight or run away. This is the natural biological response to danger. When we cannot fight or run away we freeze. Then, when we're safe enough, all the energy suppressed when frozen is discharged, and our energy system goes back to normal.

When we're cornered for a long time and/or this freeze response is a regular occurrence, it distorts into a 'fawning' or 'flopping'. This is where we become ultra complaint and subservient, or simply fall asleep exhausted.

Fight-flight-freeze-fawn-flop are all ways in which our natural impulse to survive negotiates danger. For me, thinking of this impulse to survive as having a biological, preserving, love at its core brings its movement into focus more clearly. Our innate self-love keeps us alive by initiating helpful responses.

When I was a little girl I forgave. My father attacked, I froze, reeled, then healed and forgave. He attacked again, I froze, reeled, then healed and forgave. This went on for years and years. Forgiving was how I cleared hatred out of my system and got him out of my head.

But there is a blurred line here - between forgiveness and fawning.

Alongside my compassion I was stuck in the fawn response. I tried so hard to pacify and appease him I had little sense of who I actually was. My personality was just a reaction to his insanity. My life was all about him - how he felt, when he was home, when he was away... I can see now how it was a form of Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages become consumed by and allies of their kidnappers. There was no 'me'.

Then I got away from him. I went to university and began melting the coating of defence away. During my twenties I loved myself to the point where the natural protective biological aggression, or fight response, emerged and motivated me to tell him to stay away from me.

In my early thirties I went deeply into meditation retreat and melted more and more layers. I went to the police and spoke out loud all the years of rape and torture. As I spoke the truth more layers fell away.

As I entered my forties I wrote a book about how I had healed. I found a spiritual community that supported me in feeling free and safe enough to consider forgiving him fully.

This was the first time in my life I hadn't imagined him coming to my house and shooting me. A pattern in my brain played it out day after day, year after year... could I hide against the wall under the window? what would I do with my dogs and cats? would he kill them first? would he come in the back door? would he hire someone to do it for him?

Then a few weeks ago I touched the core fear that was stopping me from letting go completely.

I realised that I was afraid to forgive him because I was afraid of going back into the fawn response. I didn't really know the difference between forgiveness and fawning. I was terrified of being under his control again, of being so passive, shut down and mummified that it would be all about him again.

This man was my primary caregiver throughout childhood and had treated me like I was worthless, like I was completely unimportant. I couldn't let that final barrier down or I would be opening myself up to that treatment again.

I meditated my way through all the fear, and the blurred line between forgiveness and fawning began to sharpen.

I knew it was time. I had reached the perfect moment to be fully free. This couldn't have possibly happened before now. Everything had come together, inside and around me. Even the day before would have been too soon.

I realised that I had never actually directly addressed him in all my years of healing. The last words I had spoken to him had been 15 years before, when I was 26 years old I had told him to stay away from me or I would go to the police.

So I sat down and wrote him a letter. It was a mix of my own spiritual insights about his actions and outlining everything I forgave him for. It was long, and I added to it over three days. I forgave the darkest of his actions - breaking my bones and trying to kill me.

As I wrote I felt, finally, like his equal in power. A grown woman, 41 years old, standing in front of an old man, speaking her truth.

I forgive you for... I forgive you for... it went on and on.

Then I sat back and read it one last time. I saw the fawning and fighting in it and realised that sending such a letter would perpetuate the very thing I wanted to release. I would be engaging in battle with him again, when all I really wanted was peace.

I sat back again and saw myself as the skilled meditator that I am, and said to myself, 'You know how to melt all this away'.

So I wrote a new letter.

I told him that before he dies I want to forgive him for everything that he did to me. I said that I hoped he would face what he did and make peace with himself. I told him that I was not opening a line of communication - that that would never be possible, but that from my end this was over and I released him to his own healing process and karma.

I posted the letter the next day and told some close friends and my spiritual group. I honoured the event by buying myself a beautiful ring. I felt so free and powerful, and also adrift in unknown territory.

Over the following days some horrible body sensations arose - the pain and numbness of the fawn response emptying out. I meditated my way through it. My sexuality fully shut down over the next two weeks, as I could feel his mind on me. I meditated though it.

Then, it was over. He was gone from my energy system completely. The sparkly ring on my finger a symbol of finally being myself and never having to submit to such behaviour again.

Now I am free of him it feels epic. There's so much space and possibility around. I can feel in my bones all the good things joyfully flying my way...

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Healing Sexual Pain and Fear

When I started going on long silent meditation retreats, and felt safe enough to notice, I became aware of an enormous dark tower of sexual pain that seemed so vast I wondered would it ever be possible to dismantle. Thankfully, the vipassana meditation I was practising was not delivered in a goal orientated way, but in a way that encouraged moment by moment determination and a steady liberation from such pain. So I persevered, fiercely and compassionately... I felt deeply into the pain, and day by day, year by year, that tower crumbled.

If I had stayed in that level of intensive retreat, or dedicated myself to a life of monastic meditation, I probably wouldn't have begun building the tower again, but I didn't. As I settled into a lay life, self-employed teaching meditation, I sunk into a trap that many people conditioned into codependency do, I forgot myself and the value of the wonderful gift I had been given, and put far too much focus on helping others.

I knew that the tower could never grow as big as it was before, but I had forgotten just how much even an inkling of a foundation of it affected every part of my life, how its destructive power seeped into every relationship, every encounter, and even my everyday sense of self.

So, what is sexual pain? For me sexual pain expresses itself as sexual feelings that arise in reaction to disgust and fear. Because I was raped repeatedly as a child, and felt revulsion and terror alongside sexual feelings, there have been solidified body-memories inside me of sex activated by violence and aversion.

It was clear since my first retreat that my job was to feel and release these unpleasant and joyless feelings - to melt them away. I knew that acting upon them would spiral me into the hell of my father's mind, and that was never an option. No matter how bad things have gotten for me I have always loved myself and wanted to bring more love into the world, not more corruption.

A coping mechanism to deal with such pain, a short-term help but not a long term solution, is to 'manage' the pain through introducing new thoughts and/or feelings. In a sense to talk yourself out of it. But this strategy never actually made the pain go away, and I knew from my years of intensive retreat that it could go away completely.

Some personal examples of when this crushing sexual pain was activated were: when something went wrong with work, my home, food or clothing. If something was disgusting - if washed clothes hadn't dried properly and smelled bad, or food had gone off, if I had a big spot on my face or put on weight, or if one of my dogs or cats smelled bad. If something brought up fear - if I ran out of logs or oil to heat my home, if my bank account was low, or if fear of my family-of-origin 'coming to get me' was activated.

These personal experiences of sexual pain were unpleasant, but because I experienced them in the safety of my own home I was aware enough to deal with them meditatively. The relational ones were much more destructive, because codependency and fear combined meant that my awareness was virtually non-existent. 

When yet another man I thought I was being clearly a 'platonic friend' with got it into his head that something romantic was happening between us, I decided to really investigate my own bodily sensations and signals.

Before I continue, I am in no way saying that sexual predators who dismiss clear verbal or physical signals from the people they are pursuing are innocent. I am stating my own experience in order to share how I have healed this particular pattern in my life, through self-empowerment and awareness.

So, these men... of which there have been many, and a couple of lesbians too, I have hated and been so so disgusted by that it has been a real challenge to muster compassion for them, something I always do for difficult people because I want destructive patterns gone from my life.

When I meditatively investigated the memory of encounters with these people I began to realise that my poor wee body was picking up on their sexual interest, reacting with disgust and sexual pain, then my 'management' coping mechanism was kicking in to pretend it wasn't happening, and my resulting behaviour was to be extra careful to be platonic in how I was relating.

But the big insight that dawned was... that non of that mattered. It didn't matter what I was doing or saying. They were picking up on 'Sex'. They were getting, 'Red Light - go ahead'. They weren't thinking, 'Oh poor Aoife is a victim of childhood sexual abuse and is actually sexually repulsed by me and only having sexual feelings because she is afraid I'm going to force myself on her, and she will be so frozen by fear that she will be powerless to stop it.' No, they were thinking, 'She likes me too'.

I wonder how many people have been so overwhelmed by such dynamics that they ended up in relationships and even marriages with people they were disgusted by and afraid of. 

I don't know what is going on for people who are attracted to people like me who are repulsed by them, but I do know that it is a thing, because there have been so many of them throughout the years. I would also like to point out that I have had many boyfriends who I loved and fancied the pants off, mutually, so this has nothing to do with me being broken and unable to feel natural, joyful and blissful sexual feelings. All that is intact. Sexual pain and fear is a separate issue.

Sexual pain is a real thing, and I imagine there are thousands of women and men recovering from sexual violence who have similar boundary issues to what I am describing here. My reason for exploring such issues in this blog is to shed light on the pain so we can heal it and let it go.

One practice I have found invaluable in healing sexual pain and fear, as it gets activated in relation to others, is the Taoist Micro Orbit exercise...

It is a very simple visualisation to move the stuck sexual energy and let it be recycled and healed as it energises and moves through the rest of the body. 

To begin, become fully aware of the sexual energy in the pubic area, then imagine moving it under the lower part of the trunk to the base of the spine, then up the spine, up the back of the neck, over the top of the head, down over the nose, and making sure your tongue is touching the top of your mouth, down through the tongue and the neck, through the chest and belly, and on down to the pubic bone, and round again, and again...

It can be helpful to move up the back with the in-breath and then down the front with the out-breath, but eventually it can happen even quicker than the breath. It's a circle of energy, or light, circulating of its own momentum.

Don't try too hard, relax into it. Let yourself tune into your body's natural intelligence.

All that is needed for the darkness to go away is for us to turn on the light. I am so enjoying not being afraid or confused by sexual pain any more. From a distance I saw a man yesterday that I had a particularly unpleasant miscommunication with last year. I felt compassion along with a tinge of disgust, but no sexual feelings. I am sure the disgust will subside too and the next time I will just see a fellow human being - someone doing their best, who I can wish well... from a distance.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

My Trouble with Sexy

When I was a little girl I was full of joy and energy. I was outgoing and confident, curious and delighted by life. My life force was intact.

When he first raped me at 4 years old it felt like my father plugged himself into my energy system and drained the life out of me. He then waited until my battery recharged and did it again, and again. Year after year, and on into a second decade, he used me to charge himself up, then left me to recover, like a 'thing' thats only value was how it served him. He watched me all the time, he said I was 'sexy' and 'asking for it'. There was no escape from him.

These were the patterns at play as I descended into a black hole this New Year's Eve. I was powerless to stop them, and some silent part of me knew that this was exactly what needed to happen in order for healing to occur.

I devoted this past year to recovery from codependency. The year before had brought me to my knees - I knew that relationships with other people were draining my life force, but had no idea of how to stop it, or even which particular people were doing it. I was lost, and knew I was going to get sick if I didn't change radically.

I took action in many areas, including taking an 8 month break from work, upping my daily yoga and meditation practice, attending a weekly codependency recovery 12-step group, and investing work-time in creating art and writing.

As energy began to return it felt like I was becoming a different person. Whereas before I was very focused on others, I now put myself first, and the sheer quantity of energy moving through my body seemed miraculous. I wrote my healing memoir, created over one hundred artworks, started online dating, began a dressmaking course, and eventually felt ready to begin my meditation teaching again with renewed inspiration.

In the dressmaking course I knew I had to make myself a golden dress, and that this dress would help me reclaim my inner sexual power. Even writing those words 'sexual power' still feels a little scary, but I will continue... The dress was a sparkly fabric with a sensual drape, just one-shoulder, and an asymmetrical hem line. Not very short or even very revealing, but definitely on the sexy side of dresses.

Please note that when I say 'sexy' I mean Wonder Woman sexy, not fawning playboy bunnies or dominatrices, both of which I feel keep people bound to past trauma.

As the year came to an end I came on leaps and bounds in the 12 step work, I published my first  illustrated Handbag Book for Women, and got very clear on the relationships which were keeping me bound to the past. I saw that throughout my life I always had one male friend and one female who appeared to be sweet and reliable, but who took complete advantage of me when I was vulnerable. Instead of meeting my vulnerability with love the men took it as an opportunity to 'try it on' with me and the women an opportunity to victimise or abandon me. My pay off with these people was that I rarely got to be vulnerable and could maintain the appearance of having it all 'together'. It was a way of controlling myself.

By New Year's Eve I wanted to be completely done with these patterns, and it turned out that I well and truly was. I clearly and compassionately let go of two people who personified them perfectly, and didn't look back. I noticed that I then naturally stopped overeating and lost over half a stone weight.

I completed a personal silent retreat over Christmas, working a 12-step personal inventory book, along with tapping and deepening my yoga practice. When it finished I felt that something big was coming and was a little afraid. I knew I had to wear that dress before the New Year began, yet felt so sensitive - a bit like Bambi alone in the woods.

I bought a red lipstick, and very unlike me, a bottle of organic red wine. With each step towards this Night of the Golden Dress, dread mounted and my insecurities were going haywire. But I needed to do it. There was no way around it.

A friend was going out with her friends, and although I didn't know them, it seemed that was the place to go. I put on the makeup and the dress, I began drinking the wine, and slowly slowly entered a very different realm. I looked at myself in the mirror and the conflict took hold.

On the one hand was the reality - me being this grown woman who is allowed and safe enough to be slim and sexy. Then there was the inner pattern - a girl of 4 to 18 years old, who tried every single day to evacuate all sexuality from her energy system so as to keep her father from raping her. As this war raged I drank and drank, and eventually blacked out, becoming a ghost-woman who walked around and talked, who danced and engaged with others... all of which to this day I have no recollection of.

I was looked after though. I was brought home, and seemingly had a shower, made my hot water bottle and tended to my two dogs and cats. Then I remember being on the yoga rug in my dressing room, in the position with which I bow each day to Heaven and Earth and Love, and what rumbled up from my guts was an immense force of pink puke. I left it with a towel on top then went to bed.

Two days of guilt and shame ensued, deep deep embarrassment and disappointment. Yet I persisted with my loving kindness meditation and tapping. I didn't abandon myself to judgement. I didn't fuel any shaming. I refused to perpetuate the old trauma patterns.

On the third day a friend suggested I had made a mistake and that I would learn from it, and in an instant a switch turned in my head. I said it wasn't a mistake, that it needed to happen, and then I went to meditate.

In my meditation an insight flooded my body: it was the fear of being sexy that had pulled me into drunkenness. That deep part of me was petrified of being sexy because it could attract a predator. The blind terror was telling me I would be 'asking for it'. It was a fear of self-harm, that somehow by being my full, fit and healthy, joyous self I would be asking for violence. That fear obliterated my consciousness in an attempt to keep me safe.

I surrendered to the insight and loved myself through the painful feelings that arose with it. I touched that frightened little girl's heart with compassion, I held her hand and smiled at her. She didn't cry, she didn't say anything, she just accepted the reassurance - she trusted me now.

As I continued to meditate an awful wave of nausea overtook me. It was coming from hard tensions in my hips, bum and thighs. It was the same nausea from when I was kneeling on the rug that night. I moved my awareness into it, deeply with compassion. I followed the lines of concrete as they encircled the lower chakras, the legs, the pubic bone, my intestines, my sexual regenerative organs. And it all began to melt. It dissolved, disintegrated, subsided...

This process is ongoing. The melting is still happening, as it has been doing for years. Yet, this has been an enormous healing event. I am so so happy. Not only can I be joyfully sexy again, and feel safe within it, the digestive problems that have plagued me for years have seemingly vanished.

This is what I know now deep in my bones... My sexuality belongs to me. It is a gift from Heaven and Earth. My life force is divinely, naturally orchestrated. I don't have to dull my brilliance in order to be safe. I can fully own my sexual power and no one has the right to come near me unless I want them to. As the rips in my chakras, meridians and aura repair, as my trauma thought patterns release, I am becoming a more whole person, and this whole person is who I am truly meant to be.

That golden dress and red lipstick will be getting another outing soon and this time no alcohol will be involved. I will be free to dance, chat and shine... and I will savour and remember every single second of it.