Last Saturday I sat in a circle of women at the home of a friend. We’d shared a bountiful and delectable meal, gathered around a cleansing fire, protected ourselves all around with candlelight and color and books and beauty. Yet when we sat to share and listen, there was such darkness there. So much sorrow and pain and terror, wrong turns and misunderstandings and fury. Our children were being put in danger, our elected representatives were trying to eliminate our basic rights, our voices were being silenced, and we were in PAIN. I had actually turned it over and over in my mind whether I should come to this circle or not, as I’d been in a bit of a funk myself and didn’t want to inflict my turbulent energy on others.
But I was so glad I had come. I was so glad to be here in this space where finally, FINALLY, women were free enough to unleash the darkest, ugliest stories and speak them out. No one was making nice or hiding or protecting anyone else. We knew we could handle it. It was a homecoming.
I have struggled with a certain archetype all of my life, the archetype of the Fallen Man. He has hurt himself and others and he appears to be sorry, implores me to love him and help him heal. And then something sets him off and he lashes out again, hurting others, hurting himself. He apologizes tearfully, claims it will never happen again, that I can fix him, imploring me to help him stop. I believe in redemption, right? Isn’t everything forgivable, if only there is love enough? It appeals to my vanity, this idea that I can fix him, and so again and again I welcome him in. The Fallen Man turns up over and over again in my life, in the guise of lovers, of friends, of elected officials, of creative projects…acting out, refusing to take responsibility, draining me.
And when I am utterly drained and spent, the despair sets in, the despair of ever breaking free of this pattern, of ever finding a way through. That’s the most insidious of all, because then I become him. Lashing out, taking no responsibility, drawing others in to take care of me because I am not taking care of myself.
But despair has to stay shrouded. When it is spoken out, shared, its hold on us lessens and then we can shake it loose. The very last thing I want to do when I am in despair is talk to someone. Because I’ve become the despair, and it is in self-preservation mode. It knows that if I call a friend or walk to the clearing to do yoga in the sunshine, it won’t survive.
So last night we dragged despair out into the light. We started with yoga, doing as many circular movements as I could think of to access the cleansing feminine energy of the spiral. We did hip circles, knee circles, rib circles, shoulder circles, neck circles. We closed our eyes and placed the palms of our hands over our eyelids, making eye circles in the darkness by gazing first upward, then to the left, then down, to the right. We sat cross-legged and did Sufi rolls, then went to hands and knees and did several rounds of cat and cow. On our backs, we clasped our knees to us and made circles of the sacrum. We finished up with a vinyasa flow and thread-the-needle to open the hips.
And then, laying back in the silence, we began to scan the body for knots of despair. Any place that felt tight, or cold, or jittery, or infuriated, or uncomfortable, we breathed into and listened. Many of us carry our despair in the same places, over and over again, until there are parts of our bodies that are in nearly constant pain. We located these places and simply stayed there, breathing, listening.
To come out of this meditation we located a place in the body that felt warm, loose, and free. We brought the breath to that place and let it circulate through the body until there was a soft internal smile.
There was tea and cake, but this meditation had hit a very vulnerable spot in several people so we paused to talk with friends and give back rubs and do some cathartic punching and kicking. Then each woman took a piece of paper and wrote at the top: I AM A SEXY HOT BRILLIANT GENIUS FOR CREATING THIS DESPAIR BECAUSE…
and we wrote in silence for several minutes. This exercise comes straight from the incomparable Mama Gena (you can read the full exercise here) and I think it works because every complaint, every despair is simply a thwarted desire. If you complain that you are thirsty, you have a thwarted desire for a cool glass of water. If you are in despair because your last project fell apart, you had a deep desire for that project to make meaningful and lasting change in the world. When you can uncover the desires behind the despair, you can learn what blocked them this time around—and see what lessons were there for you that you could not have obtained any other way. Finding the patterns in your complaints, the recurring sources of your despair, can point you unerringly toward your life’s work.
We listened to each other’s brags and desires, then closed the circle in the quiet darkness of evening. And returning home, I could feel that the fog I’ve been in these past few weeks had lifted.