Advent Offering for Women

(art: Cathy McClelland)


Journey through Advent with a virtual circle of women celebrating soul.

 
Each Sunday of Advent brings a new invitation to shape space–inside you–on a journey to the sun’s rebirth with the Winter Solstice.
 
All those who identify as female are welcome. All faith traditions welcome too. Diversity enriches the journey!
 
Step outside of time each week and steep inside the gift of you–your life, your gifts, your challenges.
 
You decide when and where to participate with each Advent invitation which will be posted at dusk on the four Sundays before Christmas (and again on the Sunday before New Year’s Eve.)
 
Week I, Sunday, December 2: EARTH
Week II, Sunday, December 9: WATER
Week III, Sunday, December 16: FIRE
Week IV, Sunday, December 23: AIR
Bonus Week V, Sunday, December 30: BLISS (New Year Visioning)
 

We’ll move through the elements together with a combination of online invitational prompts and handwritten mailings.

Sliding scale (pay what fits you this season):

Affordable $33  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/33.33
Sustaining $44  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/44.44
Providing   $55  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/55.55

Enroll you & friend/relative(s):
Giftgiver (for 2)   $77  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/77.77
Giftgiver (for 3)   $111 https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/111.11

 
Facilitator Kelly Salasin is a lifelong educator, retreat leader and yoga/yogadance instructor. Kelly is the creator of Writing through the Chakras, an online writing journey for women. She regularly assists leading presenters at Kripalu Yoga & Healing Center including visionaries Tara Brach, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Joan Borysenko, Julia Cameron, Tama Kieves & Dani Shapiro.
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At the moment of most abundance

My son calls about once a week, typically on his walk home from work or on his way home from class (sometimes sustainable design, sometimes women’s studies); and his brain at 9 pm is on fire, and the possibilities in front of him unlimited, and his capacity to ponder and purpose and pursue lines of thinking is exponentially expansive while my world steadily shrinks in the dark.

“I bought a new spice rack and a Q-tip holder today,” I tell him. “And I found a chai frosted pumpkin loaf at Trader Joes!”

Which is to say, I’m tired, and not just at 9 pm, but in 2018 and 2017 and 2016.

Has it been this long?

It won’t always be this way.

Once my guys (and the country) are set, I’ll rise up again, right? Just as soon as I dismantle all the photo albums and the bins and the boxes in the basement and the attic, 25 years of home-nourishing that in this empty nest weigh me down.

It’s just around the corner.

57 is apparently the peak of women’s happiness, not 18 or 21 as suspected. My mother died at that peak and my grandmother just before it, like the leaves who let go at the height of their beauty.

What is that poem? I have it somewhere. What’s her name? It’s something unusual.

Monza Naff, that’s it!

Wait, aren’t I FB friends with someone named Monza Naff? Did she write the verse that I’ve turned toward every September when the anniversary of my mother’s passing comes along? (Is that how we became friends. Memory!)

AUTUMN

~Urge me to drop every leaf I don’t need
Every task or habit I repeat past its season
Every sorrow I rehearse
Each unfulfilled hope I recall
Every person or possession
to which I cling-
Until my branches are bare,
until I hold fast
to Nothing

Blow me about
in your wild iron sky,
crush
all that’s puffed up,
fluff
all that in me needs
to go to seed,
send my shadows to sleep.

Tutor me
through straining night winds
In the passion of moan and pant
The gift of letting go
At the moment of most abundance
In the way of
falling apples, figs, maple leaves, pecans.

Open my eyes
to your languid light,
let me stare in your face
until I see no difference
between soar and fall

until I recognize
eternity
in single breaths,
faint whispers of cool air
through lungs.

Show me the way of dying
in glorious boldness
Yellow,gold, orange, rust, red, burgundy.

~

“At the moment of most abundance.”

Yesterday, I woke with the runs, today I woke angry. “Anger is sad’s bodyguard.” This is sometimes true about anger, especially if it is stuck. But I needn’t fear. She is coming. We saw her yesterday.

Dr. Ford–vulnerable, poised, transparent in terror and anxiety, clear, considerate, accomplished, tender, fierce.

What is leaving is just as certain.

We saw that yesterday afternoon too.

Petulant. Entitled. Blaming.

Kavanaugh and Trump are emblematic of the Patriarchy unhinged; and day after day this creaking of the archaic contraction that has long oppressed so many wakes more and more of us, especially the women–from our illusion that strength and purpose and understanding is outside of us–finally realizing that we can lead–through tenderness, strength and purpose matched with commitment to voicing what is true, while loving husbands and brothers and uncles and sons.

“I can’t think of anything but Kavanaugh and chai-frosted pumpkin cake,” I might have said to my son when he called home last night, but instead I marveled at his capacities, and how I helped bring them to bear, and how if I’m fortunate, they will help make life better for others, and for himself, long after I’m gone.

Cleavage.

I choose my most revealing top for a spontaneous drive to sea, not because I want to reveal, but because–skin, air, a September return of summer and something else–something feminine–not soft or attracting–but essential–FULL–surrendered–MINE.

At 53, I can expose my cleavage, and not because it’s in fashion, though that helps, but because: What does it matter?

My softening, descending breasts no longer belong to a man’s gaze or a babe’s mouth.

And still, as I load my car, passing in and out of my mudroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and mutter out loud, something I’ve never heard said (or thought?) by me before:

“Slut.”

I’m struck by this assault.

“Wait, what did you say?” I ask. “Don’t say that.”

But I’m equally intrigued.
Where has this thought been hiding?
How long has it held me back?
Defined me?
Defiled me?

(And yes, I realize that not only am I talking to myself, but arbitratrating between selves, as if there are 3 of me. So what. I am large. I contain multitudes.)

It was an early August wedding (just before the respiratory virus from hell) when I photographed my nieces’ cleavage. I asked first.

“Why?” they said.

“Because of beauty and light and flesh.”

Budding. Ripening. Surrendering.
Maiden. Mother. Crone.
Defining. Life-giving. Fulfilling.

 

I consider changing my top.
(I don’t.)

Breasts are brilliantly placed.
Over the lungs.
And the heart.

My heart has been broken this year.
By this Nation.
By the election of a man who defiles my gender.
Grabs body parts like my junior high classmates at West Point Elementary in the dark halls circling the USMA Academy Football Stadium.
As if we belong. To them.
As if the whole point of us, was their. Pleasure.
As if men can’t bear for women to be both beautiful and sovereign.

I photograph my nieces’ breasts because it is clear–their breasts belong to them.

That’s why I go to the Sea.
That’s why I expose my Cleavage.
That’s why I take the remaining seat on the bench at the top of the beach.
A man on the other end. Decades younger.
A handful of his companions on the next bench–loud, and taking up space, in the way men are always free to do.

I take out a book and read.
A chapter later, the men rise to leave, and I look up to see them pile into a large van.
Work release?
Were they dressed the same?

My mind re-imagines the bench scene:

“You don’t want to sit here,” he says. “I’m a criminal.”

“Are you?” I respond. “I’m 53, on the brink of menopause. I could be a criminal at any moment.”

I’m struck by how often I say  or think “53” to myself, as if it is a thing, this random number, defining nothing in its ambiguity, but somehow something, a year in which I have been radically reshaped from the inside–blood being held instead of released–while polite society dismisses the transformation as nothing, as loss, as problematic.

“Anger,” a male friend said to me. “Is a problem.”

I think anger is appropriate, I say, Useful, instructive. (I’ve only just begun to befriend anger.)

“We don’t have control when we give into anger,” he says.

“Ah,” I say. And then I launch into all the ways that women have to live without control. In the home or the office or the White House. In anticipation of menses, never knowing when we’ll bleed or how inconvenienced we’ll be. The possibility of pregnancy, the radical transformation of body and self, labor and delivery, not to mention–nursing, mothering and letting go–all capped by Menopause. A journey, not of control, but of surrender, again and again.

I remember sitting with my sister at her long wooden kitchen table, our views at opposite ends. Abortion was the topic. Evangelical her lens. Autonomy mine. Both of us loved our babies, those lost or given up, those hanging by our sides. Without changing our minds, without trying to change each other, we hold hands, across the divide, of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. We weep. Together.

“It is this tender heart that has the power to transform the world,” writes Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a man who must know surrender.

I am writing this piece in a cafe, and like the father of the toddler at the table beside me, I have to remind myself, again and again, I may not shout, even as a shout threatens to explode like a thunder clap:

Turn off this fucking music!
Everyone shut up! I can’t hear my voice.
Open the windows. It’s too stuffy in here!

(I may have been too harsh with my family this morning.)

I’ve spent the past year angry and heartbroken and surrendered. Every year has its companion. Mine was a recommendation from my first born: Jack Kornfield’s, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. I’ve just finished it. (I think I’ll start again from the beginning.)

It’s taken decades to give up the power that my appearance held, while slowly and all at once claiming the sovereignty of irrelevance.

Of belonging.

To me.

Because a heart broken,

Expands.

~

(Related post: I’m Leaving.)

I have a dream too…

Artist: Jen Norton

I have a dream

That no woman would choose abortion

Out of fear

Or shame

Or finances.

I have a dream

That each baby born would be celebrated.

Provided for.

Nourished.

Nurtured.

I have a dream

That girls would grow up to love their bodies.

Their minds.

Their strength.

Their ability.

I have a dream

That each woman would

Claim her sexuality.

Share her body, only
by invitation.

Welcome a child, knowing
that her community
Would always support
the gift of life.

I have a dream

That every father would teach his daughter self-love.

His son, self-respect.

His family self-knowing.

I have  a dream

That every mother would teach her son self-disclosure.

Her daughter, self-care.

Her family, self-restraint.

I have a dream

That we would recognize the fabric of our connection

With each life.

With every family.

With all of the earth.

Among Women

1173639_10152174245043298_1142976638_n

I realized that it was time to thank my friend, but it was too profound a gratitude to toss out on the playground or across the picnic table. Perhaps I should write a card.  A pretty one. But each time I let the words flow inside my mind, they felt too confined, begging a larger canvas.

I recognized that the gift my friend bestowed upon me was meant to be shared, not between two women, but among them.

For years, I ran from my flesh. Attempted to straighten the curves of my hips with the palms of my hands as I dressed.  Lifted my heavy bosom, confined it in wires and seams; distracted the eye with strategic attention to color and lines and layers.

I aspired to be trim and soon enough, I was–so trim that I barely weighed 100 pounds–as a grown woman. I hadn’t starved myself, but I had been strict, without knowing it; and yet, I could never fully rid myself of my belly.

“Hold your stomach in,” my father said, whenever he photographed me and my sisters and our mother.

Despite this admonishments, I had never really understood that flesh was bad until that afternoon at the river place, on the dock, as two young mothers, mine and a friend’s, climbed into the row-boat, in their string bikinis, and patted the folds of their tight postpartum bellies, complaining.

As I came of age, I would prefer reclining positions to upright. Horizontal to vertical. Waist high slimming slacks and snug belts to anything else.

Until the baby grew inside. And I found myself softening into flesh, delighting in the discovery that there was no point in holding in a belly that was filled with a baby.

5 glorious months of release ensued.

I was a lucky one. Not one of those who could fit right back into their best jeans just days after the baby was born (like my stepmother’s sister), but one who was easily freed of unnecessary weight after a week or two of nursing.

Despite the rapid weight loss, nursing itself was an apprenticeship in fullness. The tidal rhythm of my body rocked me into surrender. My engorged breasts would have nothing to do with wires and seams, and my babies would nurse for years.

When my body was finally mine again, I slowly returned to myself. Rediscovered exercise. Reclaimed a waist. Bought new contraptions to reduce and lift my bosom. Purchased new belts.

And then came 50, and with its approach, not only a fullness in the belly that refused to budge, but the radical demand for freedom.

For flowing skirts.

For going bra-less.

I remember the first time that I noticed my flesh without judgement.  I was in one-legged, down dog, turning toward the back of the room, when I spotted something misshapen, hanging from my mid-section. I reached down to adjust my tank top only to discover that it was my own flesh flanking toward one side.

I tried to muster disgust, like my father’s, but all I could manage in my state of yogic bliss was curiosity: “Wow, that’s me?”

After the glow of consciousness subsided, I considered dieting, but I had given that up long ago; and I knew that I could no longer tolerate its rigid lines in my flowing, expanding life.

I considered more exercise, but lately all I wanted to do was to lie around. “I’m getting in touch with my inner Garfield,” I’d say; and part of me knew that I needed that after a lifetime of overdoing.

I considered relinquishing indulgences. But they had been hard-earned after so much constraint.

And so I surrendered. And in doing so, I came to appreciate a particular friend–one whom I had never heard complain about her own ample curves; and who hadn’t hidden them either; and who allowed them full expression.

When this woman’s youngest child came of age, I noticed that she began to drop weight quickly, and I complimented her on it one afternoon, but she dismissed it as a form of rudeness–because it implied that there was some way for her to be better than what she had been before.

Her response was revolutionary.
The revolution dragged on for years.
It brought to question so many things:

Why was trimmer better?
Who said?
To whom did the body belong?

Eventually, my own growing fullness wore me down, and I began to tentatively welcome it.  I allowed myself a belly and breasts. I freed them from the confines of my mind and restrictive clothing.

When I doubted myself, I recalled my remarkable friend; and for the first time, I began to truly love my own body–as is.

And is if that wasn’t radical enough, I did the most defiant thing of all: I released my belly.

And breathing into the softness there, I forgave my father his ignorance, my mother her complicity, and the world its absurdity.

(Thank you P’tricia!)

Where were you?

There is a field out beyond right doing and wrong doing. I’ll meet you there. 
~Rumi

woman, cryingVan Gogh (visipix.com)

If a 7 week or a 11 week fetus is a child, where were you?

Why didn’t  you come?

When were you planning on bringing the casserole?

What were you thinking when you said, “Try again.”

How could you dismiss such a loss without ritual or ceremony or a fruit basket?

But you did. All of you. Even those who came–in whispers–to say that you lost a baby once too.

Dark secrets…

Like those of menses. Unwed pregnancies. Abortions. “The Change of life.”

It is dangerous to be a woman.

malala_yousafzai_by_hanciong-d5ikyp7It always has been. Some of us sense that more acutely. Others live it.

Why would you give up or give back what so many fought to give forward? Why would you let a bunch of white men decide?

You say abortion is killing? It is. Everyone knows that. Especially our devout friends who also make this choice.

Mothers who choose abortion aren’t heartless or ignorant. They just don’t want any more children, or a child at 15, or one with a man who is cruel or one who won’t be there.

1011032_10151702454678746_1452961399_nYou want less killing? Support women. Support children. Support families. Support education. Support birth control. Support kindness and compassion.

My sister worked at a Crisis Pregnancy Center where they ministered to women even after they aborted. The Planned Parenthood Center where I went at 16 encouraged me to look at options. They asked me if I was sure. Again and again.

Love on women. Empower them. Educate them. Show them the development of a fetus at 6 weeks. But don’t ask them to have a baby that you will later condemn them for delivering–without a man or money.

If it’s the innocent you care about, show it. Show it to the children who are here, among us.

Stop pretending that abortion has something to do with Obama, or Democrats, or liberals. It’s us. We’re the ones who want to decide, who have to decide, who must decide–because our world depends on this sovereignty. Women make the world a safer place.

I’ve had two abortions. Two miscarriages. Two children.

I’ve loved all six of my babies.

Only two will have funerals when they die.

Kelly Salasin, April 13, 2013

More on women from my blogs:

Feminism or Make Believe, Two Owls Calling blog

22nd Women’s Film Festival, This Vermont Life blog

Violence Hides in the Home, The Empty(ing) Nest Diary blog

The Healing Eggs, Two Owls Calling blog

Father Who Used FB to Teach his Daughter a Lesson: A Human Rights Issue; Two Owls Calling blog

Feminist or Whore, The Empty(ing) Nest Diary blog

“First Love & Abortion” The Empty(ing) Nest Diary blog

Sarah Palin & Me, Part II. Choice & Health Care Reform, Kelly Salasin blog

Heaven’s Daughters, Two Owls Calling blog