I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is to “hold space” and the way the term is sometimes overused in casual ways that I feel marginalizes what I consider to be a very sacred practice.
When I first began studying shamanism, my mentor taught me about sanctifying a space, about creating a vessel in which our work, whatever that work was, could take place. Most Pagan paths have a version of this, a specific script or guidelines for creating sacred space. Often, in those early days, our work involved journey work to teach me, to heal me, to open my eyes. Sometimes it involved spell work or sorts.
The first time I remember really understanding the purpose of that space, was also the first time I sat in with my mentor while he worked with a client. She was a woman going through a divorce, and we sanctified the space before she arrived, welcomed her into it. My job was to “hold space” while they worked. It was my job to keep the space safe, to provide here a place where she could rage and grieve and surrender herself to the process of healing without fear of anything outside intruding. I was to help contain the energy, direct it to whichever vessel had been designated for the purpose. I was to be present and mindful of the needs of those in the space, ready with water or tissues, whatever they might physically need.
By doing my job, I enabled them to do theirs.
In the many years since then, I have held space often. I have held space for they dying, giving them a place to mourn their coming death, to look back on their lives, to make choices that are difficult when they are being bombarded on every side with opinions and demands. I have held space for the grieving, for the sick, for the addicted and the recovering.
I consider it my sacred duty, to give people this safe, attentive space free of judgement, free of fear, free of demands. So much so that I try to carry some of that into my daily life. People have enough judgment, enough people with preconceived ideas of who and what they are. I try to have my presence free of that , to “hold space” in the smallest of ways whenever I interact with others.
I hope that now that I am getting settled into my new home, my living room will once again become sanctified, a place where I can hold space for those in need.
I am a single woman with health issues that impact my mobility. I live alone by choice and I almost always prefer that. There are times, however, when I think it wouldn’t be bad to have someone here with me, someone who could help do the things I can’t do as well any more.
Never is that more true than it is right now, as I prepare to move out of this one bedroom apartment and into a two bedroom duplex. Moving is not a one person task. Particularly when that one person can only “work” in 30 minute intervals and the rest time between those intervals grows ever long as the work continues.
I’m glad i started well before I actually found my new place, otherwise there would be no way I would be even close to ready when I pick up the keys this Wednesday.
It doesn’t help that almost everyone I would turn to for help is broken in some way, from back problems to arthritis to various lifting restrictions for various reasons. Asking is never my first though anyway. I pride myself on my self reliance, on my ability to get done what needs to get done.
This is my last weekend to get it done too. I work in the office on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and pick up the keys after work on Wednesday. The first loads of stuff to go up I will be handling alone, first in my car and then in my step-father’s truck. I do have some help coming in the evening on Thursday, which is when we will move the things I absolutely can’t do on my own.
I sit here sipping on my last cup of coffee and looking around at this place that has been my home for nearly 6 years, stacks of boxes, plastic bins, suitcases that reflect the collected stuff of my life and I wonder again, as I have since this journey started, …where did it all come from? Why am I holding on to a book report I wrote in 5th grade, or a ticket stub from a movie I didn’t even like? Am I really so sentimental as to need to keep a picture of a friend whose name I can’t even recall?
I’ve probably trashed or donated more than half of the possessions that filled this apartment a month ago,and I still have a ridiculous amount of *stuff* that I am taking with me…and I’m sure it won’t take long before I begin accumulating again.
Well, I’m almost to the end of this cup of coffee, which means it’s time to get myself up and get moving.
It was December of 2013 when I made an observation regarding the casual use of language and how certain words were over used, stretched to the point of meaningless, and yet still managed to creep inside of us and infect us with their real meaning. I challenged myself to stop being lazy with words and start speaking meaningfully again.
I’m a writer and a poet and somehow I had lost sight of the fact that words are powerful. When used properly they have punch, they express emotion and thought and ideas and they come to represent who we are as people. So I told myself to stop being lazy with them.
I focused on the word “hate” for the most part, but really wanted to address the vagueness that had crept into my vocabulary. It’s so easy to throw around a word like “hate” when in fact, what we are attempting to express isn’t anything near hatred. When someone states that something distasteful has happened, like “I swallowed a bug” or “They were out of ice cream,” it is very easy to respond “Oh, I HATE that.” When you don’t care for the taste of something, it’s acceptable to say “I hate peas.” From there it becomes easy to generalize nearly anything and apply the word hate to it. “I hate Republicans” or “I hate Democrats” or “I hate gay people” or “I hate Muslims”….etc, ad infinitum.
I won’t say that I’ve eliminated the word completely from casual usage, but I have worked hard at becoming better about stopping myself before I’ve said it and changing my response from some casual bunch of words that can be dismissed as largely meaningless sounds aimed at expressing sympathy or empathy into actual words of sympathy and empathy.
It’s like throwing flattened pennies into the tip jar, they make a nice noise, but they’re worthless. How much more satisfying is it to pull some real words out of my wallet and put them to use?
But, a funny thing has happened, as I’ve embarked on this journey to improve my communication. Not only do I use the word less and less, and only when I truly mean it…I’ve found that I don’t generally mean it. Not only has the way I speak changed, but something inside me did at the same time.
A famous Jedi once said that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side.” Strange, but I’ve found that expunging the frivolous use of the word hate has lead me to be less angry, to have less fear. I don’t actually hate anything or anyone. I find myself offering comfort or assistance. I find myself bonding with people I used to only casually interact with.
I also find that I’m more careful about what I say and how I chose to say it. The words in my wallet have power.
I’m living proof. They’ve changed me.
*’Warning, this post contains vulgarity and an excessive fondness for the F-word*
Excuse me, can I get a minute? I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I’ve been ruminating, pondering and otherwise stewing up some thoughts about the apparently fucked up, sliding downhill faster than a squirrel on rollerskates, unequal, imbalanced world I seem to suddenly find myself in.
I’m the first to hold up a hand when I think someone is pulling the persecution card without cause, whether that perceived persecution is in relation to gender, skin color, ethnicity, religion, orientation, etc…etc…and I’m the first one to say that we as a society are too hung up on our sense of our own persecution.
That said, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?
We’ve got cops seeming to completely disregard common sense and the sanctity of life, killing folk left, right and center and it seems (of course I’ll freely admit that there is likely some media bias showing here) to be specifically aimed at black men. We’ve got Christian pastors calling for the extermination of gay people by Christmas. We’ve got women getting death threats over comments made on the internet, death threats credible enough to have the FBI involved.
I repeat, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?
What is everyone afraid of? How does true equality threaten anyone?
Is it wrong somehow to expect a country founded on the idea that all men were created equal would actually evolve to treat everyone as equal? We’ve made so many strides…on paper, women are equal to men (practice doesn’t seem to always measure up), we’re so close to same gender equality we can almost see it, we have a President who is a black man of mixed heritage.
And yet…look at this mess. Everyone is so full of piss and vinegar, taking sides and sticking fingers in their ears, yelling at everyone else that they’re wrong. No one is actually talking. No one is looking to find the truth, to paint an honest picture. When even the facts are in doubt because of conflicting statements from those who were present at an incident, no one has “the truth”…they have an opinion, based on which of the conflicting statements they believe.
What I do know is that we have become, as a whole, far, far too callous about the sanctity of a life. When police shoot to kill even though the suspect they are firing on is unarmed, when police will not calm themselves down and actually take a moment to understand a situation, when people feel threatened by the very presence of a police officer and become belligerent in fear of their lives, when mental illness and drug addiction and homelessness is looked upon as something to be afraid of without understanding what it is and how to deal with it….we are a simmering pot of violence that is bound to overflow at any given provocation.
I don’t have answers, not big ones anyway. For myself the answer is compassion. It’s knowledge and understanding. It’s support and shelter. Maybe I’m naive to believe that treating other people like they are people…equal in every way to myself, will result in a better world. I don’t think this is something we’re going to solve on a large scale…not right away.
People are afraid because they’ve learned to be afraid. Either they sit in a place of privilege and are afraid of those “other” who they have been told want to come and take that privilege, or they come from a place of second citizenship and they are afraid that every effort to strive for freedom will result in mayhem and death as those above beat them back down.
Straight people don’t want gay people to have equal standing, because somehow sharing the right to be happy might diminish their own happiness. White people don’t want black people to have equal standing because somehow sharing the right to education and success might diminish their own ability to succeed. Men don’t want to give women equal standing because somehow a woman doing the same thing a man does might make the man less attractive. Or something.
It is just so moronically stupid, so full of crap that it really should be drowning in its own fecal matter at this point. And yet….and yet…
You want some rules for how to help expunge this disgusting human trait from our midst?
1) Be human, be humane: treat every living thing like it matters, because it does
2) Be kind. Kindness matters.
3) Allow the victim to tell his/her own story
4) Stop judging anything based on what the media tells you.
5) Give time/money/skills to lift up those who need a hand
6) Love unconditionally. Love deeply. Love fully. Make love the core of who you are, your center.
7) Never let hate supplant love in your heart, in your center.
8) Embrace the “other”
9) Learn from everyone you meet
10) Go out of your way once in a while to meet someone who is very different from you.
I’m not saying it will change the world….at least not overnight. But it may just change you.
I’ve noticed something lately and I’ve been ruminating on it for a while, but something that happened today brought it all bubbling up and made me decide I needed to express my thoughts to more than the inside of my head (which is a great place, don’t get me wrong, but does little to take these thoughts beyond the cavernous, echoing halls and hidden little hideaways and mental forts of solitude).
See, in case you aren’t already aware of this, I am a fat woman. Obese, large, fat. I make no attempt to hide that fact (and really? how could I?) I observe the world from inside this body. I observe the way the world treats this body and others like it (and yes, I mean the body and not me because mostly people only see my body and they never get down to actually noticing me so they act, react and treat my body a certain way, not me) and I notice a few things.
For one, where did this dichotomy come from where fat folk are yelled at to get off our lazy asses and work out, yet when we have the temerity to go to a gym and do just that, we get ridiculed and told to get off the machines and let people who really want to use them do it? We walk and get told to give it up, to go home and stuff our face, that we can’t be serious about weight loss or we’d be running. And gods forbid we should try running.
And yes, I’ve been told all of those things. I’ve had personal trainers tell me I was too fat to work out. I’ve had gym bunnies actually ask me to get off the elliptical I was working out on because “You’re going so slow you can’t be serious. Speed up or get off so the rest of us can use it.” I’ve also been told I shouldn’t sweat so much because it’s disgusting. (I mostly just blinked at her until she went away).
Now, it’s summer and I live in a second story apartment with no air conditioning. It gets HOT up in here. I also work from home, so I’m here all day in this heat. I don’t know if everyone knows this, but us fat folk? We tend to run a little to the hot side of things. My general clothing allowance on summer days is a sarong or shorts and a sports bra. Sometimes I even put on a swim suit and go down to the pool (shocking, I know).
My windows are open and fans circulate air and sometimes in the course of my day I walk past said windows and sliding glass door in my sarong or sports bra or swim suit. All my “naughty bits” (which…aren’t naughty in my opinion, but I think that’s a whole other blog entry) are covered. It is quite clear however that I am fat. My skin shows. My fat is obvious. But then….when isn’t it obvious? If I had no skin showing, would I somehow be less fat?
This afternoon, I actually had someone knock on my door to complain about me standing in the patio door in my shorts and sports bra. I had heard something outside and went to investigate, found two young kids (maybe 4 & 6) playing in the courtyard across from my apartment and stood to watch for a minute as their parents weren’t immediately noticeable (they were watching from the shade). All told, I was there maybe 5 minutes before going back about my business.
Let me pause here to mention that several hours later, my apartment is still 90 degrees and at the time of the door knocking was somewhere near 95. I was sweating. In my shorts and sports bra. Doing nothing but working at my computer.
Now, said door knocker was a woman in her thirties if I had to guess, five foot six or so, in a pair of shorts, tank top and sandals. I tell you this to explain that the only difference in our apparel was that hers covered her belly. Mine didn’t.
She started out polite enough and said that I shouldn’t be walking in front of my windows nearly naked. At this point, I knew it was going to be a longer conversation than I wanted to have through the door of the apartment, and I didn’t want the cats to get out, so I stepped into the hallway and pulled the door shut.
Apparently this was tantamount to scandal, that I would step out into the public fairway dressed as I was.She proceeded to tell me that I was “endangering the innocence of the children” who were playing in the courtyard (and who didn’t even have a clue I was there), and that if I didn’t put some clothes on, she was going to report me to the landlord.
I pointed out that my attire was perfectly acceptable for broadcast TV and that as such, no I wasn’t going to put more clothes on in the privacy of my own home OR just to respond to someone knocking on my door, but she was welcome to report me if she thought it necessary, however if the landlord actually said anything to me I would start going to the gym and mailbox dressed this way, and have my lunch on my balcony dressed this way, because how I dress and how I present myself in public is none of her business.
I don’t know this woman. I watched when she left and she went to one of the apartments across the courtyard, but I’ve never met her before. But I know this, it wasn’t the amount of fabric on my body that was the problem, it was the amount of fat she could see.
If it is perfectly acceptable for skinny women to cavort around on a beach in a thong bikini that disappears up their ass and they have to get a special wax job to not show off their pubic hair (another societal hang up that baffles me….it’s body hair people, no matter where it’s growing, it’s nothing to be ashamed of) and where the top barely covers their nipples, then it is perfectly acceptable for me to be seen in my shorts and sports bra.
I’m fat. I came to terms with that a long time ago. I work out. I try to eat healthy. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I will not put on more clothes and live my life a sweaty, sweaty mess just because someone is afraid of my fat.
I am not just my body. I refuse to allow anyone to continue to act as though I am. I am a strong, beautiful, talented woman who has lived in this body for 45 years. If you can’t handle that, keep it to yourself, I’m not interested.
I’ve been watching this roll out in the media and social media around me. I have read with horror and empathy as women expounded on their harrowing tales with sexual assault and sexual intimidation, watched as every man who dared to speak up and say, “hey wait, I’m not that guy” got lambasted for his privilege and his obvious inability to “get it” and I’ve wondered what in the world I’ve done wrong in my life that I didn’t feel the way these women do.
Let me be clear. I am a cis-gender woman, complete with big breasts. I have never in my life felt as though my life or my body were in danger due to the proximity of a male of the species. When a guy uses sexual aggression in a social situation I reward him by telling him he’s an asshole and walking away. When a guy tries to talk down to me or expect me not to know something because I have boobs, I show him what I do know.
Am I naive to behave as though people are people? Am I wrong to believe that people can rise above the social programming in individual interactions?
Or possibly worse, does my thinking that way, does my behaving that way, in some small measure help perpetuate the very culture where rape is seen as common place and our girls are perpetually taught to protect themselves rather than our boys being taught not to rape?
These are the questions that have been rolling around in my head this past week. One thing I know for certain, my treating men like grown adults who know how to behave even with a penis and a set of balls is never going to END rape. There will always be situations and individuals and we won’t ever stop it completely. And YES, we need to have consistent and strict punishment for those caught and convicted. And YES, women, it does fall largely to us to not be stupid.
I’m reminded of a young man I knew in high school. He was something of a hellion. He was known for being disrespectful, getting into fights, causing trouble. I became friends with him. I made it clear with my behavior that his behavior was unacceptable. Very quickly when he was with me he was respectful, even chivalrous. He controlled his words, he spoke to me about the reasons he was angry or hurt…by the time I’d known him a year, he was a different young man. He was getting better grades, he was making friends. My expectations changed how he behaved.
Since then, I’ve applied this principle with others, both male and female. Most of the time it has positive results.Sometimes it fails, but I guess that helps me remember I am human. In every instance though two things were constant: I EXPECTED and made my expectations clear, a certain model of behavior and I loved unconditionally, even when the behavior wasn’t modeled.
Nothing I’m saying is a solution. I don’t know how to fix what is wrong in a society where men feel justified killing a woman who won’t have sex with them, or where rapists are told “don’t do that again” and let out into society simply because their victim was their wife. I don’t know how to help every woman feel secure in her own body, in her own sexuality.
I’m not sure I actually have a point except to point out that #yeseverywoman isn’t exactly true….because most of what I see being posted under the hashtag doesn’t apply to me. And yeah, I’m a big fat woman, and I’m usually the person my girlfriends use as their “safety” when we’re out and some guy gets ideas that make them uncomfortable (by which I mean, they sit in my lap and kiss me and make it clear I’m their girlfriend so the guy gets the idea…which is probably not the “right” way to handle that, but how do we even fold that into this conversation?).
So, am I somehow privileged because I don’t feel threatened by every guy I pass on the street, every dick in a bar thinking with his little head? Or is it because I don’t find myself desirable enough to be aware of the threat they pose? Or is it maybe that I haven’t yet experienced any overt sexual aggression? Or am I oblivious?
I honestly don’t know. I just don’t know.
*I preface this by saying that I posted part of this to facebook today so sorry if it’s a repeat for anyone*
I have an amazing job doing something I love for a company that I am truly proud to be a part of. Most of the time, I get to work from home. I go into the office once or twice a week most weeks. Some weeks, like this one, I’m there more often. We have two office spaces actually right now, one around the corner from the other.
Both are in the financial district of San Francisco, not far from Union Square. It’s the kind of area where you can’t really buy lunch, even a simple salad, for less than $10. The stores are all the kind that don’t know that fat people or poor people exist. The office space I work out of is positioned in the slightly less posh (of the two locations) area. Our neighbors are Walgreens on one side and a brand new Good Vibrations on the other, with a Kinko’s and a Chipotle rounding out the block.
Step around the corner and head up to the other office though and it’s like entering a world I have never understood, nor been a part of. By day, it’s a bustling shopping district for the well to do. Walk the block and a half from the corner and you will pass stores for H&M, Dior, Prada, Coach, Burberry. Across the street is Brooks Brothers and Cartier.
When I’m working in that second office, particularly when I am going to be over there all day, I walk up Post St in the very early morning hours and I’m struck by the profound dichotomy that is a daily part of this area.
I’m usually walking to the office from BART somewhere between 5:30 and 6 am, when all of the stores are still tightly shut against the night, their eyes closed to the dark world that exists on that same street, even in their own doorways, once the sun goes down.
The homeless make themselves temporary shelters in the alcoves and doorways, beds made of cardboard rummaged out of trash cans to soften the concrete, sometimes cardboard as their only blanket, or as a makeshift wall to offer them the illusion of privacy.
As I’m walking up that street, they are waking, pulling themselves up out of whatever dreams find them in such a harsh bed, gathering their belongings and dragging themselves up into the slowly growing light of day, to disappear with the light. Some might position themselves strategically to beg for a bit of food or a few dollars from the commuters just beginning to move about the city, some shuffle off to try to get a day’s work or to check on friends, or to aimlessly wander, never staying in one place too long so that they aren’t rousted by angry shopkeepers or hassled by police called in by people nervous about their own safety without ever giving thought to the safety of those who sleep on the streets.
People tell me that the homeless are lazy, that they’re dangerous, that they choose to be on the streets…and all of that may be true for some. I hear about people trying to pass laws to take away their right to own “things” or to sleep or gather in certain places and I can’t understand the mentality. With so much waste in this country it seems ludicrous that we should have a significant homeless population at all.
We have houses sitting empty, office buildings with no one in them, abandoned malls and military bases. Imagine if we took one empty mall, used cubicle partitions to section off small spaces for one person, slightly bigger spaces for families…a space that they could call their own, a space that is warm and dry and safe. Imagine if we put in showers. Imagine if we used one of the stores to set up a clothing “store” where stores and manufacturers could drop off items they might otherwise throw out, and average citizens could drop off items they no longer want and we put the homeless to work sorting and stacking/folding/hanging/”selling” those articles of clothing. And imagine another one where we did the same thing with food and other necessities. Imagine if the residents could earn “coin” through other jobs like cleaning the compound, or taking classes to learn new skills and could spend that “coin” in the clothing store to improve their wardrobe? Imagine if those classes were taught by people volunteering in a “class room” we built in one of the stores.
Imagine someone who tonight is sleeping in a cardboard bed in the doorway of the Prada store walks into a job interview in six months in clothes they earned, with skills they learned because someone turned a vacant property into a place where hope is born.
Today is Beltane, the Pagan holiday of fertility and creativity. It is a day for planting seeds and giving them what they need to grow. Today, this is my seed. This is what I want to see come to fruition. I can’t make it happen on my own. I don’t have the money or property to do it. I have the ideas. I have the ability to write up ideas, to flesh out rules, to help plan and even to help implement…so, I’m planting this seed here. May the fertile ground of the internet see it to fruition. May Yule find a pregnant promise ready to birth change.