Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Open Letter to Ty

Dear Ty (Toy Company),

My one and a half year old son has Dangles the Monkey from your Pluffies line. May I first say that the term "Pluffies" and the particular name "Dangles" are rather unfortunate. Thankfully my son can't talk and can't read, so he doesn't know that his monkey's name is Dangles and we just call him, uncreatively, Monkey. The thing is that my son is obsessed with Monkey and takes him everywhere. It has gotten to the point that we cannot leave Monkey at home without hysterics so Monkey now comes in the car but no further because we`re so afraid of losing him.

My monkey related anxiety was getting so bad that my husband and I decided to see if we could get "back-up" monkeys. As it turns out, your company still produces "Dangles" and we were able to order two extra monkeys in case of monkey emergencies (like loss, or theft, or complete destruction). Imagine my joy! This was going to be the perfect solution to all Monkey related problems.The plan was to put all three monkeys into rotation so they would be equally worn and my son would never know that there was more than one. The price was very reasonable and shipping was reasonable as well. My monkeys arrived promptly and I was oh so happy with the whole situation until I opened the box and took out the new monkeys and realized that this hoax was going to be a failure. The two monkeys really didn't look much like the old monkey. The fur was a different colour and there was a seam across the faces that old Monkey doesn't have. I even put the new monkeys through the wash to see if they would begin to look  more like the old monkey with wear, but alas, it didn't work. My son, though still not particularly observant, is not going to be fooled by these new monkeys so I now have a box of monkeys and I don't know what to do with them.

I'm not really angry. I get it. I mean, the old monkey is a model from maybe a few years ago and I get it that manufacturing changes slightly over time and maybe your manufacturing tolerances aren't that tight and it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that it doesn't really matter if one monkey looks exactly like the last. And while someone on your marketing team called the thing Dangles, so I do have to question the integrity of at least one of your marketing employees, in general you've created a cuddly, adorable monkey that my son loves with all his heart. I mean he gives the thing sips of water and feeds it cheerios for heaven's sake. And all I wanted was an insurance system to make sure that my darling boy would never be without his favourite monkey and it was disappointing to get so close to a solution and yet remain so far away.

So just a thought--if you're going to produce stuffed animals that are cute as buttons and win over the hearts of small boys completely, would you consider making them all the same? To be fair the two new monkeys did look quite similar to each other, they just don't look much like the old monkey. And while wear and tear may account for some of the difference, I don't think it can account for all of it. I figure that you may not be aware of the great lengths parents are going to to make sure their children always get to take their favourite toy to bed at night. I know it seems ridiculous, but to at least one small boy that monkey matters.

Thank you.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Confrontations with the Dark Mother

I first met Kali on the retreat I attended in April but she has cropped up consistently since then--a voice that needs to be heard if I want to achieve wholeness on this journey. Kali is a Hindu goddess, the Dark Mother. A fearsome presence who forces us to confront the darkness that is the eternal consort of the light. She is both a Mother-Creator figure and a great Destroyer. The pictures of her definitely aren't reminiscent of the Virgin Mary depictions that we  have come to associate with Motherhood in the Christian west:

Goddess Kali

Madonna and Child
I contend that Kali is a much needed figure if we are to embrace what it means to be a mother. Despite her terrible appearance Kali was held in very high regard. She loved her children dearly, but also knew the value of destroying the things that are no longer serving. She was a goddess of birth and death, uniting the light and darkness into a unified whole.

Our Virgin Mary images lead us to a damaging myth of the Good Mother. This is the "ideal" mother. The woman who is forever self-sacrificing, who has endless patience, who loves her children with a pure and joyous love at all times, who devotes herself to motherhood with no thought of herself or her previously childless existence. The Good Mother may seem like an ideal to aspire to, but I think the opposite is true. The Good Mother is cruel. She tells us that we aren't good enough. She tells us that we are failures. She tells us that we must ignore the darkness that comes with the territory of motherhood and try to live always in the burning rays of the light.

In her book If Only I Were a Better Mother Melissa Gayle West writes about the goddess Kali, and the message that she might have for mothers succumbing to the seductions of the Good Mother:

What must die? Kali asks. What must die?

This Good Mother we carry within ourselves. This Good Mother who has such a stranglehold on our aliveness, our creativity, our love, our heart.

This Good Mother within, who must always be in control of  us and our children. This part of ourselves who must always be sweet and kind, even if she is howling inside. Who must always be the perfect mother: calm, loving, ever-giving. Who must always have a perfect child: sweet, docile, well-behaved. Who would rather have her children be Good than Alive.

This Good Mother within must die, this Good Mother who forfeits what is, in the present, for what should be. Who must numb herself in order not to feel the sorrow, anger, despair that comes as a part of motherhood. And who, because she is numb, does not feel the joy, silliness, holiness that are part of being a mother as well. This Good Mother who sacrifices the living heart of the present on the cold stone of what Must Be. 

The Good Mother, who is terrified of death, of darkness, any death, any darkness. This Good Mother who shuns the unspoken truth. This Good Mother, who seeks the Light, who repudiates at any cost teh parts that are different.

(West page 65)

Kali is not afraid of death. She is not afraid of ecstasy, of wildness, of howling. Kali brings life into the world knowing that death is a part of life. And so when we become mothers it is only natural that some of the experience is truly dark and frightening. We must face the deaths of our old selves, the death of our freedoms, the death of our egos. We must be reborn into the Motherself and that is a painful process that might involve rage, anger, resentment--all the things that the Good Mother tells us we should not feel. The Good Mother says that to express our darkness is to say that we don't love our children properly, that we are not grateful for the lives we have created.

Mothers living inside the apparition of the Good Mother need Kali to liberate us, to give us back our power, to give us back our voices, to give us back our pain and cradle us like the beautiful mother she is while we howl our grief, scream our rage, and embrace the darkness so that we can emerge whole. There is a place for light, but if we refuse to ever live in the darkness then the light becomes a destructive force, burning our leaves, killing us back, forcing us back into the earth where the cold, damp clay reminds us of the value of deep dark places.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Depression and the Mother-Self

It's been awhile since I've posted anything. The "bad morning" in my last post was a massive turning point. Once I stood up from the floor I entered a new realization that something just wasn't right. Yes, motherhood is hard, but lying unresponsive on the floor is  a warning sign of something bigger. And so, I came to accept that post-partum depression is my reality for the time being and I have been on quite the journey to heal.

I knew from the get-go that motherhood would be challenging, but I mistakenly saw the challenges as predominantly physical--sleep deprivation, breast-feeding issues, low energy from chasing around a toddler, scheduling difficulties, not having enough time etc...I wasn't prepared for the challenges that came from within. The mental challenges, the spiritual challenges. No one said "when you become a mother you should be prepared to spend the next year on a hero's journey with the magnitude of the Odyssey. You might not even know who you are anymore. You will come face to face with demons that have long been buried in your subconscious. You might have to face things in your own psyche that you never could have imagined. Welcome to the archetypal journey. Your quest is to unveil your Mother-Self."

I was unprepared for the tremendous difficulty that I have faced in transforming into a mother. I sort of thought that I would change some diapers, get up in the middle of the night to soothe my crying child, go to the park a lot, bake cookies and that would be motherhood. I thought it was about love, and it it, but it's also about undergoing a complete revision of who you are and what it means to exist in the world. I found myself desperate for spiritual guidance. This didn't seem like a problem for doctors or psychologists. It seemed like a problem for shamans and witches.

We're pretty low on quality ritual these days. Rites of passage commonly go unnoticed, uncelebrated, and unacknowledged. The people passing through these rites, therefore, come to them horrifically unprepared.

In ancient Greece the Eleusinian Mysteries were practised every year. This was a celebration of the cult of Demeter and represented the abduction of Demeter's daughter Persephone into the underworld. The rites had three phases: the descent (loss), the search, and the ascent. In her book The Case for God Karen Armstrong describes the experience of the mystai or the initiates. The mystai were transformed through ritual that included physical hardship, fear, darkness, revelation, and shock. The ritual was "a foretaste of death that put mystai in touch with the depths of their psyches. One mystai says "I came out of the mystery hall feeling a stranger to myself." The purpose of the ritual was to dispell the fear of death through merging with the ritual and experiencing divine possession. Initiates sought out this experience of transformation because it was a way to come to know the contents of their unconscious and emerge transformed.

This sounds an awful lot like the birth process, yet we don`t recognize birthing as much other than a physical hardship to be managed in hospitals with the aid of painkillers. There are very few, if any, spiritual guides for pregnant women who might help prepare them for the descent into birth (loss of self), search (for a new self) and ascent (of the newly birthed Mother-Self). Like the mystai I came out of the birth process ``feeling a stranger to myself", but there was no one to help me bring to life the transformed self, the Mother-Self that was born along with my child. This Mother-Self languished, grew sick, grew weak, and I eventually found myself in the throes of post-partum depression, completely lost in the darkness. I made the descent but went no further. There was no one to show me how.

Luckily, resources are available, and I`m on a number of healing paths now that have landed me squarely in the "search" phase of the Mystery. To this end I cannot recommend highly enough the book  If Only I Were a Better Mother by Melissa Gayle West. West explores some rarely discussed aspects of motherhood--the Dark Mother, the journey to birthing the Mother-Self, and the importance of embracing the transformative process. More on her ideas in a future post.

My Fellow Journeyman. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2013.