If we are lucky, blessed and showered with unbelievable and unasked-for magnificent grace – life is long.
And the experiences we have are varied, multifaceted, and scampering all over the spectrum from shitty-as-fuck, to earth-shakingly ecstatic. (I am especially thinking of our brothers and sisters and animal friends in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Caribbean as I write this. Sending prayers and love and donations.)
As living beings, we all want to taste, touch, and smell every drop of what it means to be alive. And sometimes, for reasons either in our control, or way beyond our control, we can find ourselves in deeply difficult spots. Sometimes for a long, long, long, long time.
Let’s get real sisters.
There are moments and chapters when life can seem like an uphill slog with no rest stops.
It just is.
One of my students, Sally, is the mother of a one-year-old and a 2½-year-old, managing a 50-hour workweek at her executive director job, and trying her best to teach her sweet – but clueless – husband to meet her halfway in the world of childcare, housekeeping, and looking after her aging parents. She is breathless and exhausted every single day.
It just is.
Sally hired a life coach who told her that she had to quit her job and make much more me-time for herself. Hello? Who’s she kidding here!? Kids gotta eat. Mommy and Daddy gotta work.
Sometimes there is just no wiggle room on the outer.
The truth is, sometimes it’s not a time to make radical change. Or even un-radical change.
Sometimes it’s just time to keep on climbing up the hill, no matter what.
Another student, April, is in a different kind of chokehold. She writes:
I’ve had to take over my husband’s property biz because our management company was losing us tens of thousands of dollars. I hired an assistant (who quit after 2 months) leaving me fucking stuck in this HELL of paperwork — I feel like I’m dying on every level. My passion is gone — I no longer even feel desire or pleasure even when I’m going thru the motions. We have to dig out of this financial mess and I can’t just quit … there’s more work than there are hours in the day. Add to the stress – I’m gaining more weight / I don’t feel sexy in anything / I have the children and their needs … I can’t even breathe, let alone relax.
April’s spot is treacherous. A different brand of treacherous than Sally’s. Perhaps not so different than mine or yours, when we are backed into a powerful corner by extraordinary circumstances.
It just is.
I have no doubt that these women will find a way to triumph.
I know who a woman is and what she is capable of. And I know for sure that for them, right now, there is nothing to do or fix.
Just like there is nothing to do or fix when you are mid push-up and have nothing more to give but your refusal to give up – which is how bigger muscles get built.
Where does a woman normally go when she is desperately challenged and exhausted?
She goes straight to disapproval. Second-guessing herself. Self-criticism, self-doubt, self-hatred.
But now is not the time to disapprove. Or second-guess. Or criticize herself or others. Which is where our brains go naturally when the going gets tough.
This is a time to put our attention in a brand new direction: it’s time to decorate the cage.
What mean you, Mama?
We all have cages around us, at one time or another.
Right now you might be caged by work, parenthood, climbing out of debt, taking care of your parents, a natural disaster, or bigoted policy change.
Sometimes we just cannot get out of the cage and have no control over the situation. Like in a natural disaster.
And sometimes we don’t want to get out of the cage. Like when we have kids and they break us into smithereens and keep us up at night and require more time and attention than we have to give – but we love them desperately and would not trade it for the world.
When life presses down, which it can and will and does, it does not always mean it is time to change.
Sometimes it means that it is time to reach down deep and insist on fighting for and finding pleasure, in the moment, right here, right now. To demand the poetry, right here, right now. To grab for the ecstatic connection between you, and your divinity, in this precise moment. In other words, to decorate the cage.
We are so programmed to follow the to-do list and take care of everyone else besides ourselves. Being a woman requires a different reach, a different grasp.
She needs Mary Oliver poetry. Beauty. Soul-drenching sex that cracks her open to the ecstatic void and reconnects her to her wild flame. End of season peaches. Coffee held in an oversize mug that heats her palms as she makes communion with the day. Listening, witnessing to her truth and beauty. Dance, pretty dresses, shoes that let her move. Hundreds of ways to love, harsh, gentle, prickly, and moments of laying back into love’s arms.
So, when there is no other place to reach, we must reach into the portal from which there is no lack: feeding our ecstatic nature.
Which can seem remote and out of reach, especially when we are pushed within an inch of our reserves.
This is the time for a woman to find space on the inner, rather than the outer.
The limitless inner. It is a time for her to insist on a tiny step of self-care before she leaves her house. It might be that she makes sure she dresses with an extra drop of care, paying tribute to her beauty – which might not be much more than a shower and lip gloss. But she celebrates the shower and gloss as the heroic feat it truly is. It might be that she keeps her copy of Mary Oliver by the coffee maker and reads a poem out loud to herself as she makes breakfast. It might be that she studies her reflection in the mirror, while softly extolling the ways in which she is her own heroine. “You were a superstar mother to your children yesterday. You handled that to-do list like Wonder Woman on a rampage, gold bracelets firing in the sun. You are my heroine. You make the impossible possible.”
It is up to each of us to love, bless and celebrate the miracle of life that we are, as women in this world, and to reach for that inspiring drop of turned on pleasure from which all goodness is created.
No one else will do it for us.
The last thing on earth we think we have energy for is to deliberately choose to decorate the cage in which we find ourselves.
But doing so is the key to freedom, both on the inner and yes, ultimately, on the outer.
To our freedom, even inside our cages.
Regena Thomashauer, aka “Mama Gena”
The School of Womanly Arts
Regena is a feminist icon, a teacher, a speaker, a mother, a best-selling author, and creatrix and CEO of The School of Womanly Arts.