Divine Feminine Fallacy Part II – In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens

“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”
-Alice Walker
multi-colored plastic bouquets of flowers all crammed prettily together
Just searching…

 

“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
Adyashanti

“Spiritual bypass” is a term often used in circles where people are seeking a higher truth. Be they New Age spiritualists, pagans, mystical Christians or an interesting amalgamation of all these spiritualities or none, the term describes a certain type of seeker who is utilizing spirituality to ignore the real-life issues of their existence.

We’ve all witnessed these people. They’re the chorus of “WE JUST NEED LOOOOVE!!!!” in the face of economic disparity and misogyny and Donald Trump. They are the “friend” who replies to your grief over a recent loss with pleas to “just be positive”.

meme of shaquille oneal heads illustrating chakra colors
Chakras are groovy.

Sometimes we are even “those people”, dishing out feel-good quotes and pat advice like we are human Hallmark cards.

It’s easy to see that this shit does not work in hindsight, but not always simple to catch spiritual bypass as it is occurring in real-time.

One of the stickiest places that we often wish to bypass are the stories that live inside our families of origin–the painful patterns, the hypocrisy, the let’s-just-take-the-Sears-portrait-and-ignore-our-growing-dysfunction-ness, the weirdness, and just the day-to-day realities of familial existence.

As a seeker eager to dive into all things Divine Feminine, I was all about reading about the “Great Mother” archetype and the goddess worshiping cultures of old but I was consistently passing a blind eye to what actually was occurring within my own matrilineal line.

Without even realizing it, I was jumping over my life and seeking external opinions about what the culture had taught me about being a woman.

stained glass window of multicolored egg surrounded by blue tendrils

But, where do we learn most about what it means to be woman than within the lives and stories of our mothers, aunts, sisters, and grandmothers?

It is these women who have taught me what is possible, what to believe about sex, my body, money, men, female friendships, relationships, self-care, food, parenting, femininity/masculinity, expression, success, God and all that I call Life.

They were my first teachers.

No matter what I profess to believe now, it is their opinions that are more often than not running the show. And until I sat down to examine what they taught me, no “Divine Mother” was going to redirect and “fix” my current life.

Of course, these women have taught me all kinds of life-affirming lessons, it is not just a barrage of negativity. And they teach not only with words and deep conversations–but within the tiniest details of how they live.

Lately, I have been sifting through these lessons and asking myself some deep questions:

What were the actual lessons passed down implicitly and explicitly in my mother-line?

What are the lessons I wish to live? What are the beliefs I need to let go of? And what are the beliefs I am actually living each day?

When does “living differently” from these lessons feel like I am abandoning my mother-line?

painting by fernand leger of three grey cubism style women overlapping each other
Fernand Leger, Composition with the three figures, 1932, CMOA.

The work I am completing here is constant and requires a dedication to life-long learning and shedding–these early beliefs are oftentimes not easy to discard.

They are literally in our blood.

But, I’ve started to notice something in my search.

I used to think the sifting through these stories required me to make a particular family member wrong or to assign blame.

Now I see that this search is all about integrity and awareness. It’s about truly realizing what is mine and what is not. It’s about facing reality as it is and not utilizing spirituality as yet another fogged up mirror, a clever way to obscure truth.

I continue this search, this investigation. I see the patterns–both gracious and limiting. I keep asking questions and sticking around for the answers. In doing so, my Divine Feminine life has a more grounded texture to it, for it is now weaved into my actual life.

My eyes open more and more each day.

What do you think you would find in sifting through your mother’s garden? Is it scary to think that you may just locate who you really are?

Onward,

Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Help That Doesn’t Suck # 4 – Sisters of the Yam

Title: Sisters of the Yam

sisters

Author: bell hooks

The Break-Down: Recognized public intellectual and scholar bell hooks covers healing for black women in various dimensions to include beauty, relationships, and critical thinking/engagement. There is no “strong inhuman black woman” rhetoric here.

Why I Loved It: Sometimes when you are experiencing constant micro-aggressions or looking out at the incessant indignities faced by people who share your identity there is a strange mixture of confusion, anger, and numbness that arises. Are you crazy for noticing this? Should you deal with this latest slight or stop fighting this battle? Why must the world be like this? I’ve experienced all of these questions and still wrestle with them often. I can always come back to this book to assure myself that:

  1. I am not imagining injustice.
  2. Healing myself is not selfish.
  3. I am not alone.

I feel seen when I read this book in a way that society still has not caught up with. Black women may be “strong” but we are also human. We hurt. We cry, even when “slaying” and displaying our #blackgirlmagic.

For You, If…: You are a smart black woman who also wants to heal. You have a smart black woman in your life who wants to heal. You are a smart person who wants to read a really smart person talk about healing.

Woo-Woo Factor: 1 out of 5 patchouli incense sticks . She’s an intellectual, so there’s that. While there are brief mentions of some noted more fuzzy, self-help writers, hooks’ brilliant mind still shines through on each page.

Onward,

Hannah

The African

African and Black. I first learned of the difference most saliently when I went to high school. Jokes were being made and I joined in and offered my own take on things that all black people do. This dude I barely knew scoffed, “You’re not black. You’re African.”

We could go deep into the semantics and the divisions inherent in most American black communities with just this one statement. When that comment was said to me about fifteen years ago, I was left in s silent confused hurt. He was kinda right, but were the two mutually exclusive? (Nope.) He was kinda right, but did he have to ostracize me? (Nope.)

His words did not begin an identity crisis. But, they did make me see that black people weren’t some jolly we’re-all-in-this-together mass all the time. And I wondered where I actually fit in. It didn’t seem to be with the white kids or black kids at my high school. I felt most comfortable with my Mexican and Asian friends. Our gripes about our strict immigrant parents a connector.

When people ask me what I am (and yes, this does happen to dark-skinned phenotypically black as hell people) I’ve said Black. Then I say Nigerian. They nod thoughtfully with a I-knew-it expression. Lately, I’ve been switching it around and amusedly observing the questions which commence when I say Nigerian first.

How long have you been in this country? What was it like to grow up in Nigeria? Is your entire family there? What do you think of the stuff going on? (“Stuff” is supposed to encapsulate all manner of civic disturbances I guess…)

sepia portrait of dark skinned black woman in headwrap and skirt
Grandmother

And then I have to explain that well, I’ve never been to Nigeria but my entire ancestry is Nigerian. It’s a funny conversation in a sense. I’ve had strangers shame me for not visiting as if they had previously offered to pay for my ticket and I declined. Sometimes I am ashamed of what I don’t know, considering the fact that unlike my black diasporic community, I do know exactly where I come from.

But, shame is tedious and repetitive. And in my 30th year on this planet, I am finally going to Nigeria on behalf of Pitt’s African Heritage Nationality Room Scholarship. To say I am excited is an understatement. I am also scared and curious. The greatest mix ever.

I highly doubt I will be asked what I am, which will be nice. But who knows. I am an Americanah after all.

What I am most excited about is seeing my family. My paternal grandparents have been deceased for some time (that’s a picture of the grandmother I am named after above), but I have still have a large family presence in Nigeria. My research will detail the feminine/female aspects of Yoruba culture/religion. I will be studying the female deities of the Ifa: Osun, Oya, and Yemoja.

And while this project is academic/creative in nature, I have no doubts that it will be a personal sojourn as well. I want to know more about who my people were and the ways they interact with the world, before and after colonialism. One short trip to Nigeria will not solve every question I have, but it is enough to get me started.

Onward,

Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

How to Learn Yoruba

“i lost a whole continent.
a whole continent from my memory.
unlike all other hyphenated americans
my hyphen is made of blood.
when africa says hello
my mouth is a heartbreak
because i have nothing in my tongue
to answer her.
i don’t know how to say hello to my mother.”
Nayyirah Waheed

My mom and dad about 30 years ago
My mom and dad about 30 years ago

My relationship with Africa is not exactly like Waheed’s, but her words continued to ring in my head. I don’t know how to say hello to my mother. I in fact do know how to say hello to my mother in Yoruba. And yet, I feel so awkward saying it. And I wonder why…

Continue reading How to Learn Yoruba

Berry Gordy’s Blood

Don’t worry. The title is not a call to maim Motown Record’s founder.

Bernie Ilson, Inc., public relations, New York 16 December 1969
Bernie Ilson, Inc., public relations, New York
16 December 1969

I constantly think about family and the dynamics therein.

Thinking about family often, for some reason or another, gets me to analyzing The Jackson Five movie, interestingly and/or bizarrely titled, The Jacksons: An American Dream.

If your family was like mine, you have watched this VH1 special about 12 times. Maybe you have acted out the “I-don’t-want-you-or-your-damn-ice-cream” Angela Basset dialogue with your sister. Maybe you stroked your chin and sighed during several parts like, Man, did Michael have ANY chance of being normal?

If you haven’t seen this early 90s masterpiece, it’s about the making of The Jackson Five with heavy focus on the creation of the Prince of Pop. You see the dramatized ascent of the whole family from poor and struggling in Gary, Indiana to partying with Diana Ross; perfectly coiffed afros glistening in the sun.

You watch Joseph Jackson, the Jackson family patriarch, in all his controlling, ambitious, violent glory.

 Isn’t family kinda weird? These people you end up with? Even if your brother is your BFF or you were adopted from across the sea, the whole family thing is all so very random to me.

Some people, usually very woo-woo people, believe each person chooses their family (before they get to Earth) based on the lessons they want to learn in life.

So, say you wanted to learn about forgiveness. Well, then you’d pick a really f’ed up family to incarnate with so you’d have people to forgive. 

"So, just so we're clear...I chose you lady." Hurley, Frank, 1885-1962.
“So, just so we’re clear…I chose you lady.”
Hurley, Frank, 1885-1962.

It’s an interesting theory to say the least.

There’s a lot of triumph in the Jackson family, but there is a bevy of deep sadness too.  Even as a kid, I always felt for the fictionalized Michael Jackson character and all the hurt he went through. Especially the part with the pet mouse. (Always gets to me.)

In the movie, Michael develops a strong bond with the head of Motown, Berry Gordy and this is not an affinity Papa Joe likes.

It’s my blood running through your veins, not Berry Gordy’s!!!” Joseph Jackson yells and pushes a finger deep into a young Michael’s chest to make his point.

Family. The legacies. The stories. The joys. The hurts.

I often used to play armchair psychologist for Michael Jackson, analyzing his terrible life decisions in regards to the Jackson family dynamics.

My belief that I could actually analyze anything solely based on my viewing of The Jackson movie is laughable.

But maybe I played this therapist game for a bigger reason.

It’s all too easy to cast my views on some celebrity and ignore what phrases like You’re Just Like Your Mother or The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree mean to me

What ways was I ignoring my own family legacy?

I’ve watched The Breakfast Club so many times, it’s embarrassing. To this day, I can still recite about 85% of the movie’s dialogue by heart.

As a teen, I was all about the All Authority Figures/Parents are Terrible strain present in the film.  Now, that I see my parents as people, with their own inner lives, regrets, and dreams, my reading of this film is pretty different.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sxdm5ktwqk

There’s a lot of melodrama in The Breakfast Club and The Jacksons: An American Dream to wade through, but I do agree with one theme present in both films:

Blood is strong.

And by blood, I’m not simplistically meaning DNA (though genetic traits do have influence on who we are.)

I mean the familial unit, foster home, grandparent system, horrible aunt-and-uncle, etc,, etc., which we grew up in. This is what I think counts as blood.

So often we (read: I) are caught up in patterns, stories, ideas that strongly stem from our family line. And we’re so busy rushing through life that we forget to pause and take these legacies into consideration.

What did your family teach you about love?

About money? Sex? Power? How to raise children? Religion? What an acceptable career looks like? Beauty?

If we’re not living these views, we’re probably running like Usain Bolt away from them (which often brings us colliding right back into them like some masochistic boomerang.)

And the more important question: how do these views influence our lives today? 

I can attribute my questioning of Eurocentric beauty standards to one innocent comment made by my dad when I was nine.

I know that my fear of exhibiting anger comes largely from the way I saw it displayed in my own family of origin.

And I know that these two legacies are well alive in my life today.

I’m not of the “blame everything on the family” camp. I find such a gross generalization pretty annoying actually.

Still, I will never underestimate the power of “blood”.

John H. White, 1945-, Photographer
John H. White, 1945-, Photographer

I highly doubt Michael Jackson ever forgot that he didn’t have Berry Gordy’s blood flowing through his veins. And I doubt many of us have fully forgotten our own family origins either.

What we seem to forget is how strong these influences can be.

Taking account of our “blood” is the definition of being proactive; it means choosing what legacies continue and which ones die with as much compassion as possible. 

This is not a one-time process for most of us. It is a continuous unfolding with ups, downs, and valleys.

For me, family is a prism of warning and possibility.

What does family mean to you these days?

Love,

Hannah