Friday, April 6, 2012

witches and yogis: lining up my people in times of trouble

"In times of trial and tribulations, I line up my line of people," mused my therapist in last week's session. She went on listing sever spiritual leaders, some poets and a few philosophers. She explained that in situations like my own where there are no parents to "hold you" and "call you forward," one can find other figures to provide that sense of safety and support.

This sentiment makes such good sense to me; I left our session with a profound sense of hope. Until later in the week, I found myself floundering. Because, who are my line of people? Have I failed to do my homework here? Am I that alone?

Then again, there are some books I've read in times of going inward that have felt particularly meaningful to me, resonating in profound ways. And these books have provided me with a sense of encouragement and reassurance that I am okay and things will be fine. During my session with my therapist, I had enthusiastically exclaimed that I could bring up those books from the basement, stack them on my shelf, and return to one of those each night. Not feeling obliged to read all at once, but looking to these books as one would look to a wise elder.

This past winter, I read Wise Child for a book club I'm in with a group of fellow mama friends in town. It's a young adult fiction novel set in medieval Britain about a young girl orphaned by the death of her grandmother, and who becomes the ward of Juniper, the village wisewoman, healer, midwife and seer — a doran, referred to by the villagers as a witch. I read the novel twice. Once for the plot, then once more for its lessons. I read it in bed, wanting to curl up in the warm presence of Juniper; I wanted her to be my mom.

There are two climactic points of initiation in the novel, bringing the Wise Child to the realm of wise women. The image of a nighttime ceremony at a location much resembling Stonehenge where all the wise women gather in circle celebrating the interconnectedness of all life was particularly powerful to me. Because though I don't really have a Juniper in my life, nor all the people that my therapist named to me, I can imagine a sisterhood of wise women somewhere out there; a sisterhood that transcends time and place and that can pull me forward as kind, wise women and elders do, offering encouragement and reassurance, a sense of safety and support.

So these days, I'm evoking the sentiment of that image. And I take refuge in yoga. I am still reading Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, and though I still cringe at some of what Claire Dederer writes in this memoir, I am also finding many points of connection and empathy. In some sense, Claire and I are both floundering novices desperately seeking some comfort and wisdom to help us through the day. By practicing the poses, "honed and refined over thousands of years ... a safe harbor." And by learning from other, wiser, more practiced yogis than us, yogis who have brought forth the practice and philosophy of yoga through centuries.

My yoga mat provides me with a sanctuary; a surrogate for that mama lap I still crave. Up till now, I've always felt a little sad for myself that all I have is a surrogate. A mat. I think it's time to ditch that self-pity and feel good for myself for having that mat, and at least a few good voices speaking wisdom to me, in person and through books — my people. I used to think I had to be my own mom to make up for the one who failed me; I would imagine myself sort of patting myself on the shoulder. I used to tell people, with no small amount of smug self-satisfaction, that that's what I'd come to do. In reality, this only made me feel rather sad for myself; left alone to myself on the side of the road with everyone else driving happily by, they feeling safely held and comforted in their grounded comcompanionships. But I'm not alone; I need only call forth my line of people.


  1.  A lovely post, Anne, thank you. It's not just those without parents who
    need surrogates. Sometimes when roles get reversed those of us with
    parents need surrogates to help us cope with the pressure, worry, grief
    and anger as we helplessly watch out parents or other loved ones we've
    counted on suffer as they count their remaining days. I've been
    pondering the help of yoga and ways to connect better with my body and
    your post is a real inspiration to me.

  2. So true, Helga! Thank you for sharing and for your kind words.

  3. Touching post as always, Anne. Especially resonating to me this time, definitely struck a cord with me. The mat is such a haven though, the only truth and an opportunity to find some quiet space inside. Hope you and your family find some lazy Easter days:-)

  4.  Yes; and thank you, Gine! And you too!

  5. Jeg vil ihvertfall alltid være søsteren din, Anne, så noe familie har du jo! :) Stor klem fra Hege og stor takk for praten i går! 

  6.  Takk, kjære Hege! Og i like måte; det er gjensidig! Det var så kjempe deilig å snakke med deg i går;  men jeg glemte jo helt å spørre om hjernerystelsen!! Vi snakkes snart igjen. Så glad for at jeg har deg, Hege, kjære venninne og søster! Stor klem!!


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