Her Dark Face
I think that one thing it's safe to say about those of us who are mothers is that we love our children. We could also say that as mothers we do the best that we can with what we have, with what has been given to us. I think it's also safe to say that what we are given as humans-becoming-mothers in our western culture is often not sufficient to keep our babies completely emotionally intact and heartfully incarnated. For some of us it is not always possible, especially the first time around, to keep our children completely safe from harm, safe from violence, shame, neglect, not just those threats which might come from the world around us, but also those which arise from within us as care-givers.
In becoming mothers in the world in which we currently find ourselves living, we are left relatively ill-equipped and unassisted in the soul work of becoming a parent, in attending to the task of raising a new-born human-being, who is completely helpless but for the capacity of us as parents to attune and attend in a profoundly selfless way to our children, even when we did not receive this attunement ourselves in our own beginnings of life. Often our own wounds of becoming have not been adequately tended to, and some of us are besieged with the afflictions of having been raised in a culture that abdicates our authentic, embodied sovereignty and purpose, for a submissive subservience to a violent, power driven and disembodied culture of suppression, control and avoidance.
Often it is the very act of becoming a mother or a parent that puts us up against the deep stories that we carry unattended within our own bodies. Certainly for me becoming a mother was the beginning of my awakening into all the ways I did not feel safe to be myself and also into beginning to discover the true power of my birthright as a woman. The touching up against that primal and visceral profundity that is the birthing journey left me forever changed, but the journey of discovering how to hold the capacity to deeply attune and attend to the needs of another on an ongoing daily basis, was long and arduous and not without its casualties.
The way in which I have unconsciously embodied uncomprehended feelings of grief, pain, shame and powerlessness in my journey as a human being, have at times impacted on my capacity to mother, and I understand that this has at times taken it’s psychic toll on my children. As a young woman I did not innately know how to selflessly and fiercely, deeply and profoundly give myself to the task of mothering my first born baby, glorious as she was. My heart was hers completely from the start and for always, but I had not been schooled in how to wholeheartedly surrender to the force of maternal love, that I definitely tasted in the oxytocic waves of my biological becoming of mother, but which were so deeply triggering to my own life-times worth of conditioned suppression of emotion, and within that the feelings of being deeply unsafe in my own skin.
There were implications to my exquisite daughter's capacity to wildly abandon herself to her emotional expression, through her crying as a baby, her tantrums as a toddler, her needs as a young child, that required me to sift and sort through the chaff and grain of my own acculturation and upbringing. It has taken an enormous amount of psychological work to unravel my embeddedness in a system that requires at it’s core, for our true wild feminine natures to be suppressed and controlled, in order that we can be manipulated as commodified entities in an economically driven paradigm that really has very little room for motherhood or for caring in general.
I have carried great shame and soul-loss over events that have occurred, primarily in my early years of mothering. I have struggled to own the times I have resorted to punitive approaches to conflict resolution; the times where my own lack of boundaries have put my children in unsafe places, unsafe relationships; using the power imbalances in our relationships as adult to child to dominate rather than befriend arising energies, to avoid facing my own shortcomings and lack of resource; all the times I have handled my children too roughly, with too much force, rather than deepening my breath and fearlessly embracing the unknown and the uncomfortable within my own psyche; all the times I have raised my voice; all the times my unconscious preoccupation has caused my children harm. There have been times when my own struggle for truth and autonomy have led me into dark places where my children would have felt the full weight of my unavailability, my lack of capacity to heartfully hold, so bound up I was in the internal wrestling with my own wounded inner child.
But I am wondering now if I can allow my deep love for the great primordial force of motherhood to grow and expand to accommodate all these short-comings, so that I can be more available to my own being in this life. I feel that I no longer want to hide from this story that lives inside me, but rather take a deep breath and give it voice. What if for a moment I entertained the possibility of accepting a more multi-dimensional quality to the role of motherhood in the shaping of a life? That as part of the terrain of being mother there is the wounding as well as the sheltering, the destructive as well as the nourishing qualities, the dark as well as the light aspects of Her holy face?
I feel that I am in the midst of this personal awakening to an acceptance and a re-homing within myself of this dark face of mother, her shadowy underbelly, the one who has wounded or damaged her children, as well as having offered them comfort and love, solace and care, because whilst the damage is done from that which is unformed or suppressed or distorted within our own psyches, I also see a deep distortion and indeed, a violence in what our expectations are of ourselves as mothers and the unattainable nature of our idealisations of the maternal imperative, which can leave us wallowing in a deep stew of shame and inadequacy.
I want to try on for size a different personification of mother, one which can hold two equally potent expressions and a myriad of shades in between, the all-giving nurturer and also the death-wielding destroyer. A primal and ancient part of my psyche knows both of these faces and when I can take a step back and embrace a more accepting and compassionate countenance, I can see that both of these faces are in fact life-giving, and necessary for the growth and evolution of our kind. I am trying on the mask of this dark mother and finding she sits with a potency and alchemical frisson that liberates life-force energy within me. This dark and destructive face of mother is a natural part of our inheritance as women, to accept on a most intimate level that her terrain contains both light and shadow, to disavow the duplicity of espousing her virginal and pure aspects over her chaotic, instinctive imperatives, thus coming to belong more deeply to ourselves as whole and complex humans.
I mean in no way to condone or excuse the mistreatment of the vulnerable, but rather to liberate the reality of motherhood from the petrifying ideal of the all-giving, all-nurturing provider of love and care that actually creates even more separation and trauma in the psyche of woman. In truth my heart is always asking me to find a deeper expression of my love for those in my life and in my care, but what if I extend that life-giving accommodation that I aspire to in the care of my children to my own self first and foremost, to be forgiving and tolerant, rather than punitive and dismissive, in regard to the behavior that has presented in my journey to becoming a more compassionate, aware and awake human being. Perhaps it is only now, having journeyed so deeply, and for so long, with my healing of this shadow side of motherhood that I am truly able to distance myself enough to see it. This story has been the main catalyst for so much soulful digging and delving into the far reaches of my being and I am now finally feeling a deeper resonance with the great evolutionary journey of learning how to love.
Perhaps the darker aspects of the archetype of Mother only become destructive in the absence of their free expression, in the suppression of their life-giving imperatives and attributes. It is perhaps in the absence of these powerfully embodied, instinctual qualities of the feminine principle that our fear and shame turns violent and punitive, as a secondary response to the lack of that potent, healing and transformational alchemy of our full spectrum of expression and experience of our wholeness, of our fierce boundaries and soulful attendance to the needs of the self. I feel it is this imperative to be whole and fully expressed and in possession of a powerful sense of self knowledge that our culture fails to school us in, as we journey towards parenthood. Indeed perhaps it is this imperative to autonomy and internally sourced power that is in fact overtly suppressed, enabling the passing on of destructive coping mechanisms, formed in response to our own impotence and rage as a suppressed people, caught in the viscous cycles of intergenerational trauma.
So...I am endeavoring to take responsibility for the ways in which I see that I have inhabited She Who Wounds, harms, abandons, neglects, betrays, does damage to the precious life that is placed in her care, because this is a part of my story and also I think, a part of our greater cultural narrative. As I understand the ways in which I have perpetuated energies of suppression and control upon my children I am also embarking upon a crusade of equal measure, to deeply forgive myself for this inhabitation, because what this situation requires to the least degree is more shame. Shame can be such a festering disease that poisons the vulnerable and the traumatized while leaving the overarching paradigm of a brutalizing culture unhindered, unaccountable for the soul loss it inflicts on those who are wounded within its midsts. Can I accept and bring a deep compassion to bare upon myself, not just as the abused but also as the abuser, and beyond that can I be the bringer of the love, compassion and kindness that was the missing requirement from the beginning? Can I be both the wounded and the source of the wounding, as well as the balm that heals the wound?
I am endeavoring to see myself as a player in a vast interplay of energies, where the wounded go on to wound, until this cycle becomes so excruciating that we begin to wake up. The beginning of this waking up for me is this taking of responsibility. I am finding it takes a great courage to squarely shoulder the blame for the pain that has flourished from one's own hand. It requires a great presence to not justify and defend but to just sit still, in the discomfort, feeling the weight of it in the body. I have come to see that this weight is fully mine to bare in this moment, in this life, not in order to more deeply punish myself but rather to cease asking it of my children to make this situation okay for me, to cease asking them to collude with me in protecting me from fully seeing the truth of my own participation in cycles of pain and impotency. I need to carry the full weight of it so that I do not have to be invested in their lives in an inhibiting way, with the stifling imperative for them to be good, in order that I can know that I was a good-enough mother, as though my salvation were their salvation. I realise that I don't have to use them to feel okay about myself, and use my investment in their wellbeing as a way of avoiding taking responsibility for my own part in this perpetuation of pain. I feel that if I can forgive myself, which I find when it comes down to it that I can, for my perpetuation of abusive cycles, I do not have to ask them to do the work of forgiveness for me, liberating them to use their own life force to tend to the consequences of their own wounds, and ultimately their own healing.
The answer for me, as I see it as one of the walking wounded, has not been to remove myself from the task of mothering, institutionalizing it’s imperatives as our culture would encourage us to do, but instead to firmly shoulder the responsibility for healing this paradigm of lack and separation, from the inside out, by claiming the life-giving aspects of Mother, both the gentle and selfless, and the fiercely clawed and toothed. Coming to embody the intimate immersion and the boundaried differentiation, so that I no longer need to fall into the paralysis or violence of the more shadowed realms of her inhabitation.
I see the ways in which I have colluded with my culture to attempt to inhabit a one dimensional caricature of the perfect mother, how I have punished and withheld love from myself for my inability to maintain this unattainable illusion, how this has had at times wounding impact on my children. I believe most powerfully in our capacity as human souls to see and to heal and to atone and to repair the unconscious damage we do in our living. Through these musings I am attempting to reclaim myself as the flawed and messy and passionate and loving mother that I am, so deeply full of wounds and scars but so fiercely in love with my children, and so ravenously hungry to belong to myself and to my tribe and to this life in a way that enables a deeper resonance of kindness and truth, tender care and raucous expression of life becoming more of itself, through the generations of our human awakening.
Image and text © Lucy Pierce © 2017