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One of the most healing tools we have at our disposal is our ability to tell our stories through art. Some of us dance the pain out of our bodies and psyches, some of us paint, and some of us write. While I have done all three, my most consistent mode of expression is what I think of as “telling.” My telling involves my journal and my keyboard and a long and tender commitment to becoming whole by embracing all my broken places. As I’ve watched this current election contest spin out of control, my personal work has led me to see this election in the same archetypal terms that have helped me to understand my personal family dynamic. Donald Trump, in my scheme of things, represents full blown patriarchy, a system that both knowingly and unconsciously exploits and “conquers” groups perceived as outsiders. In our day, these groups include women, all people of colour, the GBLTQ community, people in poverty, and anyone who worships differently from the fundamentalist Christian faith designed by white patriarchs to keep these groups in physical shame and spiritual distress.
Because of my early childhood trauma, I came to address patriarchy full on when I was in my thirties and forties. I understood I had to undertake this task in order to heal from my personal father wound and a lingering sense of victimization. My father left me as a baby, my inner story went, and no one was there to “keep me safe, give me a name I could be proud of, teach me what it meant to be a woman . . . ,” and on and on. Formal therapy, undertaken because of a terrifying depression that took hold of me after I had achieved a major goal and was living my dream, helped me to find the context in which patriarchy played out in my personal life and in the larger world.
Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic nominee for President of the US, is and will continue to call out of all the dark places patriarchy’s last rampages. When we do our personal work, this contest takes on mythic proportions. No matter whether we are for Trump, for Clinton, for Stein, or continuing to cling to Sanders as our “saviour,” these current unsettling political times bring forward the personal work we must do regarding our personal belief systems. Do our beliefs shore up the status quo? Do they energize woman hatred in subtle ways? Do they continually play the race card? Whatever we feel and think politically sheds light on the personal work we are invited to do. If we do this work well – by examining and deconstructing our skewed beliefs – we will elect the most competent and experienced candidate; if we don’t, we’ll vote in reaction to our darkest fears and hatred.
With Barack Obama’s election came a wave of overt racism, the likes of which we have not seen since the fifties and sixties. In like manner, we will no doubt see overt misogyny rise to the surface now that Clinton has secured the Democratic Party nomination. There are signs, however, that patriarchy is crumbling. Fox News has replaced Roger Ailes, a man who consistently behaved as Archetypal Patriarch, contaminating the work place with degrading requests and views of women and other groups even as he gave Donald Trump a platform from which to spread fear and disinformation.
Happily, as Dylan sings, these times they are a changing. Eight years ago, Barack Obama reminded us, despite the obvious failings of an imperfect democratic system, we have reason to hope. And now, Hillary Clinton has stepped forward as our lightning rod. She took on the woman haters in 2008 and she takes them on now, with the difference that she is not taking them on alone. In the interim many of us have worked through a lot of our unconscious prejudices, largely because we could see Barack Obama move through the racist wall of hate with such amazing courage, intelligence, and grace. Now we get to watch Hillary Clinton do the same. What a privilege to be alive today, and to participate in our evolution out of patriarchy and into maturity, kindness, intelligence, and wisdom, these qualities creating an intersection of all empowered peoples.
If you are curious about what catalyzed my healing perspective regarding what I perceived as patriarchy’s out-sized privilege, please click the link below to read an excerpt from Learning, Loss, and Love, my unpublished memoir.
In therapy, once I cognitively grasped how profoundly wounded I’d been by my early hospitalization and subsequent unskilled reception into family life, I was excited to find myself in the flow of human experience and deeply comforted by the tenderness and compassion I felt for my young self as well as for my traumatized family members. Each session opened more dusty rooms in my psyche for careful cleaning. Almost every night brought healing dreams.
Therapy met my needs for intellectual concepts to understand attachment challenges, tools to centre me in my own life, and compassion to better relate to others. This deeper understanding also changed my world view. Stories of war, domestic violence, even mental illness became invitations to imagine back story – context. What were the people caught up in violence taught? How were they treated as babies and young children? Why were their values skewed to support alienation rather than interconnection? These questions served me well as I continued to evolve and heal from my early trauma.
After more than two years of intense work, my therapist and I mutually agreed it was time to formally end our therapeutic relationship. I was sorry to leave this oasis of learning and love I’d created with my personal wise woman, but I understood co-dependence very well and when the time came I gracefully accepted the challenge to spread my wings and go it alone, at least in the therapy sense. I spent the rest of the eighties consciously walking my healing path, developing friendships with people on similar healing journeys and seeking out books that continued to support my understanding of context.
Years before I began my formal therapy, I found Inner City Books, a Toronto-based publisher of Jungian studies. Through these books, I met a second spiritual mother, Marion Woodman, who became as important to me as I navigated early and middle adulthood as my English teacher had been during my high-school years. Because of Woodman’s on-going therapeutic influence through her books, I attended a creativity conference she and Robert Bly facilitated a few years after my formal therapy ended. This event turned out to be a pivotal event in my life, but not for the reasons I expected.
Robert Bly is a story teller of mythic proportions, but in those days, I had never heard his name outside poetry circles. I went to the conference expecting to be inspired by the woman who had penned stories of her analysands’ journeys into wholeness in The Owl was a Baker’s Daughter, Addiction to Perfection, and other studies. During the eighties, reading Woodman helped me heal my anorexia and my earlier alienation from my women relations by introducing me to the archetypal aspects of each person’s personal story.
I expected to be inspired by Woodman during the creativity conference, and I was. We were an audience primed for resonance with this marvelously compassionate and wise teacher and analyst. Bly, I expected nothing from having imbibed a lifetime of prejudice against privileged white men, and yet from the very first moments of the conference, I felt something profound regarding my relationships with men stirring in me. During an afternoon breakout session on the second day of our gathering, Woodman and Bly divided the men and women into separate groups. Woodman led the men into one room, Bly led the women into another. As soon as we were alone with him in what appeared to be an ordinary, twentieth century meeting place, Bly picked up his balalaika and whisked us into a parallel universe ever present and ready to infuse human perceptions with larger truths and insights. This parallel universe manifested when Bly began to tell us stories, strumming as he wove fairy tale after fairy tale into the history of men’s exile from the hearth.
As he sang and chanted and whispered, scenes he described unfolded, some from the enchanted world of Grimm, some from grimmer human history. As soon as he said the words Industrial Revolution, I imagined Tess and her fellow field workers in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, endlessly feeding “the red devil,” a machine that took their work as field hands out of the pastoral, seasonal rhythms of rural England and into the nightmare world of placeless, endless production. I began to weep.
I attended the 1989 conference alone, but as I sat among the women listening to this story of industrialized work’s brutal effects on men’s relationships within the family, I became a cell in the body of a single organism I had come to call Goddess. Every one of the participants appeared to be animated by a spiritual power, perhaps because Woodman and Bly intended for us to be touched in this ephemeral yet potent way. Sitting with my sisters, I sensed how we collectively embraced the unfolding story of men’s exile from the hearth; we were like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol. Bells were ringing. Bly’s perspective was cleansing our senses of negative prejudices.
Men, I understood during this suspended moment in ordinary life, weren’t benefiting from patriarchy any more than women were. In this system of bias in favour of white, middle class, and for the most part Protestant men, everyone was badly served. The difference was that men had been made the guards of the patriarchy prison if they were white and at the very least of the middle class in our supposedly classless society, whereas women, people of colour, LGBTQ, non-Christians, and the poor were made to serve this system.
At the end of his talk, I summoned the courage to speak with Bly privately. I thanked him, saying that in some mystical way I could not yet understand, he had restored my father to me. This claim, uttered without forethought, turned out to be truer than I could ever imagine.
From: Learning, Loss, and Love – A Memoir and a Tool Kit / Unpublished Memoir
I’ll explore more about healing from patriarchy – and our current election process – in future posts.
Until next time
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-533-9277
Jane is a Learning Coach specializing in neutralizing cultural age, gender, and race constructs to support learners of every age. To engage her coaching services, please contact Jane by phone (802) 533-9277 or email, email@example.com. Be sure to put Coaching Query in the subject line.