View of the La Sal mountains from Professor Valley Field Camp, our Shadowboxing Retreat space.
View of the La Sal mountains from Professor Valley Field Camp, our Shadowboxing Retreat space.
I cried in yoga on Saturday morning. There I was, head resting on my hands in child’s pose, as our teacher read to us. “What if you are right where you need to be? What if you are divine? What if every atom that makes up your body is perfect? What if you are right exactly, here and now, just where you need to be.” As I listened to her voice the tears started to flow.
A little over two years ago, my husband and I decided that we were ready to have a baby. After years and years of trying not to have a baby, we made jokes about pulling the goalie and expected child to drop into our now-willing hands. I bought books and actually read them. I changed my diet (a little). I had to sit on my hands to not buy baby clothes because we weren't actually pregnant yet, but I started to see little, mini Vans and jumpers just waiting to fly off the shelves. I would walk along, wistful and dreaming. I could see his or her tiny little fingers curled around my pointer finger as we sat on the couch together to stare lovingly into each other's eyes.
We got pregnant on our second try. My husband counseled me to be patient, to intelligently wait until after the first trimester to start telling anyone, ever my loving protector. Our protector. The same day that my sister, who was also pregnant at the time, and I took our in utero babies to their first national park together, I started to bleed. At first I wasn't worried because I had bled before. But then the pain of passing a beating heart out through my body hit me. All I could do was breathe through the contractions, curl in on myself, my husband’s gentle and loving hand on my back, and sob. Just thinking about it makes my lower lip quiver. I saw the vision of a little girl, all blond curls and deep blue eyes, and I told her, “I will hold your hand as you leave my body. I am here for you. Everything is going to be ok. You will always be with us no matter what.” It became a mantra as I felt the excruciating physical and emotional process of letting go. I will hold your hand as you leave my body. I am here for you. Everything is going to be ok. You will always be with us no matter what. I could feel my nails return to their pre-pregnancy flimsiness. My gut went away. The estrogen returned. Day 1 of my cycle. I will hold your hand as you leave my body. For the first time in my life all I wanted was to get my gut back.
The doctor confirmed what the ultrasound tech had already told me. There was no little beating heart in my womb. “Don't worry,” she said. “Your body knows how to get pregnant. I am sure that I'll see you back here in three months or so. Please take good care of yourself.” Friends would repeat this to me, too. I really wanted to believe them but I was terrified. I built up a wall around me in an effort to protect myself. Yes, I really want a baby. And, I need to prepare for what life will look life if that isn't in the cards for me. Who will I be without the experience of those little fingers curling around mine, those nights around a campfire without my too-smart teenager to call me on my bullshit. What would I birth? Who would call me mother?
Next month, my husband and I will start IUI. The tears that flowed from my eyes on Saturday, dropping onto my mat, were tears of grief. Grief for the need to say goodbye to an old self who thought that if I just tried harder, or was more, that I could change things around to be exactly as I want them to be. Grief for the child who passed through me that day and who is forever laid to rest peacefully in the center of my heart. Grief for facing that which needed to die. Yet in that grief, the tears that flowed from my eyes were straight from the gut of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance for where I am, for who I am, for the fact that no matter what I am divine. Radical acceptance for the fact that in this life I am sometimes terrified that I don't know where to go, that there is nothing I can physically do to change the situation. For the fact that, given this, I rise. Yes. I rise. I am woman. I am warrior. I have been here before. My body knows what to do.
In the last moments of class, as I surrendered on the floor, a song piped through the speakers. “You can dance in a hurricane. But only if you are standing in the eye.” As the storm ripped through my body, as the rain of tears fell, as the wanting winds rage, I knew – I felt – that I was right where I needed to be simply because I was there. This is the eye of my storm. What is yours?
Having worked in politics for the last ten-plus years, I am often the friend that people turn to for advice on how to fight back. As the gravity of this administration and President Trump sets in, a resistance of equal measure takes root in all of us. It is a fire ignited in that place in our body that calls to us, that draws us out, to say “yes,” to doing what we feel is right. However, for many people who have little engaged in the political system before, it is hard to know exactly what that looks like.
Over the course of the past year, since stepping away from the Governor’s office, I have done a lot of deep thinking about how to raise effective resistance in our country. I have worked as the grassroots organizer, fighting from the outside-in. I have worked as a policy advisor to two Governors, fighting from the inside-out. I have seen the lightness and the darkness embodied by a system run by people, just like you and I, sometimes with grace, ease and integrity; at other times with manipulation, capitulation and a blind eye.
The farther away from politics I get the more time I have to breathe and expand. Like any demanding career, residing in the belly of the beast often doesn’t afford time for thinking, let alone a lunch break. The idea of nourishing myself was hard to come by, both physically and spiritually.
However, the change I have seen in myself runs deeper than time, exercise, reading books, finding joy. I no longer feel the exhaustion of how, under a President Trump, I need to yet again pick myself up off the floor and keep fighting for women, children, and meaningful action on climate change with what seems like a bent sword tilted to a windmill. In fact, this change does not come from thinking at all. It has nothing to do with my brain. Going inside of my body, I journey home to the seat of ancient wisdom that courses through all of us. The place that pulsates, ebbs and flows with the moon and beats to the rhythm of the earth. From that place, clear visions of the new world order and the pathway forward start to arise. From that place, I rise. The Warrior.
There is a truth emerging inside of me, inside of us. We need to do everything that we can to rattle the cages of Congress, to take a stand against zero-ing out funding for domestic and sexual violence, erasing stores of data tracking the effects of climate change and lies that attempt a fantastical re-write of our great nation’s history. Yet I have come to believe that we cannot win simply by fighting a male system in a male way. That is not winning, that is standing our ground. To grow, to expand, to transform, to birth the new nation, we need to go deep inside our collective female body. We need to go to the heart that dreams and the seat that weaves those dreams into a new reality. We need to realize our full power and potential as women in this world, asking ourselves what gifts we were born to give. We need to re-learn to trust that living our truth, giving our unique gifts, each and every day, in the grocery store, standing around the water cooler, is the only thing being asked of us. The more we continue to cover ourselves up, to drown in our own war with our bodies, to believe that we are not worthy, incapable, don’t have a voice, are not up to the challenge, the more we will ride this swinging pendulum back and forth between progression and regression. We will live as a reaction to the world around us and not as its creator.
Women, your time has come. It is for this reason and for this moment that you were put here on this Earth. Find yourself, feed yourself, and nourish your spirit, for we have a long battle ahead. But, whatever you do, do it. Nobody will fight this battle for you, but we will fight it with you. In community. With every ounce of every fiber of our beings.
We bow to you. We hold you in our hearts. Let us go forth. Together.
I am Warrior.
I am Governance.
Jen Jackson Quintano
I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately; specifically, the power of words. The need for words. Words as a weapon, and words as redemption.
I once had a dream in which I was deep in conversation with a fellow writer. In it, I told her, “Stories are like pearls. They start out with this single grain, but then this whole aura is built around them by and for the reader.” I had never considered this until I dreamed it.
The same is true for words. Words—especially powerful ones, loaded ones, uplifting or denigrating ones—enter our consciousness and roll around in there until we work them to smoothness with repetitive coating of our observations, beliefs, and values. We take in words, and out comes an understanding about ourselves or the world at large.
What does it mean, then, when our new leader’s language is “redundant, formulaic, aggressive, ‘post-literate,’” as The Guardian stated in its thought-provoking piece, “Donald Trump is changing our language. We need a vocabulary of resistance.”? What do his words mean for our senses of identity—both personal and collective? How do we develop a “vocabulary of resistance?” What does that sound like?
I think a fantastic first step is the Writers Resist movement whose slogan is #WriteOurDemocracy. Over 100 successful Writers Resist events were held last weekend all over the nation, from Tacoma to Taos, Memphis to Moab, all featuring inspiring writers speaking to the power of words and the importance of justice.
Writers Resist states:
To best protect and defend against further erosion of social justice and democratic process, we believe there are three essential arenas in which writers can best exert influence and inspiration. We must:
· elevate the narrative surrounding democracy;
· better educate young future citizens;
· and mobilize writers who want to put their pens into political practice.
However, I would challenge not just writers to take up this cause, but readers and speakers, too. Citizens of all stripes. Anyone familiar with words. Which is all of us. The most powerful vocabulary of resistance will not be born of linguists. It will come from our hearts.
What will your vocabulary of resistance will be? How you will elevate the narrative? Which word-grains will you toss into the world, and what pearls will become of them?
A language of resistance—an empowering vocabulary—will be an intentional one. It will not be off-the-cuff and unfiltered. This is the mentality that breeds phrases like “nasty woman” and “grab her by the pussy.” It’s the mentality that breeds disrespect for civil rights leaders, Muslims, entire nations, and fifty percent of the human population: women.
Let us instead hold the intention to be intentional. As the first of The Four Agreements states, “Be impeccable with your word.” Now, more than ever, this should be our citizen mantra. Now, more than ever, we need words that will return to us bright and beautiful pearls. Then, let us string them together in strands of stunning resistance. A glow that arises from our throats.
Jen Jackson Quintano
Otherness is a hot topic these days. Public discourse is full of comparisons of red states and blue states. Immigration is the issue du jour. We talk of the Muslim faith a great deal, both in terms of extremism and in terms of whether it’s okay to simply worship in our communities. Awareness of transgenderism has hit the mainstream. We are all fascinated by the Other. We want to know what makes the Other tick.
But we are also apprehensive. Much of our discussion of Otherness is fear-based. Mostly, we want to know how the Other – whether Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Mexican, transgender, or otherwise “different than me” – will affect our communities, our families, and our day-to-day lives. We fear change, and the Other represents change.
The radio program “This American Life” ran a fascinating episode a couple months ago titled “Will I Know Anyone At This Party?” The focus was largely on St. Cloud, Minnesota, and the town’s response to an influx of Somali immigrants. The newcomers did not fit in with their appearance, language, customs or beliefs. To many residents of St. Cloud, this represented a menace to their own appearance, language, customs and beliefs. Modern-day St. Cloud has a sense of identity – namely white, English-speaking and Christian, involved in bake sales and soccer practice – and the Somali community’s mere existence threatened this identity. St. Cloud, like all of us, wants everything to stay just as it is. We all have a tendency to develop a sense of self, and then we become rigid in it.
Most of us resist the notion that the nature of existence is change. But the truth is, nothing stays the same. The Other – just like erosion and entropy, birth and death – is an agent of this change. Everyone in St. Cloud descends from immigrants. Even the First Nations descend from people who walked here from elsewhere. Homo sapiens has been mobile for the duration of its existence on this planet; if not for this fact, the United States wouldn’t exist, and Mesopotamia would be a very crowded place indeed.
So with millennia of change informing our existence, why are we so resistant to it? Why is the Other so scary? There are many evolutionary and biological explanations for this, but I’m most interested in the deeper, interior reasons. I think a big one has to do with shadow. In short, our shadow is the part of our personality that is rejected by our sense of identity. Usually, we look at it in terms of the negative. If we have been taught that arrogance is a “bad” attribute, then any arrogance that we actually possess goes unseen. We deny that we are at all arrogant. That part of ourselves becomes Other.
Furthermore, when we encounter people who display the shadow element we deny, we strongly react with distaste, and we often do it with the same element that inspires the distaste. Thus, when interacting with an arrogant person, we may take on a holier-than-thou attitude, feeling superior for not being so arrogant. The Otherness inside us greets the Otherness outside us, and if we are not aware of it, the results can be ugly.
In the instance of St. Cloud, perhaps residents are fearfully rejecting the non-conforming Other because they fear the parts of themselves that don’t conform to the generally agreed upon community identity. They fear not being accepted themselves, so they reject the Other. I know this is an oversimplification, but I think it’s an important part of the equation.
We at Murmuration Community will be offering a women’s retreat this spring that focuses on these elements of shadow, fear and Other. In a country currently so fearful and divided – so focused on Otherness – it is time to delve inward to see where such feelings and responses originate. It’s time to greet the Other within ourselves so we can bring compassion to the Other that exists beyond us.
On my run this morning amidst the permafrost and last of the bird chirps and new snow on the mountains, I am reminded to ground down. I can feel our tribe all around me. I can feel a new wholeness on the horizon born by breaking, breaking down fear, showing up in life wholly as ourselves, with all our light and all our dark. Words take flight.
Governance is a hierarchical structure
To bend wills or to heal hearts
New ancient wisdom arises in the smoke that curls up from our prayers, having burned away the bad so we can enter in a good way, asking us who we want to be.
Who we are.
We sit in circle, inviting in our community, to participate in the way we shape ourselves as individuals and our collective heart, soul, living breathing body.
We move as a murmuration of a thousand birds that dance about the sky.
We take flight.
We breathe deeply.
We self care.
So that when we enter we can enter in a good way.
We ask the wisdom of our past to join us, our ancestors speaking to us through spirit and through the fibers that make up our inherent body wisdom.
We ask of the wisdom of our past to sit with us, to help us learn how to be with ourselves and with each other, for the benefit of all earths children and grandchildren to come.
So that we may live.
So that we may love.
So that we may blanket this earth as mother tucking her children into bed at night.
Jen Jackson Quintano
Margi and I hatched the idea of leading retreats together after fashioning a small one
for friends in Missoula. It was a four-woman retreat, replete with ritual, writing, and
opening our hearts in the safety of the circle. There was laughing. There was a dance
party. Over the course of the weekend, I rediscovered myself, my spark, my
dreaming self. It was powerful. It was necessary to my being – as necessary as food
and friendship. I didn’t even know I needed it until my hunger for it was sated.
When Margi suggested that we offer this experience to others, my heart erupted into
a million tiny exclamations of “Yes!” I could imagine no collaboration more
meaningful in my life. I could imagine no work more meaningful. I needed this, and I
didn’t realize my hunger for it until it was offered.
Not only is this an opportunity for us to help other women reengage with
themselves, their vulnerability, their dreams, and their power, but it’s a chance for
us to do the same. Again and again. And as we learn from the participants who join
our circle, we will have more to offer future participants. It’s a beautifully
constructed feedback loop that has the ability to touch so many.
The chance to work with my dear friend is a dream come true. I have admired
Margi’s career trajectory for over a decade. She is one of the most accomplished,
strong, confident, and intelligent professionals I know. When I have the chance to
hear her on a conference call, witness a presentation, or read a document she has
drafted, I am humbled. Then add to that the fact that she makes me laugh like no
other, that I have the best stories to tell from time with her (have us recount the
details of our 39-mile hike sometime), and that her vulnerability and honesty are
exemplars toward which I constantly strive…well, suffice it to say, she is amazing.
And we will be amazing together.
I look forward to the circles we convene. I look forward to sharing our unique
approach of depth and groundedness and youthful enthusiasm. I look forward to
collaborating with an amazing woman…actually, many amazing women. Because
that’s what this whole thing is all about.
The sage hangs in the air, the white smoke curling around our bodies. I walk out of the circle into the arms of the mother, the living, breathing forest bowing before the power of the sea crashing into the cliff face below. I can feel the power of misty salt water drops on my arms. I can feel the energy of place.
I turn to walk away, our weekend technically over. I step on the bridge as though traversing the landscape of ancestors long ago calling in the directions. As I wind up to the top of the hill I can see Biz packing up. Her head jerks left and right. Her shoulders tight against the muscles in her back. She tugged against the weight of the sandbags.
"May I help you?" I ask.
"Can you move all of these over there?" She asked back.
I look down at my feet and see it lying there. There, at the base of this massive elm tree, branches reaching out and flat, the leaves quaking like a baby's rattle. The sea crashing. The eucalyptus on my skin. The dream catcher guarding from a branch, moving with the music in the wind. I look down at my feet and see it lying there.
I can see the outside of our door. It comes from the pages of a Home Depot catalog. I can feel our bed beneath me. On the insides of my eyelids I can see his curls. I can see the lines on his face, the ones you can't see on an ultrasound at ten weeks. I tell him that I will lay with him as long as he needs me to, that I will hold his hand, and to go knowing that we will always be together. I look up and see the lines around my husband's eyes. I see the dark spot on his pillow, newly wet. "Are you sure?" he asks. I feel the brittleness come back to my nails and my breasts soften.
"Did you ever think it would be this hard?" I ask him.
I look down at my feet and see it there, the brilliant green weave of moss nestled in the cradle of ground. I kneel and place my hand over him. His resting place. The grave that I can come home to when there never was a body to begin with, just a bunch of gross shit I watched swirl into the toilet like bad live art before it disappeared into the sewer down below. We used to joke we'd name him Moss. Moss Hoffmann. Because it is always there where we come from. In ponderosa trees on mountainsides, thriving in pure oxygen and wild environments. Moss Hoffmann. Like a pro BMX biker. I kneel in the rage of not getting to know why and in the lightness of not needing to at all. Right now we are just together again. In the comfort and delight of having touched each other at all.
Good by, Mr. Moss. I'll see you soon. I'll be with you always.
You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of
the next moment. All the immense
images in me -- the far-off, deeply-felt
landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
unsuspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods--
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.
You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house-- , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,--
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and,
startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening...
Rainer Maria Rilke
Politics taught me a lot. In hindsight, politics helped raise me, taught me to always tell the truth, stand with conviction and that when I show up with authenticity people value what I have to say. Politics also pushed me in ways I could never imagine, stretching me and, at times, cutting me to my core. When I think about the decade that I spent living and working in politics I feel like I have done it all. Late night pizza manning the war room, deploying our statewide elections protection teams to monitor ballot counting statewide, sitting on a stage in Lima, Peru with heads of state waxing philosophical about how collective sub-national jurisdictional action can create a huge impact in combating climate change. I cried in an out-dated phone booth in the Oregon State Capitol when legislators tried to gut a bill I had fought so hard for over a period of six years. Looking colleagues in the eye, cracking jokes, maintaining wit and grace, sometimes successfully and sometimes not as we strategized our way into what we thought were answers to heal the world. I have fought like hell for what I believe is the betterment of our world, made a real difference in people's lives, and participated in starting to shift our economy, proving up a path not often chosen for its scary newness and risk. I also drank to much, struggled against my path and shadow, felt depleted and, at the worst of times, as though my life's work were all for not.
Over the course of the last year I began to realize the need for a slight shift in my integrated life work. I have slowly begun to dig out unread books, opened myself up to understanding things like how my menstrual cycle flows under the guidance of the moon, that I have a healer inside of me with things to say and a desire to show up in my life and in my community. I looked for a new job, started my own business and decided to spend more time with my family. This change has allowed me to dive more deeply into who I am and what I want in this life. It's allowed me to feel for the first time ever what it means to work, to do the things that I love, the things that fill me up and give me great joy, pure unadulterated joy. I get to take. I get to receive. I get to ask a new question each and every day. Dear, Wise Woman within, what shall we do today to achieve ultimate happiness, fulfillment and balance?
In this process I have learned about the divine feminine who has always been with me. I have realized that over the years, she is the one who has guided me, held me, rocked me to sleep, pushed me forward in rooms full of men, given me a voice, an opinion and helped me come into my full adulthood. In my experience working with women and men, I see every day this same potential in each of us. And yet, it's often something that we feel like we can't talk about, that we can't bring into our lives or work places, between the water cooler and the board meeting. Women throughout my career have often pulled me aside to ask me, "What is it?" "What is what?" I used to answer back. "How are you so you? How do you kick so much ass and navigate these boys clubs, climb so high, have a personality, speak up?" What their really asking me is how to be authentic, to bring their full selves forward each and every day, have the confidence to say what they mean and mean what they say, and not just get a job but find work that truly allows them to fly.
My story is not unique. And, while the journey has been everything from magical to incredibly difficult, it is not an elusive thing that I get to have and you don't. You have the power to empower yourself to be who you want to be and do what you want to do -- to be the Isis, staking out her ground. So, let's f*!$&*ng do this. Let's do IT. The BIG IT.