- That I had been living as if my life was a sacrifice, and that I no longer wanted to be a sacrifice.
When I was growing up, I was the oldest of six children. The second-to-oldest, a brother, was able to escape our emotionally and physically chaotic household on the weekends and in the summer by taking off on his bike. He would go exploring on his bicycle miles away from home - in the parks, streams, ponds, wooded back lots and other out-of-the-way places near our developing, working class subdivision. I yearned to go with him, to escape the overwhelming distress at home, but never felt I could. There were all of these other, younger children at home needing protection. And so I stayed, to keep an eye out for them, and because I was sure that girls were supposed to stay at home. So I grew up believing that my place was close to the hearth, no matter where my heart yearned to be. That others' needs came first, and mine came last. And that there was no way to help others and also meet my own needs. I was supposed to be a sacrifice – that's what it meant to be a girl, and later, a woman. Unfortunately, this view of myself was only encouraged by prevailing religious and cultural attitudes until I was well into adulthood. This is not to say that I regret keeping an eye out for my younger siblings, or teaching special education children, or taking care of my own children, or doing healing work. But it is to say that I no longer believe that I must sacrifice myself in order to help others. In fact, I must feed my own soul in order to help others. I must receive healing in order to do healing. I must receive nurture in order to nurture. I must hang out with Spirit in order to help others find their way to their own experience of Spirit. I may choose sometimes to give away some aspect of my existence for the benefit of others: comfort, income, or leisure time. But this is a very different thing from sacrificing my soul, my evolution, and my innermost being. I will never again be a sacrifice.
- That the world wanted my gifts, not my sacrifice.
This was one of the biggest, most surprising, gifts of grace that came to me during my healing process. When you believe you were born to be a sacrifice, it is a shock to learn that others outside of your closed system don't have the same expectation. I learned that my friends and Friends did not really expect me to use myself up on their behalf. In fact, it made them rather uncomfortable when I did so – even though they accepted the gift of my service, often with grace. At the time, I could not understand their discomfort. I thought that they were just more interested in being comfortable than in joining me in my sacrificial approach to living a life of witness and integrity. And while there might be a seed of truth in what I perceived as the pull on them to remain comfortable, I believe now that my friends and Friends detected, correctly, that because there was little joy in my witness, there was no Life in it, and so it did not attract them. But when it came to supporting me, some were more than generous. These friends wanted me to fulfill my destiny, walk my path, find my dharma, live into my calling. They helped me by calling out my gifts. And then they thanked and assisted me! And still do. It is one of the foods my soul thrives on, to have my gifts recognized and called out by my communities, to experience the cloud of witnesses surrounding me as I respond to a call.
- That being nice was killing me.
That whole sacrifice thing also translated into swallowing my voice. I tried to "soften" my feelings by presenting them in an indirect and, frankly, a dishonest way. Not having grown up in a household that helped socialize me in positive ways, I had no idea how to communicate honestly, with kindness. When I went to college, I observed lots of nice coeds who seemed to be getting along with each other. Many of them – the ones I admired – were expert at hinting at things – and the others would get the message and just automatically desire to please them and change their errant ways! Wow! It all looked so easy! So I learned to express myself "nicely," hoping for the same outcome. Unfortunately, I think I was sitting on a lot more distress than these nice coeds may have been. But I never, ever expressed it – until I was filled to the brim with resentment and even hatred, and some poor being would provide the "straw that broke the camel's back." Then the volcanic explosion! But these were just small releases compared to the amount of distress that was roiling beneath the surface – distress that I was turning inward, in my relentless quest to protect the world (now from myself and my anger) and to be a sacrifice. In time, that distress turned inward became my friend and teacher, rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which the body attacks itself. "Wake up! Wake up!" said RA. Being a sacrifice, turning my anger inward on myself rather than addressing the people and issues that made me angry – was making me very, very sick. Being nice was killing me.
- That power is neither bad nor good, and that I can use mine.
My good friend, Yarrow, once invited me to join her on a shamanic adventure to be led by a Peruvian teacher in the Canyon de Chelly, a canyon which is sacred to the tradition of the Navajo people. This was a special opportunity, a week-long experience of hiking, shamanic journeying, ceremony and teaching, and it was going to occur on the canyon floor. White people can only enter Canyon de Chelly through the services of an authorized Navajo guide, and we were going to be camping on such a guide's own land, deep within the canyon. I jumped at the chance, even though I was unfamiliar with the teacher, Jose Luis Herrera, or his tradition. When I met him, I liked him very much. He was warm, unassuming, hard working, and an interesting combination of masculine and feminine traits which Yarrow said was common of men from the shamanic traditions of the Andes, and which I found very Quakerly. One evening, during the teaching session, he referred to power as something that one could gain and use. I felt myself recoiling even at the use of the word, and even though none of this man's behaviors indicated he was talking about dominative power, power that has been exercised over people. Neither was he talking exclusively about what I knew as the Power of God – the Power that gives life and breath. As I came to understand him, he was talking about the union of that Power with the power of the Earth, whom he experienced as a living being and whom he called "Pachamama." To the power of Love and Life he was adding the power of the elements, the power of the weather, the stones, the animals, the waters, the sky and the lights within the sky. He was talking about a power that also resides in human beings, simply by virtue of living in a physical body that is inhabited by spirit. And he was saying that we all have access to this power, that we can learn to use it, and that it can be used or misused, much like any other power such as electricity or fire. He said that a shaman seeks to augment his or her power! And why would a shaman do that? For personal fulfillment and evolution, and the benefit of the community. What a revelation for one who had been giving away her power by the basketfuls all of her life! What a revelation for one who has yearned to flee a chaotic childhood by running to the woods, ponds, and starry skies!
Since Canyon de Chelly, that is what I have committed myself to – reconnecting with the living stream of power that is available to all of us. This power originates in two places: in the rarified atmosphere where God lives, and in the denser environment of Pachamama. It is a stream of power that flows from Spirit, through me and into the Earth, and back again from Earth, through me, to Spirit. I am now certain that there is no more room in this body for any illness that deprives me of that power, that my body and spirit are capable, together, of the greatest transformation of all, the reclaiming of my essential wholeness; and that I am an integral part of the transformation of a wounded world into a healed one.
© 2010 Merry Stanford