Staying Means Leaving

Staying  (Part 1)


I find I am distracted


By nappies and sudocream

Wiping, and a rash

That keeps the baby awake

And me, too

Still.  We stay.

Accepting all offers of help

When we are wise

While pretending self-sufficiency; claiming island status

When we are not

Staying too long

The well runs to dust

And my soul gets brittle and bitter

Dried from the inside out

Stretched thin and incapable

To sustain the demands of nourishing

Staying too long

I break in half

Running headless and….heedless

Repeating the endless mistake of this gendered body

Staying (Part 2)

Staying, in truth

Means leaving


The periodic return

That makes life…. fresh

Brightly sustaining and Always New

Staying is the dive down

To the ocean floor

A depth that oils our skin

Shines our hair

Restores our lustre

Till we,

Plump and glowing

Emerge out the surf to bask

Bellies round and glistening,

In the sun


This poem was inspired by a return to Chapter 9 in Women Who Run With the Wolves.  This book is a true gift, one to return to again and again, as different parts of it resonate with different parts of the life course.  I remember being particularly captivated by the lessons of Skeleton Woman and Chapter 5 when I first read it nearly 10 years ago.  Since then other stories have emerged; responding to and enabling reflection on whatever stage of life I’m at.  It’s a magical book in this way, a shifting landscape that is travelled through time and time again in order to learn the topography and access the lessons offered by it.

In Chapter 9, “Homing: Returning to Oneself”, Clarissa Pinkola Estes deftly weaves together an Inuit story of a seal woman who becomes the wife of a human man, but must return to her seal skin pelt and the depths of the sea in order to live, with the psychic needs of women to periodically ‘return’ to their soul home; the space that sustains and nourishes them.  Though this is a lesson that is important for men, as is much of Women Who Run With the Wolves; there is something about the story that urgently addresses itself to women’s acculturation as ‘nourishers’, frequently at the expense of thier own health and happiness: a sacrifice which receives much affirmation from a wider culture that labels this nurturing martyrdom as the natural behaviour of good women.  It is nothing of the sort.  Neither natural, nor nourishing.  In order to, ‘live among humans in a resourceful manner’ (1992: 265), women must nourish their own ‘wildish nature’.  It is a dialectic; a perpetual movement between the outer and inner worlds.

The pelt in this story is not so much an article as the representation of a feeling state and a state of being – one that is cohesive, soulful, and of the wildish female nature.  When a woman is in this state, she feels entirely in and of herself instead of out of herself and wondering if she is doing right, acting right, thinking well.  Though this state of being “in one’s self” is one she occasionally loses tough with, the time she has previously spent there sustains her while she is about her work in the world.  The return to the wildish state periodically is what replenishes her psychic reserves for her projects, family, relationship and creative life in the topside world.

Eventually every woman away from her soul-home tires.  This is as it should be.  Then she seeks her skin again in order to revive her sense of self and soul, in order to restore her deep-eyed and oceanic knowing. (1992:265)

How do you know when it is time to “Return”?  Pinkola Estes links this to being adequately initiated.  The fully initiated adult woman knows when she is required to leave and do this work of replenishment. She does not permit her reserves of energy to be stolen from.  She gives of them freely, and restores them when she needs to.  Uninitiated, or incompletely initiated, women, are stolen from again and again because they do not realise the requirements of a healthy soul.

Again and again I find myself at the point of dried out exhaustion.  But I am getting better at seeing it coming.  I was there last night.  Utterly used up by the myriad demands of the life I have made.  I was trying to sleep because I need to rest in order to keep giving.  This kind of self-talk is always a dead give away that the rest you are giving yourself is not the right kind because it remains connected to an external   requirement to keep giving without replenishing.  I got up.  Fetched some frozen yoghurt and watched an episode of The Wire.  No judgement here!  I have no doubt that the ways in which I replenish myself will shift and change, but last night some dessert and a damn good story did the trick.

Jagged Edges in The West

Sometimes we have to leave it.  For real.

I find myself irritated and dry.  Over-full, not with an over-flow of love, but the clutter of unfinished business and stuff and the debris collected over generations.

No time to finish any of it.  No sense of pulling together, in the inner and outer world, to clear the decks of this boat.

I snap.  Easily.  Quickly.  Brittle people are like that.

This fragile balance gets upset easily by broken microwaves, convenience deprivation, changing clothes over, unfinished D.I.Y, the fact that I have cracked my little toe and this tiny injury is rendering me incapable of pulling off the super woman act I put on most days.  Funny how the body gets its own back……   So I am in this state of being crippled by a silly injury and still trying to get things done. Trying to get stuff clear, you know?

Wow.  Head for the long exhale.  Jagged edges never got smoothed with a blunt knife.

In my tool box I have been given an way to explore into presence.  This is a gift, if only I remember it’s there.

So.  What am I thinking right now?

(I’m sick of not having the time and space, literally and metaphorically, for me.  Clarify me.  The things I need to do in order to be supple and nourished, as opposed to brittle and bled dry.  Note the ‘sick’.  Insert ‘broken toed’ if required.)

What am I feeling right now?

(I’m feeling irritated.  Jumpy.  Physically agitated.  Dry, dry, dry to the point of itchiness.  I am itching!  Itching for a fight, for action, for whatever.)

What do I want right now?

(For everything to be in its place.  In my house.  in my head.  On my desk.  A helpful, smooth running household.  In the outer and inner world.)

This tool helps to ease the itch.  I will not go into the living room now and pick a fight with my partner, my sister or my children.  I won’t be the moody, aggressive one on the streets, projecting paranoia onto passers by.

I have been gifted another tool.  Asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’.  Asking why? can put me in a big old maze that I can stay in for years.  Asking what? gives me the power to name and release, and I mean that.

What happened today?

I have been granted a maternity extension to my thesis, giving me and extra 7 months to finish it.  This is a more realistic time scale for getting it done right.  I tried sitting down and planning how to use that extra 7 months this morning and it made me so angry!  In the last few months I have re-discovered passion and excitement for my work, but at this moment it was gone.  This was resentful anger.  Planning the next 7 months around this thesis, which grows in it’s demands for more of me with every extension I get, I hate it for dominating my time.  How it sucks up space, energy, time.

Like….. life can’t start till it’s done.

And I am done postponing my life!

So I switched from thesis as reflection of my inner world, to house as reflection of my inner world.  I started trying to clear things out of cupboards, finish D.I.Y, toss out old clothes, organise paperwork.

With a broken toe and a sick baby (my son has croup right now so it’s been sleepless nights for a week)

No really.  Writing this I wonder at my insanity.  What do I doubt about my worth that I have to do all this proving of my abilities?  Is it not enough to be limping with a sick baby to look after and a 4 year old on school holidays, operating within a patriarchal, capitalist framework that won’t let my partner take family leave without losing part of his wages?

As I tried clearing out the stuff I felt MASSIVE resistance.  And I love a good clear out.  Not today.  Physical inhibitions extended into my mind.   I felt this misplaced, misguided clinging to these old, no longer useful to me, things.  Our tiny flat seemed unbearably crowded now with superfulous things and unfinished work.

Because there is so much to finish, it is too much.

This makes me want to throw everything away.

But then I can’t distinguish between useful and un-useful, not in the state I’m in!

(A little voice in my head speaks to me and says, what is stopping you from having a rest right now?)

I hold onto this state of limbo.  These things.  This work.  I hold onto all of it with resentment that I am holding onto it.  I refuse to consider the possibility of putting the load down for one day to rest so that I can restore the physical capacity to do the work, and draw on the support of others when they are at home to help.

The i ching has a wonderful hexagram in it that comes up again and again in my dealings with it.  It is the one that says, hey, the hour is not beneficial sister, if you think the forces are against you, it’s because they are!  Lay your load down and stop doing.  Conserve your energy.  Then, having rested, you will arrive at a more beneficial hour for taking action.  Keep pushing against the tide, and you’ll be too exhausted to notice even when a more beneficial hour arrives and punches you on the nose.

Taking a breath, I apologise to those I belong to who are closest to me.  On whom I have unleashed my irritation and frustration.  They are gracious and accomodating.  They urge me to drop it, and just rest.  No big deal.  Sometimes resting is the work.

Asking What? allows us to untangle the impossibly complex web of Why?, transforming it into a description that releases through naming.

It’s time to return to my work.

Music appears by magic.

For real.

To get the tools, check out ‘Wheel of Initiation’ by Julie Tallard Johnson.