I read a story a long time ago, in the book “Woman Warrior: A girlhood among ghosts” by Maxine Hong Kingston. The book was so powerful for me that I wrote my thesis in college on some of its themes. The book is an autobiography of sorts in which Maxine tells the story of reclaiming her wholeness and her true identity while growing up in two different cultures with contradictory messages about women.
There was one story in particular, that she told about her mother’s past growing up in rural China. Her mother would tell her these wild and spectacular stories about her childhood. One of the most powerful stories in the book is about how her mother, as a young girl, is possessed by an evil spirit that lands on her chest and won’t let her breathe. The women living in the house with her begin to whisper her name and the names of all her ancestors over and over into her ear. The purpose? They believed that by doing this they would call her soul back to her after this “attack” she had experienced from this evil spirit.
And then later, as I learned about shamanism, I read how shamans will whisper someone’s name during trance into their ear to call all the fragmented pieces of their soul that were left along the way of living a life, back into the body.
And I knew. I knew what they were talking about. Completely.
This is an old photograph of me. 19. On a trip I took with my family to see the lands from which parts of my ancestry came. Where I stood in the church my great great grandmother was married in. And walked past skulls and bones of lives long forgotten, pushed into crevices in the walls when the church ran out of space. Creaking stairs with bone fragments crushed under our feet as we climbed the stairs to the turret.
Where I felt the pain of mistakes my predecessors made. Selling a beautiful piece of land on a cliff overlooking the ocean for quick, cheap money. A vision of growing old on that cliff in a little house, writing, slipping away from my hands. Letting old historical buildings fall into disrepair. Feeling the pain of the misgivings of people who are long gone while their choices linger for generations.
I remember a lot of things about this woman here. She was desperately trying to hang on to things she loved while being consistently resisted by a family member who suffered from narcissism and constantly cut her dreams down. She felt like a sprout trying to push through soil that was hard, mercurial, unwelcoming and rocky.
Right before the picture was taken she was told to push her shoulders up a bit, so that her stomach looked flat. Don’t let them see the tiny soft roll on your belly. No matter how thin I ever was, my stomach always wanted to be a soft place for a weary head to land.
The necklace she is wearing was one of the last ways she could rebel. It was her amulet of resistance. There was a family member on this trip with her. The one who had been appointed to be her greatest teacher, through pain, abuse and suffering. Through giving love and then taking it away. Through highest praises and sharpest criticisms just seconds later. The one who was so afraid of the power of this girl’s light, she didn’t know any other way to handle it other than to crush it in every way possible. It was a fucked up form of protection. It was a fucked up way to show love. But it was all she knew how to do.
This family member kept criticizing its ugliness the entire trip. She had bought it with her own money, even while this family member told her it was ‘weird” as the cash register rung. Ca Ching. That sound was the music of a tiny freedom she could claim for herself. Every time she wore it, her family member mentioned it’s oddness. Determined to take the last vestige of her own individual self away from her. The girl in the picture wore it stubbornly as the only symbol of resistance and sovereignty she had the strength to hang on to at that time.
She was on their dime on this trip, after all. She had to “behave”. She had to keep up appearances in the town where her ancestors came from, when they were welcomed.
In reality, she wanted to rip all her clothes off and run through the fields with the cows grazing. Sit and drink a beer with the laughing, wrinkly locals while watching people walk by on the street, get mud all over her legs and face as she baptized herself with the molecules from which her blood came. Instead, she went along with the itinerary. Longingly looking out at little towns she’d never get a chance to get lost in from the back seat of her car.
She was waiting to be free.
She did not know yet the power she possessed. She had big, big dreams. Of writing. Of inspiring others. Of being lost in gardens in England covered in mazes of roses, dreaming the day away by a river while observing a piece of grass, then writing poems about its intricacies. Of helping others overcome and believe in themselves with her words.
She thought she was “fat”. Felt shame and guilt over every morsel she enjoyed on her trip. Her family member’s eyes watching the fork leaving the plate and entering her mouth. Felt too large for everything around her, in every way.
She was trying so hard to win their approval. To be seen. To be loved as she was. But she had to keep bending to get the love she needed, like all humans learn to do. It was scraps and little sips of water but at least it was something. She was always settling for what she was told she could have with a sigh in her chest and a fire of resentment growing bigger by the minute.
But when she looked at those mountains behind her, she felt and tasted the possibility of another life calling to her from across the ocean. She saw herself walking among those fields, finally fully embodied. Comfortable in her skin. Belonging.
She felt her wanderlust awaken. She spoke the words in her heart to the wind. She heard her soul say to her: be brave. Trust your knowing. Be big. Be bold. Keep going.
She wanted the moment to be marked. So she could remember. She asked for the picture. Even while holding her stomach in as she held in the wild, unruly messy parts, the dangerous softness of her heart, something was born in her. A hope that there could be something different. Something that could be all hers, just the way she liked it. Just the way it felt good to her soul and down to her bones.
She is still on that journey. She is still mastering the art of being a Soul Whisperer. Still learning her desires are worthy of being named and lived. Still building freedom upon freedom. Still fighting for the authentic and full expression of all beings.
On that day, this picture marked the beginning of a journey that is still ongoing.
I am still reclaiming what was lost from all the generations before me.
I am still calling my power back, my soul back, every day.
I am calling back the sovereignty that my ancestors dealt away in a myriad of ways.
I am calling back the wildness, the lust for being IN the world, for mud on legs and faces, for wine and orgasms after late and long dinners, for daydreaming and wild hope burning in the heart.
I am calling back the exhilaration of not knowing.
I am calling back the light of daydreams.
I am calling back the reverence of pleasure.
I am calling back the right to feel good in one’s skin, a luscious sensuality in the curve of one’s thigh and hip.
I am calling back the wisdom of appetites and the holiness of lust.
I am calling back the right to say “this was my experience” and for that to be valid and true.
I am still calling it all back. To make the lost found. For me. For all of us.
May this heal the stories of all that came before us.
May this birth new generations who know how to truly be free.
My love, I’d love to know what this brought up for you and how this resonated. I really love to hear from you in the comments below.