Over the past three months we’ve journeyed through the Shapes of Women.
In Girl, we followed a 6-yr old’s experience as she discovered— with some horror— that she is part of the private and public world of womanhood, with all its miracle and demoralization.
Mothers & Daughters gave us a daughter who would break the life pattern of her mother and her mother’s mother in order to let her soul rest, breathe and consider that “A life is just a proposition you ask by living it, Could a life be lived like this, too?”
If you take the above question to heart, you will find life is fairly simple. Beware: there are people who would be happy to complicate life for you, people overladen with ideologies whose burden they would like to pass on. They would compel you to live as they do and propagate their culture because civilization, as they define it, rests on you. Others would tempt you to live without rules because, according to their rhetoric, that is the only freedom. Both of these are traps!
If civilization rests on you, it’s not because you are a woman but because you are an individual, and the individual is a portal through which shapes can arise or dissolve. In any case, civilization should not rest but evolve, for it is a collection of shapes, objects and patterns of behavior that are useful and celebrated in their time. If a civilization does not change, it means that life has been made static, that its people are the walking dead. Like Lot’s wife, they have turned to stone. Like Medusa, those who would plant us back in the past in order to “save civilization” would turn us all to stone.
This does not validate those who would have all civilization dissolved. The people in this camp profess their love of freedom, from all rules, but what they may want is the freedom to make their own rules, which they will, in all likelihood, given the history of political revolution, impose on you, once the competing rulers have been dethroned.
When the two most trumpeted choices are petrification and annihilation, you live in an atmosphere of insecurity. Petrification is no way to live and annihilation is no salvation. Between these two poles we move. Between these two poles, life takes shape.
As world-shaping individuals, no matter what shape we take, two drives lie underneath: the drive to survive and the drive to discover. The last three Shapes of Women posts introduced us to three archetypes (enduring shapes): Stone Witch, Eve and Medicine Woman.
Stone Witch is the part of us that capitalizes on the drive to survive and would turn us into machines (perfect daughter, perfect mother, perfect worker, perfect anything) in order to “save civilization,” or perhaps just to feel secure in an uncertain world. Alternatively, with the help of her male counterpart cast in the mold of Hitler, Stone Witch would facilitate superficial revolutions that cost human life and entrench authoritarianism. Whichever methods the Stone Witch employs, the governing principle is security at the expense of the fluidity that is life in motion.
Eve is the part of us connected to the earth, the fountain of all shapes. Eve would die to discover. She brings life yet accepts the dissolution of shapes as part of creation. Like Neruda’s mermaid, who arises out of the fluidity of a river, Eve comes out of innocence. Both mermaid and Eve meet a world of insensitive human beings who, due to intoxication or any other of Stone Witch’s petrifying survival mechanisms, cannot receive purity without mocking or marring it. They disfigure her and drive her away. The mermaid returns to the river. Eve, our creative innocence, squashed by insensitivity and ignorance, may do the same, if we do not receive her properly.
Medicine Woman is our instinctual and experiential wisdom, free of mental fixation and emotional sediment. She urges us to dissolve the Stone Witch, calling on the whimsy of fairy tales and the wisdom of inner voices, and bring Eve to life. Medicine Woman does not coddle. To the grown woman she instructs, “Get the poison out of your body!” To the little girl in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, sitting slowly petrifying in the waiting room of womanhood, she would say, “You are now a woman and the time has come for you to learn how to love like a woman.”
It can take a whole life to learn how to love like a woman. It can take a whole while to learn how to move in the world of shapes without disconnecting from the fluidity of life.
What are the shapes a woman takes then?
They are infinite, for all shapes are temporary, life in transition.
What are the ways to live?
The Traveller told us she travels to make new connections in her brain, to stay ahead of the mind’s tendency to herd a person’s thoughts into a tight, sterile loop that’s disconnected from the greater life experience.
The Writer urged us to write, not to take the edge off living but to live fully, to write for ourselves, write from our bodies, from beyond calcified culture, from below overreaching rules, where life is free-flowing, un-frigidified, un-petrified, un-manifesting and manifesting both.
Could a life be lived like this? That is the question your life answers.
Integration Project: Shapes of Women, Summer 2018
- Leaving My Father’s House by Marion Woodman (Jungian psychology)
Shapes: Medicine Woman, Stone Witch & Eve
- Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks by Pablo Neruda (poem) — Shape: Mermaid
- In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop (poem) — Shape: Girl
- Lot’s Wife by Anne Simpson (poem) — Shape: Pillar of Salt
- Good Bones by Maggie Smith (poem) — Shape: Diplomat
- The Laugh of the Medusa by Hélène Cixous (journal article) — Shape: Writer
- What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman (memoir) — Shape: Traveller
- Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (novel) — Shape: Medusa
- Motherhood by Sheila Heti (novel) — Shapes: Mothers & Daughters
It is deeply gratifying to have integrated and shared these works of art and literature with you.
Live Fully and Consciously,