Mothering Ourselves

A blog post, on the tenth anniversary of my mother’s transition, dedicated to Brittney Griner, and all incarcerated women and girls, in need of our mothering selves.

10 years ago on this day, Mama transitioned. I had watched her dying, the spaces between breaths elongating, her chest risings and fallings ever-so-slowly, the blood fading from her fingernails, whitening. It was such a graceful and beautiful transition. She has stayed close to my spirit, reminding me she is my angel, and still mothering me from a distance, but nothing can replace a mother, a mother’s cooking, a mother’s hug, a mother’s love, a mother’s bed, a mother’s house, a mother’s smell.

I realize, though, we have a responsiblity to better mother ourselves.I tried to do that this summer, and I am committed to that journey of not only mothering myself better, but also mothering others, and mothering the world. I went on vacation:

On vacation, I took too many books to read, almost a suitcase on to itself. But, I had to read, I had to escape the pressure of life, the pressure of trying to answer seemingly unanswerable questions:  the what, why, and how of life. 

What matters and why?

What is my purpose and why?

Am I doing enough?

What is enough?

As women and mothers and activists, we have a significant ongoing burden and lift.  Women are often the face of a cause, a commitment, a movement.  And, we have a responsibility to keep going, to actualize our potential, to manifest the gift for which we have been sent on this life journey.

Alice Walker – sent to be a writer.

Viola Davis – sent to be an actress

Suzanne Simard – sent to be a scientist

Shani Jay – sent to be a priestess

Brilliant women sent not only to be, whoever they were designed and divined to be, but also to share. To authentically and honestly share their journeys in writings with others and I am ever the more aware and transformed because of them.

Finding the Mother Tree reminded me about the power of mothers, and the knowledge of Native and Indigenous people, who lived and knew, without needing the White man/woman to “study and write,” what was passed on through generations of living life.  But, because we have silenced their voices, we are dependent on others to share the secrets and lessons. 

The lessons from Mother Tree:

  1. Give back like Mother Trees:

“Mother Trees can truly nurture their offspring. Douglas firs, it turns out, recognize their kin and distinguish them from other families and different species. They communicate and send carbon, the building block of life, not just to the mycorrihizas of their kin, but to other members of the community.  To help keep it whole.” p. 277.

We have to define offspring so it is not just kin, so that we can keep humanity whole, sharing “life energy” and wisdom to help sustain life.  There is an interdepedency to life and a mystery that we have to embrace.

2. We are all related and we are one. 

“We are tied to the land – the trees and animals and soil and water – and to one another, and that we have a responsibility to care for these connections and resources, ensuring the sustainability of these ecosystems for future generations and to honor those who came before. Of treading lightly, taking only what gifts we need, and giving back. Of showing humility toward and tolerance for all we are connected to in this circle of life.” p. 294.  “Trees, like people, animals and fugi, all nonhuman species … perceive, relate, and communicate; they exercise various behaviors. They cooperate, make decisions, learn, and remember, qualities we normally ascribe to sentience, wisdom, intelligence.” p. 294. 

3. Compassion is part of life.

She writes that “plants are attuned to one another’s strengths and weaknesses, elegantly giving and taking to attain exquisite balance….There’s grace in complexity, in actions cohering, in sum totals.  We can find this in ourselves, in what we do alone, but also in what we enact together. Our own roots and systems interlace and tangle, grown into and away from one another and back again in a million subtle moments.” P. 179-180.

4. Our greater callings have sacrifices.

Suzanne’s passionate calling to understand the language of trees was not without challenges: her cancer journey, her sacrifice of time with her children and partner, her brother’s death. No one’s life is pain and sorrow free. We may not always know their journeys, but the human experience is full of highs and lows. We need to remember to spend time with those with love, with our friends and family.

And then, I read Alice Walker’s 500 page memoir.

Alice Walker gave us a tremendous gift in courageously sharing her journals. Gathering Blossoms under Fire. I love that Alice writes about all her relationships with people, men and women; sexual and not. I think it is important that we know that we all have complicated and even inconsistent ideas and thoughts. I love to say that I don’t have to be consistent and I’m ok with others who are not consistent.

I love how she clarifies womanism:  “I don’t choose womanism because it is “better” than feminism since womanism means black feminist, but because it is mine.” P. 220.  Black women need to articulate what is “mine.”

Her book taught me these lessons:

  1. Power of journals to find freedom

There is such vulnerability in sharing that which was only written for ourselves; to process; to understand; to ask as she does: “What am I really? And what do I want to do with me?” p. 9   

She asks: What do we want? My God, what do black women writer want?  We want freedom. Freedom to be ourselves; to write the unwritable; to say the unsayable; to think the unthinkable; to dare to engage the world in a conversation it has not had before.” P. 171. 

She shares of her commitment to “carry forward the thoughts that I feel the ancestors were trying to help me pass on.” P. 218.

2. Power of journals to share discoveries and spiritual journeys

Journals are a a place for us to share discoveries: “I’ve found God! God is the inner voice that speaks up for what is the best/right course to pursue in any situation. It is the voice of the universe as it must have been when all was perfect. “Om,” which is harder to hear today because of the congested living and noise pollution and the hurried life.”  P. 160.

I love that she got to the point of calling God, the “Great Spirit” p. 479.

3. Power of journals to navigate between hope and hopelessness

Like Alice I have had periods of deep depression and suicidal ideation, and like Alice, and many of us, I suspect, there are season for despair and hope:

“Last night I felt like praying on my knees. While there I ha this insight/help: One reason I should not kill myself is that I enjoy the beauty and wonder of the world/life much more than I could possibly enjoy the nothingness of death. Death is the ultimate bore. No grand crayon. No deserts. No skies & cumulus clouds. No coming of spring.”  P. 103 

Yet, I don’t agree with her about death.  I think death is another magical place like life.  Where as Suzanne suggests, even “dead Mother trees can still be vehicles of life.” Where our writing can still sustain and support others, even after we are part of the ancestral realm.  And even in that realm, our spirit still impacts those living.

4. Power of journals to express gratitude

Alice shares the importance of gratitude: “I need to give thanks,” to “talk to God,” to be in contact with the force that makes our lives unique through suffering and eventual grace.” P. 83.

She writes that her mother reminded her to pray, and she reflected, “it has been a long time since I’ve prayed and I think I’m praying to God in myself and the Spirit of the Universe. But I prayed , twice, and felt better immediately.  Perhaps there’s something in humans that needs prayer. It is good for us maybe, just as talking to ourselves is. Or talking to another.” P 141-142.

And she thanks the Great Spirit: “Thank you again I love you. I love your trees, your son, your stars, and moon, and light. Your darkness. Your plums and watermelons and water meadows. And all your creatures. and their fur and eyes and feathers and scales.” P 218.

In the end of her work, she refers to Goddess and her guides: “the world is so magical it frightens some people. Hence repression of all sorts. I’m so thankful the magic of it feels delightful to me. If this is being crazy, what unending joy.” P. 495.

She ends with Thich Nhat Hanh:

The present moment

Contains past and future

The secret of transformation

Is in the way we handle

This very moment.

p. 504.

This very moment, I love that. 

What can we do at each moment to live a more authentic, meaningful and full life. Viola gave me some answers:

Viola taught me lessons in sharing her phenomenal journey to become a renown actress.

On Being a Black Woman:

  1. What does it mean to be a Black woman:

‘I’m aware of what my presence out there means to Black women. And how important it is to speak my truth…As Black women, we are complicated. We are feminine. We are sexual. We are beautiful. We’re pretty. There are people out there who desire us. We are deserving. So that’s why I’m very aware of what my presence means. And that’s why I’m also aware of why I need to be emotionally healthy. Because that’s a lot of responsibility. Because you’re coming up against a 400 year old narrative.” P. 284.

2. Our childhoods define and can empower us:

She tells a beautiful painful story about her 8 year old self, seeing her mother being beating by her father and screaming and asking God to rescued her, but realizing that her childhood journey enabled her to be the great actress she became because she could embody emotions in her characters because she had lived them. And she could see that everything that happened to her was her “warrior fuel.” p. 291.  And she was able to reconcile with her 8 year old self, hold her as part of her, reminding her adultself:  “Don’t worry, I’m here to beat anybody’s ass who messes with our joy. Viola, I got this.” P. 291.

3. Release Secrets

And I am grateful for Viola reminding us about releasing secrets:

“Everybody has secrets. Everybody. I guess the difference is that we either die with them and let them eat us up, or we put them out there, wrestle with the ( or they wrestle with us)until we …reconcile. Secrets are what swallow us.” P. 179.

I didn’t want the secret of my own shift in identities as married woman to be a secret, but I also didn’t feel compelled to share until I could share it in my own way, with the right words, and the right picture. I’ve often felt conflicted in the often patriarchal notions associated with marriage in society., and a very real tensions I experienced ideologically, spiritually, philosophically, in the journey. But, I love this picture and this moment, in the most beautiful dress I have ever worn, having fun with family and friends,celebrating life in New Orleans afterhours!

My identity shift is a reminder to myself to mother myself. We all need to mother ourselves.

And to mother ourselves, we have to release our secrets.

4. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams

Viola reflects on her father’s dreams and how “his children and grandchildren were his dream. For a whole generation of Black people we were the dream. We were their hope. We were the baton they were passing as they were sinking in to the quicksand of racism, poverty, Jim Crow, segregation, injustice, family trauma, and dysfunction.” P 249.

We still are our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents’ dreams. My mother grandmother was enslaved, and the legacy of enslaved was about holding on to hope for something better, if not in this lifetime, in a future generations’ lifetime.

5. The Purpose of life

Viola shares that she believes the “purpose of life is to live it.” P. 255.  And she writes, “not being true to yourself is the only death” p. 367. 

And to live life, I am convinced we have to learn to mother ourselves, our little child, boy or girl within, and to mother others.  The concept of mothering is so critical, because mothers birth life, we are life givers. 

And we need more mothering and the presence of Sacred Feminine in the world. Through our writing, we are birthing our energy into the world, and women have to write, more.   Because, “we can never write enough.” (bell hooks).

We have to be about “finding me,” sharing me and ourselves with others, mothering ourselves, mothering others, and mothering the world.

Mothering requires us learning about the Great Mother, the Divine Feminine, goddess energy, and priestess work:

Lunacy reminds us that great mothering requires a selfish compassion for ourselves and for others.  It requires that we connect more that nature: “This is vital for women especially because the land and women are intertwined. Nature is the sacred feminine and fundamental to the existence of the human race.  She is us. We are Her.” P. 84 (Lunacy)

We need to connect more to the Great Goddess, Great Mother Goddess and Lunacy provides guidance for those who want to understand the power and potential as women.
Lunacy reminds us to embrace our Divine Feminine essence and to adopt a priestess mindset:

“The priestess walks the bridge between the seen and unseen worlds.” She is a seeker, a keeper, a mystic. And she is both a peace maker and warrior of the world.” Her heart is full with kindness and compassion for beings. She walks the path of her soul, daring to journey into the wild.” A priestess is devoted to love, compassion; holds space; is highly intuitive and sensitive, and honors herself: “she follows her dreams and walks her soul path, and she’s more than willing to walk in the dark.” P. 46

Her book reminds us of our intimate connection to lunar cycles with our periods, and our indigenous connections to Mother Earth.  It is a reminder of the sacredness of ourselves, and our creative and powerful energy.

The world needs us, as women, and needs to embrace and honor and welcome our wisdom. And we as women must be willing to rise into our divine destiny.

We have to continue to speak, write, heal, reclaim, and liberate.

And, though we sometimes feel like a Motherless Child, we can ask the universe to come by here to help us along our journeys. Check them out on Instagram:

And I feel it is particularly important for Black women to have compassion and to engage in activism on behalf of those who are incarcerated. Though Brittney Griner is an important visual face of issues of injustice and incarceration, we need to be aware of the larger issue of incarcerated women and girls in America. Learn more below.

May we all try to stand tall, on top of the big and little mountains of life, finding and gathering all the little parts of ourselves so that we can stand strong under fire and stand strong like a tree. During a very low point in my life, a friend reminded me to be a tree, strong and rooted. In my journal I wrote, “be the tree, Menah, be the tree.” I became my personal mantra.