Thursday, December 22, 2011


Today is the shortest day of the year. I want to wish everyone a Happy Solstice, and share a few reflections about this time of the year.

First of all, the December holidays are a notoriously difficult time for people who are lonely or who are in painful life circumstances. Because of my work, I especially think at this time of year about women who are involved with men who are tearing them down; and I think about the fact that those men may be dragging children into the pattern of selfish and cruel behavior as well. I also think of those mothers who have been pulled away from their children by an abusive man and by the courts. So if you are a woman living in this kind of atmosphere, please know that you are in my thoughts and I'm wishing all the best for you and your children.

Next, I want to draw our attention to the power of Solstice as a healing time of the year. The period when the days are short and the nights are long has traditionally been viewed as a time for reflection, rest, and renewal. The spirit turns inward and enters a dormant state, making space for deep changes and new growth to take place. The mind calms but does not stop working; in fact, moving below the surface, as in a dream, it may find solutions to problems that our more active, conscious, deliberate kind of thinking was not able to solve. Yes, energy slows somewhat at this time of year, but more importantly it changes forms and works in different ways.

This time of the year more than any other we speak of peace, of kindness, of everyone deserving to be well. During these weeks, a woman whose partner mistreats her may think to herself, “Do I really deserve to be talked to in these horrible ways? Is it really right for someone to be so mean to me? Don’t I deserve kindness as much as anyone?”

One result of this inner shifting and reevaluating around Solstice is that a lot of women take significant relationship steps during the months of January. As the New Year comes in, and the darkness begins to ease, people feel ready to start on new initiatives, to take greater risks, and to reach for the life that they know they deserve.

So even for people who feel despair at this time of year, the potential for a hopeful turn of events is great. Our lives revolve around the sun, literally and figuratively.

Last, I will say a few words about history. The solstices (both winter and summer) used to be among the most revered times of the year spiritually. Women played a huge role in most cultures in shaping and carrying out the spiritual observances. But a few thousand years ago, as spiritual practices came to be more and more controlled by male-dominated religious institutions, women’s spiritual leadership and spiritual vision were pushed more and more to the side. Now in much of the world the solstices are barely commemorated; and in some communities, it is considered ungodly even to celebrate the solstices. Pressuring people to remove nature-based observances from their spiritual practices was one of the ways in which women’s power and insights were systematically undermined.

I see a close link between the individual woman who is trying to get her power back from an oppressive partner and the efforts of women in general to regain their full say in creating, defining, and carrying out our spiritual visions, beliefs, and ceremonies. Personal and spiritual empowerment are interwoven. So listen carefully at this time of year to what your inner voices are telling you on many levels, including about the spiritual truths that you hold most dear. To my male readers, I want to say that these next few weeks are an especially important time of the year for us to be respecting women’s thinking and supporting their independent leadership.

I wish you all a Solstice of light, freedom, power, and kindness. The year ahead holds great promise.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Practicing Patience With Children

When an angry and controlling man lives in the house, his demeanor can set the tone for everybody. His outlook at home is focused on judgment, criticism, and demands. The message he sends constantly is, "You should be doing better! You aren't okay the way you are -- something is wrong with you! You need to be hammered into a better shape!" The mother has to focus huge energy on how to keep his hammer from falling on her -- meaning how to stay out of the way of his put-downs and snarling and aggression.

A woman living in this atmosphere is pushed, often without even realizing it, toward adopting an outlook on her children that is similar to the one the destructive man takes toward her. She can start to view her kids as bundles of problems and faults, as broken items that need to be fixed. She may spend the day yelling and criticizing. Part of why she may fall into this stance is that she sees how her partner reacts -- with ugliness -- every time the children inconvenience him or don't meet his image of perfect kids; so she starts to work doubly hard to mold her children into people that will please him.

If you see yourself in this picture, let me say that I get it that you are trying to do the right thing; you want to protect yourself and your children from harm. But trying to crunch the children down to keep them from upsetting their father can lead in some directions you don't intend, where the tyrannical man starts to creep inside you and make you become like him.

So it's important to balance your short-term urgency with an awareness of your long-term goals. Down the road, what is going to help the most to keep your kids safe from their father's ugly behaviors and attitudes?

1) Believing in their self-worth
2) Experiencing patience and forgiveness
3) Witnessing fairness in action
4) Feeling what it's like to have their voices heard and their opinions taken seriously
5) Learning to defend themselves and to stand up for themselves

Their father is not going to help them develop in these ways, unfortunately; in fact, he keeps modeling the exact opposite by tearing you down, and sometimes tearing them down too. So they are hungry for kindness, patience, and encouragement from you.

You can't be the perfect parent, especially when your partner is bringing so much toxicity into the environment. I don't want you berating yourself about the times when you lose your temper and yell at your kids, or about the days when you are too critical of them. But keep striving. Your kids are looking to you to be everything the opposite of what their father is: patient, supportive, forgiving, and affectionate (without being invasive). And they need you to set firm limits but without harshness.

Today, work to give them this quality of love to the fullest extent you can. You are hugely important to them, whether they allow you to see that or not.

"My children and I are on the same team. Whether today is a hard day or an easy one, I'm going to keep reminding myself how much my love and kindness mean to them."