I wrote this soon after I came to North Carolina a year and a half ago and I am revisiting this theme with something that just happened to me this weekend. I took on a new contracting position as a therapist a couple of weeks ago and was asked to do some psychological assessments, which I agreed to do, but which is not my soul work, by any means. I had planned to go to an art workshop at a new gallery I was excited to visit this past Saturday. It had been on my calendar for several weeks, and I was truly looking forward to it, and it would definitely feed my soul. I had a deadline of Sunday night to write the two assessments I did on Thursday. I only had Saturday to get it done and I pushed myself to try to complete the work before my class that evening.
You can probably guess what happened. I pushed myself to the wire and left for the art class in a hurry and feeling completely uncentered and stressed out to try and make it to the 7 o'clock class. As I drove there, I checked my appointment book and saw that I had written down that it started at 6 o'clock. Realizing I had blown it and would be an hour late, I turned around and went home. The tears that I had not shed for so long now came. I had let myself down. I had put something first that didn't matter that much to me, that didn't feed me; I had put it before the manna that I so needed and looked forward to devouring deliciously. The trickster element came in when I got home and started to write an email to the instructor of the art class telling her why I didn't make it to the class and saw that her last email to me said, "See you at 7:00." I had been right. I had written it in my book wrong. I should have kept going, even if I thought I was going to be late. I was even more devastated. When I wrote to her the next day she told me that they had posted two times, which explained why I was confused, why I had one time in my head and one from my book based on their incorrect posting. Anyway, I didn't follow my intuition and that wily coyote trickster was at work and it gave me a much needed lesson, of reminding me that I need to pay attention to what my soul needs and not allow myself to get parched and dry trying to meet the needs of others, or doing work that doesn't serve me...
which leads me to the story of the selkie, also told as "Sealskin, Soulskin" in Women Who Run With the Wolves. Here is what I wrote when I came to North Carolina... Leave a comment about how you may have lost your soulskin at times and what it means for you to go home and one lucky winner will be chosen to come to the Create Your Vision 2010 Playshop in Raleigh this Sunday, January 31, on scholarship. Or leave a comment just because...
One of my favorite movies is a magical fairy tale set in Ireland called The Secret of Roan Inish, directed by John Sayles. This mythic story tells of a selkie, a woman who is part seal, who comes to shore one day, and takes off her pelt, only to have it stolen by a mortal man who is enchanted by her.
In the traditional tale, the man is so captivated by her beauty and her wildness that he only agrees to give the pelt back to her after seven years of marriage to him. She has no choice but to agree to this if she wishes to return to her home beneath the sea. And so she lives with him and bears him a child and lives as a landlocked mortal for seven years. But she does not forget her pelt or her home. In fact, she longs for them with every fiber of her being. As the years pass, she becomes parched and dry, her energy begins to wane, her spirit to dissipate. She searches for the skin, but does not find it because her husband has hidden it well. He doesn't want to lose his wife to the sea after all, but she cannot forget her home because it is a part of her -- her essence.
It is her watchful child -- born of a selkie mother and a mortal father -- who discovers the pelt and brings it to her, thus restoring her to her skin, her true self. She dons the pelt and takes her boy with her back to her watery home and shows him off to her mother and father and the other wild creatures of the sea. The boy gets to experience this part of his mother that he has not known before but has gleaned from the stories she quietly whispered to him at night while his father slept. He gets to see his mother come alive in a way he has never seen but only imagined when she gazed dreamily out to the great, misty ocean that lapped at the edges of the emerald isle like a persistent mother cat bathing her young.
As Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, it is when we lose our pelt, our soulskin, that we must return home. This is what began to happen to me during the past few years in California--I felt I was slowly drying out--from the parched drought-ridden mountain climes we lived in to the physical drying out of my hair and skin, partly due to a thyroid condition, and partly due to my own inattention to what mattered most to me. For, on a deep level, I had lost contact with my wild nature, my soul, that as a child knew what to do to replenish itself--laugh, dance, play, paint, sing, color, bake a cake, read a book, climb a tree, or just lie on the ground and watch the clouds circle lazily overhead. I only began to reclaim my pelt when I joined my pack of wild women and started running with them, reclaiming my lost self, my soulskin.
We women must take care not to lose our pelt, or if we do, to be sure we make time to reclaim it. It is something we can do over and over again and must, so that we don't dry out and lose our energy, our essence. It is what leads to depression, an overriding but unexplainable sadness that many women carry when they don't follow their hearts, their instinctual nature, their feelings. It is so easy for us to get caught up in what we are required to do, should do, have to do, instead of doing what we long to do, what we must do, what we need to do for ourselves.
What does it mean to lose our pelt? We can lose it in so many ways by saying yes to something we really don't want to do, by staying in a job too long that has sucked the life out of us, by sacrificing too much of ourselves for others without any return or without taking the time to fill ourselves up before we give more, by allowing others to dictate what our lives will be, by following someone or something that doesn't resonate with us, by staying in a relationship too long when it's time to go, by giving up our dreams to make a living that doesn't serve us, by silencing our voices when it's time to speak, by pleasing others so they will like us, by giving in instead of fighting the good fight.
What does it mean to go home? We can go home again and again in our lives -- on a daily basis, if need be -- by noticing when we feel tired, listless, frustrated, lifeless, hurt, discontent, lonely, disappointed, sick, useless, scared, helpless, and hopeless. Has this become a pattern connected to our choices? Have we sacrificed too much of ourselves for others? Have we lost connection to our deepest self? Have we given up on our dreams? Have we stopped creating? If we have, we must find our way home.
This motif is prevalent in many fairy tales and so often it is a little girl who must find her way out of the big, dark woods to grandmother's house, or from the witch's cottage, or from the tower in which she has been imprisoned. We can find our way home by doing simple things like sitting on our porch with a cup of tea, by reading a good book, by asking for help, by calling a friend we haven't spoken to for a long time, by cooking a delicious meal, by writing a poem, painting a picture, taking a walk in nature, making a collage, playing a game, riding a bike, or taking a vacation--alone or with a dear friend.
Our homing instinct is strong. Within our own psyches, it is paramount to our survival, to our ability to thrive and to flourish and to be fully alive. By moving to North Carolina where I can literally feel the difference and drink the wetness into my skin and being, I have also reclaimed my pelt and gone home. By doing the work that I really want to do, by starting over with a sense of staying close to what my soul needs and even craves, I have reclaimed my pelt. By staying connected to myself and to other women -- we who carry life and bring healing to the planet -- I reclaim my pelt. By sharing our lives, our stories, our pain and our passion, we reclaim our pelts. We must gently remind each other when we've lost our pelt, by creating together, by sharing our dreams, and by standing next to each other as we reclaim our true nature and find our way home.