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  • Writer's picturewendybrd

Natural Processes: Uplift and Erosion, by Wendy Peterman PhD

The western Cascade mountains were formed from the subduction of tectonic plates, pushing magma from the core of the Earth toward the sky. The molten rock quickly cooled to form fine-grained basalt mountains, and clouds of ash blanketed their peaks, hardening into tuffaceous cement. Centuries of rain, ice, and earthquakes have crumbled and carved these mountains into lumpy, dissected landscapes, flowing with streams of every shape and size. I once dreamt I was present on a day when all of these land forming processes happened at once, lifting me thousands of feet into the sky, as new volcanoes rose all around me. The flinty, hot air, sparked with adventure as raw, tumultuous worlds came into being, and I was enraptured with awe.

I shared this dream and my delight publicly, and an Earth Sciences teacher commented that I would not really have found the formation of the Cascades to be enjoyable. With all of the explosions, heat, and flying rocks, it would be very scary and definitely kill me. Isn’t that the point of having a dream though, to bring to the surface our underlying tumult, angst, and ambition so we can learn and grow? Maybe, at that stage in my healing, I was bubbling with heat and molten lava that needed to plunge through the surface of my placid exterior, shaking up my world and forming it into big, complex, three-dimensional forms for me to explore.

I once responded to the question, “If you could choose your death, what would you choose?” by saying I would want to be caught unaware by the sudden activation of a nearby volcano coming alive. An acquaintance reached out to me with concern that I was feeling suicidal, saying I wanted to die suddenly by volcano. This was fascinating to me, because, although I definitely was depressed and recovering from an abusive relationship, I was embracing myself like never before. I was waking up, looking myself straight in the eyes and saying, “I love you! I am here for you, and I will take care of you! You are precious to me, and you WILL be okay!” Contrary to the well-intended friend’s concern, I was opening my eyes every morning with the thought, “Oh thank God I’m still alive!”

I once had an acquaintance take a social media post about yearning for a deep connection with others as a trigger to check on me for suicidality because it "lacked my usual unflappable positivity." Again, I was bewildered by the idea that I wouldn’t absolutely and unconditionally love myself and my process of unearthing my rocky substrates to expose what lies below the surface, waiting to be revealed, seen, and embraced by my psyche.

Anger is so difficult for some of us to embrace. Often not allowed in our culture, especially for women, it’s considered ugly, bad, unladylike, toxic, destructive. Ironically, the repression of this natural, useful, important emotion is what makes it those things. As my friend and teacher Pamela Dunn often says, "Feelings are meant to be felt, but not always expressed." She once suggested that I take my own rage about child abuse and turn it into “fierce love.”

What is fierce love? I’m still wrestling with that one. For me, it has come to be associated with Kali, the divine aspect of ourselves that is empowered by our anger and our love to protect ourselves and our families and bring an end to evil in our lives. I have been encouraged by a yogi friend to see Hindu goddesses as aspects of my own psyche that can be called forth to teach me important lessons about myself and give me tools to face what is in front of me. Kali, is intensely powerful, the Divine Mother, destroyer of evil forces, bringer of life and death. She grows out of the goddess Durga’s head when she is angered by attacking demons and destroys one who regenerates from every drop of his own blood that is spilled in battle by drinking his blood before it can reach the ground.

I once had a therapist who, when listening to me talk about my regret and shame over being angry at child abusers, reminded me of Kali, with her dark blue skin, bloody sword, and necklace of human skulls, arising out of the forehead of Durga to slay and drink the blood of those who would harm the good-hearted. “Your Kali energy is not bad. Your inner warrior fights for good. Do not be ashamed of her,” she said.

This memory brings to mind an experience I had in a two-week yoga intensive about self-love I attended during my post-concussion recovery. We were working a lot with the images of the goddess Durga, a warrior goddess, who has many hands, each holding a tool for making her invincible. Since the class started early in the morning, I often awoke from a dream to show up on my mat. That morning, I dreamed that a big, muscly, angry, tattooed friend from high school had shown up on his motorcycle to protect me from violence. My teacher gained the insight that I was well-prepared with the tools of Durga for being a warrior goddess, and what I really needed was to ground myself and invoke Kali to bring forth the anger that would empower me to vanquish evil in my life and set boundaries with my enemies to protect myself and loved ones.

After a long warning about the dangers of invoking Kali when it isn’t warranted, we chanted and invited her energy forth in ourselves before moving into our series of asanas. I felt my shaved hair grow long and catch fire. My breath brought the heat into my body, and my heart spread it to every muscle and cell until I was fully strong and alive. Moving through the asanas, I was preparing for war, ready to vanquish demons. In warrior pose, in particular, I was instructed to fully ground, engage my feet and every muscle in my legs to be sure I was absolutely solid in myself before assuming the pose with my upper body. My teacher, Angela said, “Use your legs to make a strong foundation before confronting the enemy. Be your own tattoo guy, coming to the rescue. You have been going to war with your arms full of tools, but without your base of strength.”

Now, when feeling weak, angry, or desirous of strength to face hard situations, I often find a quiet spot, plant my feet, angle my legs just right, engage my muscles, breath deeply, windmill my arms into warrior pose, and set my face resolutely against the enemies of self-doubt and criticism. My dear friend Ryan once said to me, “Wendy, you are a warrior, even without the pose.” He is also inclined to reflect my gentleness, kindness, and love that show me all of these things can coexist within us at once, and he even offers to give me those things from within himself when I feel my own resources being drained. Maybe Shiva and Kali share this kind of love. I guess they do within me.

Sometimes, I awaken in the night, mind racing with thoughts of loved ones acting out of anger, hearts being broken, children or animals being harmed, and I climb out of bed and move the feelings through my yoga asanas until I’m seated in meditation, hugging and rocking myself as my heart breaks wide open with sobs for all the pain in the world. Is this crazy? Is this wrong? No. It’s being alive. I don’t need someone to make it better, tell me to stop, hide my feelings or look at the bright side. I need to allow myself to feel it all and give myself permission not to be OK. As strange as it sounds, allowing myself to not be okay has been a huge leap forward in my resilience. A lover in my young adulthood once said, “It’s actually kind of scary how together and okay you are all the time.” As I sit there, fully experiencing the reality of my pain, I congratulate myself for such aliveness and presence with how I truly am in this moment, even when I feel terrified, grief-stricken, and alone.

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