*Heads up: some adult themes below with an important mindful message!*
About a year ago, someone came into my life. That person’s presence triggered more pain than ever before.
My journey with the experience has been ever inward. I’ve asked myself countless times, “What is this experience here to teach me?”
The good news is that my surrendering to this intense pain has served me well.
It has freed me up.
It has liberated me.
It has cracked my heart wide open.
However, it is only now that I am this far down the path that I can see an expanded vista. I am in a great, big, wide-open space, from where I can see so much more.
There are no coincidences…
In 1985, when I was 14 years old, I went on a supervised holiday (without my parents and with my friend) to Holland. One evening, in a crowded square in Amsterdam, my friend and I wandered into the midst of a large group of people watching some street performers. It was dark, and a man came up close behind me and rubbed himself against me to the point where he ejaculated down my leg. I remember some of his semen landing in my shoe. They were my favourite shoes at the time—pure, white and soft. When I returned from that holiday, I put those shoes in the trash bin. I didn’t speak of that event until much later.
Seven years on, I suffered a drug-induced psychotic experience. During my stay in the hospital, I remember being frightened by the doctor who came to see me one day. In my mind, he looked a lot like the man who abused me. When I told them the story, I don’t remember if anyone listened to me or not. I do know, though, that over 30 years have now passed and I thought that the incident in the busy square in Amsterdam was over. I thought I was okay.
Now, I can see differently. I was not over it. I can see that it was part of my story and that it had a purpose. It is only now that I can see and express that purpose.
I have tenderly transmuted that horrible experience into something infused with well-being and love.
Of late, many times when I walk out of my home in London, I encounter a man who thinks it is okay to whistle at me. Sometimes it is some other man who thinks it is okay to comment on my appearance. Then there are the men who think it is okay to stare at me as I walk by.
Let me be clear. To those men: It is not okay. It is not okay for you to say and do those things to me.
I notice how I hesitate to write such a powerful statement. I mean, am I uptight? Am I overreacting? Am I taking it all too seriously? Is there something wrong with me? It’s all harmless, right? I mean, we all know that men are drawn to women. So, I ask myself, what’s wrong with a man appreciating me?
My answer is this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a man appreciating a woman’s beauty, so long as it is in a healthy and respectful way. If a man appreciates me in a pure, good way, nothing feels more cherishing; it is a beautiful thing. The things I am talking about here do not feel pure. They do not feel healthy. And they do not feel good. They feel insidious, and they feel like part of a festering wound and unhealthiness about the way some men view women.
I now see the connection and the link between what happened to me that night in Amsterdam and what is happening to me now as I walk down the street in the middle of the day in London. I see how some men think it is okay to treat me as an object—something to which they can say or do anything they want.
Once again, I want to be clear to those men: It is uncomfortable to be whistled at and stared at as I walk down the street. I feel intimidated and threatened.
I also understand that this is a problem for us all. I see that those men suffer, as I do.
As long as it is okay for you to objectify me, or for me to be valued by the way I look, it feels, at best, limiting for us all—for me and for you. At worst, it feels like an attempt to control me, an attempt to tell me what I am worth and an attempt to make it all about the way I look. As a sad consequence, it is a way of keeping me small and afraid. It is a way of inhibiting me from doing my real work, my powerful work.
I shrink so as not to be seen.
I stop myself from speaking up and bringing attention to myself.
I inhibit my flow of feminine wisdom and gifts and I do not live with them, fully front and center, running naturally and healthily through my life.
Men, as much as you are distracted and shackled, through seeing me through the narrow lens focused on my outward appearance, you are not able to stand, fully centered and strong, in your masculine power. You are not able to provide the clear-sighted support and direction that my feminine gifts are calling for. Men, I need your assistance in bringing my feminine power and wisdom into tangible action and form in the world.
Dear men, I ask you, please let now be the time you see me as I truly am. I am a woman and I am powerful. I am a life-giving presence in the world.
I now see how feeling and speaking my pain over this past year has been a portal. It has been a way of clearing out my bullsh*t and getting closer to the heart of who I truly am.
Without the pain or without the trigger of that person’s presence in my life, I don’t know that I would have ever dug as deep and opened up as much as I have. I don’t know that I would have willingly ever, come face to face, with the fears, the blocks, the ego-driven limits that have kept me safe over the years.
Before the experience of that excruciating pain, I was always able to catch myself before I became too emotional, too outspoken, too opinionated, too controversial. I would temper myself before I became any of the ways I judged myself to be too much.
Without the painful trigger, I would have stayed small. I would have pulled back. I see now that those are exactly the ways of being that I need to be expressing. That is where my power lies. I need to be too much of lots of things!
On my journey I have experienced nowhere to turn—nowhere but the hearts of others. As I have dared to be vulnerable and to ask for their love and support, I have been rewarded by the greatest of gifts: the tenderness of my husband’s love and the precious treasures of women’s friendship. I have been rewarded by true love and true sisterhood.
This painful experience has been the gift that keeps on giving.
I’m grateful, and blown away by, the power of life. I am humbled by the way that life has my back, if I just surrender to it. Life is well and truly on our side. Life will, no matter how much we resist, have its way with us.
For us to heal and find peace, individually and globally, women and men, experience tells me over and over, we must dare to lay our tender hearts wide open—and be fierce—when called.
I yearn to fully embody and express my love. I see how it serves us, all of us, women and men, when we begin to love and take much greater care with everything—with ourselves, with each other, with this planet. I urge us all to be responsible for our impact on ourselves, on each other and on our planet. I invite us all to tune in and allow ourselves to be guided by an ever-loving presence that already knows the way.
Author: Catherine Tapponnier
Image: Daniela Brown/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Julie Barr // Editor: Toby Israel